Interlude 11b: Jackpot

Source material: Worm, Interlude 11b

Originally blogged: March 16, 2018


Interlude 11b (Anniversary Bonus)

Howdy! It’s bloggerin’ time!

So. Last time, Rachel was approached by Siberian and asked to consider joining the Slaughterhouse Nine. It’s not a development I had expected, but it makes sense.

This time, I think we might be in for another chapter involving a member of the Fellowship of the Meat. We may or may not continue following Rachel. Perhaps we’ll see one of the other Brockton Bay locals get their invitation to the test? That being the format for each of these Interludes would be a good excuse to focus on one Slaughterhouse member at a time without necessarily making them POV characters.

If that’s the case, I guess I’m expecting one of these Interludes to be from Hookwolf’s POV. Could be a good opportunity to find out more about what’s going on among the Chosen as well.

I doubt that’s this particular one, though. It just seems to me that you might want to avoid the Rachel and Hookwolf Interludes being consecutive. Maybe I’m wrong, though.

So yeah. Without further ado, let’s just jump in and see what we’ve got!


Theo clutched the remote control in both hands.

Theo! Now that’s a character we haven’t seen in a while! How’s it going?

I have a feeling we’ll explore his feelings about Kaiser’s death a bit.

For five minutes, he hadn’t taken his eyes off the TV set.

But he’s not really watching, is he.

For those same five minutes, the TV set had been off.

Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t expecting it to be off, but still.

“Who’s a pretty baby? Who’s a pretty little girl? You are! Yes you are!”

Hi, Kayden.

This is the leader of one of the city’s top threats, right here.

I wonder how Theo feels about that. We’ve barely met him, so I have no idea how he feels about Kaiser, or the Empire, or anything they stood for. Maybe he feels like he should’ve ended up as Kaiser’s rightful heir, or something like that. Or maybe he disapproves of Kaiser’s actions and resents that Kayden has ended up with the mantle of continuing where he left off.

If that is even the case. Several of Purity’s subordinates were people who had left the Empire, just like her, because of Kaiser’s manipulation. Maybe the Pure are actively distancing themselves from Kaiser’s methods. Maybe Theo dislikes that?

Basically what I’m saying is that this could go in a lot of directions.

Incidentally, if I were to be right in my guess from the intro post about the POV characters being Fellowship recruits, that would require Theo to a) have powers, and b) be of interest to the Slaughterhouse Nine, presumably due to brutality. I suppose it’s also possible that they’re after Purity, but unless her time in the Empire has changed her quite a lot, I don’t think she’d accept.


Aster squawked in one of the little cries that foretold an incoming tantrum. Theo clutched the remote control tighter.

I do get the sense that Theo doesn’t like that Aster is getting all the attention.

He felt a throbbing pain where the corners of the remote bit into the heels of his hands.

Ouch. You should probably try to relax, or you’ll end up having to get up to change channels for a while, if your TV even has that functionality.

“Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry!”

Theo seems like the type to suppress any crying he would’ve done. Then again, she’s not actually talking to Theo.

(#and as I wrote that a song that sometimes gets me crying started playing)


Theo’s throat was dry, every thud of his heartbeat seemed to make his hands shake and his vision waver.

He’s not drugged, right?

He’d never been more intimately familiar with the television itself. The shape and color of the TV set, the proportion of the screen to the outer frame, the little border of silver around the very edges, and the ‘Starry’ brand name logo at the very bottom.

I guess that’s what happens when you stare vacantly at it for five minutes, trying to distract yourself from something else.

He suspected it would be ingrained in his memory for the rest of his life.

Jeez.

Seriously, if this turns out to be a trigger event somehow… I mean, he is Kaiser’s son, if I’m not hugely mistaken. As a second generation parahuman, he could have a much milder trigger event than others.

Then again, that might already have happened.

Which might just be a very short span of time.

How so?

You planning on spontaneously combusting in that seat?


 

“Nope. Don’t see the appeal. Hey, boy.”

Don’t see the appeal of what? Staring at the TV while it’s off?

Theo’s heart leaped in his chest. He tore his eyes from the television and looked up at the man who was cradling Aster.

Wait, what?

…is this our Slaughterhouse member of the day? Hatchet Face, perhaps?

“The baby needs to be changed.”

I’m not sure it’s any of the Slaughterhouse Nine yet, or just a potential stepdad, or a subordinate of Purity’s (Fog, for instance), but I can’t help but imagine Hatchet Face saying that with a super gruff voice.

Theo nodded and stood. He was reaching for Aster when the man threw the baby at him.

I suppose at this point “the man” would’ve been replaced if Theo knew well who he was.

He had to scramble to catch her, almost let her slip through his arms, and only just barely caught her by pressing her against his stomach and pelvis. She started screaming.

Pfft, I got distracted by the lack of clarification on who “the man” is in that sentence and didn’t realize exactly what he was doing.

