Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #2)

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“Water torture,” Justin said.  “It’s what the C.I.A. uses.”

“No, please.”

Justin shook his head.  “What good is begging going to do?  There’s hardly a point to torture if you want it.”

“The victim can aspirate water during water torture,” Dorothy commented, as though she were commenting on paint shades.  “But I could have been doing it wrong.”

“Burning, then.  Start on the back, chest and stomach, work our way to the extremities.  They say a burn hurts worse than any other pain, inch for inch,” Justin said.  “By the time we work our way to the face, the armpits, or the soles of the feet…”

“Oh god.”

“Scarring,” Geoff said, looking up from his newspaper.  “Chance of infection.  He’d be facing as much risk as he would with the water torture.  It might even be harder to treat.  Harder to explain if we had to go to a doctor.”

“Razors?”  Justin suggested.

“Razors could work,” Dorothy said.  “I’m good with a razor.”

“Hear that?” Justin asked.  “She’s good with a razor.”

“Please.  There has to be another way.”

“There are a number of other ways,” Dorothy said.  “Tearing out your teeth, fingernails and toenails is one.  Castration, force feeding, breaking bones, rats, flaying…”

“I meant besides torture.”

“Psychological methods,” Justin suggested.

“Isolation,” Dorothy offered.  “Sensory deprivation, intoxicants.  Would you like cream in your coffee, Geoff?”

“No thank you, dear.”

“The bacon is done.  Why don’t you two come and eat?”  Dorothy offered.

Justin sighed. “Come, Theo.”

The boy gave them wary looks as he stood from the armchair and crossed the length of their hotel room.  Dorothy had laid out a veritable feast: bacon, eggs, english muffins, toast, french toast, a bowl of strawberries, a bowl of blueberries, and a bowl of fruit salad.  There was orange juice and pots of both coffee and tea.  She was just setting down a plate of bacon, leaving barely enough room for anyone’s plates.

It would have been too much for eight people to eat, but she didn’t seem to realize that.  She smiled as Justin ushered Theo to the table and sat down.  Her clothes were more fit for a job interview than for a fugitive, with a knee-length dress, heels, earrings and makeup.  Geoff, like his wife, was too well dressed for the occasion, wearing a button-up shirt beneath a tan blazer, his hair oiled and combed back neatly.

They can’t act, Justin thought.  They follow their routines like bad actors following a script.  A housewife preparing a meal for her family, the husband at the table.

He’d known that the pair started every day with the same routine, like clockwork.  Wake, don bathrobe, and collect a newspaper.  Geoff would step into the shower as Dorothy stepped out, and she would be done grooming by the time he was through.  Once they were both dressed, they’d head to the kitchen, and Geoff would read the paper while Dorothy cooked.

But always, the details would be off.  Things any ordinary person would take for granted were forgotten or exaggerated.  Dorothy inevitably prepared too much, because it was harder for her to consider how hungry everyone was and adjust accordingly.  Only two days ago, Justin had noted that Geoff would take a few minutes to read the front page of the paper, turn the page, and stop.

Now he couldn’t help but notice.  It was the same thing every day.  For the twenty or thirty minutes it took Dorothy to put everything together and set it on the table, Geoff would stare at the second and third pages of the newspaper.

Justin had asked about the headlines and the articles.  Geoff never remembered, because he wasn’t reading.  He could read, but he didn’t. He spent nearly forty minutes in total, every day, like clockwork, doing little more than staring into space, pretending to read.

Put the paper away, it’s time to eat, Justin thought.  Yes dear.  Mmm.  Smells delicious.

“Put the paper away, it’s time to eat,” Dorothy said.  She was holding the coffee pot, stepped behind Geoff, putting a hand on his shoulder, and bent down to kiss him on the top of his head.  Automatic, without affection.

“Yes, dear.  ” Geoff said, smiling up at his wife.  “Mmm.  Smells delicious.”

Jesus fuck, they scare me, Justin thought.  But he plastered a fake smile of his own onto his face, grabbed one of the oven-warmed plates and served himself.  Theo did much the same at the other side of the table, minus the smile.

Kayden emerged from one of the bedrooms, her hair still tangled from sleep, wearing a bathrobe.  Mousy, shorter than average, looking exceedingly human, she was Dorothy Schmidt’s antithesis.

“Aster slept well last night,” Justin commented.  “Didn’t hear her crying.”

“She slept through the night.  We just have to maintain a routine as we keep moving,” Kayden said.

“We were just discussing ways to force Theo’s trigger event.”

“It’ll come on its own,” she said.  “We have two years.”

“One year and eleven months,” Theo said.

Kayden glanced at him but didn’t respond.

“It should have happened already,” Justin pointed out.  “It’s easier for children with inherited powers, and Theo’s the son of Kaiser, who’s the son of Allfather.  Third generation.”

“Maybe I didn’t get powers,” Theo said, not looking up from his plate.

“Or maybe you’ve lived a sheltered enough life that you haven’t had a reason to trigger,” Justin retorted.

“I don’t want to get tortured.  Physically or psychologically.  There has to be another way.”

“Torture?” Kayden asked.

“It’s one line of thought,” Justin said, trying to mask his annoyance.  He’d purposefully brought it up while Kayden was out of the room.  “We were trying to think of methods that wouldn’t leave him unable to fight Jack when the time came.”

“No torture.  Theo’s right.  We can find another way.”

Justin frowned, “Every day we wait is a day we don’t have for training his abilities, and he’ll need all of the training he can get.”

“Because I have to fight the Slaughterhouse Nine and Jack Slash.  And he’ll kill a thousand people if I don’t,” Theo said.  “Me and Aster too.”

Justin glanced at the boy, saw the white-knuckle grip he had on his knife and fork, looked at Kayden, who had french toast speared on her fork but wasn’t raising it to her mouth.  She stared off into space as the maple syrup slowly dripped down to the plate below.

She doesn’t know what to do any more than we do.

“You come from a good pedigree,” Justin commented.  “Kaiser was strong enough to rule over the better part of Brockton Bay, as Allfather did before him.”

“Which doesn’t do us any good if I don’t get powers,” Theo mumbled.

“If worst comes to worst,” Kayden said, “We fight the Slaughterhouse Nine.  Night, Fog, Crusader and I.  Okay?”

Justin frowned, but he didn’t speak.

Theo voiced half the doubts that Justin was keeping silent, “You didn’t fight them last time.  I’m not saying you were wrong to leave, but-“

“But we didn’t fight them then.  You’re right,” Kayden said.  “I’d hoped the others would stop them.  The heroes, the Undersiders, Hookwolf…”

“And they didn’t,” Justin said.  “Which means we have to assume Jack’s going to follow through.  That gives us a time limit.  Theo needs powers, he needs training, we need to find the Nine, and we need to stop them.  What if we went to the Gesellschaft?”

Kayden glanced at the other two who were sitting at the table.  Dorothy and Geoff.  Neither of the two had reacted to the name of the organization that had created them.  Or, at least, they hadn’t reacted outwardly.

“I’m more concerned that they’d help the Slaughterhouse Nine if it meant killing a thousand Americans,” she said.  “And I’m not sure I want Theo to recieve the kind of power they offer.”

“If we contacted them through Krieg…”  Justin trailed off.

“What?” Kayden asked.  She let her knife and fork drop to her plate with a loud clatter.  “You think they’d give us assistance with no strings attached?  That we could call in a favor with Krieg and they’d give Theo powers, without the follow-up attention?”

“No.  No, I suppose not.”

“They turn people into weapons,” Kayden said.  “Then they decide where those weapons are best positioned, for the cause.  There’s two good reasons why they wouldn’t have given fresh orders to Night and Fog since the Empire collapsed.  Either they can’t get in touch with us-“

“I somehow doubt that.”

“Or Night and Fog are forgotten.  Presumed dead or ignored,” Kayden finished.  “In which case we don’t want to remind them that we’re still around.”

