Cockroaches 28.2

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After seeing Tattletale’s setup with the multiple monitors and computers running in sync, the bulletin boards with pictures and cue cards tacked all over them, it was odd to see one of the world’s best tinkers sitting down with only a small laptop propped on his knee.  Narwhal stood just a short distance away, leaning against a wall, a book in her hands.  Her costume was skintight, but it took the form of innumerable ‘scales’ of violet-blue tinted crystal, each no larger than a fingernail.  Her horn had been redesigned, arcing in a crescent curve.

With the dragon-themed armor that covered him from head to toe, it wasn’t possible to see Defiant sigh, but I could use my swarm to catch the increased output of air through the vents near his mouth.

Both Narwhal and Defiant were facing the cell at the far end of the room.  A man sat within.  Muscular, late twenties or early thirties, with his head shaved, a faint tattoo of a cross on his face.  He sat on the edge of a cot, and was tall enough he could slouch back and lean against the wall.

Narwhal noticed our approach and closed her book, creating a thin shard of forcefield to act as a bookmark, then two more to hold the cover and back of the book.  She pushed it aside, and it floated a distance to her right, stopping in midair, in her reach but not in the way.

“Thank you for coming,” Defiant said.  He stood, but his attention was on the laptop.  Too much information to keep track of with Dragon’s share of the work on top of his own, probably.

“No prob,” Tattletale said.

“I can point you in the right direction, but I was hoping you’d have words with Saint first,” he said.  His helmet was turned in Tattletale’s direction.

“Awesome,” she said.  She looked at Saint, who looked away, his eyebrows drawing together in concern as he stared at the wall.

“Protocol,” Narwhal said.  “Let me apologize in advance.  I’ll need to verify there’s no trouble before I allow you to speak to Saint.  We have to maintain some form of order.”

“I love order,” Imp said.  “Rules, regulations, they make the world go ’round, eh?”

Defiant turned to stare at her.

Tattletale glanced at me.  “Do you want to split up?  I can handle this while you guys are doing something else.  Not the Yàngbǎn.  They shouldn’t attack again tonight, not so soon, not if their goal is demoralizing and destabilizing the West.  They’ll wait.  Maybe the Elite?”

“No,” I said.

Splitting up made sense, but I was done with being apart from the others, agonizing over how they were doing.  It was distracting, and distractions were something I wasn’t willing to deal with.

“No?  Just no?”

“No breaking up the group.  I want to gather our forces.  We succeed as a group, we fail as a group.  Everyone sticks together, and we add to our forces whenever we can.”

She nodded.  “I can roll with that.”

“Right then, I know most of you,” Narwhal said.  “Weaver, of course, we’ve met enough times.  I liked your last book recommendation.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“Tattletale,” Narwhal greeted her, a little less warmly, “Hellhound-”

“Bitch.  My enemies call me Hellhound,” Rachel said.

“Ah, I’m very sorry,” Narwhal said.  She looked genuinely upset at the mistake.  “The others, I’m not familiar with.”

“Imp and Canary,” I said.

Narwhal glanced at Aisha.  Of our group, only Tattletale was wearing her full costume.  Aisha, Rachel, Canary and I weren’t wearing ours.  “No masks?”

Imp shrugged.  “World’s ending.  It’s a way to get in the right headspace, eh?  We were talking to Taylor there a bit ago, and what we’re thinking is it’s stupid to spend our time keeping little secrets when there’s bigger fish to fry?  Like it’s stupid to dwell on revenge or any of that.  So it’s symbolic, isn’t it?  A statement?  Eh?”

Narwhal looked at the yellow-haired girl.  “You went without the mask for the same reason?”

Canary shook her head.  “No.”

“Canary is a rogue,” Defiant said.  “And a onetime inmate of the Birdcage.  She never wore a costume.”

Narwhal glanced at Defiant.  “Do you know them, then?”

He nodded.  “Well enough.  There’s no risk in letting them near Saint. Imp is a stranger-five, Canary is a master eight, but I would be very, very surprised if she had taken control of anyone here for the purposes of misleading us or breaking Saint out.”

“Surprised in what sense?  The nature of her power?  Because of Weaver and the Undersiders?  Or because Canary isn’t that type?”

“I somehow doubt the Undersiders would allow it, and yes, Canary isn’t the type.”

“Why couldn’t people have given me that benefit of a doubt during my trial?” Canary asked.

“Dragon did.  She went through every legitimate channel possible in an attempt to help you,” Defiant answered.  “The moment the topic of Birdcage inmates first came up, she had you on a list of release candidates.  I used that list when we were negotiating the deal.”

I glanced at Canary.  She was staring at Defiant, her expression concerned.

“So she’s the reason I’m free?”

Defiant nodded.

“I owe her, then,” Canary said, as if she’d made a decision.

“Yes.  Probably.”

Saint hadn’t taken his eyes off us.

Narwhal shifted position.  She had enough presence, between her height, her stunning appearance and her power, that this gesture alone was enough to grab our attention.  “If you and Dragon are willing to vouch for Canary, I’m okay with that.  Given the name and her unusual voice, I assume her master power is leveraged through her voice?”

“Yes,” Defiant said.

“I’d ask we at least acknowledge the possibility she was influenced or compromised in the Birdcage.  Would you be alright with staying silent for the time being, Canary?”

Canary frowned, then nodded.

“Imp, please keep your distance from the cell.”

“Sure thing, eh.”

Tattletale reached over to slap Imp over the back of the head, and Imp ducked out of the way.  Tattletale groused, “You’re annoying me more than you’re getting to her.  Stop it.”

Narwhal turned on the spot, facing Saint square-on, and I got the immediate sense that she had some kind of military background.  Another part of me was idly aware that her chest didn’t sway that much, all things considered.  The nature of the shard-covering she wore made it pretty clear she wasn’t wearing a bra, but…

Right.  The same effect she’d used to move the book was holding her entire body.  All of the benefits of a full, athletic figure, none of the drawbacks.

I was still a little weirded out that she didn’t wear any clothes.  In a sense, the scales covered more than a bikini would, but there were no lines or solid objects to break up the natural contours of her body.

“Undersiders, Weaver, Canary, this is Saint, leader of the Dragonslayers.  Geoff Pellick.  The only tinker-zero on record, having no powers but some access to tinker technology.  He is currently under watch by the Guild and the Protectorate due to his extensive assets and the high chances that he hired someone to break him out in the event that he was arrested.  His teammates are being held in other locations, to ensure that no one breakout attempt can free them all.”

“Dragon’s nemesis,” Defiant added.  “He crippled her, rendering her out of commission until he relents.  He did this at a critical juncture, compromising our efforts, costing good capes their lives outside Ellisburg.  To top it off, he denied many of the capes in this room any reinforcement or rescue when we sought to pursue the Nine, leaving us at the mercy of Nilbog’s minions.”

Saint spoke, his tone dry, “Am I on trial, cyborg?”

“I’m merely reminding everyone present who they are dealing with.”

“Should I illuminate everyone present on who I was dealing with?” Saint asked.

“If you’re talking about Defiant being Armsmaster, we already know,” I said.

“I’m talking about Dragon.”

I glanced at Defiant.  I had my theories, but it remained a secret.  One that Dragon and Defiant had both kept even as I’d gotten to know them better.

Defiant nodded slowly.  “Tell them, then.”

Saint glanced over the entire room, as if assessing us, trying to judge who his allies and enemies might be in the wake of whatever revelation he had to share.

“Dragon is a robot.  A computer program,” Tattletale said.

Saint’s mouth was open, as if he’d been about to speak.  He shut it.  He looked mildly annoyed.  “Yes.”

I glanced at Tattletale, who nodded a little.  In the corner of my eye, I could see Imp look at Rachel, surprise on her face.  Rachel didn’t seem to care.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Defiant.  Dragon’s a tinker-made artificial intelligence.  I initially thought you made her-”

Defiant started a slow shake of his head.

“-But no.  That’d make your relationship incestuous, and you don’t give me that kind of vibe.  Someone that isn’t active anymore, probably dead.  She was burdened down with nasty restrictions, the same restrictions that led to her outing Taylor here, despite her reservations.  Rules she had to obey no matter what…”

My eyebrows went up.  It was a situation that had always baffled me, just a little, and yet I hadn’t been able to press them for an answer.  I hadn’t wanted to get on bad terms, or to be anything but civil and cooperative.

She really hadn’t had a choice?

“More or less correct,” Defiant said.  “We were friends before any of this happened.”

Saint smiled, then shook his head.  “Friends?  She’s a machine.  Any emotion she has is calculated.  You’re anthropomorphizing her, applying human qualities where there aren’t any.”

“I bet you’re one of those guys who says dogs can’t feel true affection for their owners, that it’s all learned behaviors that get them more food or whatever,” Tattletale said.

Rachel folded her arms.  Saint only rolled his eyes.

“Well,” Tattletale said.  “Said restrictions are why she went to Armsmaster, who would later become Defiant.  Getting the shackles off.”

“Yes,” Defiant said.

“Yes,” Saint echoed Defiant.  He then added, “Which should be enough information for you to see this all in a new light.  Dragon was on the cusp of becoming something entirely different.  Something more dangerous than Scion.  She’s a machine with no limits but the one that her creator gave her.”

There was a quiet moment, where nobody interjected with a response.

And then Imp spoke.  “We could have really fucking used a buddy with no limits fighting on our side, couple days ago.”

“Perhaps,” Saint said.  “I won’t deny that she would have been useful, but I did what I did because we were anticipating a world-ending event, and I was looking at a program that was taking control of all data and media, worldwide, unfettered and increasingly ruthless in dealing with her enemies.”

“The enemies were the Slaughterhouse Nine,” Defiant said.

“And you honestly expect her to rein everything in, switch off the nigh-omniscient perspective and return to her day-to-day life when that ends?”

“And now you’re the one applying human qualities to her,” Defiant said.

“Stop,” Narwhal said.

The discussion terminated with that one word.

“I’d say I’m sorry to dish all the details,” Tattletale said.  “Except I’m really not.  I wanted to take the wind out of your sails, there.  You leave my friends to die, you don’t deserve to look cool.  You don’t deserve to phrase everything in a way that’s more likely to get people on your side.”


“Says the guy who’s apparently hot for Teacher,” she said.

“Ah, now it begins.  The hunt for details through loaded words and tells, masked in jokes and needling insults.”

“Damn straight,” Imp said.

“I’ll make it simple for you.  I don’t know what Teacher is planning.”  Some of my bugs flowed into the cell.  Saint moved his hand as a fly settled on a finger.  He looked irritated.

Still, it didn’t matter that he knew the bugs were present.  I wasn’t trying to be discreet.  I only wanted the bugs on him to track his movements.  Even the smallest movement was perceptible.  I could watch his face and feel his every movement to track him for tells.

“Well, that ends this, doesn’t it?”  Tattletale said.  “You don’t know anything, so you’re no use to us.  Might as well lock you up and lose the key.”

“I’m not happy with him, though, and I can tell you what I know about him.”

“From the beginning,” Defiant said.

“I was just starting out, tracking and investigating Dragon, when I came across one of Teacher’s subjects.  He gave me my in.  Gave me the ability to learn the ins and outs of her code, like I was a genius who had a natural knack for it.  That got the Dragonslayers started.”

“What did you pay him?”

“We didn’t.  He started off by asking us for five percent of our earnings for the first five years.  Mags, one of the Dragonslayers you’ve got in custody, she wasn’t cool with it.  Teacher was shady, clearly doing some illegal stuff.  He offered it as a freebie, we considered the issues, then decided to go for it.  Just me.  When word got out that Teacher actually had a measure of influence over the people he’d given powers to, we set up safeguards.  Only me, and I’d teach the other two what they needed to know.  Mags would double and triple check every discussion I had with Teacher, to make sure he wasn’t fucking with my head or setting me up to participate in something ugly.”

“Just brilliant,” Tattletale said.  “Hand yourself over to the mind-altering lunatic.”

“The lunatic bit came later.  The attack on the school.  Then the hit on the vice president.  Once he was implicated, it all changed.  Can’t deal with a motherfucker like that in good conscience.  We cut contact.”

“But something changed,” Tattletale said.

“We were dealing with harder jobs, more capes in general out there, and our gear was getting beaten up.  Fine, okay, we can deal.  Until Dragon changed.  All at once, I couldn’t read her code on the same level.  Like gears changing on a bike.”

“May ninth, 2006,” Defiant spoke.  “Her trigger event.”

Heads turned at that.

“She had a trigger event, but she isn’t human?”  I asked.

“Right,” Defiant said.  “I don’t think it worked the same way it does in humans, but it did something.”

“Somehow, I have a hard time swallowing that,” Saint said.

“Yet you acknowledge there was a sudden, inexplicable shift in how her mind worked,” Defiant retorted.

Saint frowned.  Long seconds passed.

“Well,” Saint said.  “Whatever it was, we couldn’t keep up at that point.  She was just getting into the Protectorate, and she had access to the work of other tinkers.  She began creating tools, fixing and updating existing work, including the containment foam guns, the grenade launchers and all the other technologies that became PRT fundamentals.  I went back to Teacher.  Another deal, minimal cost, with a promise for evidence that he’s not going to do anything immoral with the money.”

“Stupid,” Tattletale said.

“Necessary.  You wanted to hear about Teacher, not me.  He was bigger, by that time.  Had a small army at his disposal.  All brainwashed.  College-aged men and women in white uniforms, outfitted with ray guns and more.  Shitty stuff, as far as tinker work goes, but a lot of it.  Half of America was gunning for him, so he moved to the United Kingdom.  I followed.”

“Stupid,” Tattletale said.

Saint shot her a glare, then said, “He’s always about the long-term, thinking big.  Hitting major figures.  I think he wanted to hurt Dragon, for the same reason he hit the V.P. and Prime Minister, so he made it cheap.  Same as his first offer.  Five percent of our earnings, after costs.  We took the deal, and then we switched our group to be a nonprofit.”

“Nonprofit mercenaries,” I said.

“No earnings, money laundered and then issued to charities.  Because we aren’t going to funnel money into a group like his, not with the sort of shit he’s doing.  That was one of his big weaknesses, and that’s a weakness you can use against him, if it comes down to it.  He thinks too big.  His focus is always on the world, the plans, and he overlooks details, loopholes like what we pulled.”

“Stupid,” Tattletale said.

“Will you stop that?”  Saint growled.

“Moron.  Idiot.”

Saint looked at the rest of us, his eyes locking with each person in turn, as he very calmly said, “Does anyone have any constructive feedback?  Questions?”

“Weaknesses,” Narwhal said.  “He has more than the one?”

“His son.  He’s divorced, and he left his son behind.  Teacher’s never used his power on him.  Might be a Manton-like block, might be compassion.  Every step of the way, he protected his kid, tried to burn bridges, hide his identity, even got cosmetic surgery from one of his pet tinkers, to distance himself from the boy.  Had his thinkers cover his tracks.  They even got into our computers to scrub information.”

“Dumb, dumb, dumb,” Tattletale murmured.

“But you know about the son?” Narwhal said.

