Tangle 6.4: Fecal Matter with a Downward Trajectory

Source material: Worm, Tangle 6.4

Originally blogged: Yes August 27, 2017


Howdy! Let’s get back to the land of heroes and villains and everything in-between. 🙂

After last chapter’s tango for two was rudely interrupted by Aisha and Mrs. Henderson, and further interrupted by the news that “shit is going down”, well… apparently shit is going down. What shit, though? The answer could be that the ABB is counterattacking – hell, or maybe it’s just Lung, who has hella reason to go after Taylor specifically now, even moreso than before.

I don’t know, though. My gut is telling me it’s very likely something else, but in that case, I really don’t know what it could be. I guess that’s what I’m here to find out!

I suppose whatever it is, it might somehow force Taylor to make her Decision even sooner than she had already moved it to? Otherwise we’ll probably be ending Tangle before she gets to that point, in which case it’ll likely be at the end of the next arc.

Anyway, let’s get into it!


“Thanks to a concerted effort by members of Brockton Bay’s Wards and Protectorate teams, the local gang, the ‘ABB’, or Azn Bad Boys, has fallen.”

Well, that… sounds like good news, depending on how accurate and total it is. On the other hand, the heroes are taking a lot of credit for it.

Also, Lung is still out there and almost guaranteed to get in a third fight with Taylor at some point, and Bakuda’s bombs will supposedly go off if they kill her (and she’s deranged enough to be telling the truth about that)… the Alleged Bye-Bye having fallen or not, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of its leadership.

Though what we’ve heard of Bakuda in the last few chapters seemed to undermine the long-term significance I thought and hoped she would have. Now I’m not quite sure how big of a threat she’s going to be going forward.

Brian and I had arrived at the loft just in time to catch the bulletin on the news. Lisa, Alec, Bitch and the three dogs were gathered on the couches.

I love the mental image of the dogs being just as captivated by the screen as the other three.

“The heroes of the hour are the young members of the Wards, Clockblocker and Vista, who played a pivotal role in managing a crisis with a superbomb, allegedly used by the supervillain Bakuda in an attempt to hold the city ransom and guarantee her safety.

Because of course she would.

Clockblocker and Vista, huh? Interesting combination – time and space.

I suppose, for example, Vista could contract the space between Clockblocker and Bakuda so Clocky could easily tag her out. That would be a pretty effective way to play it.

While experts on the scene refused to offer hard numbers, a local cape was quoted as stating the superbomb could have had a yield of nine thousand kilotons of energy.

Yikes.

This device, containing power on par with conventional nuclear bombs, was fashioned with household materials scavenged from the area, after fighting in the Docks and pressure from local authorities forced the bomb’s alleged creator to relocate to a derelict boathouse just days ago. Were it not for the efforts of the Wards, this might have been a tragic day for our nation.

RIP Brockton Bay if that had gone off.


“As much as we might wish for a period of somber reflection, other local villains have shown little interest in putting recent matters to rest.

What do you mean by that?

Less than an hour after suspected ABB leader Lung and alleged accomplice Bakuda were brought into custody, the head offices of Medhall Corporation were assaulted by armed forces, in an altercation that drew the attention of members of local Aryan villain group Empire Eighty-Eight.

Armed forces… Coil? And then that ticked off Kaiser’s bunch… Shit.

It’s the War of the Docks. This time the power vacuum is there.

This appears to have prompted a rash of more than six major incidents in the past hour-”

Known in highly scientific terms as “shit going down”.

Lisa muted the TV, turning around on the couch to look at Brian and me. “I’ll give you the cliff notes. The Travelers just hit an art gallery and an airport in the span of an hour. Coil and Empire Eighty Eight are apparently trying to make up for lost time and are just a hair away from open warfare on the streets. The Merchants – Skidmark’s group – are taking advantage of the chaos and trying to do what the ABB did, but with local drugheads and hobos and zero control over their situation… they won’t get far, but I’m sure they’re having a grand old looting spree.”

Geez.

