Interlude 15c: Of Angels and Demons

Source material: Worm, Interlude 15c

Originally blogged: December 1-4, 2018


Alright, folks! Interlude 15, round three!

So, whose eyeballs will we be gazing through today?

[insert obligatory Traveler suggestion here] (Genesis, perhaps, possibly having qualms with her and Trickster’s involvement in Coil’s plan to eliminate Skitter, if she knows about that?)

The mayor, perhaps? Coil does need this done, presumably, so the trap part of the mission (i.e. the part where we’d most want to be in Taylor’s head) likely comes after they’ve accomplished the main goal. It’d be pretty interesting to see this from the perspective of the man they’re supposed to intimidate.

If that’s the case, I should note that I probably know the mayor’s name, unless there’s been a change of office since February. Roy Christner, may have an assistant named Joanna Walsh. I don’t recall if either of those names have been mentioned in the story yet (Christner’s name may have been mentioned in relation to Danny’s ferry issue. Blog search doesn’t find either surname, but it has also just now been reinforcing that it’s unreliable.), but they did slip through in a piece of fanart once [here].

I don’t really have any other good suggestions for what we’ll be getting up to this time, so let’s get started!


August 20th, 1986

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

Alright, so we’ve got a few things of note here:

1) Female POV character, so not the mayor. It would’ve been possible for it to be Genesis, still, but the sentence doesn’t seem to fit her and

2) this is a flashback to before she was even born. It’s the clearest date we’ve gotten for anything yet, in fact. It’s worth noting that this is only a few years after parahumans started cropping up at all meaning that whoever we’re dealing with here is either dead or long-established. Alexandria? (If we’re getting an Alexandria Interlude this soon after the Legend one, I wonder if there’s an Eidolon Interlude coming up soon too.)

3) Judging by this first sentence, we’re dealing with fake smiles and emotional abuse as a theme today. Sounds like we’re in for a ride full of shitty people. But hey, that’s Worm for ya. :p

She hated those smiles.  Fake.  Pretending to be happy, pretending to be cheerful.  But she’d spent enough time here to know that her friends and family would be crying the second they thought they were out of earshot.

If this weren’t 25 years ago, this would make me suspect we were in Noelle’s head.

“spent enough time here”… A hospital, rehab clinic or asylum, perhaps?

The strangers had a weariness that spoke to the inevitable.  The older they were, the more reality seemed to weigh on them.

Hospital.

(”Reality” weighing on people in an asylum doesn’t sound quite right.)


So we’ve got a POV character who’s been hospitalized for a long time, likely due to a terminal disease like cancer. This character’s family is well-intentionedly upholding a facade of cheer to keep her happy, not knowing that it just makes her feel worse.

For now, I’m assuming this character is still alive by 2011, suggesting that something changed. I’m thinking that the “something” might be a trigger event, giving her powers that keep the disease at bay or cure it completely.

I’d be down with seeing the trigger event in this Interlude. That’d most likely come with a Dandelion vision, which is always interesting, if a bit cryptic.

I’m sticking with my guess that this is Alexandria for now.


Somewhere along the line, they had stopped telling her that the chemotherapy would make her better.

Cancer confirmed.

…we do know of a character who died from cancer. She seems like a very unlikely pick for an Interlude, though, due to her seemingly complete irrelevance beyond having given birth to Amy.

The smiles had become even more strained.  There was more emphasis on making her comfortable.  Less explanation of what was going on.

Hmm. That last bit makes me feel like this character is relatively young. Maybe too young to be Alexandria.

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

There’s a certain irony here, in that she’s pretending in order to avoid pretenders.


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

I suppose we needed to bring another character into the scene for our POV character to play off of.

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

Becca. Alright.

(I suppose that’s short for Rebecca, but as obvious as that seems, you never know with names. It could just as easily be short for something like Beccarelle, or not short for anything.)

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

So if we’re getting a trigger event for Becca here, there’s got to be a catalyst. Like, the cancer is bad enough, but seemingly hasn’t triggered her yet. To set it off, we’d need something to make this worse on a more momentary scale. Becca seems astute enough to realize that the lack of reinforcement of the idea that chemotherapy will work might mean they’ve lost hope that it will, but has she lost hope?

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

As far as I can tell so far, Becca herself isn’t entirely blameless in the charades. She’s not to blame either, that’d be bullshit of me to say, but it seems she could have done a better job communicating that these things make her uncomfortable.

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

I’m not brave.  Not at all.  I’m terrified.  I’m so frustrated I could scream.  But she couldn’t.  Everyone had painted her as being so courageous, so noble and peaceful in the face of the months of treatment.  But it was a facade, and she’d passed the point of no return.

Ouch.

Yeeah, I get that.

It was too late to break composure, too late to stop making bad jokes, faking smiles of her own.  She couldn’t complain or use her mother’s shoulder to cry on because everyone would fall apart if she did.

Hmm.


I’m feeling very confident about Becca being Alexandria.

Remember how I compared Alexandria to Taylor, previously? Becca:

  • sounds a lot like Taylor in her narration
  • is treating everyone else’s well-being as her responsibility even though she’s the one suffering the most
  • is putting on a facade of being a lot tougher than she actually is

Those last two points also seem like themes that could carry on into chronologically later parts of this Interlude, with Alexandria, as a member of the Triumvirate, being in a position where she has to look strong for the sake of everyone else’s morale. I think she is mentally strong – you don’t wrestle an Endbringer without actually being strong in the real way – but there’s probably a part of her that is really scared of the threats she’s up against.

Alexandria’s role in the story has, since Case 01, struck me as being an example of what Taylor could grow into. And the young girl we’re seeing here seems like the kind of person who likewise could grow into that example.


In other words, fake smiles to boost morale all around, including on Becca/Alexandria, who hates it.


She was their support.

Yeah. Like I just said, fake smiles all around, because Becca feels the need to do exactly the same thing her family is trying to do for her.

“My little superhero,” her mother said.  Rebecca could feel her mother’s hand on her bare scalp once more.

Foreshadowing.

She wanted to slap that hand away, yell at her mother.  Don’t you know that hurts?  Everything hurts. 

