Interlude 15 (Donation Bonus #3)

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August 20th, 1986

She was being poisoned by people with smiles on their faces.

She hated those smiles.  Fake.  Pretending to be happy, pretending to be cheerful.  But she’d spent enough time here to know that her friends and family would be crying the second they thought they were out of earshot.  The strangers had a weariness that spoke to the inevitable.  The older they were, the more reality seemed to weigh on them.

Somewhere along the line, they had stopped telling her that the chemotherapy would make her better.  The smiles had become even more strained.  There was more emphasis on making her comfortable.  Less explanation of what was going on.

So when her mother came in to check on her, bringing the mug of heated chicken broth, she pretended to be asleep.  She hated herself for it, but she couldn’t stand the lies, the fakeness.

If it wouldn’t have given her away, she would have winced as her mother sat down by her bedside.  It meant she might be staying a while.

“Becca,” her mother murmured from behind her.  “You awake?”

She didn’t respond, keeping her breathing steady.  She tried to breathe through her nose, so the sores that filled her mouth wouldn’t sing with pain at the contact with the air.

Her mother ran one hand over her head.  Her hair was mostly gone, and the contact was uncomfortable to the point that it was almost painful.

“You’ve been so brave,” her mom whispered, so quiet she was barely audible.

I’m not brave.  Not at all.  I’m terrified.  I’m so frustrated I could scream.  But she couldn’t.  Everyone had painted her as being so courageous, so noble and peaceful in the face of the months of treatment.  But it was a facade, and she’d passed the point of no return.  It was too late to break composure, too late to stop making bad jokes, faking smiles of her own.  She couldn’t complain or use her mother’s shoulder to cry on because everyone would fall apart if she did.

She was their support.

“My little superhero,” her mother said.  Rebecca could feel her mother’s hand on her bare scalp once more.  She wanted to slap that hand away, yell at her mother.  Don’t you know that hurts?  Everything hurts.

“You’ve been trying so hard.  You deserve better.”

And just like that, from the tone and the word choice, Rebecca knew she was dying.

She felt a mixture of emotions.  Relief, in a way.  It would mean the chemotherapy could stop; she could stop hurting.  There was anger too.  Always some anger.  Why couldn’t her mother just tell her?  When would they get up the courage to deliver that news?

Apparently not tonight.  Rebecca heard the scrape of the chair moving as her mother stood, the muffled footsteps as she retreated down the hall.

Tears had been harder to come by since the chemo had started.  Most days, her eyes were red and itchy, her vision blurry, too dry to cry.  But it seemed this occasion deserved them.  For a long time, she lay on her side, staring out the window at the cityscape of Los Angeles, tears running sideways down her face, across the bridge of her nose and down to her ear, soaking her pillow.

There was a sign that caught her eye, because it was so bright a yellow against its immediate background of blues and dusky purples.  The classic logo of a fast food restaurant.

It struck her that she would probably never get to eat there again, never get a special kids meal with the dinky plastic toy that was meant for kids ten years younger than her.  She’d never forget about the toy afterward, letting it clutter the top of her dresser along with the other colorful trinkets and keepsakes.

She’d never get to read the third book of the Maggie Holt series, or see the movie they were making of the first book.

She’d never have a real boyfriend.

It was dumb, but those stupid trivial things hit her harder than the idea that she’d never see her family, her friends or her cats again.  The steady tears became sobs, and her breath hitched, making her entire chest seize in pain.  The involuntary clenching of her empty stomach was twice as bad, and she started to think she might need to throw up.  Or dry heave.  Experience told her that would be worst of all.

She’d started moaning without realizing it, quiet and drawn out, trying to replace those painful lurching sobs with something else.

“Do you need morphine?”

The gentle voice startled her, interrupting both the moans and the sobs.  Morphine wouldn’t help the most basic, terrifying, inevitable reality she faced.  She shook her head.

There was a whispering.

“I’m going to increase the drip just a little, Rebecca Costa-Brown.”

“Who?”  Rebecca stirred, turning around to see who was speaking.  A black woman with long hair in a doctor’s get-up was messing with the IV bag.  But… no name tag.  And there was a teenage girl with pale skin and dark hair standing behind her, wearing knee-high socks, a black pleated skirt and white dress shirt.  “You’re not one of my doctors.”

“No, Rebecca.  Not yet,” the woman replied.

Quietly, Rebecca asked, “Are you one of the doctors that takes care of people that are dying?”

The woman walked around to the end of the bed.  The teenager stayed where she was.  Rebecca gave the girl a nervous look.  She was staring, her expression placid, hands at her side.

“Who are you, then?”

“Shh.  Lower your voice.  It would be a shame if the nurses happened to come by and eject me.”

“So…” Rebecca started, making a conscious effort to speak more quietly, “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“No,” the woman replied.

Rebecca closed her mouth.  She could feel the effect of the morphine.  If nothing else, it was helping ease the uncomfortable sensation where her stomach had been cramping, her skin feeling raw against the stiff hospital sheets.  She didn’t know what to say, so she fell silent instead.

“To answer your question, I’m a doctor, but not one that works in this hospital.  I’m more of a researcher and scholar than anything else.  And I came to make you an offer.”

“Shouldn’t my mom be here for this?”  My mother makes all of the decisions.

“Normally yes, when dealing with a minor.  But this is a private deal.  Just for you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You’ve heard about the superheroes?  On the television?”

“Yeah.  There’s, like, a bunch.  Twenty or something?”

“No less than fifty, now.  They’re appearing all over the world, with thousands upon thousands estimated to appear by the turn of the millennium.  I confess I have something of a hand in that.  Which is why I’m here.”

“You… make superheroes appear?”  Rebecca could feel herself getting foggy with the morphine.

“I make superheroes, but it’s not easy.  The risks are high.  The files?”

The teenager on the other side of the bed stepped forward, pulling off her backpack.  She reached in and withdrew a file folder.

The woman moved the wheeled, adjustable bed-desk that still held the chicken broth Rebecca’s mother had brought.  She moved the plastic container and put the file folder down.  Opening it, she spread out the glossy photographs that were contained within, until six images sat side by side.

A man with gnarled skin like the wood of a tree.  A woman with tentacles everywhere.  A beetle-man.  A boy with skin that seemed to be melting like wax.  A burned husk of a body. A little girl without eyes, only flat expanses of skin where they should be.

“Right now, in the early stages of my project, only one in seven succeed.  Two of those seven die.”  The woman tapped the pictures of the burned body and the boy with melted skin.  “Four experience unfortunate physical changes.”

“They’re monsters.”

“Yes.  Yes they are.  But of those seven, statistically there’s one who experiences no major physical changes, who gains powers.  All anyone has to do is drink one of my formulas.”

Rebecca nodded.  Her eyes flickered over the photographs.

“And I’ve stumbled on a little side-benefit, Rebecca.  I mix those potions a certain way, and it not only helps reduce the severity of any physical changes, but it also has a restorative effect.  The body heals.  Sometimes just a little.  Sometimes a great deal.  I think we could heal you.”

“Heal me?”

“I’m not asking for money.  Only that you take this leap of faith with me and help me build something.  I know the risks are great, I wouldn’t normally ask someone to face them, but I suspect you don’t have much left to lose.”

Rebecca extended a hand to touch the photos, but it was herself she looked at.  Her fingers so bony, her skin mottled yellow with bruising around the knuckles.  I’m already a monster.

She tapped the photo.  “If… if it was just this?  If you were offering to save my life and make me one of those monsters?  I’d still accept.”

August 21st, 1986

“I think we can mark this as a success,” the Doctor spoke.

Rebecca opened her eyes.  She’d seen something fragmented but profound, but it slipped away as fast as she could think to recollect it.  She staggered to her feet, wobbled.  The girl in the school uniform caught her before she could fall.

“I’m not a monster?”

“No.  In fact, I don’t know if it could have gone better.”

Rebecca extended one arm.  Her skin was a healthy pink, her hand thin but not so emaciated as it had been.

“I’m better?”

“I would guess so.  In truth, I’m not sure how the regeneration affected the cancer, it might even have exacerbated the symptoms.  For the time being, however, you seem to be well.”

“I feel really light.”

“That’s promising.”

Rebecca allowed herself a smile, letting go of the girl’s hand.  She could stand under her own power.  Everything around her appeared sharp.  She hadn’t realized how bad her vision had become.

Even her mind seemed to be operating like a well oiled machine.  Had the drugs and poison made her stupid?

No.  She’d never been like this.  It was like her brain had been a bicycle and now it was a Ferarri.  Even as her eyes flicked over the interior of the warehouse, she could tell she was processing faster, taking in details and sorting them better, as if her thoughts were no longer limited to the confines of her skull.

