Shell 4.8

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

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

“You’re very right.” Bakuda’s mask may have altered her voice to something approximating Robbie the Robot with a sore throat, but I got the impression she tried to make up for it with body language.  She shook her finger at Tattletale like she was scolding a dog.  “But I think you, specifically, should shut up.  Boys?”

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

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

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

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

“Now, I’m in a bit of a pickle,” Bakuda hissed, examining the back of her hand.  It seemed she wasn’t just compensating for the mechanical voice with body language; she liked to talk.  Not that I was complaining.  “See, Lung taught me a lot, but the lesson I really took to heart was that being an effective leader is all about fear.  Career like ours, people are only truly loyal to someone if they are terrified of them.  Enough fear, and they stop worrying about their own interests, stop wondering if they can usurp you, and they dedicate themselves entirely to making you happy.  Or at least, to keeping you from being unhappy.”

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

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

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

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

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

She then strode forward into the midst of the crowd.

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

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

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

“Y-yes?” the boy replied.

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


“Ever beat someone up?”

“Please, I never… no.”

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

“N-no, Bakuda.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead.  He’d died, just like that.

It was hard to hear over the screaming, the wailing, the outraged shouts.  As the crowd scrambled to back away from the scene, all trying to hide behind one another, one of the thugs fired a gun straight up into the air.  Everyone stopped.  After the shrieks of surprise, there was the briefest pause, long enough for one sound to bring everyone to a stunned silence.

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

Laughing.  The sound was her laughing.

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

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

“That was pretty cool.”

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

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

“No offense,” Regent said, “Well, I’ll rephrase: I don’t really care about offending you.  Don’t shoot me though.  I just want to stop you there and say I don’t care about the science stuff and all the technobabble about how you did it.  It’s boring.  I’m just saying it’s kind of neat to see what a person looks like when dissolved down like that.  Gross, creepy, fucked up, but it’s neat.”

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

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

“Everyone,” Bakuda answered, almost delirious on the high of her successful ‘experiment’ and Regent’s attention.  She half skipped, half spun through the crowd and leaned against one of her thugs, patting his cheek, “Even my most loyal.  Bitch of a thing to do.  Not the actual procedure of sticking the things inside their heads.  After the first twenty, I could do the surgeries with my eyes closed.  Literally.  I actually did a few that way.”

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

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

Her mood changed in a flash, and she angrily jabbed a finger in his direction. “No.  Don’t think I don’t know you’re trying something.  I’m a fucking genius, get it?  I can think twelve moves ahead before you’ve even decided on your first.  It’s why you’re standing there and I…” she hoisted herself up so she was sitting on the side of the Jeep, “Am sitting here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which concludes my demonstration,” Bakuda addressed our group, “Fear!  It’s why Lung went out of his way to recruit me.  I always understood deep down inside, that fear was a powerful tool.  He just phrased it so well.  True fear is a blend of certainty and the unpredictable.  My people know that if they cross me, I only have to think about it to make the bombs in their heads go kablooie.  Boom.  They know that if I die, every single bomb I’ve made goes off.  Not just the ones I jammed into their heads.  Every single fucking one.  And I’ve made a lot.  Certainties.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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22 thoughts on “Shell 4.8

  1. Well congrats. With a genre crammed full of villains ranging from power hungry psychos like Sylar to cold hearted beastards like Lex Luthor and maniacs like the Joker, you managed to create a despicable, original villain. I hate her, please make her die soon

  2. Perhaps it’s silly to be pointing out a typo here, but there’s an errant “to” (or some other equivalent misstep) in the first sentence.

    Oddly enough, I found this “action sequence” not quite as engaging as the others. I think it was 4.7 more than anything else, in retrospect. There was so much motion happening that I found it hard to maintain my orientation, and I didn’t get quite as clear a picture of what was going on. Perhaps I was missing cues I should have been seeing, but it got a little muddled around for me.

    That said, I’m enjoying the story just as much, and the relevant narrative elements were still coming through, the chase, the loss of control of the situation, the anxiety and panic. But in all the other fights, my visual-spatial imagination of the events seemed more focused, and that was something I enjoyed. During the runaround, it felt more like I was watching a movie that was shot in such a way that I could see the characters at all times but was left without as much information of their location and movements as I’d have liked.

    • Typo fixed, thanks.

      I admit, when I was writing 4.7, I was worried that what you were saying was going to be the case with more people. I had an idea of a situation in my head, our protagonist and her team running through a maze, dealing with Bakuda. In execution, I found it a struggle to convey necessary information about the surroundings without getting bogged down in minutiae and description. Tried to remedy it in this chapter & the one(s) that follow, ground myself and ground the reader, and we’ll see if it winds up being okay.

