Source material: Worm, Interlude 12½
Originally blogged: June 3, 2018
Interlude 12½ (Donation Bonus)
Howdy! It’s time for Interlude… uh, which one was it again? Let’s count them up:
1, 2, 3, 3½, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, 10, 10.5, 11a, 11b, 11c, 11d, 11e, 11f, 11g, 11h, 12… ah, yes, 12½!
Well, still makes more sense than “Act 6 Act 5 Act 1 x2 Combo!!!”.
So, what are we in for today? I guess I should just let Pastwell do the talking, since my predictions haven’t changed since the end of the last chapter:
Anyway, my predictions for next time are pretty much the same as for this one, though obviously without the one that actually happened in this chapter. I’m holding out hope for either Charlotte or Sierra’s POV, or for a check-in with someone on the other side of the rift Hookwolf created. I’d like to get to know Battery more, for one thing.
I suppose it’s also possible we’ll follow a Traveler and get some more information on what’s going on with Noelle and/or on the Travelers’ tight-knit backstory, now that Hookwolf’s schism has forced the Travelers’ cooperation with the Undersiders into the spotlight and Noelle has actually been seen.
Thank you, Pastwell.
So yeah! Let’s just jump right in and see if any of my suggestions come to pass!
She couldn’t shake the idea that it was a hoax. Three times, she almost turned around and headed back home.
Hm… what exactly? It’d be hard for the Shattering to be a hoax, so I doubt it’s that.
Twenty eight miles west from New York City, down the 202, to where there were more trees than houses and the roads hadn’t been maintained for too many years.
Oh hey, we’re out of state!
We know someone from New York, Flechette, but a) she’s probably still in Brockton Bay and b) she’s already had an Interlude-like chapter and I would think the chapters of an Interlude Arc like Sentinel still count against the unstated but fairly obvious rule that each character only gets one Interlude.
So what’s up this way that could be a hoax?
It hadn’t rained recently, but there were murky puddles in the road where the water had settled into broad depressions.
We’re out of Brockton Bay and we still can’t get away from the water.
Water sprayed as she deliberately aimed for one puddle. Forty five minutes of driving, trying to convince herself this was real, not seeing anyone on the road for the last ten minutes, she’d started to feel lost.
I haven’t really read anything of the genre, but this gives me New England (possibly eldritch) horror vibes to some extent. Maybe we’ll be dealing with Dandelions?
Then again, 28 miles west down the 202 is a pretty specific location, as opposed to the sort of vague middle of nowhere rural setting one might find in horror.
I’m torn on whether I should look at a map. I think I’m going to leave it for now.
The concrete action of steering into the puddle and getting the expected result seemed to ground her.
Like pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
Every action had an equal and opposite reaction. It was the way things were supposed to work. Action and consequence.
Unless Siberian is involved.
Driving to the middle of nowhere was the action. But what was the consequence? Wasting two hours of her time on one of the last weekends of freedom she had before she was due to start school?
Alright, that gives us some idea of our POV character’s age. She’s old enough to be driving, but young enough to attend school.
For a mere chance she might get what she needed?
Hm, interesting. And this thing is something that might be a hoax?
Could it be evidence of some kind, for something our POV character is working on?
She had to stop and reverse to reread a number on a mailbox. 2062. She steered into the long dirt driveway. A farm sat in the distance, with a rotted-out grain silo and a barn nearby.
Looks like she’s approaching her destination.
What if this wasn’t just meant to waste her time? What if it was more sinister? If there was a gang of men waiting for her, ready to drag her off somewhere…
This lady’s life just sounds more and more intriguing.
She shook her head. She knew how to defend herself. Her father had taught her, and she’d taken classes. They didn’t necessarily know she was a woman from her email address. She’d left a note with her roommate, sealed with instructions not to open it or read the details unless she failed to return home.
So someone… contacted her via email? Or did she contact them? The latter sounds more likely since she seems to think the email is their only source of knowledge about her. But if she contacted them, why would she think it was a setup? I guess that would imply she thinks they may have spread the word about whatever this is in order to lure her into contacting them?
…I think I should just keep reading.
Topping it off, the necklace she wore had a built-in GPS. A gift from her sixteenth birthday from her dad. If there was trouble, the note she’d left with her roommate had instructions to contact her dad and track her down using the necklace.
Huh, that’s pretty handy, at least as long as you trust the people who know how to use the tracker to find you.
She stopped by the barn and sat in the car for a minute, peering around to try to see if anyone was near, the engine idling. A minute passed before she felt secure enough that she wouldn’t be ambushed and shifted the car into park. She held the key like a weapon as she stepped out of the car.
Clearly, this is a woman who has read Problem Sleuth. Better make sure that key is loaded if you want to unlock anyone with it, though!
She didn’t hold the individual keys between her fingers, like an amateur would be inclined to do, but held it like a knife instead.
The barn was the final destination of the route the email had outlined for her. Empty. It smelled of stale manure, rotting hay and mold. The exterior was covered in peeling red paint.
I highly doubt it’s as much of a waste of time as it seems, or we probably wouldn’t be reading about it, but it looks pretty desolate.
She checked her watch. She was eight minutes early.
Ahh, a meeting time. That would explain it.
There were no other cars on the property. That meant there were eight minutes for someone to come down that road with the cracks, potholes and puddles, pull down the long driveway and come meet her at the barn.
Yeah, seems like it.
Her weight shifted from foot to foot, as her impatience manifested in restlessness. Eight minutes before she found out if she’d been played for a fool.
She used her shoes to kick a few loose stones from the dirt driveway, smoothed it out, and then kicked them off. Barefoot, she planted her feet a shoulder width apart, then bent her knees as though she were sitting down in a chair, her arms outstretched in front of her for balance.
Hehe. Gotta do something.
Boredom is something we avoid at all costs.
She bent low, straightened, then repeated the process several more times.
Is this some kind of yoga or meditation thing? Or maybe she’s got a power that involves this.
Centering herself, she began on the next form, placing her feet perpendicular to one another, and transferring her weight from one foot to the other, from toe to heel to the heel of the other foot.
Really seems like some sort of yoga.
Her digital watch interrupted her exercises with a steady beeping. She’d set an alarm for the meeting deadline. Right this minute, she was supposed to be meeting someone.
Those were some of the quicker eight minutes in this story. I think more time might’ve passed in the last four paragraphs than in several chapters of Parasite.
Prediction: She’s going to conclude that she did get played and then someone’s going to show up (possibly behind her) right as she’s getting ready to leave.
For some reason I’m imagining a bearded pirate-like man, perhaps with a hook hand, but I kind of doubt that’s where this is going.
And there was no car in sight.
I just thought about the possibility of it being someone we know from before that doesn’t usually stick to Brockton Bay, such as one of the heroes who showed up to fight Leviathan. Maybe even a bigshot like Legend or Myrddin.
Plenty of those can fly. Maybe the person she’s meeting doesn’t need a car.
Sighing, humiliated, she donned her shoes, opened her car door and prepared to leave. She wouldn’t speak of this to anyone.
“Leaving? After coming all this way?” The voice was female, rich with hints of a French accent, but the English was probably better than her own.
Well, not who it was, but the part about getting ready to leave and then being interrupted by the person’s voice (this is why I suggested the person showing up behind her).
French accent, huh. Canadian, maybe? Possibly a Vasil?
She turned, then stepped a few feet in front of her car to look inside the barn.
A woman stood there, dark-skinned, with her hair cut into a short style that was more utilitarian than stylish. She wore a doctor’s lab coat and held a white plastic clipboard with both hands.
I think we’re dealing with Cauldron.
So much of what our POV character has been suggesting makes sense with that in mind – the secrecy, the potential of it being a hoax, it all clicks with that lab coat.
That wasn’t the startling thing.
At a point halfway inside the barn, there ceased to be any barn at all. White tiled floor and white-painted walls stretched a distance behind the woman, and the ceiling was all glass, hiding a smooth distribution of flourescent lights that made it all glow evenly.
Ooh, neat. A kind of portally power, perhaps? Or maybe the barn is a secret entrance.
It also reminds me a bit of Labyrinth’s power, though I doubt that came from Cauldron. Unless the asylum was also under their control?
“Who are you?”
“Some call me Mother, but that is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Those with a more professional attitude know me as Doctor.”
“No names. We’ve already investigated you, we know much of what we need to know, but I think there is a great deal of symbolic value in having you maintain some anonymity. Pick a name, and I will use it for the duration of this meeting.
Something tells me we’re not going to be learning the POV character’s civilian name in this chapter, or at least not before we approach the end.
It doesn’t need to be permanent or long-term.”
“Okay. Is it supposed to be a fake regular name or a codename or…?”
“Well, if you’re the Doctor, you can call me the Master.”
“Jamie.” It was the name her parents had been planning to give her baby sister. They’d broken up before that happened.
Not a bad name.
“Jamie it is. Come. I have an employee that is relocating this section of my offices to this spot, but it taxes him, and there’ll be less wait for the return trip if we don’t strain him.”
Ahh, that’s a really neat way to spin this. Why use portals when you can just move the location you’re in?
