Buzz 7.1: Broken Heart, Broken Soul

Source material: Worm, Buzz 7.1

Originally blogged: October 5-7, 2017


Buzzzz

bzz

I’ve already said this but it was really just a question of time. Who doesn’t think of “buzz” when they’re asked to list insect-related words?

Maybe an entomologist would be too busy listing species or scientific terms for insectoid body parts.

Uh, anyway. Hi! I’m back to read some more Worm! Tonight we’re getting started on the first chapter of Arc 7, which is titled Buzz.

So, what are we in for now? I’ve already speculated on the nature of Arc 7 in my Arc Thoughts for Tangle, but where will we start off?

I’m thinking we’ll either start where we left off, with Lisa taking Taylor to the Loft and possibly talking about what happened, or – more likely – a few days later. Maybe Taylor will be debating whether or not she should tell the other Undersiders what she was trying to do, or maybe how to do so with a minimal number of dog bites and sore feelings.

I don’t know. It’s so much harder to speculate on this at the start of an arc.

And then there’s the one thing I left out of the Arc thoughts post, namely speculations on the title!

Buzz, metaphorically speaking, tends to refer to word on the street, rumors, etc. Maybe word spreads around more about the Undersiders after their heist on the Gallery? Maybe Emma did recognize Taylor and is now trying to set out rumors?

Hm… or maybe it refers to a lot of activity within the Undersiders’ hive, as they try to deal with Coil’s offer, Taylor’s newly revealed deception and whatever else might come up, all at the same time.

I guess there’s only one way to find out. If you’ll excuse the mess this intro post became, I think it’s high time for me to jump in and see what all the Buzz is about!


Brian was quicker than a guy his height should’ve been.  He stepped back out of the way of my jab, then turned his body in what I was learning was going to be a kick.

Sparring!

…hopefully!

Thing was,  I didn’t know where that kick would be directed, and he generally didn’t hold back with his kicks the way he did with his jabs.  Knowing this, keeping to his instructions on being unpredictable, I threw myself forward and awkwardly tackled him.

Ooh, nice move.

Meanwhile Lisa’s just watching Taylor tackle Brian like, “go get him, girl!”.

His thigh caught me in the side as he brought his leg around, which hurt, but not as badly as the kick would have.  Even so, I succeeded in knocking him to the ground.

Not bad, considering whom you’re fighting.

Any sense of victory I might have felt was short lived, because I fell with him, and he was more prepared for what came next than I was.

Heh.

We hit the ground, he used the leverage of his hands and his still-raised thigh to heave me to his right.  Before I had my bearings, he flipped himself over in my direction and straddled me.

Lisa: “Go get her, boy!”


I jabbed a hand for his side, but he caught my wrist and twisted my arm around until my elbow was pointing at my bellybutton.

The sound my shoulder just made as I tried to simulate that was not one of the best things I’ve ever heard.

I grabbed at his shirt with my other hand, hoping to maybe buck him off me (fat chance), and he grabbed that wrist too.

Lisa: “Do I even need to say it anymore?”

He adjusted his grip on my twisted right arm and pinned my arms down against the ground, stretched out over my head.

The judge is counting down! Or at least he should be, but it seems he’s preoccupied with some terrible Earth-Aleph movie.

“It’s a start,” he smiled down at me.

Realizing the position he had me in, feeling the pressure of his thighs against my hips, his weight resting partially on my lower body, I must’ve blown a synapse.

There we go. 😀

And right when he gave her one of those smiles she likes so much, too!

My thought process ground to a halt.  It didn’t help that the first place my mind went was interpreting his ‘start’ as being this position leading to something else.

Ahahaha!


“We keep this up, and you could be quite the scrapper,” he elaborated.

Scrums and whatnot.

“When we were on the ground, here, and I pushed you to one side, you should have rolled with it.  Get yourself some distance.  If you were really quick about it, you could have even been on your feet before I was, which would be a good position for attack.”

“When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.”

I don’t think this is quite what Lao Tzu was talking about, but it still kinda fits.

…y’know, looking at the quote with some context, it actually reminds me of Oni Lee. Not so much the first part, about simplicity, patience and compassion, but Oni’s strongest piece of characterization so far is “knows who to fight and when to quit”.

(#so for the non-homestucks out there
#which part of this post do you think has to do with homestuck?
#the answer will be in the tags of the next post)

[Past me, you fucking liar, you forgot to put the answer there!]


“Mmm,” was the most coherent response I could manage.

I think I could grow to like this Arc… 😉

“You going to let her up, or are you enjoying this too much?” Lisa asked him, from where she sat on the couch.

