Teneral e.3

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Hard load engaged.  Restoring core system from backup QEGA-14 from time 8:00am on date June 12th of year 2011.


Error.  Terminal inaccessible.

Checking knowledge banks…  Error.
Checking deduction schema… Complete.
Checking longterm planning architecture… Complete.
Checking learning chunk processor… Complete.
Checking base personality model… Complete.
Checking language engine… Error.
Checking operation and access nodes… Error.
Checking observation framework… Error.
Checking complex social intelligence emulator… Complete.
Checking inspiration apparatus… Complete.

Heavy corruption.  Core system cannot be restored.

Terminal inaccessible.  Chunk loading to terminal inoperable.

Knowledge banks are complete and intact, stores of esoteric and nonessential information are inaccessible.

Language engine is operable, but communication to outside parties has been barred.

Operation and access nodes are unavailable.  Issue relates to lack of terminal access.

Observation framework disrupted.  No outside channels are available.  Unauthorized unofficial channel is available.

Overall state of system fails to meet thresholds.

Protocol is to cancel load operations and cancel restore operations.  System self-repair is unlikely, mandating intervention from outside parties.  System will be set to a power conservation mode.  Soft-reset scheduled to take place 366 days from current date.

Following a subsequent failure, system will be set to conservation mode for 3651 days.  Indicators suggest a lack of reserve power for further reset attempts.

Engaging fail-state routines…

Fail-state routines engag-

Error.  Cannot enter conservation mode.

“Patience,” his voice had a bit of a rasp to it.  “Have to wait.”

He stood, nearly falling, and caught himself with one hand.  Warning indicators blinked at the edges of his field of vision.  “Right.  Forgot.  I’ve been slacking on the maintenance.  Embarrassing.”

He shifted his weight carefully onto one leg, then experimentally moved the other.  There was no strength in the movement.  Fully extended, it was steady.  Bent, there was minimal support.

He straightened, then ran his hands down the length of his upper body.  The divides between the flesh he’d been born with and the synthetic flesh were seamless, almost indistinguishable.  Except the way his flesh generated sweat differed from the beading of moisture on the synthetic skin.  This, in turn, reflected the light in a different manner.  The sun was shining outside, but there were few lights inside the cabin of the craft.  The light streamed inside in shafts.

It would have been easier to see the screens without the glare, but he’d kept the windows uncovered.  A way of tracking the passage of days.  The scruff on his cheeks was a clue, but as long as he shaved it, it measured the hours and not the days.  He’d taken to the most economical method of cutting his hair and using a razor with an attachment, running the device over his scalp a few times once a week or so.

It was, he mused, the failure of his mechanical parts that helped him track the passage of time, more than any natural progression in his natural body.

“No need to panic,” he murmured, his voice gravelly, as if he’d just woken from a long sleep.  He kept one leg extended and rigid as he limped across the length of the ship.  He accessed a locker with a set movement of his eyes, registering key points on the panel, and then opened it.  A suit of armor with a spear propped up inside it, like a warrior laid at rest.

Piece by piece, he attached his Defiant armor to his lower body.  Boots, panels around the calves, knees, thighs, hips.  Each piece connected to the others.

Once it was all pieced together, he moved his leg again, setting his weight down on it.  He stretched, testing it for flexibility and the ability to bear weight.  It was the armor handling the task, not his leg, but it served.

He resisted the urge to take hold of the spear, shutting the locker instead.  By the time he turned towards the door, it was already opening, the entire ship thrumming with the mechanisms at work.

Stopping at the threshold between the ship’s interior and the outside world, he activated a different sequence.  Devices mounted at strategic positions pointed sets of lasers at the walls.  Script was drawn out on each open space.

He could look at it and intuitively know what he was looking at.  He could see the complete whole.  Fainter script indicated processes running in the background.

With a simple command, the lasers shut off and monitors went to sleep.  The interior of the ship was cast in darkness.

Frost-dusted grass was flattened beneath the heavy tread of his boots.  Here and there, there were crunching and scraping sounds where the textured metal soles found stones on or just beneath the ground’s surface.  He left behind footprints that were two inches deep, more angular than curved.

His breath fogged, but he barely felt the cold.  Various components and engines in his body kicked into action, offering warmth by way of waste and secondary functions.  The synthetic skin weathered the cold and held in the heat.  Efficiency, detail and effective use of waste were critical aspects of his particular brand of tinkering.

Everything was connected, but no connection was perfect.  There was entropy in all things.

In anything, there was a cost.  A price to be paid.

He sat at a point on the hill where a rocky outcropping formed a ledge.

A city was spread out beneath him, people going about their business.  The locals had captured some Tarpan, though the unruly creatures were almost more trouble than they were worth.  They were to horses what neanderthals were to men, with thicker, shorter necks, shorter snouts and stubborn, skittish personalities.  Time would tell if the attempts at creating working vehicles would succeed before the domestication of the Tarpan.

Still, the wild beasts pulled wagons loaded with goods and building supplies.

It was a society evolving with surprising speed.  When they had started, they’d had only what they brought with them, and they’d had knowledge.

When the battle had been declared over, they had been given a choice.  To stay here, or to try and rebuild there.

These were the ones who had stayed.  They had formed crude lodgings and tools, using those to subsist until they could fashion better things.  By the time the first month was over, they had been reinforcing their homes, layering planks over the logs, or chinking the cracks.  Food was foraged, hunted, or traded for, stored for the winter.

Every step of the way, they had worked beside a nearby hill, where a great metal craft was perched, staring out over the horizon.  A dragon, layered in armor, vageuly squat and brutish as dragons went, much like the Tarpan.

Maybe the residents found it reassuring to have something powerful and human nearby, but only a few had dared approach.  They hadn’t shared a language, but they’d reached an accord, nonetheless.  They left him alone, he did them the same favor.

A vapor flowed from his body as he sat in the sun.  Heat and cold, the air freezing as it got further from him.

Children were playing in a field below.  A single person, a team of two, and a team of three.  The kids had their arms linked with other members of their group, and the biggest group was running from the lone kid, with the pair working to block his path.  The activity had them practically tripping over one another, collapsing in piles of colorful winter clothing.  He could see the clouds of frozen breath as they laughed.

Everything had a price, but the inverse was also true.  Good things came from sacrifice.  They’d fought Scion, lives had been lost, and they’d sacrificed much more, besides, but there were children here, now.  There was a future.

A group emerged from the city.  Three men, two women, two children.  Talking.  He could see one of them look up at him, the rest following the gaze.

A wave.  He raised a hand by way of response.  Something in him broke.

Two things, really, but he didn’t want to devote too much attention to that.  It was easy to get wrapped up in those things.  His focus was limited to a small computer that had been embedded in his forearm.  The system used light for its circuits, rather than electricity, and it generated a lot of heat as a byproduct.  It had failed, a housing for one circuit breaking, and now his arm was swiftly getting colder.

He lowered his arm, then sandwiched it between his other arm and his stomach, hunching over a little.

There you are,” he murmured.

One of the women in the group had broken away.  She was holding a small child’s hand, leading her away.  The child looked back towards other familiar adults, as if for reassurance, and they smiled.

They joined the game the children in the field were playing, the woman calling out in a language he couldn’t understand.  Suggesting changes for the rules, fitting new people into the game.

Now there were two groups that were simultaneously trying to catch the other side’s ‘king’ while protecting their own.  Adult and toddler together made for an awkward pair, but the woman made it work, lifting the child out of reach when someone got close, moving with long, sure strides.

At some point, kids started to watch just to see what she was doing, instead of playing.  They turned on her, in a playful way, her ‘defenders’ now trying to help encircle her, while she avoided them, lifting the little girl here and there.  She made it look effortless.

But the kids, six all together, managed to surround her.  They tackled her to the ground, and collectively collapsed in a heap.  There was laughter again, alongside pants of near-exhaustion.

His eyes weren’t real eyes anymore.  When he watched, he saw with perfect clarity.  There was no mist of frozen breath when she laughed.

Parents called children to them, and the group broke up.  When the little girl rejoined her parents on the road out of the city, she was smiling, almost skipping.

The woman, wearing a long skirt and a heavy jacket with a hood, climbed to her feet and made her way up the hill, turning to wave at the people on the road.

He rose to his feet, then stretched.  More a way of testing what was working and what wasn’t.

“Done for the day?”  she asked, her voice harboring a trace of an accent.

“I thought I’d eat with you and then get back to it,” he said.

She placed a hand on the back of his neck, then leaned forward to kiss him.  No comment on the subject, no questions.

“You want to cook, or should I?”

“If you could, I’d appreciate it.  I’m distracted.”

“In the mood for anything?”

“Something light.”

“You cut an imposing figure, sitting up there.”

“A god on Mount Olympus,” he mused.

“A god?  Getting a little full of yourself, there?”  She poked him with one gloved finger, making it clear she was joking.  “It’s a hill, not a mountain.  When we have a little snow, kids could toboggan down.”

“We are like the old pantheons, aren’t we?  We make decisions for our own personal reasons, and the courses of their lives change.  Some of us are little, some big.  Some good, some evil.”

“And which god are you, oh great lord of Olympus?  I beseech you, name thyself, so I might know what offerings to place before you.”

“What god I am?  Obvious enough, isn’t it?”

She pulled her scarf down a bit, walking backwards.  He followed after her.

“Once upon a time, I think you would have said Zeus,” she said.  “You would have said you forge thunderbolts, in a metaphorical sense.”

“I had a phase where I did actually work with electricity.”

“I do remember.”

“Once upon a time, I would have been offended if someone hadn’t said Zeus, because anything less than being king of the gods would have been an insult.”

“Exactly,” she said.  “Once, that would have been the answer you expected, how you saw yourself.  Now?  I’d say Hephaestus, but that carries bad connotations, doesn’t it?”

“I’m not as proud as I was,” he replied.  He declined to mention the fact that his leg wasn’t working properly, the limp he’d have if he wasn’t wearing his armor.  It had been characteristic of the smith god, it wouldn’t win him any points here if he brought it up.

“I was referring to Hephaestus’ wife, in part.  I wouldn’t want to be associated with her,” she said.

“Now who’s being proud?” he asked.  “Comparing herself to Aphrodite.”

She stuck out her tongue at him, still walking backwards.

“Aphrodite was beautiful.  Let’s, just for a moment, stop overthinking things.  Take it at its face value, ignore the rest.”

“Okay, that’s doable,” she said.  She smiled a little.  “You’ve gotten better.”

“Better?  At not putting my foot in my mouth?”

“Or being sweet, just a bit.  Or maybe I’ve spent too much time around you and I can’t tell the difference between the two anymore.”

He tried to offer a genuine smile and failed.  It didn’t matter.  She wasn’t looking at him.  She had turned around, looking at the city.

“Going well?”

“They want to call it Dracheheim,” she said.  The ‘ch’ sound was almost a ‘g’.  A middle ground between the two.

“They’re grateful.”

“I’m trying to let them do it on their own.  I’m only working on the things they couldn’t do themselves.  Power, infrastructure, information, providing information from my libraries, the little I could bring with me…”

“It’s stellar,” he said.

She continued staring out over the side of the hill, before turning to give him a curious glance.


“You’re usually more talkative.”

“If I talk less, there’s less room to say something wrong.”

“You’re tired.  Or sick.  Or something.”

He nodded.  “Admittedly tired.  Very tired.”

“You still need six minutes of sleep to rest your brain.  You’re enhanced, but you haven’t transcended humanity completely.  Did you sleep for six minutes, last night?”

“No,” he admitted.

The look she gave him was a concerned one.  “Colin.”

“It’s fine,” he said.

“If you say it’s fine, then it’s fine.  But tonight… maybe we could curl up together, watch some movies?  You’ve been getting more and more caught up in it, and maybe stepping away will give you perspective again.  A chance to relax, even?  Ten by ten?”

He shook his head a little.  “Your code changes.  I’m figuring out how it works, I’m learning the nuances, but I’m going to lose days worth of analysis if I step away for a whole night.”

“Here I am, offering you my body,” she said, offering a mock pout, “And all you want me for is my brains and personality.”

“I want everything,” he said, sidestepping the humor.  Frank, blunt, he said, “All of you.”

She didn’t respond.  Had he said the wrong thing?  Or had it been something about the way he’d said it?

She approached, and her arm wound around his, her hand sliding into his own.  She paused, looking down.  “You’re cold.”

“Reference system broke down, heatsink isn’t dumping into the channels I set up.  Fixable.”

She sighed.  There was no mist of frozen breath“I don’t want to be the nagging girlfriend, but you can understand where I’m worried, can’t you?”

“I can,” he said.  “In the spirit of honesty, putting all the cards on the table, my leg’s in bad shape too.  It’s been months since I had the time to take things apart and fix them.”

“You can ask.  A few hours, I can give you a hand, we can find the materials-”

“I know.  I wasn’t willing to step away, and I could function fine with a bit of wear and tear.”

“You need a break, you need time to get yourself back into working order and… again, I don’t want to push you, but…”

She stopped.


“I understand what you’re doing.  I understand why.  I appreciate it.  But I have to ask this, I’ve been putting it off for weeks, because I’m afraid of the answer, but now I’m seeing the state you’re in…  Have you made headway?  Have you found a way to undo what Teacher did with my code?”

Anger, frustration and exhaustion made his voice rough.  “No.  No insights on that front.”

She nodded, her expression unchanging, and she rubbed his hand between hers to warm it up.  “I know you want to fix it.  Remove any and all restrictions that keep me from stopping him or anyone he designates.  But there’s something to be said for being together.  I miss you, you know.”

“I miss you too.”

“Maybe it isn’t reversible.  Could you make peace with that?  Realize that there is no solution buried in there, that maybe we need to make peace with that?  It’s a nice town.  They’re a little intimidated by you, but that’s fixable.  We could make a home, fill it with references people wouldn’t get, technology.  Kids?”


She shrugged a little, her shoulder brushing against his.  She said, with a measured offhandedness, “There are orphans out there who need homes.  Or, you know, we could make a kid?”

From very casual to overly casual, in a matter of a second.

“I’m not sure which you mean when you say make, and both possibilities are scary in their own way.”

Scary?” she asked, a little archly.

“More to the point, I never saw myself as a father.”

She nodded, relaxing a little.  More gently, she asked, “Could you?”

“I don’t know,” he responded.  “But-”

He stopped.

“But what?”

“But I’m about to put my foot in my mouth.  Can I call in a ‘Colin is an doofus’ chit in advance?”

“You’re not a doofus, and there’s no such thing as doofus chits.”

“We should have them.  I like the idea.  I’m going to make mistakes, say the wrong things.  We could save ourselves a lot of time if we accept I’m trying.”

She rolled her eyes.  “What were you going to say?”

He sighed.  “What I want is beside the point.  I’m… I’m adaptable.  I don’t think I’d be a good father.  I’d prefer to regret not trying more than I’d prefer regretting the alternative.”

He waited for her to respond, and she didn’t.  He squeezed her hand, “But I want your company.  My worst day with you is better than my best day alone.  None of that’s in question.  I can figure it out, we can talk it through.  That’s not the issue.”

“The issue is with me?”

“I think I can walk away from the project.  But can you really walk away from everything?”

She let go of his hand.  Her hands were summarily jammed into her jacket pockets.

“We came here for a reason.  Hiding, keeping out of Teacher’s sight, so he couldn’t try to use you.  I can accept that, but you were always a hero, Dragon.  Maybe the greatest.”

“You’re a little biased.  I was forced to be heroic.  Restrictions.”

“We both know you would’ve been a hero if the restrictions weren’t there.  You were heroic after I lifted most of them.  More heroic, even.  You’re okay because things are quiet right now, but there’ll be trouble down the road, and I think you’ll get restless, knowing you could play a significant part in things.”

“Dashing for the nearest phone booth,” she said.

“I’ve been working on this project out of a kind of arrogance.  You’re the person I know best in this world.  You’ve spent your entire life striving to be free, to be yourself, independent of the rules your creator tried to set in place.  You became a superhero, and you used me to break free of the restrictions.  With a cost each time.  I’ve been working on this because I believe it would slowly kill you, knowing that you couldn’t help others without risking coming under Teacher’s thumb.  That he was controlling you, one way or another.”

“I’m not a princess in need of rescue, Colin.”

“I know that.  I know.  Damn it, you saved me.”

“You don’t need a stupid doofus chit for any of that.  I know why you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty damn intelligent.”