Jamie looked over her shoulder at her car. The GPS wouldn’t do her much good here, she suspected. It would take a leap of faith.
I mean, it might be confused until the office is put back where it should be, but unless the office is in a place the GPS can’t find (underground or something), it ought to work fine for finding Cauldron’s base.
She hurried over and stepped close to the Doctor, crossing that border from packed dirt and moldy hay to clean tiled floor.
There was a rush of wind, and the surroundings swam violently for two or three seconds. When the image had resolved again, they stood in the middle section of a long hallway. It looked like a hospital, sterile, white, clean, but it was empty. There were no people, and there was no equipment.
So pretty much the essential secret lab aesthetic. I like it.
“Welcome to Cauldron,” the Doctor said.
And there we have the confirmation / reveal for those who hadn’t caught on.
Oh – skipping ahead a bit?
“How did you find me? I just got an email.”
Ah, so they contacted her.
“I’d have to check my notes. We have ways of finding interested parties. If I remember right, you were browsing websites, researching ways to acquire tinker-made armor and weapons?”
Becoming a tinker herself would certainly be a way of doing that.
Alternatively, becoming a different kind of parahuman could eliminate the need.
Jamie nodded. “I was. So many were fakes or scams that I wasn’t willing to trust the ones that did look legit.”
Even the legit ones were probably not particularly safe, really.
“We own several of those sites. All are fakes. That might have been where we first noticed your activity.”
Ah, that makes sense. Dummy sites specifically designed to detect people who might be interested in obtaining powers or something like them.
“That’s a little creepy.”
Maybe a little bit.
“Creepiness is an unfortunate reality when you’re forced to operate covertly, without a steady customer base.”
I wonder what the laws Cauldron is working around are like. It makes sense that the authorities wouldn’t want the sale of powers, since it increases the chances of people like, well, Shatterbird getting powers, but what are the specifics?
“Why? Why not go public?”
“Countries would go to war over what we have at our disposal. A way to grant powers to anyone who wants them. They would want armies of parahuman soldiers.
That is a good point.
Even if we did manage to establish ourselves as a neutral party without government interference, Cauldron would be infiltrated by those looking to steal our secrets. Spies, thieves.”
Yep. The Dealer seemed to be doing that for personal profit (probably starting out as a Cauldron employee and then beginning to sell powers on the side), but I could absolutely see that happening with government spies too.
“And people who wanted to establish a rival business?”
That could happen if they figured out or stole the secret, yeah.
They were reaching the end of the hallway. The Doctor smiled lightly. “And that. Please, through this door.”
Jamie prided herself on her ability to identify evasions and untruths.
I wonder how she’d hold up against Doc Scratch or an Aes Sedai, with their penchants for fooling people while telling the objective truth.
The Doctor was humoring her when she replied to the question about rival businesses. The idea didn’t seem to worry her. Why?
Maybe because Cauldron has ways of dealing with those who would try to establish something like that?
Jamie stepped through the open door and entered a large room. As with the hallway, the decor was predominantly white. There was a desk of white marble with a white leather chair, and two plastic chairs facing the desk.
Yo, listen up, here’s a story
About a little Doctor that lives in a white world
And all day and all night and everything she sees is just white
Like her inside and outside
White her house with a white little window and a white Corvette
And everything is white for her
And herself and everybody around
‘Cause she ain’t got nobody to listen (to listen)
A modestly sized monitor sat at one corner of the desk, with a compact keyboard placed in front of it, and no mouse. The space was spartan.
They’re clearly not big on decor here.
I’d go crazy in here. There’s no personality to this place.
Yeah, there’s being professional, and then there’s being too professional.
Stranger still was the lack of dust. Since her arrival, Jamie hadn’t seen anyone but the Doctor. How did the Doctor keep everything so clean?
Maybe they’ve got superpowered cleaners.
“Have a seat.”
Jamie sat in one of the plastic chairs.
“I like to talk and establish expectations before we begin. You should know that almost every aspect of this experience can be tailored to your tastes. Cauldron’s usual routine, however, is to arrange one face to face meeting.
I guess that would be this one.
We’ll discuss your budget, your situation and goals, and then we’ll peruse a catalog to find something that fits your budget and will hopefully give you the results you desire. There is a two month waiting period, during which time I will assign you some testing, some regarding your physical condition, other tests for psychological reasons.”
It seems like a pretty solid system.
“Psychological? Is that to make sure I won’t flip out and go villain when I get powers?”
I don’t think so. Cauldron doesn’t seem to care about that so much as the powers potentially reacting badly with a brain that’s not quite right. What did they call it again? A d… *searches* Deviation scenario, that’s the thing.
“That is not a concern. Though your question seems to indicate that you hope to be a hero?” The Doctor made it a half-question, half-statement.
Yep. Flat out don’t care.
And it seems like she’s evading the intent behind the question.
Jamie’s brow furrowed. “Wait, so you give powers to people who want to be villains?”
“We give powers to anyone who pays. Rest assured, if you wish to end this meeting now because of a pang of conscience, we can see you returned to the barn shortly.”
They go after the money, just like a certain other group narratively associated with them.
Jamie hesitated, then shook her head. “It’s fine.”
“The testing will include blood tests, stress tests, MRI, CAT scan, radiographic scans and a Torsten DNA sequencing. These scans are primarily for our purposes, and if you’d prefer, you can have your family doctor arrange or conduct these tests instead for a small fee.
I guess they’re not worried about the doctor potentially questioning why the patient suddenly wants all those tests taken.
A larger fee will allow you to skip the tests entirely.”
“If you’ve got money, we don’t care if you’re fit to receive the power. Your call.”
Fees and additional expenses. No. The testing wasn’t so important that she’d spend her money on it.
I would’ve wanted to take the tests regardless of the extra money required to skip them.
“You can conduct the tests however you want,” Jamie said.
“Good. You’ll need to forgive me, but I must be blunt. Cauldron operates on a strict policy of secrecy. It is crass of me to do this, but know that if you pass on any knowledge of what transpired here, we have ways to find out, and we’ll be forced to employ countermeasures. This is in effect even if you decide you do not wish to sign anything.”
“Countermeasures”. And this is what she calls being blunt.
“Our response will reflect the gravity of the offense. We have clients who have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the products and services we offer. It is our obligation to protect them.”
Ah, fair enough, it’s not always murder.
“What kind of countermeasures? Would you kill me?”
“We try to avoid murder in the course of doing business, not just because of the moral issues, but because it draws attention.
Makes sense. Kill someone and you’ve got an investigation going.
For leaks, our usual procedure is to discredit the individual in question and deploy our in-house division of parahumans to drive them into hiding, remove their powers or both.”
Removing their powers is a thing they can do? I suppose it doesn’t make any less sense than giving them powers in the first place, but that’s an interesting tidbit.
Try to avoid murder. The phrasing implied the Doctor or Cauldron had gone that far before. She didn’t like that, and she especially didn’t like the fact that the Doctor was phrasing things so she’d miss that detail if she wasn’t listening carefully.
Of course, the Doctor is doing customer service. She’s not going to lie about the terms or their neutral morality, but she’ll try to make Cauldron sound good.
“It’s fine. I don’t intend to break the rules.”
“Few do. Still, I’ve done my duty and informed you. Tell me about yourself, Jamie. I know your father is in law enforcement.”
And here I was just thinking “we don’t know much about ‘Jamie’ yet”.
Father in law enforcement, probably inspiring the desire to be a hero, what a classic. 🙂
“He’s a detective, yeah.”
“Does that have anything to do with why you’re here?”
Jamie frowned and looked away. “Yeah.”
“A year ago… well, it all started two years ago. There were two criminals called Ramrod and Fleece. The local heroes brought them into custody, partially because of my dad’s work in tracking the pair down.
Oh! I guess she wants to protect her dad too.
Ramrod sounds familiar. Have I heard that name before?
So did Fleece get away?
Three strikes act applied to Fleece, and Ramrod was in for murder with intent. They put them in special cells, got them a court date, and everything was normal. My dad worked to gather the evidence, made some deals with informants to testify anonymously, and everything. The court process takes a lot longer than it does on TV.”
It really does. I remember back when Anders Behring Breivik’s court process was being aired on TV, that was so slow. And that was just the actual court part, not the work involved in preparing things for it.
“Finally, after about a year of court appearances and one minor appeal they managed to squeeze in there, it was decided. The pair was supposed to go to the Birdcage. Except someone broke them out.”
We do know Ramrod did eventually end up there, at least, after Lung, Bakuda and Paige.
Unless of course there’s some bullshit going on with the Ramrod in the Birdcage being fake or something.
“I think I’m beginning to understand.”
Jamie gnawed on her lip for a second. Just thinking about it pissed her off. “His name is Madcap, and he’s a mercenary that specializes in breaking people out of jail.
Hm. I guess either they predicted they would get caught, there’s a fourth person who would want Ramrod and Fleece out, or Madcap was a personal friend of the pair or otherwise had personal interest in getting them out.