This is the point I was making earlier. Does she know that hurts? Have you told her?

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

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

Ah, alright, so she hadn’t realized it.

Boom, trigger event.


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

Hm. I’m sensing a distinct lack of Dandelions in this paragraph.

How does it get worse? Or maybe it just takes a little more thinking before it takes effect?

But yeah. This lack of honesty is helping nobody.

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

Tears had been harder to come by since the chemo had started.  Most days, her eyes were red and itchy, her vision blurry, too dry to cry.  But it seemed this occasion deserved them.

Yeeah, I think some eye water is in order after this revelation.

For a long time, she lay on her side, staring out the window at the cityscape of Los Angeles, tears running sideways down her face, across the bridge of her nose and down to her ear, soaking her pillow.

Ooh, the City of Angels. Fitting.


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

Butt-Ugly Bob’s. Later rebranded to keep up with the newest slang.

It struck her that she would probably never get to eat there again, never get

a special kids meal with the dinky plastic toy that was meant for kids ten years younger than her.  She’d never forget about the toy afterward, letting it clutter the top of her dresser along with the other colorful trinkets and keepsakes.

Aw.

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

Is that a real series I haven’t heard of?

No results for it on Wikipedia, and the first result on TVTropes is the Worm trivia page (don’t worry, not reading any of it, just the page title and url), so I’m guessing not.

Judging by the name Maggie Holt alone, I’m guessing detective or spy fiction. The former especially seems like something Becca might enjoy.

I wonder if Taylor has heard of the series.


She’d never have a real boyfriend.

So, uh… what sort of not-real boyfriend(s) do you have in your past? There are a number of possibilities, running the whole range from hilarious to cute to creepy to sad to aggravating…

It was dumb, but those stupid trivial things hit her harder than the idea that she’d never see her family, her friends or her cats again.  The steady tears became sobs, and her breath hitched, making her entire chest seize in pain.

It’s the little things in life.

The sad thing is what this says about her relationship with her family and friends and cats. Not that they haven’t been important to her, but that they haven’t been too involved in these little things that brought her joy.

The involuntary clenching of her empty stomach was twice as bad, and she started to think she might need to throw up.  Or dry heave.  Experience told her that would be worst of all.

Eugh.

Y’know, I’d rather you didn’t too. I do not want to read about that.

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

Liiike… a power?


The only big spoke in the wheels of my Alexandria theory is that her whole memory thing is an odd power to get from this situation. Maybe it’s because she’s thinking about her memories of the little things?


“Do you need morphine?”

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

A doctor, I assume.

There was a whispering.

Hm?

Also, is this character going to make things wors– oh shit are they trying to euthanize her without her consent (a.k.a. murder)?

But if that were the case, why would they have the doctor responsible for it ask, rather than just tell her that she needed an injection of some kind?

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

What’s with the use of her full name like that? Sounds unnatural and almost ritualistic.

Maybe it’s to indicate that Becca is basically just an item on a checklist for this person. Maybe it’s something more ominous.

I especially do not like that they’re whispering.


“Who?”  Rebecca stirred, turning around to see who was speaking.  A black woman with long hair in a doctor’s get-up was messing with the IV bag.  But… no name tag.

Nicely spotted.

Yeah, this just feels like a downright assassination. Why would someone want to assassinate a random cancer patient, though?

And there was a teenage girl with pale skin and dark hair standing behind her, wearing knee-high socks, a black pleated skirt and white dress shirt.  “You’re not one of my doctors.”

I bet the teenager is in charge here.

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

Um.

Oookay…

I’m reminded of Bonesaw, but Bonesaw won’t be born for another 14 or so years.

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

…maybe she’s a doctor that takes care of people that are already dead.

I’m suggesting this is Glastig Uaine.


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

“Who are you, then?”

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

You do realize you’re incentivizing Becca to scream?

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

“No,” the woman replied.

You’d better make a damn good excuse for why you’re messing with Becca’s medical equipment before she decides the nurses would be right to kick you out.


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

How about “Then why are you here?”

[Hey, readers? I suggest you prepare your faces for palmage.]

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

Fuck. Did she mean “black woman” literally? Like, pitch-black-add-some-white-stripes-and-she’ll-be-a-zebra literally?

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

“I need an adult.”

Yes, yes you do.

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

Alright, so I’m gonna tentatively peg Becca’s age as 18 or 19.

If this is Siberian, it seems to be before they went completely off their rockers. Which means this offer would be on behalf of Cauldron, if that exists at this point.

Assuming Becca is Alexandria, this would explain a few things about why she knew about Cauldron’s darker side and why she didn’t tell on them.


“I don’t understand.”

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

“the television”

I like how that kind of now-odd phrasing helps reinforce that this was a while ago.

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

Interesting. Trigger events have been growing in frequency, it seems. Twenty publicly known heroes over the course of the first four years, and by 2011, you probably get twenty new capes every day (worldwide).

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

You want her to be a test subject.

(the change from twenty to fifty doesn’t affect my conclusion much)

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

They’re drugging you to make it seem reasonable and prevent you from fighting back.

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

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

I wonder if the teenager is the mysterious woman from Legend’s Interlude. She’s had the same vibe since she was first mentioned, and now we know we’re dealing with Cauldron via Siberian.


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

Big name heroes Siberian was responsible for?

Though I suppose most every hero is big name at this point.

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

Right, examples of the risks.

That last one has the powers of shadow-walking and instilling fear with her eyeless gaze. Weird side effects include that any clothes she wears do not move in the wind, and when she dies, her body won’t admit she’s dead and stop thrashing until the next sunset.

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

Assuming Becca is Alexandria, I guess she got lucky. Or hides it well.

(#the look of the eyeless is fear)


Even with the drugging and fact that she’ll probably die if she doesn’t take this deal, Siberian is giving Becca a much better basis for actually making an informed choice here than I was expecting.


“They’re monsters.”

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

And hey, if you’re fine with living with those physical changes, none of these options are worse than what you’re already facing. Even the 2 in 7 deaths.

That’s how they get’cha.

Rebecca nodded.  Her eyes flickered over the photographs.

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

Siberian sounds like…

Hrm. I know exactly the kind of voice this behavior gives me the impression of, but I’m having trouble placing it.

