Agitation 3.5

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“A favor,” he answered me, as if he needed to say it out loud to himself to believe it.  The tone gave me pause.  Had I misread him, that first night, when I gave him credit for Lung and assumed he was grateful?

“Yeah,” I tried to sound confident, “But I should explain things first.  First off, the Undersiders offered me a spot on their team.  I took it.”

His reaction was subtle.  His chin rose a fraction, he shifted his weight fractionally, and  the grip of his armored gauntlets tightened enough on his Halberd to make a faint metal-on-metal screech.

“I think you’d better start making sense, fast,” he spoke in a calm voice, even as his body language was making me want to back away.

I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves, “I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the conversation we had last Sunday.  It seemed odd how you accepted I was a good guy as fast as you did.  Would I be right in guessing you either have a lie detector built into your helmet or some power that works more or less the same way?”

He didn’t hurry to give me a reply, taking a few moments before telling me, “Lie detectors can be fooled, even mine.”

“Well, tell me if anything sets an alarm ringing, or if your instincts tell you I’m lying.  I was a good guy then, I’m a good guy now.  I joined the Undersiders because you said you were having trouble getting info on the guys.  Now I know their faces, I know the names they’re using, I have a pretty good idea about what their powers do, and I know where they’re living.”

His posture relaxed.  He slapped the pole of his Halberd against his back and it snapped into place.  “If that’s the case, then you’ve done us a great service.  Would you be willing to come to the Protectorate Headquarters and present that information to the team?”

My heart leapt.  Meeting the local Protectorate, with Miss Militia, Triumph, Velocity, Dauntless, Battery and Assault?  I could imagine seeing their reactions to everything I’d found, telling them about my fight with Bitch, maybe about my part in the fight with Lung, if Armsmaster was cool with that.  Hearing their stories in turn.

“I can’t.”

“Why not?” his response was so quick it was very nearly an interruption.  His tone and posture were both hostile again in a flash.  I was glad he wasn’t still holding his Halberd, because I think he might have pointed it at me.

“There’s one more thing I need to find out for you,” I said, raising my hands in a sort of surrender.  I needed to find out who their boss was.  I couldn’t tell him that, though.  The less he knew, the less likely Tattletale would know I told him anything.  At least, I was hoping that was the case.

“So tell me what you know and then go find that last detail.”

“I can’t,” I answered for the second time in ten seconds, hating myself for doing it.

“You’d better have a good reason, or I’m dragging you to the PHQ and we’ll see how well you tease when you’re in front of the entire team.”

Which would be a disaster.  I swallowed hard, “What if I told you there was a spy in the PHQ?”

“You’d be setting off the lie detector.  Try again.”

I bit my lip.  I’d been hoping that phrasing it as a question would throw it off.

“There’s something at play that’s for all intents and purposes, a spy in your ranks.”

“Mostly true.  What is it?”

“I can’t be any clearer without them figuring out I told.  Just my being here is really risky.”  If word got out as to how Lisa’s power worked, I was almost positive she’d know how.

He stared at me for several long moments, “The Tattletale girl.”

Armsmaster had come to the conclusion more or less on his own.  I hoped that was enough to keep Tattletale from drawing a connection to me.  Still… fuck.

He stared off towards the PHQ for a few long moments.  Without looking at me, he asked, “So you’re not willing to provide any concrete information.  Why did you call me?”

“They’re planning something.  They want me to help them.  I do this, maybe one or two other jobs, I’m sure I can get that last essential detail, and you’ll have what you need to capture these guys.”

He didn’t reply.

So I asked my favor, “I need to know that if things go sour or if I need to sabotage their plan, I’ll have you to pull my ass out of the fire and keep me out of jail.”

“What are they planning?”

“I can’t say,” I admitted.  If I told him, Lisa might know I’d ratted the team out from any changes in the response time, extra guards or whatever else.  However justified my silence was, I could see Armsmaster getting increasingly irritated.

“Is it murder?  Is someone going to get hurt?”

“No,” I said, “I’m pretty sure no civilians are going to get hurt, unless things go really wrong, which is something I’m hoping to prevent.”

He frowned, then stopped gazing out the window to look straight at me. “I’m not giving you any protection.”

I clenched my fists at my sides, “This is the only thing I need, and you’ve got them!”

“You’re a stupid girl,” Armsmaster said.  He gave me a moment to let the words sink in.