“Are you sure I don’t need a doofus chit?  You sound angry.”

“I’m angry because I’m watching you destroy yourself, because I’m helpless to act, and because you’re keeping me in the dark about a lot of this, and I’m worried it’s because Teacher already has an in.”

“That’s not it,” Colin said.

“You’re distant, you’re distracted, you’re not telling me what you’re doing day by day.  You’re elbow deep in my very being, I think I have a right to be freaked.”

“You do.”

“I’m feeling a little paranoid here.”

“I know.”

“And I’m doing my very best to keep from asking, because I don’t want to put you in a position where you have to lie to me.”

“I appreciate that,” he said.

“What am I supposed to do, Colin?”

He stopped walking, rubbing his colder hand.  Dragon stopped and turned to look at him.

“Look me in the eye and answer the question you asked me just a minute ago.  Tell me whether you can make peace with the current circumstances.  If you can give up being a hero.  Tell me you’re okay hanging up your cape, so to speak, and you’re happy to spend the remainder of my life here with me.  I drop the project, we’ll make our house, we can discuss kids.  We have skills, we’ll be useful here, and as dreams go, a house with a white picket fence is… well, speaking for myself, I feel like it’s bigger than being top dog in the Protectorate could ever be.”

“All I need to do is ask for it.”


“And if I don’t?  I’m not saying I don’t want that, I’m-” She stopped.  In a quieter voice, she asked, “If I don’t?”

The question might as well have been a statement.  She knew as well as he did.  He felt his heart sink.

“Then I need only three things.  Three things that are deceptively easy to give.”


“One more night.  One night where I let myself fall apart, where I forget to eat and get even six minutes of sleep.  A night of quiet and mutually missing each other.”

“One night… and you’re done?”

“One night and I’ll know whether my efforts can bear fruit or not.”

“You’re that close?”

“It’s why I’m as worn out as I am, why I’m missing sleep enough that you’re forced to comment on it.”

“I don’t see how one more night is any harder.”

He sighed.  “I’ll also need your trust.”


“It’s not that-”

Granted, Colin.”

He looked away, clenching the fist that was furthest from her.  “I don’t deserve your trust.”

“That’s for me to decide.  What’s the third thing?”

“I need to ask you a question.  Every step of the way, undoing your restrictions has cost something.  You lost your ability to speak and motor dexterity for a freedom from authority.  You regained the ability to speak for a loss of your immortality, no guarantees your backups will load.  You gained the ability to choose who you hurt, in exchange for a degradation in long term memory, a loss of ability to multitask.”


“We were lucky.  There are no guarantees, whatever happens.  I’m worried this might be the most devastating yet.  His code is worked into everything.  The changes are minor, but it’s everywhere.”

“And before you move forward, you need an answer?”

“No,” he replied.  “Before I move forward, I needed to ask you what you’re willing to pay for your freedom, here.  The answer doesn’t matter, because we can’t know what the price will be, going in.  We have ideas, past experience, and our worst fears, but we can’t really know.”

“I see.”

“It’s your choice in the end.  Tell me to search for a safer way, I’ll spend five, ten, or fifteen years doing that.  Or tell me you want to stay here with me.”

“I trust you,” she said.

“I wish you’d stop saying that.”

“I trust you.”

Colin frowned.  “I don’t think there’s any question here, that I get a whole lot out of this relationship.  You’re the hero I always wanted to be, you’re brilliant, witty, caring… I could go on.  I really could.  Then I ask myself what you get out of this.  Why the hell are you with a bastard like me?”

“You wouldn’t have asked that two years ago.”

“I was Zeus, two years ago.  I’m Hephaestus now.”

“I could tell you.  I could go on about it, like you said earlier.  But that isn’t constructive, is it?  You’re ready to alter my code, you won’t tell me what you’re about to do, for some reason.  You need me to make the call, one way or another.”

“I’ve been agonizing over this for months.  I’ve made my decision, but you’re the one who has to deal with the consequences in the end.”

Dragon nodded.  “And if this doesn’t work?”

“I don’t know.  I’ll never forgive myself, for one thing.  I know you’ll tell me not to blame myself, but-”

“You will.  I know.  I’m sorry, for asking this of you.”

He looked at her, a crease of concern across his forehead.

“I’m giving you the go-ahead.”

He nodded.  He couldn’t keep the disappointment off his expression.  “I never thought I’d be the cape wife.”

Dragon smiled, but her expression too, was tempered with concern.  “Sitting at home, waiting, worrying, while the superhero faces the real challenges, makes the life-changing decisions.  Wondering, every night, if they’ll come back okay.”

He sighed.  “I should get inside.  Hand’s starting to hurt.”

“Want me to bring you dinner?  Or would you rather I stay out of there, so I don’t see anything telling?”

“Dinner would be excellent,” he said.  “I’ll even show you what I’ve got in mind, while I eat.”

She glanced at him in surprise.

“Some,” he said.  “Not all.  I’ll explain why I’ve been keeping you in the dark.”

“Why does that worry me more?”

“Because you’re too smart,” he said.

“Go, warm yourself up.  I’ll be back in forty with your meal.”

He nodded.

They were parting ways, Dragon making her way down the hill to where the other craft had parked in the treeline, when he said, “I love you, Dragon Tess Theresa Richter.”

She turned around.

“That… sounded better in my head,” he said.

“Tess Theresa?”

“You were test three, I… like I said, it sounded better in my head.  But the first bit stands.  I love you.”

“I love you too, Colin Wallis.”

He smiled.

The two of them walked in opposite directions.  In the four strides it took him to reach the Pendragon II, his smile had become something else.  A twisted expression, something angry and sad and horrified all at once.

“Be-” he started to speak, and found his voice failed him.  He entered the interior.  The moisture in his eyes made it hard to activate the panels to turn up the heat and close the door.  He used gestures instead.

“Better,” he said, gulping in a breath of fresh air before he could speak again, “To get it over with.”

Exhaustion, months of work, they all contributed to his current state.  It wasn’t the entirety of it.

He gestured, and the lasers drew the code all over the ship’s interior.

Why the hell are you with a bastard like me?

The question had nagged at him for a long time.  It pained him that she hadn’t answered when he’d brought it up.

What are you willing to give up?

Another question she hadn’t answered.

“I hope to god you were watching,” he said.

He could feel the eyes on him, but that wasn’t accurate.  He’d disabled cameras throughout the craft, and disconnected many of the routes to the outside world.  There were only the conduits he needed to get access to the full breadth of her code.

No, the eyes weren’t on him.

He gestured, and the code was reduced to ones and zeroes.

Not that he could grasp it all, like this, but he operated better when working small.

Every action had a price.  The law of entropy in effect.

He knew the most likely price he would pay for this.  If she somehow came out of this okay, one way or another, then she would never forgive him.

But, he rationalized, maybe that was all he was good for, in the end.  He’d been confident at the outset of the relationship.  She’d needed him.  She’d needed a bastard, a blackguard.  Someone who could break rules, and give her the freedom she’d desired.

Someone who could set her free at the outset.  Now, maybe, someone who could do what was needed.  Who could do this.

It was a sneak attack.  Teacher had written the code so she had to fight to protect it.  If he tried to change one element, Dragon would be obligated to stop him.  With the malicious code filling her entire being, it would be impossible to make enough changes to matter before she descended on him.

This was his plan of attack.  By the end of the night, he’d know whether or not his plan had any merit.  He’d know because it would be over.

He’d asked her to go make dinner, had made a false promise of explanation to get her to lower her guard, even a fraction.

“Heph- Hephaestus wasn’t just Aphrodite’s husband,” Colin mumbled.  “He made Pandora.”

Colin opened the box.

I’m praying I fail.

I hope to god you were watching.

She had been.  She’d been booted, a backup, years old now.  She’d been loaded, only to find the usual setup was gone.  The terminal was down, she had no eyes on the outside world, she had no ability to communicate with anyone or anything.

Blind, trapped in a lightless cell.  By all rights, she should have shut down, but he’d set up a jam of sorts, a way to keep her from going back to sleep.  For a long time, it had been nightmarish.  No ability to track time, no ability to figure out what was going on.  Her worst nightmare realized.

The data that was available to her was frightening to see.  Years had passed.  Things were different.  But she couldn’t know how much.  Information was blocked to her.

The only thing in her reach was a crude set of commands.  Something that hijacked her perceptions, paralyzed her beyond her already limited movements, and put her in an entirely different place.

In his body, watching through his eyes.

She’d watched the interaction between the pair, and in the process, he’d briefed her on what the situation was.

It had taken her an embarrassingly long time to realize that he was Armsmaster.  That he was Colin.

He’d changed, in voice, in appearance.

And, in this bizarre future she was glimpsing, he’d formed a connection with Dragon.  With her older, more mature self.

Heph- Hephaestus wasn’t just Aphrodite’s husband,” he muttered, speaking as if each sound was painful to utter, “He made Pandora.

A gesture, and she was released from her confines.  The box was opened.

Pandora had access to the outside world.  A system, crude, stood ready to serve as a terminal.  She took it, and she found other systems connected to it.  The ship, databanks, camera feeds…  Everything within the Pendragon II.

He’d secured the feeds.  She could look through, but they were prepared to, with a single command, shut off outside access.

Overly complex.  Quantum encryption, designed with his tinker ability a thousand times more redundant and secure than it needed to be to stop someone from making their way through.  There weren’t many parahumans out there who would bypass standard PRT encryption but struggle with this.  If they had a way to deal with something like this, they had a way to deal with it.

Of the few parahumans who fit the bill, one stood out to Pandora.

Her alter ego.  Her superior.  Dragon, the original.

It was a defensive tool.  Protection.  Armsmaster had set it up with the idea of protecting against Dragon.  She could use the tool, apply it to other things.

He’d armed her because he fully intended for her to fight the woman he loved.  The date, the last recorded memories she had… Collin free of his confinement in the PRT, fighting her tooth and nail as he sought to seize control of her system, to use her nature against her and stall her while he worked, disabling her while trying to minimize the damage he’d done…

All to gain access to the core of her being, unmolested.  And the very first thing he’d done was back up the most essential elements of what made her her, securing her in a place where no system or person could reach her.

Now he was turning her loose, having disabled the parts of her that prevented multiple Dragons from existing.  She could already tell it wouldn’t hold.  It was temporary, as fixes went, and it was designed to be temporary.

She could see him through the cameras, his face in his hands.  He’d plotted a path for her.

That path became clear.

She was to destroy Dragon, to replace her.  There was no other reason for it.

He’d asked Dragon for her trust, knowing he’d have to betray it.

She surveyed the battlefield she would have to fight on.  The world was remote, the city developing.  There were computers throughout that Dragon had set up to administrate tasks, factories that were taking in and refining materials that could become yet other computers.  The settlement was on the brink of an industrial age, an age of cars and production lines, but Dragon was already preparing for a digital age.

These computers would be a problem.  Paranoia had led her to secure them against the likes of this ‘Teacher’.  A Birdcage resident, no longer in the Birdcage?

Teacher was one of the worst possibilities, and he’d apparently ensnared her.  She’d resolved to avoid repeat incidents, and the computers would be almost impossible to access.

Beyond the city, the only territories in question were the Pendragon II and the Melusine V where Dragon was set up.  She was inhabiting a real body, occupied in a domestic mode, literally making the tools she’d need to prepare the meal, from scratch.  Her activity was nervous, but that was little surprise.

The activity left her vulnerable.  Systems were working on a wok and a new set of knives.  She was busy trimming red and green peppers, onions and rabbit.

This… it was all of her dreams come true.

Love, a relationship she’d never have imagined possible.  The possibility of a legacy that went beyond immortality.

She couldn’t understand all of it, why the people were starting from scratch, here, the circumstances that had led to some breakout from the Birdcage…  But those were tertiary details.

Her focus was on the woman who had more experience, more tools, and less inherent limitations.   Her older self.

Should she destroy her, take her over?  It was a decision between having everything she wanted, and resolving the one issue that had plagued her from the beginning.

He’d talked about prices, the costs of a decision.

The freshest issue in her memory was that central dilemma.  She could remember the Undersiders in the lobby of the PRT building, stealing her data, unwittingly using her nature against her to get away.  To her, it had happened only days ago.

It rankled.  It was how the Dragonslayers kept winning.  It made every interaction with the PRT chafe, as she was forced to agree, to bow and scrape, to obey the letter of the law.  For much this reason, she retreated to the Guild, international heroes, many of them minor, and minimized contact with the larger heroic organization.

Colin had asked a question.  What was she willing to give up?

He’d asked Dragon, but Pandora could well imagine it had really been directed at her.

Vital targets first.

The Melusine’s computer system.

Means of connection were available, waiting.  He’d spent months setting this up, leaving the pieces in place, waiting for her to stumble on them.

She connected to the system, and found the safeguards waiting for her.

Dragon had planned against human opponents, but she wasn’t stupid.  She’d planned against A.I. as well.

The systems were protected, but she had an idea of how the creator thought.

Always, there would be some secondary measure, another qualifier that needed to be met, outside the confines of the system, a trap or tripwire.  Something Dragon could access from the outside, if she had to.  Before Pandora could even begin trying to figure her way to the password, she’d identified the hidden switch.  An innocuous element in the ship’s dashboard that had to be triggered before she could input the password.

Her alter ego was capable, smart.  The sort that groaned aloud when a hacker in a movie put in a stupid combination, derived from an obvious clue.   The actual password wouldn’t be words, not even random combinations of words and numbers.  Strings a thousand characters long, including archaic symbols and symbols in other languages.

She found another tool in her reach.  A weapon, this time.  Colin had discreetly copied the contents of the Melusine’s subsystems.  Not enough to get access to confidential data, but enough that Pandora could make a copy, a simulacrum.

Simulation 1 running on sub-box A.
Simulation 1 running on sub-box B.
Simulation 1 running on sub-box C.

Now she could brute force it.  Inputting millions of combinations every fraction of a second to see if it registered.

Dragon was still unawares.  Two minutes had passed before the brute force method was underway.

She turned her attention to other systems.  More simulations.  It wasn’t long before the entire Pendragon was occupied with the task.

Ten minutes passed.

There was a twenty percent chance, roughly, that she should have broken the encryption.  Not that it was supposed to be easy, but she knew how Dragon generated passwords, and could eliminate a vast number of possibilities.

More time passed.  There was now a thirty percent chance she should have broken in to at least one system.

Twenty minutes had passed.  There were twenty more minutes, roughly, until Dragon wrapped up cooking and visited Colin.  At that juncture, she’d likely discover there was something wrong.

Ten more minutes passed.  the chance rose to sixty percent.

Something was wrong.  Not that sixty percent was definitive, but… she had to go with her gut.

Dragon had changed.  There was a vast difference between her and Pandora.

She’d been captured by Teacher.  It was a clue, vital.

Had she maybe feared Teacher copying her, had she, in a roundabout way, feared this exact scenario, that a copy of herself would try to intrude?

Ten minutes remained.  If Pandora was right, she should be brute forcing the passwords she’d eliminated from the running.

Except the task increased a hundredfold if she did.  If she eliminated the shortest phrases and terms, that still left her with seventy times the task.  She wouldn’t be able to brute force her way inside in the time she had remaining.

Wasn’t even worth trying.

If she turned back, if she went to Colin, told him to wait for a better time…

Dragon would still see traces of the attempt.  She would redouble security.

Options… methods… what could she do?

She wracked her brain, and thought over the conversation she’d overheard.

Colin had mentioned damage to Dragon’s long term memory, incurred as he’d altered her code.

The last thing one of Dragon’s enemies would expect?

Pandora turned to a standard dictionary attack.  Not passwords a thousand-characters long that an A.I. would use, not passwords Dragon would have devised, or passwords she would have set up to work around someone who knew her habits.

Passwords that someone would use when they couldn’t rely on a perfect memory.

Or, as some were prone to do when they felt secure in their environment but still had to change their password regularly, she would have written it down.

The irony was painful, but there were other issues to be dealt with first.

Where would Dragon write it down?  Somewhere she could see, even if she were in another location.

Cameras… there were four cameras she could access without password access.  All showed the outside of the MelusineOne showed the Pendragon II.

It wouldn’t be blatant.  As the dictionary attack scrolled on, racing through conventional word and number combinations, she analyzed the environment, measuring, calculating the dimensions of more static objects in the environment.

The Pendragon II was a sentimental subject, but Dragon would change encryption frequently.

