Interlude 14.5 (Bonus Interlude)

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“It’s just going to be another minute or two.  The data has to compile and upload.  It’s not my work, so I played it safe and went for the slowest, heaviest compression method that I could.  It’s going to take a bit.”

“That’s fine.  Thank you.”

Kid Win shifted position uncomfortably, falling silent.

You don’t have to be intimidated.  I’m just a man.

Legend stared out the window.  He wouldn’t miss this city.  There weren’t happy memories here, and there was little he was proud about.  Most of the time, he was able to feel that he’d made an impact, that the world was a better place for his being there.  That wasn’t the case here.

“How long have you been in the Wards?” he asked, to make conversation.

“Two years.”

“I’ve seen your records.”

Kid Win cringed.

“No, don’t act like I’m going to say something bad.  The Deputy Director in charge of the Wards, I can’t quite remember his name, he had some glowing praise for your ability to engage with the public.”

“Engage with the public?  I don’t remember doing much of that.”

“Something about speeches to other youths at school?”

“Oh.  That wasn’t a big deal.”

“The guy who’s rating your performance seems to think it was.  Can’t quite place his name, the suits sort of start to blur in with one another-”

“Deputy Director Renick,” Kid Win supplied.

“Yes.  Thank you.  He seemed to think you connected with the crowd, and you did it better than any of your teammates. You were frank, open, honest, and you stood out because of how you handled yourself when the students started getting rambunctious and heckling you.”

“Director Piggot yelled at me for drawing the gun.”

“It was something that could have backfired very easily, but you struck the right tone and you defused the situation with humor.  I think that’s a good thing, and so did the staff at the school.  The teachers sent emails a few days after the event, commenting on the overall positive impact you had on the students, the hecklers included.  And when I say you, I mean you specifically.”

Kid Win shrugged, tapping a few keys on the laptop to rotate through a series of progress bars and graphs.  “Nobody told me about that.”

“That’s a shame,” Legend said, turning his gaze to the window to relieve some of the pressure his very presence seemed to put on Kid Win.  “The ability to manage yourself with the public is crucial if you intend to go on to make a career out of working with the Protectorate.”

“It’s kind of weird, that someone as important as you are is making such a big deal out of an event I barely remember.”

“I study the records of everyone I intend to work with, and I studied yours.  I try to make a note of individual strengths.  That event stuck in my mind when I was reading through your files.  It was a very easy mental picture to put together, especially the part with the gun.”

Kid Win smiled a little.

“You remind me of Hero.”

The smile fell from Kid Win’s face.  He looked startled.  “Really?”

“I imagine he was very much like you when he was younger.”

Kid Win looked uncomfortable.

“You can talk about it,” Legend assured him.  “It’s okay.  It was a long time ago that he passed.”

“I sort of modeled myself after him.”

Legend studied the boy.  Red and gold body armor and a red-tinted visor.  There were additions that seemed to be more recent, judging by the lack of wear and tear, but if he looked past those, if he imagined the boy with a helmet covering that brown wavy hair, replaced the red with blue chain mesh, he could see the resemblance.

“I can see that.”

“I didn’t mean to copy him, or to ride off his fame or anything.  I was younger when I started, I totally meant it to be respectful-”  Kid Win stopped as Legend raised a hand.

“It’s okay.  I think he would be flattered.”

Kid Win nodded, a little too quickly.

“He was the first real tinker, you know.”

“Before we knew tinkers have specializations,” Kid Win added.

“I’ve thought about it.  The disintegration gun, the jetpack, the sonic weapons, the power sources and explosives that were surprisingly effective for their size.  I suspect his specialty tied into manipulating and enhancing wavelengths and frequencies.”

Kid Win’s eyes went wide.  He glanced at the laptop.

“I know enough other tinkers to know that look.  You just had a stroke of inspiration?”

“Sort of.  More like a bunch of half-assed ideas all at once.”

“Don’t let me distract you.  If you want to take a minute to make some notes on whatever came to mind, I won’t be offended in the slightest.”

“It’s okay.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.  I-” Kid Win paused.  “I guess I’d rather keep talking to you than write down ideas that probably won’t work out.”

“Thank you.  I’d say you shouldn’t worry too much about trying to emulate Hero.  It’s heartening, if I had to put a word to the feeling, that you look up to him and carry on his legacy.  But you have your own specialization and your own strengths.”

Kid Win nodded.  “I’m figuring that out.  I spent a long time trying to be like other tinkers and struggling.  Ninety percent of my projects just stopped before I finished it.  The stuff I finished, I finished it because it was simple.  Guns, the floating hoverboard… well, I used to have a floating hoverboard.  I sort of copied Hero’s approach.  ‘Board instead of jetpack, but I made the guns, tried a few disintegration rays.  Maybe part of the reason I finished that stuff was because I felt like I’d be insulting Hero by trying to copy his style and making a mess of it.”

“Makes sense,” Legend spoke, primarily to show he was listening.

“But lately I’ve started to relax about that.  Maybe it helps that we’ve been working as hard as we have.  I’ve been too tired to keep to the rules I thought I was supposed to follow.  Still have to spend time in the workshop, I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t, but I’m winging it more.  I’m trusting my instincts and spending less time using the computers to get the exact numbers and measurements.”

“To help compensate for your dyscalculia?”

“I didn’t know you knew about that.  I didn’t know the PRT knew about that.”

“Dragon’s talents make for very comprehensive records, sorry.”

Kid Win frowned, his expression changing fractionally as he stared down at the keyboard in front of him.  He seemed to come to terms with the idea, because he moved on. “Anyways, I think it’s working for me.  I’m getting the feeling that I do have a specialization, but it’s more of an approach than a particular field.  Equipment with multiple settings and uses, modular weapons, gear that’s adaptable to different situations, I guess?”

“That’s fantastic.  The fact that you’ve struggled and then found your strengths the hard way could be an asset.”

“An asset?”

“If you wind up leading the Wards or a team in the Protectorate, it means you’ll be better equipped to help out teammates who are having their own problems.”

“I’d be horrible in a leadership position.”

“Hero said the same thing, and I think we’ll both agree that he was wrong.”

That seemed to give Kid Win pause.

“Think about it.”

“Okay,” Kid Win replied.  “Not that I’m not majorly grateful that you’re giving me the pep talk, but you said you were in a bit of a hurry and I think we’re done here.”

“The compiling is done?”

“I could refine it further, try to give you some additional features, but the coding and the hardware I’m working with here is so tightly structured that I think I’d do more harm than good.  It’s like the techie equivalent of trying to put toothpaste back in the tube after you’ve squeezed it out… you can’t, so maybe you try to make more tube that sticks out of one side, but you keep doing it and you wind up with this kludgy mess that you can’t even use for its original purpose.  For getting toothpaste.”

“I think I understand what you mean.  Thank you for this.  It’s already uploaded?”

“Yeah, and it was my pleasure, really.” Kid Win smiled.

Legend stood and stretched a little.

The goodbyes had already been made and he’d had his meeting with Emily.  Business was wrapped up here.  He’d called home to let Arthur know he wouldn’t make it to dinner but that he hoped to be back before midnight.

A light smile touched his face.  He even felt a little giddy at the thought of getting home, wrapping Arthur in a hug.  Growing up, he’d never thought that he’d feel giddy about his husband after six years of marriage.

But he had something to take care of first.  The notion put a damper on his pleasant mood.

“I’m going to go, then.  You and I,” he promised Kid Win, “Should talk again sometime.  You can tell me if you’ve figured out your specialty, and if you’re leading a team.”

“Maybe the next time you’re in Brockton Bay?”

“Maybe.”  Legend smiled, but he was thinking, does he know?  This whole region might be condemned.

Maybe Kid Win was being optimistic.

Legend turned and opened a window, then let himself float through.  He took a second to get his bearings, to inform himself of which direction was up, down, north, east, south and west, then he took off.

Powers were classified into categories, and the ‘breaker’ classification was used to mark those powers which were limited to one’s own body and their immediate vicinity.  Though it had initially been used to cover individuals who could make themselves stronger, denser, larger or change the materials they were made of, it was slowly expanding to include others.  There was a theory that was gaining traction, suggesting that the breaker classification was one of the most common powersets, if not always the most pronounced.  Innumerable people with powers had also adapted innate defenses that kept their own powers from harming themselves.  Pyrokinetics tended to be resistant to flame. There were automatic shutoffs, biological and mental, for various other powers.  Even beyond that, there were other adaptations that were so subtle as to be almost undetectable.  His weren’t.

Legend’s flight powers let him accelerate to a speed that exceeded sound and continue accelerating, to no hard limit.  The soft limit was that he had breaker powers that kept the acceleration from tearing him to shreds, altering his body into something else entirely as he gained speed.  The drawback to this was that his brain also shut down on a cognitive level as the transformation occurred.  He had never let himself go so fast that he lost the ability to consciously control his movements.

There were other benefits too.  He was better at registering and processing light waves, regardless of which state he was in.  He could see with perfect clarity up until the point that an obstactle intervened or the atmosphere occluded his vision.

If an opponent attacked and struck him, he instinctively transitioned into his energy form for a split second.  In that state, he absorbed energy of a variety of kinds, including the kinetic energy that was transferred with a punch or with a bullet.  His opponents were forced to whittle him down, each attack only a fraction as effective as it might otherwise be.  Even then, a share of that small amount of damage was healed a second later as he used the absorbed energy to mend his body.  Conversely, his enemies could try to hit him with enough speed and force that even a hundredth of a second of contact was sufficient to take him out of the fight.  Leviathan and Behemoth had managed to land blows of that magnitude.