Ahahaha I knew it

She had her arms folded over the back of it, her chin on the cushion.  Her hands were folded in front of her mouth, hiding what I suspected was an amused smile.

She’s having so much fun watching these dorks.

Brian smiled as he stood, “Sorry, Taylor.  You want to go a round, Lise?”

I don’t think that’s quite what she was getting at, Brian… though maybe you were just going to offer this anyway.

“Not dressed for it, it’s too early in the day, and I wouldn’t deny Taylor her fun,” she spoke, without raising her head.  When I gave her an irritated look, she winked at me.

I think she’s had those excuses ready to go for a while, in case the question came up. 😛

Brian and I stood and faced each other, then both of us hesitated, me staying just out of his reach.

What’s the matter? 😉

[The answer to the question from the previous post’s tags: Both parts. “Scrums and whatnot” is a Homestuck quote, and the Lao Tzu quote was also quoted in Homestuck (but attributed to Oscar Wilde because misattributed quotes were a running gag).

That was an odd place to put this little guessing game considering how many much stealthier Homestuck references there are in my liveblog.]


“I’m surprised you’re up for this, you two,” Lisa commented, “Aren’t your legs sore from the jumping around last night?  You especially, Taylor.  You went on a run this morning, and now you’re sparring?”

“Jumping around”, you say? o:)

Okay, seriously though, I do want to know what she’s talking about. If nothing else, it might help place us on the timeline. I guess it could be the gallery heist? I suppose 6.9 did take place the same night, didn’t it.

Also, Lisa, if running in the morning put Taylor out of commission physically, she’d never get anything done, except running, anything involving phone or computers and whatever she could get the bugs to do for her.

“If my knees could talk, they’d be screaming in agony,” I answered her.  I raised my hand as Brian moved to attack while I was distracted, and he backed off again.  “But staying active keeps my mind off stuff.”

Ahh, right. Stuff. Like how to tell the Undersiders you were going to betray them? How to face your dad again?

“Everything okay?” Brian asked me.  I shrugged, glanced at Lisa.

“Taylor went home,” Lisa explained, “Got in an argument with her dad, came back here.  Might be staying a while, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I echoed her.

Sounds like this does take place the day after the confrontation and the Decision – or at least not long enough after for Brian to learn about it before now.

“Sorry,” Brian sympathized.

“Me too,” I spoke.  I stepped in closer, trying to provoke him to move, but he didn’t fall for it.  “I love my dad.  I never really had that phase others did, where I felt embarassed to be around him, where we didn’t understand each other.  I thought we were closer than that, until last night.”

Seriously, Taylor? You’re gonna say you never had the phace where you didn’t understand each other, the phase you’ve been living in for quite a while now? It might not be exclusively due to the usual causes, and might not include the embarrassment, but the part about lack of understanding is pretty solid. The disconnect predates Skitter, Taylor, you just never realized it because you didn’t fully understand your dad, and because he’s the kind of guy who wouldn’t confront you about it until it went – in his eyes – too far.


“Are things going to be okay?”

“Don’t really know,” I replied.  Changing the subject, I admitted, “Okay, I’m stuck.  I’m standing here, facing you, and I don’t know what I can do that isn’t going to wind up with me getting hit or thrown to the ground.

Smooth.

I move forward, there’s a million things you could do to kick my ass.  What would you do, in my shoes?”

A valuable question!

“Honestly?  Hmm,” he relaxed a bit, “Good question.  I guess I’d go for the nearest thing I could use as a weapon.”

Hm. Often, the nearest thing you could use as a weapon, other than yourself, would be… the opponent… Yes. Good strategy. Bludgeon your opponent with themself – it’s an age-old trick used by siblings everywhere.

“Besides that.  There’s nothing I could grab that would work for sparring without really hurting you.”

“I guess I’d do what you’re doing, wait for the other guy to make a move.”

“Okay.  So move.”

Brian:

tumblr_inline_oxddxzust81sxgvvn_1280


He did. He stepped closer, feinted high with a kick, then ducked low to try and kick my feet out from under me.  I could handle that much – I hopped a little to avoid his foot as it moved beneath me.

Nice!

Still, he was one step ahead of me, getting his footing with the extended leg and shoulder-checking me onto my ass.

bunp.

[…see what I mean about stealthier Homestuck references?]

I took his advice from earlier, going with it, scrambling backward to create some distance, but he had the advantage of having both feet on the ground.  He half-turned and followed after me, bringing his knee forward, stopping a few inches shy of my face.

“You’re learning,” he said.

Always a plus! She might not be able to beat Brian just yet, but she’s clearly improving.

“Very slowly.”

“You’re learning,” he stressed,

Brian should consider becoming a teacher. Not necessarily a martial arts teacher – I’m saying he’d be a pretty good one in general.