He didn’t give me a chance to speak.  He bowled over me, his voice rising as he spoke, “You’re asking for my permission to carry out a major crime.  At least, I assume it’s a major crime, because you wouldn’t be asking otherwise!  You want me to stand by so you can play your little spy game with a team that has two murderers on it!”

Two?  I could believe that Rachel had maybe killed someone at some point, manslaughter if nothing else, but who else would?  Eyes wide, I asked him, “Who-”

I didn’t get to finish my question.  Armsmaster talked over me until I shut my mouth and listened.  “Do you think you’re clever?  In the real world, undercover cops have handlers.  They have someone to report to, someone that can call in backup at any time.  You?  You’re a middle schooler with delusions of grandeur.”

“I’m not in middle school.”

“Oh, well,” he crossed his arms, “I stand corrected on all counts.” The sarcasm in his voice was palpable.

I protested, “And if I did have back-up or a handler or anything like that, they’d know.  The way I’m doing this is the only way this could work.  Use your lie detector, you’ll know I’m telling the truth about this.”

“I know you believe you’re right.  That doesn’t make it god’s honest truth.”

There was something about hearing all this from Armsmaster that made it twice as hard to take.  I opened my mouth, but my brain just couldn’t piece together a coherent response.  I shut my mouth again.

“Abandon this charade, little bug girl, before you bite off more than you can chew.  Tell me what you know, right now, then go home.  I don’t care if you put your costume away for good or if you sign up for the Wards, but don’t go on with the solo act.  That’s my recommendation.”

That stung.  I tried again, “I gave you Lung, full credit.  You can’t give me the benefit of a doubt?”

“You gave me a dying man!” Armsmaster bellowed, startling me, “That was on my shoulders!  I had to put up with two days of losing command of my team, two days where they confiscated my Halberd and power armor!  I was interrogated, all my equipment taken apart and checked!  All because you couldn’t resist using your bugs to give that man a fucking near-lethal dose of poisons!”

His attitude from the beginning of this meeting had been hostile.  Now I understood why.  I held my ground.

“That’s not my fault,” I told Armsmaster, my voice strained with anger.  I gave voice to a suspicion that had been nagging at the edge of my consciousness since I’d heard about Lung being hospitalized, “I didn’t dose him with enough venom to kill him.  What I think is that the tranquilizers that you pumped into his system knocked out his ability to heal, which is what let the poisons do as much damage as they did.”

We glared at each other, as much as people can exchange glares when they can’t see one another’s eyes.  Still, it wasn’t hard to imagine the expression on his face.

“If you contact me again, you’d better be prepared to answer every question I have.  Beyond that, I’m not condoning anything about what you’re trying to pull.  You’re on your own.”

I would have been happy to storm off, or offer my own angry parting words.  Except there was something else I needed from him.  On the assumption that he’d take me up on my offer, I thought I’d ask as a last, minor favor.  Now I was put in a situation where I might have to beg a man I really wanted to punch in the face.

“I-” I paused, trying to find the words, “I’m asking you to please not tell anyone we met tonight.  No records, on paper or computer.  Don’t do anything different because of what you learned tonight.  I know I can’t make you.  I don’t have anything to offer you, besides the information I’m going to get.  But if these guys get wind that I met you, it’s going to go really badly for me.”

“You made your bed.  You have to lie in it.”

“No,” I shook my head, furious he was being so mule headed.  My fists clenched, “Don’t toy with me here.  Maybe you don’t agree with what I’m doing, but I started this because I wanted to do you a favor.  The least you could do is not screw with me on this, and get me hurt or killed because your fucking rep got a smudge on it.”

I regretted my words as soon as they left my mouth, but I could hardly take them back.

“Fine,” he decided, then dismissed me, “You can go, now.”

It was a dick move, that last bit, because I was following his order if I listened and it made me look bad if I didn’t.  Still, if there was any upside to the bullying I’d endured out of costume, it was that I could handle the little maneuvers of bullies and assholes when I was in costume, too.  I left and didn’t think twice about it.

I was pissed, and it was a lot easier to be pissed at Armsmaster than it was to be angry with myself.  This hadn’t gone the way I’d planned.  I didn’t even know if that ‘fine’ of his was an agreement to do as I’d asked, or if I was royally screwed the next time I went to meet with the Undersiders.  There were two ways I could respond to this.  I could either drop the plan and put away my costume like Armsmaster wanted, or I could pull off the undercover gig and prove him wrong.