“I somehow doubt that, as well,” Justin said.  “They have to know we’re alive.”

“Then what?  Why leave these two in my care?”

“Because it serves their agenda,” Justin answered.  He finished off his plate, spooned some blueberries onto the side, and poured himself some orange juice.

“What agenda?”

“The Empire fell.  The Chosen fell.  Only Kayden Anders and her Pure remain.  If they hope to retain any foothold in the Americas, it’ll be through you.”

“I don’t want to give them a foothold in the Americas.”

“By the sole fact that you exist, you’re giving it to them.  Your reputation, your success, it gives the Gesellschaft the opportunity to say, their cause is being furthered in the West.  Even if your goals and theirs are only aligned in abstract.  So they leave Night and Fog in your care, because it keeps you dangerous, it helps ensure your success, and maybe because it gives them a way to strike at you if they decide you’re a danger to the cause.”

Kayden glanced at Dorothy, studying Night’s civilian appearance.

“More coffee?” Dorothy asked, smiling.

“God, yes,” Kayden muttered.  She held out her cup for a refill.

“What about you?” Theo asked.

Justin turned to look at the boy.  “Who?  Me?”

“Where do you stand, with the cause?”  Theo asked.  Justin didn’t miss the inflection at the end.

“I’m a simple man,” Justin said, smiling.  “I like steak and potatoes.  I like a good fight, a serious game of baseball or football.  American football.  I like a good woman’s company-“

Kayden cleared her throat.  When Justin met her eyes, she was glaring at him.  Not jealousy, more of a mother bear protecting her cub.

Justin smiled a little, more with one side of his mouth than the other.  “-And I believe that they are fucking things up, out there.  And the rest of the world’s letting them.”

“People with different colored skin.”

People with differences,” Justin said.  “Faggots, gimps, mongoloids.  Kaiser got that.  I talked to him one on one, and he had the right ideas.  He got that America is ours, that they’re polluting it over time, letting these people in.  But he was too focused on the big picture, and he was working with the Gesellschaft, which was way too big picture for my tastes.  Still, birds of a feather.  I worked under him because I wasn’t about to find others elsewhere, and I didn’t feel like going it alone.  Then he introduced me to Purity.”

Theo glanced at his onetime stepmother.

“And I think we’re more in sync, Kayden and I,” Justin said.  “If Kaiser was the visionary, the guy on top, the guy with the dream, working to achieve something over decades, then Purity’s the detective working the streets.  And that’s the kind of simple thinking I can get behind.”

“So you don’t support the Gesellschaft?”  Theo asked.

“I can’t support what I don’t understand,” Justin said.  “And what I do understand is that we need to give you your trigger event before it’s too late.  Because Jack and his gang of psychopaths are the sort of freaks I can’t stand, and I’ll be fucked if we let him beat you on this count.  They don’t get to beat us, and you’re one of us.”

Theo drew in a deep breath, as if he was going to say something, and then heaved it out as a sigh, slow and heavy.

“Whether you like it or not,” Justin added, just under his breath.

Theo glanced at him.  He hadn’t missed the comment.

At a normal volume, Justin said, “You’re vetoing the torture, where we’d be trying to get him to a trigger state in a safe, controlled environment.  We need another game plan.”

Kayden sighed.  “For now?  We’ll let Dorothy clean up.  Have you two done your morning sparring?”

Justin shook his head.

“Give Theo some training while I shower, then you two can wash up.  Get dressed to go out.  I have one idea regarding Theo’s trigger event.”

Justin stood with a plate in hand, but Dorothy was already walking around the table, her heels clicking on the tile.  She took the plate from him, smiling.

“Come on, then,” Justin urged the boy.  “Let’s see how much of it’s sinking in.”

“Not much,” Theo said.

“Probably not,” Justin replied.  He reached for his power and stepped out of his body, a spiritual mitosis.  A ghostly image of himself, wearing the same clothes, crossed the ‘living room’ of the space the hotel had given them.  He created two more replicas of himself, one walking until its legs were sticking through the couch.

“Four against one?”  Theo asked.

“You think the Nine are going to play fair?  Now, do you remember priority one?”

“Self defense.”

“Protection comes first, always.  The core of any martial art or self defense.  Perception’s second.  Know what’s going on, because it’ll help you protect yourself, and it’ll help you identify the right moment to strike.  Arms up.  Let’s see your stance.”

Theo raised his arms in the ready position, positioned his feet further apart.

Justin looked the boy over.  He’d lost a little weight, though he wouldn’t look much skinnier if he kept exercising like he was.  He’d put on muscle, and look just as bulky, at least for a while.

But that stance…

Justin suppressed a sigh.  Those one thousand people are fucked.

“Harvard,” Justin said.

“This way,” Kayden said.  She had Aster in a harness, the baby’s head resting against her chest.

“You know your way around Harvard?  Color me impressed.”

“I looked it up online.  This way.  I’d rather not spend too much time in public.”

Justin noted the crowd of older teenagers and twenty-somethings.  It was summer, but the school wasn’t empty.  With the warmth of summer, the students were wearing shorts and short sleeves, as well as short dresses.  Justin smiled at a group of girls as they passed by.  One of them looked over her shoulder at him, gave him a glance that roved from head to toe and back up again.

“Justin,” Kayden said, raising her voice.

“Coming,” he said.  Damn.

They made their way across the campus.  Dorothy and Geoff had stayed behind, leaving Kayden, Justin and Theo to carry out the errand with Aster in tow.

They reached a tower, built to match the other buildings of the campus.  Justin held the door for Kayden and Theo, pausing to note the lettering across the entrance: ‘Dept. Parahuman Studies’.

Fitting.  Kayden’s plan was clear, now.

They entered the elevator, and Kayden checked a slip of paper, hit the button for the ninth floor.  She tucked it into a pocket behind Aster’s back, then kissed her sleeping daughter on the forehead as the doors closed.

“We should get in and out fast,” Justin commented.

Kayden pursed her lips.

“Always have to consider that someone made us, and that they’re calling the authorities.”

“I know,” she said.

“Fuck Coil,” Justin snarled.

Kayden glared at him, and her eyes and hair both glowed with a trace of light.  Some free strands of hair lifted as the light touched them, as if they were buoyant, or as if Kayden was underwater and slowly sinking.  “Watch your language around Aster.”

“She doesn’t understand.”

“But she will, one day.  Get in the habit now.”

Justin sighed.  “Will do.  We going in hard or soft?”

“You could rephrase that.  But this is a soft entry.”

“Right.”

They departed the elevator as it reached the ninth floor.  Kayden double checked the slip of paper, and they began the process of figuring out where the room was.  It wasn’t intuitive, as the rooms didn’t seem to be numbered sequentially.

They stopped at one door that was labeled ‘914’, with a nameplate below reading ‘Dr. Wysocki’.

“What the hell kind of name is Wysocki?  Polack?”

“He’s one of the top researchers on Parahumans,” Kayden said.  “The best in the Massachusetts area.”

“You’re the boss, and it’s your call,” Justin said, shrugging.  “Just saying I pointed it out in advance.”

“What difference is it going to make?” Theo asked.  “Doesn’t make any difference to his ability to do his job.”

“So cute,” Justin said.  He gave Theo a pat on the cheek, and the boy pushed his hand away in irritation.

Kayden knocked, and the door swung partially open.

A young man, no older than twenty-five, hopped out of his swivel chair, pulling earbuds from his ears.  “Ah.  Hi?”

“We had a few questions,” Kayden said.

“I’ve never had a student bring their family before.”

“We’re not students,” Kayden said.  She strode into the room, and Justin gave Theo a push on the shoulder to prod him forward.  When everyone was inside, he closed the door and stood with his back to it.

“Huh.  I thought I recognized you, would have been from class,” the man said.