“What can I do?”

“I’ve yet to start categorizing the results.  For the time being, I’m playing a game of battleship, creating what I can and logging the results.  I hope to find the patterns and the factors at play, given time.”

“You’re going to keep doing what you did with me?”  Rebecca bounced in place.  It took so little effort to move so high.  She was better.  She was alive, like she hadn’t been for months and months.

“I’m going to find an alternative as soon as possible.  The risks are too high, at present.  You can understand that what I have is valuable, and every time I approach a potential patient, I face the possibility that I’m going to be exposed.”

“They’ll stop you?”

“They’ll try.  I have her to guard me,” the Doctor nodded in the direction of the dark-haired girl.  “But I’d rather work without interference.”

“So what do we do now?  What do I do?”

“I have ideas.  Would you object to accompanying me for some time?  I could use another bodyguard.”

“I don’t even know what I do.”

“Nor do I.  But I think it would be a bad idea for you to return home.”

Rebecca stared down at her hands, clenched and unclenched them.  What would her parents say?  What would the doctors and nurses say?

She walked across the empty building.  By the time she reached the other end, she was floating, her feet not even touching the ground.  She set her hands on the wall, dragged her fingertips through the concrete, then crushed it in her hands.  It should have ruined her skin, left scrapes or torn her fingernails, short as they were, but it hadn’t.

I used to be a shadow of a person, barely there.  Now I’m something more in every way.

When she turned around, the girl in the school uniform was whispering in the Doctor’s ear.

The Doctor spoke, “Two years, then you decide if you want to stay.”

Rebecca looked down at the concrete dust that had settled in the lines and folds of her hands, met the Doctor’s eyes and nodded.

May 1st, 1988

“Alexandria,” the Doctor called.

Alexandria waited patiently as Contessa adjusted her cape, then strode through the door.  The Doctor was there, of course.  Professor Manton, too.  The boy with the math powers was there, standing next to a boy who was staring off into space.

“She’s young,” Legend said, sizing her up.

“She’s also one of my best yet,” the Doctor said.

“I’ve heard of her,” Hero said.  “Los Angeles?”

Alexandria nodded.

“You took down Strongarm and Mongler.  It was impressive,” he said.

“Thank you.”

The Doctor spoke, “She’s as strong as any parahuman we’ve recorded.  Flies at speeds that match your own, Legend.  Near-perfect memory retention, accelerated processing and learning.”

Legend gave her another serious look.  She wore a black costume with a skirt, knee-high boots and elbow-length gloves.  A heavy cape flowed behind her back.  Her black hair was held back out of her face by the metal visor that covered the upper half of her face.

“It’s more typical for heroes to wear brighter colors,”  he said.  “It conveys a more positive image.”  His own costume was a testament to that philosophy, blue with flames and lightning stencils in white.

“Black’s more utilitarian,” the Doctor said.  “Harder to see in the dark.”

“And it’s easier to get the blood out,” Alexandria added.

Legend frowned.  “Do you get a lot of blood on your costume?”

“I hit really hard,” she said, deadpan.

He didn’t seem to appreciate the humor.  It didn’t matter.

“Okay,” Hero said, folding his arms.  “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Alexandria.  But I’m not sure I see the point of this, Doctor.”

“You each committed to assisting my enterprise, in exchange for the powers I could grant.”

“Yeah,” Hero said.

“Now I have two things I’d like you to consider.  The first is… well, you could consider it a new arrangement.”

“Alright.  I can keep an open ear,” Legend said.  Eidolon and Hero nodded in agreement.  “What’s your proposal?”

“It’s not my proposal.  Alexandria?”

Alexandria felt her heart skip a beat as the three heroes turned their attention to her, but she kept her emotions from her face.

“This room, I would argue, contains the most powerful parahumans in the world, Scion excepted.  The good you accomplish is undeniable.  Even if villains outnumber the heroes, powers have come to benefit the world in the long run.  A golden age, if you will.”

Legend nodded.

“But we know that trigger events tend to produce damaged, disturbed and unbalanced individuals.  Any traumatic event will do that, and a trauma punctuated by the acquisition of superpowers is going to leave a lasting impression.  Trigger events produce more villains. We know this.”

The Doctor cut in, “And I’m producing more heroes than villains.  For now, the proportion favors us, and you’ve been able to keep the criminal element in line.  For the most part.   But even as I expand my operations, I have come to the realization that I can only produce so much.  And the rate of parahuman growth is expanding.  The next twenty years are projected to produce a total number of six hundred and fifty thousand people with powers, worldwide.”

Alexandria spoke, “I’ve looked at the numbers, at the growth, the trends, checked and double checked them.  Even if the rate decreases, we’re going to get outpaced and we’re going to get outpaced hard.  The people with trigger events will outnumber the Doctor’s clients, and we’ll wind up with three to ten villains for every hero that steps forward.”

Legend, Eidolon and Hero were paying attention.

The Doctor spoke, “Alexandria and I have discussed this at length.  A recurring worry is that as much as I’ve been able to gift you three, you four with exemplary abilities, we could see other threats of comparable power.”

“Is there any evidence of this?”  Hero asked.  “You haven’t explained how you create the powers, but what you’ve said leads me to believe you’re producing something purer than what everyone else gets.”

“Purer?  Perhaps.  But the purer something is, the more fragile it becomes.  The process seems to be influenced heavily by psychological strain and stress.  Almost an inverse of the trigger event phenomenon.  You know there’s a possibility that the formula can become tainted, giving inhuman characteristics to the unfortunate subjects.  This is despite the most sterile conditions.  I’m improving the results over time, with Professor Manton’s help, but there are no guarantees.”

“The point we’re getting around to,” Alexandria spoke, “Is that even if the Doctor can get better results with time and effort, the explosion in the natural parahuman population is inevitably going to produce an individual with powers that outstrip our own.”

“So we lose in the long run?” Eidolon asked.  “We’re doomed?”

“No.  Because I’d like to propose a solution.  A way to assert control.  I want to band together.  Form a team.”

Legend leaned against the wall.  “There are teams forming already.  Yes, we’d be powerful, influential, but I don’t see how that addresses the problems.”

“Simple.  We do what the government’s been pushing for.  We regulate.  We bend to the government’s yoke, all four of us together.  We follow their stipulations and regulations.”

“That sounds like a horrendously bad idea,” Eidolon spoke.  “Why?”

“Because if it was us four, together?  We could afford to push back if they pushed too hard, and they’d know that.  And just by being there, we could make the project attractive enough to bring others in.”

Legend turned, “And how does this benefit you, Doctor?”

“It doesn’t.  Not directly.  That’s why this is Alexandria’s proposal.”

“But,” Manton spoke, his voice gravelly for his relatively young age, “We could send some of our clients to you.  Happier clients are better for business.”

Legend folded his arms.  “And you’d want to be in charge, Alexandria?”

“No.  I think you or Hero would be a better choice, to portray a kind face and a positive image.  You two wear the colorful costumes.”

“Not Eidolon?” Hero asked.

“He’s too powerful.  Not saying either of you aren’t, but we wouldn’t be able to convey the impression that it’s the government in control of the heroes if it was Eidolon front and center.”

Legend nodded.  “You’ve given this a lot of consideration.”

“More than a little,”  Alexandria admitted.  “I have an eight stage plan to incorporate parahumans into society, I’ve also researched and developed plans for marketing and monetizing capes.  America is the most powerful country in the world, and it’s a capitalist nation, first and foremost.  We’ll use that.”

“Seems to be getting away from the idea of doing good deeds for the sake of doing good deeds,” Eidolon said.

“It is, but that’s inevitable.  The post-baby boomer generation is growing up.  Couple that with the explosion in parahuman numbers, and this situation threatens to get well out of control.  We need structure and organization if we’re going to keep things intact.”

“There’s no guarantee your plan will survive contact with government,” Legend said.

“There’s one guarantee.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m estimating that it will take at least five years to establish this plan nationwide.  In that span, we’ll start with only a few groups in the largest cities, we’ll gradually and gratefully accept involvement and oversight from government and law enforcement.  We’ll also create a sub-group for minors with powers, so we can strictly structure their environment and development.  Those are the key points.  That gives me time to address your doubts.”

“Again, how?”

“I expect we’ll be able to employ the remainder of the plan, the eight-stage integration of parahumans with the public, because I will be in a position of power in the government.  I, my civilian self, can be in charge of the government-sponsored superhero teams within eight years.”

“There’s too many holes in that plan.  People will wonder why Alexandria and your secret identity aren’t in the same place at once.”