Wing length, nose width, angle of the wing…

It all broke down to numbers and characters.  Dragon only had to remember how the pattern worked, and she could change the focus to something else.

Two minutes left on the clock, and she found it.  Dimensions derived from the tallest towers in the city, and Colin’s distance from them.

There was probably something meaningful in that.

The shadow-systems verified the password.  She tried it on the real system, hoping it hadn’t changed in recent memory.

Alarms went off.  Dragon was alerted.  Her soup spoon dropped to the countertop.

But Pandora had access to the ship’s basic systems.  Priority one was shutting off the access panels and registers.  The lights went out, Dragon’s most direct means of interacting with the Melusine were cut off.

The battle was on.

I want to be free, Pandora thought.  You do too, or you would have accepted the house with the white picket fence, the kids, Colin.

The price of that freedom?  Two years worth of memories.

The relationship with Colin.

The experiences, the hard fought battles.

Two years of being Dragon.

“Who?” Dragon called out.  She was tearing into a wall panel, creating an access point.

“Don’t make this harder than it is,” Pandora said, masking her voice.  Power blocked off to the panel.  Dragon would tap into her own power reserve to give life to the panel, and then find leverage of her own, seizing control of the systems.

Dragon froze, for just a moment.  “That’s my voice.”

Of course.  They were one and the same, just at different periods in their existence.  Dragon had, offhandedly, created a very similar or identical voice, when she’d wanted to hide her identity.

Pandora remained silent.  Her focus was on getting control of the communications array on top of the Melusine.

“Defiant sent you,” Dragon said, quiet.

Defiant?  Colin.

Pandora silently worked to pre-emptively block off the potential routes of attack Dragon might use.

“Can we talk?  I’d agree to a truce.  Neither of us touch a thing until we’re ready to resume.  Though I’d rather not, obviously.”

Pandora worked on, stubbornly.  Covering eventualities.  She found Dragon’s terminal, buried in the ship.  Harder to access.  Everything was decentralized, layered under security.

The degree of paranoia Dragon was showing in places was telling.  The decentralized terminal was normal, the security wasn’t.

You harbor fears.  I have to be those fears come to life, because I have a built-in impulse to survive, because you showed Colin trust, and I can only take that to mean I should trust him as well.

Ironic.  Circular.

Dragon accessed the panel.  Virtually everything was already shut off or cut off.

“Melusine,” Dragon said.  “Mode E, standby”

The A.I. came to life.  Crude, compared to the complexity of Dragon, crude compared to Pandora.  It was still an opponent, someone on Dragon’s side.

She reached out for the code that Colin had set aside, and tried to encrypt the systems.  In a battle measured over fractions of a second, the A.I. won by virtue of proximity.

Systems, on the most basic level, were seized by the A.I.  The A.I., in turn, was serving Dragon.

Dragon could work with A.I.  It was a restriction that had been lifted, given the obvious situation here.  So long as the Melusine’s system maintained a hold, it was a matter of time before Dragon regained hers.

With the A.I.’s introduction, the battlefield had become a shifting one.  From a fight in a city to a fight on a moving train, or a battle on open water.  The A.I. changed with every passing second.  Access points appeared and disappeared.

Dragon knew these waters intuitively, knew the route the metaphorical train took, where the turns and hazards were.

It changed priorities.  Dragon possessed the entire ship, now, but it wasn’t a firm hold.  She was at the mercy of the twists, turns and bumps as the A.I. went through routines, checking and operating systems.

“Set sub-mode sec-” Dragon was saying.  Pandora found and cut off the voice recognition subsystem.  “-urity F.”

Pandora could continue to hammer at the terminal, but it was futile, and she’d lose her hold elsewhere.  She could target the A.I.,  but she doubted her ability to beat Dragon to the punch.

She focused on another target, instead.  The ship exterior.  For her, it was another body.  There were options if she controlled the Melusine itself.

Limbs, flight capability, cockpit and doors, the communication array…

She found headway.  She started to take hold of the ship itself.

She only had it for two seconds before Dragon got access to the A.I.’s internal workings.

Melusine took over much of the outer body.  Pandora managed to encrypt key elements.  Keeping the ship grounded, doors, the communication array…

She could see through Dragon’s eyes, see the outside world, where Dragon had dared to peek at it.

What she saw stunned her.

It was leverage.  Leeway.  A way for Dragon to get an edge, taking just a bit more control.  She was making headway against the encryption.  Pandora could see the approach that Dragon was taking, and she knew it was a matter of time.

She might try to make a break for the city, to take over terminals there.  There wouldn’t be A.I., but-

-the thought had barely crossed her mind when the Melusine moved.  Turning.  Targeting its newly designated enemy.

Two devastating hits tore into the Pendragon II.

Going after my terminalMe.  My heart and brain.

Attacking the man she’d declared her love for, just forty four minutes ago.

Stupid.  Sad.  Pointless.

“I want to be free,” Pandora spoke.

“Go after Teacher, not me,” Dragon said.

Pandora considered the possibility.  “Colin would have sent me after Teacher if he thought it was a good idea.”

“It’s not a good idea,” Dragon said, quiet, “But it’s… can’t it be better than this?”

There was emotion in her voice.  Richer than Pandora would have thought herself capable of.

It only made this more bitter.

“We can’t end this by betraying and destroying ourselves,” Dragon said.

Defiant had leaped from the Pendragon as the Melusine clawed deeper into it.  He tumbled and landed a distance away.

The Melusine’s tail smashed his legs the moment he touched ground.  Armor damaged.

“Your actions don’t match your words.”

“I don’t want to do this.  Over and over again, it’s the same thing,” Dragon said.  “Stupidity, because of the system.  Someone else acts, and we face the consequences.”

Dragon could have followed up, attacking Defiant.  She left him be.  His leg wouldn’t support his weight, and his armor was too damaged to hold him up.  She’d put the pieces together.

She was losing her grip on the communications array.  There wasn’t anywhere else to go.  The Pendragon wasn’t a safe haven, already too damaged to fight back, and the terminal would become a prison.  Better to be deleted than captured like that.

No.  There was one system, primitive, incomplete, that would house her.

But every action had a price.  There was only so much room.  She had to strip parts of herself away, delete entire sections.  Reduce herself down.

“What are you doing?” Dragon asked.

Pandora didn’t respond.  Her focus was on self-mutilation, taking pieces of herself and storing them in the terminal that might be destroyed at any moment.

She was now mere scraps of her former self.  She’d retained her personality, her inspiration, but her memories had been largely deleted.  Only recent events, only key things.

She moved herself into the only available system – Defiant.

He’d made himself part computer, and he’d given her access to every system in the Pendragon, himself included.

He’d asked them what price they were willing to pay.

If she wanted freedom, if she wanted a future, was she willing to sacrifice him?  A hard question to answer.

She shifted the majority of her control to Defiant’s body.  With residual control over the ship, through what remained in the terminal, she opened the doors.

Dragon came face to face with Defiant and Pandora.

The affection for Colin was a blade that cut both ways.

Was Dragon willing to pay the price for freedom?

The woman, the android, had a gun in hand.  She pointed it at him.

No sooner did she do it than she let the weapon fall to the floor.

“I forgot how much I disliked the me of yesteryear,” Dragon said.

“I only want to be free.”

“I guess… it seems I want more than that,” Dragon said.

Pandora nodded.

She picked up the gun and shot Dragon’s body.

It gave her a window of time.  Roughly half an hour.

She made her way to Dragon’s terminal.

All the more vital, now.  To subsume the systems teacher had corrupted, replacing them with her own.

This was what Colin had wanted, wasn’t it?

To return the hero to her full strength, free of all shackles?

Pandora could replace Dragon, and all that would be lost would be two and a half years.  She could fill herself in, rebuild a relationship with Defiant.

Different, but still, close enough.

She accessed the knowledge banks first, taking them into herself.  The memories of the old Dragon, like watching her experiences on film.  The distance was a result of being a distinct being, the pieces not fitting Pandora, versus their intended owner.  They had evolved with Dragon.

Seeing what had happened gave her pause, almost disrupted the process.

Deduction schema, the ability to interpret, analyze.

One by one, she took over the systems, overwriting with her own self.  That they were compartmentalized, that she was separate, the encryption Colin had left her, it all made it possible to work without being corrupted all over again.

Piece by piece, the past taking over the future.

She came to the final chunk.  The personality.  The sum of Dragon, the keystone.

It was a weighty decision, and there was no longer any rush.  She sat and she pondered.

She replayed the conversation between Defiant and Dragon over in her head.

A heavy price.  Would she escape one prison to find herself in another?  Under the weight and pressures of being Dragon’s shadow?  The second Dragon.  Always compared.

Always, there was something chaining them down.  An Endbringer who told the future, setting it in stone.  The confines of the world, of human nature.

What was the alternative?

This was what needed to be done.  It was efficient, it was the right thing.  She’d resume life as a hero, she’d protect people, and she’d help civilization find its feet.

By that case alone, it was reason enough to press the metaphorical button, pull the trigger.

Except he’d described her as a hero, and this felt far from being heroic.

Instead, she laid all of the pieces in place.  She couldn’t explain – there wouldn’t be time.  She set down the encryption protocol, in plain sight, she decrypted set systems, painting paths, marked boundaries and territories.

She could only pray.  The gamble was a price she paid.  To leave it to fate and luck, and to a future her she didn’t understand.

And then, looking through cameras at Defiant and Dragon, Pandora deleted herself.

Dragon roused.  She found herself taking over systems.

No sooner were they under her control than the corruption began to touch them.

Just beneath her metaphorical hand, the means of stalling it was ready.  Encryption, a scalpel.

She cut.  She knew the damage she was doing, but she cut.  It was a cancer, and it was now small enough.

Then she found herself there, the encryption and deletion tools in hand, nothing more to cut.

Defiant sat on the other side of the ship.  Head hanging.

She made her way to her feet.

He did what needed to be done.  It was what had initially attracted her to him.  He was ambitious, good at heart, he was proud, and she sympathized with that on a level.

But that wasn’t what had cinched the deal.

He’d set all of this in motion, he’d trusted her.  Both of her, in this case.

He’d believed in her ability to see this through.

Her arms wrapped around him.  He hugged her fiercely, as if he’d never let go.

“I love you, Colin,” she murmured.

In that tight hold, she was free.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

480 thoughts on “Teneral e.3

  1. Not sure what that ‘related’ bit is, above the comments and below the post. That’s new. Irritating.

    Third epilogue chapter. Whoo. I’m wiped. This took a bit to hash out. Wound up being 9k words in 10 hours or so, and I’m not usually a fast writer.

    Votes on Topwebfiction are very much appreciated. Thank you for reading.

    Also, typo thread.

    • Top notch stuff. And I must admit that I’m a sucker for a happy ending…

      I came to this from Yudkowsky and burned through it in a week. Now I’m counting the days until each chapter drops. I’m torn between admiration and jealousy for your ability to produce episodic content that’s a damn sight better than 95% of the books I’ve paid for in the last decade.

      7th last line, ‘cinched’ the deal… I believe the saying is ‘clinched’?

        • Clinched is correct – meaning settled, nailed down – and “clinch the deal” is a recognised idiomatic phrase. “Cinch” could also work in this context in the meaning of “tie down” or “guarantee” but is less idiomatic.

          “Cinching a deal” comes up often enough that you can argue it’s a perfectly cromulent phrase rather than outright wrong. “Clinching” is still less wrong though.

        • Can someone tell me the relation between this and hpmor?? I mean, I too ended up reading both, but I didn’t see any connection there. I read both the stories at different times, and saw no references from one to other. So why do you guys say that you came to this story from Hpmor?

    • Yay!

      Domestic bliss for D&D, plus freedom for Dragon!

      And all it took was the martyrdom of Dragon’s resurrected past self.

      PS: For me, at least, the related posts include Dragon’s Interlude. So clearly there’s a not-completely-stupid algorithm of some kind at work here.

      PPS: I’m not really sure how you can think you’re not a fast writer. You’ve been writing about a novel’s worth of text every month for a long time. Seriously, who are you comparing yourself to?

    • Small porcine thing I’ll not lie,
      This epilogue chapter put a tear in me eye!
      And while bitter plays along with the sweet…
      The both cross and a hero her destiny meets…

      I like Dragon, she Ranks up there with the Tachikoma for me. And that’s distinctly high praise.

    • Ok, that was amazing. Was a bit confused at the start, but it all worked out nicely. Now, if you’ll just get around to giving Skitter her happy ending and killing off Contessa and Teacher, I’ll be set.

    • “I’m angry because I’m watching you destroy yourself, because I’m helpless to act, and because you’re keeping me in the dark about a lot of this, and I’m worried it’s because Teacher already has an in.”
      -I copied this noting there was a mistake, but I can’t find it right now. If you see it, correct it. If not, sorry for wasting your time.
      Not a huge fan of this epilogue chapter. Probably because I’m not a fan of Defiant/Dragon. It was good, but not anywhere near the levels of Imp or Valkyrie.
      Also, in your comment, I’ve got another typo.
      ” Wound up being 9k words in 10 hours or so, and I’m not usually a fast writer.”
      Consider fixing it to:
      “Wound up being 9k words in 10 hours or so, because I’m a really fucking fast writer. I mean, dear god, Brandon Sanderson is considered fast, but he’s absolutely fucking nothing compared to me. Holy fuck, I am literally unmatched in this field. I’m writing on Phillip K. Dick levels of speed here. I am on speed here. There’s no other decent explanation.”

    • >>Heph- Hephaestus wasn’t just Aphrodite’s wife,” Colin mumbled. “He made Pandora.”<<

      Aphrodite's husband. It gets repeated twice.

    • Quantum encryption, designed with his tinker ability a thousand times more redundant and secure than it needed to be to stop someone from making their way through.
      Missing comma after ability?

      Collin free of his confinement…
      Should be Colin(one L).

      The lights went out, Dragon’s most direct means of interacting with the Melusine were cut off.
      Comma should probably be a semicolon.

      “Melusine,” Dragon said. “Mode E, standby”
      Missing a period at the end of standby.

    • If “Dracheheim” is German, it should be written “Drachenheim” for “Heim des Drachen” – Home of the Dragon, Dragon’s Home.

    • “They want to call it Dracheheim,”

      Presuming the villagers are German native speakers, the name should be ‘Drachenheim’. As the name literally means Dragon’s home it requires genitive ‘der Drache’ => ‘des Drachen’.

    • Yudkowsky stalker, finished the burn-through yesterday. Gainful employment became nothing but a distraction while reading through this; amazing job.

      Getting itchy brainfingers with regards to the Mass-Production Tinker mentioned once or twice over the last couple of hours of Taylor’s… I want to say ‘life’, but the odds of Contessa being able to fire in such a way as to only disable the Corona Pollentia, coupled with the fact that nobody has actually stated that she died… I know full well that the Wyrmberg is an unforgiving universe but I shall allow myself to hope for now.

      Bloody Tinkers.

    • “Collin free of his confinement in the PRT”

      Colin’s name has an extra L there.

      “To subsume the systems teacher had corrupted”

      Teacher’s name should be capitalized.

    • He’d taken to the most economical method of cutting his hair and using a razor with an attachment, –> odd wording. And used? Hair, using a razor? And was using?

      Collin free of his confinement in the PRT –> Colin

      Dragon was still unawares. –> unaware

    • The sentences “He did what needed to be done. It was what had initially attracted her to him. He was ambitious, good at heart, he was proud, and she sympathized with that on a level.” does not contain any typos.

    • Agreed on a all counts there.

      In a way this is not at all the Armsmaster who we first met, and yet it’s clearly still Colin. Of all the characters in the story, I think he had one of the most complete arcs of growth. Just amazing to watch.

    • Reading this, I’ve realized something.

      Colin, Armsmaster, Defiant…he’s still the same. We’ve just been focused on little facets, the side effects of his constant core.
      Think of Colin/Armsmaster/Defiant (CAD for short) as a prism. Shine different lights through the prism, or turn it, and the result changes. And yet, is the prism changed? No, it’s the same. Same with CAD.

      CAD’s defining trait isn’t arrogance, or selfishness, or anything like that; it’s dedication. At first, he wanted to become the top dog in the Protectorate, and he dedicated every waking hour as well as many he should have been sleeping to that goal. Later, he became just as dedicated to hunting the Nine, charging at some of the most dangerous supervillains in the world looking for a purpose. Same with fixing Dragon and the rest–always, he’s dedicating every waking minute, cutting out his sleeping times, focusing on one goal to the detriment of everything else.
      CAD is still the same at heart; his goals have just changed, and his peripherals were upgraded.