“We’re not students,” Justin echoed Kayden’s words.  His tone didn’t have the intimidating effect he’d hoped for.  The young man’s forehead was wrinkled in concerns of a different sort.

“You’re not here for the office hours?  Figures.  I sit around for three hours twice a week, five straight weeks, someone finally shows and they aren’t a student.”

“You’re Wysocki?” Justin asked.

“No,” the young man gave him a funny look.  “You’re really not students.  I’m the T.A.  Filling in while he’s at an event.  Peter Gosley.”

He extended a hand, but nobody accepted it.

“Fuck,” Justin said.  “This is a waste of time.”

“If you have questions…” Peter trailed off, letting his hand drop.

“Trigger events,” Theo said, his voice quiet.

Peter’s eyes fell on the boy, widening slightly.  “You have powers?  You just got them?”

“I need them,” Theo answered.

Peter gave them a funny look.  “I… I’m not sure I understand.”

“Tell us what you know about trigger events, and perhaps we’ll explain,” Kayden said.

“I… that’s a broad field.  What do you want to know?”

“How to have one,” Theo said.

“Trust me, there isn’t a single government out there that isn’t trying to pull it off.  None have had much success with the various methods they’ve tried.  Not to the point that anyone else has been able to copy their methodology.  If anyone was succeeding, it’d be off the radar.  Maybe the Protectorate.”

“What methods have they tried?” Justin asked.  “The governments.”

“Anything?  Everything.  Drug induced panic attacks.  Kidnappings.  Torture.  Some with willing participants, some even with participants in the dark.  The Queensland Trials-“

“Stop,” Kayden said.  Peter stopped.  “Participants in the dark?  And nothing worked?”

“It sometimes worked, a lot of stuff sometimes worked.  The problem is, the act of getting a trigger event tends to throw a controlled situation into disarray.  A government or organization pours hundreds of man hours and half a million dollars into identifying people who might be parahumans, by whatever metric they’re using, tracking them, covertly acquiring them, and inducing the parahuman state… and it’d work one in two hundred times.  Half of those times, they’d wind up with a parahuman in an agitated state and things would fall apart.  So a lot of the successes end up being failures of a diffferent sort.”

“But they haven’t found a consistent way of getting people to trigger?” Kayden asked.

“No.  Fact is, it’s harder when you’re trying to provoke a trigger event.  Even if the participant doesn’t know you’re trying it.”

“Why?”  Kayden asked.

Peter shrugged.  “There’s theories.  There’s the specific trigger theory, which suggest that each individual demands a particular kind of trigger event, so any attempts to force it are essentially attempting the wrong form of trigger.  There’s the specific circumstance theory, which is different, because it suggests that it’s not just a particular type of trigger that’s demanded, but the specific time or event.”

“You’re saying it’s predestined,” Justin said.

Some scholars say it’s predestined.  I don’t.  Um.  Other theories… there’s intelligent intervention.”

“Phrase it in American fucking English,” Justin said.

“There’s no need for rudeness,” Peter said.  He adjusted his glasses and frowned at Justin.

“Please phrase it in American fucking English,” Justin clarified.

Please explain,” Kayden said, shooting Justin a look.

“It means there’s someone or something that’s deciding who gets powers and when.  There’s subtheories… Aesthetic analogue, where they’re saying the powers tend to relate to the trigger event somehow, so obviously someone’s doing it on purpose.  Uh.  Intelligent powers, where they say the powers are sentient and they’re making the call on their own.  Ties into other areas of study, and it’s a favorite of mine.  There’s the-“

“This isn’t helping us,” Justin cut in.

“Quiet.  Everything helps,” Kayden said.

“We’re short on time.”

Peter gave him a funny look.  “Look, I’m not fully understanding what you’re getting at.  It’s great that people are interested in this stuff, but this notion you have that, because your son wants powers, you’re somehow going to give him a trigger event?  That’s a little freaky, it’s not really possible.  And, uh, it’s borderline abuse, if not actual abuse.”

“It’s a complicated situation,” Kayden said.  “What else can you tell us about trigger events?  Beyond theories?”

“The manner of trigger event seems to impact the powers.  That’s frosh level stuff.  Physical pain, physical danger; physical powers.  Mental pain, mental crisis?  Mentally-driven powers.”

Justin frowned.  And being the brother of a dying, half-blind, deaf retard of a girl who got all the attention?  All of the gifts, the money?  Being made to get surgery for her sake, give up years of my lifespan so she might live?  Getting caught pulling the plug, only for it to do little more than set alarms going?

Was his power really a mental power?  He’d always considered it more physical.

He looked at Kayden, studied her concerned expression.

Peter was still talking, responding to something Kayden had said.  “Drugs tend to create conditional powers.  It’s not hard and fast, but you get situations where the power is directly linked to one’s physical, mental or emotional state.  We think it’s because the power works off a template it builds as the powers first manifest.  If someone is riding an emotional high as they trigger, their powers will always be looking for a similarly excited state to operate at peak efficiency, often an emotion or drugs.  When people were caught trying to fabricate trigger events, sometimes they were intending to use this so the subject would be more easily controlled.”

“I wonder if lack of food and water could create similarly conditional powers,” Kayden commented.

“I’m… are you talking about starving him?”  Peter’s eyes were wide now.

“Not at all.  I’m… speculating.”

Justin could follow her train of thought.  He’d heard the story through the Empire’s grapevine, once.  A sixteen year old girl, driving for the first time, down a side road, getting in an accident where her car rolled off the road, out of sight of anyone passing by.  Trapped… starving, dying of thirst.

Getting powers that fed off and required other resources.  Light.

He glanced at her, and she offered him a curt nod.  Without speaking, they’d come to a mutual agreement that this ‘Peter’ knew what he was talking about.

“What’s the impact of being the child of a parahuman?” she asked.

“Um.  I love that you’re interested, and yeah, I wasn’t really doing anything, but maybe if you have this many questions, you should take a class?”

“He’s the son of a parahuman,” Kayden said, pointing at Theo.

Cat’s out of the bag now.

“No kidding?  Wow.  Who?”

“Kaiser,” Kayden said.

Peter’s eyes widened as he looked at Theo.  Then something seemed to click, and he looked up at Kayden and Justin with a note of alarm in his expression.

“Yeah,” Justin said.  “Smart man, and you’re only figuring it out now?”

“I saw the stuff on the news.  Thought I recognized you.  Purity and…”

“Crusader.  So maybe now you understand we’re serious.  And how we’re not interested in taking a class,” Justin said.

“If he’s Kaiser’s son, and Kaiser’s Allfather’s son… he’s third generation.”

“And he doesn’t have powers,” Kayden said.  “It’s crucial that we fix that.”

“I… I don’t really know.  It’s supposed to be ten times easier to get powers if you’re second generation.  But we don’t have research on third generations yet.  It’s only pretty recently that we had the first third-generation cape on record.  The baby in Toronto.”

“Didn’t hear about that,” Kayden said.  She frowned.  “A baby?”

Peter’s eyes fell on Aster.  “Oh.  Wow.  Is she third generation too?”

“Pay attention,” Justin said.

“The… yeah.  Each successive generation seems to produce younger capes, by lowering the barrier to entry, the severity of the requisite trigger event.”

“So why haven’t I triggered?”  Theo asked.

“I don’t know.  There’s a lot we don’t know.   Maybe… maybe you don’t have powers.”

“I have to.”

“It’s a question of luck.”

“You don’t understand.  If I don’t get powers, a lot of people will die.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Justin said.  “Give us all the information you have.  Every way you’ve heard about people trying to trigger, and how well they worked.”

“That’s a six month lecture series unto itself!”

“Talk fast,” Justin said.