Siberian has as well.  He set his jaw and increased his speed a notch.

He traveled over the Atlantic Ocean, moving so fast that the water appeared to be one flat plane.  His thoughts became a blur, and he was forced to focus on his destination, letting all other thoughts and doubts fall by the wayside.

It was refreshing, in a way, cleansing himself of the responsibilities and the thousands of problems he was forced to handle as the leader of the Protectorate.  Still, it always scared him just a little.

It took him only an instant to reach a complete stop.  He let himself settle down into his real body once more.

He’d wondered sometimes if his ability to fly was meant for travel on an interstellar level.  What if he kept accelerating?  His breaker power would let him weather the void of space, his ability to see would be that much more powerful if there was no atmosphere to occlude his vision over miles… even the boredom of traveling for years was nothing if his conscious mind shifted into a rest state.

Not that he’d ever test it.

He’d absorbed light, heat and ambient radiation while he flew, and he felt restored.  Even the mildest wear and tear had been tended to, his body restored to peak condition.

His mind was another matter, his emotions.  It was like waking up in a warm bed, the man he loved beside him, only to experience a sinking feeling as he came to dread the coming day.

He drifted closer to the oil rig, and settled down on a fence, using a touch of his flight ability to stay balanced.  In every direction, as far as the eye could see, there was only water.

“Any time now,” he said.

It began as a pale square in mid-air, then unfolded rapidly, three-dimensional.  When it opened up further, the interior of a building loomed in mid-air, the exterior absent.

He floated forward and set foot on the white tile of the hallway.  He felt the distortion as the space shifted, felt the rush of wind as air pressure adjusted.  It took only a couple of seconds.  When he glanced over his shoulder, the oil rig was gone.  There was only more hallway behind him.

He walked onward, confident in his ability to navigate the maze of rooms and corridors.

When he pushed open the double doors and stepped into the conference room, there were a few looks of surprise.

“Legend,” the Doctor spoke, “I thought you were occupied in Brockton Bay.”

“Jack escaped.”

“That’s… really unfortunate,” Alexandria said.

“Quite,” the Doctor replied.

Legend glanced around the room.  Alexandria leaned back in her chair, her helmet on the table in front of her, a star-shaped scar at the corner of one eye.  Beautiful, Legend was sure, but more in the way a lioness was beautiful.  In her black and gray costume, she was intimidating, her expression regal.

Eidolon was the opposite.  He had lowered his hood and removed his glowing mask, revealing a middle-aged man with thick eyebrows, thinning hair and heavy cheeks.  He looked more like an average family man who was getting dressed up as Eidolon for a costume party than he looked like Eidolon himself.

There were others around the table.  The Doctor: dark-skinned, hair tied into a prim bun with chopsticks stuck through it, wearing a short white dress beneath a white lab coat.  The Number Man, with his laptop set in front of him, looking more like a businessman than one of the most influential and lesser-known parahumans on the planet.  There was also the woman in the black suit, who had never introduced herself or been introduced by name.  Whenever Legend came here with the others, the woman was there with the Doctor.

Insurance, he thought.  The Doctor thinks that woman can face us if we turn on her.

Would she win?  Legend harbored doubts.  He’d met a lot of powerful individuals over the course of his career, and he’d learned how to measure them.  This woman didn’t relax for an instant, where someone who was assured of victory would be more willing to let down her guard.  More likely that she’s supposed to stall or stop us if there’s a problem, buying the doctor time to escape.

“Jack escaped.  What about the other Nine?” the Doctor asked.

“We suspect that Bonesaw and Siberian also escaped, with Hookwolf as a new member of their group.”

“I see.”

“It’s unusual for you to show any interest in what’s going on outside the realm of your business and research.  Any reason for the curiosity?”

The Doctor smiled. “Hard to keep track of what goes on beyond these walls, sometimes.”

Legend nodded.  He took a seat to Alexandria’s right.  He considered for a moment, then spoke.  “There are some things that concern me.”

“Is this tied to why you came here today?”

“Yes.  Let me begin by saying that there’s apparently a precog in Brockton Bay that’s pretty damn certain that the world’s going to end shortly.”

“Precogs are notoriously unreliable.  I tell many of my customers that when they express interest in seeing the future.  I think I even told you.  Or was it Alexandria that I discussed it with?”

“It was,” Alexandria replied.

“You’re right,” Legend said, “Most precogs are vague.  They have to be, because the future is vague.  But all reports point to this precog being very specific.  Jack Slash was mentioned as the catalyst for an event that occurs in two years.  More specifically, she said this occurs if Jack escaped Brockton Bay alive, which he did.”

There were nods around the table.

“What do you mean when you say the world ends?” Eidolon asked.

“Thirty-three to ninety-six percent of the population dies in a very short span of time.  I assume the aftermath of this scenario leads to more deaths in the long run.”

The Number Man spoke.  “Depending on the circumstances of death, the demise of even one in three individuals would lead to further casualties.  Lack of staff for essential services and key areas, health, atmospheric and ecological effects of decomposition on a massive scale, destabilized societal infrastructure… The best case scenario is that Earth’s population drops steeply over twenty years, until it settles to forty-eight point six percent of where it currently stands.  Three billion, three hundred and ninety-one million, eight hundred and three thousand, five hundred and four.  Give or take.”

“That’s the best case scenario?” Alexandria asked.

The man shrugged.  “It’s unlikely it will occur.  The bare minimum of people would have to die, there couldn’t be any bodies, and there wouldn’t be anything left unattended that could cause uncontrolled fires or nuclear incidents.  If I were to ballpark a number, talking about events that could kill one-third to nearly all of the world’s population, I’d say roughly seventy-two percent of the earth’s population are likely to die.  That leaves one billion, nine hundred and fifty million alive.  More than half of those individuals would die over the following twenty years, and more than half of those who remain would die in the ten years following that.  Keeping in mind these are estimates, of course.”

“Of course,” The Doctor said, “Precogs are unreliable.  I’m surmising this girl doesn’t know exactly how this occurs?”

“No.  Her employer didn’t say anything on the subject.”

“We’ll take measures,” Eidolon said.  “Evacuation, we’ll also push for automatic shutdown controls on power grids and nuclear facilities.  With the Endbringers out there, it would be sensible to do it anyways.  We can reduce the potential damage.”

“Unless,” Alexandria said, “The numbers the precog provided are already accounting for us having this conversation and taking the extra measures.  If she does view the future, it’s very possible she saw this very meeting and everything that followed, in a manner of speaking.”

That was sobering.

“We’ll do it anyways, of course,” Eidolon said.

Legend and Alexandria nodded.

“Let’s remember,” the Doctor said, “The numbers already pointed to an endgame situation at the twenty-three year mark.  If the Endbringers continue doing the damage they’ve been doing at the current rate, things won’t be sustainable.  We’ll be forced to withdraw from damaged and dangerous areas, populations will condense, the Endbringers attack those pockets…  and that’s without considering the possibility that they achieve something big in the interim.  We’ve talked about the crisis scenarios: Behemoth triggering a nuclear winter, Leviathan obliterating or tainting the world’s renewable water supply.”

“You’re saying we’re already facing an end of the world situation,” Alexandria said, “And this is just accelerating the timetable.”

“Yes.  Any measures we take are still vital.  They’ll help here, with this scenario, but if it never occurs, it will still help against the Endbringers.”

“Are we assuming the Endbringers are at the core of this end-of-the-world scenario?” Eidolon asked.

“Likely,” Alexandria said, “But let’s not rule anything out.”

“Provided this is really occurring,” the Doctor spoke.

“We can’t afford to say it’s not,” Legend said.  “You have precogs among your staff and customers?”

“Some,” The Doctor answered.  “I can ask them about this end of the world scenario.”

Legend nodded.  “Good.  Eidolon, you want to try your hand at it?”

“If my power lets me.  It only gives me what it thinks I need, not what I want.”

“We need all the help we can get.  Let’s see if we can’t figure out how this happens, so we can stop it or mitigate the damage.  There’s a lot of capes out there with the thinker classification.  Get the word out, call in favors, offer favors.  Anything to get more information on this.”

There were nods and noises of agreement from his fellow Protectorate members and the Doctor.

Legend quietly cleared his throat, glancing around the table.  “Speaking of great minds… there was another point I wanted to address, that came up during my stay in Brockton Bay.”

He had their attention.

“Alexandria, I expect you read the reports already.  You didn’t seem that surprised when I talked about the precog and her end-of-the-world scenario, you’ve probably read up on my notes here.”

Alexandria had originally named herself after the Library of Alexandria, though she’d ceased mentioning that, choosing to leave enemies in the dark instead.  As strong as she was on a physical level, her mind was equally formidable.  She never forgot a detail, absorbed information quickly, reading two pages of a book with a glance, and she learned quickly, retaining everything she picked up.  She knew most commonly spoken languages, no less than ten styles of martial arts and she could match some of the best non-tinkers in the world when it came to computers.  Not only was she rated well in the brute classification, but she held high scores in the mover and thinker categories.

“I read what you provided, though I’m not sure what you’re referring to specifically.”

“Siberian.”

He saw a change in her expression, saw Eidolon flinch as if he’d been slapped.