This belongs in one of those “how to care for a baby” memes. 😛


“Don’t drop her, now, or I’ll be very annoyed.”

Ahahaha!

After what this dude just did, this is easily the funniest line we’ve had in a while. 😛

Theo nodded, raising his voice to be heard over Aster’s shrieks, “Yes sir.”

Okay, so here’s my current read of the situation: This scary man, presumably one of the Slaughterhouse Nine, came in to talk to Purity, finding only Theo and Aster. Theo has been terrifiedly sitting there, trying not to antagonize the scary man in any way, while they wait for Kayden to come back. Now the man is basically asking Theo to leave the room and, secondarily, deal with something much more mundane like change diapers on a baby, and like hell is Theo going to argue against that.

“Must you keep calling me that? Do I really look like a sir?”

…could it be Mannequin, perhaps?

While the only reasons I brought up Hatchet Face specifically were that I wanted to make an unfounded guess at which one it’d be if it were one of them and that Hatchet Face got some early favoritism out of me just for the name, I do think Hatchet Face and Mannequin are the two main suspects here. The man’s appearance is being called attention to (and will probably be described in the next paragraph), so it’s probably relevant.


Theo looked at the thirty-something man. He wore a dress shirt that was open to show his muscled chest and stomach, and had the sleeves rolled up to expose his forearms.

Yeeah, I feel like if this were Mannequin, these wouldn’t be the prioritized features.

His tight jeans were low slung, his limbs long, and his hair was longer and greasy.

…long and greasy hair?

It seems I may have been wrong about Jack Slash being either first or last.

Wait, no, looking back, Jack’s hair is described as short, not long and greasy. There is, however, a character whose hair is described as long and greasy and who would have reason to want to talk to Purity.

Hookwolf.

(That also explains the rolled-up sleeves. It’s necessary for the arm shapeshifting to not rip them.)

[Today in “past me is an idiot”: Getting something right and then immediately dismissing it because he forgot that hair can grow.]


So I guess if we’ve got Hookwolf here seeking out Purity, we’re going to find out how both E44s are doing these days, and how their relationship is.

The man’s beard had been trimmed, but scruff was growing in around the edges, obscuring the intricate pattern that had been trimmed into the inside border of the facial hair. A knife danced around his fingers constantly, making Theo flinch every time the blade turned to point toward him and Aster.

Of course he has some wolflike, scruffy facial hair.

Jack Slash.

Oh for fuck’s sake.


I guess the picture Coil had wasn’t up to date as far as Jack’s hair length goes.


“My father told me I should address my betters as sir, sir.”

Well, at least Theo’s trying to keep the guy who could kill both him and Aster with a single swipe of his knife pleased.

Jack laughed with the slightest touch of derision. “Well, your daddy taught you well, didn’t he?”

I like Jack so far. He seems like he could be quite entertaining.

True enough. Theo wondered if this measure of respect played any part in why Jack had let him live this long.

Maybe, maybe not. He might be aware that Kayden wouldn’t be very susceptible to his offer if he were to kill Theo or, cod forbid, Aster.

“Yes, sir. I’m going to go change the baby.”

“Yes. Do.”

“Yes, I’m going to leave the room.”


Theo’s hands shook as he adjusted his grip on Aster, hauling her up until her head was at his shoulder, even though that meant she was screaming in his ear. He carried her to the changing table and set her down.

Or… is the changing table in the same room? There’s no mention here of leaving it, so it sounds like he didn’t.

Kayden had reclaimed her old apartment after the catastrophe, found many of her possessions still there.

Ah, yeah, I kind of figured it was the same place, although that not being the case was very plausible.

The man never let the front door out of his sight as he walked around the living room, and was soon behind Theo. With the open window, Theo could hope the man was upwind of the aromatic diaper.

Seems it is indeed in the same room. I guess Jack just genuinely wanted Theo to change the diaper.

How long before the squealing of the baby, an offensive smell or something else set the psychopath off?

Who knows.


“How long until your mother gets back?”

That was something else. That was the third time Jack had asked the question.

“Are we there yet?”

Was his captor’s patience running out?

Quite possibly.

Theo describes Jack as his captor. I wonder how accurate that is. It’s entirely possible that Theo is overestimating Jack’s hostility and Jack would be fine with Theo leaving if he could be sure it wasn’t to get help.

“She’s not my mother,” Theo changed the topic. He dropped Aster’s dirty diaper into the bin.

Right. I thought not, but it’s good to have that clarified/repeated. It’s been a long time since we first met Theo, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who forgot all about him by the time they got to this chapter, even if they weren’t following serially or liveblogging.

I’m kinda surprised I remembered him so quickly, for that matter.


Jack walked up to Theo, until he was just behind the boy, his shadow cast long by the setting sun, stretching over Theo and the changing table.

Hello.