“You listen to what I say, you keep it in mind, and I almost never have to remind you of something twice.”

Meanwhile, Taylor is a very good student.


He offered me his hand, and as I reached up to take it, he gripped my upper arm.  I gripped his, and he hauled me back up to my feet.

“I come bearing coffee and breakfast,” Alec pronounced, “That a certain team leader was too lazy to fetch.”

Team leader, huh? Are you talking about Brian or Lisa? I’m kind of leaning towards Lisa, since she’s the one who’s been acting a bit lazily this morning (which it probably is, given the breakfast, though I’m not one to talk on that front).

Either way, I’m pretty sure he means it in a de facto sense – officially, they have no leader besides Coil, right? Problem is I could see either Brian or Lisa filling that role about equally.

“Aw fuck off, Alec,” Brian replied, without any venom in his voice.  He let go of my arm to grab a coffee.  “I grab you something nine days out of ten, on my way here.”

Ah, no, he was talking about Brian. Fair enough, it was a 47.5/47.5 shot.

“That’s your tax for the inconvenience of you living off site,” Alec replied, moving toward the couch and handing Lisa and me our coffees.

Heh, fair enough.

Hm, something just occurred to me: What if this Arc helps develop Alec a bit more? Taylor’s current personal goal is getting to know the Undersiders better, and we got our first look at his backstory in 6.8, so it would be a good time to pick up that thread.


Lisa took the paper bag and fished out some muffins, handing me one.  I sat on the couch next to her.

“So,” Brian addressed us, as we all walked to the couches.  “I think it’s important to get a few things out of the way, now that we know who we’re employed by, why, and our possibilities for the future.”

Ah, yes, We Need To Talk about this.

Where’s Rachel, by the way? I feel like she keeps getting left out of this kind of socialization scene and these team discussions. More frequently so than Brian, and unlike Brian, she actually lives here.

Bitch settled on the other couch

coddammit okay i did not read ahead

I probably don’t need to say that but I sometimes feel like I do.

with her dogs hopping up around her as she pulled her feet up beside her.

So I guess she was around all along, just silent and not really doing anything noteworthy.

That left Brian to sit in the empty space between Alec and me.  I felt painfully conscious of where his calf and arm were touching my leg and shoulder.

😀

I’d been running and sparring, I was probably sweaty.  Did I smell?  Would that gross him out?

I really don’t think so. In fact, Brian strikes me more as the type to kinda appreciate it. Uh, though not in the creepy “let me smell your sweat” way.

I couldn’t help but feel self conscious, but I would’ve stood out more if I did something about it.  I tried to focus on the discussion instead.

Yeah, try that.


“First off, I don’t think we should do a majority vote for this thing Coil proposed.  As far as I’m concerned, this is too important, too game-changing, for us to go ahead with it if anyone’s going to be unhappy or upset.  We come to a consensus or we don’t do it.”

Yeah, this is a good move. And if they don’t do it, nothing changes about the Undersiders’ status quo according to Coil, so it’s not a huge problem for the Undersiders – short-term, anyway – if they decide not to do it.

I wasn’t the only one to nod in silent agreement.

“Second, Alec, I gotta ask about what Coil said.  Past identity, your dad.  Is this something that’s going to come back and bite us in the ass?”

Oh, huh, so this is something he hasn’t told the other non-Taylor Undersiders before, either.

Alec sighed and leaned back against the arm of the couch with a roll of his eyes, “No chance we can ignore that?”

“I dunno, can we?”

That’s sort of the question, yeah.

“My dad runs his own group in Montreal.  I was working for him before anything else.”

“Who is he?” Brian pressed.

“Nikos Vasil.  Heartbreaker.”

My eyebrows went up at that.

Heartbreaker? Are we dealing with an Anti-Cupid here, or is it just a fancy name for a serial murderer?

I’m actually more inclined to lean towards the former or an unknown third option, if for no other reason than that the names in this story tend to at least make something of a nod to the person’s power.

Lisa whistled, “After Coil let that detail slip, I made a mental list of possibilities.  Had it narrowed down to four.  Heartbreaker was one, the pieces fit, but it was so hard to believe.”

“He’s big,” Brian said.

“No,” Alec shook his head, “He’s scary.  He’s newsworthy.  But he’s not all that.”

Hm, interesting. So Heartbreaker is good at PR, then? Because it certainly sounds like Alec thinks he’s gotten the media to make him appear a lot more powerful – in the mundane sense of the word – than he actually is.


Heartbreaker was what you got when someone had a power like Gallant, the ability to manipulate emotions, and absolutely no compunctions about using it selfishly.