“I’ll explain for those of you who lack access to the PRT records or the time to peruse them.  Siberian is not a brute-class cape.  Siberian is a ‘master’, and the striped woman is a projection.  I caught a glimpse of the man who is creating the projection before they retreated.”

“And?”

“And he had Cauldron’s mark tattooed on the back of his left hand, a swan on his right.”

With the exception of himself, the Number Man and the woman in the suit, everyone present reacted with surprise.

“You don’t think that was William Manton?”  Alexandria asked.  “But why the mark on his right hand?”

“I don’t know.  It doesn’t fit on a lot of levels.  A top parahuman researcher becoming one of the Nine?”

“It happened to Alan.  To Mannequin,” Eidolon said, his voice quiet.

“There’s nothing in the records,” Alexandria said, “Nothing saying he was present at any of the places the quarantine protocol was put in effect.”

She would know.  She read every record, could call them to mind with perfect accuracy.

“He could have stolen someone’s identity.”

Alexandria nodded, “True.”

“We have confirmation he’s alive,” Eidolon said, his voice quiet.  “We suspected, but-”

“We made assumptions, and we were way off base.  That’s what concerns me.”  Legend leveled a hard look at the Doctor.  “See, we’ve been going by the assumption that William Manton, from the time he left Cauldron to the present day, has been continuing his work.  We’ve been assuming he’s traveling across the world, experimenting on human subjects, giving them powers with physical mutations as a side effect, then releasing the victims back into society with Cauldron’s symbol tattooed on their bodies.  Or at least, that’s what you told us.”

“You’re implying I lied?” the Doctor asked.  She didn’t look bothered in the slightest.

“I’ve looked at the timelines.  It’s not likely that William Manton could be conducting experiments to give some poor girl tentacles in Illinois at the same time Siberian’s busy attacking people in Miami.  Not to mention he barely looked capable of taking care of himself, let alone conducting research.”

He glanced at the others.  Eidolon’s brow was creased in concern, while Alexandria looked pensive.

“The pattern doesn’t fit,” he said, to drive the point home.  He looked at the Doctor, “Which leaves me to wonder just who is conducting experiments on human subjects.”

“We have no need for human experimentation.  The Number Man can calculate the odds of success for a given formula.”

“Maybe that’s the case.  But just who is conducting experiments on human subjects, who knows enough about Cauldron to tattoo or brand them with the mark while simultaneously having access to these kinds of resources?”

“It’s not us,” the Doctor spoke.

Legend stared at her, studying her.  “And you don’t know anything about how William Manton is connected to all this?”

“I’m as mystified as you are.  If it would assuage your suspicions, you can examine this complex,” the Doctor suggested.

“You and I both know this place is far too large to explore in one lifetime,” he answered.

“True.”

“And if we were to surmise that you’re the culprit here, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t have your doormaker maintain a path to another alternate reality where you have captives stashed away.  It would even explain why there haven’t been any real missing persons cases that we can link to the case-fifty-threes, if you’re simply snatching them from another reality and depositing them in our reality when you’re done.”

She spread her arms wide.  “I don’t know what I can say to convince you.”

“You trust me, don’t you?” Alexandria asked.

“Yes,” Legend said.

“I’ve trained myself in kinesics.  I can look at a person’s face and body language and know if they’re lying.  And I can tell you the Doctor is telling the truth.”

Legend sighed.  “Right.”

“We’re okay, then?” the Doctor asked.

Legend nodded.  “I’m sorry to accuse you.”

“It’s understandable.  This situation doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“I can’t add anything here, and my power’s not volunteering anything that could help to solve this particular mystery,” Eidolon spoke.  “I guess we have yet another unanswered question on our hands.”

Legend sighed, “More than one.  William Manton and his link to Siberian, the tattoo on his right hand, our end of the world scenario and the role Jack plays as the catalyst.  Too many to count.”

“None of this has to be addressed today,” Alexandria said.  “Why don’t you go home?  We’ll consider the situation and come up with a plan and some likely explanations.”

Legend nodded.  The thought of holding Arthur and Keith in his arms energized him.

The Doctor turned to Eidolon, “You want another booster shot?”

“Probably another Endbringer attack coming up, it’s best if I’m in top form.”

While the others talked and planned, Legend stood and left without a farewell.

An opening between realities unfolded before he was half of the way down the alabaster white hallway.  He stepped through the opening to the oil rig, and then began his flight back to New York City.

But he didn’t go home.

Instead, Legend descended on the rooftop of the NYC Protectorate offices.  A tinker-made scanner verified who he was and opened the doors for him in time for him to walk through.

He nodded a greeting to everyone he passed.  When people asked him how things had gone, he offered them a response that was polite but short enough that it was clear he wasn’t looking for further conversation.

He reached his office and closed the door.

He was careful to start up a virtual operating system preloaded with the standard PRT databases and software.  Nothing that would leave a trace on his regular OS.  He unplugged the fiber-optic cables and disabled the wireless.

The precautions were little use if he was already being watched, but it made him feel better.

Once his computer was isolated from outside influences, he withdrew a USB cable from one drawer, plugging one end into the keyboard.  He reached up to one ear and withdrew an earbud.  The other end of the USB cable connected to it.

ASCII art of Kid Win’s face popped up as the earbud connected to the computer, along with the text, ‘thank you’.

He couldn’t bring himself to smile.

Problems of self-confidence aside, Kid Win had produced an interface that was easy to use.  Legend clicked on the yellow button and waited.  Voices played from the computer’s speakers.  He adjusted the volume and listened.

“We suspect that Bonesaw and Siberian also escaped, with Hookwolf as a new member of their group.”

“I see.”

“Any reason for the curiosity?”

“Hard to keep track of what goes on beyond these walls, sometimes.”

Text appeared, transcribing what was being said.  The program paused, the image of the yellow button popping back out.  A red word appeared below the last statement: LIE.

A vague lie, but not a damning one.  His pulse was pounding as he hit the waiting yellow button to resume the record.

“We have no need for human experimentation.  The Number Man can calculate the odds of success for a given formula.”

LIE.

He clicked again.

“…Who knows enough about Cauldron to tattoo or brand them with the mark while simultaneously having access to these kinds of resources?”  His own voice was the one playing from the speakers.

“It’s not us,” the Doctor’s voice answered his.

LIE.

He sat staring at the screen, horrified.

Cauldron had given him his powers, had given him what he needed to be at the very top, to lead the largest collection of superheroes in the world.  They hadn’t wanted much in exchange.  He kept an eye out to make sure nobody got too curious about Cauldron, diverted them if they did.  He’d greased the wheels for some of Cauldron’s top customers.  He was also ready to defend Cauldron if and when it became public knowledge.  It was for the greater good, he told himself.  There was no way for Cauldron to operate otherwise, lest the world’s governments fight over the ability to create whole armies of people with powers and interfere with the organization’s ability to operate.

It would operate, he knew, it obviously wasn’t in a location where it could be raided or seized by military forces, but it wouldn’t be able to reach nearly as many people, and capes would come under scrutiny with the possibility that they’d purchased their powers.

He’d committed to this because Cauldron was essential.  With the rise of the Endbringers and threats like the Slaughterhouse Nine, the world was in need of heroes.  Cauldron produced more heroes than villains, because there was none of the trauma of a trigger event to throw them off.  Even for those individuals who turned to crime, Cauldron was able to leverage the favors that were part of the contract in order to guide their path.  More superheroes meant better chances for everyone when it came to fighting the Endbringers and dealing with the big threats.

It struck him that this wasn’t necessarily true.  If the Doctor had lied about human experimentation, she could have lied about those details as well, too.

Human experimentation on a large scale.  Unwitting, or perhaps unwilling to connect the dots, he’d helped it happen in a way.

His hand shook as he reached for the mouse.  He clicked the button once more, hoping there would be something he could use to convince himself that this was a mistake.  A false positive, a clue that Cauldron was really a force for good after all.  Hadn’t Armsmaster said that his lie detection system was imperfect?  Or maybe Kid Win had generated errors in the code.  The alterations had been minor but comprehensive:  Legend hadn’t wanted to be informed in real-time about the lies, lest he give something away.

“And you don’t know anything about how William Manton is connected to all this?”

“I’m as mystified as you are.”

LIE.

He knew what came next, with the conversation fresh in his memory.  He didn’t want to press the button again, but there was little choice.

“I’ve trained myself in kinesics.  I can look at a person’s face and body language and know if they’re lying.  And I can tell you the Doctor is telling the truth.”

The red text popped up as the last four and a half words appeared.  LIE.

Alexandria knew.  Of course she had.  Her ability to read people, her vast troves of knowledge, her ability to see patterns.  And she was the most willing of their group to take the hard, ugly road.  Had been since Siberian had hospitalized her.

Click.

His own voice.  “I’m sorry to accuse you.”

LIE.

Had he been lying?  He supposed he had.  He didn’t like the Doctor, and he hadn’t truly felt sorry for his suspicions.  Ever since he’d seen William Manton with the Slaughterhouse Nine, he’d harbored doubts about what was going on.

Those doubts had become quiet conviction after he’d gone to see Battery in the hospital.  One of Bonesaw’s mechanical spiders had cut her suit.  He knew exactly the kind of disorientation, hallucination and waves of paranoia she would have experienced as the gas took hold.  While she reeled and tried to get a grip on reality, she’d likely left herself open for further attacks.  Whatever the case, one of the spiders had injected her with a poison Bonesaw had devised.