“There’s more than one solution to that.  For one thing, I can work faster and better than my unpowered peers.  For another, the Doctor thinks she can find a suitable body double with similar powers before the deadline.  I designed this costume to be elegant without being attention-getting.  No color, as you pointed out.  And I don’t seek leadership of the team.  Instead, I will content myself with working to guide legislation to where we need it.”

“It seems so manipulative.  Everything people feared we’d be doing,” Hero said.

“I have booklets of paperwork you can look over.  All of the math, all of the projected issues for the future, and all of my proposals and plans.  You don’t have to give me an answer right away.  Just consider it.”

“Okay,” Hero said.

“And,” the Doctor said, “I think it goes without saying that everything said in this room stays in this room?”

There were nods all around.

“Good.  Thank you.  There’s one more thing I would like to show you.  If you’ll accompany me?”

She turned to the girl in the suit and the young man with the thousand-yard stare.

“You know where to take us.”

The girl in the suit placed her hands on his shoulders, tapping one twice.  In response, the boy raised his hands, bidding the back wall of the room to fold out into an area that shouldn’t have been there.  Bright sunlight streamed down around them, a salt-scented wind blowing in their faces.

“My god,” Legend said.

“He gained a very valuable set of powers, but there was an unfortunate effect on his perceptions.  He sees too much at once.  He’s effectively blind and deaf.  He agreed to work for me in exchange for care and comfort.”

Eidolon and Hero advanced to the edge of the window, staring out at a landscape of tidy concrete buildings and overlarge trees.  There was a coast there, too.

“I will be locating my operations there in the future.  Doormaker will shuttle you to and from my base in the future.”

“Where is it?”

“Another Earth.”

“Like Earth Aleph?  The one Haywire opened the portal to?”

“In some respects, yes.”  The Doctor gestured, and Contessa squeezed the boy’s shoulders again.  The portal shut.  “My assistant will hand you the booklets Alexandria prepared for her project.  Doormaker will then take each of you home in turn.  Thank you.”

One by one, the others departed.  Legend was first through the doorway Doormaker created, taken to New York.  Both Eidolon and Hero made their way to Chicago.  Professor Manton and the others left.

Only Alexandria and the Doctor remained.

“You didn’t tell them about our long-term goals,” Alexandria spoke.

“No.  There’s issues that have to be addressed first.  We’ve already discussed several.”

“Anything I can do?”

“You have your end of the project.  I feel they’ll come around.  Focus on that.  I’ll handle the projected issues on my side of things.  Just need to find the right individual.  Someone I can groom, perhaps.  Between you and I, one of us is bound to succeed.”

Alexandria nodded.

“Your two years are up in three months.  Will you be returning to your family?”

“I nearly forgot.  I’ve been so busy.”  Alexandria frowned.

“It might do you good to see them.”

“Maybe.”  Why did she have her doubts?  Why didn’t she want to go home?

“Good.  I do expect you’ll return?”

“Of course.”

Maybe, she realized, it was because every memory of her family was tinged with the feelings of despair, of loss.  With the Doctor, she had hope.

December 13th, 1992


The clawed hand speared toward the sky, followed by an arm the size of an oak tree.  When it turned to slam against the ground, bracing for leverage, she could feel the impact rippling through the air.  The dry ground shifted, bulged and cracked as he shouldered his way up and out from underground.

Really big.

Forty-five feet tall at the very least, he climbed forth from underground.  His skin was crusted with black stone that might have been obsidian, layers of what might have been cooled magma sloughing off of him as he planted his feet on the ground and stood straight.

‘Straight’ might have been too generous.  He was built like a caricature of a bodybuilder, or a bear-human hybrid.  He rippled with muscle, his skin gray, thick and leathery like the hide of a rhinoceros or elephant.  His black obsidian horns were so heavy his head hung down.  They weren’t rooted in his forehead, but in the middle of his face, a half-dozen curved shafts of black crystal twisting their way out of his face and back over the top of his head, some ten feet long.  A single red eye glowed from between the gap in two horns, positioned too low.  His mouth was a jagged gap in his lower face, twisting up to a point near his temple, lined by jagged horn-like growths that were too irregular to be called teeth.

His claws were the same, not hands in the conventional sense, but mangled growths of the same material that made up his horns, many of the growths as large as Alexandria herself.  He could flex them, move them, but they were clearly weapons and nothing else.

The rest of the Protectorate was present, and the local heroes, the Mythics.  Rostam, Jamshid, Kaveh, Arash.

It somehow didn’t feel like enough.  They’d come anticipating earthquake relief.  Not this.

The creature roared, and as invulnerable as she was, it almost hurt.  A whirlwind blast of sand ripped past them.  Kaveh stumbled back, collapsed, blood pouring from his ears, one of his eyeballs obliterated.

The fight hadn’t even started, and they’d lost someone.

“Hero,” Legend spoke with the smallest tremor in his voice, “Call for help, as much as you can get.”

The creature, the Behemoth, stepped closer, raising one claw and pointed at Kaveh.  Kaveh the Smith, the builder, the forger.

The man ignited from the inside out, flame and smoke pouring from every orifice as he was turned into a burned-out husk in a matter of seconds.  His skeleton disintegrated into fine dust and ash as it crashed to the ground.

He can bypass the Manton effect.  She thought, stunned.  She flew forward, trying to draw his attention, interjecting herself between the Behemoth and the others.

He pointed his claw once more, and she braced herself, gritting her teeth.  Time to see how invincible I am.

But it wasn’t fire.  A lightning bolt flashed from the tip of Behemoth’s claw, arcing around her and striking one of her subordinates in a single heartbeat, before leaving only the smell of ozone.  She flew in close, slamming her hands into his face, driving him back, throwing him off-balance.

He struck her and drove her into the ground.  His flame burned through her, the sand was turning to glass around her, burning her costume, but it didn’t burn her.

But she couldn’t breathe.  She flew back and out of the way until she had air again.  She stared at the scene that was unfolding, the heroes beating a hasty retreat as that thing advanced, slow and implacable.

Shit,” Hero’s voice came over the communications channel.

“What?” she responded.  Legend was pelting the thing with lasers that could have burned buildings to the ground, and he was barely leaving a mark.  Eidolon was manipulating the sand, creating barriers while simultaneously drawing sand out from beneath their enemy, while pelting it with laser blasts that he spat from his mouth.

At least he’s too slow to dodge or get out of the way of trouble.

Guys back home say we’re close to some major oil fields.

She shook herself free of glass and dirt and threw herself back into the fray.  A bad situation was suddenly critical.  The creature roared again, and the force of the noise threw her flight off course.  Eidolon’s makeshift walls collapsed and more heroes fell, bleeding from heavy internal damage.

They’d been right after all.  Dumb luck had created a parahuman as dangerous as what the Doctor could create by design.

Fire, sonic, lightning.  And he hit me harder than he should have, even being as big as he is.  Kinetic energy, too.  

Her eyes widened.  Not individual powers.  Those were all the same power.  She pressed one hand to her ear, opening communications to the rest of her team.  “He’s a dynakinetic!  He manipulates energy!  No Manton limitation!”

How do we even fight something like that?

But she knew they didn’t have a choice.  She threw herself back into the thick of the fight.

January 18th, 1993

“I, Alexandria, do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the director appointed over me, according to the regulations of the PRTCJ.”

Applause swelled around her.  As far as the eye could see, there were crowds and flashing cameras.  President Griffin extended a hand and she shook it.

He leaned close, “You do us proud.”

“Thank you, James.  I’ll give my all.”

He squeezed her hand and moved on.

“I, Eidolon, do solemnly affirm…”

She gazed over the crowd, saw her mother standing there with eyes glistening.  The lesser members of the Protectorate were in the front row as well, her subordinates among them.

Turning further right, she saw Hero looking at her, almost accusatory.  She turned and faced the crowd.  Regal, unflinching, dressed in an updated costume.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” the Vice President spoke into the microphone, “Let me introduce the founding members of the Protectorate of the United States of America!”

Invincible as she might be, she thought her heart might burst as it swelled with pride, the crowd cheering with such force that the stage shook.

September 15th, 2000

Alexandria and Hero were last to arrive on the scene, entering through the window.  Legend pressed one finger to his lips.

“We’ve got her cornered?” Hero whispered.