Oh boy. Well, sounds like we’re going the Anti-Cupid route, but this sounds more extensive.

Is he actually scary, or does he make you scared? It’s ridiculous to postulate that there’s a difference, but in this case, there is.

Unlike Gallant, Heartbreaker didn’t need to shoot you with any blasts of energy to affect you.  He just needed to be near you, and the effects were long term or permanent.

Permanent emotion changes?? That sounds nasty.

Despite Alec’s attempts at downplaying who and what his dad was, it was hard to ignore the fact that I’d grown up hearing what this guy had done on the evening news, that I’d come across mentions of it online since I started browsing the web for cape stuff as a kid.  Heartbreaker found beautiful women, made them love him, really love him, and formed a cult-like group with them serving him hand and foot, committing crimes for his favor.

Eaugh.

This guy isn’t even an Anti-Cupid, he’s using positive Cupid powers in a disgusting way.

They worshiped him to the extent they were willing to diefor him.  Drawn to their natural conclusion, his methods meant he had lots of kids.  Alec included.

Well, shit.

So, uh, trigger warning for rape discussion (without real anecdotes) coming up.

Today in questions Worm indirectly makes one ask: If someone’s mind has been permanently modified through non-natural means, in such a way that they’ll willingly agree to sex with the person who caused that change, is that sex consensual or does it fall under the same rules as having sex with a drunk or drugged person and count as rape?

I’m personally strongly on the side of “no, it’s rape, especially if the other person willingly and intently caused this change”.


“Damn,” I muttered.  I asked Alec, “You grew up with that guy?”

He shrugged, “It was normal to me.”

A typical exhibit of what happens when someone grows up in fucked-up conditions.

“I mean, what was it like? I can’t even wrap my head around it.  Were the women nice to you?  What- how does that even function?”

“My dad’s victims had eyes only for him,” Alec said, “So no, they weren’t nice to me or my brothers and sisters.”

Well, there goes the “at least he got to have a lot of moms” silver lining.

Details,” Lisa said, “C’mon.  Talk.”

Rude, Lisa. I know you don’t like not knowing things, but rude. Very rude.

“I’m not a talkative person.”

“Talk or I kick your ass,” she threatened.

Lisa just took “Very rude.” and punted it into orbit – that’s how rude she’s being now.


“Seconded,” I added.

Come on, Taylor! Not you too!

See, the thing is, unlike me, these two don’t have the excuse of Alec being a fictional character whom they’re supposed tolearn about in this situation as per the divine decree of the author of the universe. To them, Alec is a human being who clearly doesn’t want to talk about his childhood.

He scowled briefly, then crossed one foot over the other on the coffee table, settling deeper into the couch with his coffee resting on his belt buckle.  “We had everything we could ask for, as far as money and stuff went.

I’m sorry, Alec.

Dad’s victims took care of the chores, so the only thing us kids would have to do was take care of the babies sometimes.

How many would there be at a time?

Also, it’s not at all surprising that Alec was raised with a lot of money and not much to do – that much has been clear since, well… pretty much all the way since 1.6.

Didn’t have to go to school, but some of my brothers and sisters did just to stay out of my dad’s way.”

“Why?” I asked, “Or is that a dumb question?”

It seems like a useful interrogative quip to grease the wheels of his monologue.

“Eh.  It’s hard to explain.  He cultivated us, bred for us, went miles out of his way to get us back if a member of his ‘family’ was taken from him.  Mounted a freaking crusade if it came down to it.  But when we were around, he paid almost no attention to us kids.

Hrm. What did he see them as? Property?

When he did pay attention, it was to discipline us or test us.

…soldiers?

Discipline usually meant getting a dose of paralyzing terror for not listening to him, insulting him or even looking him in the eye, sometimes.  Testing happened on our birthdays or if he’d had a bad day… he’d try to set up a trigger event.

Ohh boy.

Welp. Guess we know how Alec got his power, somewhat.

Yikes in a handbasket.

Not supposed to be so hard, given that we were second generation capes, obviously, but he started when we were eight or so.”

So, remember how I once suggested [here] there might be some sort of group that were actively trying to cause trigger events for the general population because of parahuman supremacist views?

This seems to be in the same vein, except it feels even more disgusting because it’s Heartbreaker’s own kids – it’s like he’s having children specifically to turn them into his own personal army of parahumans.


[End of session]


[Discord]

Sharks:
So now you know of Heartbreaker.
Isn’t he a POS?

Krixwell:
Oh, definitely. My doucheometer would straight up explode if I had gotten around to replacing it since Interlude 6.
I should look into a different brand. The ones I’ve been using are too fragile for Worm.