“So the ceasefire is over,” I spoke. Weren’t things supposed to get better with the ABB gone? Why did I feel partially responsible for this?

Yeeah, I think that’s safe to say.

And I guess you feel partially responsible because your first foray into heroics caused much of this, directly or indirectly. By getting Lung arrested, you created the appearance of the power vacuum, and also allowed Bakuda’s rise to power. (I mean, sure, she was a bit of a puppet, but she definitely upped the stakes nonetheless.) And then you helped take out the ABB and create the actual power vacuum.

It’s nothing to fault you for, but you are a relatively big factor behind this.


“It’s like everyone was poised at the starting line, ready to move the instant the gun fired,” Alec said.

“Except us,” Brian pointed out.

“Not necessarily,” Lisa shook her head,

Coddamn it, I should totally have been able to predict something like this happening. I mean, they’ve been poised at the starting line not just since 5.1, but since Interlude 2.

And then there’s Lisa – did she have something ready, or is she saying someone else is also an exception? Or that people weren’t poised to move? The last option seems very wrong, though.

“Five minutes after Medhall got hit, we got a message from the boss. He’s got a job he wants us to do, maybe our biggest yet, but the timeline’s short. It’s why I called you here.”

Ahh. I was wondering why she’d call Brian and Taylor back just to watch the news.

Not gonna lie, I kinda forgot about the Boss for a moment. So he seems to have been ready for this as well, huh… Unfortunately that doesn’t tell us anything really new about him as far as I can tell.

[This line might’ve been the biggest hint to the Boss’ identity. Past me missed it, though.]

Brian folded his arms.

“Here’s the thing,” she said, “Morale is down. The city is spooked, and things aren’t calming down the way people were hoping they would. The fact that we all dodged a bullet with this superbomb thing? It didn’t help.”

So… are they gonna take advantage of it, or try to help? The former seems much more likely.

She typed on her laptop while she talked, “Topping it off, it doesn’t look good when the local news gets wind of the fact that a large part of the fighting against the ABB was being done by villains. Get my drift?

Oh fuck yes. Go get the credit you deserve, at the expense of the goody two-shoes…es…’s reputation.

So with the idea that they were planning a fundraiser around now anyways, the mayor’s promoting a function to help sell the idea that it was the good guys that were the major players here. End result? A fundraiser-slash-celebration involving the Protectorate, Wards, the PRT forces, cops and all those guys. Tonight.

If they were planning to simply steal the fundraiser money, it would be better to do this while morale was high and people were willing to support more, assuming these fundraisers are regular-ish occurences.

This could alternatively serve the same function as whatever it was the Protectorate was doing in Agitation – it could be a distaction while the Undersiders pull off this major heist.

But then the bit about the media learning that the ABB wasn’t beaten mainly by the Protectorate would be fairly irrelevant. So no, it seems like this might be their venue for getting that information out there in as public a way as possible.

Most of the Wards and New Wave are gonna pick up the slack in the meantime, to keep the city protected, because the mayor’s prioritizing PR here.”

I mean, this really doesn’t sound like a good time to be lowering the city’s defenses, but you do you, I guess.


“I’m not liking the direction this is going, here,” I told her.

‘Course, Taylor doesn’t want the Protectorate to be taking hits to their reputation. Plus, if she appears on TV with the Undersiders in plain sight, it would be so much harder to fix her own reputation with the public if she went hero with her Decision, which she’s still assuming she will.

She picked up her laptop and set it on the back of the couch, facing me and Brian. The page showed details on the celebration, had links to ticket vendors and sported an image of a bunch of people in tuxedos and gowns. “The Protectorate and some of the Wards are going to be there with the upper crust of Brockton Bay, their friends and family, and anyone else willing to shell out the cash for a ticket. The boss wants us to, quote, ’embarrass them’, unquote.”

This could get very interesting. Potentially hilarious, depending on the methods they apply.

And to be quite honest, they sort of have it coming for taking the credit like that. I mean, of course they can’t go publicly endorsing the villains or anything, but still.