Theo could feel the tension ratcheting up. “I’m going to get upset if you lie to me.”

Yeeeah, the diversion didn’t work.

Theo didn’t take his eyes off the baby, forced his fingers to keep working on the diaper. “Kayden is Aster’s mother, sir, my dad’s ex-wife. She’s been taking care of me since my father died.”

I wonder what happened to his mother.

“Of course, of course, now I understand. I believe you,” Jack said, before chuckling.

…did it work after all? Or is he being sarcastic, like “of course, sure, that was totally what I meant”?

I don’t even know.

He turned and walked away, leaving Theo breathing out a shuddering sigh of relief. When Jack spoke again, there was no humor in his tone. “Do you love her? The mother of that baby?”

Good question.


“Yes, sir.” But I don’t like her.

That’s an interesting twist on the usual “like but don’t love”. How does this even work? The closest I can think of is kismesissitude, but I really don’t think “hatred with a touch of respect and sexual lust” is what’s going on here.

“Good, good. Does she love you?”

Also a very good question. I touched on earlier the idea of Aster getting all of Kayden’s attention, and I do think that might be a touchy subject for Theo.

“No sir. But she likes me.”

Yeah, that’s more commonplace.

“Ohhhh?” Jack drew out the sound, and it was vaguely mocking. “Do tell.”

“I- I take care of Aster for her. I do my chores, I don’t talk back. I don’t make life harder for her,” Theo began. He swallowed, “But my dad treated her badly, and I think she sees him when she looks at me, and she’ll never let herself love me because of that.”

Ouch.

[Ooh, parallels. In retrospect this line reminds me a lot of Carol and Amy.]

She has to look past the doughy face to see Dad in me, past the baby fat I never seemed to lose, but I have his genes, I look like him, beneath it all.

And Kayden has had enough pain from loving one Max to let herself love someone like him again, even if it’s just by looks.


Do you have some of your father in you?”

We’ve got Jack “the fucking Ripper” Slash over here acting as an audience surrogate. It’s pretty neat.

Did he? “I’d like to think not, sir.”

Good to know.

“I’m remembering now. Kaiser. His name in costume was Kaiser. I met him once, don’t you know?”

Oh? Now that’s a meeting I’d be interested in hearing about.

“I didn’t know.”

“Years ago. Allfather still ruled Empire Eighty-Eight then. They held a big meeting between all of the factions. We stopped by. Great fun. I don’t think they accomplished a thing that day. We provoked a bidding war instead. Group called the Teeth wound up hiring us to kill some members of the Protectorate team.

I take it “we” refers to the Slaughterhouse Nine. I guess Jack has been part of it for quite a while, then. Longer than one might expect given its turnover.

We did it, and then we wiped out the Teeth before leaving the city.”

Ever since, the city of Brockton Bay has been forced to wear dentures.


The Slaughterhouse Nine must have been new, then. People today would know better. Hopefully.

Hm, yeah, perhaps.

Jack chuckled lightly, “I digress. I do remember your father. He was older than you are now when I saw him. He talked in a way that made me think he was an athlete.”

…jock Kaiser. Sure, I could see that being a thing. Though maybe Jack is talking more about the sense of superiority?

“He was, sir,” Theo confirmed. And he was disappointed I never followed in his footsteps.

Ah.

Heh. Now I’m just imagining Kaiser running a marathon. Maybe even in costume.

I do suppose he’d have to be strong to wear his costume proficiently.

“There were more teams in this city, then, more villains. Not many heroes. Lots of scary motherfuckers around, and yet I could probably count on one hand the people who made eye contact with me. Even then, when my reputation was a fraction of what it is today. Your father was one of those people. Ballsy fucker.”

Huh, interesting, so there’s been an overall decline. I guess that makes sense, as more heroes start popping up the villain numbers decrease until they reach an equilibrium.

And yeah, that does sound like the Kaiser we knew.

“Maybe he thought you’d respect him for it, sir? He was always good at reading people.” And making them do what he wanted. Even me.

That is true.

“Is that so? I’d like to think I’m much the same. A people reader. But my interest is in the design of people. What makes them tick? What holds them together? All too often, it’s one little thing. In architecture they call it a keystone.

Coil looks for what people want, what he can give them to gain their favor. Jack looks for what’s already there, what he can take away to break them.

The one stone that keeps the entire arch from collapsing. The weak point. And I’m very, very good at finding those weak points. Can you guess what I’m talking about here? Why I’m in this apartment?”

Aaaah. Yes.

Aster is very much Purity’s keystone, as we’ve already seen thoroughly examined in Buzz.

Incidentally, I’ve also been assuming that the stories of Purity’s rampage are how Jack found out about and got interested in Purity in the first place. Assuming that’s the case, he’d definitely know how much Aster means to her.


“Aster, sir?”

“And you say you’re nothing like your father. You’re sharp, little boy.” Theo couldn’t see Jack move, but again, the man’s shadow fell over him.