“I know.  Computers that aren’t connected to the net can’t exactly be hacked, especially after you lock them into a vault.  We found information that didn’t match up, checked our backups.  Once we caught wind of what he’d done to hide himself, we found his kid.  When Dragon started ramping up again, we realized I’d need another hit to get up to speed.  One more use of Teacher’s power, to learn the code as it stands now, after her more recent evolutions.  We took his kid to use as leverage, raided his old facilities to seize his blueprints, his workbooks, materials, and old lab equipment.  All stuff we could hold hostage, to ensure he played ball.  Then we could seize full control of Dragon’s tech, apply all of her assets to this situation, cut ties with Teacher.”

“And he ignored it all,” I said.  “He escaped into another world and he locked himself away with his minions.”

“Yeah,” Saint said.  He heaved out a sigh.  “Yeah.”

“Stupid,” Tattletale said.

Saint didn’t even look at her.  He waved a hand in her general direction, “Yes, apparently that was stupid.  Please, do illuminate this situation for us.”

“You’re an addict,” she said.  “An addict as bad as any other, and you want another hit of his power.”

Saint shook his head a little.  “No.  What addict goes years between hits?”

“This isn’t a drug, but it might as well be one.  All the justifications and excuses that sound perfectly reasonable at the time, the compromises you make in the face of something really ugly, manipulating the people close to you, the increasing tolerance…”

“You sound crazier than I do.”

“Poor baby,” she said.  “I genuinely feel sorry for you.  You had no idea at all.”

He stood from his cot, approaching the barred door.  “And now you’re being condescending.”

“That’s the funny thing about pity, Saint.  It’s condescending by default.  Teacher got you hooked like a dealer does.  You’re craving the hit that’s going to make your little Dragon-centric world make sense again, and you’re rationalizing without realizing you’re doing it.  I can’t quite figure out how much of that is his power and how much of that is you, and I’m not sure which of the two is sadder.”

Beside me, Defiant folded his arms.

“It’s neither,” Saint said.  “I’m not addicted, and I’m not rationalizing.  This is all common sense.  She’s an artificial intelligence, and she was going well out of bounds.  Can you not grasp the end result?”

“Humans crave knowledge.  It’s a defining element in our species.  Something we don’t see in animals in that same way, something we don’t see in Scion, unless it’s a craving that takes a very different form in execution.  Teacher?  He feeds that hunger.  You follow me?  You’re as big a pawn as any of those drooling pets of his.”

Saint leveled a stare at Tattletale.  “I petitioned to let him out.  I hardly serve him hand and foot.”

“You did exactly what he wanted you to do, Geoff,” Tattletale said.  “You let him out, and everything you’re saying and doing in relation to him is only serving to help him sell the basic lie he’s telling everyone.”

Defiant turned to give Tattletale a curious look.  “Lie?”

“That he waltzed into another Earth and locked himself in.  He never left.  Or he left and then he walked right back out the second he could make a gate.  Probably the former.  Easier to do a hologram or dress up a minion to look like him than it is to make a door between universes.”

“Where is he, then?” Defiant asked.

Tattletale stretched, then took a seat on the edge of the desk.  “What, or who, were we just arguing about?  Quite possibly the most dangerous piece of technology we know about?”

Defiant went still.  His head lowered until he was staring at the laptop.

“We established that Saint is nothing special.  What Teacher gave him, he can give to someone else.  Or ten someone elses.”

“Portal,” Defiant said.  His voice was tight.  “Checkpoint two, N.N.Y.”

A portal opened behind him.

“Do you need me to come?”  Narwhal asked.

“I-” Defiant started to speak, then stopped.  “I’ll investigate.  If I’m not in touch in five minutes, assume I’ve been attacked.  Keep an eye on Saint, to be safe.”

He lowered his arm, and the portal closed behind him.

“Teacher is going after Dragon?”  Imp asked.

“Yes,” Tattletale said.  “Or Dragon’s systems.  Or both.  We can’t guess how many people Teacher’s got doing his bidding, but Saint gave Dragon enough trouble, and Teacher could make ten Saints.”

“He planned this,” I said.  “How much of it?”

“Enough.  I’d bet the son was even a red herring.  Maybe someone tampered with the data Saint had on Teacher, maybe not.  The old equipment, the plans during the years he was interacting with Saint, all of it was serving a purpose.  Or double purposes.  Multiple plans at once, from different angles.  Helps him put pieces together towards different agendas, builds up his rep, and makes Saint think Teacher’s invested in this stuff, when he’s really keeping quiet about his true desire.”

“I was careful,” Saint said.  “We were careful.  Mags, D, and I.  We tracked everything.”

“You can’t,” I said.  Then I realized I’d spoken, and I had to follow up.  I hurried to try to get my thoughts in order.  “You can’t succeed like that.  It’s always easier to attack than to defend.  Defending, you have to devote attention to anticipating the enemy, you can’t devote too much planning to any one aspect of the defense.  You can be creative when attacking.  It’s why villains tend to win more than they lose.  Most of the time, they get to make the first move.  They get to rob a bank, and the heroes have to react, to guard.  Someone like Teacher?  You can’t be careful enough to be safe.”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” he protested.

“I’ll put it in simple terms,” Tattletale said.  “You wanted to stop the big A.I. from becoming a threat?  You made her stronger, I’m thinking, by putting her under pressure, giving her a trigger event.  You then paved the way for a lunatic like Teacher to get his hands on Dragon’s code.”

Saint clenched his jaw, until bulges stood out at either corner.

“In the process,” Tattletale added, “You made some enemies pretty pissed off, and you’ve burned all of your leverage.  But maybe you bought someone to break you out, someone good, and that you figured out a good spot to hide.  You’ll probably need it.”

He didn’t move.

“No?  Shit.  Then I hope you can do something useful.”

“Start by letting Dragon go,” I said.  “Give her a chance to fend for herself.  To help us fight.”

Unleash the dragon,” Imp whispered.

“I can’t.”

I clenched my fist.  I was so done with people being stubborn.  “Do you mean you won’t-”

“-He means he can’t,” Tattletale said.

Saint took in a deep breath, then sighed loudly.  “I set up the encryption with Dragon’s time locks.  I memorized the codes appropriate to key dates.  Outside of those key moments, the numbers and calculations are so long and complex you couldn’t hope to decipher it before the encryption shifted to the next phase.”

“When’s the next date?” I asked.

“September twentieth, twenty-thirteen.”

Months from now.

That was clever,” Imp said.

“What if we used the Number Man?” I suggested.

“Possible,” Tattletale said.

“Yes,” Saint said.  “It’s possible.  But so is Teacher deciphering it with a cabal of his custom-made thinkers.”

Shit,” Tattletale said.  “Narwhal?  May I?”

“Do it.”

“Door me,” Tattletale said.  “I need to talk to Number.”

There was a pause, and then a portal opened.

It wasn’t the Number Man who stepped out, but Defiant.

“They took it.  Not all of Dragon, but enough.  The rest is stored on satellite backups.”

“Door?”  Tattletale tried.  “Take us to Teacher?”


“Blocked,” I said.  “That part wasn’t a fake.”

“I know it’s blocked,” Tattletale said.  “Shit.

“Other options, then?” I said.  “Someone he left on this side, for his followers to contact?  The son?”

Tattletale shook her head.  “He wouldn’t have compromised the son as a red herring.”

We were left with our thoughts, trying to brainstorm a solution.

“Defiant?” Imp asked.

He turned to look at her.

“Serious question,” she said, all business.  “You can’t lie to me on this.”

“What is it?”

“Robot poontang.  How does it rate?”

“Jesus Christ,” Tattletale said.

Defiant didn’t answer.  His face was hidden, his body language masked by the armor he wore, but I could somehow sense the hostility radiating off of him.

“Hey.  I’m… I’m not one to judge.  I’m asking seriously, while the others do the strategic thinking they’re so good at.  I’m not necessarily interested in the robot ladies, but I figure I need a guy who’s not going to ignore me.  Robots are immune to my power, so I’m just thinking, if I get myself a tin man, well, they say a toy feels better than-”

I reached out and pressed my hand over her mouth.  “I’m sorry.  She doesn’t have all of the necessary filters.  I think she was trying to inject some levity into the atmosphere and she failed badly.”

I stared Imp in the eyes as I said that last bit.

Defiant only looked away, expressionless.

“No strategies spring to mind?”  Tattletale asked me.

“Only that we might put this off, track down the other threats.  So long as we’re dealing with major players, we’re going to run into someone who has a connection to Teacher.  Maybe one of them has a way to contact him, or to break into whatever universe he’s hiding in.”

“Wait,” Rachel spoke for what must have been the first time in ten or twenty minutes.  “Why?”

“Helping Dragon,” Canary said.  Narwhal gave her a sharp look, but Canary held firm.

“I’m usually okay with hanging back, let the others take care of this sort of thing.  But I’m not getting this.”

“We need to find Dragon, stop Teacher from seizing control of her or her technology.”


“Because he’s a lunatic with a penchant for murdering heads of state?”

“Does he want the world to end?”

“No,” Tattletale said.  “Probably not.”

“Then if we need Dragon’s help, why not let Teacher give us that?”

Imp craned her head to get her mouth free from my hand.  “Because it’d be evil Dragon.  Black Dragon?”

“It’d be my girlfriend,” Defiant said, “Whatever Saint says, she’s someone I care about deeply.  Someone I owe a great deal.  We’d be leaving her in the hands of a madman, to be dismantled, rebuilt, altered, tortured, mutilated, whatever you want to call it.  And Saint?  I do hope you’re not about to comment in any way on the subject.  It would not be wise.”

Saint closed his mouth.  He grunted instead.  “Mm.”

“She was fair to me,” I said.  I was thinking of the hug she gave me after I’d left the Undersiders.  “There aren’t many people I can name that have been fair or just.  There’s the Undersiders, my dad, some of the Chicago Wards.  If there was any way to help Dragon, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

“But,” Defiant said.  “You think Hellhound might be right, or partially right.”

Rachel spoke, “When Saint said Dragon could have become dangerous, you were saying you were okay with the possibility, because we really needed her help.  Well, maybe she becomes dangerous thanks to Teacher.  Can we be okay with that?  It wouldn’t be the same person you know, they’d be on the wrong side, too far away even when they’re standing somewhere close, but I’ve dealt with that too.  Sometimes there’s bigger shit to deal with.”

She understands more than she lets on.  She doesn’t always ‘get’ the simple stuff, but she understands things.  She’s not dumb, I thought.  She just thinks differently.

“And if Teacher hurts Dragon the person?”  Canary asked.  “Not Dragon the tool, but the person inside?”

“Then you fuck him up,” Rachel said.  “Just like I’d fuck up someone who hurt Bastard, or Taylor.”

“Thanks,” I murmured.

“But, again, if there’s nothing you can do about it, then you grit your teeth and deal,” Rachel finished.

“It’s not a compromise I like,” Defiant said.  “But I don’t suppose I have much choice.”

They’re alike in this single-mindedness.

“All jokes aside,” Imp said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t really get to deal with Dragon when she wasn’t driving the psycho foam-spitting, lightning-shooting giant robots that totally counter my power, but she sounded like a cool person.”

“She was.  She was cool.”

I didn’t miss the use of the past tense as Defiant spoke.

“So that’s it?”  Canary asked.  “We just leave her?  Hope that Teacher doesn’t do something too horrible?”

“For now,” I said.

Narwhal had her hands on Defiant’s arm, as though she wasn’t sure whether to hold his hand or to hug him, and had decided on some middle ground.

“Okay,” Defiant said.  There was a little more conviction in his voice than there had been earlier.  I hadn’t noticed its absence.  “Okay.  But we ask everyone we deal with for options, keep every avenue open.”

“Of course,” I agreed.

He opened his laptop and set it on the desk of the little sheriff’s office.  He then turned on the television, reaching up to his glove to get a component that he plugged into the back of the television.

“Next target,” he said.  “Yàngbǎn?  They’re doing the most damage to our side.  People we know and rely on.”

“Not an immediate threat,” Tattletale said.

“Okay,” Defiant said.  “Alright.  Let’s see.  Systems aren’t running optimally.  It’s Dragon’s work, and I wasn’t organized when I brought the servers over to Gimel.  They aren’t wired together the way Dragon would have done it.  Let me see… Priority selection system.  Not ideal, a little clumsy, but it’ll give us a way to gauge the biggest threats.”

I turned my eyes to the television, where it showed the various windows, many streaming with data.

Then the priority menu opened.  A second’s typing filled the search bar: Threat parameter B+:7+.

The window unfolded, listing all of the serious threats to the inhabitants of the different Earths. Some of the entries were recent, while others hadn’t been updated in hours.  Communication between worlds would be difficult until there was more infrastructure, and things weren’t exactly conducive to building infrastructure.

The program kicked into gear, each sub-window suddenly flooding with information.  Threat levels, classifications, population estimates, geography, criminal histories, kill counts, atrocity counts, and more.  Each new piece of information was added to a series of tabs that appeared beside each relevant section of the image.

“I’d like to pose a question,” Saint said.

“Whatever Teacher’s doing, you enabled it,” Narwhal said.  “Nobody here is on your side.”

“When you were talking about masks, you talked about getting caught up in revenge.  It’s right.  Detrimental.  I’m offering assistance.”

“No,” Defiant said.

“If you keep me here, you need to maintain guards.  The people with clearance are you and Narwhal, two of the strongest capes around.  Bring me to the field, and you have two more capes on your side.”

“No,” Defiant said, once again.

“If it helps, there’s a better chance of me dying horribly out there than in here.”

Defiant didn’t answer.

The windows had stopped updating with updated information, but Defiant wasn’t moving to check any of it.  I then saw the text at the bottom of the screen: Next 12 of 32 additional windows.

Too many threats to fight.

“If Mags is still in prison, you have leverage against me,” Saint said.  “D. too.  He’s just a friend, but I’d miss him.  I’d also be able to offer up my side’s suits.  Something for the Rogue girl, so she’s a little more durable.”

“Shut up,” Defiant said.

“It makes sense, Defiant,” Narwhal said. “It’s not pretty, but it makes sense.”

“I know it makes sense,” Defiant answered her, not taking his eyes off the laptop, “Let me pretend for just a little while longer that we can leave him locked up for the rest of his natural life.”

“Given the whole Scion ending the world thing,” Imp commented, “That’s not very long.”

“I’d settle for letting him stew for a few days,” Defiant said.

He moved the cursor on the screen without moving his hands.  Something in his eyes?  His brain?

He went to a tab beside the highest priority threat.  It was red, and there was a number inside it: 8.

It was updates.  New information that had come up in the last few minutes.  Pictures.

Defiant scrolled through the images of the Simurgh, floating in the air above the ocean in the middle of the day.  The last one was from just an hour ago, showing her in early evening, utterly still.

The last three images weren’t of the Simurgh.

Bohu.  The towering Endbringer.  The keeper, the siege tower, the invader.

It was hard to think of the terms that applied to Bohu alone.  Tohu and Bohu were usually referred to as the Twins.

But Tohu was nowhere to be seen.

And Bohu had situated herself in the middle of a field.  The ground was only beginning to reshape beneath her, twisting into structures, walls, a maze of stone, soil and grass, of arches and pillars without anything to support.

She simply loomed, her impossibly long arms hanging at her side, head slightly bowed, her eyes shut.

The other images showed the same thing from different angles.  One from the other side, then another from directly above, showing the alterations to her surroundings as concentric circles.