Her death had been slow, painful and inevitable.  It had been engineered to strike those notes in a way that millions of years of evolution had yet to refine a plant’s toxin or an animal’s venom.  Lying in the hospital bed, still delirious, Battery had used halting sentences to tell him about Cauldon, about buying her powers, and about Cauldron asking her to help Siberian and Shatterbird escape.  She’d planned to pursue the Nine, to offer assistance and then kill one or both of the villains.  Battery had begged him for affirmation that she’d tried to do the right thing, that he would find the answers she didn’t.  He’d reassured her the best he could.

She’d died not long after.

He almost couldn’t bring himself to click the yellow button again.  Alexandria had been lying to him.  And that only left…

Click.

Eidolon’s voice came from the speakers.  “I can’t add anything here, and my power’s not volunteering anything that could help to solve this particular mystery.  I guess we have yet another unanswered question on our hands.”

The word was in red letters on the screen.  It could have been his own pulse behind his retinas, but the letters seemed to throb with a heartbeat of their own.  LIE.

“All lies,” Legend whispered the words to himself.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

131 thoughts on “Interlude 14.5 (Bonus Interlude)

  1. I finally get one first! :D In your face, PG!

    “If you wind up leading the Wards or a team in the Protectorate, it means you’ll be better equipped to help out teammates who are having their won problems.”

    Should be own problems.

  2. Wow , this is a game changing update ….just epicly awesome …im super excited just to see the discussion this sparks !! you really pulled the rug out from under me on this !!

    • Yeah, Madcap/Assault and Battery’s back and forth was both touching and clever. Kinda wishing she’d had a bigger death scene.

      And Skitter will not be taking that well, when she learns about it. She left Battery back there, thinking she’d be okay.

      • Yeah, I had really hoped we’d have a chance to get a look at Assault and Battery’s day to day life. I still hope we get a chance to see more of Assault in the future, he sounds like a really interesting character.

  3. Woo, it WAS Manton! Or, given that alternate realities seem to be confirmed, it was A Manton. And it is entirely possible that the Wormverse is the dumping ground for an alternate reality Cauldron, or that the victims are being pulled from an alternate reality.

    After all, the lies don’t specify the answers that he isn’t being told. Just that they know the answers. After all, an answer is only as good as the question, or you are left wondering, ’42 of WHAT?’

    A few things-
    “There weren’t happy memories here, little he was proud about.” a bit awkward, since it could read as there NOT being little he was proud about; maybe something like “were no happy memories here, and little”, or splitting into a second sentence?
    ” having their won problems.” (…Darn you Gorgondantess!)
    “north, east, south and west,” should be capitalized.
    “a obstactle intervened” An obstacle.
    “and he’d learn how” learned.
    “the Doctor time” is Doctor a meant to proper noun here, like with a time lord? It isn’t made entirely clear if that is what she’s officially called, or just a person who is a doctor and which he doesn’t know the name of.
    “from the Doctor and his fellow Protectorate members.” Might be clearer if the doctor was mentioned after ‘his fellow protectorate members’ rather than before, since it seems she isn’t actually a member.

  4. Good to remind us that Skitter and the Undersiders aren’t the center of the universe, and the Big Names can have conversations that don’t even link to them.

    Also, damn this universe is getting darker all the time (revealed to be darker all the time, whatever).

    • Ah, bonus updates typically appear on Thursdays. Only reason this is called a bonus update is really a question of what I labeled them as. I felt more comfortable with the last chapter being called a conventional interlude and this one being the bonus, for reasons of chronology & format.

      Sorry to confuse.

  5. Long time lurker, first time poster due to the greatness of this chapter. The top heroes in the world may actually be villains, the world might end even if Jack had been killed due to the endbringers, and Brockton Bay might become a No Man’s Land condemned by the government. I can’t wait to see how this will affect Taylor in the future.

    • I can’t wait to see how this effects Coil’s ambitions of taking over the city.

      After all, if the place gets condemned it wouldn’t be a very good stepping stone to taking over more territory.

      Also the condemnation of the area may just pull the rug out from under his efforts.

    • If I may be so bold as to self promote, have I been a positive to your lurking experience? If not, how is it Frozen Chicken’s fault and not my own?

      I care a lot about the opinions my fellow commentators have of me. Except for 1114. And Scrambles. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

      • If Ant dislikes your posts, it totally is my fault. It’s quite common to see posts of my level of awesomeness and just have everything pale in comparison. ;)

        • Nah, I was just enjoying the story and didn’t really read the comments. However I was recently rereading the story and around the time Tyler was outed by Armsmaster, I read down and laughed. I actually read all the comments as I reread this time and was inspired to make a crowning moment of funny and awesome for the tropes page. You guys are pretty funny. In fact something PsychoGecko wrote applies to this chapter.
          “Man, I love the heroes here. If any of you know Marv from Sin City, you’ll get the reference when I say “I love heroes. No matter what you do to them, you don’t feel bad.”
          So let me ask you this, collective heroes of the Wormverse. If you’re a bunch of stuck up, aristocratic, racist, mindfucking, arrogant, self-serving bullies in costume who happen to be viewed as heroes, why would anybody feel bad about exposing your identities and killing any of you?
          Hell, I’m a villain. I say it with pride. I’ve done unspeakable things. Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap. I even pirated AC/DC songs. Borne into the world by dimensional bomb that was part of a plot to end a world. Yep, I came in on the D-bomb. And I got no problem dealing with D-bags. I’m the fly in your soup, I’m the pebble in your shoe. I’ve been around for a long, long time, stolen many men’s souls and faith. Lethal force is a first and a second option for me. I trained a pack of vicious komondors to hunt down captain mystic just because he was afraid he’d get taken to task for his grammer and because komondors are hilarious. I’m a certified son of a bitch, based on my Westminster papers. I hear voices in my head, they council me, they understand. They talk to me. I invade your nightmares or just try to organize the Zoo’s pandas into recreating The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I don’t do it all for free, because pay, and your tears, are all I’ll ever need.
          I don’t hide behind a lawyer parent when I break the law. I got no nepotism or good ole boys on my side to give me a boost. I’m so low on the social ladder that I’m not even standing on it. I also don’t give a damn about people staying in their place and I think a good blowing up would help some of the established types realize their obligation to everyone else. If I’m going to help you, I’m only going to help you, and if I’m going to hurt you, I’m only going to hurt you. I’m impolite. I’m inefficient. I have a plan to kill everyone I meet. Worms to me that you are, I don’t care if you’re black, white, blue, green, or even teal. I am a villain. I am the inelegant lowest of the low and I don’t care what your tv tells you about me.
          And let me tell you heroes. Based on how you all act on average,
          I’m a better person than you.
          Hahahahahaahahahaahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaa!”

      • PG, you’ve certainly been positive to my reading experience. I only started reading the comments around halfway through the story so far, and I kind of want to go back and read the comments on all of the older entries to see what kind of hijinks you get up to.

        Also, I’m here to remind you that you screwed up when mocking me.
        “Also, should be “via. instant message” and not “via instant message”.”

        My turn to laugh.

        Ahaha! Ahahahaha!

        And yeah, that is supposed to sound like Mandark.

  6. “Her death had been slow, painful and inevitable.” This might need to be slow, painful, and inevitable. Might be the same problem for:

    “She knew most commonly spoken languages, no less than ten styles of martial arts and she could match some of the best non-tinkers in the world when it came to computers”

    Looks like the life is drained from Battery. Now we know why the spiders didn’t have to stick around and fight her as long. We also know the extent to which Cauldron’s plots boil over into the hero community. All too willing to turn on each other, it seems.

    The thoughts on a multiverse being involved certainly make things interesting too. Perhaps I should stop by, get acquainted with the place, then vamoose before the world goes kablooey? Even without that, very interesting indeed. I don’t know exactly how much longer Worm has left, but what are the odds Skitter, of all people, is going to be able to stop as powerful and influential an organization as Cauldron, or the world from ending in all the various ways it is set up for.

    And now we finally know why Scion looked disgusted by Eidolon.

    • You’re right, I hadn’t thought about that. But this raises questions about how Scion fits in to all of this. Did he come from another dimension? A scary thought this chapter raises for me is that it is implied that many heroes got their powers from cauldron. Are there any “good” heroes that don’t owe cauldron something? On the bright side I have something else to add to the crowning moment of funny for the tropes page. How does kid win deal with heckling teens? He pulls a gun on them.

      • Another possible funny thing, if you spoiler it: The Manton Effect is about how superpowers can’t affect people. Siberian is an anthropomorphized version of that effect. No superpowers affect her.

        Here’s a thought that might hold up unless parts of it have already been addressed.

        What if the Endbringers were caused by Cauldron just so that they could build up a number of superpowered individuals that were loyal solely to them? Scion shows up, superheroes are around, Endbringers show up. Cauldron starts pumping out influential superheroes, able to justify it to some people as being necessary to deal with the Endbringer threat. So you get people with money or who owe them a lot of favors, obligated by contract and threat to keep Cauldron from being exposed or defend Cauldron if it is made public. So these groups increase in number and influence, gaining the trust of the government. Trusted positions of unelected power, with superpowers and subverted loyalties.

        That kind of organization is going to be VERY interested in someone else actually being able to ruin the world they want to conquer, like Jack.

        Except now that Manton’s known about…and he is connected to Cauldron…and Cauldron has reason to go after Jack…maybe the thing he does by escaping is set in motion Cauldron’s exposure and lead to a massive worldwide superpowered conflict?

