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.”

Yeeeah, there’s a lot to consider here.

“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.”

Cod knows you deserve some rest, Legend.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten those death flags, though.

Legend nodded.  The thought of holding Arthur and Keith in his arms energized him.

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

…what? Is that something that temporarily increases his power’s, well, power?

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

Ah, yeah, I’ve been getting that feeling too. You might be surprised at where the Simurgh decides to strike, though.

While the others talked and planned, Legend stood and left without a farewell.

An opening between realities unfolded before he was half of the way down the alabaster white hallway.  He stepped through the opening to the oil rig, and then began his flight back to New York City.

But he didn’t go home.

Okay, so I guess he does live in NYC, then, not England. Makes sense, I suppose. Why would he be in the Protectorate if he lived in England, even with the reduced commute time?

So where is he headed now? Protectorate HQ?

She spread her arms wide.  “I don’t know what I can say to convince you.”

“You trust me, don’t you?” Alexandria asked.

Hm?

“Yes,” Legend said.

“I’ve trained myself in kinesics.  I can look at a person’s face and body language and know if they’re lying.  And I can tell you the Doctor is telling the truth.”

Huh.

Either this case really is more complicated than it seems, or the Doctor is a fantastic actress. Despite less-than-stellar defenses.

I’m inclined to go along with the former.

Legend sighed.  “Right.”

“We’re okay, then?” the Doctor asked.

Legend nodded.  “I’m sorry to accuse you.”

It was a very reasonable accusation.

And it’s not like the Doctor doesn’t have things to hide, even if they’re not behind the Case 53s. They definitely knew about Siberian.

“It’s understandable.  This situation doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“I can’t add anything here, and my power’s not volunteering anything that could help to solve this particular mystery,” Eidolon spoke.  “I guess we have yet another unanswered question on our hands.”

Which powers do you have right now? Something similar to Tattletale’s, which seems like something the power might decide you need for these meetings?

“I’ve looked at the timelines.  It’s not likely that William Manton could be conducting experiments to give some poor girl tentacles in Illinois at the same time Siberian’s busy attacking people in Miami.  Not to mention he barely looked capable of taking care of himself, let alone conducting research.”

Yeeah.

Besides, Siberian is scary enough without the prospect of him going around giving people powers at the same time.

He glanced at the others.  Eidolon’s brow was creased in concern, while Alexandria looked pensive.

“The pattern doesn’t fit,” he said, to drive the point home.  He looked at the Doctor, “Which leaves me to wonder just who is conducting experiments on human subjects.”

Who indeed.

“We have no need for human experimentation.  The Number Man can calculate the odds of success for a given formula.”

“Maybe that’s the case.  But just who is conducting experiments on human subjects, who knows enough about Cauldron to tattoo or brand them with the mark while simultaneously having access to these kinds of resources?”

Why do they even put the marks there?

“It’s not us,” the Doctor spoke.

Legend stared at her, studying her.  “And you don’t know anything about how William Manton is connected to all this?”

Not a thing, and definitely don’t ask Battery.

I wonder if Legend knows that Battery is a Cauldron customer.

“I’m as mystified as you are.  If it would assuage your suspicions, you can examine this complex,” the Doctor suggested.

Oh, so you do this part somewhere else, or in a well-hidden part of the complex.

“You and I both know this place is far too large to explore in one lifetime,” he answered.

Wow.

“True.”

“And if we were to surmise that you’re the culprit here, there’s nothing saying you couldn’t have your doormaker maintain a path to another alternate reality where you have captives stashed away.

Alternate reality? I thought this place was in the Congo or Cameroon or somewhere like that. I’m inclined to believe it is and the Doctor has been feeding the Triumvirate more false information.

It would even explain why there haven’t been any real missing persons cases that we can link to the case-fifty-threes, if you’re simply snatching them from another reality and depositing them in our reality when you’re done.”

…except that’s a good point. Maybe it is indeed an alternate reality.

Would this third reality Legend is suggesting the Case 53s come from perhaps be Earth-Bet? Our world?