“Think so,” Legend replied, his voice as quiet.  ”We’ve got teams covering the drainage and plumbing below the building, and the entire place is surrounded.“

“She hasn’t tried to leave?”  Hero asked.  ”Why not?“

Legend couldn’t maintain eye contact.  ”She has a victim.“

Alexandria spoke, stabbing one finger in Legend’s direction, “You had better be fucking kidding me, or I swear-“

“Stop, Alexandria.  It was the only way to guarantee she’d stay put.  If we moved too soon, she’d run, and it would be a matter of time before she racked up a body count elsewhere.“

I’m in this to save lives.  Sacrificing someone for the sake of the plan?  She knew it made sense, that it was even necessary, but it left her shaken, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Then let’s move,” she responded, “The sooner the better.“

“We’re trying an experimental measure,” Legend spoke, “It’s meant to contain, not kill.  Drive her towards main street.  We have more trucks over there.“

They operated with a practiced ease.  Legend blasted down the door and Alexandria was the first through.

Siberian was there, kneeling on the bed, her body marked with stripes of jet black and alabaster white, her arms slick with blood up to the elbows.  The man who lay on the bed – there would be no saving him, even if Eidolon manifested healing abilities.

She looks familiar, Alexandria thought, even as she soared across the room.

They’d underestimated their opponent.  Alexandria’s fists collided with Siberian and didn’t budge a hair.  She flew out of the way before Siberian could claw at her with long fingernails.

Legend fired beam after beam at Siberian, but the striped woman didn’t even flinch.  She was invincible on a level that surpassed even Alexandria.

Eidolon cast out a cluster of crystal that exploded into a formation around Siberian on impact, encasing her.

Siberian shrugged it off like it was nothing, lunged forward, going after Hero.

Alexandria dove to intervene, to guard her teammate, but Siberian was faster.  She reached Hero first, her hands plunging through his chest cavity.  When she pulled her arms free, she nearly bisected him.

Eidolon screamed, flying close to scoop up the two pieces of Hero, carrying them outside.

Siberian leaped after them, missed only because Legend shot his comrades with a laser to alter their trajectory.

Their enemy plunged to the street, landing on both feet as though she were light as a feather.

The ensuing moments were frantic, filled with screamed orders and raw terror.  Alexandria chased Siberian to try to scoop bystanders out of the way, to catch the PRT vehicles that Siberian flung like wiffle balls.

And they were losing.  Eidolon was trying to heal Hero, to teleport people out of danger when Alexandria and Legend proved unable, and changing up his abilities every few seconds to throw something new at Siberian in the hopes that something would affect her.  She waded through zones of altered time, through lightning storms and force fields, tore through barricades of living wood and slapped aside a projectile so hyperdense that its gravitational field pulled cars behind it.

Alexandria moved in close, hoping to stop Siberian, to catch her and slow her down, saw Siberian swing, pulled back out of the way.

Her visor fell free, clattering to the ground.  Then she felt the blood.

Saw, in her one remaining good eye, the chunks of her own face that were falling to the ground around her, bouncing off her right breast, the spray of blood.

It had been so long since she’d felt pain.

Legend called out the order and buried her in containment foam, hiding her from sight.

September 16th, 2000

Alexandria sat in the hospital.  Eidolon’s healing had only been able to do so much.  She held a glass eye in one hand, the remains of her other eye in the other.

She looked up at the Doctor.  “William Manton?”

The Doctor nodded.

“How?  Why?”

“I don’t know what predicated it.  His daughter’s in our custody.  One of our failures.”

“He gave his daughter the formula?  Without the usual preparations and procedures?”

“I suppose he thought he was qualified to oversee all that.  Despite my strict instructions that staff weren’t to partake.  Or he had other motivations.  It could have been a gift from a father trying to buy his daughter’s affections.”

“Or her forgiveness,” Alexandria looked down at the glass eye, then back up to the Doctor.

The Doctor’s eyebrows were raised in uncharacteristic surprise.  “Did you see anything suspect?”

“No.  I only met his daughter twice, and it was brief, her father wasn’t around.  But I know the divorce between Professor Manton and his wife was pretty bad, as those things go.  He was angry, maybe did some things he regretted?”

The Doctor sighed.

“So that was him?

“Almost certainly.  He gave his daughter one of our higher quality formulas, and she couldn’t handle it.  When he realized what he’d done, realized that he couldn’t hide it from us, he took one formula for himself and fled.  I didn’t know what it had done for him until tonight.  The resemblance between Siberian and Manton’s daughter is subtle, but it’s there, and the footage from Hero’s helmet-camera has been run through every facial recognition program I could find.”

“What did Legend, Eidolon and…”  Alexandria stopped when she realized that she’d been about to say Hero.  “What did they say?  About Manton?”

“They don’t know.  I suppose we should tell Eidolon.  He reacted badly when his powers informed him of our other plans and projects.”

Alexandria hung her head.  “How do we stop him?  Manton?  If he’s transformed into that…”

“The sample he took, F-one-six-one-one, it tends to give projection powers.  I suspect his real body is unchanged.  But I’m wondering if we shouldn’t leave him be.”

Alexandria stared at the doctor, wide-eyed.  “Why?

“So long as he’s active, people will be flocking to join the Protectorate-”

Alexandria slammed her hand on the stainless steel table beside her cot.

Silence rang between them in the wake of the destruction.

“I will not condone the loss of life for your ulterior motives.  I will not let monsters walk free, to profit from the fear they spread.”

“You’re right,” the Doctor said.  “I… must be more shaken by Manton’s betrayal than I’d thought.  Forget I said anything.”

If Alexandria saw a hint of falsehood in the Doctor’s body language, she convinced herself it was the strain of one eye compensating for the job she’d used to perform with two.

“You realize what this means, don’t you?” The Doctor asked.

“That we’re no longer doing more good than evil?” Alexandria replied, bitter.

“No.  I still feel we’re working for the forces of good.  Manton was a selfish man, unhinged. The exception to the rule.”

Alexandria couldn’t quite bring her to believe it.

“No, this means we simply need to step up our plans.  If we’re going to go forward with the  Terminus project, we need to advance the overall efforts with Cauldron.  And we need the Protectorate effort to succeed on every count.”

“Or we need your project to work out,” Alexandria replied.

The Doctor frowned.  “Or that.  We still have to find the right individual.  Or make him.”

April 10th, 2008

Mortars, bombs and air-to-ground missiles rained down around her. It had been a decade and a half since she had really felt pain, and she still couldn’t help but flinch as they struck ground in her immediate vicinity.  Still, she continued walking, her cape and hair fluttering behind her.

Two people lay face-down on the edge of the street, a teenage boy and girl holding hands.  She knelt and checked their pulses.  Dead.

But she could see others.  She quickly strode over and kneeled by a young man.  His stomach was a bloody mess, and he was gasping for every breath.

“To gustaria livir?” She asked, in the local’s anglo-spanish pidgin.  Do you want to live?

His eyes widened as he seemed to realize she was there.  “Eres an gwarra engel?”

“No,” she replied.  She brushed his hair out of his face with one hand.  “No an engel.”  Not an angel.

Livir,” he breathed the word before slumping over.

She swept him up in her arms, quickly and carefully.  Keeping an eye out for any falling mortars, she quickly ascended into the air.

She was at the cloud-level when the door opened.  She stepped into the brightly lit corridors of Cauldron’s testing laboratory and strode down to the cells.

Thirty cells, filled with subjects.  Thirty-one now.  The cells didn’t appear to have doors, but  the individuals within were all too aware of the dangers of stepping beyond the perimeters of their cells, or of trying to harass Alexandria as she strode by.

Only two-thirds of them were monstrous, affected by the formulas.  Others would go free with alterations to their memories.  Some would have fatal weaknesses inserted into their psyches, reason to hesitate at a crucial moment against a certain foe.

But they would be alive.  That was the most important thing.  They had been destined to die, in places where the wars never stopped, or where plague was rampant, rescued from the brink of death.

Entering one cell, she brushed the hair from the young man’s face once more, then propped him up while she administered the sample the Doctor had left for her.

She stepped back while he convulsed, his wounds filling in, his breathing growing steady enough for him to scream.

His eyes opened, and he stared at her, wide-eyed, still screaming as sensations returned to him and pain overwhelmed every sense.

“Eres okay,” she said, in his language.  “Eres livo.”

It’s okay.  You’re alive.  She forced herself to smile as reassuringly as she could.

So long as they lived, they could have hope.  Living was the most important thing.

And here I am, administering poison with a smile on my face.

She turned and walked away.

June 18th, 2011

“…I guess we have another unanswered question on our hands,” Eidolon said.

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.  A small smile touched his lips.

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.”

“A month or two, either Simurgh or Behemoth if they stick to pattern,” Alexandria said.  She watched as Legend strode out of the room.  Eidolon paused, then gave the hand signal.  No bugs, and Legend wasn’t listening in.

The Doctor already had the booster shot ready.  Eidolon extended one arm, clutching his bicep to help make the vein more pronounced.  The doctor injected.