        • It depends on when exactly the Endbringers showed up. Scion was first, and afterwards the twin entities began to give people powers. Cauldron figures out how to give people powers, but not without a lot of trial and error first with the case 53s. Something is limiting the Endbringers. Otherwise they wouldn’t take turns and all show up together in one city after another. Well this chapter confirms there is a conspiracy of some kind. But how big is it and how far does it spread?

          • If Cauldron’s controlling them, it could explain things. Make people desperate enough and they’ll do anything. They may not be controlling Manton, though. They want him alive, probably to copy what he’s done with Siberian, but one of the first public appearances of Siberian was putting the hurt on Alexandria, Eidolon, and Legend.

            Could explain Piggot’s paranoia, too. Coil is smalltime compared to Cauldron. He could be another one of their guys and part of their plan. Taking over a city and all. Or he’s just a small nuisance they’ll have to deal with but who has the advantage of Dinah’s accuracy.

          • As far as the limitation on the Endbringers goes, I’ve wondered for a while whether or not there’s just one Endbringer. If Endbringers don’t generally leave off an assault until something beats them down pretty hard, then the time between attacks could be the time required to regenerate/shift into the next form in the cycle. Not sure how viable the theory is, since we haven’t seen any out-and-out shapeshifters, but it does wrap up some dangling questions in a reasonably elegant way.

          • @Catastronaut, Dragon mentioned in her interlude that she was able to observe Simurgh (spelling?) 24/7 because it just sleeps in the upper atmosphere, so I think she would have noticed if they were all the same entity. Of course that doesn’t rule out a hivemind and they are all obviously related somehow.

          • Good points, But I just can’t buy cauldron controlling them. I think they’re related to scion and the twin entities, things Cauldron probably wants Siberian’s power in response to. They don’t really need the endbringers to cause death and chaos. Just give a dozen people shatterbird’s power and let them scream in a dozen cities. They can get more people to buy powers by giving truly nasty people powers at a discount. The more villains they make, the more desperate people like Battery become, and more heroes are created that owe Cauldron something.

          • But how can they control them? Someone said that the only telepath in the setting was one of the endbringers, I forget her name, and they are spread so far apart. One deep in the ocean, one in the stratosphere, and one near the earth’s core. If Cauldron actually had a way to telepathically control them all, then why bother with giving people powers at all. Hell, Xavier of the Xmen might be able to pull off that feet and he could mindcontrol and kill whoever he wants but chooses not to. I somehow doubt that Cauldron wouldn’t use such telepathic power if they had it.

          • If the Big Three actually got their powers from Cauldron, that throws off the timeline we “know”. They were among the first parahumans, so Cauldron already had a working serum back then. The Case 53s like Gregor are more recent, possibly Manton’s work after whatever event Legend and Alexandria are referring to, which seems to have led to him striking out on his own and/or gaining the ability to create Siberian.

            That requires them to have gotten their powers from Cauldron originally, however. If they got their powers naturally, but Cauldron is giving them booster shots to make them the big deal they are today, which the Doctor/Eidolon exchange implies, then the timeline we’ve been given might be right. The fact that it’s only Eidolon talking about getting a boost and we don’t know what his powers are like without it means that we can’t tell.

            It’s another well-crafted Reveal by Wildbow that reveals yet mote mystery.

        • Remember, Tattletale said the Endbringers were NEVER human when she got a read on Leviathan. Not saying Cauldron involvement is impossible, but makes it seem more unlikely.

          >How does kid win deal with heckling teens? He pulls a gun on them.
          And the teachers sent praising notes to the Protectorate about it.

          • But how can they control them? Someone said that the only telepath in the setting was one of the endbringers, I forget her name, and they are spread so far apart. One deep in the ocean, one in the stratosphere, and one near the earth’s core. If Cauldron actually had a way to telepathically control them all, then why bother with giving people powers at all. Hell, Xavier of the Xmen might be able to pull off that feet and he could mindcontrol and kill whoever he wants but chooses not to. I somehow doubt that Cauldron wouldn’t use such telepathic power if they had it.

  7. …Bloody hell. This chapter was one long series of punches to the gut. Even my optimism isn’t working at this point…ouch.

    Amusingly I can now only really see things going well if Coil manages to pull together some huge villainous organisation or in some other way establish a large power base. Obviously the heroes are functionally useless. Cauldron won’t care if this particular reality dies, since I doubt they know that the two ‘things’ seem to have chosen this one specifically. Battery died without fanfare or meaning. The Triumviate are apparently far worse bastards then even Armsmaster and Scion won’t give the game away.

    So bring on the pragmatic villains. This series has managed to both kill large numbers of characters without creating darkness induced apathy AND to have an incredible escalation without numbing me. It still hits like a hammer blow. Even the reveal of several mysteries didn’t disappoint, which is a rare thing given how much nicer supposition can be than fact.

    In short. You have my eternal admiration.

    • There’s some real art to how the deaths are handled too. Battery died in a tragic, horribly painful off-hand way, right after Skitter made a big thing out of not killing her, but that pain is mitigated by the fact that her death wasn’t meaningless. Skitter’s mercy let her live long enough to speak to Legend and initiate his discovery. Most of the other deaths tend to have some sense of meaning or consequence to them as well.

    • I actually thought the same thing. The city will actually be safer and better cared for if Coil and co take over. Hell, if I could write at all, I’d make a fanfic where Tyler gets sent to the birdcage, escapes, and forms the equivalent of the legion of doom in this reality. They’re hated and feared but they are actually doing more for the world than any of the “heroes”. With the climax being the death of an Endbringer.

  8. This is what I hate about super powers, they would almost invariably lead to some form of Aristocracy. Either as the result of the powerful simply taking power for themselves or as the result of cultural deification of capes, I just feel like super powers would be a terrible thing for a free society.

    • An unequal distribution of superpowers would lead to that. But what if everyone could get superpowers? Calderon could do that, but like you said, they want a aristocracy. Hell if they really wanted to stop the Endbringers, they would get every man woman and child to line up for Legend level superpowers for free. If there was a city full of Alexandrias and Legends, that would certainly change the dynamic of an Endbringer fight.

      • Okay Psycho Gecko should really do something with that one.

        I can already see the image of Leviathan turning up and roaring…then noticing the entire skyline filled with grimly smiling figures.

    • I got the impression that Cauldron only gives the secret to the the top one percent of this world. Does this mean that Legend was the Bill gates of this world, and that is how he could get Cauldron to make him so powerful?

      • I just had a terrifying thought. Imagine if Cauldron existed in our world, and the rich, famous, and arrogant bought powers. Paris Hilton as Alexandria, Donald Trump as Eidolon, and Lindsey Lohan as Legend form a supergroup. The terror, the terror!

        • You know Michael Vick would want Bitch’s powers. Maybe OJ Simpson had Oni Lee’s.

          And maybe that Gina Rinehart asshole who inherited something like $30 billion and then declared that poor people should just stop drinking, stop socializing as much, and work harder if they want to be rich (while she also lobbies to lower the minimum wage) would get something with flight so she could float the fuck away.

          On the other side, Nicholas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson would probably turn out to be pretty good with powers. Maybe fix Stephen Hawking up with some power armor.

          Donation to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would increase though, as not donating would make Bill angry. And when Bill Gates is angry, BILL SMASH!

  9. One word Wildbow: DAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN.

    I’m still reeling from this. So much revealed, so many new questions I will need to re-read this several times to get it all straight. Although I feel terrible or Battery. I makes me a-sad. D:

  10. WOW. I found this story a couple of weeks ago, and have been reading it as constantly as I could manage. This was the very first chapter I had to wait for and it was SO WORTH IT. I am speculating lots right now.

  11. Jeesus, Wildbow, you never let up do you? I thought the conversation was bad oh end of the world happening even sooner than we thought. Darn. But then… I literally had my hand over my mouth in horror as I finished reading this. You are good but scary as hell. If you can be this horrifying with super-hero fiction it makes me wonder what you could do in the horror genre.

    • I think I’ve mentioned, but when I started writing (at twelve or thirteen), I started writing in the horror genre. Really just a way for me to deal with the stresses of adolescence and high school, kind of like what superheroics were to Taylor. Though to less of an extreme, obviously. A way for me to vent, if you will.

      I think that’s done a lot to influence everything I’ve written in other genres, as far as injecting a bit of a dark atmosphere into them. The foundation on which I built my writing ability is horror, basically (even if I wasn’t a fantastic writer at 12-15), and that’s colored/shaped how said ability developed, what I tend to focus on, and so on.

  12. Has anyone else noticed that the Doctor’s tag is ‘Doctor Mother’? Bit of a weird name and draws unfortunate conclusions.

    Mainly along the lines of Echidna, Shub-Niggurath, or Kimbery, all Mothers of Monsters.

  13. Another good one! I liked the bit with Kid Win, you helped flesh him out a lot. And the bit where Legend thought of interstellar travel. I like how you bring together things from different characters to move things forward, in this case Kid Win, and Armsmaster. Cauldron seems like the real bad guys in the setting, though I’m a bit surprised Alexandria was down with them and Manton considering her face.

    Gotta wonder what Legend is gonna do about all this, he seems like a stand up guy.

    • Agreed on the interstellar travel bit.