Like a sort of desperate, sleazy market vendor, whose pitch – both senses – goes all over the place in their attempt to convince you that yes, yes, this really is the product for you. Lots of elongated words, interspersed with really fast bits…

It’s very different from the Siberian we met in Interlude 11a.


“Heal me?”

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

You wouldn’t? Then who are all these other test subjects? Your lie is very transparent.

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

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

Siberian is right about one thing. Not much left to lose.

And that’s how Rebecca Costa-Brown became a hero.

Now let’s find out whether I was right about which one.


August 21st, 1986

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

Ohhh.

I’m dumb.

I did find the “black woman” thing odd. I mean, like, Wildbow should know better than to use that and expect us to read “woman who is literally pitch black”, especially with the POV character having no reaction to that detail. Turns out he did.

And here I went and read it that way anyway, in retrospect.


So I guess this is why we’re getting the exact date. To indicate how much time passed between these bits.

Not a lot, that is, compared to instances like Carol’s Interlude. This is literally the next day.


Rebecca opened her eyes.  She’d seen something fragmented but profound, but it slipped away as fast as she could think to recollect it.

Dang it, I wanted to see that.

She staggered to her feet, wobbled.  The girl in the school uniform caught her before she could fall.

“I’m not a monster?”

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

Alexandria does have some really good powers, if perhaps not the most original ones.

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

“I’m better?”

Congratulations!

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

You know, that would make a ton of sense with regards to cancer specifically. Cancer is, at its core, out-of-control cell growth. If a regenerative power were to work in part by stimulating cell regrowth, that might just feed right into the cancer.

Imagine a Brute with fast regeneration and naturally slow-burning cancer. They can take a hit, but every time they do, it speeds up the cancer killing them from inside… that sounds like the kind of thing that might happen in Worm.


“I feel really light.”

A common symptom of the ability to fly.

“That’s promising.”

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

I wonder if that’s all on the regeneration or if the powers enhance her vision. But we’ve already got one Triumvirate member with the combination of flight and eagle eyes, so I’m guessing the former.

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

I think this part is on your power, assuming I’m right about who you are.

No.  She’d never been like this.  It was like her brain had been a bicycle and now it was a Ferarri.

Hehe.

Even as her eyes flicked over the interior of the warehouse, she could tell she was processing faster, taking in details and sorting them better, as if her thoughts were no longer limited to the confines of her skull.

Hmm. Interesting choice of words. I wonder if in some way that’s literally the case.


“What can I do?”

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

Makes sense. This all did only start four years ago. It’s a wonder you’ve gotten this far in your research already, honestly.

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

😀

I think you’ll find it won’t take much effort to move even higher. Just try not to burst through the ceiling when you do.

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

So… if the Doctor is behind the formulas, what’s Siberian’s involvement in the creation of Cauldron?

Are they a scapegoat? Somehow?


“They’ll stop you?”

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

I’m pretty sure she’s the mystery woman, yeah.

“So what do we do now?  What do do?”

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

I suppose that’s a decent start.

I had something else I wanted to say here, but I forgot, so I guess it wasn’t too important.

“I don’t even know what I do.”

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

Oh yeah, that was it: What’s Becca’s status as far as her family and the hospital staff are concerned? Did she just disappear in the night?


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

“Oh no, where is she?”

Another point: How long until her identity as Alexandria is revealed for those who didn’t get it with the implications that her power improves her mind and lets her fly, or earlier like I did?

(It feels so unusual to honestly say I got something like this much earlier than intended. That doesn’t happen very often.)

She walked across the empty building.  By the time she reached the other end, she was floating, her feet not even touching the ground.

Pffffffff

That’s a great way to discover this power. :p

She set her hands on the wall, dragged her fingertips through the concrete, then crushed it in her hands.  It should have ruined her skin, left scrapes or torn her fingernails, short as they were, but it hadn’t.

Hey, that’s vandalism.

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

We just had Taylor toeing this dangerous line of thinking. But I suppose Becca could be referring to being more than she was yesterday, rather than more than mundane people.

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

“Hey, is it okay for her to just ruin the concrete like that?”


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

Seems reasonable.

But why did the supposed bodyguard weigh in on that? Was I right earlier, when I suggested that she’s the person who’s really in charge?

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

May 1st, 1988

Oh hey, two years have passed. Almost.

“Alexandria,” the Doctor called.

Ahh, there we go. Sweet confirmation.


Alexandria waited patiently as Contessa adjusted her cape, then strode through the door.

Contessa? Interesting. Is that the supposed bodyguard? She doesn’t seem the type to adjust Alexandria’s cape, though. Cauldron-hired tailor?

The name obviously means “Countess”. Not sure what to make of that, beyond implications of fanciness and high opinions of herself. It does make me think of an MLP character, a pop star who goes by the name Countess Coloratura, but that’s about it.

Honestly, I’m a little inclined to suggest Contessa might be a Vasil, but it seems too early for that.

The Doctor was there, of course.  Professor Manton, too.

Hey, at least Manton does appear in the chapter.

The boy with the math powers was there, standing next to a boy who was staring off into space.

The Number… Boy?

Not sure what’s up with the other kid.


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

Interesting. So the Doctor hasn’t just been working closely with the Triumvirate, she helped put it together.

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

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

Hey there, pal, good to see you. Keep being an awesome role model for Kid Win, will ya? Y’know, up until you [spoiler alert] get torn to pieces by one of the other people in this room.

Alexandria nodded.

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

Strongarm’s power seems pretty obvious. Mongler sounds like a nonsense term explicitly designed to be the latter half of a creative compound insult.

Or perhaps a play on “mongrel”. Dog-based powers?

“Thank you.”

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

Speeds that match Legend’s? Really? Wow.

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

There was something about her taking on a full mask after Siberian managed to scar her, wasn’t there? Which plays right into the theme of putting on a facade to keep up morale.


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

Hey… you know who else’s costume got commented on for its more villainous look, by a top hero she’d just met, early in her career?

“You gonna fight me?” He called out.

“I’m a good guy,” I said.

Stepping closer to me, he tilted his head, “You don’t look like one.”