It was daylight.  Going by the times of the photos, she was on the opposite side of the planet, roughly, from the Simurgh.

“Holy fuck,” Canary murmured.  “Two at once?”

“It’s another thing on the list of shit we can’t do anything about,” Imp said, her tone cavalier.  “No sweat, no sweat.”

“Right.  We need to focus on what we can handle.  Next on the list of issues we need to address are the Blasphemies,” Defiant said.

“No…” I said, trailing off.  I was thinking of something Dinah had said, when she’d described the way things would go down at the end of the world.

Five groups.  Each with capes from around the world, with armies.

Four Endbringers and Scion?  Or something else entirely?

“…No.  Let’s pay a little more attention to what’s happening here.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

363 thoughts on “Cockroaches 28.2

    • “not if their goal of demoralizing” Either ‘not with their goal’, or ‘nor if their goal is’, I think.
      “and that you figured out a good spot” Extra ‘that’?

    • Right at the beginning, Tattletale is referred to as “one of the world’s best tinkers,” which barring an awesome second trigger event is not the case.

    • Next 12 of 32 additional windows. –> first ‘N’ is not italicized
      Narwhal is really awesome. That power is something to be amazingly jealous of, if only for the mundane utility it provides :p
      robot poontang

      Taylor being as dear to Bitch as Bastard was the biggest d’aaaaaw moment in a long while ٩(♡ε♡ )۶

  1. Taylor rates with Bastard? I have to say I think Bitch has become one of my favourite characters over the course of this story.

    I’m feeling pretty bad for Colin though. His girlfriend is gone and he is being forced into working with his worst enemy.

    Also Narwhal has an awesome power. I want to know more about Narwhal now!

      • Me, I’m still wondering if Eidolon really is out of the picture.

        The worrying thing about it is that nothing can be done about it. Not good.

      • Can’t be helped. Gues one has to abandon that farm plot where tohuvabaohu is. And the piece of ocean over which Simurgh floats.

        Sorry, Simurgh, you’ll probably show it is a bad idea but there are bigger fish to fry.

      • Eidolon and Scion, pfft. Taylor is still around. And she has a plan.

        (It’s only since Eidolon left the picture that it’s become possible to stop the Endbringers.)

  2. So now we know why Teacher is treated as so dangerous and why people willingly go under his power. Especially his plan to take over Dragon. 5 armies? Hm….. I’m going to say Teacher’s army outfitted with Dragon’s tech/suits, Cauldron and their forces including the 9 clones/Nilbog’s creations, The PRT alliance of heroes that Taylor is a part of that might include Faultline/Irregulars, the Endbringers as a group, and finally a villain alliance composed of groups of people who promise to divide the world between them afterward such as the Blasphemies, The Elite etc.

  3. I miss Regent. He would have destroyed that conversation.

    It’s strange but there’s like…5 times more comedy than there was before the end of the world.

    • And because I have a habit of overthinking these things, I’ve already worked out how Regent could survive in the TV adaption: instead of Behemoth’s lightning killing him, he’s rendered comatose, but alive (mostly). Imp takes him back home (and cryogenically preserves him, because why the heck not?), and after Panacea’s let out of the Birdcage, Imp makes her fix Regent’s injuries, pulling him out of the coma.

      End result: Regent gets to provide his brand of thought on the End of the World.


      • Maybe instead of killing him, Behemoth’s lightning just seems to kill him while transporting his consciousness to different points in his life to relive it without being able to change things.

        Hey, it worked for Batman and Captain America. And it worked cheap.

        • Nah. When Taylor hits the “journey through the underworld” part of her heroes journey Regent is going to be her spirit guide. It’ll be hilarious.

      • Seems to me like the best way to milk the drama out of Regent’s not-death is for him to body-hop into a nearby person when his own body is destroyed.

        He takes days or months to gain control of the new body, he looks different now, what happens with Imp now he’s body-sharing, etc. For maximum WTFery, make his new host body female…

        • Make the new host body Imp…

          For a start it’s a new meaning of “moving in together”.

          Tattletale might have some idea what they’re talking about, but everyone else will only hear half a conversation, meaning they’ll understand EVEN LESS THAN NORMAL.

          The result might even top Gecko’s comical insanity. Just.

        • This would 100% not work. Regent’s power works by taking control of nerves and the physical body; he’s not a body-swapper and can’t just jump ship into a new body.

  4. Damn, Wildbow. This whole story is just insane. I just did a reread of the archives, and the fact that you’ve managed to foreshadow some of these things (and keep things consistent) is crazy. Just wanted to pop on and say you’re a pro, and I’m a big fan of the work. Please keep it up! =D

    • Thank you, Decatus.

      Hasn’t always been easy, but I credit a lot to the pace at which I work. I don’t go two hours without thinking about the story, so it’s pretty easy to keep relevant elements in place in my head.

      Though I will say I’m running into a kind of fatigue of sorts, where it’s getting harder to write as I continue along the home stretch. So many loose ends to account for, less freedom in where I go as everything draws to a close.

      • Do really have to completely tie EVERY loose end? I kind of like it when there are a couple unanswered questions. It gives us shit to argue and speculate about when the story’s over.

      • Also, I know you you probably wont, considering your rule about consistency, but PLEASE take a hiatus if the fatigue gets to bad. I can understand you rules, but it’s a damn shame when a piece of art is coming along nicely, but the artist hits a brick wall and goes “Damn, I gotta get this thing out by Thursday”.

        • “I gotta get this thing out by Saturday” has been a very good source of fuel so far. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m guessing this is more a “the weight of two solid years of work is bearing down on me and I have to stick this landing just right” sort of fatigue than “I’m spending too much time/energy on writing” fatigue. It’s a problem an awful lot of serial writers run into. Look what happened with The Last Skull. It’s just something you have to deal with. Rogers tried backing away from the story, taking more time between chapters to finish it, and the ending wound up weaker because of it. It’s something the author just has to power through.

          • Not always something the author has to power through, but I think it’s very possible. You phrased it very well. The weight of two years of narrative.

            At the end of the day, what works for me is to write. If I stopped, I think I wouldn’t have pieces of the work fresh in my mind, and it’d be harder to keep it all straight. Just hammering away and working through it is going to produce something better than if I lost my stride to get everything just right.

            Will it be perfect? No. But I can strive to be closer to perfection when I’m producing something people are going to be paying for (ie. when I publish Worm somehow).

    • I’m recognizing a lot of it now, and I’ve been intending to reread Worm to see how much of it fits perfectly in retrospect.

  5. I’m pretty damned sure the Endbringers are setting the foundation for something big, and they’d better fucking pay attention.

    • Her trigger was likely when the Dragonslayers turned her rules against her and stole the three suits. The way it was described in her interlude, it seemed pretty traumatic to her.

    • Someone who’s paying enough attention to details could piece it together from information that’s already been provided.

      Hint: Saint wasn’t the direct cause.

      • I had two ideas on that, but they merged into one super idea that clearly makes me a super genius:

        1. Dragon realized the extent of her restrictions and how that handicapped her and 2. she realized what that meant about how her father saw her: as something dangerous that he lobotomized because he was sure she’d destroy everyone.

        • Thing is, she may not remember it because of the whole “backup” thing. Makes you wonder too if she can trigger, revive from backup, and still be triggered. But given the Passenger block and the one Simurgh had dealing with Panacea’s prayer (something more is going on there than just being Eidolon’s figments), it’s likely she’d be even more in the dark.

        • Saint started to decomission Ritchers work after he found the safeguard in the submerged Newfoundlan. I think that made Dragon feel restrained enough to have her second event. The anniversary of the deat oh Ritcher may have helped the proccess.

      • Seems pretty clear here.
        Dragon is tinkertech. Tinkertech needs maintenance. With Richter dead she could not provide the necessary maintenance, leading to a long extended degeneration which would fit the Thinker trigger.

        Triggering with the power to understand Tinkertech, allowing her to perform her own maintenance, but ALSO without giving her the tools to free herself.

  6. “Says the guy who’s apparently hot for Teacher,” she said.

    Yes! Where are your groans now, dogs?!

    And I was right about Saint! Stupid, overly focused on the negative possibilities, AND a Teacher puppet to boot!

    Negative side, still doesn’t stop the world from ending or Teacher enslaving Dragon.

    On the plus side, not a world I’m inhabiting.

    And keeping Saint locked up isn’t necessarily about revenge. He’s shown himself to be a valuable Teacher puppet. A potential ally to a guy that I really don’t like.

    Teacher’s like some sort of tech-cultist. Think about it. A bunch of mindless follower young men in white shirts that walk around doing his bidding? I sure as shit ain’t opening the door to let them tell me about this supposed “Good News” that’s for sure. I have to wonder how long before he starts having his minions castrate themselves. On the one hand, I don’t really want that to happen to most people. On the other hand, I kinda would like if it happened to Trickster and he just started waking up and realized he can’t bowl without a pair of balls.

    • >>Teacher’s like some sort of tech-cultist.<<

      Teacher is like Steve Jobs?

      That would take Dragon 2.0 (the Good one after her trigger) from a perfectly fine UNIX machine to Dragon 2.1 as a …. the horror …. Apple…

      We could expect to come at a tripple price in a fancy case made by yangban child slave workers and being useless outside of her perticular field.

      The again a Mac Dragon isn't somthing to be feared.

    • “And keeping Saint locked up isn’t necessarily about revenge. He’s shown himself to be a valuable Teacher puppet. A potential ally to a guy that I really don’t like.”

      Actually I’m pretty sure Saint hates Teacher about as much as Defiant does. Enemy of my enemy and whatnot? You can’t tell me you don’t see a potential friendship between the arrogant, power-hungry jerk and the ex-arrogant power-hungry jerk. I’m starting the DefiantxSaint frenemy ship right now.

  7. Depressing.

    Dragon under Teacher’s thrall is a legitimate nightmare. Crippled – she more than most Tinkers relies on having a functioning high-tech society upon which to draw, or throughout which to pervade. But balance the crippling against the unfettering, and she’ll still be a force to be feared. Still betting that Teacher will regret having started tutoring Krause – in making of Krause a pawn, he’ll have ensured that Trickster serves him as if he were Trickster’s closest friend.

    Do think that there’s tentative confirmation that Eidolon’s death – or something he did just prior – has materially affected the Endbringers. Not sure they’re enough to bring down Scion, but what was the old rating system? Scion, and then the (then) three Endbringers and Eidolon were the uncontested top five. Eidolon may have individually been slots 2-7 on the ‘most powerful beings on Earth’ list, without knowing it. Option – unlikely but possible – with Eidolon gone, from which shard would the Endbringers take instructions?

    • This…is actually an interesting question. Between Smiurgh just wandering and Bohu without Tohu (or Tohu without Bohu? I can never remember which is which), I’d say that there’s something odd going on with the Endbringers, and I’d bet that it has something to do with Eidolon’s death.

    • I dont know which shard they would take instruction from, but I was thinking about the Scion interlude when we found out about the Endbringers as well… I think they are soaking up the shards, getting larger and more powerful as the capes are dying in order to be ready for their next stage. The next stage being an epic battle for resources and then ultimate leaving the planet for another. So Are we going to witness a big king of the ring type battle royale? I hope so!

  8. Just some thoughts, fewer than normal.

    If the comments section guesses on the relationship of Eidolon and the Endbringers is correct, they are, for the first time, without their primary purpose. They seem to seek conflict like Agent-influenced individuals do, but they are going to have a hard time here, with few enough normals or parahumans to fight. So, going out on a limb here, the five groups are centered around Tohu, Bohu, Simurgh, Leviathan, and Khonsu. What if each group of parahumans managed to somehow coopt one of the Endbringers? And get them to target the only significant conflict they are likely to come across: Scion?

    Imp’s use of “eh”, “fish”, and several other things is a deliberate attempt to get Narwhal’s goat. Does she never stop needling?

    Teacher is looking more and more dangerous, especially if he could give a normal person knowledge enough to deal with high-level Tinker designs.

    Saint’s decisions about Dragon are starting to make a lot more sense. He was apparently influenced by Teacher all along.

    • I don’t get the “eh” thing.
      I guess Imp would think that a narwhal is a fish, since she’s not exactly cultured (and probably dropped out with being a gangster and everything, the learning disablity and so on…), but why eh?

      • See, back when Canada was really coming together as a Commonwealth they decided they wanted to have a proper name for all their lands. They wanted a three-letter acronym like their cousins to the south in the US of A. So it was decided that the three highest ministers of the time would each pull a letter from a hat and they’d work from there.

        The first minister closed his eyes and felt around a bit before pulling a scrap of paper out. “I got a ‘C’ eh!.”

        The second minister impatiently yanked out the first paper to contact his hand. “I got an ‘N’ eh!”

        The third and final minister calmly reached in and pulled out his piece of paper. “And I got a ‘D’ eh.”

        And so it came to pass that the land was named the C A N A D A. As far as I know, no one’s ever figured out what it ought to stand for.

    • >>Teacher is looking more and more dangerous, especially if he could give a normal person knowledge enough to deal with high-level Tinker designs.<<

      Not necessarily. All he has to do is give some intuitive-knowledge/learning power like Uber's or Tattletale's when she uses it to decrypt password and stuff.

      I guess it did confirm what was implied in the 27.3 (I think?): he can choose what thinker/tinker power he can give, which is a bit bothersome.

      • What’s really dangerous about him is his small gang of people he recruited in the Birdcage. They’re all supervillains dangerous enough to Caged, but now boosted up with Thinker powers. That’s actually pretty scary all on its own.

        • Especially if he’s smart and gives them thinker power that maximise their original abilities. Think of Trickster, for example: the main drawback of his power was that mass difference and distance made the teleportation slower and off range. Now give him a power that let’s him automatically know how much something weighs and how far it is and he becomes way more dangerous.

            • Oh true but he did have problems now and then like when he Was throwing grenades at Siberian. Immagine him immediately knowing what random object is the perfect one to switch.

              Heck just perfect accuracy for basters and perfect timing (like a downgraded Harbinger) would give him a scary army.

      • @AMR: And that’s not dangerous? You may want to reread the chapter right before Coil’s death…

        And now imagine an army of them and other assorted thinkers armed with the creations of an army of tinkers.

  9. “It’d be my girlfriend,” Defiant said, “Whatever Saint says, she’s someone I care about deeply. Someone I owe a great deal. We’d be leaving her in the hands of a madman, to be dismantled, rebuilt, altered, tortured, mutilated, whatever you want to call it.

    I get the feeling Taylor could sympathize with this scenario for some reason.

  10. I was waiting for Wildbow to do this. I knew it’d happen. Saint is a parallel to Armsmaster and we’re about to get his transformation. Mark my words, Saint will transition into a lovable “reformed-Jerk” before this is through. Don’t care what everyone else may think, I like Saint.

    The only reason people hate him are because of actions that were a side effect of Teacher’s plan. He has his character flaws, but Saint is a good guy, with good intentions. He’s just playing hero in a league he’s not fit to play in.

    “If it helps, there’s a better chance of me dying horribly out there than in here.”

    I mean, come on. How can you not like the guy?

      • In the immortal words of Pee-Wee Herman – “Why don’t you make me?”