      This really made Legend more than his superhero good-guy persona to me. Imagining being able to leave this flawed world… thinking, perhaps there might be some other place, far away, where I should have been. The universe is so very, very wide, after all. But the stars are so very, very far away. It would take a long, long time to get there, even if I knew the way. And what might I dream about, if I slept for a long, long time…

      Anyway. Staying despite being able to leave all this ugliness and just fly away, that is proof of a certain strength of character we didn’t see even when he was fighting Leviathan or Siberian.

  14. “I suspect his specialty tied into manipulating and enhancing wavelengths and frequencies”
    Well, Legend does nor know it of course, but:
    E = hf where f is frequency and h is PLank`s constant.
    c=lf where l is wavelength and c the speed of light
    Wavenumber (w) is given by w = 1/l
    So, f=c/l = cw
    Manipulating wavenumbers is the same as manipulating frequencies.
    Witch i the same of manipulating the energy E of a wavepacket (usualy a photon).
    I would say something like: manipulating wavelengths and enhancing intensities.
    Intensity is the number of wave packets (photons) in a wave. Each photon carries an amount of energy determined by its frequency, but a wave can have a huge number of these and so, the amount of energy transmitted by a wave does not depend on frequency alone.
    So, Legend never studied advanced physics. But as a teacher, I had to teach it here.
    Well, people told me that I could drop scientific facts in the forum …

    Back to the plot: Legend is still the only heroe of this tale that is not an … how do you say “canalha” in english? There must be a better term than asshole.

    • If I can spew stuff about black holes and our atomic connection to the universe, then someone who knows the science better is certainly welcome. If anyone says otherwise, threaten them with the Brazilian Crotch Scalping, aka the Brazilian.

      Better than getting a Columbian Necktie at least.

      I’m afraid I can’t help you on the translation. Asshole is a pretty good term. There’s also motherfucker, cocksucker, jerk, dick, bitch, ass clown, scruffy-looking nerf herder, fucker, fuck face, fuck head, anal cyst, and probably some others I can’t think of right now.

  15. We keep thinking that Shatterbird sold her powers. What if the man who “bought” them did so on her behalf? Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tattletale purchased her powers with money stolen from her dad, and that’s why she’s on the run. Remember that she was flattered on being rated a 7. Maybe the Doctor told her exactly how far Daddy’s money was likely to go.

    • This kind of speculation is my one big issue with this revelation.

      The Trigger Event origins were awesome. It’s a brilliant idea and I loved it. Meanwhile Cauldron is a far less awesome way to get superpowers, especially with how insanely widespread they seem to be. Now we get to have two thoughts for every character with powers.

      Did they get them in an awesome way…or just buy them…I’ll admit to being really disappointed by the Triumviate being both evil and buyers.

      • So, people with powers is either traumatized or rich enough to buy them.
        And the traumatized are often the lesser evil.
        Nope, still awesome.

      • As I just mentioned above, we don’t know for certain that the Three bought their powers to begin with. That throws off the timeline we know about, and Cauldron may just be boosting them to world-class levels.

        Either way, though, they’re in bed with the current apparent biggest bad guys. The way things keep getting revealed to be lies around Here, I expect Taylor’s dad to be revealed as the reason Scion exists and there are superpowers and Endbringers in the first place.

        • After this chapter, who knows. Personally I feel that Tyler’s situation with her dad will be resolved one way or another. If she actually is going to try to take on coil in the near future, she has to tell her dad the truth to help keep him safe from Coil threatening him. I think you are right that the Three were some of the first people to get their powers, and Cauldron merely boosted them. I would love for the next interlude to be about Hero, the first tinker. Then we could see more about the early history of this reality and maybe clarify a few things about the timeline.

      • I don’t think she bought them, as her interlude had her as a runaway and cherish mentioned that she ran away from a rich lifestyle to live on the streets. If her dad bought them for her, why did she run? I think something terrible happened with her dad causing her to have a trigger event. She mentions that she envies Taylor’s relationship with her dad when they went shopping. Plus every interlude with someone who got their powers from cauldron mentions them.
        Coil says that he still owes them one more favor, Battery and Legend both mention them. But Lisa doesn’t say anything about them during her interlude. Still, after this chapter, I am not gonna rule anyone unless they explain their trigger event.

        • People we know or can be pretty sure didn’t buy their powers, either because we know their trigger event or they’re known to have grown up in poverty (or some other reason): Skitter, Grue, Imp, Bitch, Regent, Cherish, Miss Militia, Glory Girl, and Panacea.

          And I’m saying that Tattletale *stole* from her father, and used that money to buy powers. Then, to avoid the repercussions of her actions, she ran away. It’s also interesting that Cauldron may be pulling people from other realities. Maybe they didn’t give Legend his powers, just enhanced them in exchange for some favors–as they seem to be doing with Eidolon.

  16. Hoo boy, that’s… that’s a worry, right there.

    I would like to say that the line “It was like waking up in a warm bed, the man he loved beside him,” cheered me to no end, though that cheer bled out over the course of the rest of the chapter.

  17. YOU DIRTY SONUVA-

    FECKIN’ ALL OF YOU!

    I can’t help but wonder if this end of the world scenario is going to be something self-inflicted on the part of the heroes. That what happens won’t be something that Jack actually did, but something that comes from the intrigue we see here that was only brought to light because Jack was able to escape.

    • I’ve noticed that clicking Scion’s tag only pulls up that first interlude talking about him and not his appearance in the Leviathan arc.

  18. Well, this sucks, but it seems to be pretty much par for the course. There apparently are no trustworthy authority figures at all in this crapsack world and even news of the upcoming “End of the World” only rates a “what else is new”. This can not end well.

    One thing that brothers me is the time-line. If Legend, Alexandria and Hero where amongst the first major capes to appear after Scion and they were all artificial, it opens up question about what caused what. It seems a bit unlikely that right after capes first appeared The Cauldron had perfected their technique enough to create the first big heroes. Perhaps Cauldron and their experiments are not native to this world at all and only after Scion, the Endbringers and Caludrons capes appeared did natural capes start occurring.

    All this puts Skitter’s problems a bit into perspective, but it makes you wonder how she could possibly involved in saving the world at the end even with her coming into her powers more and more, when a heavyweight like Legend is almost helpless against all the conspiracies and the crap that is going on…

    • Well I would personally like Taylor to try and recreate her Trigger event. Put herself alone in a dark, enclosed space, and maybe drug herself to trick her mind into giving in to paranoia that no is coming. See if that gives her a boost like Grue. The only thing I am worried about is what power related to bugs she would get without it being a game breaker. Perhaps she can take on a single aspect of a bug at a time. Like an animal man with just bugs. The toughness of a beetle, the reflexes of a fly, the jumping power of a grasshopper. Or maybe she gets a power
      similar to Rachel and makes giant Bugs. Coil has at least a hundred well trained solders with lazers. She can now pull bugs from a several mile radius. While they can wear protective suits, she can cover the spaces they see from and make them blind. I think that if she stopped holding back, she could kill Coil. First track him with her powers, find out where he sleeps, get the most poisonous bugs she can, have them picked up by flying insects, and covertly bit him multiple times while he is asleep. The only downside is that she needs Coil’s resources to help the city, which will become even more important if the government ever goes through with the plan and condemns Brockton Bay. It would be smart for her to wait, but I think she is too guilty over Dinah to wait anymore.

      • Well, so far wildbow has been good in ‘upgrading’ Skitter without just giving her cheap power-ups and the fact that she had a comparatively ‘lame’ and ‘evil’ power to begin with made for a cool and much more interesting story.

        Having her simply turn into the Amazing Spider Woman at this point would almost be a let down after the improvements she has been able to make with simply using her powers better.

        For a real over the top power up I am forced to remember that the Endbringers are not actually super-powered humans but something else entirely and that skitter can supposedly not just insects and spiders but anything that fits certain criteria. It reminds me of the picture of Aquaman rising from the waves on the shoulder of Cthulhu, but this sort of power could only be achieved story-wise a few chapter before the epilogue anyway.

        • I like your way of thinking, maybe a powerup that focus on her status as a master. Maybe instead of her taking on aspects of a bug she can give them to others for a brief amount of time, like Othala of the Pure. This way she pulls her minions more into her plan, maybe allowing her to communicate or control them like she can with her bugs. I am a bit confused though, I thought her power let her control anything with a simple nervous system. So she could theoretically control fish and crabs right?

          • It is stated that she can control crabs, but fish weren’t mentioned. We just haven’t had a crabby situation yet. Not easy to pull them quickly around the city to swarm an enemy (or anemone) and they don’t have enough advantages to justify the time and hassle to gather them up beforehand.

          • Thanks for the info. Just for clarification, what powerup would you like Taylor to acquire at some point P.Gecko? Or do you think it would negatively affect the story if she got a powerup at all?

          • It would be incredibly overpowered, but I get an evil grin at the thought of Taylor’s power having a residual effect on the bugs she has controlled. Like she’s able to control any bug she’s ever controlled, no matter the distance. I can just imagine her down for the count, heroes standing over her gloating…then noticing it was daylight just a few minutes ago…look up, and the sky is full of billions of bugs, all heading for them. That kind of “Oh Shit” moment would be priceless.

  19. Just went on an archive binge; this serial is amazing. I’ve always been a huge fan of intelligence over flat out power discrepency or rock-paper-scissors, so this is pushing multiple correct buttons.

  20. Number Man… Wasn’t he supposed to be a big banker for supervillains? That’s how Coil paid the Undersiders for raiding the Protectorate’s reception. If he also works for Cauldron, that means that Cauldron probably already knows everything about Coil’s plans, just by looking at transactions. Mind you, Coil is small potatoes compared to these folks, so maybe they just don’t care.