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

Fair point.

you know who else is utilitarian about her costume

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

Hah!

Says the practically invulnerable woman.

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

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

Oh, right, I didn’t even think of that.

I like Alexandria a lot.


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

I do, at least.

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

So it seems Eidolon was the last addition to the team. Was he around in Case 01? I don’t explicitly recall him being there. I guess they had him join in part to keep the Triumvirate a Triumvirate.

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

That pretty much confirms that Legend and Hero were both given their powers by the Doctor.

“Yeah,” Hero said.

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

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

Oh, Eidolon is here? Fair enough.

I wonder if he was the first of the four to get his power, even with the trigger event being unnatural.


“It’s not my proposal.  Alexandria?”

Ooh. Is the whole Triumvirate her idea?

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

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

Even if the corresponding time in our world was actually just after the end of the Bronze Age, as far as superheroes were concerned.

When did Vikare die again? This is after the term “parahumans” – as opposed to “superhumans” – came into use, at least.

Legend nodded.

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

That is a very good point and it explains a lot. Like why there only seems to be one or two hero teams in post-Leviathan Brockton Bay but a whole bunch of villain teams of comparable size.


I already had a tab open to Gestation 1.6, so I clicked “next chapter” and checked the time on Vikare’s death. 1989, so next year. This seems to suggest that the public is, at this point, much less aware of the parahumans’ imperfections than they would later come to be.

…hang on.

Just five years after Scion’s first appearance, the superheroes emerged from the cover of rumor and secrecy to show themselves to the public.  Though the villains followed soon after, it was the heroes who shattered any illusions of the parahumans being divine figures.

Five years. That’s 1987. But apparently there was already television coverage of at least 20 heroes by the time the Doctor recruited Alexandria in 1986.

I suppose it was a gradual thing, and the secrecy was imperfect.

Honestly, though? Nearly five years of secrecy in the age of television and a budding internet is impressive, especially with the lack of coordination between capes worldwide.

screw up like never before.png

[El Goonish Shive panel]

Tedd: Humanity has not changed much, but with the power of technology…
Tedd: We can screw things up like never before!

(While I’m on the topic of Interlude 1, let’s take a moment to note that “Parahumans were, after all, people with powers, and people are flawed at their core.” is still one of my favorite sentences from the entire story. It’s like a thesis statement.)


It’s also a bit fun how we’ve got Alexandria mentioning “a golden age, if you will”, the year before “the golden age of the parahumans was thus short lived”.


The Doctor cut in, “And I’m producing more heroes than villains.  For now, the proportion favors us, and you’ve been able to keep the criminal element in line.  For the most part.   But even as I expand my operations, I have come to the realization that I can only produce so much.  And the rate of parahuman growth is expanding.

Explicit confirmation! Thank you.

I think I’ve suggested before that the Dandelions may have gradually changed their tactics from focusing all their power into one person to making loads of weaker parahumans.

The next twenty years are projected to produce a total number of six hundred and fifty thousand people with powers, worldwide.”

That’s a lot.

I wonder how much the Number Boy had to do with this value.

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

So you need someone to boost morale, figureheads to make people like Taylor want to become heroes when they discover their powers? A massive, perhaps even international, team of heroes to give the good guys some much-needed unity?

Legend, Eidolon and Hero were paying attention.

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

Or worse. The Endbringers don’t seem to have popped up yet.

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

…interesting.


“Purer?  Perhaps.  But the purer something is, the more fragile it becomes.  The process seems to be influenced heavily by psychological strain and stress.  Almost an inverse of the trigger event phenomenon.

Huh.

You know there’s a possibility that the formula can become tainted, giving inhuman characteristics to the unfortunate subjects.  This is despite the most sterile conditions.  I’m improving the results over time, with Professor Manton’s help, but there are no guarantees.”

Wait, so they knew about this being possibly a result of Cauldron’s antics?

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

That’s a reasonable conclusion, even if I’m right that the average power of parahumans has been decreasing.

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

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

Let’s protect…orate some people together.


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

Morale?

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

And that solves things how?

By getting the government to fund you and any other would-be heroes, making it a paid job rather than a volunteer activity with nothing material in it for the capes?

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

“Horrendous” is a good word.

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

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

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

Fair enough.


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

…and that’s why one of Battery’s tasks was to join the Protectorate.

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

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

Hehe.

“Not Eidolon?” Hero asked.

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

I suppose not.

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

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

Y’know, I get the sense that Piggot might like Alexandria if she knew any of this history.

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

To some extent, yes. But in return you’ll get more people doing good deeds.

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

Nice touch incorporating the population surge, Wildbow. I’d never have thought to bring up something like that.


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

Don’t think I don’t notice you using a phrase that usually ends with “the enemy”, there.

“There’s one guarantee.”

“What’s that?”

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

Damn, she really does have a lot of what we know of the Protectorate planned out.

“Again, how?”

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

…interesting. Did that work out for you?

Did Vikare’s death fuck any of this up?

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

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

Yeah. This woman is absolutely an exploration of Taylor’s potential.


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

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

At least the heroes doing it is better than the villains doing it, as long as we’re talking proper heroes like Alexandria and Taylor. Don’t you think so, Coil?

“Okay,” Hero said.

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

I’m just gonna go ahead and headcanon that this room is in Las Vegas.

There were nods all around.

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

Sure.


But it’s getting very late, so I’ll have to accompany you tomorrow, Doctor. See you soon!

[End of session]


[Session 2]

Alright, let’s see what the Doctor has in store for us!


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

I wonder if the thousand-yard stare is him using a power or if he’s… blind or something.

Maybe both.

“You know where to take us.”

I feel like the answer here fell into my head like a quarter second before I saw this line. Then again, maybe I just registered the line earlier than I thought.

So this is the person responsible for Cauldron’s spatial shenanigans. I suppose he “sees” into the place he’ll be connecting them to?

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

Awesome.


“My god,” Legend said.

Hm.

Whatever we’re dealing with here, it’s something that’s readily apparent at a glance in this seaside location, and that would draw this reaction from Legend.

Are they seeing the first traces of Leviathan?

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

Oh, okay, she was showing off the ability itself.