Fuck it.  I was going to rob the hell out of that bank.  I’d win the trust of the Undersiders, I was going to figure out who was running the show, and then I was going to hand over all of the info.

To Miss Militia, I was thinking.  Not Armsmaster.


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45 thoughts on “Agitation 3.5

  1. Yeah that meeting didn’t go like Taylor wanted, but at least he believes she is still one of the good guys still. More of an anti-hero than anything else at the moment.

  2. Dur, it would be pretty easy for Armsmaster to set up surveillance and find out where Taylor goes, and take down the Undersiders. Knowing that they’re going to try a fairly major crime gives him incentive to bust them.

    Taylor has to hope that he thinks it through, gives her the benefit of the doubt, and realizes there must be more going on — like the Undersiders’ having a boss — so he lets her see her mission through. Doesn’t seem likely, but maybe realizing that Lung hadn’t been hurt on purpose might calm him down.

  3. Maybe I’m too much of a goody two-shoes, but this story is just getting less and less fun. If the point of this is that she gets stuck as a villain, I’m going to have a really hard time swallowing her self-pity after reading chapter after chapter of stupid walking into it and wanting it. She better pick a side and claim it. The ego on this character is disgusting.

    • I agree 100%, green glass. She has made a couple dumb — and out of character — choices and i really dont want to hear her whine and complain about it later. As Armsmaster said, she made her bed, now she has to lie in it.

        • Not quite. =) I enjoyed the introduction of Coil as a character. And even when I am annoyed by Taylor, I wanted to recognize that your writing and your world is good enough to make it worth it, hah.

          And when she made her decision the whining was minimal. 😉

            • These readers make so many negative comments on perfectly good writing. “Out of character?” Human beings are complicated and act weird some times, especially so when in such stressful situations as this. And criticizing Bug for whining? Didn’t her mom die a year or two ago? Doesn’t she live in a broken home with a slightly grief stricken father?
              It is no surprise she has some weak kneed tenancies, and it is no blemish on her part. She’s doing the best she can; and so far I love this story. It’s well written, and I count it as a pleasure that I don’t really see where stuff’s going.

              • 100% agreed.

                The seemingly absolute adoration for black & white, good-guy/bad-guy tales that seems prevalent here makes me cringe a bit.

                But then, with the popularity of Dexter & Breaking Bad, perhaps they`re the vocal minority 😉

              • Or rather it IS a blemish; it’s just that there’s nothing wrong with characters having blemishes and doing dumb things. People do dumb things.

  4. Finally, a sensible adult able to give helpful advice! Not that our hero listens. Where would be the fun in her playing it safe? Teenagers never listen to adults who disagree with them.
    A good chapter. The tension builds as the plot thickens like custard.

  5. i think her decision here is stupid, but i understand. armsmaster is correct, but hes also acting like a dick, and taylor doesnt want to put up with that. if armsmaster handled this better he probably could have convinced her to give up her information and bust the undersiders, albeit not their boss.

  6. Who doesn’t love these little non-violent interactions between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys?
    The “Not Armsmaster.” at the end seems unnecessary. Would be funnier without.

  7. I’m starting to dislike the teenagers do stupid things because they’re teenagers trope that seems to be getting used to shove the plot forward here. I’ll stick with it for a little longer, but Taylor really does need to do some growing, if we’re supposed to keep liking her.

  8. Reading so far…..There is a thing that doesn’t address one single chapter but them so far in general.

    This story inspires emotions.

    That is good.

    They’re not about how I’m cringing about cliches or such.

    Even better.

    Of course, there is a but. That is:

    There really isn’t anything better than at best backhanded happening to our PoV character, Taylor. It keeps poking the same point, inspiring the same emotions with bullies from different directions and characters, being tense – and there’s hardly anything good to balance it out. Interactions with Brian is probably the best thing so far, and the whole deal with Undersiders is underlined with, quite possibly, similar emotions depending on reader – for example, Taylor is becoming Emma.

    Mind you, it has a lot of material about it that makes one wish to read more. But the up-down of yoyo is getting rather predictable by now – even if I cannot predict specific scenes yet I did predict bullying happening though I was unsure how without school. (On the flip side, it’s better than that you don’t gloss over them when they’re supposed to be significant. Lot of authors make the mistake of telling, not showing.)