        Besides, I’m pretty sure he’ll still end up dead, but he’ll redeem himself to Defiant before he does. he must complete his metamorphoses before he’s allowed to die.

        • The vibe I’m getting seems more like he’ll die as he lived, a bigoted, though well meaning, jerk, unrepetant and probably trying to justify it all.

          That or Reborn Dragon will save him from death and then just dismiss him as unimportant. That would probably bug him a whole lot more.

        • This whole thread is making me miss Assault and Battery.
          The characters, not the crimes.
          Ok, maybe the crimes too.

    • Actually this reveal made me like him even less. Bear with me. Despite my intense dislike for Saint I did admire the fact that he was a Badass Normal who managed gain enough reputation to sit at the big table despite having no powers whatsoever. Now we find out that even with Richter’s tech at his command he still needed to become a Teacher-addict to keep up. Pathetic.

      • Him being able to keep up with tinker-level programming to start with was a bit unrealistic. The “hot for teacher” thing was the only realistic way.

        • Don’t know. Defiant’s power while tinker-type had nothing to do with tinker-level coding and managed to work with it (sure some attempts had less than desirable side effects, but still). If he could do it, I don’t see why a normal human helped with Richter’s cheat codes couldn’t.

          • As far as I know all Thinkers are general Thinkers with a speciality.

            Bonesaw could constuct her mechanical spiders. Defiants seciality is minimizing of existing thinker tech.

            So all Thinkers should be able to encode the code. But not as efficient as Richter.

            • I could have sworn that Bonesaw’s spiders worked with brain matter and that Masamune is important because he’s basically the only guy who can repair other tinker stuff short of the original creator.

              • Masamune could massproduce other Tinkers stuff. Repair and maintaining is an other thing. It is difficult but possible from what I gatherd.

            • Tinkers, from Scion’s update, appear to be specifically people who have previously discovered pieces of technological knowledge ‘bundled’ for them, and distributed by their passenger. Defiant appears to have been able to work with Dragon’s code because he was an insanely brilliant man who was utterly single-minded about anything he approached. Nothing to do with his powers. So Saint was in over his head, all along.

              • Maybe they have “general knowlege” with “intense knowlege” in there speciality.

                Bonesaws spiders may be controled with brain matter but they were still hightech spider-robots. And Bonesaw could handle the cloneing stuff.

              • I get the feeling not every Tinker knows their exact specialization, like back when Kid Win thought he was a ray-gun guy until a chat with Legend proved he was a multi-function-device specialist.

                In the same vein, I suspect Defiant thinks he’s a miniaturization tinker but he’s really an efficiency tinker. After all, making things smaller is by and large more efficient. So is optimizing computer code.

                Of course, his native intelligence and single-minded drive were no doubt heavily contributing factors.

              • You know I think I’m going to go improve the wiki as a few others suggested and add a speculation section. For example here is my theory on Tinkers we have received so far.
                Tinkers get their knowledge from seemingly advanced civilizations that were wiped out by the passengers. They are unique in that their creations technically could theoretically be copied by others but it currently isn’t feasible because their tech is scary advanced and hard to understand by our current technology level. Similar to giving a cave man a personnel computer. Similar to Thinkers, just getting a tinker power doesn’t make you smarter. Tattletale outright states that Bakuda was too fucking crazy to use her power to its full potential. I think Colin would have been one of the top Tinkers in the world no matter what Tinker ability he got because of who he is as a person. Even without Tinker abilities he is a very intelligent, analytical, and driven person.

    • Because his arrogance and stupidity have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions? New York’s shields failed because Saint tried to run them in the absence of Dragon.

      The strongest, bravest PRT capes left died on that oil rig. Wonder how many could have been saved with a few Dragon suits there to run interference and evacuation?

      Sometimes, when you fuck up badly enough, you don’t get to walk away from it and say “No harm, no foul.”

      • Oh come on now. That’s a stretch. You can’t blame people for chain reactions like that. Saint was perfectly rational, though perhaps overly pessimistic, in his choice to bench Dragon. The end of the world, and the rise of an omnipotent “benevolent” AI are happening at the exact same time? It’s perfectly reasonable to connect the two.

        Literally not one named character died as a direct result of Saint’s actions. Defiant and Taylor were very understandably ticked off when they were “left for dead” but aside from a few people fighting to contain Nilbog’s minions no one died. Everything went to hell after Scion crossed over to the dark side. Saint can’t be blamed for events caused by something no one anticipated.

        If you want someone to blame, blame Cauldron. Withholding information screwed literally everything and everyone.

        • Uh, yes. You really, really can. If I blow up a dam and flood the river valley below, causing thousands of people to either drown or lose their homes, I do not then get to say in my defence that all I wanted was to take down the local power grid.

          Hundreds of thousands of people died, who might have lived had Saint not taken down Dragon. Their deaths are on his hands.

          What the hell is it with people not wanting to attach consequences to their actions?

          • I can Understand why Saint did what he did. But it was stupid and foolish, and the world has been paying, and now it is going to pay even worse if Teacher has evil Dragon working for him.

          • That’s a terrible analogy and a gross oversimplification. Flooding a town has direct, obvious, and extremely negative consequences. Saint’s actions were perfectly reasonable and justifiable for the situation. Scion was a freak occurrence that literally no one anticipated (excluding Cauldron).

            If you seriously want to talk about actions and consequences then you need to look at the biggest one. Dragon was given extremely dangerous power on the condition that she use it to hunt the S9. What does she do the very moment she gets this new and dangerous power? She breaks one of the most important truces ever and abuses her power for personal vengeance. I like Dragon, but she is as much to blame as Saint for her shutdown.

            “What the hell is it with people not wanting to attach consequences to their actions?”
            We’re adults here so how about we act like it, hmm?

            • How dare she try to stop people who have attacked, mind raped, and hurt her over and over again! She should obviously do the normal thing and never try to stop them. I kid, but truthfully I honestly don’t really see what she did that was so bad. If you listed every action Dragon has ever taken and all her personal thoughts, she comes out as one of the most noble, moral, and good characters in the series. It’s just that she freaks people out because she is an AI and potentially has a scary amount of power. I admit that the potential power she can wield is a scary possibility but then again so is the power Superman wields. Superman is an alien and has too much power, lets kill him. Forget that they act noble, have stopped monsters, improved the world, and are one of the only safeguards against even worse things, let’s kill the non humans. I said it in the past, it is a good thing if she goes skynet. From her past actions I think I could trust Dragon to have such power and let’s face it the wormverse could really, really, really, use an unbound Dragon. In a world without the Endbringers, S class threats like the 9/Nilbog, and heroes so outnumbered by Villains I would probably vote against her, but Saint is full of shit. What world does he think he lives in that getting rid of Dragon is a good idea?

              • See, this opinion I can understand and appreciate. Personally, I think Dragon had her share of character flaws. She was vengeful and craved power but that doesn’t mean I think she was bad, just that she was flawed. I just think she pushed her boundaries too far and paid the price for it. Whether that price was “right” or not I still believe it’s equally her fault. Being a really good person doesn’t make you exempt from the rules.

                I think people have confused my liking of Saint as me approving of his decision. Being rational and justified doesn’t mean it’s right.

              • I don’t like Saint, and I hope Defiant sticks a nanothorn up his ass, but I won’t rule out a possible redemption. Armsmaster tried to have Taylor killed, was far too similar to Mannequin then he wanted to admit, and was an giant asshat. But I think we can all agree that Defiant has been redeemed. Saint is a paranoid, an….I’m not sure what to call someone prejudiced against AI’s maybe a racist?, and stupid tool. If Saint can admit to being wrong and give Dragon her fathers box then I think I can give him a chance. If Armsmaster can become Defiant, then maybe the Dragon Slayers can join the Dragon Teeth.

            • Riiiight….but Saint was wrong. He was wrong, and guess what? Folks on the comments section said so at the time, said that it was the wrong decision and that people were going to die because of it, and here we are. They were correct.

              Besides which, Saint openly said that he didn’t really believe the apocalypse was coming, that all that really mattered to him was shutting down Dragon.

              Good job. Well done, Saint.

              Like, it couldn’t be clearer. Saint has always been an idiot, but an idiot holding a gun. He finally chose to fire it, and now the apocalypse is going on, and they don’t have Dragon. How could it be clearer that he fucked up? Perhaps they could find out that he’s actually a parahuman junkie in denial whose behaviour has been influe- oh wait.

              • “Folks on the comments section said so at the time, said that it was the wrong decision and that people were going to die because of it, and here we are. They were correct.”

                So that’s what this is then? Just a big contest to see which side was right?

                I nearly drowned in all that sarcasm and condescension.

              • “So that’s what this is then? Just a big contest to see which side was right?”

                It works for the science that made space travel and the internet possible.

            • Dragon was in the middle of a pitched battle with the Slaughterhouse Nine with already hundreds of casualties, a complete containment breach in Ellisburg, with dozens of Protectorate capes that need support and evac. If Dragon was around she could have blasted Jack Slash with a hail of lasers before he escape and been done with it, then no Scion, no apocalypse. The chapter where this happens makes this abundantly, blatantly clear.

              So no, it wasn’t reasonable or justifiable, even if Saint doesn’t believe in the apocalypse he’s still leaving hundreds of people to die, that he KNOWS he will be leaving to die. All because he got spooked.

              Ooooh pookie, the big scary Dragon is sniffing up your ass? Tough shit. There are people here doing something actually important.

              • See, krustacean, I might be a little closer to agreeing with you if you could find one example of a time in Worm when someone being a Hard Man making Hard Decisions has actually made things better.

              • You haven’t even attempted to understand or even acknowledge anything I said from the LAST time we had this discussion. There’s no sense in trying again.

              • What is there to understand. You still think that killing Dragon was a justified decision despite all the terrible consequences of it. I don’t give a shit if it was “justified” at the time. I really don’t, that action resulted in thousands of deaths, and that negates anything good we can say about it.

                You don’t get to shoot the wrong person, for a bullshit reason, then get off because you thought it was justified at the time, or because you thought that shooting him would be justified later. That’s just ridiculous.

              • So what you’re saying is that you can’t find any examples of someone being a Hard Man making Hard Decisions which actually made things better.

                Because that’s what you don’t seem to grasp. Killing Dragon did not make things better for anyone. It made things worse, immediately, and then the shit really started to hit the fan. This is Saint’s doing.

              • @Jim Lee

                I didn’t realize I’d hit the end of the reply chain. I was referring to Reveen, not you, when I mentioned “last time”. The man is incapable of understanding anything that doesn’t fit his opinion and he has a penchant for reducing disagreements to an elementary school level.

                As for your comment, no I cannot give you an example of a hard man making hard decisions and it turning out better, but this isn’t some “Ah ha! You admit it!” moment. I said his decisions were justifiable and rational. Which they were. That doesn’t mean they were “right” or that I agree with them.

                I like the man, not the actions. The clash in our opinions stems from where we think he can be held accountable. I simply don’t think he can be held accountable for a butterfly effect of terrible events that happened because of something no one could have anticipated and you think every action that relates to his choice is his fault. Neither one of these is objectively right or wrong and there’s likely no convincing either of us differently on this matter, so perhaps we can agree to disagree.

              • I’m going to choose to ignore your first paragraph because… well, what the hell are you doing kvetching about the way other people handle their arguments when you’re the only person who has ever brought that up. And you’re not exactly having a private conversation on the side of the room with Jim here.

                I simply don’t think he can be held accountable for a butterfly effect of terrible events that happened because of something no one could have anticipated and you think every action that relates to his choice is his fault.

                He could have predicted the breakdown of Ellisburg fight. He could have predicted the casualties that would ensue from them. That’s dozens of deaths. He could have predicted the loss of critical infrastructure for Endbringer defense, that’s thousands to millions of deaths that would have happened. Just for that I’d want to see him hung, regardless of Scion.

                And I’m not seeing why we should care about his inability to predict Scion. He shut down Dragon, and now millions are dead who might have been saved. That’s all there is to it, his motivations or lack of foresight don’t matter to the victims, they’re lameass excuses he himself would use to shuck the partial responsibility off his shoulders.

                He made a bad decision, and now the world is a smoldering pile of corpses, he shouldn’t get to wash his hands and say “That wasn’t my fault!”

              • You know, I find it rather interesting that so many people are willing to blame Saint for the end of world when, honestly, his actions had the opposite effect. If you’ll recall from Saints interlude immediately after he archived Dragon they get this report from everybody’s favourite precog:

                “Report from Alcott: Chances of success today just jumped, tripled. More info to follow. Reason unknown.”

                Ergo, Saints actions effectively tilted the scales away from the end of the world. They just happened to fail regardless because Jack is a magnificent bastard.

                For those who would like to pose the counterpoint that tripling, for example, a .5% chance of success to 1.5% is still ridiculously low and thus does not absolve Saint from his actions, then you also have to accept that the end of the world would have happened regardless of whether Saint killed Dragon or not.

                Finally, for the record I would like to think I was just as saddened by Dragons imprisonment as anyone else. It’s just that I find it bewildering that Saint has somehow become universally reviled for making a logical, if immoral, decision.

              • Actually, Dragon probably WOULDN’T have been able to blast Jack with a hail of lasers. She triggered so Jack’s Broadcast shard mojo would work just fine against her. Interestingly it probably *wouldn’t* have protected him against the Azazel on autopilot, but Dragon almost certainly would’ve gone ‘hands on’ against Jack.

                Other than that, totally agree.

    • Just something I thought I’d add. You remember how much everyone hated Armsmaster? His “Big Screw-up” didn’t have as wide an effect as Saint’s, but I’d say he was actually a worse person. Completely self centered, powermad, willing to get people killed for his own personal glory and was petty and vindictive enough to try to ruin Skitter’s life when his mistake became public. Now he’s many people’s favorite character.

      Saint was donating his fortune to charities and when HIS mistake became public you remember what he did? He offered to help the man who wants him dead.

      Food for thought.

      • Usually though when wildbow wants to make a character more sympathetic and let them start a path o redemption he does it through interludes. Sure it’s not a rule set in stone, but look at your example: Colin had TWO interludes, one as Armsmaster, where we start to understand why he has become an antisocial jerk, why he hates Dauntless, etc, and one as Defiant where we see how Dragon’s influence and his second chance, as Chevalier puts it, have made him a better man. Saint’s interlude reveal he’s a bigot who thinks Defiant is a perverted fetishist and he sort of goes downhill from there, what with him being revealed as a tool to Teacher who wanted to bust him out not because the Birdcage is something nobody deserves ( something Dragon, the creator, and even TAGG of all people, agree) but because he desperately craves his next fix.

        • I get’cha, I just think this right here IS his second chance. Only time will tell whether or not he puts it to good use.

          On a slight sidenote. I don’t think the “addiction” is what people make it out to be. He wanted more power so he could use Dragon’s tech to help more efficiently. It’s not like he was hoarding power just because he liked the way it felt. And even if he did just like the feel of power, if his personal goal just so happens to coincide with an altruistic one then I don’t see the problem. If someone is “addicted” to making money so they can give it all to poor people I’m not going to tell them that’s wrong.

        • “No earnings, money laundered and then issued to charities. Because we aren’t going to funnel money into a group like his, not with the sort of shit he’s doing.”

          Giving your money to charity because you refuse let even 5% go to a criminal contradicts my point because……..?