I should’ve mentioned that the shoulder tapping made me think about deafness on top of the blindness. I have no idea why I didn’t.

Hm. Set of powers. This isn’t all he can do.

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

I’m not ruling out that Leviathan might be getting involved here too. There was a specific destination planned here, suggesting there’s something more, something about the destination itself.

Though so far, “tidy concrete buildings” doesn’t sound like this place has been hit by h– ohh, is this the Cauldron facility world?


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

Doormaker. Not the most interesting of names, but it works.

“Where is it?”

“Another Earth.”

I wonder if this world happens to be Earth-Aleph? Unlikely, especially with the way Earth-Aleph is implied to be basically our world plus a hole to the Wormverse, but it could be the case.

It seems more likely that the Doctor specifically had Doormaker look for a world devoid of human life, though.

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

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

I guess that’s all the information she’s inclined to give. At least this seems to indicate that this is not specifically Aleph.

It’s kinda fun how the multiverse is just straight up common knowledge in this world and people can trivially get ahold of items from one of the other worlds. I still love how casually that fact was introduced, with a jab at the Star Wars prequels.

It’s interesting that this happened so early.

…notably, it happened before the Star Wars prequels were made in our world, meaning the version of them the Undersiders watched to compare to the Wormverse version might still be affected by Earth-Aleph’s knowledge of the Wormverse, the truth of the multiverse theory, and the possibility of superpowers to exist in a world. Or even by the two George Lucases comparing notes.

I wonder if the Force still got explained as midichlorians.


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

See ya.

Only Alexandria and the Doctor remained.

Alright, let’s see what you’ve got to say in private. Do you think this went well, Doc?

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

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

Hmmm.

“Anything I can do?”

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

This sounds.

Worrying.

Ominous.

Possibly even related to the final threat in some way.

Is the “right individual” someone we know?


Alexandria nodded.

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

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

It’s been a while, hasn’t it.

“It might do you good to see them.”

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

Maybe because you’d have to explain your absence? Maybe because of the fakeness? Maybe because you left mysteriously at a time when you considered yourself their support and you’re afraid of what you’ll find when you log back into NeoPets I mean go see them again?

“Good.  I do expect you’ll return?”

“Of course.”

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

That does make some sense.


December 13th, 1992

SVART SEEENKER NATTEN SEG
I STAAALL OG STUE
SOLEEEN HAR GÅTT SIN VEI
SKYGGENE TRUER
INN I VÅRT MØRKE HUUUS
STIGER MED TENTE LYS
SA-A-A-ANTA LUCIIIA
SANTAAA LUCIA!

*ahem*

(#this is a traditional song sung on december 13th in norway
#saint lucy’s day)


So we’ve skipped ahead another four years. I wonder how things have changed since Vikare died, and with the establishment of the Protectorate.

Also, has Alexandria gone to see her family yet? At all?

Big. 

Endbringers?

The clawed hand speared toward the sky, followed by an arm the size of an oak tree.  When it turned to slam against the ground, bracing for leverage, she could feel the impact rippling through the air.

This is Behemoth, I take it?

I mean, even without the detail of “arm the size of an oak tree” not matching Leviathan or the Simurgh, it’s only reasonable for Behemoth to be the next Endbringer we get some form of description of outside of them attacking Brockton Bay.

The dry ground shifted, bulged and cracked as he shouldered his way up and out from underground.

Really big.

Yep. That’s Behemoth.

Forty-five feet tall at the very least, he climbed forth from underground.

Damn. Leviathan was only like 10-15 feet, if I recall correctly [which past me does not], which is why I call him a mini-kaiju.

This guy’s an actual kaiju.

His skin was crusted with black stone that might have been obsidian, layers of what might have been cooled magma sloughing off of him as he planted his feet on the ground and stood straight.

I like obsidian.


‘Straight’ might have been too generous.  He was built like a caricature of a bodybuilder, or a bear-human hybrid.

Something like this, perhaps?

tumblr_inline_pj4n8cCxXW1sxgvvn_1280.png

But more bearlike than ox-like?

He rippled with muscle, his skin gray, thick and leathery like the hide of a rhinoceros or elephant.  His black obsidian horns were so heavy his head hung down.

I take back the last thing.

It’s no surprise to see him have ox-like traits, given the origin of his name.

Dammit, I can’t help but imagine Behemoth as Iron Will now. A 45-foot monstrosity with a black tie and a microphone and the power to make goats do his bidding, teaching seminars on self-confidence and assertiveness.

They weren’t rooted in his forehead, but in the middle of his face, a half-dozen curved shafts of black crystal twisting their way out of his face and back over the top of his head, some ten feet long.

Ahh.

That’s not a particularly traditional placement.

A single red eye glowed from between the gap in two horns, positioned too low.  His mouth was a jagged gap in his lower face, twisting up to a point near his temple, lined by jagged horn-like growths that were too irregular to be called teeth.

I like this design a lot.


Apparently Iron Will is sexy enough that Tumblr marked that last post as sensitive.


His claws were the same, not hands in the conventional sense, but mangled growths of the same material that made up his horns, many of the growths as large as Alexandria herself.

Are they particularly dextrous?

He could flex them, move them, but they were clearly weapons and nothing else.

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

These names give me the distinct sense that we’re not in the U.S. Though “Mythics” appears to be in English.

Hm. Looking at the sounds being used, I could see these names being in Hebrew. If this is in Israel, that might might be part of why the Endbringers ended up getting named after biblical beings.

But then why is the Protectorate here? Did they realize this was coming from seismic readings, or something? I very much get the sense that this is their first time seeing any Endbringer, not just Behemoth, which raises these questions even further.

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

Ah. Yeah, that makes sense.

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

Do you have something against eyeballs, Wildbow?


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

Yeeah, you were absolutely right. You don’t have enough people, even if I’m right that you’re on average stronger.

Better hope Scion shows up.

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

You’re going to need it.


So I tried plugging the local names into Google Translate. It doesn’t seem they’re in Hebrew.

Problem is, I can’t figure out what language they are in, at least without getting way more thorough about my experimentation. “detect language” and the suggestions that show up based on it aren’t helping either – it detects languages that don’t seem to actually have the words, including Norwegian for “Kaveh”.