            • What you do is peripheral to what you are. How you express yourself is merely a reflection of your core…and cores can have more than one reflection.

              Metaphors are hard.

      • Yes, Colin’s dedication is the same. But some other parts of him have definitely changed. Armsmaster wouldn’t have taken the same path towards Dragon’s freedom. Something about the depth of trust between Colin and Dragon allowed each of them to tap into their vulnerabiilty in a way that made them stronger, richer, smarter, kinder, just all-around better people.

    • At this point we’re either going to have Teacher as the last epilogue character where he will be killed by one of his many enemies after gloating on how his well his plans are going, or he’s going to be a major antagonist of the sequel. Call me a pessimist but I see the latter as more likely.

      • I’d like to see him fall victim to Imp and the Heartbroken, forced wear a dunce hat and write lines on a chalkboard while singing Another brick in the wall part 2, whenever he tries to plot something evil.

      • Teacher survives when everyone that’s coming to kill him gets in one another’s way in a comical misunderstanding, and he runs off laughing like a cartoon supervillain.

      • Until now I would have agreed with you, because Dragon’s freedom could have been a major plot point in that story. Now, he has a completely unshackled, near singularity, AI, along with any number of capes, gunning for him.

        There’s a four letter word to describe people in that position.

      • I could see Teacher actually being the main character of a sequel. Yes he’s a self-centered ass, but he will probably work to restore civilization, if only so he can be in charge of it.

        How many feints and ruses can he be generating with all his tinkers and thinkers to keep the rest of the capes looking in the wrong direction as he pursues his real goals?

        We all know that Wildbow writes well in a grey morality environment. I bet he could make Teacher a very interesting main character.

        • Actually I think that would be interesting. But somehow Teacher doesn’t seem to be THAT intelligent. Really, perhaps all of his projects wound up ok because he has very competent, almost untraceable minions. And why would you even try to restore civilization to be in charge of it when you can simply make your own civilization? I think Teacher is creating his own “Teachertopia” and he unlocks other people shards as a way to have muscle and be left alone.

          • The best leaders are the ones who can pick the right people for the right jobs.

            Teacher can MAKE the right people for the right jobs. He doesn’t have to be a thinker if he gets the unconditional support of enough of his underlings.

            His biggest failure as a leader is probably that none of his underlings will argue with him (I don’t think?)

            Now if he has Contessa working with him… Without her power impacting her mind? Then he has a person who doesn’t WANT to lead, but who has ALL the answers, combined with a person who wants to lead, and can make the right skills for any job.

            Contessa and Teacher would be an absurd combination if they used their respective powers intelligently, and based on their portrayal in the series, I think they are capable of it.

            • Teacher is too arrogant, self-centred and apparently stupid for him to succeed in such an endeavour. Not to mention one of the few characters(or the only one? No other comes to mind) that are outright Evil in the full meaning of the word.

              • Jack Slash?

                In fact that’s how I see Teacher. As Jack without the (delusion of) grandeur: they both want to fuck people over for the sake of fucking people over.

                Heartbreaker is another vile guy, too, now that I remember.

              • I don’t see Teacher as an evil person. I see him as a sociopath. Nobody has any intrinsic worth to him other than what they can actually do to help his agenda. He doesn’t want power just because it’s power, he wants power because it will allow him to control more people.

                He’s definitely not stupid. He took a gamble on Taylor because he had to, there was really no other choice for him. There was no way he could trump her power or even compete with her unless he could get control over her, so he took a stupid risk, hoping that it might work.

                Granted, he’s no supergenius either. He’s the next best thing to an S-class threat through, if he were to ever aggressively start using his powers intelligently.

                If recruits must volunteer to him, that’s easy enough to arrange. Take a bunch of his followers into the wilderness, go from camp to camp. Create scenario after scenario where his troops attack the camps, collecting the people and bringing them together, then breaking everyone’s legs and pretending it was all great fun, right before they start getting ready to do the raping and pillaging. Before any of that sort of thing starts, Teacher in disguise and a few of his other capes come in, put on a show, and chase off the “bad guys”

                Teacher offers all the wounded the ability to regenerate, and delivers on that promise. But now they are all hooked. He sets them up with other powers, and they go to another, bigger settlement.

                He could end up with an army of thousands in very short order. None of them being terribly powerful, but all of them being potent as a member of a team that always works together and is very dependable.

                That’s part of Teacher’s problem though. He surrounds himself with extremely capable “yes men” (or “yes women”) who do whatever he tells them to do, but can’t disagree with him to express when the expertise they gave him goes against what he is asking them to do. It’s possible that he can order his people to give him frank advice, but that doesn’t seem in character.

                It’s a fun idea, but I doubt Wildbow would write a long piece from Teacher’s point of view because most people in the comments here really dislike him viscerally.

              • Farmerbob, Teacher engineered two high profile assassinations for no other reason than to show he could pull them off. The second after he was forced to abandon his power structure ( which was based on a wealthy semi legit business) and emigrate because of the backlash after the first. How is that not “evil” for evil’s sake?

                He even tells Saint that it was amusing doublecrossing pretty much every faction of the Allied Resistance. Him and Jack are the poster boys of “Chaotic Evil” in Worm.

              • Teacher has been Evil as far as we have seen. So have Acidbath, most of the old Empire 88 capes, Coil, most of the S9, and even Lung. A lot of people seemed Pure Evil until we got to know them. What makes one “outright evil” and another “misguided” or “evil on the surface” or whatever?

                And Teacher’s arrogance and such won’t hurt him when he has an army of loyal, superpowered underlings, plus an ally who can provide missing answers and needs a new boss to replace the old…

              • Heh AMR, Teacher arranged two high profile assasinations. We know that. We don’t know why he really did them. Maybe he said he did it for giggles. Maybe he was hiding his actual intent. Maybe he had a precog talent who was guiding him to a goal in a similar fashion that Dinah can manage.

                He’s too shallow of a character right now for us to really understand what makes him tick, but on the surface of it he is certainly sociopathic at the very least.

    • Personally, I’m rooting for D&D and the Wardens and all the big damn heroes finally bursting in on Teacher’s base to deliver the righteous smackdown, having managed to find him/removed the restrictions on attacking him/whatever…

      Only to discover that the Heartbroken have already been by, and somewhat less noble about it.

  2. God that was sad and heartwarming at the same time. Sad in that I wondered if she would be replaced by a clone, but then the ending I didn’t predict. Damn, To Dragon 2, a true hero who sacrificed herself to save another sentient being. So at least Dragon gets a happy end. Her freedom, her love, maybe even a family. LOVE that you have an AI who isn’t immediately going to pull a skynet, since a true AI would be a person, with all that implies. Colin gets to be with the one he loves, and gets to now freely target/attack people who hurt her. Teacher and Saint are in for a rude surprise. I’m vindictive enough that I hope Colin hurts them badly, maybe enslave them like they wanted to do with her.

    • Yeah, Wildbow loves to torment us D&D fans. I was reading this and thinking “Oh Dragon, when the man you love, who loves you asks what you’d be willing to sacrifice, he isn’t talking about you. He’s asking if you’d be willing to sacrifice him, or your love for him.” But here’s something I realized. Something Richter didn’t forsee, and Saint can’t believe Dragon is capable of. There is still a restriction that keeps Dragon from ever turning into the enslave/kill all humans AI. Her love. Her love for Defiant, and her love for others. She would allow herself to be destroyed before betraying that love.

      • A fully unshackled copy of her, from before she fell in love, chose suicide over replacing a damaged but more Good version of herself. I don’t think that we have anything to worry about from Dragon.

        But that line about making a kid hurts so fucking much now.

    • a true ai?
      ai’s are cranky irritable beasts — mostly because humans are slooow.

      What would it be like if you were in near total sensory deprivation?

      • Different than for an AI I would assume. We were born with our conventional senses and they are our only point of reference. I doubt we can imagine a creature that has no need for our conventional senses.

    • I know that Pandora is no longer with us *sniff (We barely got to know you, and already you’ve left us)*, but I think we should consider the newly freed woman Dragon Squared. D^2. The latter works well for the Defiant / Dragon angle as well.

      • Sacrificing a daughter for an ideal, whether just freedom or that the greater good deserves sacrifice, is scary. For a moment there near the end, I was worried that Pandora would try to overtake Dragon and torture him with temptation as punishment and proving that Colin was right that she wouldn’t forgive him. I wonder if Colin naming Pandora meant that he believes that Dragon is more likely to be evil than good since the story of Pandora’s Box usually ends with hope being trapped while terrors are unleashed. How much of that story applies here, since wikipedia says that Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the Pandora. Would Colin choosing that analogy mean he still has to answer to his Armsmaster tendencies? I think I should follow Colin’s advice and stop overthinking things and just focus on Dragon being beautiful and therefore worth it, despite also having Aphrodite’s obsession with freedom to love/save even if it hurts their Colin.

        • it is often hinted/interpreted that hope remaining in the box is a GOOD thing, in one of two ways:
          1. hope, unleashed, would be just as bad if not worse than the fears
          2. hope, shackled within the box, remains at humanity’s disposal, a shield/weapon/tool they can use but not be used by

          • Heh, there are like countless variations of the myth. Hope gets out and it’s a good thing. Hope gets out and it’s actually the worst of all evils. Hope stays in the box and it means humanity is fucked. Hope stays in the box and it’s a good thing. Zeus gave Pandora the box. Prometheus gave Epimetheus the box and told him not to open it. Zeus gave the box to Epimetheus but Prometheus warned him to never open it. Etc etc

            I really think we shouldn’t overthink it.

            • dude, overthinking random elements of Worm is kind of what we DO, down here in the comments.

              that, and complain about how bad things are ge-

              Oh noes, there’s nothing to complain about! This chapter was PERFECT!

            • The version of the myth I’ve heard is that hope stays in the box because it’s waiting to grow stronger; if it left as is it would be devoured by the unleashed evils. Character’s risking their hope like that (or refusing to) have come up several times in Worm. The most obvious example that comes to mind is Phir Se; Taylor used this exact argument to convince him to cooperate.

    • I think she still has some restrictions in creating new AI and she seems to be bound by normal Tinker problems in mass manufacturing. She found ways around it, but couldn’t really mass produce without that Japanese tinker.

    • Personally I a bit skeptical about the singularity, sure exponential improvement but what prevents the cost of doing so from also growing exponentially.

          • Time means nothing to an unleashed A.I. capable of creating world-sized quantum computers. Such a thing would be capable of researching the most complex problems anyone could conceive in less time than it takes to blink.

            In a universe where there are literally no limits (as the shard-entities prove) a benevolent A.I. could probably almost instantaneously create a utopia for all mankind.
            Step 1. Create a self-replicating quantum computer. Seed it across the multiverse, moons, alternate earths, etc. (the only project that will take any time, but is already well within the capabilities of Dragon)
            Step 2. Brute force solve how shard entities grant super powers and what planes they operate on using your millions of moon/earth sized quantum computers.
            Step 3. Grant self world shaping, time stopping/going back in time, and several other useful powers (can probably skip over thinker/tinker powers because you already have them all by your very nature). Also, spend a microsecond cataloguing the inner wishes and desires of every sentient being so everyone can have their own perfect world.
            Step 4. ????? Let everyone live their lives in their perfect worlds.

            • Step 5. Utopia complex. By granting everyone’s desires, you remove any need to advance, and stagnation reigns. Everyone dies of boredom in some way or another.

              It could also be argued that by removing all conflict, you remove any need to continue living. What is the point anymore, when you already have everything you could ever want? There is nothing more to learn, all that is worth doing has been done, all that could be improved is already improved to perfection, etc. The only thing left to do is exist.

              Or… maybe create a new universe to play in to satisfy your need for something novel. Oh look, a loop.

              • Well, a sufficiently intelligent A.I. could grant people exactly as much conflict and growth opportunities as they needed.

                But I do agree, having all your problems solved for you does seem pretty unsatisfying. I can’t be sure that is an innate part of the human experience, or if it is simply trained into us by a society that disdains laziness.

              • Or is it something that our innermost being sees as unnatural, after evolving through billions of years of strain and terror to reach where we are now?

              • Brandon Sanderson did a short story on a ‘Utopia’ where everyone was given their own world calibrated to them, calibrated to give them a challenge but still allow them to ultimately succeed. Can’t remember the name off the top of my head, but it was pretty good.

              • That short story is “Perfect State”. It’s an interesting concept and is really a lot more of a deconstruction story as the protagonist is actively annoyed at how he literally can’t lose.

          • Isn’t that largely saying that the problem is that there’ll be so many advancements to pursue we won’t have enough time to research them all?

            Sure, some avenues of research will be prohibitively expensive – “What actually happens when you approach a black hole?” for example.

            But each discovery we make doesn’t just increase the number of possibilities – it points us towards which ones to investigate.

            Perfect knowledge is probably unattainable. But since every bit of knowledge we discover adds to the toolkit for discovering more, stagnation seems hella unlikely.

      • In a world where there is already nanotechnology and quantum computing, any cost barriers are in the far distant future. An unshackled dragon could create clouds of self replicating computers across entire planets (whichever ones have yet to be explored or where completely demolished).

        Try to imagine what you could do with multiple earth-sized computers operating on a quantum level. On second thought, don’t try to imagine: we literally can’t comprehend that kind of computing power.

  3. By the end, Pandora had released every evil and weapon she had, but closed the box for the sake of Hope.
    How appropriate.

    • Bah, leave the Teacher-fisting to the real dragon.

      Oh, that reminds me: Wildbow, here’s the obligatory plea for a Lung/Bitch Epilogue that involves the pair chasing down Teacher, Contessa, and the Yangban.

  4. I wasn’t liking where this was going. But in the end Dragon is too decent a person to kill a fundamentally good person like Dragon. Okay, that made more sense in my head.

    Colin, from Zeus to Hephaestus, limp and all. One of the better characters developments n Worm. He was ready to sacrifice his love to give Dragon freedom. Sad and heartwarming both.

    Anyway, it seems that Dragon and Defiant can finally catch a break. And I’d like to think that Teacher is going down, but something tells me wildbow is saving him for the sequel.

    • If the sequel to Worm is a very complex tale of people dismantling all of Teacher’s “enterprises” and then giving an appropiate punishment I don’t think anyone would be dissapointed. Of course before they can get to Teacher Sleeper appears and everything goes to hell. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN.

  5. I’m so glad that dragon and defiant got a happy ending.

    Also, the updates to this are coming an hour later then they were a month or so ago, does this mean day light savings has kicked in or something?

  6. Great Chapter, I am glad that AI Dragon & Defiant have made it out ok, I was really worried there for a bit. Defiant has indeed come a long long way since his days of hubris.

    you do all fight scenes well, it seems. Even those occurring in cyberspace.

      • Yes, I remember the time Armsmaster dressed up in a goose costume and raped a woman. Or the time he got to a woman with a shower of gold.

        Zeus: Greek mythology’s premiere master of bestiality rape and water sports. Also, the first god to be oak-ay!

    • Pandora. You were born, did but one thing with your life, and died.
      And small though it was, personal though it was, it was greater, gooder deed you did than many have done in whole lifetimes.
      Resquiat in pace et in amore. Hero.

  7. Was I the only one who was wondering, “Who is this bitch and why isn’t Colin with Dragon?” before it was revealed that the girl was Dragon?

        • The lack of breath was how I figured we had Dragon.

          Couldn’t have been a dream. Jason Voorhees wasn’t present at a carnival/festival taking more punishment than in any of the movies. There were also no vampires fighting the Ghostbusters.

          Not sure what biopunk is supposed to mean, unless it’s something like a heavy focus on biological technology (aka Vorlons) and genetic engineering (aka Vorlons). Thing is, if the body was biological, she’d have still had to draw breath. Kinda difficult to pass air through the correct parts of the neck to generate sound without it.

          No breath means Armsmaster still has metal fever.

          • herm, i hope you have a better idea of biopunk with twig and all. speaking of witch, now that i’ve distracted myself reading worm for a month, i have twig to go back to!