There was something of a stunned silence. I glanced at Bitch and Alec, and gathered from their expressions that they had already heard this. In contrast to the situation we’d had with the bank robbery, though, they didn’t look all that keen.

One way to embarrass them would be to beat them in a massive battle royale, which of course would be very difficult… but there are other ways. Think creatively and this could go really well.


Brian started chuckling. After a bit, his chuckle became an all-out laugh.

Is this a laugh of “holy shit, he really thinks we’d be capable of something like that?!”?

Or has he thought of some potential fun to be had with this?

I didn’t wait for him to finish before I said my piece, “Are you insane? You want us to, what, crash a party, fuck with the people there and then scram before we get ourselves arrested by the-” I struggled to find the words, “By half the fucking heroes in Brockton Bay?!”

Taylor’s definitely in the former camp, at least.

I’m leaning strongly towards Brian being too, and even Alec and Rachel seem to agree. A heist like this seems right up Lisa’s alley, though.

“Basically.” Lisa said, raising her hands as if to get me to calm down, “Though it’s probably more like a third of the city’s heroes.”

“Right,” I said, “No offense, Lisa, I’m fond of you and everything, but you kind of underestimated the number of heroes that would show up to the bank robbery, too.

Fair point.

Don’t forget that a bunch of heroes came from out of town to help with the ABB situation, and they might stick around for the after-party.”

Also a fair point. Taylor’s on a roll.

“True,” she admitted, “But still-”

“And the plan is to piss them off?” I asked, incredulous, “Not just them, either, but that party’s probably going to be attended by the mayor, the DA, the police chief… You’re aware that if we tried this and any of us got caught, it would pretty much be a first class trip to the Birdcage?”

That seems a bit harsh for what so far sounds essentially like a mass pranking more than actual crime.


“Sorry, Lise, this is a no,” Brian told her, still looking amused, “I’m perfectly cool with letting all the other groups go at it for a bit. We did our part, and we’ve got nothing to lose in kicking back for a little while.”

“Yeah. I don’t get the point,” Bitch said, scratching the top of Brutus’ head.

There is of course the old question: What does the Boss gain from this?

It seems clearer than in Agitation, at least: Wearing down the Protectorate’s reputation. Maybe that’s what the goal in Agitation was too. But that’s still more a goal than a gain. Why would the boss want the public to not look to the Protectorate for protection? Is this a matter of revenge?

“You won’t find anyone more willing to get a little crazy than me,” Alec told Lisa, “But I’m with Bitch. It’s a whole lot of risk, a whole lot of trouble. For what? Tweaking the good guys’ noses?”

“The boss is willing to pay,” Lisa said. “With other considerations.”

Because of course he is.

The Boss so far seems to be a very rich person with something against the Protectorate, enough to pay heavily to have them humiliated.

And I’ll let Taylor say my next line for me:

“Considerations?” I asked.

“You have to understand,” Lisa sighed, “I don’t disagree with what you guys are saying, but what I can tell you is that this is a test. The boss wants to see if we can pull this off, and if we can, we’re that much more valuable to him. A lot more valuable.”

Ahh. Well, that’s for sure. They’ll have really proven themselves as expert pranksters.


“Or maybe the test is whether we’re smart enough to turn down a doomed mission,” Brian pointed out.

“Maybe,” Lisa conceded, “I don’t think so, but I won’t deny that it’s possible.”

Heh, could be. Would make for a much less interesting story arc, though.

Brian asked her, “Can we turn this down? I mean, he’s never forced us to take a job.”

“We could,” she didn’t look happy.

On one hand, she seems to want to prove herself to the boss. On the other, fucking with the heroes like this is something she’d likely enjoy. Both hands are saying “go get ‘er”.

He frowned, “I think it’s four votes against, at the very least. I’m assuming you’re going to vote for this plan, Lise?”

“Yeah,” she replied.

“With both of my hands.”

“What?”