The best I did find out was that “Rostam” means “True” in some languages, but I have no idea if any of those languages are involved here.


Arash means “Crown” in Tamil. Maybe each of them has a name in a different Indian language?

Rostam means “Write” in Telugu… Kaveh means “Well” in Urdu…  I don’t know, could be coincidence. Especially Jamshid meaning “Jerseys” in Gujarati.


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

Nice, so Alexandria is the one who named him as such.

So, uh. Why is he pointing at the guy who is out of action at best, dead at worst? Does he have some power that might take advantage of that?

Or maybe he’s saying “that’s what I’m going to do to all of you”.

Kaveh sounds like a tinker specializing in metallurgy.

The man ignited from the inside out, flame and smoke pouring from every orifice as he was turned into a burned-out husk in a matter of seconds.

Pleasant.

This is why we have the Manton effect for most pyrokinetics.

His skeleton disintegrated into fine dust and ash as it crashed to the ground.

The moral of the story: Don’t let Behemoth shoot you with his finger guns.

There’s probably a cape somewhere with literal finger guns.


Considering the odds here, it’s honestly impressive that we know at least four of them survive.

Even when taking invulnerability into account.

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

Keep in mind that you probably do not know for sure whether your invulnerability to attacks from the outside covers Behemoth’s ability to make flames inside you.

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

Alright, looks like she’s fully aware of that.

Which makes this very heroic.

But it wasn’t fire.  A lightning bolt flashed from the tip of Behemoth’s claw, arcing around her and striking one of her subordinates in a single heartbeat, before leaving only the smell of ozone.

Huh. Lightning, of all things? Of the Endbringers, Behemoth is the last one I’d expect that from.

I supposed if he heats the air just right…

She flew in close, slamming her hands into his face, driving him back, throwing him off-balance.

Have I mentioned lately that Alexandria is awesomely badass? Because Alexandria is awesomely badass.

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

Niice.


But she couldn’t breathe.  She flew back and out of the way until she had air again.

Right, the fire burning up all the oxygen in your lungs is bad.

She stared at the scene that was unfolding, the heroes beating a hasty retreat as that thing advanced, slow and implacable.

Like lava. Relatively slow but hard to stop, and deadly once it gets to you.

Contrast with Leviathan, the tsunami/hurricane, who’s really fucking fast and rarely stays in one place very long.

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

It’s okay, Hero, in this situation, you’re allowed to use the really strong swears.

“What?” she responded.  Legend was pelting the thing with lasers that could have burned buildings to the ground, and he was barely leaving a mark.

“barely” is still something, at least.

Eidolon was manipulating the sand, creating barriers while simultaneously drawing sand out from beneath their enemy, while pelting it with laser blasts that he spat from his mouth.

I don’t care if this joke has been made about this scene a thousand times.

I don’t care that this meme has been dead since… around the release date of this chapter, actually.

There is only one valid response to this.

tumblr_inline_pj4qtuJUZz1sxgvvn_640.png


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

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

Hmm. Saudi Arabia, perhaps? I’m finding some results for phrases similar to “Arash” and “Jamshid” in Arabic.

Then again, I highly doubt Jamshid’s name means “All rights reserved” or “Popcorn”.

She shook herself free of glass and dirt and threw herself back into the fray.  A bad situation was suddenly critical.  The creature roared again, and the force of the noise threw her flight off course.

I’m pretty sure the situation turned critical the moment Behemoth showed up.

Eidolon’s makeshift walls collapsed and more heroes fell, bleeding from heavy internal damage.

It’s unclear exactly how many heroes are present from the Protectorate, but the numbers are clearly going down.

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

You’d think so, but no. Not unless Leviathan’s origin is different from Behemoth’s.

It’s a completely reasonable conclusion, though. It’s what I thought had to be the case for Levvy, until Tattletale told us otherwise.

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

Hm. Energy in general?

That’d be a really versatile power, especially if it incorporates the fact that matter and energy are two sides of the same coin.


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

But apparently that’s what it is.

I mean sure, makes sense to give the really OP powers to the Endbringers.

How do we even fight something like that?

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

…you do it by getting help from someone who can balance energy. Neutralize the entropy. Scion.

January 18th, 1993

Looks like we’re not getting to see how that ended. Fair enough – it probably took some time.

The next skip is only about a month. Is the next Endbringer showing up? Or maybe we’re just about to discuss Behemoth’s impact.


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

She did say she’d get into a position of power, but that was in her civilian sense. This instead seems to be part of the establishment of the PRT.

…CJ. Parahuman Response Team & Civil Justice?

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

I’ve never heard of a President Griffin, so I guess cape politics ended up affecting the elections. That’s reasonable, especially given the butterfly effect over 11 years.

In our world, Bill Clinton was inaugurated two days after this event’s date. George H.W. Bush was the sitting POTUS, inaugurated in 1989.

I’m guessing President Griffin had a positive policy on parahumans, considering that he was presumably elected and inaugurated in the golden age before Vikare’s death. (The story might be different if he was just inaugurated a few days before this.)

He leaned close, “You do us proud.”

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

I hadn’t considered his first name until now, but I’m suddenly very glad he’s not a Peter.

Also, apparently Alexandria is on first name basis with him.


He squeezed her hand and moved on.

“I, Eidolon, do solemnly affirm…”

She gazed over the crowd, saw her mother standing there with eyes glistening.

Seriously, did you go back to see them?

At least it seems her mom knows who Alexandria is, which gives me hope on that front.

The lesser members of the Protectorate were in the front row as well, her subordinates among them.

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

“Ey, stop staring at your mom and the rest of the team, this is about the public.”

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

Protectorate of the United States… POTUS? :p


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

That was a nice little scene. Which is why I feel like everything is going to be ripped to pieces once I scroll down from this box.

September 15th, 2000

Alexandria and Hero were last to arrive on the scene, entering through the window.

Damn flying heroes, never using the doors…

Legend pressed one finger to his lips.

So, what do we have here? A stealth mission?

My first thought was “don’t wake the baby”, but it’s about a decade too early for that.

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

Siberian?