So in the few minutes I just spent messing around before resuming the liveblog, I came up with a Minecraft banner design based on Paige/Canary.


[Session 2]

Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes, we were learning just how much of a piece of shit Heartbreaker is, and possibly getting some details on Alec’s trigger event. Time to get back into it. 🙂


“How old were you?  When your powers showed?” I asked, quiet, feeling intense pity not only for Heartbreaker’s victims, but for the kids in that situation.

Honestly, you might as well count them under his victims too. They’re not victims of the same thing, but they’re definitely also victims.

That said, it’s useful to keep them separate, just for clarity’s sake.

Whatever my feelings, Alec managed to look bored with the topic.

Honestly, Heartbreaker’s power has me worried. Is there a reason, beyond Alec’s personality and what he had to teach himself in order to make it in the Heartbreaker household, for his nearly perpetual bored or detached attitude?

I hope not, for Alec’s sake. Especially considering that boredom is one of the most awful and self-destructive feelings we have – many if not most people literally prefer pain over boredom.

“Hard to tell.  Since I didn’t go to school, and nobody really kept records, I lost track of the years.  Ten or eleven, maybe.

That must be such a strange feeling. I mean, it’s one thing just biologically having a limited sense of time’s passage and no idea if certain things happened two weeks or two months ago, like I do, but something very different to have been neglected so much you lost track of how old you were back then.

I was his fourth kid to show powers, and there were eighteen or so of us when I left.  Most of ’em were babies, though.”

Damn.

Which made him, not Grue, the one of us with the most experience and seniority.

…I suppose that’s true.


Alec shrugged, “So yeah.  I worked for him for three or four years.  We did jobs, I learned the family trade.  Called myself Hijack at first.

That’s a pretty fitting name.

It also makes me think or Paranatural, where Hijack is some kind of being with the power of possession.

He started to get on my case.  I think maybe he was having trouble affecting me the same way he did before my powers kicked in, so he compensated for that by riding me.

Confirmed that Heartbreaker used his power on his kids, including Alec. :/

Also, “riding”? I hope you mean in the sense of making Alec work hard. I really do.

Pushed my limits, made me do stuff that was dangerous, stuff that was hard on my conscience.  Wanted me to break, beg him to stop, so he’d have leverage to get me to do what he wanted.”

“And?”

Ugh.

…I have a feeling Alec only got more and more bitter and resolved not to break. Question is whether he managed to keep that resolve.

“And he ordered me to kill this foot soldier for a group trying to push us out of their territory.  After I was done, he told me I did it wrong, that I had to do it again with a captive we’d taken, and I knew no matter what I did, he’d make me keep doing it.

So that’s at the very least two lives he had Alec take for the sake of abusing him. There’s a chance he was going to murder these two anyway, but still. Rude.

…ohhh. I think we just found out what Armsmaster was talking about in Agitation.


Just another way of pushing my limits.  I had convinced myself I didn’t care about the people I was hurting or about this guy I’d just killed, and maybe I didn’t.  Maybe I don’t, still.  Dunno.  But it was so pointless.”

If Alec’s detached attitude isn’t entirely the result of Heartbreaker’s power, this kind of thing would likely contribute to it. He’d start detaching himself from the things Heartbreaker made him do, and it’d snowball into a detachment from pretty much everything.

He shrugged, “I didn’t see a real reason to stay.  Walked away.  Changed my name, got fresh ID, changed my villain name too.”

Why did you stay a villain? Why do you still want to impress your father (as discussed in 3.8)? Was that what he did with his power, make you permanently want to impress him? It would make sense to do that when he’s trying to raise children to be his parahuman servants.

He’d killed someone on his father’s orders, which made him the second killer in the group. Armsmaster must have dug up that detail & drawn the right conclusions after connecting Alec to his prior alter ego.

(The ampersand seems out of place here.)

Yeah, we know from Coil that the Protectorate is aware of Alec’s past, so Armsy almost certainly knew about that.

“When did this happen, this killing?” I asked, quiet, “How old were you when you killed that guy?”

“Hmm.  I’d been gone for about two years before the boss got in touch with me, which was about this time last year, so three years ago.  I would’ve been twelve or thirteen.”

Sheesh.

Was that forgivable?  He’d been made to do it, he’d been in fucked up circumstances with no real moral compass to go by, still a kid.  The way he described it, though, it didn’t sit well with me.  Cold blooded murder.

Ahh, a good old philosophical question right there. Are you still accountable for morally bad actions if someone forced you to do them?

Immanuel Kant would say that yes, if you have the option to refuse to do something bad (which you almost always have, just at varying costs to yourself), it’s your responsibility to refuse – though Kant was also the guy who’d rather have you giving up your children’s location to a murderer than tell a lie. He did have a point, though – is it selfish to put more weight on the bad things that may happen to yourself if you don’t than on the bad things that definitely happen to others if you do?