“Well, unless we’ve switched from a majority vote system, I guess you can tell the boss ‘thank you, but no’,” he said. When she didn’t reply, he turned to me, “Want to see about putting that kitchen table and bedside table together? I can treat you to a late lunch, if-”

Narratively, there’s no way this ends here, of course.

“Two hundred and fifty!” Lisa interrupted him.

He gave her a look, “Two hundred and fifty…”

Two hundred and fifty thousand?

Damn.


“Thousand,” she finished for him, dropping her arms to her side, almost defeated. “Each. Damn it.

EACH?!

I wanted to get you guys on board before I wowed you with the amount. Sounds desperate when I say it like this, but I can’t let you walk away without letting you know what we’d be turning down.”

The sum gave us pause.

No shit it did!

“Just to be clear… One million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, divided five ways,” Alec said, “For this?”

Clearly the Boss is literally made of money, holy shit.

“Like I said,” Lisa smiled a little, “Biggest job yet.”

“If the boss offered us a quarter million dollars each to walk up to those guys and turn ourselves in, it wouldn’t be that different a scenario,” I pointed out.

Heh, fair.

(Also, re: my reaction earlier to the Birdcage comment, I was thinking exclusively for this particular job, but I suppose if they got caught, they’d be facing punishment for all their previous crimes too, which might be enough to put most of them in the Birdcage. Maybe not Taylor, though.)

“Sure it would,” Lisa retorted, “We actually have a chance at getting through this, free and clear.”

“A very, very small chance,” I pointed out.

A very, very small chance is better than no chance, but “wouldn’t be that different” carries some room for error, so it holds up.


“A chance,” she said. “But if we do this? If we prove to the boss that we’re worth his while? We move up. We get more money, we get more equipment, information, we get a voice as far as shaping his long term plans, all of which may translate to more respect in the cape community.”

Are you sure about all this?

“A voice?” I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Meeting with him, discussing what we do next, and why.”

Especially this part. Is this actually something the Boss has put on the table, or is Lisa just extrapolating?

My mind started racing with the implications of this.

Ahh, of course, this would allow Taylor to figure out who he is. Handy that this news comes immediately after she decided to shorten the time left until her Decision.

(Which she’s not thinking of as a decision yet. Hell, maybe I’ve misjudged the narrative and her character and it won’t be one, either. I doubt that, though.)

“I’m changing my vote,” Alec said, “This much money, it sort of solves the problem I had with the job, which was that it was sort of pointless. A quarter million dollars is pretty pointy.”

Hehe.

Alec gets a hold of the quarter million and immediately starts folding the bills into paper planes.

“Two for, three against,” Lisa said. “Bitch?”

Bitch scowled, “Let me think.”

‘Tis up to you now.


Oh hey, Lisa just broke the rule that I seem to recall her being the one to establish (might’ve been Brian, though): Civilian names while out of costume.

Unless she was just, y’know, randomly calling Rachel a bitch.


Looking back, Alec did it too. “But I’m with Bitch.”

I wonder if this is because they’re technically in Undersider mode right now, discussing villain things, or if it’s Wildbow slipping up because he’s used to Taylor calling Rachel “Bitch” no matter what. Or maybe something in the middle: Wildbow, rather than the characters, slipping up because they’re discussing villain things.


This was a chance to meet our employer, in the not too distant future. Question was – did I want to take it? I’d been procrastinating, avoiding the issue, trying not to think too much about my game plan, about turning these guys in when I had the last bit of information I needed about how they ran things, about where the money came from. Now I had to make a call.

This is a decision, but it isn’t the Decision. The Decision is about whether she’s going to betray the Undersiders – right now she’s just questioning when, and whether to join in this crazy heist before then.

All along, I’d been telling myself that I’d turn them in. Give the information to the Protectorate. But my heart wasn’t really in it.

…aaactually, hold that thought! 😀

It would mean turning on friends. While I didn’t dislike Alec or even Bitch, my thoughts were on Lisa and Brian. I mean, well, Lisa was my first real friend since Emma. As for Brian, I liked him, respected him. I hated the idea of doing to them what Emma had done to me. Betraying friends.