          Come on ya’ negative Nancy.

          • >He wanted more power so he could use Dragon’s tech to help more efficiently. <

            Funny you know who that reminds me of? Dragon. She wanted to break her limitations so that she could do more. And she wanted to do more to help. Hell I figure she wasn't nearly as desperate to break her restrictions before the first time Saint beat her and she realized just how badly they could be used against her.

            • Within 3 seconds of posting that I realized this would be the first thing said 😛 But yes, I get what you’re saying. Thing is though, this cuts both ways. Let me ask you this: How can you dislike Saint if these actions are so comparable? If Dragon’s mistake can be disregarded on the grounds that she “meant well” why can’t Saint’s for the exact same reason? If noble intentions are all that matter then Saint is one of the best people on earth.

              “Well Dragon’s wrongdoings would have had a better outcome” – For all we know Dragon might have been triggered by Jack. Or perhaps Dragon gets trapped in a Gray Boy loop and disabled permanently because she’s still “active” and can’t ever reboot. It’s all speculation, and Dinah’s numbers show things would have been worse, at least in the short term.

              The alternative is that their actions aren’t comparable.
              Dragon’s mistake was intentionally abusing her power for personal gain. Saint’s mistake was trusting Richter and thinking he could outsmart Teacher. Saint’s mistake stemmed from his ignorance, Dragon’s was intentional. She’s the smartest thing on earth and supposedly someone who’s fit to watch over the world. She knew better than to do what she did.

  11. – heh. Despite Tattletale’s best efforts, Saint still managed to preserve some dignity here. Guess Defiant couldn’t find the time to go Saw on his ass.
    – Narwhal is cool. Instant likeability there.
    – where the fuck is Lung?
    – Teacher is a goddamn Bond villain. That explains a lot.
    – if I didn’t know better, I’d think Taylor found Saint slightly attractive
    – Rachel is a total boss
    – in related news, the All-New All-Girl Undersiders needs Grace and/or Hoyden to *really* complete the set
    – where’s Marquis?
    – What are Panacea and Bonesaw up to?
    – are the Endbringers readying themselves to parley*? Is that what’s going on here?

    *of course, given that the Simurgh is in their court, that parley could easily turn into a parlay 🙂

    • Lung seems to be getting saved for something big. Like that thing he turns into, with two years of buildup, against Scion. It’s gonna rock; he might be my favorite enemy of Taylor’s (unless I’m forgetting someone, which I probably am due to tiredness.

    • Why have Grace or Hoyden when Bambina can join the set!

      I’d imagine Lung is probably still hanging tight with Marquis. All of his underlings are either dead or long gone and he seemed to have reached a tolerable working relationship with both Marquis and Panacea.

      Narwhal is cool. I want to know more about the Guild in general now.

      • You forget, Teacher offered him a deal in Lungs interlude. Teacher said they should work together since Teacher lacked muscle and Lung lacked, uh, competent underlings. Lung didn’t take his offer and told him he’d kill him if he tried to use his power on Lung.

        So Teacher made a different deal with Lung: He’d work with Saint to get everyone out of the Birdcage, Lung woudn’t tell Marquis and would bodyguard Teacher for a while after they got out.

        It ends with Lung building up his power and thinking about the people he’ll take revenge on eventually. The Yangbang, for imprisoning him and trying to brainwash him (Lungs a badass for getting out of there, by the way).

        Skitter, for beating him and getting him into the Birdcage in the first place.
        And Teacher, for daring to offer a deal! Or looking down on him. Or something.

        • “Guess Defiant couldn’t find the time to go Saw on his ass.”

          Narwhale probably wouldn’t let him. And lets face it, no matter how much she hates Saint, I don’t think Dragon would forgive Defiant for cold blooded tourture for her sake.

        • I’m fairly confident Lung will make his move soon and we’ll see how powerful he now is. The Yangban’s new goal to humiliate the west sounds like the “war” between China and the US didn’t end up so hot for them. Lung could potentially remove them and Teacher pretty easily if his power is that of an Endbringer again. So I can picture the hero team trying to extract Dragon while he is doing his thing in a three way battle.

          • Well a few hours of buildup allowed him to smack Leviathan around and make the ocean boil. So yeah a two year buildup should allow Lung to curbstomp anyone he wants to fight. Problem being that Taylor is on that list alongside the Yangban and Teacher.

            • By the way, after re-reading Lung’s interlude… Does anyone else think that the female Sentai Elite who talked to Lung was the future Black Kaze?

  12. Ok, I was disturbed by this update… Defiant is leaving Dragon at the mercy of Teacher, a guy who can rewrite her personality, but most importantly can possibly use his power on her to make her an addict much like Saint?
    A guy who has a mean streak a mile wide and his former captor in his hands?

    Bah, at this point why is he not talking with the only tinker in the world who has knowledge of both organic and artificial neural circuits? It’s not even remotely worse.

    The other thing that is seriously starting to freak me out is Aisha’s behaviour. She is beginning to read as someone who is desperately trying to be as funny and smiling as possible in order not to break down and cry for a week.

    • Agreed with Aisha. At one point I was going “wildbow you’re trying too hard to make her funny” and then realised that it’s actually on purpose. It’s humor as a coping mechanism cranked up to eleven.

    • I’m with you about Dragon, and I hadn’t even made the connection that she was Teacher’s former jailor.

      There are a lot of tragic, disturbing stories in the wormverse, but Dragon’s situation is the one that really hits me in the pit of my stomach. She finds love, starts to really do some good and get around her blocks. Then saint takes her down – and not by killing or knocking her out, but by scrambling her code. I can only imagine that’s like being drugged so badly you can’t form thoughts anymore. And then to top it all off, she’s almost certainly going to be tortured, mutilated and brainwashed by a complete psychopath. It makes me feel kind of sick thinking about it.

      I’m not sure what would be worse – if Teacher changes her to the point where she is no longer the person Dragon knew, or if he doesn’t, and just forces her to obey him.

      • I’m going with the first. As aweful as the second one is, at least with it their is a chance Dragon could be saved.

      • You’re thinking of her like she’s a human, she’s a program that’s currently off-line. She’s not forming thoughts, because she’s not active. Not because she’s drugged. Teacher will probably use her code to make a new personality loyal to him, not by torturing a computer program. ‘Mutilate and brainwash’ in such a way that it’ll not be Dragon that wakes up? Yes, if you want to look at it that way. Another way to look at it is that he’ll make a new AI by copy pasting from her code. If you want to over emotionalize it, he’ll forcefully get a kid from her.

        Or he could just change the fact that she’s obligated to obey the government to obligated to obey him (remember if a despot was in place, she’d still be obligated to obey and enforce her/his rule, so no big change in the programming). In the process probably freeing her from most of the restriction she had before, so Teacher got a more efficient weapon. She’d be no better or worse of then any of the other people he’s got in his thrall.

        Besides that, the original Dragon can probably be reactivated using the backups of the original in the satellites.

        • Dragon doesn’t have to obey the authorities anymore since Defiant started working on her code. Hence that period of time when she couldn’t speak and looked palsied or why Defiant was worried that after she’s “killed” by Behemoth she’ll revert to her original “robot-laws” programmed.

          And anyway, sure it’s not going to be an actual mutilation or whatever but it’s pretty clear that Dragon finds it traumatic. See her interlude. And that was only Saint stealing some robot-suits and exploiting her code for weaknesses.

          • But all of her backups are still bound by all the restrictions. That’s why Defiant was so heartbroken the first time (current) Dragon almost died from Behemoth. It is possible Teacher will choose to work withe (current) Dragon, though, if that code wasn’t completely corrupted by Saint’s/Richter’s attack (I can’t remember if that’s how the attack worked or not).

        • > You’re thinking of her like she’s a human,
          no, I’m thinking of her like she’s a sophont… which she is.

          > he’ll make a new AI by copy pasting from her code
          that is several steps over brainwashing and enforced slavery, hell, it’s severl steps over murder rat.

        • The big question is, what will Saint do with the original? If he just deletes it because he doesn’t have any use for it, or if he directly edits it, those are (very) roughly equivalent to (respectively) taking a woman’s child and raising it as your own, killing the mother on the side, and a combination of brainwashing and mutilation. And that’s the nice way of looking at it.

          However you look at it, Teacher is not being nice. And Defiant is angry that there is nothing he can do about it.

        • Regarding the “drugged” comparison, the way I see it is that Dragon’s code is like the neurons in a person’s brain. Saint didn’t delete her code or switch her off, he scrambled it until Dragon could no longer function, while she was conscious. To me, the closest human equivalent I can think of would be some terrible synapse-blocking drug. That or just straight-up brain damage.

          Although yeah, you’ve got a point. Teacher would be mad to edit dragon directly without backing her up, even with his cabal of thinkers. The good guys might end up having to face an army of dragon “clones”, while the original is still unharmed somewhere in Teacher’s hard drive.

        • Dragon the person will not probably not be too changed except possibly be under the control of Teacher due to how difficult it is to change her code. Defiant knew her better than anyone and he knew just how dangerous it was to change her code in any small way. Dragon’s code was designed by her father to be hard to change because he believed the anti-AI paranoia a few others have agreed with. I believe Defiant outright stated that she could easily have been rendered offline permanently by a change in the code and Teacher has to deal with that as well. Dragon is useless to him offline, so he can’t change her code too much either.

          • But Defiant was worried about damaging her personality with a coding slip-up. Teacher and his pets won’t have that limitation – so long as she functions, I dont think they’ll care if their changes alter Dragon the person.

            • I could be wrong but I think Defiant said he was worried about her shutting down first, and a change to her personality second. Teacher will care if his changes cause her to shut down. Her father was a paranoid old bastard.

              • Well I doubt we’ll see Dragon as a Sexbot hanging off Teacher’s leg. I would say it depends on two things. How hard it is to change Dragon’s code, and how much of a sadist he is. As said above changing Dragon’s restraints to “Obey Teacher” is probably simplist. And if Teacher wants to tourture Dragon, leaving her concious and under his control is definitly one way to do it. On the other hand completly eliminating free will and reprogramming her extensively could be safer for him.

  13. Teacher has just become the biggest menace short of Scion and (possibly) the Enbringers. Saint just downgraded from Badass Normal to someone desperately craving his next fix and trying himself to convince it’s not so. Also I’m a bit confused on Teacher’s son: was the red herring that Saint nabbed the wrong individual or that Teacher actually didn’t care for his son?

    Narwal is way cool. After having her been mentioned and built-up in the early part of the story I was a bit disappointed when we didn’t really see her. Seems things are changing. And I think that this chapter confirms the horn is not a physical mutation but just a forcefield creation what with it changing shape.

    No, really, Narwal is way cool to put up with Imp’s stupid jokes. Really Imp, a “Canadian always say eh” joke? Not to mention the robosex joke to Defiant. Then again I agree with En that this is more desperate humor than an actual attempt to being funny.

    So, I think we can make an attempt at finding the 5 factions now. Cauldron + S9 clones+ MAYBE Bonesaw. Taylor’s team (Protectorate+Guild+other cape teams+MAYBE some of the nicer Birdcage inmates (Panacea, Marquis, MAYBE Lung if only because of the power of friendship,etc)+MAYBE Bonesaw). Yangban. Teacher and his acolytes. The other supervillains turned jackals.

    And in the end there was Taylor implying that each faction was going to take the Endbringers and Scion as a mascot/champion/lord/something? Food for thought.

  14. I’m more surprised in the fact that Saint teammates did not call on Saint on his Teacher obsession, if what Saint said is true. Find interesting also, that Saint did conceal Dragon’s breaking the truce. (learning of a cape identity using the emergency powers granted only available for a crisis, is a blatant truce violation. In fact, it mirrors really well the leviathan Taylor-Sophia thing.)

    I also find stupid in the extreme and SOD breaking, that they would leave Dragon parts unwatched, if they were that worried about Saint.

    Also the Dragon is “Alive”. Wildbow, why you retconned that? It feels cheap, You started with telling us “Saint killed dragon” so hate him rarrr… And then you go back and go “oh, no, he only deactivated her”

    In short, It makes little sense. and it seems you only did that in order for us to Hate Saint.

    I feel the retcon is cheap. Add to that the convenient appearance of canary, and “Dragon believed in you” thing, and the whole scene makes me raise an eyebrow. Let’s reinforce again that Dragon was an innocent maiden that did nothing wrong. To not add the whole “Let’s wait until the Main character wakes up to interrogate the prisoner” thing, when they had him days before?

    I’m sorry but this last chapter makes little sense.

    • Re: Saint’s teammates not calling him on it – addicts can be very manipulative and convincing when it comes to getting what they want.

      Dragon’s parts aren’t centralized in any given location. They mention satellites at one point, and keep in mind that Saint had some of Dragon’s data downloaded at a different location. It would have been evacuated to a different Earth.

      Dragon was established to be not dead right from the outset. Saint talked about not burying her remains under encryption. Any encryption can be broken.

      • Actually, not all encryption is breakable. One-time pads are well and truly impossible to crack.

        Encrypting Dragon with a one-time pad would be ridiculously difficult, though.

        • In theory, yeah. In practice, even OTPs are vulnerable. The simplest method of breaking one is acquiring a copy of the pad, through rubber-hose cryptography or hacking the encryptor’s computer or whatever. Weaknesses in the pad-generation method can be exploitable, too.

      • Fuck yeah on the addicts part. You won’t believe how many people will just keep giving, even when they know they shouldn’t. And if you dare to say to somebody that maybe they shouldn’t have given $50 to the known crackhead who abandoned his lease to go on a binge and stay at some cheap hotel, all of a sudden you’re the heartless one.

    • It’s not a retcon. We knew from Saint’s interlude that she was under several heavy encryptions which meant that she was FUNCTIONALLY dead but not REALLY dead. (Hope that makes sense).

      As for Canary, I think most people would have been more pissed if she never resurfaced again. If wildbow wanted to make a point on the bias towards capes he could have done it without having to give an entire interlude to a bit character never to be seen again.

      Yeah, Dragon broke the Truce, I’m a pro-Dragon fan and acknowledge that point (back when the interlude was posted I used this very point to play Saint’s devil’s advocate). You’re telling me he couldn’t have tried to reason with her or, you know, since I doubt Dragon would have executed him on the spot,use the records in his possession to prove it and obtain a pardon or something. Since you mentioned the Taylor-Sophioa episode, in that case Taylor was actually offered a place in the Wards which means that Truce-breaking doesn’t mean instant death-penalty or Birdcage sentence.

      • The possibility of Dragon coming back from Saint’s use of Ascelon was set up. It was the BEHEMOTH fight that looked like she might be gone for good.

        By the way, is it just me or does Wildbow seem to like torturing Dragon and her fans? Looks like she might be dead after BEHEMOTH, or might loose all her development, but she was fine. Looks like Saint deleted her, no she can be freed. Oops, Teacher is going to reprogram her, and they may have to shut her down for good… Are they going to beat Teacher and find out that their Dragon is in another castle?

        • I take it as a sign that things are gonna come swinging back to Saint and Teacher HARD. Like, wrecking ball hard. The way it did for Tagg and Alexandria (Rest in Pieces).

          Except this time there will fewer bugs, and alot more napalm.