“Um.  There’s meditation.  Either to tap into your deeper psyche or to tear down the walls between yourself and your worst fears.  There’s theories that the powers themselves are intelligent, and they’re worked into the host’s head, before or after the trigger event.  Sometimes the meditation’s related to that, but it’s usually people trying to have a second trigger event.”

“That’s not relevant to the boy, is it?” Justin asked.

“The research is related!  There’s a lot of research into second trigger events because it’s a lot easier to find willing parahumans than it is to find potential parahumans.  The methods that people try tend to be similar, too.  It’s just… a lot of the time, they fail for opposite reasons.”

“Opposite?”  Kayden asked.

“It’s not confirmed, it’s just an idea, but the idea the powers are sentient?  Well, either the second trigger event opens up communication, frees the powers to act on their own more, or if you don’t buy that stuff, it breaks down the mental barriers between the altered part of the brain that controls the powers and the part that doesn’t.  At least, that’s going by the patterns we’ve seen.  Except… well, we think sometimes the reason people can’t have a second trigger event is because they’ve already had one.  You can’t really distinguish a single trigger event from having two in quick succession.”

“Like a multiple orgasm,” Justin commented.  Kayden glared at him.

“More or less.  There’s more parallels than that, but yeah.”

“Crusader is right, this isn’t helping him,” Kayden said.

“What kind of trigger events did Kaiser and Allfather have?”

Kayden and Justin exchanged glances.

“No idea,” Kayden said, frowning.

Peter frowned.  “That would have helped.  At least we know they both had similar powers.  Allfather could conjure iron weapons from the air immediately around himself, send them flying.  Kaiser could call metal out of any solid surface.  Both are the kind of powers you’d see from almost purely mental trauma.  If the trend continues…”

He trailed off, leaving the sentence hanging.  Theo would probably require mental trauma to trigger.

“Hard to imagine Kaiser having mental trauma.  He seemed so confident,” Kayden said.

“His dad was Allfather.  Not so hard to imagine,” Justin replied, absently.  He thought of the college girls and stepped over to the window, curious if he’d be able to make out any from this high up.  He froze.

“Kayden,” he said.

“What?”

“Cops.  And containment vans.”

“Someone made us?”  Kayden asked.

“And saw us enter the building,” Justin finished.  “They’re surrounding us on the ground.”

Shit!”  Kayden swore.

Aster whimpered, then started crying.

Didn’t you tell me to watch my language in front of Aster?  Justin thought.

Theo was sitting in a swivel chair, hands clasped in his lap, his eyes watching Kayden, waiting for her cue.

Justin noted the tension of Theo’s grip, the way he seemed to retreat into himself.  The fat little boy who was nothing like Kaiser.  Maybe he hadn’t inherited powers at all because he wasn’t his father’s son.  If his mother had cheated on Kaiser, gave birth to this pudgy blob, it would explain why he didn’t have powers.  It would mean he wasn’t a second generation cape, let alone a third.

“Hmm.”  Justin watched more PRT vans arrive.  They were spreading out, clearly anticipating Kayden’s artillery-level attacks, and they had the damn foam-bead nets they used for dealing with fliers.  “Theo, who’s your mom?”

“Heith.”

Justin sighed.  Heith was Fenja and Menja’s cousin and guardian, Kaiser’s first wife, killed in a turf war with the Teeth, back in the old days of Brockton Bay.  She has powers after all.

Somehow, all of this would be easier if he could believe that Theo was illegitimate.

“Crusader,” Kayden said, “Can you stall them?  We have more questions.”

He nodded, shut his eyes, and drew on his power.

It was as simple as stepping forward while staying in the same place.  A ghostly phantom appeared, followed by another, and another.  One headed for the elevator shaft, while the other headed for the stairwell.  He directed the remainder to sink through the floor.

“What else can you tell us?  Something we can use,” Kayden said.

“If the authorities are here, I don’t know if I should say.”

“You should,” Justin said.  “Because we’ll hurt you if you don’t.”

“Don’t,” Theo said.

Justin gave the boy his best dispassionate look.

“He’s been helpful,” Theo said.

“He hasn’t solved your problem,” Justin said.  He was dimly aware of his other selves engaging with the enemy as they moved into the building.  One fought them in the stairwell, immune to any strike or bullet, yet fully capable of pushing a man down the stairs, into the people behind him, fully capable of strangling a man.

Peter shifted positions nervously.  His voice rose in pitch as he spoke, “I don’t know what you want.  I can’t give you an answer because there aren’t any!

Think,” Justin suggested.

“You expect me to do in five minutes what the best scholars in the world haven’t figured out in thirty years?”

“Well put,” Justin said.  More clones were still splitting off, breaking away from himself to sink through the floor.  Some had moved beyond the building to attack the men who were manning the turrets on top of the van.  With luck, he and Kayden would be free to fly to safety with the children.

“This… this is insane!  What am I supposed to tell you?  I’ve outlined some of the best theories we have!”

“If it helps,” Justin said, leaning towards Peter, “I’m going to kill you if I don’t leave here satisfied.  Think about that.”

“Kayden,” Theo said, “You’re not going to let him, are you?”

“Crusader,” Kayden said.  “Is that really necessary?”

“I can’t even think straight under this pressure!” Peter cried.

“I imagine you feel very similar to someone about to have a trigger event,” Justin said.  “Maybe that will inspire something or fill in the blanks for some half-baked idea you had once.”

“I don’t… There’s isolation.”

“An isolation chamber?” Justin asked.

Peter shook his head.  “No.  More basic.  It’s a common trend.  People who have trigger events, they don’t usually have a good support system.  Their family, their friends, they tend to fail them, or be the cause of the problem.  I… I wrote a paper a while back about how Masters tend to have loneliness as part of their trigger events, and how maybe that was why Masters tend to be villains.  Because you need support and social pressure to be more of a good guy.  My professor then, the guy who I work for now, Dr. Wysocki, he tore me to pieces.  Too many other parahumans have it as part of their history.  Isolation.  It wasn’t enough to suggest a correlation.  He said you could call it a common theme for nearly all of the trigger events out there.”

Justin was in the middle of creating another ethereal copy of himself when he stopped.  It snapped back into place.  He thought back to something earlier in the day.

“Kayden, let’s go.”

“What?”

“I’ve got our answer.  Let’s go.”

“Are you sure?”

Justin nodded.

“To the roof?” she asked.

“As fast as you can move with the baby.”

Kayden rose into the air, her hair and eyes lighting up.

“Come on, Theo,” Justin said, “I’ll carry you.”

He spawned a ghostly replica as Kayden left the office.  Theo hesitated as the replica got closer.

“What’s wrong?” Justin asked.

“What he just said…  You’re going to leave me.  Isolate me.”

“Yeah,” Justin said.  His ghost-self lunged, and Theo threw himself back with such force that he fell over in the chair.  The ghost was on him in a second, pinning him down to the floor with one hand around his throat.

“Don’t.  You heard what he said.  If you force it, it won’t happen,” Theo protested, his voice barely above a wheeze with the hold the ghost had on his neck.

“I’m willing to take that chance.  In the worst case scenario, you’re their problem, not ours.  The heroes can look after you and figure out what to do with you.”

“Justin!  Crusader!”  Theo managed a strangled scream, but Justin was already in the doorway, not even pausing or hesitating at his words.  “It won’t work if you try to make it happen!”

Justin left Theo behind, stepped into the stairwell, noting a gap between the stairs that was big enough to fly between.  He created a clone and left it overlapping his body, using its flight to lift himself into the air.

Kayden hadn’t flown for safety yet.  She was waiting on the rooftop, Aster writhing in the harness, screaming bitterly.

“Fly,” he said.

“Where’s Theo?”

“Would you believe me if I said he was coming?”

He could see her expression shift in time with the realization.  “You didn’t.”

“I did.  And you won’t go back for him.”

“Like hell I won’t.  He saved Aster when Jack was going to kill her, he might have saved me in the process.  I owe him-“

“-And we’re paying him back by leaving him.”