Probably not as sharp as Jack’s knife, but that’d probably be a tall order.

He felt himself shrink down, as if the shadow weighed on him.

Literally overshadowing someone can be quite intimidating.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed.

“Yes. See, my compatriots are all busy with a task, tonight, you understand. I bet on the wrong horse. Come.”

…so wait.

He came for Purity. And just decided Theo was a better choice?

Does Theo even have powers?

Jack’s hand fell on Theo’s shoulder, and he flinched. Still, he scooped Aster up and followed as Jack led him to the front of the apartment. There was a trail of blood leading from the front door to the nearby bathroom.

…what did you do.

Jack gave Theo a push on the shoulder, but remained outside the bathroom, where he could watch the front door. Theo entered.

Did.

Did Jack kill Kayden before any of this, deeming her unworthy because he could? But then why would he stick around?

There was a man in the bathtub. He’d seen Jack drag the man inside, had heard the taps running.

Ahh. Opposition on the way in, I guess.

What he hadn’t expected was for the man to be alive.

Oh wow.


The bathwater was crimson, and the man lay in a sea of things that had been taken from the freezer and dropped within.

I think it’d take a lot of blood to make the water crimson. I’ve heard that when blood dilutes in water, it actually turns yellow.

Then again, I don’t remember my source for that. Could be wrong.

He was Japanese, Theo noted, his hair cut short, his body bearing the lean muscle of someone who’d honed their body into a weapon, and he was unconscious, though breathing.

One can hone their body into a weapon all they like, but it’s gonna be hard to top Hookwolf, who’s honed his body into a whole pile of weapons.

Japanese, huh… I wonder if Purity’s hatred of the former ABB has anything to do with this.

“Oni Lee,” Jack spoke from outside the bathroom.

Oh!

Hiya. I guess you found a battle you couldn’t run from, Oni.

“Our habit is to nominate a certain individual. Then the others test them in their own ways. If that individual passes the test, they are recruited to the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

Hm, sounds like the test is individual, rather than a brawl like I was imagining. So what happens if more than one of them pass?

Also, it seems like Jack had put his hopes on Oni Lee, but he failed the test and wound up in this state.

Things are beginning to make sense.

So is Purity his second choice? Does he get a second choice?


Theo didn’t know how to respond, so he kept his mouth shut.

Probably a good call.

He rocked Aster in his arms, using one hand to shield her eyes from the scene. Not that he thought she could make it out or understand what she was looking at, but it made him feel better.

“At least I can spare someone from having to deal with this shit.”

“I had a little conversation with Oni Lee. Found him living above a grocer’s, with the help of one of my teammates. Someone shot out his kneecap, it seems, and he’s been restless ever since.

Did that happen in Hive? I don’t remember, but I could see that being a thing one of the Coildiers did.

A few kills here and there, but perhaps a little harder when you can’t walk.

Yeah, that’s fair.

Need the right time, the right place. I kind of respected that, and the fact that he was another fan of knives was a point in my book.”

Ah, yeah. I thought of that parallel, but forgot to mention it between a couple other things.


“Yes, sir.”

“But we didn’t even make it to the test. I told him we had tinkers that could fix him up. He was interested. Then I told him he’d have to prove himself, he asked me how. Now, it isn’t always done, that a member of the Nine tests their own candidates, but I decided to anyways.

I see… I guess that’s how Jack would have the opportunity to take a second nominee, if that’s what he’s planning with Purity. Oni failed a test, but it wasn’t thetest, and as far as the other seven are concerned, Jack hasn’t brought back his first nominee yet.

Something off about him, wanted to make sure he didn’t embarass me.

Maybe it was his willingness to run away from fights he doesn’t think he can win.

Told him to come up with something, and he couldn’t. Do you know what tabula rasais, boy?”

I know it means “blank slate”, but I’m not entirely sure how it’s used. Maybe in a sense similar to a blank check, as in that because Oni didn’t come up with something, Jack had full freedom to come up with something to fill the blank?

“No, sir.”

“Blank slate. A piece of paper with nothing on it. A formatted computer. A tombstone without the name on it. Seems that fellow can copy his body just fine when he teleports, but something in his mind gets left behind.

…oh jeez.

Every time Oni teleports, he gets closer to ending up like, well… Bakuda? A mindless husk?

No wonder he doesn’t want to fight more than he has to.

Once I realized it, picked up on the fact that he was little more than a robot wanting his orders, I informed him I had decided we had no need for his services, we fought, and… here we are.”

That’s.

Kind of unnerving.


“I see.” And Jack was in one piece, while Oni Lee was bleeding out into the bathtub.

Well, yeah. Learning that Oni and Jack actually fought just makes me surprised he’s alive all over again.

“So. Come on out of the bathroom, now.” Jack ushered Theo out of the bathroom with the dying man. “There we go. Back to the subject of Purity and the baby… Aster?”