      Chalking this one up as a lesson, either way. If the characters can get lost, so can the writer.

  3. Actually, I liked the effect. This was chaos, a mad scramble for their lives. There was barely time to notice anything anyway, for us the readers or them the characters. For me, it made the whole scene that much more frantic. I still got a sense of narrative, of cause and effect, but in a situation like that I wouldn’t expect to know or remember afterwards even a fraction of all that happened. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, or even fallen out of a tree (I’ve done both), you’ll know what I’m talking about.


    • I’ll echo Vaughn Ohlman here and say that I didn’t think the chaos of 4.7 was wrong. It perfectly appropriate to what’s happening. But it was less fun for me. When it comes to fights or chases, I prefer to be able to “see” what’s going on.

      But I’ll agree that as written, 4.7 was quite skillfully done, preserving the narrowing of focus that happens in moments of responsive panic. The one car accident I’ve been in involved me getting hit as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and I certainly didn’t maintain a sense of what was going on around me.

  4. > With those words, Regent managed to get as many wide eyed looks than Bakuda had with her laugh.

    “Got as many… than” doesn’t parse. It should be either “got more… than” or “got as many… as”.

  5. Why are you pulling this crap now? Bakuda corners them and then lets just them go, after killing a bunch of her own people for no reason?

  6. @anonymous: maybe because Bakuda is as crazy as evil. But probably element of unpredictability adds to her people’s fear of her which in turn makes them more obedient.

    tl;dr: to quote Vector: un. pre. DICTABLE!!!

  7. The reason she lets them go is that this isn’t about them. The Undersiders are a non-factor to her here, she only gives a shit about inspiring as much fear in her followers as possible. She then goes a little overboard because, quite frankly, she’s batshit insane.

  8. I second the comment thread about 4.7 sequence confusion: “There was so much motion happening that I found it hard to maintain my orientation, and I didn’t get quite as clear a picture of what was going on.” Describing a chaotic scene so it can still be visualized IS a writing challenge, but this one made me keep re-reading for clarity.

    I think part of the problem I had was “over the lockers, over the lockers, over the lockers” got both repetitive and unbelievable somehow. Would a little more exposition about Bakuda’s devices help? I was/am not clear on what exploded/ imploded/ distorted space-time in which direction and when. So, yeah, chaotic. Yet the Undersiders all stayed on the same page on what to do and where to go? How?

    Now here in 4.8 — where did all these terrified minions suddenly come FROM out of all that chaos? Teleported in after the locker rubble settled?

    Still –it’s a great story! I’m just trying to contribute to the potential for refinement, especially anywhere I find myself STOPPING speed-reading and going, “Wait. Hunh? What?!?”

  9. Not a single comment on Regent? I really appreciated this introduction to the darker side of his character. I mean, there were hints of schadenfreude earlier, but this is a different level of detachment from what we see up to this point.

  10. I’m honestly a little scared of Regent. This kid is starting to stand out as the second murderer of the group. I thought at first that he was simply trying to lull Bakuda into a false sense of security and then try something but if he was he was doing a damned good job of it because that was freaking creepy.

  11. That was scary shit, man.
    As a geek myself- certainly moreso than Regent, at least- I’m *really* curious about Bakuda’s trigger mechanisms. Like, it looks like she triggered the second bomb with an audio cue, but the first one…
    To create a system like the one she says she has, she’d have to:
    * overcome the neural complexity problem and create a thought-to-signal interface (despite the fact that Tinkers specialize and she primarily makes bombs)
    * connect the same brain-powered transmitter to hundreds of different bombs, each with a unique activation code
    * keep track of which bomb is activated by which code, and how to send that code via the neural interface
    * calibrate the transmitter and/or receivers to screen against unintentional input
    * either build all the receivers with the capability to notice when she dies, or build a single dead man switch relay, with the capability to notice when she dies and to transmit detonation signals to all the bombs in the network, and which isn’t ever going to generate a false positive (if she leaves town, if she falls asleep, if she goes off the grid, if she puts on a tinfoil hat…)
    * calibrate the receivers to differentiate between waking signals, sleep signals, and dead signals

    Any one of those is a pretty significant engineering feat all on its own. All of them at once, from someone whose main interest and documented talent is “stuff blows up”? There’s a *lot* more to this than we know.

    (Plus, the idea that she knows all the person/activation code pairings off the top of her head is hard to swallow when she’s demonstrated that she doesn’t come close to knowing all the person/bomb pairings…)

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