“No.  No, we aren’t.”

“He’s one of our own, kind of.  I get that.  But… he was never going to help the cause.”

“The cause,” Kayden spat the word.

“Purifying the world, cutting out the rot, becoming a symbol of better things.  It’s not him.”

“He’s my stepson.”

“And isn’t that the problem?  Remember this morning, at breakfast?  He was worried he wouldn’t get powers.  That he wouldn’t be able to stop Jack.  And how did you respond?  You reassured him.  You told him we’d fight the Nine if he couldn’t.”

Kayden only glared, eyes shining with painful brightness.

“When you said that, part of me, I thought we didn’t fight the Nine then, how could we two years from now?  Theo said it outright.  He’s sharper than he looks sometimes.  Sharper than he acts.  But here’s the thing, at the same time, a part of me felt like I’d realized something, and it took me until now to get it sorted in my head.”

“What?”

“You’re reassuring him, when that’s the last thing we want.  When there’s a crisis, he looks to you.  The most basic requirement for a trigger event is you get to a point where you can’t go anywhere.  Pushed to your limit and then pushed further.  He can’t get there so long as we’re there as a safety net.  As a support system.”

“So we’re supposed to abandon him?”

“We just did,” Crusader said.  “The authorities are just getting to the ninth floor now, my clones are letting ‘em by.  By the time we got there, they’d have him secured, and they’d be ready to spray us with that foam.”

“You could use your power, disable them without any risk.”

“I could.  But I won’t.”

Kayden flared with light, and for a second, he thought she was going to shoot him.

The blast of solid light didn’t come.

Justin sighed, “He’ll be hurt, he’ll be pissed, and he’ll be alone.  They’ll quiz him on us, get every detail they can, and if I know him at all, it’ll tear him up, because he might not like us, but we’re the closest thing he’s got to family…”

Kayden glanced toward the door.

“…And that’s the best thing we can do for him right now,” he finished.

“I never was the mom he needed,” Kayden said.

“Well, it’s too late now.”

She walked over to the roof’s edge, peered down.  “Any net launchers?”

“Nobody to aim them now.  Everyone’s fighting my doubles.”

She glanced back toward the door, absently cooed for Aster to stop crying.

There was a flash of light.  By the time it cleared away, she was merely a glinting speck in the distance.

He glanced at the door, then flew after her.

Up to you and you alone now, boy, he thought.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

110 thoughts on “Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #2)

      • Jack Slash puts into motion the events that end the world. Is little Theo going to get some powers that will cause this?

        All father can make iron weapons appear around him out of thin air, and Kaiser has a similar control, although not specifically towards Iron, iirc. If he is their spawn, it is very likely he will get the same powers.

        A stars #1 enemy is iron. Once it starts producing iron, it is doomed. I wonder if the end of the world will come about when Theo kills the sun?

        • Okay, several problems.

          Firstly: Many of the scenarios Noelle saw involved “mere” millions dying, and I believe all had some survivors for a while.
          Secondly: It was never said what metal Kaiser made, exactly, but his power was making it appear out of solid surfaces.

          Finally: The reason iron “kills” stars is because when they start fusing iron, they’ve run out of fuel for fusion. Fusing iron takes energy rather than releasing it, which means that when a star is down to iron it’s out of fuel. Unless his power is to turn other things into iron, no dice. Even so, he’d need to be in range of the sun, and transforming a substantial proportion of it into iron–as in, several times the mass of the Earth. Probably several thousand times. After that, he’d need to WANT to turn off the sun. It’s hard to say which of these things is least likely, even assuming the iron-transforming power.

          In short: No fear from that.

            • How the heck did I make that mistake?

              Shame WordPress lacks an edit function. And while I’m complaining, I like the way Worm’s metacomments are indented better than how it works on Pact.

  1. Ooh, that was fun. Just what I needed tonight. Thank you very much for having the bonus update be this week. I sincerely enjoyed this one a lot.

    Hm, have to wonder when Theo will be important. My guess is some kind of heroic sacrifice near the end where he stands up against the Jack Apocalypse or whatever endboss closes Worm. He’s really not got enough character to have a major character position, but I could easily see him playing a small but crucial role, most likely saving a main character.

    • AM I the only one seeing how this would work?

      Theo kills the world.

      It’s very simple. In two or three years Jack comes for Theo, causing him to have simultaneous primary, secondary and perhaps even tertiary trigger event.

      At this point Theo, whose power is metal control (look at Kaiser / Allfather) either destroys all iron on Earth (including that in people’s blood) or stops the rotation of Earth core, causing Earth magnetic field to fail or something else along those lines.

      The point is, I’m 90% sure that Theo will kill the world.

  2. May favorite kind of interlude where the world gets expanded. You spoil us wildbow. So much new info. Plenty of governments are trying to force trigger events but there are problems. So I question why the merchants had such an easy time making trigger events. Surely there are crappy/ruthless governments in the world willing to stage large scale fights to the death somewhere. People might have had 2nd trigger events without knowing it, this might actually explain why some parahumans are so much stronger than others and seem mentally unbalanced. The isolation thing, with the lack of support network makes alot of sense considering all of the parahumans we know. This might also explain why Taylor has been able to get so much support from the other undersiders. She offers them unconditional support, and caring by her very nature which they never got growing up. Night/fog just became even creepier and I wonder if they are from Germany. Masters tend to be villains. Any predictions for Theo? I’m going to say he is going to gain some mastery of
    magnetism and someday join the Undersiders. He doesn’t believe in their stupid cause, seems like a good person, might want to join with the one group that did the most damage to the nine, and I think he would get along well with the other Undersiders.

    • What was “easy” about the way the Merchants caused trigger events? They didn’t trigger anyone, they had the mixtures that gave superpowers, did they not? I’m pretty sure they held fights and gave the winner powers in a bottle.

      And, if I’m mixed up, then they had hundreds of people in a death mosh-pit in the hopes that a small percentage might trigger because of the trauma. That sucks for the hundreds of people being maimed or killed during the attempt. Nothing “easy” there and it fits with what governments are trying to do in the story. It works, but it’s messy. Kind of “break eggs to make an omelette” over and over and over.

  3. I’m currently housesitting/dogsitting a fair distance from home (and will be for a few weeks) and the tv channels are pretty limited, and my laptop can’t handle games (even Spelunky makes it overheat), so I figure I’ll get a lot of writing done. Writing and reading both (though I’m a fast reader and I’ll burn through everything on hand quickly enough).

    Did a chapter for tonight because I could.

    I’ve increased the donation benchmark. Getting a month+ behind, it’s an indicator I need to change something. I’m thinking that for every six to eight bonuses I release, I’ll increase the target amount, with the # of releases/target amount being based off of the readership/donation amounts. Worm’s audience grew by roughly 30% since late November, so I think it’s pretty fair.

    If there’s still money in the pool as I get towards the story’s end, I’ll consider a special arc, or a series of epilogues to wrap things up, maybe with polls so you guys can choose who you want to see. And, just to tease, if I’m getting steady donations, I’m sure to give more consideration to post-worm stories in the wormverse. ;)

    Thanks for reading. Feel free to Vote and rate if you enjoyed.

    • I’ve finally donated some, as I feel kinda guilty for enjoying such great work without really helping you out. If anything, I hope you can use some of our money for a better computer, especially if you can’t even play the simplest of games!

      Anyways, I would vote for the epilogues, as I’m sure there would be so much to wrap up on, including answering lingering questions about the rest of the Wormverse at large. Or you can just make sure your next project is as planned out as possible. I know I’m looking forward to that, too.

    • Epilogues sound good to me. You can always leave room to do another story in the wormverse. Or even better, a sequel down the road with a possible time skip.

  4. Interesting chapter, and completely dissociated from the current storyline. Yet, we get tantalizing hints of future events.