  9. Yeah. So I am late to the party. Big deal. Anyway – while I am guilty of reading the Tv Tropes spoilers… Most they did was somewhat color my impressions of Armsmaster, before the story went on. I mean… Would it be a terribly big spoiler to say he’s hard to put down?

    Do you know what was the impression I got from Armsmaster? He was WHINING. He was whining he got his toys taken away. He was whining he lost control of the team for two days. He was whining on being inconvenienced, and put out of his comfort zone as a Big Hero Leader. And all because he made a judgement call to take credit of another person’s job, even with their tentative acceptance of the fact. It was not a very moral act in the first place, and he reaped instant karma as a result. And he didn’t like it and decided to blame the person who did the job.

    • Totally agree.

      I love how ‘heroes’ like Armsmaster are so flawed & judg-y here, that he almost feels like a villain, and how ‘villains’ like Brian’s geniality and treating Taylor as a friend, makes him seem like a positive, caring person.

    • Mentioned in 3.02 as one of the people who may be on duty at the HQ.
      Since Worm has a cast of thousands remembering all the characters gets harder as you go on.

  10. Bah, I like reading comments to things I read, but there are always comments here giving some information about later parts of the story mostly small hints, but that still adds together if you read too much.

    Well I will just have to go on without comments, which isn’t really a problem, just kinda annoying.

    • In later chapters comments number in the hundreds sometimes so skipping them on the first read is a good idea:) Reading them on re-read is quite enjoyable. (Yes. You will want to re-read.)

    • On my first read (this is my second), I started reading comments around the start of Arc 8, and never had anything spoiled for me. I think the comments really added to my enjoyment; there are a lot of funny and intelligent people down here.

  11. I suppose if Armsmaster was just able to convince Bug to let him know what is that crucial piece of information she’s still looking for, that would be it for her Undersider career. Because it should be obvious to him that (hopefully) having Undersiders in their custody, and putting some investigators (possibly powered) on the case, they would figure out who Undersiders’ boss is without any additional risk. And with this Armsmaster would probably maneuver Bug into a corner.

  12. Hindsight, I suppose, but that meeting would have gone better if it never happened. Just saying that she has information she can’t reveal is worse than saying nothing at all, and asking for protection in case she gets arrested is worse than asking for a chance to explain herself after she gets arrested. I can’t read this as anything more than Taylor wanting to impress Armsmaster so bad she didn’t stop to think what she was actually bringing to the table.

    Which works to set her up for serious character growth, of course.

    • OK, she requested the meeting because she wanted to be sure she doesn’t end up in jail. This is thinking in advance and presumably, would have helped her build a positive rapport with the good guys, if Armsmaster didn’t have an issue in Lund.

  13. Editorial:

    – «“Why not?” his response was so quick it was very nearly an interruption.» — “His” should be capitalized
    – «On the assumption that he’d take me up on my offer, I thought I’d ask as a last, minor favor.» — Extraneous “as”

  14. “I know you believe you’re right. That doesn’t make it god’s honest truth.”

    The funny with someone saying this is that could be rebated ever for everyone.

  15. Here because of my brother, who gave this story glowing reviews. This is my first look at the rational fiction genre, which is something I’ve needed for years now but have never known the name of. Enjoying it so far, and looking forward to see your writing improve as the story goes on. The beginning was a little shaky but I can get over it, it’s my understanding that this was your first major fiction. That being said you are quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and I’m finding myself more and more invested in this story.

    I’m thinking of starting my own web serial in the genre of rational fiction. My mind is ripe with ideas, I just need to find the time to put them on record. I already have a somewhat developed universe laid out. Wildbow, I was wondering if you would be willing to give me any pointers? This is my first time writing anything major and I’m not sure how to go about developing characters and plot. I’d also be interested in how you created and remembered all of the more intricate details about your world; it seems like constancy would be difficult to keep after a while.

  16. My god, Taylor is a moron. An arrogant, immature moron.

    Seriously. How hard would it be for her to say “I’m sorry about Lung. I was being reckless, and I know that whole mess fell on you. How can I help?” and then abide by whatever Armsmaster told her? But no, she HAS to be the hero. It’s all or nothing for her.

    Why can’t this story be about Armsmaster having to deal with Taylor’s bullshit?