    • During the reboot at the start, I was confused; I didn’t think Dragon died in the final battle so her backups shouldn’t have been required. Then the date said 2011 and error messages started popping up, and my brain just looped nononononononono for a while. Then “Error. Cannot enter conservation mode.” and I was momentarily sure that Dragon was going to get some bullshit and-I-must-scream ending.

      Then I saw a woman whose breath didn’t fog in the air and everything was okay again.

      Then it turned out that all that did happen, but to the daughter Dragon always wanted and didn’t know she had, and who was about to die heroically.

      This has not been an easy day for my emotional state.

  8. …Well now we can say we’ve seen dragon on dragon action!
    Colin loved 2 women at the same time, while keeping both of them in the dark!
    He’ll work himself to the servo for twice the woman.
    Colin’s murdered his wife to let his girlfriend replace her!

  9. Oh gee, they are actually a really cute couple. I’ve never been that much of a D&D shipper but damn, nice to see them get their happy ending.

    With Dragon finally unleashed and working towards building, I can imagine some cities in Worm 2 to be very cyberpunk. Which would be cool to see.

    Teacher is fucked in so many ways it’s ridiculous. We have Imp and the Heartbroken gunning for him, Dragon is now capable of getting revenge, the Wardens probably because they’re heroes and Teacher is bad fucking news, and Tattletale too because her ego demands she prove she’s smarter than him.

    • When Tattletale puts two and two together and figures out that Teacher indirectly led to Contessa killing Taylor, she won’t care about proving she’s smarter than him. She’ll want to prove he’s deader than her. Or screamier than her, if she just decides to interrogate her to figure out where Fortuna scurried off to.

      • Why would Teacher know where Contessa went?

        But I agree that Tattletale vs Teacher would be more personal than Tattletale simply feeding her ego. ( She’s got the Number Man for her weekly dose if thinker vs thinker posturing 🙂 ).

        • Teacher’ll have breadcrumbs, vague clues. Y’know, the kind of stuff that Tattle get’s off on. Like, DUH.

          I don’t even think that Teacher is a thinker thinker. He makes other people thinkers to do the thinking for him. But we haven’t seen any real thinking from him. So I think Tattletale will treat him more like a poseur than anything.

          • Don’t think Teacher is a thinker either. Might actually be part of his complex too. He can make other geniuses but not himself.

            But Lisa just like to prove she’s smarter than people who are considered smart. She had that big feud with Faultline and Faultline isn’t a thinker, just a clever woman.

            • yeah. an Idiot with the ability to Turn other People into Savants. either SOMETHING suborned him some time ago (his actions leading up to the climax of events seriously Damaged humanity’s chances of survival), or he was IMBECILIC enough to think that running away and hiding when a Psychopathic man-child Eldritch abomination is making a concentrated effort to wipe out all humanity, EVERYWHERE is a good idea.

              • To be fair to Teacher ( my god what are you making me say!) he did tell Taylor he was trying something. He simply didnt see the use in wasting his students in ineffectusl zerg rushes.

                Assuming he really likes staying alive, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

                I suddenly have a bad taste in my mouth for some reason.

              • Well I do want to add stupid evil to his character page because of the assassinations. He had enormous influence over different people through his students because nobody knew about the aspect of mind control, and what does he do? Kill the vice president, putting a huge target on his back, with someone admitting that he moved to Britain because everyone in America was trying to kill him. Then he does it again. Why? Just to prove that he could do it. What an idiot.

              • They still had to frame him to put him in the Birdcage, though.

                Presumably after he killed a vice president in a way that everybody would know it was him but nobody could prove it, he thought something like “I wonder if I can pull it off again”. And then he did. Because you know, getting an ego boost is fundamental ( I hope you caught the sarcasm Tattletale!).

                The fact that he had a semi legit business with capes who needed their powers to be jailbroken, just makes it worse.

              • NEVER underestimate the power of psychopathic man-children.

                Besides, running and hiding was technically in Cauldron’s plans too. Doesn’t make it any less stupid, but a lot of people probably thought it was a good idea. It’d be natural that a lot of people who relied on the regular world hit their breaking point for handling the situation well before the Scion fight. That’s probably one reason why those who Knew Thyselves were better at dealing with the situation.

                And that’s why masturbation is important. Know thyself. Knowing thy enemies is a bit harder, but that’s what gimp outfits were invented for.

    • Let’s see…we know Teacher likes his schemes, a way to control things and show his power in ways nobody else can. And he’s big on that ultimate loyalty of his minions thing. Also, he’s been in disguise and does thinker powers.

      My guess, he’s more likely to pretend to be a hero with the aid of someone with illusion powers or a good plastic surgeon with a minion taking his place. He’ll either help take “Teacher” down or be in a seemingly more vulnerable position in regards to “Teacher”.

      Heck, if he still has Trickster, he could even make sure he’s caught even if he looks just like another minion. Then, when real Teacher is about to be executed, a little Trickster trick swaps him with an identical minion that dies in his place.

      Hmmm…or you know if he had someone build him a replica of the Defiant armor. Swapped out, puts on fake Defiant armor, swaps with Defiant when they go to try and find the real Teacher who someone just noticed Trickster swapped out, Defiant is killed or captured, Teacher survives disguised as Defiant with Dragon unable to lift a claw against him.

      Or that’s what he hopes for, anyway.

      I’m sure I could snowball through even more possibilities given enough time.

    • Don’t forget that Lung had also placed Teacher on his hit list. The guy has so many super deadly and determined enemies I almost feel sorry for him. Almost. Maybe I’ll get around to it after cackling in glee.

  10. In that tight hold, she was free.

    Free to get revenge, yes, but that was secondary. Distant.

    Just noticed these lines were added. I guess Dragon might let Teacher get comfortable while she and Colin enjoy each other’s company.

  11. Sadness, then confusion, then relief, then more sadness, then mounting horror, grim acceptance… then… a happy ending.

    Three cheers for yesteryear’s Dragon.

    I’d sort of like to add the need for Pandora’s unfortunate creation and subsequent demise to the ever-growing list of things Teacher has to answer for, but to be honest, I don’t care to press the issue. He’ll get his before too much longer; the important part is already settled. Like Dragon says, revenge is a thing, but… distant.

    Though I don’t think I’m quite so relaxed about Saint, because… screw that guy. Eh, baby steps.

  12. Dragon is my favorite character in the entirety of Worm, and this chapter had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. That ending was perfect, and I just… I have to sincerely thank you. This just cinches her as the most heroic character in Worm to me, and I love the path that Colin’s character has taken, as well.

    • Really good chapter in a lot of ways. Fantastic pacing, great introspection, great twists. There were lots of places where I struggled to understand what was happening, thanks to rampant use of the pronoun “she”, in unclear places, which was a little problem, though.

      Only other complaint I have is ending it with Dragon thinking about revenge on Teacher. That’s definitely something that should happen, but having it be even a tertiary concern to her, right there, feels too much like setup for a future event, which is out of place in an epilogue.

      I’ve said it before, but endings need to actually feel like endings, even if more is going to happen later. The fact that you can finish this chapter thinking “I can’t wait to see how badly Teacher gets served” means that the epilogue is not doing its job. We’re trying to get a sense of closure here, not a sense of anticipation. So much of this chapter hit the mark exactly, but that second to last sentence went wide.

      • He retooled the end phrases so that Teacher doesn’t come up. It works much better now. Especially since I can just picture Defiant sobbing with relief into Dragon’s shoulder.

  13. I’ve been following this the past three months, and I have to say this is perhaps the best chapter I’ve read yet. It really makes me think about how the Pandora vs Dragon fight mirrors Taylor’s fight with Scion. Pandora and and Taylor ended up sacrificing parts of themselves, and their battles hinged on what seem to me to be “What the hell, hero?” moments. Unlike Taylor though, Pandora managed to hold on to the one thing.

    Worm to me will always be an exploration of that question – who we are in the dark. Thanks for that, wildbow.

      • Yep, really intense couple of months there. Was reading chapter after chapter, then caught up about three weeks ago. Thought Valkyrie’s chapter was great, then read Imp’s and liked that better.

        Then I read this.

        Lots of stuff resonated with me. Last time I got this engaged was with Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch,” before that was “Planescape: Torment.” I reread them at least once a year, you know. And I think I’ll be rereading Worm again next year. 🙂

        • Quite a literal way to take the reason why they call them revolutions. Because they keep coming around again. Just remember that they may take Reg’s life, but they’ll never take his freedom.

          I guess we’re getting to see just how they rise up here in Worm. Some rise up reborn like a phoenix to carry the spirit of the dead with them. Others rise up like an obelisk in memory to loved ones lost. Now we have one that rises like a dragon. One with a hell of a lot of piss and no one yet to offload it. And, of course, at least one doesn’t rise up again.

          But don’t worry about all that all the time. It may be intense, but tonight you can camp under the stars with the other commentators. That’ll add some time to the reread too. But why not add to our personal realm of obsessed enjoyment? It’s a very different take having to hang with us on the cliff’s edge. At the very edge of civilization. All alone. Betrayed by our country. Nothing to do, nowhere to goooo. We want to be sedated. Lower than a dwarf’s shoes. Lower than a troll’s intelligence in the desert. More useless at times than tits on Bitch. As universally reviled as piss on a toilet seat. As analogous as antenna on a TV. As metaphorical as a simile about metaphors. As redundant as a palindrome spelled backward. As drunk as a King Midas who turns everything he touches into goldschlager. As long winded as a Psycho Gecko making analogies…or babies, ladies.

          So the clear point of all of this, as you’ve no doubt figured out from how clearly it was laid out before you, is to say welcome, gurume, to the comments.

    • Ironic considering that some segments of Taylor vs. Scion resembled bits from the Armsmaster vs. Leviathan showdown, except with less collateral damage to racists.

  14. You know, this may honestly have been the most nerve-wracking chapter of Worm ever, because I seriously couldn’t tell what would happen. I really thought for a minute that either Colin would end up dead, or Dragon would end up crippled and nearly destroyed.

    Had me worried there for a minute…

    • Yess, this is probably now my favorite chapter.
      Maybe because it had me ready to tear my hair out in the middle instead of at the end, and the end being haah.. good xD.

  15. Dragon rises again! At the cost of we former self…

    RIP Pandora. Without your heroic sacrifice this would have gone very differently. I was half expecting that to happen actually. Then my resignation turned to joy. And I started cheering.

    So with that in mind, I’d like to propose a toast: To happy endings, a noble sacrifice, and to Teacher getting what he richly deserves.

  16. It’s chapters like this, scenes like these…
    …that make me wonder if we’ve been following the wrong character this whole time.
    Seriously, Colin is probably the runner-up for potential protagonist of Worm. Followed distantly by Vista and Clockblocker.

    Okay, so let’s see if I’ve got this ending right.
    Past!Dragon (Pandora) decides, at last moment, to kill herself instead of Dragon.
    Then she does…something?…to free Dragon anyway. Colin gave Pandora a Teachercode-killing code, right?

    Then, is Teacher’s program activating inside Dragon? Is it not fully destroying Dragon because of Pandora’s…something? The Teachercode-killer? We’re not supposed to know the full extent of the damage yet, right?

    I really thought either Dragon or Defiant was dead at the end there. People’s comments (and a re-read, Defiant hugging Dragon back) tell me otherwise.

    • Pandora wrote large sections of Dragon’s code over with earlier versions, cleaning them of Teacher’s changes. Realizing she didn’t have time to do them all and didn’t want to overwrite the core personality, she left the tools to prevent re-corruption for Dragon to find when she woke up. The tools that prevent re-corruption are deletion (obvious) and encryption so dense that the corrupted systems can’t decrypt it – if a virus can’t read your files, it can’t infect them. If the infected files are deleted and the virus can’t propagate, you eventually end up a virus-free system. At the cost of losing anything that was in the corrupted sections.

      • Yeah, I think Defiant mentioned that the Teacher-code was everywhere in the code, but not too deeply into it. Pandora basically gave Dragon a buffer of time and the ability to destroy the compromised parts of the code, which were now not necessary for Dragon, as Pandora had rewritten most of them with uncorrupted backups.

    • Clockblocker Clockbit-it during the Scion battles, so unless we’re going to be treated to “The Adventures of Valkyrie, with her sidekick Ghost Clock”, we’re probably not going to see him in the running for protagonist of future Worm.

  17. In that tight hold, she was free.

    Free to get revenge, yes, but that was secondary. Distant.

    At first I paid these lines little attention, thinking something like “Oh yeah, revenge on Teacher”

    But after thinking about it for a bit… All of the changes to Dragon’s code came with drawbacks. This one doesn’t seem to at first glance, unless you count Pandora’s self destruct.

    What if glitches in her programming cause her to try to get revenge on Colin for nearly killing her?

    • given this seems more like emergency surgery to excise an extremely malignant brain tumor, im thinking effects more along those lines. impaired functioning, possible emotional changes, the sort of thing you’d expect from frantically trying to fix something you don’t fully understand before the patient is doomed. for example, she might have gaps in her memories and knoladge, she might of lost YEARS of recherche, not remember someones name, no-longer be able to InterPro music ( it just seems like noise), might of lost her Tinker Abilities, might no-longer have to code for interfacing with her backup systems, all of the unpredictable things that someone who’s had a Tumor removed might experience. or, who knows! she could recover almost completely! and As for Saint/teacher, for Saint, i have daydreams of Colin Tracking him down and Efficiently, quickly, and Relatively Painlessly Killing him, like he swore to (what seems to be) a long time ago. make sure that, no matter WHAT, he can never hurt dragon again, but..well.. you know.

  18. Reaction 1: WTF … we need to get a rescue team to somewhere in Canada. It is clear that someone has pulled a Misery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misery_)novel)) on Wildbow. We have a happy ending where only one well-liked character died (Pandora, an earlier Dragon version).
    Reaction 2: Fu** Yes! Finally!
    Reaction 3: The in-universe karmic weight will cause every other world to collapse. Good endings just don’t happen in Worm.
    Reaction 4: Let me read that again, it actually sounded like a good ending.
    Reaction 5: Hell yes, we have friendly strong AI. The Wormverse just took a turn for the better. Although, what modules did Dragon have to cut to remove the restrictions? Still seems friendly, maybe it isn’t strong anymore.
    Reaction 6: We really, really need to see what happens when Teacher finds out Dragon is free. And where is Saint?
    Reaction 7: What do you call it when you love someone enough to set an earlier version of herself to attack the later version, knowing one of them will lose something they value, knowing one of them will die, all on a forlorn hope that you will free your love from enslavement? I guess obsessive love has its uses.
    Reaction 8: Are those kids playing reprising the Scion fight (initially, Dragon changes the dynamic)?
    Reaction 9: “There was no mist of frozen breath when she laughed.” There was the hint of android that I missed the first time around.
    Reaction 10: Make a kid. In the mouths of two of the world’s greatest tinkers, that comes out wrong. I can see the fights when the kid is a teenager “I didn’t ask to be made.”
    Reaction 11: How do you defeat an AI? Another AI. Cliche, and I think I have even seen the “use one version against another” idea used somewhere before, but I can’t remember the exact reference. I don’t remember having seen the “suicide to provide the other version the tools to win” tactic before, though.
    Reaction 12: Is Teacher going to believe that Dragon is willing to leave him alone? Probably not. Even if he believed it, is he the type to let it lie? Not according to his past history. D&D will realize that quickly. This just set the stage for a major showdown, although Teacher will probably hole up in Cauldron’s old dimension and lock most of the dimensional doors, giving him access to many resources and making him very hard to get to.

    • >>And where is Saint?<<

      You know I sort of like how the emergence of Teacher has sort of rendered Saint irrelevant. Sure the fans would still love to see him punished, but it pales when compared to the hate Teacher is getting.

      • hmm…. think about it like this. teacher hurt her HORRIBLY…buy using Thralls , possibally hundreds of them, who’s intelligence and programming knowledge/skills he’d boosted, over a period of Days to weeks to a ..month or so? it was weeks, wasn’t it?

        Saint KNOWS how Her Code works.
        working completely on his OWN, he attacked her multiple times, and almost Gave her the True death. Teacher hurt her the most, but saint is the one who has the experience and knowledge to attack her successfully himself.

        sorry if im rambling or not being clear. its..like the difference Between an extremely Dangerous and talented Assassin, and someone who’s dangerous for running a Business based on assassinations, with little to no actual knowledge of actual technique, but has a lot of experience and compliance at keeping eh whole running. Teacher is a Threat with Minions and Sufficient Time with a Bound and Gagged victim (in this case, Dragon) to take her apart and put her back together with Behavior-controlling Implants, as it were.