Sometimes even when they’re in the convoy on the way to the Birdcage. And it’s just… wrong. It’s not the way things should work. Months or years of investigation, good police and good heroes risking their lives to finally catch someone and arrest them, a year of trial, and all it takes is one fucking asshole with powers to free them?”
“And so you’ve spent the last year trying to find a way to purchase powers, with the intent of righting that wrong?”
And protecting her father, I suppose? If it’s not too late for that.
No, wait, her dad’s definitely alive, unless he got killed while she was on this trip. He was the one who was supposed to use the GPS tracker if she didn’t return.
“I want to stop him. And not just him. I want to help things make sense again, even if it means playing unfair because they’re playing unfair.
I think “Jamie” might get along with Taylor.
Crime should have consequences.”
But yeah, sounds like a recipe for an antihero.
The Doctor typed something onto the keyboard, paused, and then typed something else. “Madcap. Well, the good news is that he isn’t one of ours, so there’s no conflict of interest. The bad news is that the PRT rated him as a striker seven.”
Pretty high rating… So what does his strike do? Incite madness?
Jamie’s face settled into a grim expression. “I know. My dad has resources. I took the time to look up Madcap’s records.”
“Having looked into your finances-”
“I’ve got a place in the city that was left to me. My dad doesn’t know about it, so it’d be easy to sell it and not have anyone close to me get curious where they money went.
Huh, that’s convenient.
Current housing market says I could sell it for three-quarters of a million dollars. I just have to sell it.”
“We can expedite this. Cauldron is prepared to buy the property from you for seven hundred and thirty thousand dollars, renting it out to you in the meantime if you require it.
Seems like a good plan. And then they can sell it on for a profit when “Jamie” doesn’t need to rent it anymore.
We will sell it at our leisure rather than wait for you to find a buyer.”
“I don’t need you to rent it to me. No, that works,” Jamie said. She was secretly relieved to have one of the biggest hurdles handled so easily.
It seems like Cauldron knows what they’re doing when it comes to making this go smoothly.
“And I have another five thousand that my relatives set aside for my school. It’d be harder to use that without people getting curious, but it’s there.”
You should probably leave that for the school unless you absolutely need a power that costs five thousand more than you can afford.
“We’ll see. In terms of cost, Cauldron requires that the client pay two-thirds of the total amount in advance, and pay the rest over a six year period or default.”
“Meaning you employ those countermeasures you talked about.”
Probably, yeah. The one about removing the power seems especially appropriate in the case of a default.
“Revoking your powers in the worst case scenario, yes.”
“Is that revoking of powers a part of the process of however you give people the powers, or is it something that one of your in-house capes does?”
Thank you, “Jamie”, for asking all the good questions and being an excellent audience surrogate. I appreciate it. 🙂
The Doctor was typing on the computer. Without taking her eyes from the screen, she said, “The latter. You don’t need to worry about someone using a loophole or flaw in the process to take away your abilities.”
I didn’t even consider that. But yeah, good to know.
So they’ve got someone who’s kind of like Hatchet Face, but whose power-blocking effect is permanent. It sounds like it works on any cape, too.
It’s probably a striker power, just to keep it from being too overpowered.
The Doctor frowned at the image on the computer screen.
What’s up? Problems with the time stream? Clockroaches? Weeping angels invading the lab?
The Doctor turned the monitor around. It showed graphs and charts that made little sense to Jamie. Clearing her throat, the Doctor leaned forward over the desk and extended one manicured nail to point at a series of labels on a three-dimensional graph. “This is the ‘P’ value as related to the cost of the power, with the expected range of powers. The amount of money you have, even assuming an additional thirty-three percent in payment made at a future date, is probably not going to provide you with the power you’d need to take on a striker-seven.”
Ahh. Then again, clever application can make a weak power work against a strong one.
Jamie’s face fell. Shaking her head in confusion, she asked, “‘P’? And what do you mean by probably?”
The Doctor opened a drawer and retrieved a binder. She slid it across the desk.
I take it this is the catalog?
Every page was laminated, labeled with a serial number. Each page had a picture of a vial with a different colored metallic liquid inside, sitting beside a list of powers. The bottom half of the page or a second page, depending on the number of powers listed, had a grid with a number assigned to an arrangement of letters.
Yup. Let’s have a look at these costs and what Cauldron can do.
“No sample provides the exact same powers every time. The bullet points note examples of the powers gained when the sample was tried on a human subject or a client.
That makes sense. The powers of this setting are so individualized that it was more surprising that they’d be able to create similar powers in the first place.
There’s typically a common thread or theme connecting powers from a given sample. One sample might have a tendency to work with the production of acids and a tendency for physical manifestation. This might allow an individual to turn into a living pool of acid, to secrete acid from his pores or to spit streams of corrosive venom.”
This reminds me a lot of two things that both tie back to the same chapter: 9.3. We’ve had discussion about similar types of trigger events resulting in similar powers on a broader scale, and we’ve got cape families where themes rather than exact powers are hereditary. New Wave has various configurations of light and shields, Panacea has control over biology after Marquis’ control over bones, the Vasils have various forms of control over people…
It seems like on some level there’s a separation between theme and specifics, where the specifics are more individual.
“I don’t want a power like that.”
“No. For one thing, the ‘R’ value of sample J-zero-zero-ninety is very low. Note the letters on the grid. The most important ones are the ‘O’, ‘P’ and ‘R’. These, on their own, determine roughly ninety-percent of a sample’s cost. O refers to a power’s uniqueness.
I suppose the O value would be low for things like flight, strength and invulnerability, the Standard Alexandria Package?
It’s largely subjective, and liable to change through factors entirely out of Cauldron’s control, but it is easier to stand out as a hero or villain if nobody else can do what you do.”
Yeah, that’s true.
“You’ve already mentioned the other two letters in passing.”
“The ‘P’ value is the raw effect of the granted abilities. An estimation of the rating the PRT would assign to the powers. Higher ‘P’, more effective and versatile abilities.”
Shatterbird’s P value must be sky high.
Jamie nodded. “And ‘R’?”
“Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, there are no guarantees. A given sample does not provide the same effects every time it is tested.
So we’ve got O for… Originality, P for Power and R for Reliability?
There are admittedly some dangers involved in the use of our product. Sometimes there are physical changes that cannot be masked. You have seen the heroes or villains with glowing eyes or less human features.”
Ahh, I guess experiments on powers with a very low R value might be the cause of the Case 53s?
That was sobering.
“The ‘R’ value refers to how predictable a given sample is. There are some that produce very simple, reliable results. In sixty-three tests of sample T-six-zero-zero-one, it has only failed to grant a form of flight on two occasions. Contrast that with sample B-zero-zero-thirty. It has, in four tests, granted an individual the ability to make things implode, it has created a powerful vacuum in someone’s mouth, that draws everything into a portal where it is promptly annihilated.
Hah, that’s a fun one.
Sample B-zero-zero-thirty killed the other two test subjects.”
Ouch. That’s less fun.
Killed. There was an outside possibility she could die, if she took the wrong one, or if she got especially unlucky.
I wonder how often that happens with natural powers. Bonesaw talked about the power adjusting to protect its wielder, but does that always work?
“How do you test this? You’re talking about a lot of tests, sixty for just one sample, but there’s no way people wouldn’t notice or that word wouldn’t get out if you were doing something like that.”
“As you’ve seen, Cauldron has resources.”
“That doesn’t really answer my question.”
“It does. Just not as clearly as you want it to.”
Heh, fair enough.
Something in the Doctor’s tone suggested the woman wasn’t going to elaborate further. Jamie shut her mouth, frowning slightly.
Yeah, countermeasures or not, they can’t take too many risks.
“As you can see here, this graph shows the relationship between cost and the rising ‘P’, ‘O’ and ‘R’ values.”
It was a cube broken into a multitude of smaller cubes, with P as the X axis, O as the Y and R as the Z. They ranged from white to sky blue to darker blue, purple, red, and finally crimson. The key at the bottom of the graph suggested that anything beyond dark blue would cost several million dollars.
I guess you gotta settle for something in the lower reaches of each category. Or the very low reaches of two and the higher reaches of the third.
By the time it hit crimson, it was ranging into the hundreds of millions.
Damn, that’s a lot of money.
“This… is what you can afford.” The Doctor hit a key and the graph was reduced to the white and light blue cubes. “You could theoretically push into the seven range of ‘P’ values, to put yourself at this Madcap’s level in terms of raw power, but you would be forfeiting a great deal in the other two departments. Your powers would be relatively simple, defaulting to the sort of abilities that countless other heroes already have… and with the low ‘R’ score, you would be risking getting something you do not want.
Honestly, high O seems more interesting. Maybe she’d get something really unusual to use cleverly against Madcap.
Physical changes, perhaps, or powers outside of the area you wanted. Super strength when you desired telekinesis, for a crude example.”
I suppose those both fall under the theme of lifting things. Telekinesis is just remote super strength, and that’s when it’s strong.
“I… I’m not fixated on anything particular, powerwise. Flying would be cool, but I’ll take anything that works.”
The Doctor tapped a key, and the graph shifted so there were only three rows. She’d removed the samples with higher uniqueness values.