“The boosters aren’t cutting it anymore,” Eidolon said.  “I’m getting weaker.  Powers are taking longer to reach their peak, and their maximum strength isn’t what it used to be.  If this keeps up, then I won’t be able to offer anything during this end-of-the-world scenario.”

“We’ll find a solution,” the Doctor said.

“You were too calm,” Eidolon spoke.  “I was worried you’d miss my warning.”

“Very clever, burning the words into the paper in front of me.  Thank you.  Was I convincing?”

“You managed to feign skepticism over this apocalypse scenario,” Alexandria spoke.

“Well, that’s the most important thing,” the Doctor spoke.

“He’s suspicious.  He knows or suspects we’ve been lying to him,” Alexandria said.

“Unfortunate.  Will he expose us?”

Alexandria shook her head.  “No.  I don’t think he will.  But he may distance himself from us to lower the number of opportunities we have to see his doubt for what it is.”

“We’ll manage,” the Doctor replied.  “In the worst case scenario, we’ll explain the circumstances, explain our plan.”

“He won’t like it,” Eidolon spoke.

“But he’ll understand,” the Doctor said.  “If the Terminus project is a success, the end of the world isn’t a concern.  And I believe we will succeed.”

“Provided we come up with a solution to the bigger, more basic problems we’re facing,” Eidolon said.  “Or we’ll simply find ourselves in the same circumstances after we’ve gone to all this trouble.”

Alexandria nodded.  “The Protectorate is proving to be a failure on that front.  Recent events haven’t given me much hope in that regard.”

“So that leaves only my end of things,” the Doctor said.

“Coil,” Eidolon said.  “And if he fails?”

“Ever the pessimist,” Alexandria said.

“This revelation about the possible end of the world has decimated our projected timeline.  We don’t have time to prepare or pursue anything further,” the Doctor said.

“If we assist him-”

“No,” the Doctor spoke.  “If we assist him, there’s no point.”

“In short?” Alexandria leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table.  “He doesn’t even know it, but everything rests on his shoulders.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

112 thoughts on “Interlude 15 (Donation Bonus #3)

  1. Wow, quite a few revelations about Cauldron and the world. So many powered individuals. Any guesses on the Terminus project? I’m guessing it is something to do with another earth. Maybe a way to find an uninhabited planet, and move as many people as they can there. But I still think that the Doctor is lying about everything. She doesn’t care about people at all and my guess is she has some other agenda than saving the world. Doormaker’s power just so happens to make him deaf and blind, get real. But damn Behemoth is scary. He manipulates ALL energy. If he can see you, and you aren’t invulnerable, you are almost guaranteed to die. How the heck do you stop something like that? But this chapter raises so many questions. Why did she pick Alexandria? Is she from this reality? What is their plan? Where do the Endbringers come from? Why is Coil important? Is Taylor going to accidentally destroy the world by stopping him?

  2. Woah…yeah, my lingering liking for Alexandria just died a horrible death. How idiotic and gullible can you get?

    Still this answered an awful lot of questions, as well as showing just how the big three ended up like they are and much else besides. Though the number of things they overlook is disgusting. Doormaker and the test subjects especially. I’m guessing the Terminus project is relocation to another world and Coil was the person they were looking to try and create. Newter was the guy she grabbed…and her ignoring that particular bag of horrors really says a lot.

    I really love the way that Cauldron’s best efforts get kicked to the ground by the random stuff though.

    The endbringers are now feeling very targetted. The first hero victim was a guy described as the smith who I’m guessing was making things easier on everybody. And the heroes are openly seeking to create functional tyranny and authoritarianism. Skitter just got the role of Cassandra with her unheard truths.

    • Well, I don’t picture it happening right away but I would love for Skitter to form or be part of this reality’s version of the Legion of Doom or The Light from Young Justice. The world will consider them criminals but they would actually have formed in response to the “good” guys. Because these guys are a@$*oles. Screw them and their plans. I seriously doubt the Doctor is hurting/killing hundreds, probably thousands of people to help make more “heroes”. She knows something about the Endbringers, Scion, and the twin entities. Even if the people opposing them are jerks who could become a Doctor Doom life figure, I’m looking at you Armsmaster, I want someone to screw with them. I’m really rooting for Taylor to kill Coil now, just so Cauldron’s plan is destroyed.
      ps to Wildbow,
      If there are really 650,000 powered individuals in the world, shouldn’t have the events of the city caused more trigger events than Scrub and Aisha? Are those the only two or are there actually more and they are hiding their powers?

    • Alexandria didn’t seem gullible at all. It was more of a parallel to Skitter. Compromise on one thing for the greater good. Then compromise on another and another and another and before you know it everything has blurred so much that nobody can really tell anymore just what is the worse evil and what is the greater good.

      Doormaker doesn’t really strike me as something needing to be overlooked really. The guy got dealt a bad hand if we are being told the truth and he’s basically working in exchange for protection and help. The test subjects are very bad I agree but they fall on the slippery slope thing. Skitter has done some pretty awful things in the name of the greater good. Without knowing the endgame of Cauldron can we really judge just what is too much?

  3. “To gustaria livir?” —-“Te gustaria vivir?”
    ”Eres an gwarra engel?” (i can quite understan this one ( Are you a warrior angel?) Eres un angel guerrero?)

    Btw awesome chapter, conspiracy between conpiracy, all folded intro a triple conspiracy … this is incredible.

      • Pidgin, it was mentioned.

        I dislike conspiracy myself. Perfect time to take your chances cutting the ole Gordian knot. After all, the current negative path of the world seems to hold steady with this plan and Doc Momtopus doing her experiments. Give her a nice slice and you’ll throw the current chain events off enough that, while it may be more negative in the short term, there will be increased chance of a positive outcome. Not too fond of Eidolon either.

        There’s something up there. We haven’t heard anything about a person’s powers getting weaker over time, so why do his? Are his powers actually really weak and only strengthened by some sort of booster, or does he not have any powers except through some temporary deal from the Doc?

        And another burning question…*pauses to chew on a carrot* what’s up doc?

        • I am unsure of whether the the disruption of their plan would be good or bad for the world. I personally want Taylor to off Coil just because I don’t like their arrogant, hypocritical, and evil actions. Letting their plan get destroyed is a positive in my book. As for Eidolon, I joked a few chapters back that the Big 3 might have been insanely rich and that is why they were so powerful. But there has to be something special about them. She chose Alexandria when she was ten, with not a lot of data/success of creating powered individuals, and it seems she is one of the first people she empowered. So why choose this girl? What made her so different/important? Maybe Eidolon is or was a part of how the Doctor creates her serum. He potentially has every imaginable power right? Maybe his blood/dna is a vital component. My guess for Legend and Hero are they were the one in a million success stories. She tested the serum on them and they won the superpower lottery and that is why the doctor brought them into the fold. Since they were the origin for Siberian, maybe they did have a hand in creating other big names like Nilbog.

          • Alexandria was young and isolated, the perfect person to give superpowers to without risking them turning against your interests. See how easily she controls the invincible genius after creating her.

          • She was older than ten.

            “It struck her that she would probably never get to eat there again, never get a special kids meal with the dinky plastic toy that was meant for kids ten years younger than her.” A toy meant for kids ten years younger than her. I don’t remember exactly what age a happy meal toy is meant for, but could mean she’s at least 13 or 14.

          • She was young, isolated, and desperate. But there are quite a few people that meet those characteristics. Why did she pick her? Either she somehow knew that she was going to be top tier, maybe she already had the numberman, or there is something special about Alexandria that only she knows about. Maybe she actually is originally from another world and knew a version of her from there.
            Also just noticed her nametag is Doctor Mother. Creepy name. But seriously the other dimension thing makes me curious about what is different there. Maybe in that reality, Taylor actually did join the Wards, and is finally acknowledged for heroics.

          • Whooooop! I want to go to Bizzaro land. Where Taylor and Sophia are best friends, where the 9 Saviors fight the evil Triad, and the Star Wars prequels were better than the originals.

          • @Ant, I’d just kind of assumed that Alexandria was just one of many test subjects and that she just kept going until one survived as was powerful enough to bother using. Going by her having the Contessa in tow (who is presumably not weak) she wanted multiple such creations. Legend and the others probably appeared similarly.

          • That actually makes perfect sense. It really fits in with her evil human test subject character. All of the failures became the first Case 53’s. I wonder if Alexandria has figured out how close she was to being exactly like Newter and the others they took.

          • You know, you might be looking at it wrong. Maybe she chose hundreds of terminally ill little girls and this one turned out well, while the others all turned into monsters or died or turned into not particularly useful powered people.

            Alexandria is a big deal because she’s one of the first big powers created, but someone had to be, right?