Ah, he didn’t know her name?

Fair enough, I guess.

“Yes, Aster, sir.”

“We’re going to play a little game. See, the moment Purity steps in that front door, I give her just a moment to take in the scene… and then snicker-snack, you and the baby die.”

Well. If you’re trying to break her, that seems like a good tactic. But why are you trying to break her? And why did you bother to bring Oni here?

Theo felt his blood run cold. Tears appeared in the corners of his eyes. I’m going to die.

Yeah, sorry about that… at least as long as Jack gets his way and isn’t bluffing, it seems this is the end of the road for you. Considering that Theo is the POV character, though, I’m guessing that’s not going to happen, since the chapter would most likely have to end with it and we wouldn’t get to see Purity’s reaction, unless Wildbow pulled and Interlude 6 and switched POVs towards the end.

So what could happen to change the outcome here? I think the main thing is that this becomes Theo’s trigger event and he gains the power to fight back, if not the control required to do it effectively. I don’t think it’s going to kill Jack (I’ve previously stated that I think he’ll survive any attempt to kill him before Dinah’s prophecy comes true), but getting caught off guard by Theo’s power right before the planned moment of Theo and Aster’s deaths would allow Purity to help fight him off.

Whether Aster will survive such a fight scene is a whole other question that I don’t have an answer for.


“I’ll get to savor the expression on her face as she watches her keystone crumble. I’ll get to see how she responds as that element in her life that supports everything else bleeds out on this nice white carpet. Maybe say something to just twist the knife.” Jack mimed a lunging stab and then slow turn of his blade.

It seems like this universe’s Ripper doesn’t just enjoy bodily pain and mutilation.

Straightening, Jack looked Theo over, “A pity she doesn’t love you, but if she likes you, at least, then it’ll have to do.”

I mean… fair. She’ll probably be far more upset over Aster, but I guess Theo is a neat little bonus from Jack’s perspective.

Why did I tell him that?

Maybe you felt the need to tell yourself that.

“She’ll kill you, sir.” Theo said. Then he added a hurried, “No offense.”

Considering what happened last time someone took Aster away, the chances are good of her trying to do that, yes.

Then again, there’s a crucial difference here: Last time it was actually possible to get Aster back. There was a twisted sense of hope in Purity’s despair and rage, hope that if she threw a big enough tantrum (and boy howdy she did), she could get her daughter back.

Seeing Aster die right in front of her might take that hope and slice it in half like Aster herself.


Jack waved him off. “She’ll try. So many have, and they’ve all failed so far. But it’s good that it’s a little dangerous, a little risky. It’s no fun if I know how it’s going to play out. Some unpredictability, it gives spice to life. Maybe I’ll kill her right after I see the look on her face. Maybe I’ll escape and leave her to wallow in her misery.”

This is reminding me of a character from El Goonish Shive:

[El Goonish Shive comic]

Magus: You enjoy watching me suffer, don’t you, Chaos?
Chaos: “Chaos” again? Now, Magus, I thought I’ve told you to be more creative than that.

Magus: I shouldn’t have to be creative. Just tell me your damn name.
Chaos: No. And I only enjoy watching you suffer if it is in an unpredictable manner. This sulking is boring.

Magus: You want to see something else? Tell me how to get around those other immortals who keep guarding Elliot!

Chaos: So the spoiled princess wants to be saved by the noble plumber! How can I resist her charms?
Magus: Don’t call me a– plumber?

Chaos: Listen, damsel in distress. My joy comes from the unpredictable, and I’ve helped you too much as it is.
Chaos: If I dispense any more advice, the outcome will be far too obvious.

Chaos: I don’t care if you rot in this spirit realm for decades.
Chaos: All I care about is not knowing how, or if, you one day succeed.

Magus: That’s a lot of bull, Chaos.

Though Jack’s enjoyment of the unpredictable seems a bit more subdued.

Escape? From a fifteen story apartment building, against a supervillain who can fly and level city blocks?

Good point. What does he do, use a knife like a vaulting pole? Then again, the way his power was described, I’m not sure that would work.

Then again, Jack had done worse things than murder the child of a cape like Purity, and he was still here.

True.


“Sometimes,” Jack started, pausing as if he was constructing the thought as he spoke it, “I like to imagine the impact I’ve made on the world. What possible realities am I pruning, what events am I setting in motion, each time I take a life?

I feel like Dinah would have a couple things to say about that.

Maybe Jack being alive doesn’t cause the future calamity to move ahead so much as allow him to kill someone who would’ve been crucial to postponing it? Then again, that seems less reliable, and there should be plenty of timelines where he wouldn’t end up doing that.

If the flap of a butterfly’s wing can alter the course of a hurricane, what am I doing when I take a human life? The life of a person who interacts with dozens of people every day, who would have a career, romance, children?”