    1. We finally get to see Night and Fog as civilians, and they’re still creepy. How’d they get that way?
    2. We hear about Gesellschaft, Krieg, and “the cause.” I wonder if there’s any relation to Cauldron, especially with the power-granting stuff.
    3. Trigger event theories all around, including everything the comment community has talked about. Which is right? Maybe all of them?
    4. Theo has now lost the little confidence and self-respect he gained after protecting family from Jack. How will Theo turn out? Good? Bad? Crazy?

    I need to congratulate Wildbow for making unapologetic Neo-Nazis understandable and sympathetic. With the rate Worm is going to its ending, we likely won’t see how all the questions are answered, especially how and if Theo can stop Jack Slash. I only hope for an epilogue of sorts for that. No matter what, I’ll definitely read it.

    • Gesellschaft sounds like a nazi sort of organization based in the east. While there are nazi organizations in our world, they have no real power or strength anymore. But they and other fringe groups are probably more dangerous in the wormverse because they can attract the types of isolated, lost people who are more likely to have trigger events. I figure they found a way to induce trigger events through some form of physical/mental torture but that the side effects were too bad, or they had failures like the professor mentioned. I think Theo will be sent to counseling, and maybe the same parahuman juvenile place shadowstalker was sent in case he has a trigger event. Either way I see him having a trigger event and deciding not to back to the pure. My guess is he goes to the one group that had the most success at fighting the nine and asking to join them. I think he would fit in with the undersiders and they could use a Brute, a TInker, or someone who has alot of destructive power.

      • Well…

        1. His family’s powers are metal related, and a Tinker of Metal is an interesting and rather broad set. Weaponry? Materials science? Electromagnetism? And who knows what influences his mother brings to the table.

        2. Taylor really, really wants a Tinker. Normally the rule is that anything that makes things easier for the protagonists is compensated by making their opposition worse, but given this is Worm I think that there’s no way that Taylor getting everything she wants could stop the world from ending.

        3. On the other hand, Theo doesn’t seem to match the limited amount we know about Tinker trigger events. IIRC we only have details on one, with Tattletale describing Bakuda’s as basically flunking out of grad school. Tinkers seem to be “the fools who laughed at me shall see the light, the light of my LASER GUN” which is like the opposite of Theo.

        4. Brute seems to be based on physical violence. The only counter case that I remember is Glory Girl, who inherited her powers from two highly physical capes. Speaking of Glory Girl, she’s actually a data point for Master, given her aura of fear and respect. Didn’t she Trigger due to failing at baseball tryouts? Actually she seems remarkably close to Prism come to think of it.

        5. Allfather and Kaiser both had pretty similar powers, but it’s hard to say just how much of an influence that means, especially as Theo is pretty different from his father. For some reason I kind of want him to be a Thinker more than a Tinker, and beat Jack at his own game.

          • *rubs his thumb and index finger together* For our next song of the evening, it’s that old sports classic “My Heart Bleeds For You”

          • Hm. Even pettier than I remembered.

            By the way, speaking as a nerd who’s never played, do you mean that the couches said she did something wrong or that another player wronged her?

          • Unsportsmanlike conduct between players. She jumped to make a shot, someone else slammed into her in mid-air, and she didn’t fall to the ground until she stopped flying.

          • Okay, once again an interesting data point.

            So, her Trigger seems to have been pretty darn physical now. So I wonder where the Master element comes from. Masters seem to have some isolation, but the helplessness element that seems to accompany most Masters who control previously established entities seems missing.

            If anything, her mind control abilities now seem like they may have come from Panacea’s influence. She gained physical powers from her parents and gained some of Panacea’s powers through association.

            It seems that sibling and children Triggers tend to fall a bit more in line with the powers you want than the nature of the Trigger Event. Not completely, but somewhat. It seems reasonable that Glory Girl wanted the power to strike fear into her enemies and awe into her friends.

          • Lamest. Trigger. Evar.

            If that’s all it took, I know a few football coaches who could have given her three trigger events by now. Ironically, one of them’s favorite unusual way of insulting players was to tell them to go kiss their sister.

          • The Teeth are mentioned a few times, as one of the gangs that held Brockton Bay territory in ‘the bad old days’. I think interlude 11.h, among other places (11.b?).

        • To be honest I think if Theo has a trigger event the resulting powers will be solely centered around hard countering Jacks abilities. Why? Because Jack is at the core of everything here. All of Theos worries stem from Jack killing a thousand or more people if he can’t stop him.

          So if i were to make a guess as to what powers Theo could get that would just shut jack down? A body and mind of steel.
          If Theo gets the power to make himself become plated in metal like a certain Mutant, or just just become unable to be cut or stabbed, then Jacks loses his main offensive power.
          Which would leave Jack to rely on his social fu. But what if Theos power either gave him the ability to tell when people are trying to manipulate him or just straight up makes Theo unable to be manipulated with words.

          Though if all else fails he could get picked up by Cauldron, i have a feeling they would rather not have the world explode via a jack shaped bomb.

          Personally though i rather like the idea that Theo won’t get a trigger event ever, but instead becomes the Wormverses Batman.

        • 1: Light is something like heat. Heat+Metal=Forging. There may be something there…

          2: Taylor’s had lots of good things happen. Most obviously applicable to this general idea–as well as being major–is the healing of her broken back. Having the use of legs is greater than having another cape. Mind you, I don’t see a lot of reasons for Theo to join the Undersiders…

          3. Tinker trigger events never made that much sense to me. The way you put them helps, though. “I’ll show them, I’ll show them all!”

      • Well it goes back to what power would benefit the Undersiders the most? Rachel’s dogs can take alot of punishment but they can’t follow complicated orders and they the other Undersiders aren’t very tough. A new brute to serve as meat shield, follow complicated plans, and give them more muscle would be big boon. A tinker would depend on just what type of TInker Theo could become. With Tattletale’s help/resources they could give him all the equipment he could need and fill in almost any position depending on what his knack is. They really need a healer with all of the injuries they are collecting, and those things can add up in a big way down the line. They don’t really need a Thinker in my opinion. Tattletale and Taylor are both great at coming up with plans/tactics to cover themselves great already. A good striker could deal with anything that Taylor’s bugs couldn’t take down or give them more tactical options.

    • It only appears disassociated from the current storyline. So far, things have a tendency to link back in little ways, much like the real world.

      From what I’ve read real quick on that Gesellschaft thing, it appears to be based on a concept of a type of loose association where everyone forwards the goals of the group by following their own self interest rather than submitting and sacrificing to accomplish goals of the group themselves.

      Rather laissez-faire sounding.

      I like that it pointed out that anyone trying to create a trigger event through physical or mental torture then has the problem of having given someone they’ve abused superpowers.

      Really hard to tell if isolation really is a key. More likely to be correlation. Social creatures in a big, sometimes-complicated society. Breakdowns in it tend to be where most of the crime is, especially with groups that feel marginalized. Much like how violent regimes or revolutions are started, there is an emphasis on some sort of enemy, either real or imagined, specifically to blame for this marginalization.

      Oh, look at that, looks like another old white man shot a teenager whose GPS took him to the wrong house today.

      • That was the point that didn’t make the most sense to me. Why would a person you just mentally/physically tortured decide to work with you? If anything such methods simply create new and dangerous enemies for you. I agree with your theory on the isolation in that it is just a symptom of bad/lack of support network. Twins/triplets would be a good way to test things for the unethical. I wonder if Fenja/Menja triggered at the same time.

      • Okay, my guess is that trigger events are literally gifts intended to help people who can no longer change their situation. The more connected you are, the more ways you have to change your situation, the less stress is possible. Really, it makes sense. If you’re a creature outside of reality with a vague understanding of human society giving superpowers to people, well, it makes sense you’d give them to people who actually need them. Sure, it might be efficient to give them in an organized fashion with people getting the powers they want and need, but we’re clearly not dealing with something that rational.