      • Speaking of alternate realities, think how close Taylor came to being acknowledged as a superhero. If she had gotten the chance to dye her sinister gray outfit a more cheerful color, this would have been a very different story.

  4. *Tosses another log on the huge bonfire, wearing his chainmail shirt, wolf skins, and carrying a battleaxe.* Wow, anyone else feel it get kinda Norse in here?

    I noticed it around the time Alexandria was running around collecting some of the dead like a valkyrie to inject with stuff for powers. You know, that old division where the Valkyries take half the warriors off a battlefield The ones the Valkyries take get to party it on up with endless feasting and duels until Ragnarok comes, when they are called on to fight against the fire giants and other monsters that kill the old gods and transition to a new age. No one else felt that?

    Manton is your Loki figure. Loki was a shapeshifter, Manton just projects a different shape, so there’s that. But Loki was also the father of some monsters. You know, the Midgard Serpent Jormungandr, or Fenrir, the giant wolf. He’s also the father of Hel, not sure what the equivalent of that is yet, but he’s a big part of making bad guys in the setting. Oh, and he does turn into a female at times, like when he mothered Odin’s horse Sleipnir. Loki’s first real act of villainy was to kill this one god, Baldur, whose death was supposed to be a major stepping stone toward Ragnarok. I don’t know if he fully qualified as a Hero though. A little bit like Manton apparently continuing his experiments, making more monsters, and being first known to the designated heroes by killing off one of their guys.

    The ability to travel to parallel earths (aside from being a possible explanation behind the endbringers) is also reminiscent of the different worlds of the World Tree, Yggdrasill.

    Now, I almost want to say Alexandria might be an Odin figure more specifically. The Valkyries worked for him, after all. Who was he? Oh, just an exceptionally powerful god known for having one eye and being exceptionally wise. Somewhat of a difference here between knowledgeable and wise, but Odin had to go through a great deal of pain to become both. Paid an eye for a sip from a well of wisom and was stuck to a tree by a spear in a ritual that caused him to learn some things. Probably that getting stabbed with a spear hurts a hell of a lot. Stayed there for 9 days to learn 9 magical songs. Also, there were 9 worlds. 9 keeps popping up an awful lot, but the significance of that might be reaching.

    Also of note, Odin is one of the figures Santa Claus is based on.

    Alternatively, could be Heimdalr. Known for wisdom and foreknowledge, that god keeps watch for Ragnarok and is fated to die fighting Loki. Also, the whitest of the Norse gods, implying a distinct inability to dance. Not that we’ve seen Alexandria dance. I’m just saying.

    • So what your’e geeting at is that Alexandria is Santa Claus.
      i can totally picture that. alexandria decked out in a christmassy costume, complete with a red cape with white trim.

        • Wouldn’t always like all of Odin’s either, I bet. A deity of many names that reflected some of the roles he played and ways he was viewed.

          Here are a few:
          Friend of Wealth (Bet we know how he voted)
          Enemy of the Wolf
          Shifty Eyed
          Spear Shaker (More than twice and you’re playing with it)
          Battle Enhancer (If you or a loved one have a spear for more than 4 hours…)
          Lord of the Undead
          Sole Creator of Magical Songs (Combined with previous name, probably wrote “Thriller”)
          Dweller in Frigg’s Embrace (*wink wink, nudge nudge*)
          Lord of the Earth
          Dangler (Maybe he needs his battle enhanced)
          Riddler (He’ll get you next time, Batman!)
          Yeller (Come back Yeller, best doggone dog in the west…)
          Masked One (Esta noche, quiero el campeonato!)
          Lord of the Hanged (He’s hung you know)
          Hanged One (Told you he was hung)
          God of Prisoners
          Teacher of Gods
          Yule Father
          Friend of the Goths (My soul aches due to the bright lights of the ignorant conformists, blind to the crushing truth of their oncoming oblivion)
          Swinger (You think he’d let me get in there with Frigg?)
          Terrible One (…Probably not)

  5. One thing here actually surprises me – the revelation that the projected end-of-world scenario isn’t being intentionally caused by the cauldron people.

    Unintentionally it probably still is, but I really expected it to be part of their plans, just one more small, necessary sacrifice for the purpose of achieving something much worse.

    • I quite like that it isn’t. There’s enough room in the villain barrel for both the ruthlessly pragmatic (Doc, I’m hoping) and the ‘let the world burn’ type (Jack).

      Terminus Project – tricky. It can mean both a boundary stone, in which case it is likely Doormaker figures in, or ‘end of the road’, which makes it a doomsday scenario of some sort. Trying to find or make someone with enough destructive power to kill an Endbringer, perhaps?

      • The Terminus Project creates Scion… who goes back in time and sparks off the awaking of people with powers. The cycle goes full circle, creating a closed loop – a boundary – a terminus.

      • We should allow for the possibility that Project Terminus is what causes the end of the world, but the megalomaniacal superheroes can’t allow themselves to consider that possibility. The name certainly fits, doesn’t it?

      • Oh. Ooooooooh! FACIAL recognition programs…

        *shuts down the laptop he had running a program hooked into a toilet*

        I’ll just end this project over here then.

        *flushes the toilet, then pulls out a handgun and fires into the bowl, wondering if anyone will get the brick joke*

    • I’ve actually been leaning toward this idea as well–one with a specialization in chemistry or power creation or some such.

      • We are talking about a guy who sends his invincible black and white striped naked daughter projection to tear people apart and devour them alongside a group of horror movie monsters.

        There are some things in genetics that make going mad easier…

          • No clue what you could mean by that.

            While I haven’t done research into how genetics affects people’s brains, I do like to reference the work of Dr. Christopher Titus:

            It’s more towards the end, but it’s all pretty good so long as the link is approved.
            For some reason, this thing likes to hold me up so that my comments can be checked out before they appear when I link to things.

          • I set that up after the third annoying/rude video link that bordered on ‘people are going to stop reading Worm because of that’. Just so I could check the links before a-oking them.

            Wasn’t you, don’t think. But yeah.

          • Wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it was, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I was targed especially for moderation due to some of the more controversial things I post. I hope I’m actually a boon to the readership, but I’m also clearly on certain sides of issues that not everyone agrees with.

            Plus, I’m so long there’s lots of times I wonder if I’m just throwing up an inconvenient wall of text. Or, as some would put it, I have diahrea of the mouth.

    • I agree with that, I was picturing something very different. Now I know why they don’t use nukes on him anymore if he can manipulate/control all energy. The only way I can conceivable see a way to stop him is to try and freeze him. No energy to manipulate and he can’t move so he can’t manipulate Kinetic energy. But good luck getting someone with cold based powers near something who can simply point at you to kill you. Well, this chapter confirms that Cauldron has nothing to do with The Endbringers, but I strongly suspect the Doctor knows more than she is telling.

  6. This page doesn’t seem to be in the table of contents, is that normal?

    I’m wondering about Eidolon’s booster shots. We haven’t seen anyone else with such needs. Is his package just so very high-end that he needs constant refreshers? Maybe they’re not what he thinks they are; maybe his powers are faith-based and they’re a placebo, or maybe it’s a security measure meant to control him in the long term and Doctor Mom’s all finished with him now.

    I’m also wondering about the Cauldron method vs. the trigger method. It would seem that Cauldron’s stuff isn’t particularly compatible with triggered supers, or Skidmark would probably have just taken his stolen formula for a double. Or maybe he was just scared off by all the language in the documents about the formula being for a particular patient. But can a Cauldron-born (heh!) super be triggered later on? How would this affect the mysterious double-trigger scenario?

    Curious about Contessa, too, but that would REALLY be blind guessing.

  7. Behemoth is, indeed, interesting.

    If he’s an energy manipulator, his natural opponent would be an energy absorber (guy that absorbs energy to grow stronger) or a force manipulator (guy that manipulates forces without manipulating free energy).
    The absorber is kinda obvious. A force manipulator OTOH could do interesting things. For example, negating the Van_der_Waals forces inside a target for instant disintegration – or even simply reducing them till the target’s boiling point becomes lower than room temperature and we get explosive vaporization. Or increasing them till everything inside the target becomes an inert solid for the good old “flesh-to-stone” effect.

    Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to provide energy to perform an action if you can alter the amount of energy that action needs to perform.

    • If anyone else remembers the Scp called the Infinite Devil Device, there’s a constant source of energy for Behemoth as long as he is on earth. He’s got gravity constantly pulling him against the ground.

  8. Is it possible that the end of the world is going to happen because of Jack’s threat against Theo? Seems like the son of Kaiser has a lot of pressure riding on him, since he has two years to get his powers until Jack comes back to kill one hundred and ninety-eight people, Aster and Theo himself. And wasn’t the prophesy that the world would end in approximately two years if Jack survived?