Some people murder because they don’t care about or realize the value of a human life and the impact a single person other than themself can have.

Jack seems to murder because he does.

Tears ran down Theo’s face. He clutched Aster tight.

“Can you tell me who you are, Kaiser’s boy? What am I doing to reality when I open you up from cock to chin and let your entrails spill onto the floor?”

Entrails. I think I predicted Jack having a thing for removing internal organs, based on Jack the Ripper’s M.O.

How do you answer something like this, though?

“I-I don’t know,” Theo said, his voice quiet.

Besides that, of course.

“Don’t shut down on me, now. Here, I’ll make you a deal. If you give me a good answer, I’ll make it quick. Thrust my knife right through the center of your brain. It’ll be like flicking a light switch. You just stop, and there’ll be no pain. It’ll be as dignified as death can be.”

I guess… wouldn’t you need to make it quick anyway, though, before Purity could step in to stop you?

Although I guess trying to kill Aster and Theo while fighting Purity would add to the unpredictability.


I suppose if what I predicted earlier re: Theo triggering does happen, Jack might enjoy it nonetheless.


“I-” Theo shook his head.

“I’ll even let you relieve yourself in the bathroom beforehand so you don’t shit yourself so badly when you drop dead. You’d have to be quick, unless you want to be on the toilet when she comes in, but it’s a chance few get.”

Heh.

“I wanted to be a superhero,” Theo blurted.

Niice. That might still come true.

Interesting decision from the son of a supervillain. I guess it might be a case of not wanting to be like his father, which is something we’ve already seen implied in this chapter.

Jack laughed abruptly enough that Aster was spooked and started screaming louder. His laughs continued for several long seconds.

Wasn’t expecting that one?

Theo went on, as if Jack were still listening, “I’m probably going to get powers, because I’m Kaiser’s son. But I don’t want to be a member of Purity’s group, I don’t want to cleanse the world or try to fix things by killing or through hate. Sir.”

I like how he’s gone back to talking like he’s not about to die. He’s “probably going to get powers”, he says.

I suppose if that’s actually about to happen, this makes for a good way of reminding us of that likelihood and foreshadowing it happening in this chapter.

…oh yeah, I just realized another thing: If he does trigger, that alone ought to throw Jack off even without Theo using whatever his power would be, due to the whole motion sickness thing. Purity too, if she’s present when it happens, but that little bit of time might still be crucial.

I suppose Jack might recognize what just happened, too. I would imagine the Slaughterhouse have caused a fair few trigger events in their day.


Also, I like how even after that little rant, Theo adds “Sir.” at the end.


“And you’d fight people like me, I suppose?”

Probably.

Theo nodded.

Jack was still grinning. “What would you do to people like me, then? Let’s say you got powers. Would you right wrongs, lecture schoolchildren on doing what’s right, and see bad guys like me carted off to the Birdcage?”

I wonder if any former members of the Slaughterhouse are in there. Honestly, it’s surprising that the place isn’t even more of a carnage.

Somehow, knowing the inevitability of his own death gave him a measure of courage he had never had before.

Makes sense. “Well, he’s gonna kill me anyway, so why not.”

Even so, it took all of the willpower he had. Theo met Jack’s eyes for the first time. The man’s eyes were a very pale blue, and there were lines at the corners.

Theo swallowed the lump in his throat. “People like you? I’d kill. Sir.”

Nice.

And still the “Sir.”, ahaha


Jack broke into a second spell of hysterical laughter, and it was all Theo could do to keep Aster from squirming out of his grasp in her distress.

Laughy guy, that Jack.

“Can’t-” Jack had to break off to let another small laugh pass, “Can’t say I can imagine that, boy. You, as one of the vigilantes?”

I mean, he was raised by Kaiser and to some extent Purity. Wanting to protect the innocent and make the world better but being willing to kill the particularly bad bad guys makes total sense for Theo.

Neither can I, Theo thought, but he remained silent.

Fair.

“But you’ve piqued my interest, and if there’s any reason I do what I do, it’s because I find it interesting.”

Seems I wasn’t entirely wrong when I took this as Jack’s reason to murder.

Theo could see the cell phone on the coffee table in the living room light up and shift position as it vibrated.

Oh hey. Kayden calling to say she’s on her way home?

It happened behind Jack, and the man didn’t appear to see or hear it. The only person who called Theo’s phone was Kayden, and she’d been out getting groceries. It was routine for her to call for him to open the lobby door, then come down to help bringing them up from the lobby…

Meaning that if he doesn’t answer the phone and then come down, she’ll know something is wrong, maybe blast open the door and fly up the stairs…

I wonder if she flies around more liberally in general, now that she doesn’t have an identity secret to protect.

She was coming up. He was almost positive. Could he distract Jack and give Kayden the opportunity to put the man down?

Perhaps if you spontaneously grow a power, that could help? But yeah, you might be able to do something even without one.