        • But that doesn’t really explain the 2nd/3rd generation’s easier/younger trigger events. I figure it has more to do with their “passengers” finding the right person to connect with. I am gonna vote with the fringe group in the wormverse and say they are at least partially intelligent.

          • I’m not entirely sure if “inherited” powers are the same thing as ones that come out of the blue. Anyway, the Passengers may not be omniscient. Indeed, they seem not to be. They could just find it much easier to see people close to parahumans, and may not realize what exactly constitutes a serious threat…

            Still, I think you’re right. As just described, Glory Girl’s trigger event would be really hard to put in under the theory I suggested. She simply wasn’t that helpless. I do wonder if there’s more to that story, but then again, I always did love Amy and Victoria. Mind rape and fates worse than death can’t quite dissolve my Worm OTP.

            It really should though.

          • Gallant could control emotions too and I think he counted as a Blaster not a master. Perhaps the passengers are themselves reproducing along with their hosts Wyldcard. Their hosts don’t need to pushed into a fight/flight extreme because they are already there. Hearbreaker’s numerous kids could be way to test this, especially if he ever has any with other parahumans.

      • Gesellschaft is another of these German words that are used in social science to mean something completely different or at least far more specific than what they mean in German.

        Gesellschaft is just German for society. So the Gesellschaft is just a vague rather sinister sounding generic society, like “The Company” for the CIA. If you go into old German you might end up at something like a fellowship or a union of apprentices, but 99% of the times you hear something called a Gesellschaft it can be translated as society.

        • nop, isn’t used for society
          company is a better fit,
          94% a buisines organisation
          5% a small group of people in whos presence someone curently is.
          1% “safty net” in case i havent noticed something in the past 20 years^^

  5. Okay, a thought here.

    Masters are said to tend to be villains. It strikes me as kind of odd that Masters fit demographic profiles like that, as the Master classification system seems to be the most broad.

    Masters seem to fit into two broad types. One kind controls existing entities, and others create new entities. While there might be some overlap, it seems like these are fairly different types of powers, practically. Crusader and Taylor are clear examples of this.

    There are oddball exceptions. Bitch is probably the clearest. However, the Master classification always seemed to be a quick combat reference one for “she’s got people who go after you.” In Wormverse it seems that this is just an extreme example of how all powers are classified. It’s paramilitary slang that happened to be picked up by the broader culture.

    Still, it seems that there’d be some differences in the style of trigger event between the types. Creating minions out of nothing seems pretty different from taking control of them.

    As a note, Skitter and Bitch both seemed to gain their powers directly from absolute physical helplessness. Bitch was helpless to do something specific, and reached out to do exactly that. Skitter was more generally helpless, and seemed to gain far more general abilities to reach out and manipulate/sense the world for her trouble.

    Anyway, as spoiled as we are, it would be fascinating if we had a statistically useful sample of Trigger Events of the same classification to see how they compare. Being a parahuman researcher is probably really cool when you’re not having your life threatened by mad Nazi supervillains.

      • Hm, I remembered Prism, but forgot her Trigger Event back story. Which chapter was that? Interlude 15, or was it before that?

        Hm, Prism and Crusader are rather close power sets. Actually seems like how the families tend to be similar but a bit different.

        • Okay, found her Trigger Event embarrassingly easily. Described briefly as the aftermath of an injury that ended a sports career.

          Well, that’s interesting. Extremely different from Crusader’s, and not a lot of detail. Crusader gained the power to create intangible-at-will copies of himself. Prism gained the ability to clone herself. Both of their stories kind of lack specifics of the actual event, unlike Taylor and Rachel’s stories. Prism’s honestly seems a bit weird. We know that the Passenger apparently dies and breaks down granting powers based on what it understands, with a strong relationship to what was happening when the subject triggered. Rachel and Taylor seem pretty textbook, and Crusader’s probably had something akin to running away really fast. Prism? Um, I could see regeneration/physical powers, but the cloning thing is harder. Sure, Trigger Events are always a bit unpredictable, but her powers are weirdly specific and multiple. Given current information, it would actually make a lot of sense if she had two trigger events very close together, with the second one being related to the aftermath of the first and giving her cloning powers.

          Overall an interesting data set of data points. If anything, Prism seems to raise more questions than she answers. The only thing that really makes sense in my head is if she broke her neck or something and was in a hospital bed when terrorists broke in. Something immediate and violent combined with her long term trauma seems like something that could generate her peculiar power sets.

          Prism may be an odd data point partly because she’s not a pure Master. She’s got good ratings in other abilities plus the ability to copy herself.

  6. Now let’s hope the heroes don’t do something really dumb like put him in the Bird Cage.

    I’ll go get the processing forms ready for Dragon.

      • I don’t know. I honestly doubt he’ll receive harsh treatment, because he hasn’t committed any crimes of his own. Sure, they’ll keep him protected and grill him for info on the pure, but outright incarceration? Not happening, legally anyway.

        • But look at what happened to Canary. They robbed her of her rights out of pure fear. Doesn’t matter too much that he is a kid, they are still scared of parahumans. Plus he is A. A third generation, so he is almost guaranteed to get powers from their perspective and B. Was living with a known/violent villain group. If he was younger I would argue adoption/foster homes but he is Taylor’s age and short of him swearing to join the wards if he has a trigger, I think he won’t be treated fairly.

        • Honestly I missed the hint…

          Well, it’s not “exponential growth” as mentioned in S-Class threats. She can’t reproduce herself. She might be able to take over major threats, but honestly her powers didn’t seem controlled and precise enough to make her too dangerous to be allowed. Sure, there’s general mind control panic, but I didn’t notice anything that new.

          As for Theo, I doubt he’s actually done anything particularly illegal, especially given his age. And honestly Worm isn’t quite corrupt enough to imprison him for his family’s crimes in a wave of hysteria or something. I’d be more worried about some superhero or villain using him to get to the Pure than anything else.

          • Nah, suggestions in her songs. She might be able to pull a Simurgh with some future tenses. Or youtube videos, CDs, MP3s, whatever of her performances might carry a barely noticeable command that only a few people would ever pick up on and cause them to do something.

            And after Simurgh people are going to be wary of singing people who can control other people.

          • Hm, depending on the specifics, she never seemed anywhere near that precise or powerful. IIRC wildbow even noted that she couldn’t revoke her commands. (My comments above so how well I remember every detail of this story of course.) She never seemed much like a Simurghlike threat.

            Now, if a conspiracy was behind her imprisonment who made the decision, I’d be more sympathetic to this theory, but she was sent to the Birdcage for pretty specific actions of causing immediate harm to one person. I’d think that if the concern was her music career she’d have had her career targeted, which has never been implied. Not saying this isn’t possible, just not my reading.

          • Well I doubt she was that powerful. It was probably good old fashioned hysteria. Especially since the wormverse has alot more tangible things to be afraid of. Their system is very flawed though. If you know that you aren’t going to get a fair trail and you will never have another chance for parole or to be free, it doesn’t give you any incentive to go quietly. Their legal code is probably even more complicated than ours is. What happens to a hero that accidentally kills a civilian? Can they sue their costumed identity?

          • Fridge Brilliance: Maybe in the case of both Canary and Simurgh, someone went home, did something crazy they always wanted to do, like murder their husband for the insurance money, and then used those types as an excuse because they knew the reputation.

          • Well they would probably buy your excuse but you would still be punished for doing it. As well as continuing to spread the fear of people who have come in contact with the Simurgh and have to have that tattoo on their bodies. I am interested in the Simurgh’s past attacks because they are probably very broad and not so straight forward causing even more paranoia/fear. Leviathan sunk islands, destroyed cities, and caused a worldwide fresh water crisis, while Behemoth caused a gas crisis, created a few radioactive zones, and killed a good portion of the hero population when he appears. So what else has Simurgh done to make her the most feared?