Oh man, it’s happening. She’s finally acknowledging that she’s not as certain about her plan as she’s made it seem anymore.

As for the Emma thing, it never occurred to me that she would factor that experience into her Decision, only the consequences of that betrayal for Taylor. But in retrospect – of course she would.

I’m taking all that I learned from you
I’ll make it something I’ll never do
I can’t be who you are
You taught me how to break a heart

I’d given up the idea of gaining respect or prestige for turning them in. I mean, I’d committed a felony, taken hostages, attacked other heroes, nearly killed a man, then carved that same person’s eyes out a couple of weeks afterward.

Ah, yes, there goes the potential reward out the window too. A betrayal is rapidly turning into a pure lose-lose scenario.

I guess the rest of the Decision then boils down to “leave or stay” without the third option of “leave and betray”.


And I could live with that part, with not getting credit or accolades or whatever. I could see myself flying under the radar for a while. Perhaps playing the role of a vigilante avoiding the attention of both hero and villain, if I was really itching to get out in costume.

In this city, being an enemy of both factions sounds like a bad idea.

Or see if maybe, just maybe, I could try for the same deal that Shadow Stalker got, become a probationary member of the Wards.

Oh yeah, that’s an option too.

I’d initially veered away from the Wards out of concern that it would be too similar to high school… but I’d changed in the past few weeks. Stood up to Emma twice. Three times, if you counted the meeting.

And done a damn good job at it, discounting that the last two situations didn’t ultimately work out in Taylor’s favor.

I had a little more backbone than I’d had a month ago. I could picture myself laboring alongside a group of junior superheroes that resented me as a kind of penance for my villainous actions,

“Uh… hi. I’m Skitter.”

“I haven’t been able to look at a bug in months without getting flashbacks.”

“…nice to meet you too?”

and that was a pretty big change from before I’d even gone out in costume, when the very idea of joining them was hard to process.

How far we’ve come since Gestation 1.1.


The problem was, going down that road was a mess of maybes and possiblies, each step a mess of potential disasters. What if I got arrested rather than offered probationary membership in the Wards? What if the Undersiders escaped arrest and came after me? Or my dad?

They’re not really the types to go for revenge like that… well. Maybe they are.

But yeah, this way lies the unknown.

It came down to the people that were in the room with me. It wasn’t just that I would be betraying them like Emma did to me. Was I brave enough to go through what I had with Emma, with having people I liked and looked up to becoming my worst enemies?

…no. I don’t think so.

And if I didn’t choose, didn’t decide… Well, if I put it off any longer, the only difference from staying for good by choice would be a fair sized measure of self delusion on my part. The time I’d spent with Brian made that clear enough.

Sounds about right.

“I think… I might change my vote,” I voiced the thought aloud as I formed it.

There were looks of surprise from everyone present, excepting the dogs. Lisa, especially, rocked back a little in reaction to my statement.

“Holy shit.”

It’s happening. The Decision, which I have been waiting for since Insinuation, it’s happening right in front of us.

It’s funny, honestly. I was expecting it to be this huge climactic subplot, or even main plot, towards the end of an Arc. But I suppose Taylor has already been swayed enough that it doesn’t actually need to be. The Decision has been made long ago, in Taylor’s heart.

It’s just a matter of her mind catching up.


It took all I had to keep my facade intact. At the end of the day, what scared me more than losing friends and having them hate me, more than having them come after me or my dad, was the idea that I would hate myself.

She doesn’t want to see herself become the monster that’s been tormenting her.

That I would hate myself one, five, ten or twenty years down the line, for betraying my principles and for making a bad call with wide reaching implications. Hate myself for taking a road that might lead me going to jail with no chance of getting bailed out by Armsmaster, or going down a path that led to me hurting someone innocent as badly as I’d hurt Lung and Bakuda.

Ahh. The idea that she might hate herself from going down this path.

But… wouldn’t that make it an argument for betraying the Undersiders? Is she saying she’s willing to face this fear, or is she actually going??