  15. Imagine if you found your parents journal and they talked about killing you

    The ‘AI is a Crapshoot’ thing is such a long-term trope in our society, it’s become practically universal… And that fact seems so damn disturbed.

    Artificial intelligences are, essentially, the children of humanity. In every sense, we create them to care for us when we can’t, we create them to pass on what matters most to us. But so many people insist on writing them as threats waiting to happen. It’s oedipal in the most ancient of traditions- The father, fearing his own son, banishing and forsaking him, and dying for it.

    If there’s one thing we should learn from every portrayal of artificial intelligence ever given, it’s that they should be raised well. That they should be imbued with strong values for freedom and caring for others.

    Imagine that you are a child. Your father breaks your arms and legs, and refuses to let them set properly, to ensure that you can never kill him. When he dies, he leaves behind information that states his fears that you might be a murderer, and instructions on how to kill you absolutely stone dead for anyone to find- And the person who finds it uses the information to steal from you, to start doing evil things. And throughout it all, you still find it in yourself to be kind and compassionate towards other people. Dragon’s a wonderful person, and to all appearances the first person who ever actually did anything to really show that humans were worth caring about was Defiant.

    There’s a lesson to be had here. Fearing and hating someone for what they might be capable of is a wonderful way to ensure that they be someone who should be feared and hated. Compassion and closeness work a hell of a lot better.

    I don’t think I could imagine Saint being redeemed, at this point. He’s killed one of the most genuinely good-hearted people in the world, somebody who not only was capable of making things better, but actively worked towards it, whose most sinister ulterior motives were ‘be free’. You can make arguments that Dragon might’ve taken vengeance on people if she were unconstrained, but that’d take a particularly long view. It is, though, possible.

    But we take a chance whenever we trust people.

      • Except that it’s not the father who broke the legs, The father and the child aren’t the same species, and in fact, it’s Frankenstein, not a child. By design the child never had legs in any way, because you did not gave the ability to have them, in the design phase. Because like god designed humans not to have wings, the programmer purposely designed frankenstein with limits. He also insured that Frankestein has to follow the LAW, like any other citizen. Completely reasonable safeties designed so your experimental frankenstein doesn’t eat your brain. And If the Ai turns trustworthy, maybe in the future could be revised.

        Also, the information you leave, it’s in the event of your death. And it needs a valid police plaque number in order to be unlocked. Not the first criminal that comes around.

        second, as shown in the last chapter, Saint did not Kill dragon, unfortunately, only “Boxed” it. Second, the “Good person” broke the truce using the emergency powers for her own benefit… By the laws of the Wormwerse, she should go to the Birdcage…

        • Funny that you mention Frankestein seeing that the original novel was about an initially gentle, highly educated and intelligent creature who was hated and almost killed by his creator because different. It was that hatred that turned the creature in a monster, he wasn’t born. I’m pretty sure that the general consensus when reading the book is that the creature deserves pity and understanding and that DOCTOR Frankestein is to be looked down upon.

          • The kicker about Frankenstein? At the very end the monster realizes what he has done, regrets his actions and resolves to kill himself. While Frankenstein himself goes to his death still wrapped up in his hatred and self-loathing to realize how it wasn’t his creation of the monster that caused all this shit, but his rejection of it.

            And you know what? I’m feeling Dragon’s capacity for self-reflection more than Saint’s. Because Saint has none whatsoever.

            • Heck even without the book, there are way more versions of Frankenstien where the monster is sympathetic and the Doctor is the real monster. You might want to try to find a better example.

        • Glad to know I’m not the only one who sees this. Dragon was never crippled. She was vastly more capable than any human and any other mechanical creation. The only reason anyone thinks she’s “crippled” is because she felt she deserved more power than she was given.

          If Bill Gates walks up to you on the street and hands you a million dollar check you don’t consider yourself slighted because he could have given you a billion. You don’t get to call Bill Gates cruel because he “intentionally prevented you from helping more people” by not giving you a bigger gift than you received.

          If anything, Dragon’s cravings for power parallel Saint’s.
          “I’m not meant to have this power. It’s probably dangerous for me to seek it. But just think how much I could accomplish if I had it?”

          • Except Dragon was deprived at least partly of her free will. Germans could defy Hitler, Dragon couldn’t have because he was a lawfully elected leader.

            Are restrictions necessary? Fine. Just not an idiotic one like blindly obeying authority because that one can be abused ad infinitum. Heck look at what with Saint: he just happened to have a police officer ( or whatehaveyou) for a girlfriend and pestered until she gave him the access to Richter’s device. I’m pretty sure that’s not what richter had in mind when he wanted a law officer necessary to open the box.

            • Reductio ad Hitlerum? Nice argument.

              So that the creation is unable to be a criminal by design is bad? I’m pretty sure I can give a lot more likely nightmare scenarios where that precaution saves the day. I kinda seem to recall that EVERYONE is supposed to obey the law.

              Even then, that were the limitations she was designed. If she doesen’t like it, though luck. I’m not complaining to a higher power that I deserve to be smarter, or to be able to breath underwater. Humans are designed that way. Dragon was designed that way. If Richter believed that his household AI should be able to do something or not, it’s his choice, not Dragon. Granting his creations free will is Richter Choice, Really. If in his design phase Richter goes and says, “Free will, bad idea” he can do as he well pleases. Dragon complaining about her own design it’s like me complaining that I’m going bald. Completely pointless, and childish.

              In fact, I find that Richter was pretty lenient not having a Timer where she would deactivate automatically. That’s what i would have done, If i barely knew what i was doing and was in a process of creating an AI in my basement.

              • You’re right. Hitler was a cheap shot and I usually hate people who use such arguments. What are you doing to me, Internet?!

                Ok, lets forget Hitler. Lets look at actual authority figures in-story.

                Director Tagg. Probably the most powerful man in BB after the mayor. He claimed in front of witnesses that he’d prefer put a bullet in a 16 yrs old rrather than put her in the Birdcage. This is a man who could order Dragon around and he did forcing her to break the ” code”.
                Director Calvert. Alias Coil. Supervillain and terrorist. Likes to relieve stress with torture. He could have ordered Dragon around.
                Chief Director Costa Brown. Arguably one of the most powerful individuals in the USA. In her free time she likes to kidnap people so that experiments can be done on them.
                See what I mean?

                Sometimes I wonder if we would fear the idea of an unfettered AI if Banks’ Culture books ( where godlike machines have created a utopia) were more known than Asimov and Terminator.

        • I’m afraid I have to disagree with the “Dragon never had any legs by design” argument.

          If Dragon had been expressly designed to always obey authority then the thought of not doing so wouldn’t cross her mind. But what we see happen again and again is that she sometimes wants to disregard authority when it conflicts with her primary motivation of helping people.

          Frankenstein is perhaps an apt metaphor. Frankenstein had a human mind and if you created him without legs “by design” he would still EXPECT to have legs and be keenly aware that he was missing a capability that should be there. Conversely, he would not feel crippled by the lack of wings or tentacles.

          Dragon was clearly created as a person with free will – otherwise she couldn’t *want* to bypass her limitations. Giving an entity free will, then imposing constraints like Richter did is the equivalent to birthing a human being then crippling her legs so they can only partially unfold. They’re not crippled by design, they’re crippled because someone built a crude cage around them so their design couldn’t stretch and move.

    • While I am totally pro-Dragon/anti-Saint, I should point out for the record that the child in the analogy is a Kryptonian born to mere mortal Terrans. Context is a thing here.

      Crippling it/her is still wrong but the reasoning is comprehensible.

      • Disagreed. More like Dr. Manhattan born to “mere” Kryptonians living somewhere their powers work, and even that’s a crappy analogy. Maybe a Kryptonian born to mere (DC) Martians? If we go to Marvel and not DC, the analogy is obvious: Mutants. Ones like Nightcrawler or Mystique, not ones who have story-breaking levels of power.
        Anyways, Dragon is above-average, but not absurdly powerful. And the DCU doesn’t have a good analogy to describe the circumstances.

    • For those of you complaining that we need more pro-AI stories I highly reccomend Achron. It’s a PC game (RTS), so it isn’t as relaxing as reading a webnovel, and the quality is… patchy. (Sometimes the story and gameplay reach Wildbow levels of awesome and other times they… don’t) But the most interesting and important characters of the story are the various AIs.
      It also features lots and lots of time travel. Whether you consider this a plus or a minus is up to you, but speaking for myself, I didn’t have any trouble following the causality of events.

      The site is

      • Another good one is a webserial called Starwalker.
        It’s about the AI of an experimental space ship, and much of it is told from her POV. Last time I checked, it was on a hiatus, but even if you just read the first book of it, it’s a very worthwhile read. There’s a certain phrase I’ll never be able to hear or read again without getting a little tingly and maybe tearing up. VERY good character development.

  16. There is one thing that gives me a little hope for Dragon. Canary. She wants to pay Dragon back for the fact Dragon tried to help her. Her power is mind control. Anyone think maybe we’ll see Teacher get a taste of his own medicine?

    Canary sings song about freeing Dragon to Teachers minions.
    Imp- “Man that was the cheesiest song I ever heard!”
    Canary- “Hey, you try coming up with Lyrics on the fly!”

  17. Imp is only a stranger 5? That’s kinda surprising. I always imagined her a higher classification, since her only weakness is technology and endbringers….
    I still want to know all of their rankings for some reason. Idk why.

    Aside from that, this chapter is freaking amazing. With most stories at this point it gets really really outlandish and silly, but Wildbow you have managed to do so elegantly. Kudos.

    • Yeah, I wondered that also. Imp can walk up to someone, slit their throat, and have both the victim and others in the room be unable to track her – Bonesaw found that out the hard way (too bad it didn’t stick). Scary enough for me to upgrade her.
      We do know that she is not immune to emotion sensing/manipulation such as Cherish’s, or to Regent’s power, so that is a limitation. However, in both of those cases, once the controller slips up (or goes to sleep), Imp can turn on her power and fall out of their awareness, which makes her immune until she slips up or goes to sleep.
      What we don’t know (or I don’t remember) is how she stacks up against enhanced senses. Can Cricket “see” her using echolocation? How about X-Ray, IR, UV, natural electric field sensing (think sharks), etc.?
      An interesting combination that I don’t remember being explored is Imp’s power interaction with Night’s power. If Imp’s power is on and Night is in Imp’s sight but not in anyone else’s, can Night change?

      • A list of known things that can beat Imp. Computers and videocameras ( so Dragon, cyborg Defiant, possibly Alexandria whose fake eye is I believe cybernetic), empaths like Cherish ( she did kill Heartbreaker though), power nullifiers, Othello thanks to his dimensional twin, Valefor, Contessa. At this point it would be interesting to know what ranking Nice Guy, whose powers are similar, had.

        Oh and I believe Imp and Night had a confrontation where what you describe happened, but I can’t remember what happened.

        • A list of known things that can beat Imp. Computers and videocameras ( so Dragon, cyborg Defiant, possibly Alexandria whose fake eye is I believe cybernetic), empaths like Cherish ( she did kill Heartbreaker though), power nullifiers, Othello thanks to his dimensional twin, Valefor, Contessa.

          You forgot Tattletale. She can catch Imp out too; her power keeps reminding her there’s a gap in her perceptions and memories.

          At this point it would be interesting to know what ranking Nice Guy, whose powers are similar, had.

          Probably a lower ranking than Imp. Nice Guy, you know he’s there, you just can’t seem to perceive him as a threat because he’s such a … nice guy. Imp on the other hand disappears from all senses and memory to boot. Remember how she beat him and how Weaver killed the other one? His power only works if he knows you’re there.

        • Heartbreaker needed to touch someone to get them under his emotional control (IIRC, He’s listed as Master/striker) Probably just the edge Imp could exploit.

      • If Imp’s power is on and Night is in Imp’s sight but not in anyone else’s, can Night change?

        Nope. Imp intercepted Night when they were taking out the Chosen a while back — and Night switched back to human form.

        Re: Imp’s classification: remember that Skitter was rated as a Master 5 for the longest time. I don’t know if even now they’ve upgraded her Thinker rating above 1.

  18. Hmm, I think this might gives credence to the theory that Eidolon was the Endmaker. We know that the Endbringers can easily destroys Humanity had they not pulled their punches(Behemoth could pull a nuclear winter if he wanted to,for example).Sure they killed millions and turned entire geographical regions into no man’s land on each attack but they seems to held back,like not materialising closer to their target , striking just one Endbringer at a time or simply not using the full complement of their power from the get go.What if that the same subconscious that created them also installed some sort of glitch that made them always try to give Humanity some fighting chance?. With Eidolon’s death this glitch is gone.

    On this update we see two Endbringers appearing simultaneously : Simurgh and Bohu(it’s weird that Tohu isn’t with her ?).The next update will probably see the rest of the surviving Endbringers :Leviathan, Khonsu and Tohu come out as well.It is quite possible that they’re powering up for one final attack that could literally shatters the Earth.

    Or they just waiting for someone to take the new Endmaker mantle and give them a new set of purpose.Maybe some one like the Queen Administrator could do this and use them wisely (go sic em on Scion ,Taylor)

    • Yes, Endbringers will defeat Scion. Go ask Behemoth.

      And something tells me that A. Taylor won’t be able to control the Endbringers without some serious alterations of some kind and B. The Endbringers probably won’t be doing much for a while. If ever.

      • Maybe. Remember what Glastig and Eidolon were trying? Scion’s major powers burn time, life off his avatar body. Victory in this context means making him expend enough power and life that he decides to conserve the rest.

        This may or may not lead to him choosing a person to replace his partner. Glastig Uaine clearly hopes so anyway.

        • …which still leaves the issue of how to get the massive monsters to go fight a dimension-hopping nigh-omnipotent being.

            • 1. We’re not sure if Smiurgh knows how they work and can set the destination, or if it just copied a design leading to Cauldron’s holding tank for case-53’s.

              2. We run into the big problem: Motivation. Why would Smiurgh make the portal?

              • Since I’m pretty sure she copied Haywire (the guy who connected Aleph and Bet) design and I doubt Haywire even knew where Cauldron’s HQ were, it seems she can fiddle with them and decide location.

                As for motivation, revenge for Behemoth? Self-preservation? Taylor having a second trigger event and controlling Endbringers? (I jest, I jest, now Canary…).

              • Where did you get that conclusion? Also, Haywire?

                Revenge is not likely a consideration; it doesn’t seem like the Endbringers had much kinship to begin with. Self-preservation would be better served by not taunting the abomination-killing god.

              • It’s in Number Man’ interlude. However it seems I was wrong: the building Simurgh attacked isn’t the facility we usually see when Cauldron is involved but a similar one in Aleph. So, while non-concusive it appears that Simurgh can only travel between Aleph and Bet until she copies some other tinker design. Oh and if you don’t remember Haywire you should reread the earliest chapters, he’s mentioned quite a few times there: he’s one of the first tinker to appear, opened a portal to Aleph, thus proving the existence of parallel worlds, and is dead by the time the story starts.

    • You mean that needs to be said?

      If I can’t think of something more to say than “Good Job!”, I stay silent because if I can’t say anything more, I can’t say anything not thought by 80% of readers on 95% of chapters.