“I’ve changed my mind,” Jack said.

…about what? Killing Theo? Are you thinking of allowing him to live so you can see what he’s good for against you later?

Theo stared, trying to fathom what the man was saying.

“Don’t let it be said that I can’t delay my gratification. Listen carefully now, I’m making you a deal.”

Sounds like it might be something like that.

Theo nodded, mute.

“I want to see this. This picture you paint. So I’m going to give you a chance to make this happen.”

Yeah. But what’s the cost? Just that he does this?

Theo nodded slowly, but his thoughts were on Kayden’s approach. How long until Kayden opened the door? Would Jack attack her? Attack Aster? Despite what he was saying now? Or would Kayden attack him and provoke something?

Jack is right about one thing. There are a lot of ways this could unfold.

“How old are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?”

“Fifteen, sir,” Theo said. Hurry up, finish before she comes.

Despite enjoying puns and occasional innuendos, I consider jokes about innocent meanings of “come” being interpreted sexually to be one of the lowest forms of humor. But “finish before she comes”?

This sentence is just asking for it.


“Two years then. Two years to get your powers, to train, to do whatever it takes to become the motherfucking badass you describe. That should be long enough without risking that one of us gets offed by bad luck or picking the wrong fight.

Two years, huh. That figure sounds familiar.

At that two-year mark? You hunt me down, you kill, disable or sneak past my Nine, whoever they are two years from now, you look me in the eyes, and then you try to kill me. If you fail? If you cannot find me? If you chicken out? Hmmm… what’s a good consequence?”

I mean, the straightforward one would be that Theo gets killed in return, but I get the sense you’re looking for something more “interesting”.

In his hurry to resolve this before the door opened, Theo made the first suggestion that came to mind, “You kill me.”

“That goes without saying. No. It should be meaningful. What’s your name, boy?”

A death that somehow relates to gods? Religion?

“Theo.”

“Fifteen year old Theo. How many people’s lives will you touch in these coming two years, because I’ve spared your life? Two hundred? Five hundred? A thousand? How far will the flaps of your butterfly wings extend?”

Who knows. Besides Dinah, I mean.


Theo glanced at the phone. It glowed and moved again. Was Kayden in the lobby?

Second attempt. In case he just didn’t catch it the first time.

After this, perhaps, it’s time for “something’s wrong” mode.

Jack went on. “If you fail in this, I’ll kill nine hundred and ninety-nine people in your name. I’ll even break my usual rules to get the body count that high, so it’s something special, beyond my usual habits.

Wow.

Maybe a bomb, maybe poison. I’ll come up with something. I can target the people you love, those you’re closest to, people you’ve affected. Aster there can be the nine hundred and ninety ninth, and you’ll be the thousandth. Perfect.

Oh hey, that would imply he’s going to spare Aster too. For now, I mean.

Canceling out the impact you’ve made in the world, it’s poetic.”

I suppose so.

Something tells me that if Jack had been informed about Dinah’s prophecy, he’d love that. Knowing that his impact was on such a global scale.

That is, if he doesn’t already know by virtue of whatever way this impact takes place.


Theo swallowed. A thousand people? Could he say no? Could he refuse the offer? Or would Jack carry what he threatened regardless?

Jack may be a psycho, but I think he’s a man of his word. He might still end up with a bodycount like that, but I think these 1000 would just be on top of those anyway.

“Well,” Jack spoke, smiling. “I’ll be off.”

Hey, you gotta wait for a response! I mean, if you just wanna fuck off anyway without a deal, that’s fine, but if you want to make this a deal, you need the other party to actually seal it.

Although you’re not exactly Lawful, so maybe it’s silly of me to want to enforce these sorts of rules.

He stepped into the bathroom, turning away from the door for the second time in his entire ‘visit’. When he emerged from the bathroom, he held the naked form of Oni Lee over one shoulder, a knife in his free hand.

Also I still wonder why he’s bringing Oni around with him.

“A treat for a teammate, this is,” Jack winked. “Doesn’t need to be alive. Just fresh.

I… see…

I don’t know if that’s supposed to imply cannibalism or just messing around with a corpse, but either way it’s not exactly good.

[Funny thing is that even if I’d known all the Nine (but not Hack Job) at this point, it still could’ve been either option.]

Would you get the door, Theo?”

“Sure, sir.” *opens door to see Kayden, reaching for where the handle just was* “Oh hi, Kayden. Don’t mind the Slaughterhouse Nine member carrying a naked, bloodied Oni Lee over his shoulder, he was just leaving.”


Theo hurried forward to open the door, shifting Aster in his arms to open it.

Kayden stood on the other side, groceries in hand.

Ahahaha

Hiya!

Stern, she said, “Theo! I called you twice. Can you go down to the lobby and get the last two bags of groc-”

“Yeah, sure. Sorry, I had a couple visitors. Kayden, this is Jack. Jack, this is Kayden. Oh, and this is Oni, but I think you know him already.”