    Maybe Theo will get desperate for powers? Maybe the Cauldron will be happy to provide?

    Disclaimer: I’m going to admit I’m new to the comic, started reading three weeks ago and just caught up today.

    • That was my first interpretation –The end of the world happens in two years if Jack survives and leaves town, and still happens (but later) if Jack doesn’t survive. That slots in with it maybe being related to Theo’s trigger. Still my favorite theory. Or Aster, really –third-generation capes probably trigger even easier than second-generation, and nobody wants to see the Terrible Twos with earth-rending superpowers behind the tantrums. But then there’s Noelle’s mysterious issues and the way they say Leviathan was headed for her. For a while I thought Crawler was world-ender (or, ehe, Endbringer) material, too. Or this business with everything being in Coil’s hands somehow, now. Lots of options!

      Hi, Reckless! (I’m very new hereabouts, m’self).

  9. The claim that at least three quarters of people who gain powers through trigger events will become villains seems… well, really dubious to me.

    I mean, sure, sometimes undergoing trauma makes people snap and become bad people. But the majority of traumatised people? That’d be crazy.

    I wonder why the Protectorate guys believe the Doctor so readily on this…

  10. Yeah, so the Terminus project. If the project is completed then the end of the world scenario is no longer a concern. Few ways that can be taken, either guaranteed aversion or a more esoteric ulterior motive is accomplished, like a cape ascending to the same level as a Passenger. Or something.

    And this ongoing quest to find or create a particular cape…I think this is probably tied in with the Terminus project.

  11. Lots of people seem to be concerned about how blind Alexandria and the like are to the evils of Cauldron and whatnot.

    They’re not blind. At worst, they’ve afflicted themselves with a sort of inverse tunnel vision: They’re willing to overlook the little evils if they’re building towards a larger good. And these evils are pretty little, all things considered. Saving people who are dying by performing unauthorized experiments on them? Manipulating governments so heroes can band together and combat the future waves of villains? Not so obviously evil as it might seem.

    Moreover, it strikes me that Alexandria is invested in this project. She probably feels that if she abandons it now, all the sacrifices she, Hero, and the others made would go to waste. Certainly, the looming specter of apocalypse isn’t helping any…

  12. This still does not make sense. The Endbringers have not been getting stronger, they came out at full strength. The Protectorate and the good capes have been, more and more every week, month, whatever. If they win the first battle they should win all further battles with less and less losses. The world is getting stronger and then Endbringers aren’t changing, yet the capes apparently fought off Behemoth 20 years ago but have yet to bother finishing any of them off with 10x the forces and whatever times the strength. Also I’m almost certain you said capes started appearing around 1999 but maybe that’s my bad.

    ““I, Alexandria, do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the director appointed over me, according to the regulations of the PRTCJ.”

    Okay at this point ignoring the rest of the world is absurd, especially since you explicitly stated that the PRTCJ was presiding over Canadians too (even though you haven’t had a single Canadian hero, but w/e), Something is happening! The USA just integrated capes into their armies, very explicitly: “against all enemies, foreign”, what do you need battleships and carriers for when you can just use Alexandria, or Legend to flatten cities and armies?

    Does the Doctor really have plans only in America, a little fucking xenophobic and retarded if you ask me since in East/South-East Asia you have 33% of the world’s population and so way more heroes than the USA and so probably are thrashing Endbringer’s with ease as well as other countries integrating capes into their armies. What about the EU, do they have a Protectorate, again way more people.

    • This was the first in a long series of steps in the formation of the PRT and Protectorate and in the organization of heroes worldwide. At the time, the PRT and Protectorate programs were linked with the army because the impetus for their formation was a disaster involving similar levels of firepower and consideration.

      Your other questions are addressed later.

      • Well you can probably tell by my comment history that it’s taken me from sept 16th to now to ready about half, so give me another 5 days to get to the end, but until then I can only comment what I see.

        ” At the time, the PRT and Protectorate programs were linked with the army because the impetus for their formation was a disaster involving similar levels of firepower and consideration.” But even saying something like “against all parahumans threats: foreign or domestic” would be not so less explicit and not be such a huge threat in a time where the power and safety of nukes and MAD is coming into question and countries are feeling way more threatened especially if Cauldron is only beefing up American heroes. In fact thinking of that, if people would collapse to villains in the USA without Cauldron does that mean Russia and India and China and the EU have collapsed not even touching on African nations? In which case shouldn’t the global economy be wrecked?

          • Well if the information isn’t there directly I can only extrapolate and assume. Bound to make plenty of mistakes but the way I respond to things is normally a stream of consciousness. Don’t want to spend too much time dissecting a chapter when I have so much good enjoyable story to catch up on.

            If I had spent longer or if you gave me specific examples I could point to what I used to assume things, I’m not sure if I commented here or on the Reddit thread that linked me here (/r/hpmor) but things like the population of the Bay it’s very hard to get good numbers when there seem to be things that are disagreeing in the text.

            My biggest thing would probably be the fights being won later instead of earlier, I’m sure there’s a fancy word like asymmetrical for what I want but it’s slipping my mind.

    • Re: The Endbringer thing, judging by Leviathan, killing an Endbringer is orders of magnitude easier than driving one off. Leviathan was constructed in layers, each of which was tougher than the one above.

      You saw how much damage was inflicted on Leviathan by a mass attack of capes – hero *and* villain together. That was probably the most damage ever inflicted on an Endbringer. It still wasn’t even close to enough.

      Remember also that they’ve only just developed a model to predict Endbringer attacks. This was the first time that they’ve been able to mobilise such a large response in time. And again: still not enough.

      Re: The other stuff. You probably won’t get much out of Wildbow at this point. He’s very cautious about spoilers, and I have to say, I very much appreciate that.

  13. Loving all the Persian references. First the Simurgh, then all these shahnameh heroes. I am a bit disappointed that you gave the name Simurgh to a villain. I always loved her (him?)

  14. “It had been a decade and a half since she had really felt pain…”
    From the April 10th, 2008 entry. Compare to the date of Siberian: September 15th, 2000
    So…either seven and a half years is “a decade and a half,” or the comment of “It had been so long since [Alexandria] had felt pain” is not implying that the loss of the eye had hurt.

    And each chapter reveals another series of roads the world could have gone down. Some may be explored with fanfiction, I hope.

  15. i know am late to the party, but Necrocomment:
    “Alexandria couldn’t quite bring her to believe it.”
    > “Alexandria couldn’t quite bring herself to believe it.” maybe?

  16. Wildbow, are you persian or Iranian?

    You seem to use a lot of ancient persian mythology in your writing, which isn’t something you normally see, so I was wondering.

    Zebane Farsi sohbaht me koneed?

    • Wilbow has commented before on being Canadian…though Wilbow never revealed Wilbow’s ancestry,to be fair ,at least as far as I’ve seen.

  17. “…When she pulled her arms free, she nearly bisected him.

    Eidolon screamed, flying close to scoop up the two pieces of Hero…”

    Siberian has clearly cut Hero in pieces — did you mean to say “she *neatly* bisected him”?

    I also noticed the discrepancy in the time since Alexandria’s felt pain that was pointed out by greatwyrmgold on November 10, 2013 at 4:54 PM.

    And a general comment on an issue that’s widespread, though it doesn’t actually appear in this chapter: “anyway” doesn’t usually/properly have an S on the end. Some people say “anyways” and that’s a great way to distinguish one voice from another. So far, though, every instance of the word that I’ve noticed ends in S, regardless of who’s using it. Suggest you confine this quirk to Taylor/Skitter’s narration and speech, and correct it elsewhere. Or fix it everywhere if that’s easier.

    Enjoying Worm very much — thanks for writing it.

  18. Seeing as how the story is already finished I feel silly trying to guess what will happen now. But I wasn’t expecting the DC multi-verse route but hopefully it doesn’t contain the convulsion associated with that world. Very cool to see the mysterious ultra heroes back stories slowly getting leaked. This makes Coil’s plans much larger it would seem. Lets see if Legend, Armsmaster and Dragon go medieval on they ass and form a new Triumvirate.

  19. Y’know this could easily lead to the creation of the world of Dragonball. The lower population levels from an apocalypse, the anthropomorphic animals, super saiyans w/their required trigger events…

  20. I don’t believe for a second that the Endbringers are just random parahumans with especially strong powers. The thematic nature of their abilities (earth/fire, water, air) means that whatever they are – a species, deliberately created beings, or something else – their emergence is not random. And I’m not ruling out the possibility that the Doctor and her associates created them.