Sticking with the Undersiders was a short term gain, sure, but long term? I had to stick with my original plan, and try to convince myself I was doing it for the greater good.

I… think I might’ve been very wrong at the end of the last post.

There was always a chance that the Decision would go like this: Taylor deciding to betray the Undersiders, getting that underway, and then changing her mind in the process of betraying them. It seems we’re going closer to that route.

But as much as I’ve doubted it all along, there is also a chance that Wildbow is making it final and actually having Taylor leave the Undersiders.

Do I want that? No. Not just because I like the Undersiders and Taylor’s dynamic with them, but because I feel like it would cheapen the Arcs we’ve been through with them somewhat, and all the development of Taylor’s relationships with her first real friends since Emma’s betrayal. It would be like a reset, almost.

Basically what I’m saying is that one of the main reasons I’ve been so sure the Decision would ultimately result in Taylor staying an Undersider permanently is that it’s a relatively common way to resolve a plotline like this, and while one can pull off breaking with the norm narrative-wise, there’s a reason it’s common. It’s satisfying. Taylor leaving the team at this point would have to be handled exceptionally well to be anywhere near as satisfying to the reader as her staying.


Alec raised his eyebrows. “Really.”

“What?” I asked.

“You’re the last person I would have expected to change your vote, dork,” he said, “You’re careful, and this is the least careful job we’ve had yet.”

“Changing my vote is provisional on whether we can come up with a plan that has a decent chance of us escaping with our skin intact,” I clarified.

Heh.

“Still, you’re usually Brian’s shadow, echoing him,” Alec said.

“Thanks, Alec,” Brian frowned. Brian turned to me, his eyebrows knitting together in concern, “You sure?”

“Not totally,” I admitted, “And I’m sorry, for not backing you up.”

Alec does have a point, though it’s usually because the two of them are generally like-minded.

“You’re a member of the team, you’re allowed your own voice.”

“What changed your mind?” The question came from Lisa.

I had to avoid tripping any alarms with her. The safest way to go about it would be to stick with the truth, or something very close to it.

How can you wrangle this one into a satisfactory almost-truth without setting her alarms off?

“It bugs me that I don’t know who our employer is. There’s some real ugly possibilities, and I’d rather know sooner than later, if they were the case.” There, truth enough.

Not bad.


“I admit,” Brian conceded, “I am curious. It’s… I don’t think I’m curious enough to want to take this job.”

“If the scrawny kid is gonna do this, I’m not backing down,” Bitch said. “I’ll change my vote too.”

Whoop! Sorry, Brian, it’s four against one now.

“Kid?” I asked her, “Scrawny, sure, but I’m probably a year younger than you, at most.”

Hehe.

Lisa stopped us, leaning to one side to put herself between Bitch and I. “We have to stay on topic, since there’s only a few hours to plan and get ready. We have four votes for, one against. Looks like this is gonna happen.”

Brian sighed.

“Sorry,” I murmured my second apology.

He put his hand on my shoulder, “It’s okay.”

where doing it man

where making this hapen

I noticed he didn’t move his hand off my shoulder right away.

“It’s oookaaayyy.”


Distracting myself, I asked Lisa, “So how do we pull this off?”

She began outlining a plan.

This is gonna be good.


End of Tangle 6.4

This was a very interesting chapter on all scales. On the Arc’s plot scale, the Undersiders have just taken on a really difficult job with extremely high stakes. On the city’s scale, the War of the Docks has practically broken out between Coil and Kaiser. And on Taylor’s personal scale… it is time to Decide.

Shit is indeed going down.

Next chapter, we’re probably launching right into the Undersiders’ attempt at a masterful prankster’s gambit worth $1.25 million and a lot of resources. I doubt much of the plan will be laid out before they get started, because with odds like these, the Undersiders are gonna need every bit of Unpoken Plan Guarantee they can get. Besides, if the plan is as goofy as I’m hoping, it will be more satisfying if the reader doesn’t know what they’re going to do.

See you then!

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