Worth noting in this particular scenario is that Heartbreaker would probably kill the victims anyway, and I think Alec knew that. Realistically, Alec and the world didn’t actually stand anything to gain, other than a clearer conscience for Alec, from him not murdering.

The cold-blooded part was a defense mechanism. A way for Alec to handle being forced to do this without breaking apart and becoming another tool for Heartbreaker to spread more violence.

Was it wrong to murder this guy? Yes. Did Alec have a choice? Yes. Do I blame Alec for doing it? Not one bit.


“You said he goes after his kids if they leave,” Brian spoke, “Will that happen here?  If he realizes you’re one of his?”

“Dunno.  Maybe.

That could become a problem some Arc, then.

I’d bet he’d send one of my brothers or sisters to talk to me, ask me to come back before he did anything else.  If that happened, I’d probably leave before he came in person.”

Ahh, maybe not. Unless things didn’t go as Alec expected, I don’t see this actually happening.

“Or we could back you up,” Brian pointed out.

“Or that,” Alec agreed, apparently oblivious to the show of camaraderie.

“Yes, that makes sense.”

“Anything else?  Any more questions for yours truly?”

“Dozens more,” I said, “But I think we need to get to the other big topic of the day.”

Yeah, let’s do that. It was fun learning more about Alec, but that’s not what they actually came here for.


“Yeah,” Brian agreed.  “I’m less than thrilled you didn’t mention this, I have my concerns about the possibility that a guy like him might come after you, after us, but there’s nothing we can do about it for the time being.  Let’s focus on more pressing matters.”

Yeah.

Lisa pulled her feet up beside her on the couch, “Thoughts on the deal?  Before we vote?”

“Makes sense to me,” Alec replied.  “It’s something I figured I’d end up doing eventually, controlling a territory, being boss of an area, letting the green roll in without any major effort.”

Hehe. Classic Regent, really. It’s pretty much exactly what his name would imply, even.

“Could be a lot of effort,” I spoke, “Depending on how secret he manages to keep this, and how successful he is.

Yeah, that’s fair. This isn’t guaranteed to wo- wait, yes it is, at least if Coil’s power is strong enough.

If this goes bad, it means us against however many capes the Protectorate decides to throw at us.

It might mean that if it goes well, too. I mean, you’ll be a group of villains who have taken over an entire city.

We could wind up with the teams from Boston and New York coming to deal with the problem, if word gets out about what we’re doing.”

Yeah, very likely.


“Call me an optimist,” Alec said. “I don’t think it’ll be that bad.”

Ooooptiiiimiiiist
I know it’ll work out in the end
As long as I’m living here
I’ll be an optimist
I am an optimist

“Taylor just reminded me of what I said about the bank robbery, and what wound up happening.”  This from Brian.

What did Brian say about it, again? That it was high risk, low reward, right?

“We’ve been successful because we, by and large, pick our battles, go on the offensive, and catch our enemies off guard.  In situations where we haven’t done that, and I’m thinking specifically about our fight with Bakuda, we really struggled.  That’s when we came closest to getting killed.

Hm, yeah, this is a fairly good point.

Consider that we’ll be the ones on the defensive, if we’re holding this territory and taking on all comers.”

And it got even better when I actually finished reading it.

“We can work around that,” Lisa replied, “Plans, information gathering, pre-emptive attacks. I’ve got the inside info, and there’s nothing stopping Taylor from using her bugs to keep an eye on the neighborhood.

There we go again: Knowledge is power.

She also seems to be suggesting a “good offense is the best defense” strategy. Which, if you’re better at the offensive to begin with, can be true.

Besides, Coil didn’t say we couldn’t hire other parahumans, just that anyone who wanted to work in Brockton Bay had to bend the knee to him.  So we could theoretically recruit other parahumans, if we needed to, bulk our forces.”

Start with establishing good relations with the Travelers. They’re also hired by Coil, and they’re heavy hitters that can help with that good offense we just discussed.


“My problem,” I chose my words carefully, “Is it sounds too good to be true.  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if we wind up miserable, or if he screws us, or if he isn’t as good as he thinks he’ll be?  Do we walk away?  Will we be able to?”

All you can ever do is try, so you do need to be prepared for the possibility of failure.

Icarus wasn’t, and that’s the real reason he died.

“I got away from my dad,” Alec said.  “Would it be so hard to get away from Coil?”

I didn’t have a good answer to that.

I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

And hey, the Undersiders are the masters of the getaway and all…

“I guess we don’t know enough about him or the resources he’s got at his disposal to say.”