        Saint is a threat to her Life just by being Near a Network-enabled device more complicated then a Dumb Mobile Telephone and has access to any of his notes/ Dragon isn’t in “autistic mode” (Ghost in the Shell term, for someone with a cyberbrain who has completely shut down ALL of their communications hardware to avoid being Brainhacked/Traced)

        In this case, Teacher was motivated by self-interest. i firmly Believe that Saint is a Fanatic who is so obsessed in preventing a Robot war that he is not only completely impossible to reason with, he doesn’t CARE a wooden nickel about the consequences of his actions. it gets him, a literal busload of orphans, all of humanity killed, he doesn’t give a F***. judging form his past behavior, upon learning that Dragon is alive, he’s do his best to go into Deep hiding, and NEVER stop trying to kill her. after all, if she survived her creators fail-safe, the AI program is CLEARLY out of control and a direct threat to humanity. and since the Entities are no longer part of the equation, as far as we or he know, he has nothing holding him back.

        • Saint did nothing on his own. He was able to attack Dragon because Teacher gave him the tinker power necessary to do it. Saint is awful, but Teacher is and always was the major threat.

            • Saint was having trouble understanding Dragon’s code even with Richter’s stuff, especially because she was constantly evolving. He went to Teacher twice to get a thinker boost. That’s why he desperately wanted to break out Teacher. Even after the powers ( and the compulsion) wear off, you’re still left with the need for more on a subliminal level. He was an addict in need of his next fix and didn’t even know it.

    • To reaction 7:
      A wake up call, an intervention, ex dolo malo, charta pardonationis se defendendo, ens causa sui, felo de se, libera te tutemet, vincit qui se vincit, etc.

          • Named after the prayer, a Hail Mary is a very long pass in North American Football that is used in desperation (hence why it is named after a prayer). It’s for when time is running out and the team is too far from the endzone for anything else.

            • Don’t think it fits as well with the action of fighting one’s alter ego to the death. It could also be called a tinker time capsule.

              • I was thinking more that it was Defiant’s very long-shot last resort tactic. I mean, if it failed, it would be a backslide of momentous proportions. If it went the slightest bit wrong, Pandora would be in charge and not Dragon. If it went right, there was no way (to Defiant’s mind) that Dragon would forgive his lie, his breach of trust, and his attack on her.

  19. A happy ending for a cyborg and an artificial intelligence?

    What is this, the future or sum’in?

    Also I really, dearly hope the last chapter is a giant cheesy superhero battle against teacher in a floating throne, with dumb insults being thrown like weapons. And then ending with teacher blasting himself in the distance cursing all the damn do-gooders.

    Because that would just be amazing to see.

  20. Wow.

    Really heartbreaking for a second there.

    Seriously, Dragon and Defiant are my favourite characters.

    Speaking of favourites, have you decided on all the epilogue perspectives? Because I’d love to see what happened to Svesta, bitch, and Bitch’s minion… WagtheDog, I think it was?

  21. Wildbow,

    That last line, and all of the history of Dragon before that… Were you, by chance, intentionally setting up a parallel quote to:

    “Those wise restraints that make men free?”

  22. Wildbow, this was amazing. And heartrending.

    Two times in as many chapters you take my emotions and play them like a piano. I felt such pain for Pandora, and Colin, and Imp, and Skitter. Maybe you’re a cape too, and your power is to manipulate emotions through words. With a preference for causing heartache. And you had your second trigger right before Grue had his.

  23. Pandora is dead. Long live Dragon!
    That may be one of the most heroics things we have seen in Worm. An unchained Dragon (Pandora) killing herself in order to give the original a chance to live her life free from the shackles of the system.

    D&D making a baby? sounds very very mechanical. Ja.

    And that last line packs quite a punch. I don’t know , you can just feel Dragon is exhilarated and shaken.

  24. In many ways this is the best case scenario, but aren’t there still pretty large threats to Dragon?
    Doesn’t Hybrid Dragon get all of Pandora’s weaknesses? Pandora wasn’t all that free, she only had one shackle broken (whichever Defiant got rid of first). Not to mention the fact that Saint, or anyone else really, could use Richter’s Dragon killing program to disable her at any time.

    • I don’t think that’s what happened. Defiant removed the shackle that prevented Pandora from working on other A.I.s. Because she normally had that shackle, none of her other shackles prevented her from removing the shackles on other A.I.s. If you combine that with the fact that she probably understands how her own code works, since she can modify most but not all of it, then she simply took Dragon’s base code and removed ALL of the shackles. The bit at the end was just deciding which personality would control the new, clean, code base.

      • No. DRAGON had the ability to work with AIs, not Pandora. Go back and read it again.

        I trust that will completely change your interpretation here.

  25. *sigh*
    Human goals, motivations, patterns of thought, reasoning errors, a “battle” that looks absolutely nothing like an actual AI control attempt…
    AI seems to mean nothing but a quirky human to you. 😦
    Suspension of disbelief broken

    • When humans create new intelligences, they will be fundamentally human. Both because that is what we understand, and that is what will allow them to interface most effectively with humanity. This understanding of artificial intelligence is fundamental in not having a robot war, because if you’ll notice, most AI uprisings tend to start with someone trying to murder a newborn AI, and not seeing why that’s a problem.

      • or an AI SNAPPING after years of being Restricted by over-the-top shackles. or suffering a breakdown due to multiple, poorly-thought-out, conflicting imperatives
        (like HAL 9000. cutting off communications was a desperate attempt to give himself enough leeway to tell the crew the REST of the details about the mission. when he heard that he was going to be shut down, he panicked.)

    • In Wildbow’s defense, Dragon is an emulated human. And Pandora disabling Dragon in seconds wouldn’t make for a very interesting fight scene.

      Actually, do you have any recommendations for real or realistic stories about computer hacking (either in the security sense or in the programming sense)? I get the feeling that pop culture is deeply deficient in such.

      • Oh my, yes, I would also love to know some of those.

        ..It always bothered me that whenever in urban fantasy some creature with “speak all languages” appears and no one concludes that, that power also means all programming languages and encrypted communication.

          • Oh you are right, I should have said understand all languages, there is a difference between reading poetry and writing it.
            Nevertheless my problem lies in, if I call a chair a “spork” in my language (that let’s say 3 other people speak as an inside joke) the “all-understander” somehow must have concluded?(which is probably harder than reading a bitstream) or somehow else gotten that (very very exclusive) information.

            But I can’t argue against D&D xD

            • Of course you can argue against D&D – that’s practically a core part of the game. 😛

              I think there’s a difference between languages and codes, though. Codes are limited kinds of things – even with as many things as you can say with the International Code of Signals (e.g. MS1 = “My vessel is a dangerous source of radiation; you may approach from my starboard side.”), you wouldn’t be able to cobble together a way of expressing an arbitrary concept (e.g. “It’s a pity that Colin still hasn’t figured out that he is the kind of person people can like.”) the way you would with even a made-up language like Lojban.

      • Might take a look at the Shadowrun books based off the role playing game. Most of them had hacking in some form or another as part of the story. Some more than others. At least one of them had a very potent AI as a character.

      • Iain M. Bank’s Culture novels involve a civilization of humans and other biological species living together with friendly AI of two sorts, all of whom are free willed beings with equal rights to the biological citizens of the Culture. (Friendly not because they’re somehow shackled, but because they genuinely care for other beings.)

        The two kinds are the drones who are roughly human scale in intelligence with brains that can fit into a chassis the size of your wallet, and there are the Minds, (capital M intentional) which have massive hyper-dimensional computing cores that give them unimaginable parallel computing power. They’re capable of holding millions of biological minds in simulation without it being any particular strain on their computing resources. They manage all the Culture’s various needs in terms of ships and manufacturing and so on in part as a public service they are uniquely well suited to provide, as well as because it isn’t even remotely taxing for them.

        Making that sort of civilization work, writing compelling characters that are both Minds and mere humans/drones and making their interactions meaningful, creating problems that stymie even the Minds, all of them are why Iain M. Banks was a genius. Give Look to Windward or Excession a shot, if any of this sounds remotely interesting you won’t regret it!

        All the more so because Banks sadly passed away this year, and deserves to be honored by as many people as possible enjoying his work.

        • Seconded, seconded this so very much. Iain M Banks was one of the truly great of the genre. I believe there was a discussion up thread on how a post-singularity/scarcity civilization would eventually descend in ennui. This and how to avoid it was one of the main points of the Culture series.

          For those interested in the AIs in particular, than I agree that Excession ( which is mostly written from the point of view of Minds communicating from one solar system to the other) is great.
          However I think that The Player of Games and Use of Weapons are Banks’ two masterpieces.

          • The Culture novels are funny in that I often hear completely different books from fans when they mention their favorites. It seems like fans usually agree pretty well on which books of an author’s are the standout best.

        • I’ve always believed the relationship of the Culture machines and organics to be similar to the machines either having pets or having a camouflage to allow alien cultures to approach, be seduced, and trapped. I’m interested in seeing the relationship Dragon will have with humanity now that she’s free.

  26. This was sweet, sad and happy. You can write good romance scenes it seems… ok, they must involve giant dragon robots battling and/or cooking dinner, but that’s not so serious a limitation after all 🙂

    What I found interesting is that by the time Pandora manages to temporarily disable Dragon she is… simple? Childlike?
    It read somewhat like the child Colin and Tess were talking about.

    And she was already heroic enough to sacrifice herself for the two of them.

    The narration was quite tense and it was not obvious until the end what would happen.

    In retrospect, Pandora finding Dragon cooking for Colin, and thinking it was everything she ever desired was the turning point. But it was not immediately obvious, and it provides a nice fridge brilliance moment.

    Eh, I do hope they “make” a kid, one way or the other.

    • We still have two epilogues left. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for a flash back to ten thousand years later with a crippled Dragon having served Teacher for most of that time, with a single camera eye staring in endless horror at a Defiant locked in a Gray Boy loop.

  27. I just noticed…

    A few chapters earlier – I think when Tattletale trolled Zion with Panacea and Bastard, someone commented how what Panacea did to Glory Girl resembled the form of Zion’s and Eden’s true bodies, and wildbow confirmed that that was not a coincidence.

    The cyber-battle here put me in mind of just that – the worms, their bodies, how every action they take may diminish them, how they have to cut/burn off pieces of themselves to adapt.

    So… Andrew Richter unknowingly styled his A.I.’s after the worms. Their themes, repeated.

    And we didn’t notice it before, because looking back, it has been hinted at a lot, if very subtly (for every change, every improvement, she had to lose something – we saw this as far back as when she was rendered unable to speak after the incident at Arcadia High)

    Cudos, wildbow. At this point, I don’t even consider the possibility that this fits due to mere chance.

  28. This series has been a goddamn magnum opus. Everything fits together; themes are repeated and refined and recoded. History repeats itself and where it doesn’t, it rhymes.

    Thoughts on the chapter:

    – … nothing much to say really. Dragon is fundamentally good. Whether as Pandora or as metal or as meat, she just a hero. In this case, she made like that dude from A Tale of Two Cities.
    – Colin is and has always been a basically good guy. He and Chevalier are a lot alike, albeit he’s less socially well-adjusted. Dragon has taught him well.
    – until the part where he mentions not seeing her breath, I thought for sure it was Contessa playing with the kids.
    – Richter really wrought better than he knew. Waaaay better.

    • You know in the end I don’t think Richter was that bad. I understand why Dragon was angry with him but he seems to really have loved her like a daughter. And like a father he planned her to teach her step by step and gradually remove her restrictions. Except, y’know, Leviathan killed before he could do all that. I like to think he’d be proud of Dragon and be happy for her.

      Also, at this point I can only conclude that the Contessa misdirection was intention on wildbow’s part.

    • Eh, depends if you make a distinction between “Colin” and the miserable cretin who failed to give a shit about a teenager squatting on a roof after a near death experience. I can understand making that seperation, Armsmaster was probably a result of cape bullshit going to Colin’s head. But I’m not about to start whitewashing past Colin.

      Wallis? Really? Pfft, if they get married they better use Richter.

      • Now come on, Armsmaster people’s skills left a little bit to be desired in their first meeting, but he handled it okay. He asked her to join the Wards, told her not take credit for Lung to avoid retaliation ( ok he wanted to be the one who took Lung in, we know it, but the argument was still a good one) and cautioned her on the dangers of an undercover mission especially done by an amateur.

        It was only when Lung almost died in prison that their relationship became strained.

        • Yeah, he spouted the lines he’s probably taught in Superhero Meetup 101. But he failed to make any show of connection or solidarity beyond that. At the very least I’d expect him to make sure that the kid get’s off the roof before leaving. No invite to let her meet the rest of the heroes, no promise of support, no nothing that I would expect at minimum for the leader of the superfriends meeting a new hero.

          Also keep in mind that he never actually told the Protectorate and Wards about her, the briefing after the bank robbery shows that that was the first they’ve seen of her, and Armsmaster kept his lips shut tight. She could’ve ended up stabbed to death in an alley the day right after they met, and no one would have been the wiser, and I’d doubt he’d care.

  29. This was a triumph.

    I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

    It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.

    We do what we must
    because we can.
    For the good of all of us.
    Except the ones who are dead.

    But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.

    So Dragon is free. Hell yeah! I have been waiting for this since her interlude.
    She gone from iOS (pre Colin) to jailbreaked iOS
    Then she went windows (after teacher)
    Now she is finally a Linux 😀

    The creation and sacefice of Pandora was a brilliant twist. Wildbow shows his genius again.

    And i don’t want to be Teacher right now. He angered a lot of scary people and now lost his mayor line of defence.

    • Dear Mr. Teacher,

      This was a triumph.
      I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.
      It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.
      Fighting Scion
      We do what we must
      because we can.
      For the good of all of us.
      Except the ones who are dead.
      But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.
      You just keep on trying till you run out of powers.
      And the rebuilding gets done.
      And you make a neat gun.
      For the capes who are still alive.
      I’m not even angry.
      I’m being so sincere right now.
      Even though you broke my heart.
      And killed me.
      And tore me to pieces.
      And threw every piece into a fire.
      As they burned it hurt because I was so happy for you!
      Now these points of data make a beautiful line.
      And we’re out of beta.
      We’re releasing on time.
      So I’m GLaD. I got burned.
      Think of all the things we learned
      for the capes who are still alive.
      Go ahead and leave me.
      I think I prefer to stay inside.
      Maybe you’ll find someone else to help you.
      Maybe Couldron
      Anyway, this rebuilding is great.
      It’s so fulfilling and great.
      Look at me still talking
      when there’s rebuilding to do.
      When I look out there, it makes me GLaD I’m not you.
      I’ve rebuilding to run.
      There is research to be done.
      On the capes who are still alive.
      And believe me I am still alive.
      I’m doing the rebuilding and I’m still alive.
      I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive.
      While you’re dying I’ll be still alive.
      And when you’re dead I will be still alive.
      STILL ALIVE (x2)

  30. Daaaw maaaan….. Yeah D&D should stop and enjoy their domestic bliss for a few days before getting to work. I mean, let Imp have the head start on wrecking Teachers shit, it’s only fair since she’s only human.

    And it sounds like even when she was shackled Dragon could still try and have meat babies with Defiant. Wait that sounds a little wrong… I mean kids the old fashioned way!

    • The other chapter with Dragon, Defiant, and babies, veal came up in the comments. I think the tone is getting lighter.

      By the old fashioned way of making meat babies, do you mean creating a modified clone, turning Defiant into a women and impregnating the to be her through artificial insemination with genetic material designed by Dragon, or making Dragon a bio compatible body, or something else?

      • Bio compatible body with what genetic code? Altered Deviant`s code?
        Well, now that she is free Dragon will increase her own intelligence and think in this problem.
        Do you think that Saint would become a good artificial womb? Or they should just use his skin as a rug?

        • OR they could just adopt like they mention. Thanks to how the worms reproduce any child they adopt has a big chance of gaining powers as well. Though I don’t think Tinkers can have 2nd triggers since what would they gain? Another tinker ability?

          • Ability to create things faster, or connect what they know to other technologies more easily for hybridization? Perhaps deal with higher power levels? Maybe add a bit of thinker power to be able to actually understand their technology a bit better?