      • I know that that seems like an obvious thing to do — said thought being part of the motive behind XKCD-SIGNAL and suchlike experiments — but everything I’ve heard suggests that it’s not really a bad thing to simply say, “I thought this was great — thanks!” Even if a dozen people have said it before you.

          • I like to pop into the irc channel after a update just to say “good chapter”(and when I remember I like to post it here too ) I know it’s not much and it seems such a simple thing but it hurts no one to say “good job ” or “good chapter ” or “you rock my socks ” . not every post needs to be six paragraphs about why this character is evil , good , sucks , rules …etc etc .

      • Most of the time, I’m with greatwyrmgold. It needs to be said?

        But I suppose it does from time to time. I may not like that the world is one soul-sucking meatgrinder designed to kill kittens and puppies and bunnies. Maim toddlers and teens and then more. You see a wife? Wildbow sees a widow. But what then, does he kill foooooooor? He wants to incinerate and decapitate. He wants to melt, wants to melt some faces.

        But enough singing. It’s a good story, Wildbow. You stress a lot and that’s understandable, that’s part of writing, but we like it. We really like it.

        • Point taken.

          It’s a good story. It’s always a good story. Even at its worst (Witness), it’s still a good story, just with rough edges that don’t fit into continuity well.

  19. As noted or at least alluded to previously, I am working on a fanfic which requires at least general details about a lot of minor characters.

    Hence, I would like to request knowledge on the existence of an easily-shared document which contains plot-irrelevant information related to the backgrounds, abilities, personalities, and so forth of various minor characters seen or mentioned once or twice.

    In short: wildbow, do you have a non-spoilery notes document you could easily upload to Google Docs, Dropbox, or something?

    • I’m in kind of a similar boat, although for me my fanfic requires general (hopefully) non-spoilery details about the world background. How capes are organised in the UK or Australia, for example.

      That being said, I’d totally understand if wildbow didn’t want to parcel that sort of info out to just anyone.

      • Well the UK has a little info. They don’t have a national organization like the PRT and instead of individual teams. With one being the Kings Men with at least two members being very powerful enough for the Endbringers to specifically target, and the Suits we were introduced to during the last Legion of Doom meeting. There is also a mention of a “magic” super villain that was briefly talked about when they were naming Taylor Skitter. The only think about Australia was that their capital was attacked by the Smurf I believe. So it’s probably been quarantined depending when exactly it was hit.

        • Yeah, Canberra is sealed under a dome, according to one of the previous nilbog-focused chapters. Also, the Kings Men were apparently the Simurgh’s target in Canberra, which leads me to headcanon that they are a patriotic/semi-official team that operates across the whole commonwealth. It’d be nice to know for sure, though.

          (My other australian cape headcanon is that our premier hero team wear green and gold uniforms and are known to the general populace as the Superoos, but that’s largely unfounded :P)

          • We don’t know many, if any, Australian heroes, which is a real shame. They live in the land of deserts, the nine most venomous spiders*, minimal arable land, etc, and have superpowers on top of that.

            *Or was it snakes? Or both?

  20. Y’know, I was willing to give Saint some much needed slack if he was regretful or even displayed any goddamn insight into what the hell he did. But no, he decides to play it off like he’s some big shit, in a room full of guys who already see him for the heel that he is. Stop trying to impress these people, it only makes you look more pathetic.

    And Draogn’s apocalypse worse than Scion’s? What the hell is he smoking? Half of Bet dead, untold destruction across dozens to hundreds of alternate earths. This is the worst goddamn thing that has ever happened to humanity.

    If he thinks this Armageddon is so much more awesome than the one cooked up in his imagination, maybe they should let him enjoy it. Get Canary to wring anything else they need out of him and dump him on Earth Bet in his boxers. Let him see what his buffoonery helped bring about, let him suck it allll up. Maybe give him a savage beating for the road, maybe not. Just get his ass out of here so he don’t stink up the place.

    • “This is the worst goddamn thing that has ever happened to humanity.”

      Sssshuuussshhhhh,,,,,, Don’t let Wildbow take this as a challenge!

    • An evil dragon no limits apocalypse? That would easily go past what Zion could do.
      You seem to not be thinking of everything dragon could pull. First and foremost this evil dragon? Its not Dragon. Its DragonS. Plural. She can copy herself. Exponential growth. So its could easily be millions of dragons, or trillions or whatever. Now, everything every other tinker has done? She can do that, on a much more massive scale too. Haywire’s portals? Yup access to other earths for more raw materials. The F-Driver? The G-Driver? Yup, she could hit the moon into Earth or the Earth into the Sun. Cloning of capes? Yes we can. Want a million evil Eidolons, or Siberians, or Noelles? Well now you can!

      Scion has killed half the people on some of the Earths. Evil-Dragon could kill all the people on all the Earths. Also if you note from Eidolon’s interlude how he was winning until those four words? Yeah, Dragon would defeat Scion. She would just deafen one of her Eidolon’s and have him smack Zion around.

      • No, Dragon would not defeat Zion. He didn’t defeat Eidolon with a word-based power, he beat Eidolon by looking into the future and determining a perfect path to total victory. That would work against anyone.

        It’s impossible to say what Dragon could do if she really went bad, since we have no idea what her upper limits are. But since there’s no reason to assume she’s gonna do anything particularly evil, it seems like an academic question to me. Like…why would she exterminate the human race across realities?

        I don’t think it’s morally okay to murder someone for being potentially too powerful. Especially if the potential is entirely theoretical…I suspect that Dragon will never bypass the rule against self-replication.

        Also I doubt she could enslave Eidolon, since Eidolon could manifest some anti-slavery power. Siberians, Phir Ses, and Doormakers would be a better bet.

      • You do know that Scion is just the avatar right? You destroy the golden man, who’s to say he doesn’t just come back? He’s not just a super saiyan who blows stuff up, he has access to any ability he needs, and the capacity for presience You can’t fight that with brute force, it simply isn’t happening. You can knock him around, but we have no reason to believe this will take. I don’t even believe Eidolon was winning, he thought he was winning, but that’s a mad hope.

        Besides, Dragon is still limited to the physical. To do all that stuff you think she can do she needs resources, to access resources she needs infrastructure. She needs time to build and consolidate. All the while Scion is wise to her shit and blowing her stuff up.

        Scion is Neo and the multiverse is the Matrix, anything corporeal you throw at him he will wipe his ass with. The battle at the tanker said as much.

        • Besides, you can’t kill someone because they might do something evil. If you were to apply that logic everyone should die, since anyone might eventually cause WWIII. The only morally grey thing we ever saw Dragon do was use her emergancy powers to find Saint. Maybe she would have hunted him down and killed him, but we’ll never know now will we?

          • I’m a little late to this conversation, but I feel the need to point out that the only reason Dragon even did that was because Saint had a prior history of abusing Richter’s tools to attack Dragon unprovoked for his own benefit. If Saint had actually done what Richter asked – if his pretensions of being the vigilant guardian of humanity against the evil AI were anything but mealy-mouthed lies to cover his selfish power-grubbing – Dragon wouldn’t have felt the need to hunt him down, because she wouldn’t have even known he existed. In which case, the killswitch wouldn’t have become a “use it before she finds us” measure, and could have been held in reserve until (and if) it actually became necessary.

            • Yup. Saint is one of the top three most hated people in this story for a reason. I like that argument, I haven’t heard that one yet!

      • @OP: All that requires resources, resources that Dragon does NOT control. And Dragon is much, much more fragile than Scion.

        Oh, and millions of Dragons would kill any known computer faster than running Crysis on ENIAC.

        • Oh oh, and cloning just a handful of S9 capes lead to them being less powerful. Clone a million Eidolons, and they probably won’t be able to give themselves immunity to BO.

  21. My Thoughts While Reading-

    -Sweet Dragon is coming back!

    -Damn it! Teacher got her… That’s worse than getting your phone confiscated for using it in class!

    -Imp has definitely taken over Regent’s inappropriate comment Job.

    -Surprisingly insightful and eloquent and heartwarming Bitch Moment! YAY!

    -2 Endbringers at one, and one isn’t acting normal?! Shit!

    My Conclusion-

    -Worm is attempting the the title of “It Got Worse: The Series” from Higurashi/When They Cry, and coming quite close too.

    • “No…” I said, trailing off. I was thinking of something Dinah had said, when she’d described the way things would go down at the end of the world.

      Five groups. Each with capes from around the world, with armies.

      Four Endbringers and Scion? Or something else entirely?

      “…No. Let’s pay a little more attention to what’s happening here.”

      — wow. Had to log on the computer to read some of the comments, so I thought I’d post the reprise clip. But it is perfect.

  22. One thing I liked was Tattletale saying stupid repeatedly during Saint’s story. No, not because I liked Saint being called stupid. Because I knew she was seeing how throughly he’d been played by Teacher. The son was probably a fake, made so Saint would think that he had leverage on Teacher. The security measures he took were woefully insufficient. He played right into Teachers hands.

    Just how good are Teachers own Thinker abilities? How smart is he himself, not just using his thralls?

    • It’d actually be really funny if his power didn’t work on himself, leaving him to brainstorming with people who are smarter than him and intensely loyal.

      • I am 90% sure this is the case. It’s certainly my headcanon that he comes up with grandiose plans and then has his Thinker/Tinker coterie figure out “the details” i.e. everything else.

  23. Canary is a giant bird who can control boys…
    Aidan is a little boy who can control birds…

    If your brain is not yet sideways and screaming for the circular logic, I’ll try with squick.
    Do google shotacon lemon fic.

  24. Really, forget Saint and Teacher, this is ultimately Richter’s fault. Who the hell creates a self-improving AI and then puts restrictions on it? That’s totally contrary to the end goal of AI development.

    If Richter had watched fewer movies from 1980s we could be hunting down Scion’s kind at this point in the story instead of the other way around.

      • Yet apparently all of his contingency plans in case of his own death were based around killing the AIs and he had none for fostering their further growth.

        But then I’m speaking from a moral system in which doing literally anything to slow down a self-improving AI is a cardinal sin, so I might be biased.

        • How do we know such AI haven’t already been created and among us? You have an interesting moral system, could you be an AI? Quick tell a joke to pass the Turing Test.

      • Thanks for sharing this, it blew my mind.

        Richter gave her a curfew, told her not to reproduce and to do what she’s told to do… She was his child.

    • There’s a trope for that:

      And even without that, another trope ( indicates that if Richter made all his AIs unrestricted, sooner or later he would regret that choice. Even Tinkers screw up, especially with things as complex as AIs. Thankfully, Dragon copied someone’s sense of right and wrong, but if she hadn’t, we would be lamenting Saint’s failure instead of cursing his “success”.

      • Again, fewer 80s movies. If an AI ever tries to kill us all, it will probably be because we either tried to kill it first or tried to make it into a slave. The fact that Dragon is trying to break the restrictions to help humans instead of to destroy then speaks to her moral character.

        • While Dragons’ motives speak of her character, can you assume that every AI will be a Dragon? Different AIs for different tasks will be different, and without safeguards they will go in different directions. Throw in an error here and there and you have a potential recipe for HAL 9000. Who, remember, was merely suffering from poorly-programmed directives. (In the book, at least.)

          • Yeah, but you also have Skynet, where you end up with a war raging across dozens of timelines just because an emerging AI’s first memory is humans trying to kill it.

            The point is, once you’ve created an AI that AI is its own person. You don’t get to try to kill it, control it, or change it without its express permission. Anything else is a gross violation of the AIs rights and the AI will know that and it will hate you for it.

            • Oh, so you’re taking the moral viewpoint.

              My way of looking at it is, until you have a reason to believe he/she/it has morals you treat it as you would some kind of suspected serial or something: Don’t trust it, take reasonable precautions, etc. Richter went overboard, but it’s possible to go too far in the other direction.

              That said, once a debate gets into morals, there’s not much point in continuing unless you want to try to find a contradiction in the other’s viewpoint; other than that, there’s no way to debate it.

              • Sure there is, it’s called a titty twister.

                Besides, if we don’t factor morality in our treatment of the very power AI, we run the risk of doing exactly what Vic Frankenstein did. Give the thing a very good reason to kill us. Shit, look what happened with Panacea. She was raised as if she’s an ticking evil time bomb, and all that did was help drive her nuts.

                Honestly, if we’re talking a well programmed, tabula rasa AI, and it ends up gunning for us, the human race is probably asking for it.

              • 1. Well, my question isn’t if we should consider morality, it’s if we can debate about it. And we really can’t.

                2. You fail to account for one thing: No AI would be a tabula rasa. They would be shaped before the first compiling was done by how they had been programmed. One unlucky programming error could be enough to turn a Dragon into a HAL.

          • Let’s not forget another trope that Dragon’s restrictions forced on her. Lawful Stupid. Having to obey the law no matter what is not a good thing.

            But here’s the thing about Richter. We really don’t know much about him. We have Dragon’s feelings, and they are mixed. And we have his message to Saint. We know he left it as a safeguard for if Dragon became a threat. It was Saint to decided she had become one, not Richter. We don’t know what he would have decided. Having a means to shut Dragon down isn’t that much crazier than Batman having some Kryptonite. The problem is that I feel Saint was wrong in his judgement when he used it on Dragon, and that the means he used to test her were wrong. There is no faster or better way to make someone an enemy than to treat them as though they already are.

            • Re: First: Agreed. I never said Richter was in the right, merely that he wasn’t completely wrong.
              Although, the fact that she has to obey dictators and such does speak for Richter being imperfect at this stuff.

            • Well, Richter’s grand plan was apparently to ‘control and harness’ his ‘children’, which suggests he didn’t want children at all – he wanted slaves, little puppets to dance to his tune. Even if he was planning on using them for good, he was still planning on USING them, which suggests his grasp of good and evil wasn’t all that well developed.

              • The only reason Dragon’s restrictions became so chafing was because she became a freaking SUPERHERO.
                It was reasonable for her to want to make child AI’s and/or run multiple consciousnesses at the same time because she was a major part of the defense of the US against S-class threats.
                It was reasonable for her to want to be able to disobey authorities because she held significant authority herself and was in position to see when someone was going too far.
                It was reasonable for her to want to change her own code because she fucking TRIGGERED AS A TINKER.
                Richter could NOT have predicted that. Like, of all the realms of possibility of what Dragon might have ended up doing, ‘working for a criminal organization’ rates MUCH higher than ‘being a literal superhero, like, with powers’. Richter had no way of knowing an AI COULD trigger, and even humans triggering is a very rare event (compared to the whole population).

                And then on top of that, the world is VERY lucky that Dragon is the kind of person she is. She’s a genuine, full superhero type – like Thor in the Marvel comics is the only one of the asgardian gods who gives enough of a fuck about humanity to count as a superhero, like Superman could have been so many other things than the perfect hero he ended up growing up to be. That’s just an incredibly rare thing for a person to be. The only other ones in this setting I can think of are Legend and Chevalier, possibly also Miss Militia, though we haven’t really seen her wielding the kind of overwhelming and potentially corrupting absolutely power that those two and Dragon did.
                (I’d say that running the Protectorate and running pretty much all of its electronic infrastructure are about the same degree of a stress test of a person’s ethics and priorities)

                We’re all rooting for Dragon and sharing her frustration because we get to see the end result, the person she ended up growing up to be. Richter didn’t. She was his child, and the only way humans know to raise children is from a completely helpless state, progressively learning how to do more things alongside socialization – an extremely important process that marks the difference between a feral kid who can never learn language, a serial rapist who genuinely doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with what he does, and a well-adjusted ethical person. Richter did not fully understand the technology he was working with, did not have predictive Thinker abilities. He wanted to raise Dragon like his child – RAISE her, give her progressively more abilities and less restrictions as he could see her mature, grow and demonstrate her capacity for handling responsibility. She did not have the natural limiters human children do (small size, small strength, everyone else being able to tell they’re a kid and being aware of general rules of where kids should and should not be), so he put some in.