“Then the question is…” the Doctor said, “How much are you willing to gamble? A hero can beat a superior foe with strategy, tactics and forethought, and I get the impression you’re focused enough to put your mind to the task. Perhaps you’d want to emphasize reliability in a sample over the power it could offer you?”
That is more fitting for forethought since she could more reliably start planning before even getting the power.
“Can you zoom in?”
The Doctor did.
“So… how unreliable is a five, if we’re talking about ‘R’?”
“If you decided on a sample with an ‘R’ score of five, I would tell you I could make no promises. There would be perhaps a three or four percent chance you would experience some unwanted physical changes. Zero-point-five percent chance that you’d experience changes of a degree that you wouldn’t be able to go out in public without drawing notice, even with heavy clothing.
The sort of changes Newter and Gregor have to deal with.
You would, I’d venture, not be buying a particular power, but the broader category of that power. To use our earlier example, you would not be buying acid spit, specifically, but an acid power.”
If it’s a 1-10 scale, this seems like an appropriate five.
Jamie looked at the other lines on the graph, “And I’d be getting something like an ‘O’ of three and a ‘P’ of five.”
“Something in that neighborhood, yes.”
Sounds like a good balance.
“A power rating of five to Madcap’s seven,” Jamie put her elbows on the edge of the desk and her head in her hands.
I think you could beat him with that. The choice of the power category itself seems more important, honestly.
“There’s a chance you could get lucky and achieve a power with a greater ‘P’ value than expected.”
Again, that misdirection. Jamie shook her head. “And a roughly equal chance that I could get unlucky, since it’s an average.”
Right, good catch.
“Is there anything else I could do? A way to get better results?”
“We have options, but I don’t know that they apply to your case. I mentioned the psychological testing earlier. You should know that an individual’s personality, mental state and background do seem to have a great deal of effect on the resulting power. I would even say it’s one of the primary factors, outside of the sample itself.”
It’s probably the factor that tends to determine the specifics beyond what the reliability of the sample provides.
Jamie wondered momentarily how her own mental state would influence her powers.
The Doctor went on, “We have a package we call ‘Shaping’, and another we call ‘Morpheus’. Both are intended to make the most of the two month waiting period and help a client reach an ideal mental and emotional state.
I would assume Morpheus involves sleep and dreams somehow.
It’s often purchased by our high-end customers, to refine the powers they want and help ensure there are no untoward effects. For a low-end customer such as yourself, I don’t know that it would suit your needs. You would be buying a lower quality sample to pay for the package… perhaps if you were someone who wanted powers for recreational purposes.
Yeah, I’m not surprised the packages would be expensive in their own right.
If you wanted to help guarantee that you got the ability to fly, for example.”
“There’s the Nemesis program, but you already have an opponent in mind, and I expect you’re more interested in a fair fight than having an opponent you’re guaranteed to succeed against when it counts.”
Hmm. So does that mean Cauldron sets up an enemy for them, in order to make them look good?
Or, wait, given the context she’s bringing it up in… setting up an enemy to focus on so that the power latches on to that animosity and adjusts itself to be good against that enemy?
“Yeah.” This Nemesis program… how many prominent heroes or villains were out there that had faked or staged confrontations like that?
Hm, guess it was the former.
At least that seems to be “Jamie”’s assumption.
“Hmm. Nothing else springs to mind as our packages go. When we design an additional feature or program, we tend to aim it at our more wealthy customers.”
“You guys are doing lots of testing. Could I do something like help with that? Or something outside of these packages and programs?”
I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but it’s creative, at least.
“I’m serious, I’m hard-working, and I stick to my guns.”
What do keys have to do with this?
“It’s our tendency to require that any client be prepared to perform one unspecified favor for us at a later date. Usually a simple task or a week of service.
…interesting. They’ve got plenty of people with powers out there who are ready to do things for them without question. That’s… ominous.
It serves as a way to cover our bases without revealing too much in respect to our operations.”
“Very Godfather. Do these favors mean doing anything illegal?”
Oh yeah, I suppose that’d be a concern.
“Sometimes. But no, often it is a request to meet someone, to pass on a message, or help manage an information leak, a show of force to scare someone who is poking too deep.”
Jamie’s leg bounced nervously as she looked at the screen. “And?”
“If you agree to perform three favors at a future date, and I suspect we could extend something of a discount.”
That seems like a fairly decent plan. Vague, could blow up in “Jamie”’s face, but decent.
The Doctor hit several keys, and the graph extended a little in every direction. Where it had been white and light blue, it now showed cubes of dark blue.
“What would you ask me to do?”
“I don’t know yet. I prefer to leave that option open.”
Everything in Jamie’s gut told her there was some small lie or misdirection in there. Either the Doctor did know what she wanted to ask for, or she knew her customer wouldn’t like what she heard.
Quite likely, yeah.
You’re gonna be a warlock.
Whatever these favors were, all she could do was hope she could do enough good to counterbalance any wrongs she’d have to commit.
I’m not sure post-Decision Taylor would see it this way.
“Alright,” Jamie said. “Sounds like a deal.”
Congratulations, “Jamie”. You just made a deal with the… well, not devil. They’re more like the fey.
Jamie’s fourth visit to Cauldron was less out of her way than her first.
Ooh, skipping ahead quite a bit!
Maybe all we just saw was a while back and Jamie’s the reason Ramrod was in the Birdcage by the time of Interlude 10.5?
She entered the same way as before, but this time the hallway from Cauldron’s location was transplanted into the middle of her apartment. She wasted no time in stepping through.
Hah! That’s quite a bit less out of the way, yes.
The Doctor was not waiting for her, but she knew where she was going. She strode down the empty, spotless hallways, past innumerable matching doors. There were no windows in this place. Nothing peeking into the outside.
So does she have her power yet? She’d have to for the thing I suggested in the last post to be, but there was a bit of a wait.
If she does have it, maybe she’s here to receive instructions on one of her favors?
But if not, I think we’re about to see her receive her product.
Still, she knew where she was. She’d checked the GPS data on her necklace. The Ivory Coast. The west coast of Africa. It was dangerous information to have.
Oh, huh. That would explain the Doctor’s dark skin and French accent.
If I tried to open one of those doors, would it be locked? What would be inside? Or would alarms go off, my chance here spoiled?
Maybe there’s nothing behind them, their presence being a test for customers as far as following the rules goes.
She’d been here twice since her first meeting. Both times, she’d had her psychological testing. She’d also had a full workup done. The psychiatrist had been a young-looking white man, the doctor a heavyset Greek.
Sounds like it’s time, then.
Although I guess it might be time for the physical testing? Or is that what she means by workup?
They’d said little beyond what they needed to for the testing, and had volunteered nothing about Cauldron.
She made her way to the room where she’d done her stress test. Here, she’d run back and forth with steadily increasing speeds until she couldn’t run anymore. She’d rested, then run again, then again, until she couldn’t even stand.
The Doctor was waiting for her. A metal canister sat on a table, and there was a sturdily built, cushioned chair sitting close by.
And there it is.
Jamie’s very own power potion.
“You’re ready?” the Doctor asked.
I assume they have a safe room specifically designed for the potion to be taken in. Newly obtained powers can be quite dangerous, after all. Just look at the Scrub incident.
“If you’ll change into this, we can preserve your clothes for the return trip home.”
Jamie took the offered clothing, a plain gray bodysuit that would cover everything from the neck down.
Good idea, especially given the chance of physical changes.
A word in blocky black letters on the front read ‘Jamie’ while one on the back read ‘Client’.
“Hi, my name is Jamie Client.”
There was no indicated change room, and the Doctor was focused on the canister and the stack of papers she was setting down on the table. Jamie changed where she stood, folding her clothes and setting them on the edge of the table.
Alright, guess there’s more talking to be done.
Jamie sat in the chair. Comfortable.
“Sample T-one-one-seven-seven, with the agreed upon addition of Sample C-zero-zero-seventy-two. This is correct?”
Ooh, mixing things up? This could have some interesting results.
“Yes. It’s what I paid for.”
“Read and sign here. And there are stipulations on, let me see… pages twenty-six and twenty-nine that you need to sign as well.”
Jamie leaned forward and read through the contract. It was every term they’d agreed upon, legalese and politely worded warnings about the hell Cauldron would try to bring down on her head if she broke the terms of the contract.
There were pages of receipts covering the financial transactions, and pages more of details about her own medical and psychological evaluations.
Basically the same kinds of things we saw back in Infestation.
There were two stipulations to agree to. One for the three favors she’d agreed to perform. Another on the psychological testing.
Seems alright so far.
Nine years ago, she had been kidnapped for use as leverage against her father. She had been held in their custody for three days. No food, six water bottles to drink and no bathroom.
She’d gone to the washroom in the corner, had removed one sock to keep the pee from making its way across the sloped hardwood floor.
Sounds like a thoroughly uncomfortable experience.
She’d assured the psychiatrist that she had gotten over any of the trauma and any fear of the dark that had stemmed from that incident. It was her father that’d had a hard time dealing with the event.
I feel like if that had become a trigger event for her, it would quite possibly result in a light-based power.