    • You do know the big great amazing hero Armsmaster is going crazy at her for pretty much taking the credit for a big takedown and how it came out to bite him in the back like he didn’t expect? Honest to God, he was WHINING. His reason for anger may be understandable, but God if it wasn’t childish in a way. But the almost childish here is Taylor, not him, big and grown and in this business for years. At the end of the day he means well and has his points, but is such an immense dick the way he goes about it, it would be hard for someone like Taylor to nod her head on and fon and just roll with it. And that’s the GOOD thing! Armsmaster isn’t a robot and can get mad even though I honestly feel he’s being like a whining kid here. Taylor is not an adult, is not the most emotionally stable or healthy person, is dealing with what she idealizes and see as the epitome of what she desires that’s closest and so each thing it says rings worse in her ears. Even more since she’s still doing this all in good conscience and for a good cause, willing to rattle out some of the few people that has treated her with a smudge of worth. Get yourself into a emotionally tense situation like that and I’d like to see you “be good boy” and say sorry for someone’s else choice. Nobody ever told Armsmaster to claim all responsibility for Lung’s state.

    • She has picked her side. She has these ideas the Undersiders are bad people and it’s her job to put them and their mystery sponsor in jail so she can be a a big shiny superhero like the ones she’s idolized since childhood, and she’s committed to those ideas.

      The trouble is only Taylor may find out the reality of these things is not as simple as she wants it to be.

  17. I know this came out like, 2011/2012 and here I am, commenting in 2018 but
    People saying Taylor has flaws is dumb because she’s 15 tops and it’s believable the way she acts.
    Armsmaster went from cool to frustrating in a second, and he’s still believable as a character, but just feels unneeded here to be frustrating. I know there’s already finished plots and things, but for him to not at least think for a moment to get what she’s implying, and to blame someone he even says is from middle school, stretches the story structure to take a depressing road. He doesn’t even stop to tell her what HE knows about the Undersiders, despite her obviously being under-informed, and attempting to ask. Rather than at least understand more to what’s going on, he forces Taylor in a tighter corner than she’s in, and adds pressure when there’s already pressure there. There’s not a lot of relief moments so far, and Armsmaster would have been a cool/refreshing moment for the coming tension.

  18. This is not playing in the US, right?
    Or why the fuck do they care that an very dangerous individual was severly harmed and then brought in by an “official”?
    Why the fuck would they care about that trash?
    And I still don´t get why she is doing that….We are missing her goals and dreams to see why she is helping that dumbass.

  19. I just started this story and i like it so far, but this chapter is the first time i feel at odds with taylor. She seems very smart and bold at times, like how she stood up to armsmaster, but i don’t understand how she thinks she can contribute more by acting as a villain, and how she thinks she can find out the identity of the boss when brian and alec don’t even know. Is it an innate desire for justice, or her craving approval and recognition, or simply arrogance thinking she knows what’s best? Maybe she just wants an escape from real life, and to be involved in the hero world in some way. Whatever the reason, it’s not clear to me why she’s risking so much the way she is in this chapter. I don’t think it’s wrong to portray her the way you did, it’s just that as a reader i feel a disconnect with her motivations. I know teenagers are reckless, but even teenagers must have their reasons.

    I was actually thinking taylor felt some sympathy for the undersiders, and rather than nabbing the ones who do the grunt work, she wanted to persecute the higher-ups responsible. (Maybe because her dad was also a grunt worker who got screwed over by those in control.)

    Just my first impressions, as I am a first time reader and i have no idea where this story will go yet. Will keep on reading to see how things progress.

  20. Not sure that Armsmaster kept Taylor (Bug) out of the report he turned it or what he felt would not be read by anyone that did not have the clearance. If he did write about his contact with her in anyway it was likely read by Coil and that would explain why the job they are sent on as soon as she joins is so major, it is a way to trap her into being a part of them. This is even more likely if something goes wrong. Still, she has put herself into a bad place by trying to go for the big catch alone, don’t count tell Armsmaster and not following his advice as backup here. Now to start the next chapter and see how the train wreak plays out, I will blame her stress from the bullying for some of this, but she will have to own the rest herself.

  21. On second read through now. Always considered this but reading it again it’s amplified.
    If it had been Miss Militia or Battery, or even Assault (really almost anyone but Armsmaster) this whole story might have gone a lot differently.

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