When I said “everything is going to be ripped to pieces”, I was kind of including Hero.


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

Fuck, this line is familiar. It’s time.

I imagined Case 01 as having them flying over the building, not inside it, but it looks like I got that wrong.

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

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

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

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

The interesting thing about this is going to be seeing this scene from the perspective of someone who was actually there, someone who cared about Hero. We’ve seen how Legend was affected, but we haven’t seen it moment to moment from his perspective.

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

Like this.

This is exactly what made me pick up on the Alexandria-Taylor parallels in the first place, so seeing this particular moment from her perspective is particularly nice, in addition to the death of Hero.


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

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

It’d be pretty cool if Alexandria were to briefly spot Manton at the end of this. But I suppose there’d be no reason for her to not chase them down if she did.

Oh, wait. Right. The injury she sustained, that’s a thing that’s going to happen here too.

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

Siberian was there, kneeling on the bed, her body marked with stripes of jet black and alabaster white, her arms slick with blood up to the elbows.

Hello.

Sorry to barge in on your lunchtime.

The man who lay on the bed – there would be no saving him, even if Eidolon manifested healing abilities.

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

Ooh, have you met the woman she’s based on?


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

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

Yeah, this is one OP power that was not saved for the Endbringers.

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

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

Here we go?

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

Yep.

Guess he’s just He and Ro now.


I’ll have to see how Alexandria reacts to this tomorrow, because it’s midnight and I need to get up early. See you then!

[End of session]


[reblog of a Tumblr post]

katlorejackzephyrponyliveblogsu:
:3c


[reblog] zephyrthejester:
We are the Cluster.


[reblog] loreweaver-universe:
your comedic and analytical distinctiveness will be added to our own


[reblog] jackwatchessu:
Your memes will be adapted to service us

One is all. All is one. Will you be one with us as well?

(#i may not be represented in the blog name
#but i am in its banner)

[For a bit of context to this: There’s been a running joke in the liveblogging supercommunity that all of us livebloggers are secretly one person.]


Something I don’t think I’ve really commented on: Cauldron seems to be capable of making more powerful capes than most trigger events do, which is especially reinforced by Alexandria seeing Behemoth as the first natural, villainous equivalent to the Doctor’s work.

It’s not like I haven’t compared Siberian to an Endbringer before.

It’s worth noting that this correlation between strong powers and Cauldron comes into conflict with the “early capes were stronger” theory, by giving a different reason why half or more of the data points have strong powers. I think I’m ready to ditch that theory, then.

Scion is, of course, still a very special case.


[Session 3]

Alright, let’s see how our resident lighthouse aficionado takes the brutal and sudden death of a close teammate!


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

RIP.

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

Nice tactics, Legend. Can’t stop the bullet? Move the target.

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

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

Wiffle…?

*looks it up*

A baseball variant that curves easily. Nice.

We’re not getting a lot of immediate reaction from Alexandria here. I suppose that might kick in when the action dies down and she has time to think about it.

I wonder if she’ll feel guilty about it somehow.

And they were losing.  Eidolon was trying to heal Hero, to teleport people out of danger when Alexandria and Legend proved unable, and changing up his abilities every few seconds to throw something new at Siberian in the hopes that something would affect her.

He can do that?

Is that like… reloading a randomizer webpage? Except with a seed tuned to the situation?

I also just remembered Alexandria’s own upcoming injury again.

She waded through zones of altered time, through lightning storms and force fields, tore through barricades of living wood and slapped aside a projectile so hyperdense that its gravitational field pulled cars behind it.

Wow.

…zones of altered time. Hyperdense objects that create gravitational fields. Did Bakuda base some of her bombs on these powers, somehow?


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

Too late?

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

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

That’s probably not the most comforting sight.

Especially when you thought you were invincible.

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

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

Not that containment foam would stop Siberian if she had it out for the one inside.


September 16th, 2000 

The next day.

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

They, uh.

Let you keep that?

She looked up at the Doctor.  “William Manton?

Ooh, did the Doctor decide to tell her?

The Doctor nodded.

“How?  Why?”

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

…is that whom Siberian is modeled after?

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

Or was it the Doctor who did?

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

Fair enough. Maybe. I’m watching you, Doctor.

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

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

tumblr_inline_pj6851xmfh1sxgvvn_500.png

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

Are you implying the kind of thing I think you’re implying? Domestic abuse?

The Doctor sighed.

“So that was him?”

“Almost certainly.  He gave his daughter one of our higher quality formulas, and she couldn’t handle it.  When he realized what he’d done, realized that he couldn’t hide it from us, he took one formula for himself and fled.  I didn’t know what it had done for him until tonight.

Wait, so this was the very first encounter with Siberian?

The resemblance between Siberian and Manton’s daughter is subtle, but it’s there, and the footage from Hero’s helmet-camera has been run through every facial recognition program I could find.”

And there we’ve got a nice seguing opportunity to talking about Hero, if Wildbow wants to take it.

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

Oof.


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

I take it he briefly ended up with a Tattletale-like power.

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

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

You knew that too??

And why the fuck should you leave him be, exactly? And even protect him, as in Brockton Bay eleven years from now?

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

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

Right. Extreme moral neutrality.

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

Please tell me she left a dent.

Silence rang between them in the wake of the destruction.

That sounds like more than a dent and I am satisfied. 🙂


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

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

Yeah, right.

Work on your lies, Doc. It’s gonna pay off – you’ll be much better at it in a decade.

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

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

What?

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

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

The Doctor does seem more genuine in this chapter than we’ve ever seen her, but that might be partially because of POV bias. I’m willing to give her some benefit of doubt, but I still don’t trust her anywhere near fully when she says this.


Alexandria couldn’t quite bring her to believe it.

“No, this means we simply need to step up our plans.  If we’re going to go forward with the  Terminus project, we need to advance the overall efforts with Cauldron.

Terminus?

You know, as in “end”?

I don’t know if the Doctor knows what she’s doing, but this seems like it could lead up to the final threat in some way, just judging by the name alone. It’s actually so on-point that it loops around to unlikely.

(I’m still way more confident in my Theo-ry, especially since Jack has no known direct connection to Cauldron.)