Heh, imagine if it turned out her dad had been a heroic cape on top of his detective work ever since then.
She’d been young then, and the event hadn’t really stuck in her memory. But she couldn’t shake the idea that the kidnapping might have left some lingering effect on her that would taint the process.
Yeah, very possible.
“You haven’t eaten?”
“Nothing since this time yesterday.”
“You don’t have any colds, no aches and pains?”
“That’s too bad. The sample we use to moderate and control the effects of the finished products has a short-lived regenerative effect. This is one of the selling points we offer to the clients we find in hospitals and the like.
That’s not the direction I was expecting that to go. :p
Some have even recovered or partially recovered from life-long disabilities. We’ve had reports from people who were mildly ill when they gained their powers, who found they never got sick again. It would be nice to verify this.”
Now if only they could distill what part of the sample causes this, they could sell some amazing medicine.
“You couldn’t have told me that before?”
“It could easily be a placebo effect. Not worth a rescheduling. You’re comfortable?”
The Doctor unscrewed the canister and withdrew a vial. It was no longer than a pen and no thicker than one of the Doctor’s fingers. “The faster you drink it all, the quicker and cleaner the transition is.”
“You said something about a dream quest?”
“Some experience it. Some don’t. Don’t be concerned if you don’t. Simply relax to the best of your ability and stay focused.
Dream quest? Hmm. Maybe some customers remember whatever interaction these vials may cause with the Dandelions?
The higher and more pronounced the physical reactions like your heart rate, sweating, adrenals, and emotional response, the greater the chance of a physiological change. I recommend that you keep from dwelling on any stressful thoughts or memories. Just stay calm and try to relax as much as you’re able.”
“And for the love of all that is good and pure, don’t think about elephants for a second or we’ll have to reschedule.”
“Isn’t that like asking someone to not think of a blue elephant? They’re going to think about a blue elephant.”
I told you she’s a good audience surrogate!
“I stress, only a small percentage of people experience enough stress that they undergo any physical change.” The Doctor removed the stopper from the top of the vial and carefully handed it over, not letting go until she was sure Jamie had a firm grip.
were doing this man
Jamie held the vial for several long moments. “Now?”
“When you’re ready.”
Jamie tossed it back like she’d seen people throw back shots of hard liquor.
were making this HAPEN
She coughed as it coated the inside of her throat, her saliva doing little to nothing to help it down. The Doctor reached out, and Jamie handed her the vial.
Might be time to step back, Doc.
It began to burn, the intensity increasing second by second, until she was convinced it couldn’t get any worse. It did.
“Hurts,” she groaned, trying to push herself to a standing position.
…what if the vials work by causing a trigger event rather than by replacing one?
“It’ll get more severe before it gets better. Stay in the chair.”
“Didn’t tell me,” she could barely speak with the way her chest felt like it was caving in on itself.
“I didn’t want to alarm you before we began. It’s normal, and it does get better. A minute, maybe two, and you’ll be surprised at how fast the pain goes away.”
At least it’s not a lengthy ordeal.
She clutched the arms of the chair. As unfathomably bad as it had been just moments ago, it kept getting worse. She had to endure another two minutes of this? It felt like the burning inside of her was melting through the walls of her throat and stomach. She could imagine the tissue blistering and dissolving, expanding outward until it touched on her lungs and her heart.
Hm. I wonder if she’s going to end up with a power that changes her biology significantly on the inside, like Aegis’.
As it seemed to consume her lungs, her breathing began to dissolve into breaths too quick and small to bring enough oxygen into her lungs. Darkness began to creep in at the edges of her vision.
I’m beginning to question my assertion that two minutes isn’t lengthy.
“Relax.” The Doctor’s voice sounded far away.
She was panicking, and the idea that she was panicking made it worse, because it could mean she’d change. She might look different.
The panic increases the chances of that, and that only fuels the panic, which makes the chances even scarier…
Scales, spines, metallic skin or something else.
Don’t think about spiny, scaly, metallic elephants!
The darkness swallowed her field of vision and she felt as though it were creeping over her skin.
What had she been thinking, doing this?
It’s certainly a big decision.
I wonder if Cauldron would be willing to use the cape who revokes powers on customers who got powers they didn’t like. Probably not with a refund, though.
Have to calm down.
She’d taken up Tai Chi when she was thirteen, something one of her therapists had encouraged to deal with stress.
Is that what she was doing while waiting for Cauldron?
She couldn’t move here, and it was impossible to stand, let alone do her exercises, but she could try to reach that mental state.
Sounds like it.
She attempted to take deep breaths, but she couldn’t even tell if she had air in her lungs or if she was breathing in or out. She tensed the muscles in her fingers and toes, then forced herself to relax them. She did the same with the muscles of her hands and feet. She worked her way up through the entirety of her body, focusing on that simple action of tension, relaxation.
Honestly, being able to do this under these conditions is admirable.
The pain didn’t stop, but she felt disconnected from it, now. She was calmer, focused. She felt as though she were adrift in a vast, empty space, aware of every part of her body, the wholeness of it, and nothing else.
And in this void she can sense sai’dar, the female half of the True Source, shining at her, calmly, voicelessly asking her to let it flow into her…
References aside, I wonder if this is going to have a noticeable impact on her power.
An incoherent image flickered across her mind. A landscape of twisted biological shapes that seemed to alter with every passing second, changing into something completely different.
Theeere they are.
An archway of bony growths disconnected and became a bridge over a crevasse. Then a hill. Yet it all seemed to change with logic. It was just a logic she couldn’t comprehend.
Yeah, that tends to be the case when extra spatial dimensions get involved.
The ground split. Chasms tore into the surface, dividing it, and-
Another image. Earth. It was as though she was looking at everyone’s face and every object and every living thing on the planet at once, from every angle, but then she was looking at a different everyone and everything, then another.
Hm. She put herself in the mindset of complete awareness of her own body. Did the Dandelions exaggerate that and give her complete awareness of the entire planet?
It dawned on her that it wasn’t her doing the looking. She was a bystander. Before she could realize what this other was looking for, the scene changed again.
Huh. The power / the Dandelions looking for a thing to latch onto, like Bonesaw described?
Utter blackness and silence. It was only in this stillness and quiet that Jamie realized there was an undercurrent. An impression. She hesitated to call it an emotion.
Reaching. It was the only word she could use to place it, and it didn’t quite fit. It was an action that was simultaneously frustrated and frustrating.
Is the power having trouble because she cleared her mind?
The pain cleared away so quickly she thought she might have imagined it.
She was on the ground, she realized. On her hands and knees. Tears ran down her cheeks. Not all were from the pain. Some were sympathetic.
Let’s see what happened.
Maybe it failed to find a power for her at all?
“What was that? What did I just see? It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t what you described.”
“Roughly half of my customers ask questions similar to yours after they’ve transitioned. I always say the same thing. I don’t know.”
I’m pretty certain she’s telling the truth.
Even in the daze she was in, Jamie’s instincts told her the Doctor was lying.
Hm, I suppose they learn some things doing this.
“I expect you’ll retain the memory better if you don’t try too hard to hold onto it.”
Dandelions: “Oh wait, you’re still remembering it? Let’s fix that…”
The strange things she had seen didn’t seem to matter anymore. “Did I… change? Is my body different?”
“You glowed briefly, but that passed. You look the same as you did.”
Jamie nodded, too worn out to feel relieved.
“I’m going to leave, now, for my own safety. I recommend sitting and resting before anything else.
Yeeah, if she did get a power, there’s a good chance it’s going to go haywire soon.
When you’re prepared, stand and see what you can do to exercise your new abilities.”
The doctor was halfway to the door when Jamie shifted her position and prepared to climb into the chair. Relief was surging through her. She hadn’t become a monster.
Not physically, at the very least, and she seems fine psychologically.
She hadn’t lost her mind. This was for real. What she had seen, it was too profound to mean anything else. Even a hit of LSD wouldn’t have given her visions as clear as that. Not that she’d done LSD.
This is a different kind of LSD. Legitimately Superpowered Drink.
Though she didn’t feel dizzy, she found she lacked the sense of balance to stand, and tipped forward. Between one heartbeat and the next, everything seemed to click. She felt as though she were floating in slow motion rather than falling, her body thrumming.
She extended one arm toward the arm of the chair to catch herself, but she underestimated the speed and strength of the movement in the midst of this slow motion world. The chair was sent flying, skidding across the floor.
Ahh, actual time powers? Niice. Time is a cool category, even with the powers that don’t involve actual time travel.
She fell hard, the moment over, her fall no longer slow motion.
On the other side of the room, the chair hit the wall and shattered.
So she can slow time down for herself, consequently making her movements faster.
Makes sense, with the meditative void’s feeling of detachment and calm.
“Seems you have something. Congratulations,” the Doctor said.
Good job, Doctor.
Another one of these? I suppose it’s possible that the last section too was in the past relative to Interlude 10.5.
Madcap hit one of the armored PRT vans hard enough to make it roll. The driver of the second tried to steer clear, but Madcap stepped into the path of the incoming vehicle.
Oh hey, looks like we’re really seeing this through!