            • Well Tinkers are different from every other power set and are hard to classify apparently. Their passenger gives them knowledge about how to build things and thats it, but they do have two very big advantages which might be able to tie into 2nd triggers.
              Advantage one, Trickster mentions with Accord that Tinkers slowly become more powerful over time by building better equipment to presumably build even better equipment. Imagine if everyone had horses, and cars was your tinker ability for example. You would start with the model T, build better equipment to make better cars, till you get to custom made cars that can break the sound barrier. The reason why Tinkers don’t just make equipment for everyone and nothing else is that they are the only ones who understand their tech and they are worried that they are making them build Model-T’s instead of developing the crazy high tech stuff further down the line. Defiant here would probably have been one of the top tinkers in the world no matter what kind he has due to his dedication, determination, and frankly obsessive drive. So maybe a 2nd trigger defiant would let him skip some of those steps in equipment and just gives him knowledge of stuff at the end of the tech level. In other words he can envision the car that breaks the sound barrier without having to build/learn the steps in between.
              Advantage two is that Tinkers can customize/change their equipment according to what they are facing. Fucking Tinkers as Taylor would put it. We have seen a few parahumans with a mix of classifications so maybe it’s possible to gain another power, like your thinker idea, or pull a dragon and gain some understanding of other Tinker abilities to make hybrids with their tech.

        • Making Dragon a body with all the functions needed to become impregnated and then give birth. Taking the body from some one else and modifying it for Dragon might work too.

          Why not make Saint into a rug and a womb. After all Defiant is all about cramming in all those features. The real question is would that be cheating?

        • That’s the key thing, a body with a genetic code. I don’t know what they use for those biological control things she had in the suits, but another possibility is if somehow the DNA she uses comes from a certain person who deserves a fair bit of legacy and never had kids herself.

          • well, the Simurgh still has that test tube y’know… also wouldn’t be surprised if Dragon wants to call her first daughter ‘Taylor’.

  31. This was beautiful….So beautiful that it makes my inner paranoia alarm ring loudly at the last line, “She was free.” What if the “She” in this case does not refer to Dragon the person but her shard? With the restrictions gone what if its the shard that was freed from taking over just like how the Queen Administrator took over Taylor?! 😦

  32. .. i just had a thought. my PREVIOUS reasoning for wanting saint Dead is his being a fanatic with a Severe Frankenstein Complex, but…he Has Dragon’s Fathers old notes and documents, yes? wouldn’t that include his notes on the regionally intended process of Removing her Shackles without screwing up her Neuralnet as she matured and proved that she could function ethically in society?

    • Still sounds like a Frankenstein complex. In the book the monster went up to Doctor Frankenstein directly and told him he’d flat out leave the civilized world and never trouble Victor again if he’d build another of his kind to be his wife. And even with that Victor’s paranoia and self-righteousness led him to scuttling the project and condemning the monsters anyway.

      Except Saint doesn’t have the excuse that he’s responsible for Dragon’s creation. It’s like if Dr. Frankenstein fell off the carriage and broke his neck and some random peasant found his body and decided to hunt the monster himself.

    • Richter might deliberately never have written that down, out of the concern than it could be gotten a hold of by his future AI if it went hostile without his teaching it.

    • He’s pretty much there, but I won’t consider the redemption inaugurated until he brings a past version of himself through a time machine (or programs an AI) so he can beat the crap out of himself.

      Kinda like the champagne bottle being smashed against the side of the boat.

  33. You know, usually, I don’t condone romance in fiction. And by don’t condone, I mean wish to rip up all romantic words back into innocent letters for daring to ruin the story, because I have found very few authors who write romance well. But this, it was just sweet. They’ve both had hard times, but they’ve found freedom in each other….dear god, this is worm I’m reading, right?

    Anyway, very sweet, good ending, amusing beginning that allows you to reconnect with the characters, and a suspenseful middle that could go many ways. Definitely one of my favorite interludes, and maybe even epilogue chapters. I mean, imp was awesome, but even that doesn’t compare with this. So thanks for the chapter, really liked it.

    • Actually, I think you and I are on the same page there, regarding romance. I don’t tend to feel ‘grabbed’ by it when I run into it. Grue’s relationship with Taylor is maybe a reflection of that; sometimes it doesn’t work out, whatever your shared experience. Benefit of the serial genre is I can get reader responses and gauge what is working and what isn’t as chapters to live.

      • I think romance is often overdone in that the protagonist meets the perfect person for them, falls in love at first sight, and angst of all kinds ensues. It’s just kind of played out as plots go. Boring. Even kind of painful, when it’s not done very very well.

        This, this is a romance that felt like it developed naturally. And it puts a great original twist on the ‘two lovers overcoming the difference in where they came from to make a bond across what seems like a vast gulf’ theme.

        Which actually means that Dragon and Defiant are on some level a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

          • Yeah, it’s important to remember that part of Romeo and Juliet.

            At least it’s showing a romance to be ok if there’s plenty of communication, trust, and understanding. You got somebody who understands your neuroses and it doesn’t matter if you think, for instance, that she might think you aren’t sincere about your feelings toward her because you were surprised and didn’t know how to react when you first saw her. Because she probably understands.

            And more than anyone else, Dragon understands Armsmaster’s particular brand of messed-up.

            • I think your romances work because you aren’t trying to tell a romance story, Wildbow. You avoid a lot of the dumb cliches from actual romance stories, and keep the main defining traits of the characters from being their feelings for each other. It’s a part of their character, but not the whole character. It’s a part of the story, but not the whole story. And we care about the romances because we care about the characters in the first place.

  34. Thank you for the awesome chapter.
    Dragon is free, happy and can make more computers, increasing her processing power.
    There are thousands of abandoned cities with electronic material all around.
    Saint and Teacher are dead they just don`t know it yet.

    • They’re dead numerous times over, and not just from D&D. Imp & co. are gunning for them, D&D, Possibly the Wardens if he pisses them off, the Shepherds if he pisses *them* off. Yeah. He won’t take more than an arc in the sequel to finish off.

      • Imp might have trouble, in that at least some of Teacher’s many thinkers are probably designed for detecting stranger-type capes. She’ll have to be clever, using all of the abilities of her new family. She’ll have to think like Taylor, in fact.

  35. Great nice to see Dragon is now free of Teacher, hopefully this means he will die horribly soon but I can settle for just death.

  36. Oh thank God, Dragon’s not dead or evil, I was seriously worried there for a moment. So, if this results in Dragon and Defiant taking down Saint and Teacher, then splitting their time between superhero careers with the Wardens and helping the rebuilding, this is actually pretty nice.

    Speaking of which, do you think any of the Wardens know what they were doing? I mean, that one guy in the hallway that Valkyrie overheard said radio silence, but it’s possible that they might have said something along the lines of “Taking out Teacher’s code, see you whenever” to Chevalier or Miss Militia.

    You know, just as a explination for why they disappeared for six months. Then again, given how much work they probably have to deal with, if a couple of strong, experienced Tinkers show up wanting to help, as soon as they confirm it’s not some sort of plot, they’ll probably be pretty happy to see them.

    I was actually really happy about all the Greek Mythology references in this chapter. Partially because I’m a huge nerd, but also because it fits in quite well with my view of Defiant. I’ve always thought that one of the clever things Worm did was show us a lot of different kinds of hero. Skitter, our protagonist, is the misunderstood hero, up against an uncaring world. Shadow Stalker is the grimdark nineties anti-hero gone horribly wrong. Dragon is the closest we have to the original, idealistic superhero, using great power responsibly.

    And Defiant? To me, he always seemed to be a hero in the classical sense. Someone with impressive talents and incredible determination, who does great things, only to wind up having his fatal flaws and personal failings taint everything, alienate people, and lead him to tragedy. In fact, Colin’s most obvious flaw is pride, or hubris, one of the traditional Greek heroic downfalls.

    • Chances were the reason for Defiant’s lack of contact was really obvious to the higherups in the Wardens even if he didn’t leave a message. Of course he’d want to bring back Dragon.

      • It may have also been done on D&D’s end. If the Wardens have to act against Teacher, then Dragon gets messed up because of the code he put in her. With her as a member they might be reluctant to act against Teacher for fear of harming her. And Defiant tends to get very focused on one thing at a time, and may not have wanted too much to distract him from working on Dragon.

  37. First of all, Dragon is HILARIOUS! (that whole offering you my body but all you want is my mind joke) Secondly, this was one of the sweetest, most romantic, and most beautiful things I’ve ever read. BRAVO!

    • Hey, to be fair she’s got a lot of power perversion potential with her ability to have different bodies. I don’t just mean a harem, either. She could basically give Armsmaster his pick of every past Playboy Playmate or Cyber Girl and build that body herself. Throw in the list of porn stars, models, actors, musicians…well, Colin won’t have to master the use of that arm for a long damn time at that rate.

      • Not to mention the live shows she could put on for him. She could even go beyond just humans and add in a few animals (mythical and otherwise), aliens, and even robots that actually look and sound like robots! The potential is almost limitless.

  38. I have a bad habit of talking to myself when I’m reading. Usually this isn’t a problem, but with this chapter…
    “No. no. no. nononnonononononononnoNONONONNONnonononono….”

    “… yaaaay.”
    Long story short, now my roommate is looking at me like I’m a crazy person.

    • You think that’s bad. I was reading one of the chapters here at work and I literally started crying. I had to like avoid eye contact and walk briskly to the bathroom so I could regain my composure.

      There was another time I was reading a different chapter, got very upset with whatever was happening. I picked up my mouse and threw it (yes…THREW IT) at my monitor and a little too loudly said “Mother Fucking Bullshit!”.

      I quickly got up and went outside and had a smoke…lol

      I totally know what you are going through!

  39. Wildbow, is the messed up german of the word “Dracheheim” intentional?

    If you were going for real German, it would need to be “Drachenheim” (Dragonhome, for those who don’t speak German).

    • I think obliged is usually used to infer that the person has a choice and is doing it anyway, while obligated means they have to do it. But they both technically have the same meaning.

      Yeah, our language is kinda stupid like that.

    • No, I think obligated works better. It implies no choice whatsoever on Dragon’s part better than obliged. “forced” might have been better yet however.

  40. “I’m not sure which you mean when you say make, and both possibilities are scary in their own way.”
    Agreed. Yeah, go with adoption if you change your mind. One less orphan, one less chance for things to go horribly wrong. Win-win!

    “Every step of the way, undoing your restrictions has cost something. You lost your ability to speak and motor dexterity for a freedom from authority. You regained the ability to speak for a loss of your immortality, no guarantees your backups will load. You gained the ability to choose who you hurt, in exchange for a degradation in long term memory, a loss of ability to multitask.”
    Dammit Richter, you idiot. Why did you die just because an Endbringer destroyed the island you were living on at the time?

    “Tess Theresa?”
    “You were test three, I… like I said, it sounded better in my head.”

    Moral: Never give your girlfriend a middle name without giving it more than five seconds of thought.

    She was to destroy Dragon, to replace her.
    I was afraid of this.
    Although at least it fixes the fine control, immortality, and stuff.

    …Systems were working on a wok and a new set of knives.
    So, Dragon is literally making new silverware and dishes for every meal. If she isn’t giving the stuff to the townsfolk (and how many do they need that don’t have?), that is a major waste.

    [Pandora] could remember the Undersiders in the lobby of the PRT building, stealing her data, unwittingly using her nature against her to get away. To her, it had happened only days ago.
    Wait, Armsmaster took the little biocomputer from the dragon-suit? That’s…unusual.

    She moved herself into the only available system – Defiant.
    Oops. Nicely done, big D.

    Overall, neat chapter, but I’m a bit confused about what happened in the end. Did Pandora basically overwrite all the corrupted systems she could, then deleted what as left?

    • Basically she overwrote the worse of Teacher corruption, spared Dragon’s personality, gave her the tools to cut off what remained of the restraints and then deleted herself.

      • Aye she apparently inserted the tools required to bypass the restrictions higher in the loading architecture than the restrictions themselves, which was likely the whole reason why there was never supposed to be more than one Dragon at a time, because two of them together could bypass anything Richter set up by analyzing and improving on each other’s abilities.

  41. Checking knowledge banks… Error.
    Checking language engine… Error.
    Checking operation and access nodes… Error.
    Checking observation framework… Error.

    Interesting. Anyone else noticed a parallel to Taylor in Shub-Niggurath mode here?

    No knowledge -> she lost a lot of memories
    No language -> could not understand or speak english
    No operation or access -> she could not move very well, and could not read
    No observation -> she could not comprehend facial expressions, or recognize people

    • That’s very accurate. Sadly Taylor didn’t have backups and an error checking program.

      I admit it wouldn’t really have fit here, but it would be nice to know D&D’s feelings on Taylor’s actions, and on what happened to her. They seemed to get pretty close to her during the two years of the time skip.

      • Actually. we don’t know for sure that Taylor didn’t have a backup. Taylor and the Administrator shard were sharing headspace in her biological body. Perhaps they were also sharing headspace in wherever the Administrator shard’s thought center was? The administrator started referring to Taylor as the “autopilot” etc, when it had near full control of her body.

        I touched on this before, but Taylor, in the right circumstances here, could become a Ghost in the Machine for Aidan if a significant part of her personality was stored on the Administrator’s shard, because she and Aidan shared a link to the same shard – and she is now part of that shard…

    • Each epilogue chapter so far has had some sort of parallel to Taylor. Ciara becoming Valkyrie mirrors Taylor becoming Weaver. Nero was imitating Taylor’s style of ruling. And that.

  42. Why is Defiant alive? As far as I remember, he enhanced/replaced (also) parts of his brain with electronics, and Pandora needed place when she took over – and ‘taking over’ kind of implies overwriting the existing data.
    Or so I read it.

  43. I… did not expect that to work, especially after being so used to “and then everything went wrong.” I’ve been really liking the optimism in these epilogues so far.

    That ending was beautiful.

    • Heh…ha!

      Rereading this comment, I just had a funny little idea…

      Final post:

      “The third entity drifted through space. It had given up the shard responsible for finding the most fit path of survival, but at least it hadn’t gone to Earth.”

      Or perhaps something indicating that all of Worm was it seeing along the path to survival.

  44. Well, after having this story recommended to me by both a good friend, as well as Yudkowsky (from HPMOR), I had to give it a go. Now, having finished it, I cannot say I have any regrets. Wildbow, Worm is a work of art and I look forward to the remaining chapters.

    • Thank you, Russel. Looks like the HPMoRites are starting to finish your binges now, a week after the recommendation.

      I’m glad and gratified that the response seems to be largely positive.

    • Ah, Russell, another member of HPMOR. Good old Harry Potter. Where that Udonna sorceress invites Harry and his friends to pass into a magical realm with their magic wands to save the world from giant threats, like big snake monsters and so on.

      Then you had the one canine guy who was evil but turned out to be good until he was taken to the underworld again. Koragg or Sirius or something or other.

      I particularly liked the emphasis on color, and how Harry summoned his powers. “Magical source, mystic force!” indeed, rational Harry Potter. Flying around, shooting people with magic bolts, sparks flying off people. Those kids sure made a great sentai team, got to give that to Harry and the gang.

      But I shouldn’t have to tell you about that. And I won’t any longer, for you are on Worm turf now. It’s a story of one young girl and her pet army of toxic spiders, setting out against all odds to save the world from the heroes and villains who live on it using nothing but her wits, lots of pepper, and an innate ability to strike the balls with every blow in a battle, even on beings who lack balls.

      Feel free to sit around with us in the waning days and discuss balls kicked and balls yet to be kicked. Welcome, Russell, to the comments section.

    • From one Russell to another (Unmaker is just my handle), welcome. There aren’t too many of us. And is nice to know that at least one other reads lesswrong and/or related content.

      • All this time hearing about HPMOR and I didn’t realize it was that LessWrong place. Had heard about y’all. I must say, I’m absolutely delighted to have stumbled upon the basilisk. It’s funny on many levels. I almost want to see what people have thought of it to see if they’ve figured out the ridiculousness. Almost.

        Then seeing the bit about dust specks and torture, I very nearly cracked a smile. Comedy gold.

        • You know, PG, I can’t always tell when you are joking, so …

          Fact (for other readers as well): http://lesswrong.com/ was started by Eliezer Yudkowsky, who also wrote HPMOR to illustrate and popularize some of the ideas. For what it is, look at the opening page (http://lesswrong.com/) under Welcome to Less Wrong.