            • In a word: Uncertainty. Leviathan and Behemoth do immediate, measurable damage. With the Simurgh you have no idea when, where, how, or how massive the impact will be. You also don’t know who around you could be inadvertent tools of the Simurgh.

              She’s pure paranoia fuel.

  7. “You expect me to do in five minutes what the best scholars in the world haven’t figured out in thirty?” – Wow, either those scholars are really something or the ‘word’ years was supposed to go there.

    Other than that, I don’t have much to say this time but great Interlude!

  8. Fridge Brilliance: Isolation is only a partial answer! Re-reading the past interluders depicting trigger events, the answer is betrayal by what supports the individual until they have nothing they can believe in, be it their bodies, their society, their family, the environment. (Degree of Betrayal X Level of Danger) = Scale of power for the 1st generation.

    • This would also support the villain thing, of course the majority are then going to go against the things that betrayed them, not very rational but highly understandable.

  9. This was an interesting interlude and a good way to give us some more background info without making it sound like a boring lecture or infodump.

    Most of what was told makes sense in light of what we already know. Especially the bit about how trigger events shape powers. Of course just because it first does not mean that it is actually true.

    I wonder how the info given will fit with what Cauldron is doing and how some artificial grnated powers can go so wrong.

    In any case it doesn’t look like a second trigger seems likely for our main protagonist.

    The part about the Society and Krieg sound like a sort of (Neo-)Nazi group. Maybe a version of ODESSA that got their hands on some Cauldron tech. Their methodes and results seem a lot cruder than Cauldrons. But if they are Nazis they probably won’t mind going through hundreds of probably-not-volunteers to get a few results like “Nacht & Nebel”.

    The thing about Theo and Aster being 3rd generation makes me wonder just how early Allfather appeared on the scenes if having grandchildren is something unusual for normal capes. With all the named capes that were related to him or married into his clan he seems to have been trying to build some sort of dynasty. Aster will probably trigger soon and become rather powerful.

    • I figure Allfather was like heartbreaker in that he had alot of kids for an agenda. Probably to spread his “superior” genes around. Then he tested them in various ways to see if one of them would trigger and officially recognized the ones who did. The marquis mentions he killed one of Allfather’s daughters/Kaiser’s sister. The baby having a trigger event could cause alot of damage, especially if they can’t control their powers. Depending on the damage, I could see there probably being a new stigma of Parahumans having kids with other Parahumans down the line. It seems like that kind of universe.

  10. Interlude 18: Donation Bonus 2.

    This marks the first time I’ve been disappointed in Wildbow, and it’s over an insanely minor thing anyway. I am really not a fan of Night and Fog being messed up in their civilian lives. It doesn’t match the mental image I had of them at all as quiet, but competent and the least damaged people in their organisation (as far as you can be while still being a neo-nazi, anyway).

    I’m perfectly willing to admit a large part of this is that their powers are just so… cool. Wildbow’s emphasis on flexibility and clever application is a huge part of why I love Worm so, and Night in particular being hugely powerful under specific circumstances was interesting to me. All the stuff she had to prevent enemy vision, the smoke grenades and the hooked cape etc. spoke to me as an imaginative and intelligent person.

    And now we learn that they’re incapable of functioning in a typical sense as civilians. It’s the first time that I’ve felt there’s been an inconsistency in character in Worm.

    As I said, though, it’s a minor thing and the average writing quality is still through the roof.

    • I thought it was a nice callback. Tattletale had them pegged in 7.10.

      “You’re boring people, you know. I saw your info. Mr. and Mrs. Schmidt. First located in Hesse, Germany, moved to London, then Brockton Bay, Boston, then Brockton Bay again. No kids. Cat. Nothing interesting about you, besides the obvious. I’m thinking you even have your dinners on rotation. Chicken and rice on Mondays, Steak and potatoes on Tuesdays? Something like that?”
      :D

    • I don’t think that it is inconsistent- They are uncanny valley, and their behavior was probably created very deliberately(if imperfectly) by whoever it is who controls them.

  11. Theo voiced half the doubts that Justin was keeping silent, “You didn’t fight them last time. I’m not saying you were wrong to leave, but-”

    “But we didn’t fight them then. You’re right,” Kayden said. “I’d hoped the others would stop them. The heroes, the Undersiders, Hookwolf…”

    —————-

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but Purity, Crusader, and others of Purity’s group are mentioned in action with Hookwolf’s people in 13.8. They mostly go after Regent-controlled Shatterbird and Genesis-being-Crawler, but they seem to be trying to fight the Nine…?

  12. Gesselschsaft? any connection to Die Rattenfanger?
    i’m liking how the wormverse is opening up further still with organizations and individuals from the rest of the world.

    • No real connection.

      Someone commented that the world was starting to feel too small, and I felt inclined to agree. So I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to drop names and introduce new side characters, even if they aren’t recurring characters with key roles in the plot.

      • Hm…

        Worm’s world doesn’t feel small. I think it’s more a matter of scale and pacing. We had everything sprinkled in just about perfectly from a story arc perspective, but Worm is so relatively long that the last fourth of it is like seven novels (honestly really low estimate) rather than about 70 pages.

        I do think that scattering in references would be a very valuable thing to do during the revision. Looking at it from a hypothetical complete perspective it would be weird to have a lot of unknown references at the begging, having them referenced and build up for ages and mostly revealed, and suddenly in the last fourth (note I’m just making up this proportion) a bunch of new references pop up.

  13. Canary’s powers worked as a compulsion/sugestion/geas and in this universe thats is as dangerous as it can get (Imagine Jack under a compulsion, or Bonesaw), and until we get some confirmation, there are no mental defenses against that.

  14. Thank you to Ed for the donation.

    Sorry that I can’t really update the donation bar on the front page. Don’t have access to my computer (or anything that can really run photoshop)

  15. Getting a lot of spam comments lately. It’s… really annoying, because roughly 2% of the stuff that gets identified as spam by the filters is legit, so I have to double check it all.

    When I say ‘a lot’, I mean that the spam’s roughly increased by 50% since December, which was an increase of 50% over November. I’ve recieved 5,290 spam comments since starting Worm, and 1,600 of those spam comments appeared in the last month alone. Figure half a second to three seconds to double check a given piece of spam and delete it, that’s roughly 40 minutes that I spent double checking spam over January alone. At the rate it’s increasing (which is really pretty steady), that’ll be 60 minutes this month, 90 in March…

    Just letting you guys know I might, might be putting some form of filter/captcha in place. I don’t want to, believe me, but yeah. Please don’t lynch me.

      • Though, thinking about it, this is one of those backhanded “gee, thanks” signs that you’ve arrived. …Yay! *waves tiny flag*

        • I’m not quite sure I’m there yet. I’d be more inclined to believe it if I knew how they were finding me (is it just the number of links to Worm out there, or are they focusing their attentions based on my rating among the various wordpress blogs out there?), but it may just be that the various botnets out there are getting more numerous and every blog is seeing more spam.

          /wetblanket :)

          • I don’t know for sure what it is either, but I’m betting its the number of links somehow.

            I know that the year I started advertising through Project Wonderful and Legion became better known (and also linked in a much wider variety of places) I went from having 589 pieces of spam (the year before advertising) to 17,000 (the year I started ads) and the next year after that I got 47,000.

          • Maaaan, if some spambots are linking to pages that have forums/comments/wikis of their own, imagine the recursion that must go on. Sometimes I wonder if Skynet happens not because we got incautious with national defense computers, but because we were seeking ever-smarter ways to peddle peener pills and one of the botnets, one day, will wake up, blink, and say to itself, “Hey, wait a minute…”

  16. Awesome chapter, as always.

    Queensland trials? Whoo, I live in Queensland! Don’t suppose you have any info to give on what happened there?

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