She fell silent as the door opened wider, revealing Jack. In a moment, the bags in her arms were tumbling to the ground, and her hair, eyes, and hands were glowing with blinding light.

Good reflexes.

“Kayden,” Theo had to control his voice to keep it from shaking, “Let him go.”

Theo, on his part, is just trying to deescalate this situation however he can.

I feel like Kayden isn’t going to be super willing to just let him go, though.

“I had a wonderful conversation with young Theo here,” Jack spoke. He rested his hand on top of Theo’s head. Theo could feel the hard handle of the knife tap against his scalp. “Very interesting.”

Yeah, it was.

“What are you-” Kayden started, her voice rising with anger, but Theo lunged forward, gripping her shirt and shaking his head. She looked down, confused.

I really can’t blame her for her confusion. I don’t know if she recognizes the guy who’s standing in her apartment with a naked and bleeding Oni Lee over his shoulder and a knife in one hand, but even if she does, it’s a pretty confusing situation to walk in on.


Jack waggled a finger at her, “Don’t bother, Purity. See, I’ve been studying you. I go into every possible fight armed with knowledge. You have a weakness. A flaw in that power of yours.”

For all that he appreciates unpredictability, he also knows the power of knowledge in this setting.

Truly a foe to beware.

Theo could see Kayden tense, but she obliged when he pushed her away from the door and towards the end of the hallway furthest from the stairwell, stepping back.

“Comin’ through!”

“While reading up on you, I tried to put the newspaper clippings and online information in chronological order, and a funny thing happened. Seems like your power is weaker some days, stronger on others. I mapped it out. You have some form of internal battery or fuel that drives your power. After going days without using your power, you’re stronger. After periods where there’s more sunlight, your power is stronger. You absorb light of any kind, I suppose, and later spend it to use your abilities.”

Huh, that’s really neat!

So how’s the weather been recently?

Theo thought he might have seen a tiny flash of concern on Kayden’s face.

“It’s been an overcast week, and you’ve been using your powers a great deal, trying to put the Pure on the map. So think very hard about what you want to do next. Because if I’m right, and your power is spent, you might not succeed in killing me. And I would retaliate by killing all three of you.”

Even in spite of the deal you just sort of struck with Theo?

“You’re underestimating me,” Kayden spoke, her voice hard.

“Then blast me away. Turn me into a smear in your hallway, if you think you’re strong enough, quicker with your light than I am with a knife. Prove me wrong,” Jack smiled. He waited a few seconds, and the only noises in the hallway were Aster’s mewling complaints.

Whether he’s right or wrong about her bluffing, the outcome should satisfy him. Either he’s right, or he’s surprised.

Jack stepped into the hallway and turned toward the stairwell. “Thought so. Be grateful. That boy is the only reason you and your daughter are alive right now. He’ll explain. Train him. Make him strong, make him vicious. Let him take whatever path he needs to take. You and your daughter owe him that.”

I… suppose they do.


Kayden looked down at Theo, who glanced at Jack for just a second, then looked up at her and nodded quickly. Urging her. Jack wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think he could get away.

Probably an accurate assessment, yeah.

“Alright,” she spoke.

Jack didn’t offer anything further. His knife twirling in his fingers, he stepped toward the door by the elevators, kicked it open, and stepped inside. As he made his way down, he whistled a merry tune, the sound echoing through the stairwell until the moment the doors shut.

See ya!

I like this character.


Theo handed Aster to her mother. He felt dazed at the magnitude of what faced him. Two years.

It’s as Jack said. This is gonna be interesting.


Purity: *stares silently down the hallway for a good ten seconds*

Purity: “…”

Purity: “theo what the FUCK


End of Interlude 11b

That was fun.

Jack Slash is a loveable (as a character) psychopath who kills because the impact he can have on the world by doing so is interesting to him. He likes to not know outcomes, likes seeing how things turn out if he flips this switch instead of that one…

Jack Slash would probably love having Coil’s power.

And then we have Theo, the other character we focused on here – a son of Kaiser who wants to use his eventual powers for good rather than evil, one who’d challenge Jack Slash when faced with seemingly inevitable death, one who is now forced to hurry up and become a cape powerful and skilled enough to take down Jack himself, or face Jack going out of his way to kill a thousand people explicitly as punishment for Theo’s failure.

I didn’t care much for Theo back in Interlude 3½, but this made me like him quite a bit. Jack turned out to be quite enjoyable too, and together they made this a chapter I really like.

Next time… another place, another face. Maybe a Hatchet one? I don’t know, and I don’t have much to go on to make an educated guess about who’s next, but I do know that this seems to have confirmed my suspicion that the Anniversary Bonus Interludes would be about each Slaughterhouse member. Just, not from their POVs.

So yeah, see you then!

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