So Madcap is clearly strong. I doubt that’s the extent of a Striker 7 power, though.
It struck him and the vehicle virtually bounced off of him, the hood crumpling as though it had hit a telephone pole.
Wow. Can he fly too?
He rolled his shoulders, and then kicked the vehicle. It skidded along the road and collided with the third truck, which had already pulled to a stop.
Ouch. So are these vans carrying people sentenced to the Birdcage?
Hey, why do the PRT use vans for that, anyway? They’ve got people who can teleport others en masse. Are they worried about the Birdcage candidates’ powers interfering with the teleportation? Or maybe the taxiporters don’t have enough range?
Which left only the task of freeing his clients.
Ah, okay, we’ve switched perspectives entirely, it seems.
Let’s see what Jamie’s like in costume!
Right on cue.
Madcap turned. Jamie stood in the middle of the street, opposing him.
Ah, never mind – Madcap wouldn’t know about the name Jamie, unless she’s using that as her cape name for some reason.
Her low-budget costume consisted of a black bodysuit and a domino mask.
How classic! I like it.
“You’re cute. Nice body, and the costume is a nice mix of pathetic and adorable in a three-legged-puppy kind of way. But you don’t want to try to stop me. I hit pretty damn hard.”
…well, he’s proven that much.
The mention of her costume embarrassed her. She hadn’t had the money after buying her powers. Still, three legged puppy?
No appreciation for the classics, these days…
Madcap, by contrast, was wearing a customized costume that had cost no small amount of money. A faceguard covered the lower half of his face, and was imprinted with the image of a wide grin. Black facepaint surrounded his dark eyes, accentuating the whites, and a pointed black leather cap connected to the mask and his costume.
His armor was more aesthetic than functional, and featured broad, spike-studded pads.
I suppose if his power already protects him, he can get away with that.
“I hit pretty hard myself,” Jamie replied. A glance over her shoulder revealed that the two men who’d been driving the containment van nearest her were running.
I suppose there’s not much else they can do, so fair enough.
She knew it was empty, a decoy.
Ahh, that explains it.
Are all of them empty? Did Jamie get the PRT to set up a fake transport? Except Madcap is a mercenary, so he probably primarily attacks transports people pay him to attack.
She wrested the bumper free with a tug and then swung it at Madcap like an oversized bat.
Use the bumper to bump him
He blocked it with one hand, and the scrap of metal slipped from her hand and went sailing into the nearby cornfield.
The true origin of corn circles: Cape battles.
Then he slid forward and tapped the flat of one hand against her chest.
Striker abilities, this might be bad.
She bounced off of the ground and fell in a heap. It took her one attempt at standing before she realized it was futile.
Two PRT soldiers stepped forward to try to spray him with foam, but he dispatched both with a throw of something that looked like a thick frisbee. With nobody left to stop him, Madcap proceeded to tear doors off the containment vans until he found the prisoners.
So far, it seems Jamie has failed.
Jamie tried to move again. Everything hurt too much.
“No,” Madcap said. “Leave her be.”
Is he making sure the other villains spare Jamie because he’d like to fight her some other time?
She opened her eyes to see two villains, a male and a female standing nearby, with Madcap standing between her and them..
“She looks like a right morsel,” the man commented.
I hope he means that metaphorically.
“Not saying she doesn’t,” Madcap said, “But hands off. You paid me to free you, and I can’t do that if you’re fucking around.”
“Spoilsport,” the woman said, teasing. “Come on.”
Then they were gone, and Jamie let her head rest on the pavement.
Better luck next time.
“My power didn’t work. I was strong, and then I wasn’t.”
I assume this is still Jamie?
Did she think her power was plain super strength?
“There are going to be nuances,” the Doctor said. “We could help you investigate the intricacies of your ability. But that would cost you.”
Of course it would.
“Everything costs something, here.”
“I have another idea in mind.”
“Consider this your first favor to us. Cauldron would be much obliged if you could join the ranks of the Wards, and then graduate to the Protectorate as soon as possible.”
Ooh, a bit of undercover work?
I guess this would be the NYC Wards and Protectorate, not Brockton Bay, so it’d take a while for Jamie to become relevant again, if she does.
I just made a mistake while writing the previous post and ended up pressing Ctrl+Y. Turns out that does not do what I expected it to, and I ended up seeing a line from later in the chapter. I managed to avoid seeing too much, but I did learn that Assault shows up and seems to have dialogue.
Specifically, what I saw was that something about “Assault’s face” was attached to a piece of dialogue.
“The Protectorate? Why? To sabotage it from within? Steal information? I don’t want to do anything like that.”
I wonder how much Cauldron might insist on the contract if she refuses to carry out one of the favors.
“Just join. That’s all I ask. If nothing else, it would mean you had resources and training to develop your powers and achieve your own goals.”
Of course, they’ll still have two more favors they can call in while she’s on the team.
Jamie frowned, looking at her gloved hand. She had been contemplating joining anyways. It meant one favor out of the way, relatively harmless, which was good, but there was little doubt that Cauldron wanted her in place for a reason.
“Round eight, puppy?” Madcap said, “Maybe you can finally win one!”
It does seem like he enjoys it on some level.
Jamie charged him, and the rest of her team followed soon after.
Madcap leapt to one side as Legend fired a series of beams at him.
The villain plunged into and through the concrete wall of the jail, and Jamie was only steps behind him. She saw him rounding a corner and gave chase.
Cue the Yakety Sax!
He wasn’t in the hallway. There wasn’t even debris from where he’d torn his way through yet another wall.
…huh. Maybe he’s working with someone who could help him escape?
She activated her power. Time seemed to slow down as she sped up. She snapped her head to look up and saw him in the middle of a leap over her head. He’d timed it perfectly, so he would be above her when she rounded the corner.
Damn, nice one. But with her power slowing down time for her (apparently tied to her speed? this might be inspired by relativity – maybe the speed of light is different for her or something), she might be able to react quickly enough.
Except she was faster, and she could hit harder than he could. Given a chance.
The momentum in her blows is affected by the slowed time because from an outside perspective, the blow is faster.
Her elbow caught him while he was still airborne, and unable to dodge. She slammed him into a wall, and followed up with a leaping kick while the effects of her power still coursed through her.
Madcap rebounded off of the wall as though he were made of rubber and ducked beneath her incoming kick.
Twisting around as he rose back to a standing position, he got a grip on her from behind in the same moment her foot hit the wall. Heaving, he hurled her down the length of the hallway.
TEAM JAMIE IS BLASTING DOWN THE HALL AGAAAAAAAAIN
Calm. She had to be calm, concentrate. Even as she flew through the air, she let her power build up inside her, then released it. With the half second of effect it gave her, she contorted herself to touch the wall with one foot, then lightly kicked it to turn herself toward the ground.
Ahh, so it operates in bursts, just like when she fell off the chair – each time she uses it she gets an effectively extended time within half a second or so, which amounts to increased movement speed and expanded perception of time. Whether it’s that or time actually extends from her perspective is just about impossible to tell.
She landed in a crouch, sliding from the inertia, and began charging up for another go.
How long does it take to charge? Seems like a few seconds at most.
Legend’s lasers tore into the spot where Madcap had been a half second ago. The villain sprinted toward Jamie, moving faster with each step.
These powers are really quite well suited for a nemesis relationship. That’s probably not a coincidence.
“Battery!” Legend called out, “Stop him!”
Why are Battery and Legend both here – and apparently Assault too, judging by my accident earlier? Where is here? Is Madcap so much of a priority that they called in capes from multiple local teams, including one of the Triumvirate?
She held on, concentrating. She let a deep breath pass through her lips.
Sticking one foot out in front of him, Madcap changed directions, heading straight through the wall. Plaster exploded around him.
Hey, Madcap, did you hear about this cool new invention the tinkers made? It’s called a “door”.
She released her power, and for just seconds, she was strong, she was almost invincible, and above all else, she was fast. She ran forward, plunging through two walls in her pursuit. Emerging from the second wall, she came within a few feet of Madcap.
Hey, Jamie, did you hear about this cool new inv
He turned on the spot, reaching out to block her strike or grab her.
But she didn’t give him the opportunity to do either. Instead, she spent the rest of her accumulated power in a single burst, pulling at the metal of a nearby chair. It fell over, sliding into Madcap’s path. The metal legs caught on his own legs, one sliding just beneath his descending foot. He stumbled.
He exerted his power, causing the chair to crumple and explode before he stumbled any further and fell.
It’s very unclear to me what exactly Madcap’s power does.
She heard a brief chuckle from the man as he turned to make his escape.
Legend had taken advantage of that momentary delay to get in position. He caught the villain with a laser blast.
Madcap tumbled, got his feet under him and darted for cover. A laser blast turned the corner to follow and smash the villain into the ground.
Man, I love Legend’s power.
Legend shot him again while he was down, and the man was unconscious.
“Good job, Battery.”
Well I guess I fuckin’ got my wish! 😀
Took me long enough to catch on to that, but hey. I ain’t complaining.
Legend spoke with a smile. “Finally, huh?”
So I guess this too is in the past, with Battery moving to Brockton Bay later.