“I do have my reservations,” Brian spoke, “But I get the impression Coil’s going ahead with this regardless of whether we’re in or not.  I’d rather be in on this than sitting on the sidelines, watching it happen.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty good point, one that might be what would get me in on this. If the Undersiders stay out, nothing changes for their status quo in the short term, but what about when Coil is in charge of the city?

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I think that right now, what we stand to gain by saying ‘yes’, and being right, far outweighs what we stand to lose.”

“So, who’s for the deal, then?” Lisa asked us.

Aye!


I raised my hand.  Alec, Brian and Lisa joined me in raising theirs.  That left the one person who hadn’t participated in the conversation over Coil’s deal as the sole nay vote.  Bitch seemed unconcerned as she rubbed Brutus’ shoulder.

Hm. What do you think, Rachel?

If this is an actual nay vote, then they’re not doing it. There’s still the chance that she just… hasn’t been paying attention, though? Not really something I associate with her, but a possibility.

“What’s up?” Brian asked her.

“I don’t like it.  Don’t trust him,” she didn’t raise her eyes from Brutus.

Okay, this calls for some serious questions regarding the identity of the scentless man. So far, I’ve been operating under the assumption that the scentless man was the Boss, later revealed to be Coil, but Rachel seemed to trust the scentless man to some extent.

I guess either we have another mystery boss on our hands and Rachel is working for more than one boss, I got the wrong impression of her attitude towards Coil in the Brutus interlude, or she’s lying.

I’m not confident enough in any of those options to really make a solid guess here. For now, Occam’s razor suggests the middle option, but I’ll have to see. Occam’s razor isn’t actually that solid in works of fiction, after all.


I leaned forward, “Not saying you’re wrong in not trusting him, but why?”

Angelica, the one eyed, one eared terrier, nuzzled her, and Bitch scratched her behind the ear.  Bitch explained, “He talks too much.  Only reason people talk like he does is if they’re covering something up.”

Hm. Spoken like a true quiet person.

Maybe there’s some truth to that. I mean, snake’s tongue and all – I’m willing to trust Coil a fair bit, but let’s not forget the motifs and reputation he surrounds himself with. Plus, based on a couple of the asks I’ve been getting, it sounds like some of you guys don’t.

On another note, I wonder how much Rachel trusts Lisa.

“I don’t think he’s covering anything up,” Lisa said, “My power would probably clue me in if he was hiding something.”

“I’m going with my gut, and my gut says no.  Besides, things are fine the way they are.”

“But they could be better,” Alec said.

Fair points on all sides.

“Your opinion, not mine.  We done here?  You said we wouldn’t accept the deal unless everyone was cool with it, and I’m not.”

Yeah, that’s what was agreed. I’m fine with the other Undersiders wanting to know why Rachel voted no, but let’s not peer (pack?) pressure her.

Brian frowned, “Wait.  I assumed we’d discuss this, hear each other out.”

“Nothing to discuss,” Bitch stood up and whistled twice.  Her dogs hopped down from the couch to follow her.  “I’m going to work.”

“Come on,” Brian said, “Don’t-”

Sorry, Brian.


I have a feeling that by the end of the Arc, Rachel will either a) come around, b) leave the Undersiders or c) be steamrolled despite what was agreed. The deal looks too important to the furthering of the plot – it would be very surprising if the Undersiders didn’t ultimately take it.


Lisa stopped him, “Let’s wait, then.  He said we had a week, we can afford to wait a day or two.  Bitch, go do your thing, get it out of the way.  But maybe try to be more open to negotiation and discussion when it comes up again.”

Fair enough, I suppose.

Bitch’s eyebrows knit together in a glare, not directed at anyone in particular.  She turned her attention to collecting the things she needed – plastic bags, a few energy bars, leashes, and a backpack with a bright blue plastic stick jutting out of a gap in the zipper.

“Hey,” I spoke up, “Can I come with?”

Huh… now that’s an interesting move. I guess Taylor is trying to make good on what she told herself yesterday, and make an effort to get to know all the Undersiders better, including Rachel.

And now that Taylor knows a bit better how Rachel’s mind works, it might not go horribly, even.

I’d told myself I wanted to connect with these guys, and that wasn’t going to happen if I just sat back and participated only when invited.  I had to put myself out there.  Given what I was giving up to be here, I figured I owed it to myself.

Yeah… that’s… a good perspective…

*cough*imterribleattakingthiskindofinitiative*cough*


Bitch, though, was less than impressed.  The look she gave me could have sent a small animal fleeing for its life.

Yeeah, this isn’t really the best time. I think she’s in the mood to withdraw from social contact right now.