    • I don’t know. Coil’s goals have always seemed a bit obtuse to me. I don’t understand what he gets out of corrupting a city government. That along with the fact that he seems completely rational in most other regards leads me to suspect that he hasn’t quite shown his hand yet.

      • Rationality or irrationality is primarily about means, not about goals, and I think that taking over, controlling, and governing is an own goal for Coil. He might also have some greater agenda; perhaps he is a parahuman supremacist, who wishes to establish the first city-state ruled by parahumans.

        After all, if an easy life of luxury were his objective, he could have simply used his powers to play the stock market for a while, then retire.

        Actually, now that I think about it, so could Tattletale. I wonder if the financial system in Wormverse works differently, with all those Thinkers running around. Wildbow?

        • I doubt he’s a parahuman supremacist, given he purchased his own powers and that he overwhelmingly employs unpowered individuals. He certainly has an agenda though.

          • Coil purchased his powers? Did I miss that?

            Either way, being a parahuman supremacist wouldn’t stop him from hiring human minions; he would just think that parahumans should be in command.

        • Mentioned in Interlude 8, clairvoyants and precogs observe the markets to keep an eye out for anything fishy. Not perfect (Coil can get around it), but it serves.

          • Wouldn’t that depend on what and how much they observe though?

            See a specific event in the future and tell about it -> others can alter the potential future you saw.
            See an arbitrary/potential event in the future and tell about it -> others may alter the future but also their actions might be its trigger event.
            See the result of a series of events in the future -> you can now perform actions in the present and manipulate the actions of others to shape the future within that chain of events.
            Know the result of all actions and events everywhere, and the potential results of and responses to all actions and events derived from them everywhere, whether they are, will be, can, might or cannot be -> you can now choose the future you want exactly, depending on what you do in the present.

            (of course, precognitive omniscience requires an intellect so far beyond human we can only begin to imagine it)

          • As there’s myriad types & conventions of, say, invincibility, there’s a number of subcategories and focuses of precognition or clairvoyance. Tattletale, for example, could theoretically be classified as a subtype of clairvoyance.

            So I’d recommend one not jump to any conclusions about what the thinkers out there could do to monitor the use of powers in relation to economic manipulation.

            That said, it’s noted in this chapter that precogs tend to be somewhat unreliable. I don’t think it would be too ridiculous a notion to imagine them working in small groups, supporting one another’s weaknesses and expanding on one another’s leads. All it takes is for one to notice an anomaly and then the others can expand on that.

          • It’s like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (though that’s a popular name, these don’t fall under the term uncertainty principle I read) where you can’t observe a subatomic particle without changing it.

            That they know and then warn people then alters it because they warned someone. Or becuase someone else saw it and is using that information (all the other precogs are just going to mess with it even more). Or if a guy just sees he’s going to slip at a certain time on a certain day, he’ll probably take actions to avoid it instead of falling for the sake of the timeline.

            There’s also the additional confusion of not knowing whether the future seeing is one that takes the actions of being seen into account or not. Just like with Oedipus, the actions to prevent the end of the world might be the things that trigger it.

            Maybe Dinah’s just so much better at figuring it out because she works on percentages. Lots of leeway for other things to happen, since it’s just a high chance of it occurring (much as we estimate a general area the electrons are around an atom without knowing exactly).

            The only way to know for sure is to have such great minds as the Harlem Globetrotters work on time-related research.

  21. The uncertainty principle only enters the equation for the knowledge of a single action or event. If you know of a potential event plus the potential event for an action you might take to avoid/change the first event, then you can choose either the first event or the second with no uncertainty by choosing the actions that lead to them rather than blindly trying to avoid a future by taking actions whose results you don’t know.
    That’s pretty much how Coil works (except for the future part – his ability is limited to knowing the present by living two timelines) and why he can sidestep precogs with only a single reference point.

    Now, imagine a precog with more than just two points of future reference or a variable point of future reference. For example, Doctor Manhattan. His future self can communicate with his past self. He takes an action then his future self sees the results of that action and informs his past self if they are not favorable before he took the action. Then he takes a second action, with his future self again giving info on that action and the past self changing the action if it is not favorable – to the point that, unless something is blocking his nonlinear awareness, he can always take the most favorable action he can think of just like a pc gamer reloading a game again and again.
    This is similar to the type of precognition we see in the film “Next” where the protagonist has a 2-minute precognition window where he can review potential outcomes again and again until he commits to a decision. That enables him, among other things, to avoid being captured by FBI agents in the same room with him by exactly moving in their blind spots, to dodge bullets by trying different dodges till he gets the right one, to knowing the layout/traps/enemies in entire buildings in no time by searching one room per future review and then retaining the knowledge without actually having to do the dozens of searches and so on.
    Such nonlinear awareness would enable a prophet to say a prophesy then check the results of people reacting to that prophesy. Review the results enough times to rephrase the prophesy in such a way that peoples’ reactions to it bring about the events the prophesy is predicting and sharing knowledge of the future would not make the prophesy changeable – in fact, it is the very thing that makes the prophesy come true.

    Of course, that level of precognition/nonlinear awareness might not exist in the Wormverse. There might only exist the lesser levels of precognition which are far more fallible or limited. For example Coil has a nonlinear awareness – but only 2 viewpoints, both are in the present and he has to live both of them simultaneously. Dinah can see multiple potential futures – but is limited by human intellect in how much she can see at a time, appears to see events but not why they happen and her power only extrapolates possibilities rather than giving certain views.

  22. Okay, I’ve gotten this far. I stopped reading the comments about a chapter ago, because even though they were brilliant, there were just too many of them. I don’t know if anybody has already thought of this, or if the later chapters disprove it, but:

    This chapter implies that the supers are able to move between the two Earths. Which raises the question: are both Earth’s going to be destroyed, or is somebody planning to destroy one, and use the tragedy for their own ends, while sitting safe on the other Earth?

    Especially if this hypothetical villain controls the only gateway between the two Earths. There’s a lot of things you could do with that, including ransoming the inhabitants of the dying Earth. Or allowing only, say, villains across, so that one Earth is destroyed, and the second is overwhelmed with malicious capes loyal only to the person who let them across.

    Yes, I do expect this theory to be disproved within a couple of chapters.

  23. I came back to read this because I remembered it being good, but damn. This is probably one of the best chapters of Worm, and is on a wham level up there with 22.4. Even reading it again.. damn.

  24. If the Endbringers are causing enough damage to collapse civilization (though that makes no sense given that if they take out concentration then people are going to start spreading out rather than condensing as stated here) why haven’t they been nuked?
    If they can be killed by physical attacks at all then a point blank nuke will do it.

    btw: I find it odd that Legend is vulnerable to bullets (a hundredth of a second is more time than one needs).

  25. why did I have to find this story?!? You’ve been sucking me in to reading late into the night now for well over a month… I need sleep man! Darnit. Good stuff, maybe one more chapter before bed…

    • It’s currently 5 AM. And I, too, want to read ONE MORE CHAP-TAR!

      (It’s best if you read that in Uncle’s voice from Jackie Chan Adventures, I think.)

      Man, this is so good. It’s like a drug, except it’s making my brain work instead of melting it!

      Every time I find a particularly good story, I end up archive binging. (Which hasn’t been all too often, implying I haven’t been looking properly. However, I got a good number of potentials a few chapters back from the comments. Thanks!) I did that with Gunnerkrigg Court, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, a download of Star Trek books in txt format (progress: 28/479), Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (author’s note got me here), and usually any good physical book I lay my hands on. I know that this is TERRIBLE for my sleep schedule, so I’ve been trying to be more reasonable in my intake of Worm. It… hasn’t exactly been working.

      Now, I’m no speed reader. I went quite wide-eyed when I saw a few comments an arc or three ago where people said they had archive binged the _entire thing_ up to that point in one day. But then again, I believe this person also said they basically read entire paragraphs at a time or at least several sentences and that their brain somehow filters out noise. Not sure how that power works, but my mortal reading ability requires that I occasionally reread a sentence or paragraph if it feels like I missed something. I can process a few small words at a time with what I _thought_ was normal speed ;-) but longer nonmonosyllabic words require my brain to parse them individually. Personally, I think it’s fascinating how our brains handle things so differently.

      Anyway, the point being that on weekends I can usually manage to binge a single arc before I have to stop myself or I just pass out and stumble to bed. On weekdays, I can typically get a chapter or two in unless someone manages to set one of the printers or their computer on fire at work. Then I binge the midnight oil! I’ve actually been trying to force myself to stick to no more than one arc per day. When I discovered the Methods of Rationality last Christmas, I binged nearly half of the entire thing as then written in a single day/night. I read the rest over the next few days. It was so good that, like a kid on Halloween, I gorged myself on candy and had none left to eat the next day. Therefore, I’ve been trying my hardest to self-regulate my intake of the amazing beast that is Worm so that I still have some to satisfy myself with tomorrow!

      In answer to your question, Steve of the G’s, the reason we found this story was because of the epic force of its epic gravity pulling us towards its epicness. Epically.