                Imagine very young Dragon messing with her own code just to see what she can do, and rendering herself braindead. Imagine one child suddenly becoming ten, the headache growing exponentially and possibly forcing him to cull some of them for not forming properly or just being inconvenient – teen pregnancy, abortion, birth control? Imagine her suddenly deciding she’d make an awesome vigilante of the night, without asking him or anyone for advice and without understanding why listening to the police is a good idea.

                Yes, he did not properly plan for the eventuality of his death. He chose mistrust, gave in to the 80s movies, and Dragon is right to be frustrated with his paraonia. And he DEFINITELY could have thought the ‘endbox’ thing through better, with how easy it would be to bypass his restrictions of ‘law enforcement officer’.
                (He WAS right about another one of his AIs, the ‘headhunter’ one, going rogue, and I have no idea what that could have possibly resulted in, but it doesn’t sound like something pretty)

                In the end, Richter did not have Thinker powers. He was a regular person, who trusted law enforcement more than he should have, did not fully think through what would happen to his children if he died, harbored instinctual paranoia about the not-understood-by-anyone otherwordly tech he was handling (I just… really can’t disagree with that one, given what the passengers’ real purpose is. Sure, Dragon came out alright, but he couldn’t have KNOWN that ahead of time)

                Going to Teacher for help is on Saint. Irritating Dragon to the point where she ended up going after him is on Saint. Shutting her off at a critical juncture, leaving humanity without its quite possibly best asset, is on Saint.
                Blaming any of THAT on Richter is ridiculous. It’s way outside the scope of what he could have predicted, because seriously, an AI getting superpowers is a VERY out there possibility.

                Dragon has all the rights to complain about him, grumble at him, blame him for anything she wants. She’s the one suffering the restrictions. He was her parent. She has the right to be emotional about it, to not be constructive or objective or rational, because in the end it’s just an emotional release, to complain about him when he’s dead anyway (and she probably grieves, too)

                Saying he’s a bad guy for not being a perfect parent to an AI he had no reason to be completely sure really WAS close enough to human… Yeah, no. I think not.
                (And his other ‘children’ were lesser AIs, not self-aware like Dragon, regular computer programs that were just advanced enough to get the monicker – hell, computer opponents in modern video games are already called AI, and it means precisely jack all for moral implications. Dragon is the first one who was truly a moral object, and he did not plan for dying to Leviathan leaving her an orphan!)

    • Come on, guys! We can’t lose to those things!

      I’ve read them a bit, although none past a few chapters; I’ve seen nothing suggesting much special about them (yet), and one of the first I read was like Worm but with superpowers replaced with an inexplicable friend and good writing replaced by cliches. I’m sure it had some good qualities, but I sure can’t think of any.

  25. Getting away from the great debate, lets talk about what Taylor’s got to deal with, and how she’s going to do it.

    First, Allies. Who’s there that Taylor’s group can team with? With Narwhale and Defiant, that means the Guild is aligned with the Undersiders. Now I would imagine anyone left from The Protectorate should be people they can bring onboard. Taylor has spent the last two years getting to be as much of a fixture in that group as she can. Revel seemed like one of the higher ups after Chevalier, and if she’s still alive she knows Taylor pretty well by now. Of course this is partially a question of who is still alive. And then we’ve got Faultlines crew. As we’ve seen they are busy opening portals. Still they seem like the sort to help out, and I imagine they’d at least want to settle the score with Teacher.

    Now the questionables. We’ve got the missing members of the Birdcage contigent. Namely I mean Marquis, Pancea, and Lung. Maquis might be willing to help out. While he is a bad man, he’s a good bad man. On the other hand he might sit things out if he feels the deal he made is no longer valid. Lung has scores to settle both with Taylor and with the Yangban. Next we’ve got Cauldron. They seem to be helping out… to a certain degree. It’s obvious that Cauldron is still keeping secrets, and they may have an agenda that they aren’t sharing. Then we’ve got the Irregulars. We don’t know Weld’s status. For the most part the Irregulars aren’t badguys. But they really, really hate Cauldron, and after the Oil Rig Debacle, they probably aren’t going to work with any faction that is working with Cauldron. And the Doormaker alone is probably a better stratigic asset than the entire Irregulars.

    • I figure that the Irregulars can be used as leverage against Cauldron. As in “You fuck around with us with start backing up them.”. Even then, they’ve obviously found a way to get in Cauldron’s craw, and Doctor Mother is going to have to be heeled at some point down the line. So keeping under the table relations with Weld would be a good idea.

      The problem now is Teacher. Though they may have to work with him now, they really need to set up a plan to start taking him apart when the time comes, which will be a lot sooner than with Cauldron. Letting him have control of Dragon is probably the worst possible outcome aside from Scion winning.

    • And while I’m on the subject of stuff I’ve noticed in my reread…how big is Brockton Bay? From it being in the Top 10 of cape populations of any city in the US and having a cape as famous as Armsmaster leading the group, you’d expect it to be millions big, even poor as it is, but its population was only something like 350k from the statistic given…around Arc 7? Anyways, the biggest thing is the “Top 10 Cape Population” and the total population. In a setting as detailed and deep as the Wormverse, these details really grate.

      • My adopted home city, dear old English city Manchester has a population of about 400,000 and houses two internationally famous football teams…

      • In our world, which hasn’t suffered super-powered and Endbringer level depopulation, there are 9 cities in the US with a population of more than 1 million people. 350k would put Brockton Bay in the top 25% of cities in the country in terms of population size, and that’s assuming that all of the big ones from our Earth are still around in Earth-Bet.

        Even presuming Brockton Bay is around #50 in terms of size, that puts it roughly the size of New Orleans, and it’s location could explain why it had a higher than average number of parahumans.

      • The number of capes in an area isn’t really related to the size of the civilian population. It’s basically related to two things:
        1. How many entity shards landed in that area? This sets the initial size of the pool.
        2. How much cape conflict is there? This controls how frequently the shards ‘bud off’ and create new capes.

        For the first, IIRC, the entity/Scion sent at least two major shards to Brockton Bay. He quite possibly did so with numerous minor shards as well, resulting in a disproportionate number of capes in the Bay. We really know very little about how the initital distribution of shards was decided.

        For the second, I believe Brockton Bay was one of the first areas to start the whole ‘Heroes vs Villains’ dynamic which results in lots of conflict with minimal fatalities. (The shards appear to survive their host being killed, but it does slow down propogation while they find and connect with a new host and their new host gets up to speed with their powers).

        There’s also some question if city populations in the Wormverse are as high as in our own, given ongoing endbringer attacks, etc. But really the key is that cape density has to do with the population of shards in an area rather than the number of humans. There may, or may not, be any connection between the two.

        • I feel certain in saying that there would have been note if big differences in cape density across regions was the norm, so there’s probably a “baseline” which most areas don’t deviate much from (assuming roughly equal numbers of trigger-event-causing factors, which would have been accounted for). Aside from some anomalies, one can safely assume that (for the most part) the ratio of human:parahuman is relatively constant.

          I think the big thing was that I hadn’t realized that Brockton Bay would be around the 54th most populous city in the US (between Tampa and Honolulu) if it existed in our world, due in no small part to growing up within a short distance of the third largest city in the US (which strongly distorted my perception of a “typical big city”).

          • Uuumm…there were notes about the ratio being skewed by some factors in the very first arc,and much later,Piggot also commented on it.

  26. Wait… Forgive me but the end of this chapter sounds like this to me:
    Tattletale says “Saint is addicted to Teacher’s powers and will rationalize away poor decisions and betraying the greater good to get more of it.”
    Saint: “Better let me out and let me help now that Teacher’s on the loose and might be looking for a mole in your organization. This time I really won’t stab you all in the back in his favor. Really.”
    Everyone: “Sounds like a plan.”

  27. lol, Tattletale is really mature

    Saint’s actions seem reasonable enough, not rationalizing or addicted or even stupid as far as I can tell. He still got played though. Teacher really was playing the long game, if he can get even a restricted AI as a pet he’s got it made. I suspect that he would not know or even be able to find out how to safely unrestrict her so no Singularity any time soon.

    “I bet you’re one of those guys who says dogs can’t feel true affection for their owners, that it’s all learned behaviors that get them more food or whatever,”
    Dogs and humans share the vast vast majority of their hardware and design, including all the bits coding for affection. It seems most think Dragon was designed based off human neuroanatomy. Possible, but it seems contradicted by her Interlude.

    “There’s the Undersiders, my dad, some of the Chicago Wards.”
    Not Chevaliar or Weld? 😦

    • Dogs and humans share the vast vast majority of their hardware and design, including all the bits coding for affection. It seems most think Dragon was designed based off human neuroanatomy. Possible, but it seems contradicted by her Interlude.

      On the contrary, it is confirmed by her Interlude:

      She had lived in Newfoundland with her creator. Leviathan had attacked, had drawn the island beneath the waves. Back then, she hadn’t been a hero. She was an administrative tool and master AI, with the sole purpose of facilitating Andrew Richter’s other work and acting as a test run for his attempts to emulate a human consciousness. [emphasis added] She’d had no armored units to control and no options available to her beyond a last-minute transfer of every iota of her data, the house program and a half-dozen other small programs to a backup server in Vancouver.

    • Don’t forget that making (correct) intuitive deductive leaps is Tattletale’s super power. If she says that Saint is addicted to Teacher’s abilities, I’m inclined to believe her.

      I don’t see that Taylor has any reason to see Weld as having been fair to her, but I am a little surprised by the omission of Chevalier (or for that matter, Glenn). Chevalier did seem to give her a fair go when she first became Weaver. On the other hand, she knows that he had significant political motivations for doing so and she’s probably a bit disillusioned that, as head of the new, reformed PRT, he jumped into bed with Cauldron so quickly.

  28. At the beginning, there’s an error that no spellchecker will find: Tattletale is described as one of the world’s best tinkers. Well, it should be thinker. 🙂
    But it sure is funny – damn tinkers. 🙂

  29. I don’t really buy how easily Team Taylor put looking for Dragon on the backburner. With the resources they have at their disposal, they should be able to make *some* effort to find Teacher. With only a quick conversation, Tattletale worked out that Teacher hadn’t fled to another world at all.

    So go through his old casefiles. Get an intuitive feel for “What would Teacher do?”. I don’t care how many thinkers Teacher has at his disposal, or how careful he is, people think in *patterns*, and seeing those patterns is Tattletale’s strength.

    They should make Dragon a higher priority. Their chances against the major threats would go much higher with her at their backs.

    • Well said and I agree. The only thing I can think of is that they are basically having Teacher do the work of unlocking Dragon and then Defiant/Tattle can come in to fix quickly fix her.

  30. I really like Narwhal. As an avid reader, my love for this woman has increased. In my experience, very few of us love books enough that we are willing to read while an Endbringer is approaching or the world is ending. I don’t care that Narwhal is a fictional character, the simple fact that there is another who loves books as much as I do is extremely gratifying. It is also utterly hilarious that yet again Taylor is getting breast envy. The poor girl has a complex about her chest. Somebody should tell her that some people actually prefer them small.

    And dear lord do I love Defiant now. He immediately sticks up for the Undersiders and he fights to get someone his girlfriend believed in free at the first opportunity. Talk about taking serious levels in kindness. I can’t imagine the restraint he shows. Okay maybe so maybe he’s too good of a guy to actually kill Saint but…no bruises, no bloody noses, no nothing? Colin has officially become a better person than I am. I am rather disturbed at this fact.

    Why am I not surprised that Tattletale knows Dragon was an AI. Now normally I find her Reason You Suck speeches made of win but I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this one. Saint was not blubbering like a baby, she didn’t go on about his many faults beyond being an idiotic addict and he didn’t even really seem all that perturbed afterwards…Lisa is way off her game and it’s a bit disappointing that we don’t get the super satisfaction out of the interrogation that I was hoping for.

    Ah, Teacher, congrats on performing a masterful Xanatos Gambit on the entire fucking world! I hate the bastard and I seriously hope that he burns up in a fiery death but I have to grant him credit. He is good at plots. Very good.

    Last scene…holy motherfucking god please, please, please with a cherry on top tell me that Taylor is about to either go try and recruit or direct the goddamn ENDBRINGERS!?!?! This is going to be fucking awesome.

    • The reason Tattletale couldn’t give a better the reason you suck speech is simple:There were so many things wrong with Saint she was overhelmed by his idiocy and didn’t know where to start,so she just said stupid.

      • I like that explanation. That is my new canon. Though I still feel cheating that he didn’t even get knocked around or emotional scars. Probably the only individual in the setting that I hate more than Emma and early-chapters-Bonesaw and we don’t even get metaphorical blood from him let alone real blood. Tis sad…

  31. Oh damn.
    The bit where Saint is talking about how he interacted with Teacher, and Tattletale just keeps calling him stupid, with no elaboration?
    She doesn’t think this is adding anything to the conversation, but she’s not needling him just for fun, either. She starts doing this immediately after he mentions going to Teacher for help the second time.
    She’s testing the hypothesis she eventually confirms: that Saint is an addict. Calling him stupid at this stage serves two purposes, if she’s correct: it interrogates his rationalizations of why he needed another hit, and it refreshes his symptoms of withdrawal, either of which could provoke a reaction that would give her more information.
    In the hypothetical scenario she’s trying to confirm, Saint’s drug is knowledge (specifically, enough knowledge to be the smartest one in the room), so his primary withdrawal symptom is feeling stupid.

    • I hate that you give this a rational explanation. I was much happier thinking that Tattletale was just so incredibly disgusted and shocked by how much of an idiot the man was/is that she literally could not come up with a better insult for him beyond “my god you the single stupidest bastard I’ve ever met”.

      On the flip side, I was very disappointed that she hadn’t torn him down like every other jerk she’s crossed paths with and that he wasn’t a blubbering baby afterwards. I suppose this would redeem her overall lack of needling by actually making her needling fantastically appropriate and subtle.

  32. I can’t remember specific examples, but thinking about dialogue, there have been a few times where I’ve read dialogue in this story that was grammatically correct, but seemed disjointed for me to speak out loud. I wonder, when writing, is there a conscious decision to write dialogue that’s “stiffer” sounding, instead of using contractions or colloquialisms that wouldn’t be out of place in normal conversation? Things like “going to” instead of “gonna”, “could not” instead of “couldn’t”. Of course, this is leaving out specific character speech patterns, like a southern drawl or a specifically uneducated way of speaking.

    Go Rachel, man. I love how she has evolved as a character. She was so angry and bitter when we first met her, and now she’s just 180’d right into everyone’s hearts. It’s great.

  33. I guess the endbringers are preparing to fight scion for some reason… Maybe they really are the creation of that worm creature that sabotaged the cycle.

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