And we need the Protectorate effort to succeed on every count.”

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

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

Trust me.

tumblr_inline_pj69w7iEnS1sxgvvn_250.png

You don’t want to go down that road.


April 10th, 2008

Hm. We’ve covered her origin and some important events we already knew about. What’s next? Something to do with the Doctor’s project?

Mortars, bombs and air-to-ground missiles rained down around her.

…warzone?

Pretty sure Bakuda wasn’t active yet. Though we’re quickly catching up, so maybe I’m wrong.

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

Interesting – she’s not counting the incident with Siberian. It doesn’t compare to the pain of Behemoth’s attacks?

(The cancer was two decades ago.)

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

That’s… bittersweet. Mostly bitter.


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

“To gustaria livir?” She asked, in the local’s anglo-spanish pidgin.

Let’s see, where would you find Anglo-Spanish pidgins? The Caribbean?

Do you want to live?

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

“Are you a guardian angel?”?

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

Are you sure?

Livir,” he breathed the word before slumping over.

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

Let’s get you out of whatever this hellscape is.


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

…well then. Collecting test subjects, are we?

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

Jeez. Wait to turn ominous on us, Alex.

Only two-thirds of them were monstrous, affected by the formulas.  Others would go free with alterations to their memories.

Alterations that make them believe they’ve had natural trigger events?

Some would have fatal weaknesses inserted into their psyches, reason to hesitate at a crucial moment against a certain foe.

Yikes. I take it that’s for the Nemesis program?

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

I can’t help but wonder about the state of Iceland, considering Gregor was implied to be from there. Is it wartorn?


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

Not gonna lie. This is not quite the character I’d expect to be in charge of carrying through Cauldron’s human experiments.

But it makes a lot of sense and I think I like it.

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

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

He’s going to go monstrous, isn’t he? We’ve seen people go through the process successfully a couple times. It’s time to witness it going wrong.


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

“You’re okay”? Are you sure about that?

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

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

Perhaps, but there’s also something to be said for living comfortably.

It’s not like she didn’t give him a choice as to whether he wanted to live, but it wasn’t an informed choice like the one the Doctor gave Rebecca.

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

Ah, I was wondering when the themes from the beginning would start to show themselves again to set up the book-ends.

She turned and walked away.

Aw, we don’t get to see how that ended for the guy? I mean, I suppose it’s not the important part, but I was looking forward to a description of his transformation.


June 18th, 2011 

And so we catch up.

(Almost, at the very least.)

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

Was this a line from Legend’s Interlude?

Legend sighed, “More than one.  William Manton and his link to Siberian, the tattoo on his right hand, our end of the world scenario and the role Jack plays as the catalyst.  Too many to count.”

Yeah, that is when we are now.

“None of this has to be addressed today,” Alexandria said.  ”Why don’t you go home?  We’ll consider the situation and come up with a plan and some likely explanations.”

Legend nodded.  A small smile touched his lips.

And then he didn’t go home.

Might never do.

The Doctor turned to Eidolon, “You want another booster shot?”

“Probably another Endbringer attack coming up, it’s best if I’m in top form.”

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

So. How do you plan to deal with the fact that Legend is onto stuff?

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

“The boosters aren’t cutting it anymore,” Eidolon said.  “I’m getting weaker.  Powers are taking longer to reach their peak, and their maximum strength isn’t what it used to be.

Hm, that’s interesting.

If this keeps up, then I won’t be able to offer anything during this end-of-the-world scenario.”

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

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

Warning about what, exactly? Legend’s arrival?


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

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

…suggesting they may have already known about that too.

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

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

And in just a moment, he’ll know for sure.

“Unfortunate.  Will he expose us?”

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

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

Why have you been keeping him out of it, anyway?

“He won’t like it,” Eidolon spoke.

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

This Terminus project just sounds more ominous by the line.

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

Problems like… the Endbringers?

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

It’d be easier to comment on this if I knew which front that was.

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

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

So Coil is connected to Cauldron. Honestly not particularly surprising given his use of the Number Man.

Most importantly, that gives an indication that his objectives do go beyond just taking over Brockton Bay for shits and giggles, and it finally connects the Undersiders to all of this plot that’s been building up in the Interludes.

Nice.

“Ever the pessimist,” Alexandria said.

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

Alright, so they didn’t know about it, but they believe it can be circumvented via the success of their existing plans.

“If we assist him-”

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

…does Coil not know that he’s doing stuff that’s important to Cauldron (for some reason)?


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

…and the Undersiders are sabotaging him.


End of Interlude 15c

This was a big one! Lots of great stuff:

  • Alexandria’s backstory
  • Further proof that she’s a lot like Taylor
  • Good stuff about communication between a victim and her relatives (communication really seems to be a theme of the Arc)
  • The Doctor portrayed in a positive light (though her less scrupulous side shows too)
  • Cauldron backstory
  • Evidence suggesting the quiet bodyguard (Contessa?) – who’s apparently been with the Doctor since she was a teenager – is more than she seems
  • Protectorate backstory
  • Meeting Doormaker
  • Confirmation that Cauldron has long-term goals besides making money
  • Behemoth
  • Getting to see Case 01 from an internal perspective, even if Alexandria didn’t really have much of an immediate reaction to Hero’s death
  • Some clarification on Manton’s situation
  • Alexandria of all people collecting lab rats because all that matters to her is that they live
  • Confirmation/reveal that Coil is somehow important to Cauldron’s ominously-named plans

Where do I even begin to elaborate? This Interlude was awesome through and through.

I appreciate that the dates were given for each section. It helps make not only this chapter’s, but the entire story’s timeline a lot clearer. A lot of this chapter’s events were things we knew happened sometime within the last 10-30 years, but exactly when each thing happened was unclear. Now we know, for instance, that Case 01 took place in 2000, and even that it was September 15th. Nice.

I think my only complaint is that the obvious dangling book-end bait of fake smiles to keep up morale was barely tugged on at the end. It’s not a big complaint, though, at all.

Next up… mayor mission? Maybe also the conversation with Coil about Parian, if any of how that goes down matters. See you then!

2 thoughts on “Interlude 15c: Of Angels and Demons

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