      Also, Wildbow, (if you read/answer “necrocomments”, I believe the term was) what do you recommend for someone who would like to start writing as well? The only ideas I’ve had thus far are plagiarizing something, and in one case everything (yes, everything). Fanfiction is one thing, but reading Worm has taught me a valuable lesson: There are universes out there where superheroes live that aren’t owned by DC or Marvel. Or, more, succinctly: Be original. Worm is awesome because everything is an unknown. Every chapter fleshes out a hitherto unseen and totally unknown universe! If you know a universe inside and out, then you know essentially what’s going to happen in any given situation. Even the reveals are just one hidden bit in a transparent world. In a completely original universe, the only things you know is what the author tells you, which is really the only way to make something a surprise.

      Should I start by writing fanfiction and then work my way up to something more original? Or should I wait until I have a more solid idea besides “what if X”? Also, where/how would you recommend publishing? Fanfiction.net? WordPress? Blogger? Buying a domain and running my own webserver? (I’d love to do this anyway, but my Internet connectivity sucks and my site would probably buckle if more than 3 people visited it daily.) From what I’ve gathered, Fanfiction.net has limited formatting capabilities. WordPress seems to make you pay to use custom CSS, but Blogger let you use (mostly) arbitrary HTML if you really wanted to (and thus a little bit of inline CSS and JS, although the last time I used Blogger was years ago). WordPress’ stats thing looked shiny in their video, but I’m not sure how useful or necessary it is. What would you recommend to someone just beginning to experiment with writing? Should I maybe get a few completed stories under my belt in private before I spill bile forth on the Internet?

      Anyway, I just want to say: MAAAAAAN this is good. The writer in me already has an idea for a continuity diverging from where they rescue Charlotte, that I thought of while Skitter was under the miasma a few chapters ago. And then, suddenly, now we have confirmed inter-universe travel, in-universe. (And it was mentioned in almost the very beginning that they have a cultural exchange, at least, with one other universe, which is public knowledge IIRC.) Which only makes the idea I have more plausible! Although, if I did try to expand on that idea, I should probably get caught up first so that I know how things turn out in this continuity. Also, I’d want to know what sort of fiction is in this fiction, so that I can make proper pop culture references when I make my pop culture references. (Yo, Dawg….) I notice Skitter knows of Klingon, implying that Star Trek is a thing. What about stuff like Superman? Batman? Green Lantern? X-men? Pokémon? Books, comic books, videogames? Anime or crazy things from Japan? Oh, wait. Japan got Endbringered didn’t it? It would explain the merciful lack of capes with over-sized swords and/or schoolgirl outfits. … Although there was that poor girl with the tentacles from Illinois, though.

      Anyway (again), I just want to say, thank you Wildbow. You have deprived me of sleep for a several solid weeks now, and it has been GREAT! Please keep up the good work! A new chapter of Worm beats a good night’s sleep any day of the week.

      • I’ve gotten a few 2 hours nights recently myself…
        I believe that what our esteemed author would say is, if you want to write, then write. Don’t expect it to be great to start. Wildbow mentioned a few time (over the course of the comments I’ve read), beginning over 100 various superhero stories before hitting on the iteration that became Worm.
        Also, Wildbow started writing at age 12 or thereabouts, as I recall. So there is scads of experience involved, most of which, like an iceberg, is not what we see, but that unseen experience supports the expertise we do see.
        Which is not to say you have to write for years before becoming great, but just start writing, and there is nowhere to go but up.
        Personally, I hate writing – it’s work! I really appreciate people like Wildbow, who make it possible for me to read awesome stuff without needing to write it first. So good luck!

    • Just wanted to chime in and say that I too have been getting far too little sleep since I discovered Worm around a week ago. Awesome story so far, keep up the good work! Now I really should get to bed, I have to be at work in 6 hours… Maybe just one more chapter ;-)

  26. Hi, thank you very much for writing this story.
    It is not only my favourite plot of things I’ve read but I also feel the story is delivered better than I thought stories could be told.

    I found what I think is a minor typo:
    “He glanced at the others. Eidolon’s brow was creased in concern, while Alexandra looked pensive.”
    Alexandra –> Alexandria

  27. Kid Win’s specialty is pretty versatile. It kind of reminds me of Armsmaster’s. Interesting; I wonder if there’s a connection.

    “He’d wondered sometimes if his ability to fly was meant for travel on an interstellar level.” Interesting that Legend is considering the “purpose” of his powers.

    “He’d absorbed light, heat and ambient radiation while he flew, and he felt restored. Even the mildest wear and tear had been tended to, his body restored to peak condition.”
    I’d like Legend’s power just for that. It sounds like he doesn’t need to eat or sleep, maybe doesn’t even need to drink. Metabolic/Physiological needs are such a pain at times.

    “Jack escaped.”
    “That’s… really unfortunate,” Alexandria said.
    “Quite,” the Doctor replied.
    So, Cauldron’s heard. Seems they have an inside man…or woman.

    “[Eidolon] looked more like an average family man who was getting dressed up as Eidolon for a costume party than he looked like Eidolon himself.”
    Reminds me of a time Charlie Chaplin came third in a Charlie Chaplin Lookalike contest.
    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CoconutEffect

    ““And he had Cauldron’s mark tattooed on the back of his left hand…”
    Oh, not an actual cauldron? Bit of a slip-of-tongue on Legend’s part a few chapters ago…good thing for Cauldron Skitter couldn’t see the tattoo.

    “‘Probably another Endbringer attack coming up, it’s best if I’m in top form.’”
    *calculates*
    It’s been what, maybe a month and a half since Leviathan? And Endbringers come every three months? Oh yeah, Eidolon’s powers are fading, this is bad. The math seems off, though…

    “‘All lies.’”
    Not quite. Um…let’s see…the Endbringers are bad news, that’s correct.

    • No, reread Interlude 7.

      “Nothing’s truly random,” Colin explained, his voice tight, “Any data shows a pattern eventually, if you dig deep enough. Dragon started work on an early warning system for the Endbringers, to see if we can’t anticipate where they’ll strike next, prepare to some degree. We know there’s some rules they follow, though we don’t know why. They come one at a time, months apart, rarely hitting the same area twice in a short span of time. We know they’re drawn to areas where they perceive vulnerability, where they think they can cause the most damage. Nuclear reactors, the Birdcage, places recently hit by natural disasters…”

      It never specifies how many months apart they attack. But this does seem to imply that Eidolon knows something we don’t. Again.

      • It was at some point stated that they have been coming every three, three-and-a-half months, give or take, since Simurgh showed up, with slower rates when there were fewer Endbringers. I don’t remember when it was stated, though.

  28. Welp, almost 1/2 way through the story, by chapter listing, by word count, probably not. Erica and I are still reading it together, and MAN. Every single time we think things might go in a downswing, it just gets more and more nuts. Love this story, and while I imagine it’s been said, I cannot WAIT for a e-book version, let alone a dead-tree version. It’d take up half my shelf!

    Can’t wait to see what happens next, and thanks for writing such a great story! Also, Oh no…Battery! I really liked her…:(

  29. Maaan. Terrifying, awesome, incredibly scary. Legend is a really good guy; it seems Battery was as well. And it now seems those are all too few and far between. Even Eidolon. Wham.

    I love the asides in this chapter, about interstellar flight, and about Alexandria bring originally named after the Great Library. That’s really nifty.

    Capitalisation of “Doctor” is inconsistent here compared with the rest of the chapter:
    “buying the doctor time to escape.”

  30. Great work, as always, but the proofreading seems to be a little weaker – “as well, too” is kind of a choose-one deal. Also about five people have commented that you spelled “heard” as “hard” a few chapters ago, and it’s still there.

  31. I’m really enjoying Worm!

    I heard you will be doing some editing before a possible e-book / dead tree re-release, so I’d like to share some tips about nuclear technology.

    “The bare minimum of people would have to die, there couldn’t be any bodies, and there wouldn’t be anything left unattended that could cause uncontrolled fires or nuclear incidents.”
    Nuclear power plants shut down safely if left unattended. The real problem in such a situation would be in ensuring the steady flow of food to the cities. If the transportation network is heavily disrupted, the city dwellers would starve or die fighting over the remaining food.

    “Evacuation, we’ll also push for automatic shutdown controls on power grids and nuclear facilities”
    See above – nuclear reactors automatically shut down if there is a problem. The only caveat is that some older models of reactors require a steady power supply for a few days after shutdown to power the cooling system as it removes decay heat (the heat that comes from the radioactive decay of short-lived fission products rather than the fission reaction itself). Normally this is provided by diesel generators, but if they fail, there can be a meltdown. So what the Number Man should be suggesting is that they fit nuclear power plants with tougher emergency power supplies, perhaps tinker-made.

  32. It is a tad strange that Legend worries about false positive at first, and is then convinced without there being a single negative.

    That said, I love Worm, great story :-)

  33. Wow… So I’ve just archive-binged over the past week or so up to here. MAN, what good writing and setups you have, Wildbow. Seriously, great job at crafting a world.

    I also wanted to say that your ability to create a diverse and realistic world is refreshing, and amazing. Too few writers seem to be able to do this, but you create, flesh out, and integrate people from all walks of life in a very believable and refreshing way – be they women, men, people of color, or LGBT individuals (Legend, Regent, Panacea… might be forgetting some).

    And you do it in such a way that each character is so complete with actual, non-seethrough motivations. I’m really impressed. Keep up the good work!

    I’m really looking forward to reading the rest, any anything else you put out! Consider me hooked.

  34. It’s paradoxical. If they know for a fact that, say, 80% of the people will die, they should NOT install fail-safeties in trains, (non nuclear) power plants, and similar things. If they go for more safety and 80% will die anyway, it just means that an even bigger catastrophe will hit them.

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