“Finally,” she said.
“I really don’t want to go to the Birdcage,” Madcap said. He was covered in containment foam from shoulder to toe.
I love the irony of this. His entire career is based on others not wanting to go there.
“You’ve committed somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred felonies,” Legend answered him. “I don’t think you have many options.”
It’s worth noting that at the present day, he’s either not in the Birdcage yet, or he got there before Interlude 6.
“Felonies, sure, but I haven’t killed anyone, and that’s got to be worth something. Now, this is just a suggestion, but what if I switched sides?”
I suppose that did work for Shadow Stalker.
“Get real,” Battery replied.
“I’m serious, puppy. You guys need more bodies on the field, I don’t want to go to the Birdcage, it’s win-win. I’m strong.”
He has a point, as long as he can be trusted, though if it happens, Battery’s certainly not going to like it. Her entire reason for being a cape was to make Madcap and the people he freed face justice.
“You’ve spent nearly six years perverting the course of justice for others,” she replied.
“And now I can make amends!” They had removed his mask, but his real smile was almost more mocking than the one that had been styled into the mask.
I guess his costume was appropriate.
“You spent the last five and a half years getting people out of the Birdcage, claiming to be against it and everything it stood for, but now you’re willing to work to put people in there?”
Yeeah. I did say “if he can be trusted”, and I don’t really think he can.
“Maybe you’ve changed me. Your good looks, your winning personality, and your diehard persistence in the face of so many defeats at my hand.”
Now that’s just taunting her.
Battery looked at Legend, “Don’t suppose we can gag him?”
“Sadly, no. And he raises an interesting idea.”
“He’s going to run the second he gets a chance.”
Seems likely, yeah.
“There are options. Tracking devices, or perhaps Myrddin can put some countermeasure in place.”
Why would Myrddin be the one to do it?
“I’m down for any of that stuff,” Madcap said, casting a sidelong glance at Battery. He grinned, “But I want some concessions.”
Isn’t not going to the Birdcage enough?
“Concessions? You asshole. You should be glad that we’re even entertaining this asinine idea.”
“I think you’ll find them pretty reasonable,” Madcap said, more to Legend than Battery.
What is it he has in mind?
“Let’s hear it.”
“I think this would work best if I took on a new identity. New costume. My powers are versatile enough that I doubt anyone’s going to draw a connection. It also means I don’t have any enemies or any paranoid customers from my shady past coming after me.”
Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s done that. He’s right, that seems reasonable enough.
“That could be arranged.”
“And I want to be on her team,” Madcap said, pointing at Battery. He smiled. “Puppy changes to a new city, I go with.”
He’s Assault! Kinetic energy manipulation, that’s how everything we’ve seen him do fits together. From launching things, to making things explode, to being unaffected by collisions… Yeah, it all makes sense now.
“Hell no,” Battery said.
“Why?” Legend asked.
I think he’s just taken a perverse liking to her.
“It’s funny,” Madcap said. “It’s going to irritate the piss out of her, and I’ve got just a little bit of a sadistic streak in me. If I don’t channel it somehow, this just isn’t going to work out.
Hey, at least he’s honest about it.
Just give me this, and I’ll be a boy scout.”
“I’ll learn knots and everything!”
“Boy scout? You’ll be on your best behavior?” Legend asked. “This would be more than even regular probation.”
“No.” Battery said.
This is pretty much Battery’s worst nightmare.
“Yes.” Madcap answered the man.
“No,” Battery said, stabbing a finger at Legend. “I’ve been a damn good hero for you guys. My record is spotless, I’ve put in the hours, I’ve put in the overtime hours. I’ve done the jobs nobody else wants to do, the unpaid volunteer crap, the patrols at the dead of night when nothing happens. This is a punishment.”
A pretty tough one too.
It goes against everything Battery stands for and provides her with a constant, sadistic reminder of that, one she’ll have to work with every day. Not to mention she’ll have to endure fan speculation about him being her boyfriend, her brother or both.
“You’re right,” Legend sighed, “It would be a heavy burden for a good heroine. So it’s up to you. You decide if Madcap joins the Protectorate or not. I won’t judge you if you say no.”
Wait, if this is really the case, how the hell did he end up working with her?
“But you think I should say yes.”
“I do, if it makes us stronger in the long run.”
Peer pressure, basically? Did she decide that she couldn’t let her own discomfort with the idea prevent the PRT from getting such a powerful addition?
Battery looked down at Madcap, and the villain offered her an exaggerated pout, his eyes large, his lower lip sticking out.
“Fuck me,” she said. “You’re going on paper as the one making the call, Legend, and you’re taking the hit if this backfires.”
Heh, alright, fair enough.
“Yes!” Madcap grinned.
“I’ve died and gone to hell,” Battery muttered. It was everything she’d become a hero to prevent.
No one can resist the puppy eyes.
And here I though Battery was supposed to be the “puppy” out of them.
A villain evading his rightful justice. But she knew it was for the greater good. They did need more heroes out there.
Yeah, they really do.
“I already have a name in mind for my goodie-two-shoes costumed self,” Madcap grinned. “You’re going to like this one, puppy.”
And we’re building up to the confirmation/reveal.
Assault always did seem like an oddly violent name when taken separately from Battery.
“You’re going to have to stop calling me that,” Battery warned him, “Or your identity as Madcap is going to become public knowledge, fast.”
At least she has some leverage on him. As long as Legend doesn’t take issue with that.
Madcap rubbed his chin. “Maybe. I’ll agree to stop if you accept my name.”
She sighed. “I already know I’m going to hate this.”
“You’ll love it. Assault. Get it?”
Yep, there it is! Assault and Battery.
(I’d like to think I would’ve caught on to it when I did even without the accident earlier telling me that Assault was in this chapter.)
It took her a second to process. “No!”
“No? But it’s perfect. We’ll be a pair! People will know from the second they hear it.”
Yeeah, with these names it’s no wonder there’s speculation about them being connected civilianways, even without them working together in fights because their powers go so well with each other.
“The connotations are horrible! No! You’re not allowed to change the intent of my name like that!”
And the dual meaning of Battery’s name is explicitly designed to bug her.
This is quite an interesting development, honestly, and I kind of love it. Though I feel so sorry for Battery.
“Fine, fine. Point taken. Puppy.”
Battery looked at Legend, “Can I maybe get a raise, for putting up with this?”
Seems fair to me.
The leader of the Protectorate folded his arms. “Something can be arranged.”
I like Legend.
“It can be a coffee,” Assault told her. “Or a beer after a night of patrols. Nothing fancy, low stress.”
Wait, is he actually trying to turn it romantic? Is this enemies to to allies to lovers?
But yeah, regardless of whether the in-universe shippers are right or not, I’m sure there’s plenty of out-of-universe shippers too.
“Low stress? You’re forgetting the part where I’d be spending more time in your company than I have to.”
Heh, nice one.
“Hon, you need to unwind. Relax. You’re too rigid, and I know for a fact that you haven’t had a boyfriend or a girlfriend in the two years I’ve worked with you.”
Yep, seems like he’s legitimately trying. In the same creepish way he commented on her looks immediately after she showed up to fight him that first time.
But maybe he’s just trying to get under her skin some more.
“Stop implying I’m into women, Ass.”
I suppose it’s only fair that she can shorten his name like that. :p
“Well, you know, you keep turning me down, so it kind of makes a man wonder.”
Ugh, that old, awful train of thought. I can almost smell the entitlement through my screen.
“I’ve been too busy, and even if I did want to date, rest assured, you would be my last pick for company.”
There are probably fanfics that turn Battery into a tsundere. “No, see, she really does like him, but she refuses to admit that so she puts up this front–”
“So hurtful!” He pressed one hand to his chest. “Look at me, I’m like a knight in shining armor, now.”
He doesn’t seem to have changed much, personality-wise.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing, more like.”
Miss Militia stopped in the doorway. “Need rescuing?”
Yes. Yes she does.
“If you could put a bullet between his eyes, I’d owe you one.”
“No can do.” Miss Militia offered her an apologetic grimace. “You okay, though?”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
She’ll live, but not exactly how she wants.
Miss Militia headed on her way, and Assault smiled, “Listening to her, you’d think every second in my company was torture.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Battery retorted. She turned and topped off her cup of coffee, finishing the pot.
He’s got that slimy attitude that really makes him… icky, to be around. Or read about being around.
Assault stepped in and began preparing the next pot. It would have been a nice gesture if it weren’t for the smug look on his face.
“You can’t get away from me!”
(#this is not the line i saw about his face)
“Come on. Give me a chance. Let me know what it takes to get one night of your company. Tell me to bring you a star in the palm of my hand, or slay a dreaded Endbringer, and I’ll get it done.”
Watch out, there, buddy, you almost managed to sound romantic there for a second!
“You’d just find some loophole and bring me a plastic star or kill an Endbringer in a video game, which would only give you an excuse to harass me further.”
…Endbringers as video game bosses. It sounds like that’s a thing!
I love that.