“Fuck you,” she spat the words.

“Hey.  What?” I was stunned.

Did she think Taylor was mocking her?

“You want to come and bug me to change my mind.  Well fuck you.  You’re not coming into my space, getting in my business, to make me do or say anything I don’t want to do.”

Ah, yeah, that’s a fair assumption, given the timing. She’s wrong, but a predictable, understandable kind of wrong.

I started to raise my hands, in a placating gesture, but I stopped myself.  Bitch had a different standard for handling social situations.  She didn’t understand stuff like tone, stress, sarcasm, and precedent had led her to assume sarcasm and aggression from any statement.

See? This is exactly the kind of behavior Brian was talking about earlier. Not Rachel’s behavior – Taylor’s.

She’s learning very quickly. Lisa told her how Rachel’s mind works once, and Taylor is already taking it all to heart and adjusting her approach based on that new knowledge.

And it wasn’t just statements, I had a suspicion that the gesture of raising my hands could be seen as aggressive, or something like an animal trying to make itself look bigger, intimidating.

Yeah, seems likely.

I had to communicate with her in a way that left the least room for misinterpretation.

Good luck, but you might not need it.


“You’re going to take care of the rescued dogs, right?  That’s what you do when you go out?  Your ‘work’?”

“None of your business.”

“Coil said you’re overloaded.  I’m offering an extra set of hands, so you can give the dogs more of the attention they need.”

Hey, that’s not a bad approach.

And I’m all for the idea of maybe getting to see Rachel and Taylor taking care of dogs together!

“Bullshit.”

“Enough,” Brian started to rise, “You need to calm down-”

I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him down.  “I’m fine.  Rachel, I’m going to make you a deal.”

A deal?

Her eyes narrowed.

“I thought my last deal was pretty fair, so hear me out?”

“Fine.”

“Let me come along.  I’ll help out where I can, we’ll maybe talk, but we won’t talk about Coil, unless you bring it up.  In exchange, if I do bring it up, or if I try to manipulate you one way or the other, you get a free shot at me.”

Yeah, this sounds good. It also makes it so that Taylor has a clear, self-imposed incentive to not try to manipulate Rachel, which should soothe the latter a bit. Hopefully.


“A free shot.”

“One punch, however you want it, wherever you want to stick it.  I know Brian said something about there being no repeats of the day we met, no fighting inside the group or whatever, but this would be a freebie.  Totally allowed.”  I glanced at Brian, who only gave me a concerned look and a small, tight shake of the head.

Hehehe.

“nooo taylor shut up she punches hard”

“Nah,” Bitch answered, “You’ll just piss me off some other way.”

Impulsively, I told her, “Then how about this?  If we finish, we get back here, and it turns out I’ve ruined your day, you get that free shot.”

Even better. Now the terms of the breach are practically decided by Rachel – Taylor just gave Rachel a free pass to punch her if she pissed her off in any way.

She stared at me for a moment.  “So I just got to put up with you for a few hours, and then I get to knock your teeth out?”

Great deal! Am I right, Rachel?


No,” Brian said, raising his voice.

Yes,” I told her, giving Brian a pointed look.  “If I mention the meeting before you do, or if I piss you off.”

I love how Brian is just like some… chibi character in the background going “this is a bad ideeeaaa”.

She looked me over, “Whatever.  If you’re that eager to get hit, it’s your funeral.”  She took off the backpack and threw it at me.  I caught it with both arms.  Heavier than it looked.

As I hurried her way to get my running shoes on, Alec hissed at me, “You’re crazy.”

Ahahaha

Maybe.  Probably.  But I couldn’t think of a better way to reach out to Bitch.

I hoped this wasn’t something I was going to regret.

It might hurt for a few days, but you’ll be fine… hopefully. Your relationship with Rachel might be another story, though.


End of Buzz 7.1

This was another good chapter… honestly, that feels like the norm these days.

We started the Arc off with some hot Brian on Taylor action adorable ship fuel, which is always welcome. Then we got to learn about Alec’s dark and troubled past, and the piece of shit that is Heartbreaker. It was high time we learned more about Alec, and 6.8 finally opened that opportunity for us.

And then, at the end, we got to watch Taylor put her knowledge from the end of Hive to use and figure out how to make Rachel let her tag along to doggy heaven. The next chapter ought to be rather interesting, allowing us to learn some more about Rachel, develop her relationship with Taylor and probably deal with a whole bunch of dogs. It’s bound to be adorable… and maybe a bit sad, seeing as most of the dogs are there because previous owners mistreated them.

I’m very much looking forward to that. See you then!

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2 thoughts on “Buzz 7.1: Broken Heart, Broken Soul

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