    Going by the fan art, I presume there’s going to be an encounter with the Simurgh at some point in the story. I’m very much looking forward to it – Behemoth and Leviathan are tough, but basically just big, tough monsters. From the hints we’ve had so far, and from what happened to create Mannequin, I have the sense the Simurgh is something far more interesting.

    (By the way, between the scales and the tail I can’t help picturing Leviathan as basically Godzilla, possibly with a more spherical rather than lizard-looking head. Does that more or less fit what you intended to portray?)

    • Its already confirmed by past events that they are not random parahumans

      Tattletale:”not human,never was human”

  21. I have no idea what to think of Alexandria now. I mean she started off with good intentions, she kept good intentions for several years, she still seems to think she is operating for the greater good and is at least somewhat conflicted about it but she is obviously working with some pretty bastard means. It’s the classic question of “does the end justify the means?” Without knowing the full endgame of the Doctor and Cauldron I don’t think I can make a judgment call here. On the one hand they are total dicks but on the other hand they might be trying to actively prevent something even worse. It’s almost a parallel of Skitter’s journey but bumped a few levels. I really don’t want to stop disliking Cauldron but with this interlude they have become much more grey.

    Poor Legend. The guy is eternally kept out of the loop. Eidolon hit the superpower lottery and it seems impossible to keep a secret if he doesn’t really want it kept, Alexandria is either in on it from the beginning or also got lucky with her powers. Legend can just fly between stars and shoot lasers that defy basic understanding of physics. Impressive but still not suited to figuring out master plans.

    I am seriously hoping that Skitter doesn’t set off the end of the world by killing Coil but I doubt he himself is the key player of their plans. I mean his power is useful but when you get right down to it, not very impressive. He can’t be the Super that Cauldron is nurturing. Maybe is he like another catalyst similar to Jack. Except while Jack sets off the end Coil sets off a chain leading to a preventative factor.

    And as an aside: Behemoth? Ouch. I hope Skitter doesn’t go against him because she is screwed. Hero Killer indeed. That’s the one to send several nukes at and all long range attackers. Hopefully his powers have a limited range because otherwise how the hell are you supposed to fight something that can control energy? On second thought, nukes are a bad idea. I’d say someone like Cherish but if these things didn’t even start out humans there’s likely no emotion to affect. Damn. I’m not even sure what to hit him with. Resurrect Bakuda and ask for more time stopping bombs?

    • Assuming time stopping bombs do not use energy….or that he wouldn’t deflect them before taking the full effect,like Leviathan did.

      Am I the only one who thinks Eidolon’s power is not worthy of the top 5?I mean,sure,he is pretty damn OP ,and no one can ever plan against him,but his powers are practically given to him by random,he can never get the mastery a superhero like Skitter has….A superhero with capability to damage him and talent for quick thinking (say,Skitter)can and will destroy his ass unless he gets a pretty unfavourable for his oppoment power matchup (knowing Skitter’s luck….yeah,he will,not that she hasnt beaten unfavourable matchups before).

      I read Alexandria differently:she is obviously a heroic person,neutral or chaoticgood,perhaps even lawful good by nature forced into neutral or chaotic good,that feels like she owes such a tremendous debt to Cauldron,she paints her preconceptions, and even her beliefs,to paint Cauldron in the right,as long as Cauldron’s intends can be justified,with a silver enough tongue,as being for the greater good,as she will do every mind trick available to her to convince herself her saviour is evil.This is not a trait for an evil human or a greater good extremist,really,just a very human flaw on a character that would otherwise be absolutely heroic,like superman…a wrecking flaw,but a human,justifiable and nonevil one nontheless.

      • Yeah that would be scary if he could counter the time bombs like that…I’d be willing to put money on him deflecting or running though like Leviathan before truly getting caught. And with his size he’d probably be mostly out of one anyway…

        No, you’re not alone. I think he is supremely powerful but I also don’t think he deserves the pedestal everyone in story places him on. Powers as You Need is fantastically versatile and overpowered but as you say he is inherently a Jack of All Trades while going against Masters of One. I agree that against a smart opponent with knowledge of how he works, Eidolon is at a disadvantage.

        I can see that I guess. I still think she has trod rather far down into Well Intentioned Extremist territory. Not that that is inherently bad. Watchmen is a good example of sometimes, the extremist being right despite the atrocities they commit. It’s all a matter of just how big the stakes truly are. There simply isn’t really enough information at this point in the story to really decide whether they are good guys doing bad things or bad guys who happen to have some good effects.

          • Yeah but Worm is never that simple lol! That would be black in a gray and grey world! Oh this is Max again by the way. Don’t know why my name is showing up with two different things…

            • How is Jack Slash gray?or Shadowstalker?they might be human,perhaps even understandable,but they are clearly black.Heck,Burnscar and,depending on mannequin’s backstory mannequin are sympathetic,yet clearly black.

              • Okay yeah I concede fully on Jack. He is almost as black as can be. While I personally consider Shadowstalker to be black and evil with a rotten core I’ve heard arguments that she is grey. I suppose squinting the argument can be made but I’ll never be one to defend anything that woman does. See Burnscar though is fully grey in my book. She practically has a split personality problem with the way her powers fuck with her mind. A true This Is You Brain On Evil case if ever there was one. Mannequin…I can’t say anything without spoilers. I do feel he is black at this point in the story though. Evil, crazy bastard.

                So yes, I concede your point, my assertion that there is no clear cut black and white was wrong. It’s still in the minority though.

            • Meh,I consider a character fully black,even if he is sympathetic and even redeemable,if he commits evil actions with no attempt to justify them or stop him/herself.Yes,its tragic,yes,he is still a victim but he/she is a full villain nevertheless

              A character who has no choice but to do evil,or who was brainwashed into it depends in the circumstances,but as long as he is not constantly affected by some evil or free will negating force,he is still evil no matter how tragic or sympathetic he/she is.Of course,if Mannequin later proves he has a good case of being well intentioned,he wil shift into grey territory

              Only lawful stupid characters can defend shadowstalker….even if she indeed has psyhological problems,she is still clearly on the black.Again,I do not consider black morality chars to be unrepentent or beyond help,just without any positive spin of their actions (there are a few characters with “positive” intentions I do consider black,but they are mostly knight templars that use copious amounts of hypocrisy.Not even Armsmaster falls into this category,though,and Shadowstalker has different motices,so I have seen none of them in Worm.)

  22. Maybe my favorite chapter so far. And npw we have positive confirmation that all of the big American heroes were made by Cauldron. I really appreciated Alexandria’s perspective.

  23. >Alexandria couldn’t quite bring her to believe it.


    >the local’s anglo-spanish pidgin


    > She knelt and checked their pulses. Dead.
    >She quickly strode over and kneeled by a young man.

    Inconsistency between American and UK English, here.

    Oh, my. The plot thickens. And Taylor is ruining everything.

    Good job, Taylor.

    • Or fixing everything….we know Alexandria is a person with purely good motives,perhaps blinded by her gratefulness,see my answer on Max above for more info on how I analyse her,but Cauldron really hasn’t shown whether it operates for the greater good truly,or is just very good at manipulating Alexandria (or is something inbetween-like,say,manipulates Alexandria,but is nterested in say,profit,which would push it to save a world even if it could reach into others to save itself,but not to go above and beyond the call of duty,just painting what irt does in overly good light so it has good marketing,or,alternatively,pushing for an endgame it considers greater good,but with which many people would disagree being positive,like assimulation,or perpetual blind happiness,or killing humanity to birth a god).

      Point is,we duno if Taylor is wrecking it or fixing it until we learn more on Cauldron.

  24. Um.

    Holy shit.

    That is all.

    No, wait, it’s not all. Bonesaw is Siberian/Manton’s daughter, isn’t she? Ohhhh man. How does this just keep getting better?

      • Well, we know that The Siberian (Manton) is very close with Bonesaw. We saw Bonesaw riding piggyback on Siberian’s shoulders, braiding her, learned that they have a special relationship somehow, stuff like that. It was also implied that Bonesaw might not be as young as she looks. Now we learn that Manton went nuts after giving his daughter the power-granting serum and having it go horribly wrong. So maybe Bonesaw is the daughter.

  25. WHAAAT!? I just watched history happen before my eyes, and I’m baffled by the name Coil being dropped by them. BAFFLED! Now I’m even more worried about skitter, if they succeed in taking down Coil, will it help end the world!?

  26. Continuity question: If her mother knows that she is Alexandria (she’s at the swearing-in), but she is still going by her original last name in civilian identity, wouldn’t that reveal the whole secretly working up the ranks as a civilian in the PRT? Maybe she’s in on the secret, but that doesn’t seem like how Alexandria would do it.

    (Trying to avoid spoilers)

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