I wonder if some real video game bosses were designed differently because of the Endbringers. Apocalypsis Aquarius is boss music for a Leviathan of some kind, right? Maybe that boss, in a future Wormverse version of Final Fantasy XV (in a future where the ~2013 threat didn’t cause the game to not be released), would be designed to be more like the Leviathan that’s actually attacking places in their real life?
“Then think of something else. Anything.”
Battery sipped on her coffee. “Anything? Armsmaster was looking for volunteers for some unpaid work at one of the primary schools. I already said I’d do it.”
Do you really want to expose school children to this douche?
Also, sounds like we’re still in the past.
“You do all of that crap,” Assault rolled his eyes. “It’d be admirable if you weren’t trying so ridiculously hard at it. It’s like you’re trying to make up for some wrong you think you’ve committed.”
Dude, I think that wrong might be you.
Battery frowned a little.
The grin dropped from Assault’s face. “Hey, seriously?”
Hm. Does he actually have a side that genuinely cares?
She shook her head. “No. No wrong committed, real or imagined.”
Of course, it could also be the Cauldron favors. Either thing works.
“But the way you looked just now-”
She interrupted him. “If you come on this errand with me and do part of the speech for the kids, I’ll maybe consider possibly going out with you for lunch someday.”
“When?” “30th of February sound good to you?”
(#i think my mom actually did that to someone once?)
“Excellent!” Assault grinned.
He strode off, looking like he’d just won the lottery.
“Yes, hello? This is the lottery calling! We’d like to inform you that you maybe possibly won the jackpot! We might perhaps send you the money someday. We’ll have to see.”
She smiled. If he only knew this was her shot at some clean, innocent payback. The squealing, screaming grade schoolers, all fighting and pulling on your costume and demanding demonstrations of powers and constantly asking questions.
Ahahaha! It’s not that she’s willing to expose the children to Assault, it’s that she wants to expose him to them!
And he’d have to put up with it.
She would relish this.
I’d be willing to ship them as kismeses. Black romance, hate-love. That works. 🙂
“…And caught out little suck-a-thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! The scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!…”
Is this Assault reading nursery rhymes?
I really hope this is Assault reading nursery rhymes.
Assault read from the book of poems, and every one of the ninety kids that sat around him were leaning forward, eyes wide.
“He’s so good with kids,” the librarian murmured.
Either he’s really not and this is ironic because of how wrong they are, or he actually is and it’s ironic because Battery’s plan backfired and Assault had an unexpected side to his character. Either way, I love it.
“Of course he is,” Battery said. Maybe there was a hint of bitterness in her voice, because the librarian gave her a funny look.
This is beautiful.
She plastered a fake smile on her face to assuage the woman’s doubts.
“…both his thumbs are off at last!” Assault finished.
Did this nursery rhyme just tell the story of a kid cutting his thumbs off with scissors?
The kids squealed in delighted horror.
Pain in the ass, she thought. If I were reading that one they’d all be crying.
That’s… probably not a good thing, but on the other hand it might imprint on them the value of scissor safety?
Battery’s phone vibrated. She excused herself from the librarian’s company and checked the display.
Customer wants product hand delivered by known parahuman. Package waiting in your apartment. Second task. -c
Ah, okay, I guess it really wasn’t the favors she was thinking about earlier. Unless she was feeling bad in advance.
And hey, this seems innocent enough. Might be a bit awkward if it turns out the customer wants to be a villain, though.
Cauldron had sent it to the phone the Protectorate gave her? To a number that only the Protectorate had? Did that mean something?
I suppose they may somehow have access to PRT files. The Doctor didn’t have any trouble looking up Madcap’s classification and rating, so that seems likely already.
She deleted the message. It would be easy enough to handle. If the recipient wound up being a villain at a future date, she’d stop them, put them away. This would just be a delivery.
Assault caught her eye and a slow smile spread across his face, as the little girl in his lap read some of the next poem. The look was smug, sly.
He knows exactly what she wanted to happen, doesn’t he.
He knew exactly how much this was irritating her.
“Jackass,” she muttered.
But she couldn’t stop a smile of her own from spreading across her face.
Alright, I’m sold. Black romance it is!
Wow, there’s even more?
The glass in the little window of her front door was shattered. It fell on her feet as she pushed the door open.
Ah, looks like we’ve reached roughly the present. She’d be coming home from the Lake Heroic meeting.
Perhaps to the third favor?
What if Chariot is not one of Coil’s spies, but one of Cauldron’s? Cauldron would absolutely use the kind of encrypted email services from back then, and we’ve seen them asking Battery to join the Protectorate (via the Wards). Why not another one?
“Ethan!” Battery called out.
Who’s Ethan? She’s not living with Assault now, is she?
“You’re okay,” Ethan said, as he came down the stairs. He was still in costume. Only a single cut marked his cheek.
Seems so, unless he’s a different hero.
“I didn’t know where to find you, and since the cell phones don’t work anymore, and you weren’t at headquarters, I thought I’d come here.”
“I know. I thought much the same thing, but I came here first.”
Seems reasonable enough.
“I’m okay, puppy.”
Yep, that’s him alright.
I guess this really did go all the way.
She punched him lightly in the arm. She didn’t resist as he swept her up in a painfully tight hug.
“We should go on patrol,” he said. “This is going to be bad. They’re kicking us while we’re down.”
And they’re kicking hard.
“Right. Patrol together or apart?”
“Together at first, assess the situation.”
Makes sense. With communication out of order, they’re better off learning the same basic things about the situation and making a joint call on what to do.
“A courier dropped this off for you,” he pointed at a small envelope on the hall table.
Ahh, would this be the third favor?
She saw the undercase ‘c’ on the front and felt her heart sink.
She picked up the envelope and checked the contents. A slip of paper, blank on both sides.
Well, that’s odd. Invisible ink?
A joke? A reminder? The last one had been two years ago.
“Let’s go,” she said, crumpling it in her fist. She charged up and ran, and Assault crossed a similar amount of distance with his long and powerful leaps.
I’m not sure what it’d be a reminder of, exactly. “We’re still here”? “Stay as quiet as this sheet of paper”?
Nah, I’m sticking with the invisible ink idea.
She covered more distance with the start-stop motion of charging and running than she did just running, but it made for a halting progress where Assault simply continued forward.
This is a thing I like about Worm’s individualized powers. Effectively, they’re both speedsters, but their speed works in very different ways and you can see that on the way they move.
He made some headway on her. She knew he’d stop at some vantage point to wait for her.
As she stopped to charge, she felt a tingle from her hand.
…magic invisible ink?
Or maybe a paper cellphone of sorts?
She spent the energy of a charge, but she didn’t run. Again, that tingle. She used her ability to manipulate electromagnetic energy and focused it on the note as she smoothed it out.
Ah, right, I suppose that makes sense with her electric aesthetic. And since Cauldron knows her power, they can make ink that only shows when that power is used on it.
A pattern emerged: simple black lettering. A second after they’d appeared, the paper started to smoke.
Of course, they still don’t want it to end up in the wrong hands after she reads it.
She had only a few seconds to read and process the message before the paper ignited.
Siberian and Shatterbird are to escape the city, and our business with you will be done. Thank you. – c.
Well, fuck. That’s actively helping the villains escape justice.
Y’know, I wonder if the customer from the second favor is someone we know. I doubt it’s Shatterbird, though – she seems to have been in the game for a while, longer than two years.
The burning scraps drifted to the road around her, but she only felt cold.
Every action had its consequence.
Hah, I knew we’d eventually call back to that line!
End of Interlude 12½ (Donation Bonus)
Well, that was a very interesting one.
I got my wish – we did get to know Battery better, and it turns out she’s got some history with Cauldron. History that gave us some insight into how exactly things work when people buy powers from them! That was neat, though I’m not sure how important it’ll be in the long run.
We also got to see firsthand the experiences of someone getting her power through one of Cauldron’s vials. That was quite… bizarre. I feel like some of that is going to make more sense later on. I do think Battery’s power ended up reflecting her mental state – she has to stop, have a moment of calm, to charge up her power, which makes things around her comparatively calm and allows her to focus and act quickly.
We also learned the true relation between Assault and Battery: Battery became a hero specifically to take down Assault – then Madcap – but when she finally did it, he weaseled his way into becoming her teammate. It’s a beautiful tale of a long-lasting kismesissitude that seemed to turn red at the end.
Man, Assault is… quite the character. I like him as a character, but what an ass. Though at least he seems to have changed a bit over time.
(You know what happens when you assault. You make an ass out of Australia and Lithuania. Wait, what?)
And finally, there’s the matter of Battery’s third favor. She’s going to have to act against the PRT’s interests in this Slaughterhouse situation, especially when it comes to – for some reason – Siberian and Shatterbird. I wonder, did Siberian too get her powers from Cauldron?
But yeah… as far as I’m aware, that’s it for Arc 12! I’ll be back tomorrow for the Arc Thoughts, and then we’ll move on to whatever Arc 13 has in store for me! See you soon!
but yeah this was a great chapter! it’s actually the longest chapter up to this point in the story, which makes it particularly funny that you did it in a single session 😛
I really need to stop doing single-session chapters…
Man, no wonder it felt like that scroll bar was going way further down than usual. :p