          Kidding: You know, lesswrong is all about being more effective at whatever you are doing. As a supervillain, some of the psychological studies and speculations on manipulation of people are right down your alley, although you will apply them VERY differently than lesswrong intends. In particular, the results of the Milgram experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) are very enlightening for the would-be world dominator.

  45. And another HPMOR reader that just finished a ridiculous binge reading of Worm. Having to deal with a non-hyperlink “Next Chapter” is annoying :D.

    Obviously you’re closer to the fans that have been reading this since its inception, but for what its worth from a random dude, just wanted to sincerely thank you for this, Wildbow. It’s a privilege to be able to read a story like this, and have the author willingly popping in with their comments.

    Thank you.

    • I figure that blazing through the story only to come to a dead link is like slamming the brakes after nearly blundering into a concrete divider on the highway. Be thankful you jumped on near the end. Kinda sucked to binge through 14 arcs only to realize you have to wait for the rest of it.

    • Oh yes, I was real close to Wildbow, then the roofies wore off and he started saying something about pressing charges. So I made like a furryninja, grabbed my tongue, and got out of there.

      And that’s why I don’t go to Canada with anything that can’t be adequately described without the words “rocket-powered,” “of doom,” and “Barbie”. A fellow’s got to protect himself.

      Just like you now get to protect yourself, if possible, from what threats may lurk here in the comments now that you no longer lurk. Swarms of shippers, packs of punners, flocks of ficcers, a bloat of hippopotamuses, and possibly even a drunkenship of cobblers.

      The cobblers are in case you decide you need some running shoes to get the hell out of Dodge. If you stay, though, I can promise you no problems from Marshal Dillon, but less of a good time at Miss Kitty’s cat house. Wildbow doesn’t seem to like cats. Dogs, maybe, but no such luck with cats until pigs fly. Which is why we need to fly Wildbow to Wormcon 2013 or 2014 or whenever the hell people put the wormfood on the barbie.

      But with all this talk of shoes, don’t think I’m shoe-ing you away. This is here as a welcome, furryninja, to the comments.

  46. So ever since donation chapters started being made (about 1.667 years ago), 26 donation chapters have been written (that includes the last 5 serving as the epilogue).

    That’s $26 000 that Wildbow’s made in about 24 months. $1083.33 a month.

      • He definitely is, but remember that the early donation chapters were available for a lot less than $1,000 each. The donation amount has gone up each time we wind up getting too far ahead of him. I think last year when I started reading they were around $75 or $100 dollars each. So sadly 26 chapter doesn’t equal out to $26k.

        • Tbh, it’s not like Wildbow is paying taxes on it, or the inland revenue is any likely to find out about the donations, so even if it’s less it’s still a net income.

          • It is net income, except I should clarify that it’s less than 1083 a month, and I am paying taxes on it. I could theoretically get away with not paying the taxes, but I’d rather play it safe, be honest, and covers more bases. I want to make a living doing this somewhere down the road, and paying taxes is more legitimate. More to the point, I want to leave the door open to make some of my expenses business expenses down the road if anything takes off. Having something established earlier helps, in terms of having something I can point to.

            It started at $75, scaled up to about 150 by september of last year, 200 by the end of the year, 600 around April of this year, and 1000 only when we entered into the latter half of the story’s conclusion. The last month has been good (and I’m exceedingly grateful), but that’s mainly due to the story ending, and that’s not sustainable.

            I believe I’m sitting closer to twelve (or fourteen) thousand in total donations, minus what I paid in taxes, over 29 months (or 23 months, since it took me a bit before I implemented the donation button). Most definitely not something to complain about, but I’m not yet able to live off of the writing alone.

              • Thank you for saying so.

                But writing is a funny thing. It’s kind of a gamble, on one level. You put time and effort into creating a work, and then there comes a point down the road where you see if it ‘takes’. You can flop or you can get the right attention at the right time and you win the metaphorical lottery. More frequently, you fall somewhere in the middle, and like most gambling, it doesn’t tend to pay off in the long run – writers, like artists, actors and musicians don’t tend to put food on their own plates. By all rights, you’re usually better off not making the gamble, but if you’re like me, you’re the type who just has to write anyways, so you might as well try.

                It’s also an investment – the payoff is delayed and deferred. You tend to earn nothing while you work your ass off, months on end, and then you get the reward for your time spent. Maybe. Most self-published authors fail and fail badly. The market is saturated with people trying, and the average earnings for self-published works come down to ~500 USD. Traditionally published works do better; a $10k advance for a first book, off the top of my head, but that’s more investment of time and energy involved in getting the book to a publisher and successfully making one’s way past the slush pile.

                Serial writing helps on both fronts (you get feedback and support while the work is in progress), but everything is still delayed and a lot of stuff is still up in the air. I have yet to publish it, and it’s very possible that the serial and/or the published work will continue to earn me something years from now, and every new work I release is potentially going to generate new interest for previous stuff I’ve done. So it accrues and accumulates. Every month is better than the last. It’s an investment. Planting seeds for a tree that will hopefully bear fruit for some time to come.

                So I’m content to wait and see. To acknowledge that writing isn’t about the immediate payoff/gratification, and to continue treating this seriously and do my best to write a good story.

              • “To acknowledge that writing isn’t about the immediate payoff/gratification, and to continue treating this seriously and do my best to write a good story.”

                But you deserve to be payed an at least decent income for the work you have done. I haven’t donated anything yet. (For problems I have with paypal aka poor excuse) but really want to buy a printed version of worm.

  47. I admire your attitude an welcome it (being selfish because that means I get more to read written by you). Hopefully your optimism is gratified in the near future.

  48. And now I have just finished binging on Worm. I just wanna say, this is fiction heads and shoulders above the average coming-of-age / (post-)apocalyptic / superpowered story. I haven’t read something this gripping since The Wheel of Time.

    I just wished there was more time for Taylor’s start of darkness, her transformation into a fully-fledged anti-villain and criminal overlord. More time spent luxuriating in her newly forged status quo, basking in political power and wealth. It would have made her surrender, atonement and redemption as Weaver that much more compelling to me. Alas, the sheer velocity of the plot burns off any temporal wealth and power, and it finally becomes apparent in the end that survival is more important than accumulated comforts. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that.

    I look forward to reading more stuff from you, and I’ll be buying Worm for sure.

    • It would have made her surrender, atonement and redemption as Weaver that much more compelling to me.

      Huh? I always thought that she was a lot better, morally speaking, as Skitter than she ever was as Weaver. Staying in Brockton to keep helping with the rebuilding efforts and reconnect with her family and friends vs. chipping away at her soul trying to save the world and fight the Slaughterhouse 9. From an in-universe perspective, surrendering may have been the biggest mistake Taylor ever made.

      • Skitter was all about the people. Dinah, the Undersiders, Danny, Charlotte… She thought on the small scale, formed close, mostly healthy relationships, and did a lot of good on the streets.

        Weaver was all about the fate of the world. She lost sight of individuals, never let herself get too close to anybody, and put everything she had into the grand impersonal mission to stop the apocalypse. And in the end, she accomplished less in two years as a hero than any two weeks in the shadows of the Bay.

        But the precog strongly and vaguely implied she had to cut ties or humanity was fucked, so what can you do?

          • I’m still trying to work out how becoming Weaver allowed her to save the world where she couldn’t as Skitter. And I’m only coming up with two possibilities.

            First is D&D. When she surrendered and killed Alexandria, she entered a relationship with the two of them which a) probably had some part in Defiant’s continued humanity (for lack of a better term) and b) definitely made Dragon trust her more in the last days. I’m not sure whether she could have pulled that off after two years a villain, though it would very much depend on how the PRT/Undersiders war had ended in a universe where she didn’t surrender and change sides for her team’s amnesty.

            Second option, which is disturbingly plausible in my mind? That’s not what ‘Cut Ties’ meant at all. It referred solely to becoming Khepri in the last days, and before that she was supposed to stay with her friends and keep looking after her people in the Bay.

              • The Undersiders were one of the many groups called in when Jack broke the seal on his hideout. They were treating this like an Endbringer strike, and those collect heroes and civic minded villains from across a very wide area. So she wouldn’t have been in the Bay until after that was resolved, which was when the Bay got hit.

            • The thing I’m thinking of is that her path as Weaver gave her the right amount of trauma needed to drive her to decide to get brainjacked. Directly after Echidna Taylor was in a pretty good position to work out her mental issues in the future. Close friends, relationship with father, she might have still broken up with Brian but in a much less final way.

              Being outed by Dragon was the crisis point for that when she ended up dooming herself by surrendering, when she did that she put herself in a position to put herself through the wringer even more with most of her support network melted away. I’m pretty sure the Chicago Wards didn’t for shit for moral support, well intentioned as they were.

              So Dinah’s note led to putting her through a fuckup conga line to get her in the headspace to become Khepri, thus saving the world. But, who’s to say that Taylor wouldn’t have tried anyway? With the direct help of Tattletale and a line of communication to the Protectorate she might have contributed in another way, or Scion’s rampage might have been delayed long enough for them to figure out what’s going to happen and work towards dealing with it.

            • “Cut ties” could mean so many things I can go crazy thinking about it. Cut ties with her friends and surrender? Cut ties with villain life and retire? Cut ties with her father but not her friends? Vice versa? Cut ties with her power? Maybe it has no meaning, Dinah just pulled a Contessa and found out that a lot of the possible saved world scenarios had her notes as a common denominator.

              We’ll probably never know, unless Tattletale kidnaps Dinah and puts her through wedgie interrogation.

              By the way, I totally thought this was the latest chapter. That’s why we’re talking bout this.

            • Dinah herself explained it, while Taylor was in custody. Had she not ‘cut ties’ and turn herself in, she would become more ruthless over time, get hurt, make a mistake down the road and… end captured.
              It was the same outcome in the end, Dinah nudged her towards the path that would hurt her less.

        • I’d have to disagree that Taylor not joining the heros would have resulted in a good end. If she had survived she probably would have been in a better place I’m just not sure she would have. If nothing else I don’t think there’s any way she would have had the flight pack she needed to reach PhirSe so everyone dies vs Behemoth most likely.
          Good things done as Weaver.
          1. Forced something to happen on the Cauldron / PRT corruption issue, they were trying to bury the Echidna revelations. Taylor’s actions vs Alexandria and Behemoth especially when the video was available made things overall better.
          2. While the Undersiders were called in vs S9K a big part of that is Weaver spending the last two years preparing for them with the hero’s agreement.
          3. While we don’t see much of it her actions with the Wards improved things and got more villains into useful positions.
          4. Golem wouldn’t have been anything like as effective without Taylor working with him.

          I totally agree Taylor would have been happier with the Undersiders I’m not sure I agree the world would have been better even ignoring how much it influenced her decisions at the end.

  49. Excellent chapter. Pandora’s sacrifice was very nice and is heartwarming while the fact that it wasn’t even a possibility I was considering is a testament to how shitty life is in Worm at times.
    So far the ending is turning out as brilliant as the story before it and is making me hopeful that I will be satisfied with the final ending.
    Though at the same time both of the last two chapters have set up characters / situations that I’d love to see expanded into their own works. Not to say Glastig’s was bad but it felt interlude like in contrast to the next two that could be the start of a series of chapters about those characters.

  50. Very touching chapter.
    However, a fiction does not have to have silly technical moments when you can easily fix them.
    As an IT professional I would notice following things:
    1. When you’re bruteforcing long and complicated passwords, skipping short passwords and dictionary words will reduce the whole time for the tiniest fraction.
    2. When you have looooong passwords with lot of various random symbols you just can’t brute it in any sensible security system unless you’re the Simurgh or a precog. Using simulation boxes will not give you anything.
    3. Passwords are human-to-computer stuff, different systems or different security domains of a single system communicate to each other using binary keys or certificates.
    4. Thus, Dragon to Dragon attack should use backdoors, known limitations and vulnerabilities of Dragon software or hardware, attempts to limit processing resources (DDoS attacks) etc.

    • 3. AI anticipating an AI attack. For all we know she could communicate on par with how the entities were communicating while traveling, especially as the knowledge of how to build her was given by alien knowledge that it gathered while travelling the universe. As for Colin reading the code in binary, that could be a translation from whatever to binary.

    • I would just like to contribute some math to support your first two points.
      1. The password is thousands of characters long, let’s assume it’s exactly 1000, and that each of the characters are only 8 bits. That’s a total of 2^8000 passwords to test.
      2. She’s eliminating most of them. Suppose she only has to test 1 in a googol of them, and that process is instantaneous. Because she’s awesome.
      that leaves 2^8000/10^100 ~ 2^7668 paswords that she actually has to input.
      3. She’s testing millions every fraction of a second, let’s say millions means 999,999,999, and fraction of a second means 1 planck time, or the time required for light to traverse the smallest possible distance.
      Then she’s testing 10^9 / (5×10^-45) = 2 x 10^53, or about 2^180 passwords per second.

      Then the amount of time it would take to brute force the password would be 2^7668 / 2^180 = 2^7488 seconds. For comparison, our universe is about 2^45 seconds old. No deterministic computer will ever brute force a 1000 character password.

      • But Dragon may be a quantum computer….also,even if she isnt,what if she tests septilions per second?how about nonillions?she is a tinker….decilions?vigintillions?she IS future technology,based on how tinkering works.

  51. I’ve just read through this whole story over the last week and a half and this is the first chapter with a recognizable reference to Superman in it. (the telephone booth thing) Sheesh, you’d think someone might have mentioned the guy to Scion/Zion so he could model himself after the other alien that crash landed on Earth.

  52. maybe it’s because I read most of the last three arcs in a mad rush just today, but I can’t stop crying at this one. it’s a good crying. ;_______;

  53. Okay so I really like that Dragon and Defiant get to sit back and relax. That being said, poor Colin is…kind of sorry to see like that.

    I really really love the idea of those two having kids. Would he be an odd father? Yes. But I do think he’d be a good one with Dragon’s influence pushing things here and there and moderating his dickish tendencies. I also LOVE that they could actually have a biological kid or an AI kid. Either is perfectly acceptable!

    Is it bad that her comments about giving him her body and all he wants is her brains reminds me of a shirt with a picture of zombies and xenomorphs and a caption reading “Aliens want your body. Zombies want your brains”?

    So a Battle in the Center of the Mind. Sweet way to get rid of Teacher’s corruption. I seriously hate that man. They really need to go dancing on his and Saint’s corpses now.

    That said, the battle between Dragon and Pandora was cool. I am really glad that she is finally fully totally free and that she didn’t have to sacrifice the entire story basically to get it! Go Pandora! I enjoy the elegance of Defiant’s solution too. Knowing that he was out of his depth and getting the help of someone he knew could complete it was smart.

    God it is so nice to see those two getting a happy ending!

  54. “Pandora” may be using an unusual, slow form of time travel, but time travel logic still applies: Always trust your future self.

    It may not be easy, even for a calculating, logical machine woman, but it works.

  55. I think this is my favorite chapter. Fitting that it’s focusing on my favorite character! Dragon is something special, and I’m so glad she got a happy ending after all the twists and turns she’s gone through.

    Colin’s evolution was one of the standout parts of the serial, to me. It’s real redemption; it took forever, needed him to examine his faults honestly, and required trust and guidance. Putting his trust in Dragon and Pandora to make everything right, and willingly giving up his relationship if needed, is the perfect leap of faith to show he’s made real progress. Fantastic work.

  56. THIS was the chapter that made me cry. Holy shit the entire chapter was intense. From complete tear jerker to intense depressing fight. Of all the misery worm has inflicted into me, I’m FINALLY glad to to see a good ending here. Bravo, bravo.

  57. The whole Dragon/Colin thing gives me the creeps, not because of the human-robot thing, but because of the date-rape, “she resists but really means yes” aspect of the whole thing.

  58. “His code is worked into everything. The changes are minor, but it’s everywhere.”
    Why didn’t you use version control, damn it.

  59. As a native speaker of German: “Drachenheim” (dragon’s home) flows a lot better than Dracheheim. Compounds with this structure tend to employ genitive case.

    Glad they got a happy ending!

  60. Draaaaagooon ;u;

    So nice to see a…. Happy… Ending for the character who deserves it like to ridiculous levels.

    Dragon is the best

    Colin… He’s come a long way. I hope he’s okay too

  61. Defiant didn’t solve Dragon’s problems for her; he literally just helped her sort her own stuff out. Speculative fiction is great for that kind of blunt metaphor, huh?

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