“I don’t know.  It doesn’t fit on a lot of levels.  A top parahuman researcher becoming one of the Nine?”

I mean, so did Sphere.

“It happened to Alan.  To Mannequin,” Eidolon said, his voice quiet.

Eidolon and I are on the same page here.

“There’s nothing in the records,” Alexandria said, “Nothing saying he was present at any of the places the quarantine protocol was put in effect.”

Did Manton disappear after Siberian started appearing?

She would know.  She read every record, could call them to mind with perfect accuracy.

Useful when you’re in combat against someone you wouldn’t normally remember the records of.

“He could have stolen someone’s identity.”

Alexandria nodded, “True.”

“We have confirmation he’s alive,” Eidolon said, his voice quiet.  “We suspected, but-”

It seems Eidolon is affected by this. Was Manton a friend of his, back in the day?

“We made assumptions, and we were way off base.  That’s what concerns me.”  Legend leveled a hard look at the Doctor.  “See, we’ve been going by the assumption that William Manton, from the time he left Cauldron to the present day, has been continuing his work.  We’ve been assuming he’s traveling across the world, experimenting on human subjects, giving them powers with physical mutations as a side effect, then releasing the victims back into society with Cauldron’s symbol tattooed on their bodies.  Or at least, that’s what you told us.”

Oh. Oh shit.

Doctor, you may have a couple things to answer for.

Also, this seems to suggest that what Cauldron does is possible because of Manton’s research. That, or he was trained in their craft.

“You’re implying I lied?” the Doctor asked.  She didn’t look bothered in the slightest.

Perhaps. He’s certainly implying you no longer have a good explanation for the Case 53s.

“I read what you provided, though I’m not sure what you’re referring to specifically.”

“Siberian.”

Ah, here we go. A great thinker in the sense that he’s a scholar. With a bonus thinking alike because Alexandria is also a scholar of sorts.

He saw a change in her expression, saw Eidolon flinch as if he’d been slapped.

“I’ll explain for those of you who lack access to the PRT records or the time to peruse them.  Siberian is not a brute-class cape.  Siberian is a ‘master’, and the striped woman is a projection.

I suppose Master is appropriate, considering he controls the projection.

I caught a glimpse of the man who is creating the projection before they retreated.”

Keep an eye on the Doctor’s reaction, Legend.

“And?”

“And he had Cauldron’s mark tattooed on the back of his left hand, a swan on his right.”

With the exception of himself, the Number Man and the woman in the suit, everyone present reacted with surprise.

Even the Doctor?

Is she surprised at Legend having caught this? Or maybe she’s just acting.

“You don’t think that was William Manton?”  Alexandria asked.  “But why the mark on his right hand?”

Ahhh. There were three scholars to choose from.

Also, I thought the right hand mark, the swan, was the one Legend recognized him by. Apparently not. So Manton may have had something to do with the early days of Cauldron before disappearing to become Siberian.

(It didn’t occur to me until now that this all means Cauldron is at least twenty years old.)

“We need all the help we can get.  Let’s see if we can’t figure out how this happens, so we can stop it or mitigate the damage.  There’s a lot of capes out there with the thinker classification.  Get the word out, call in favors, offer favors.

Just try not to cause too much panic.

Anything to get more information on this.”

There were nods and noises of agreement from his fellow Protectorate members and the Doctor.

Seems the nameless black-clad lady is staying quiet.

Legend quietly cleared his throat, glancing around the table.  “Speaking of great minds… there was another point I wanted to address, that came up during my stay in Brockton Bay.”

Hmm. It sounds like he’s either seguing into something about great minds that think alike (Hero and Kid Win?), or more literally talking about thinkers. But what thinkers would he want to talk about? Tattletale?

Or maybe it’s about Skitter?

He had their attention.

“Alexandria, I expect you read the reports already.  You didn’t seem that surprised when I talked about the precog and her end-of-the-world scenario, you’ve probably read up on my notes here.”

Alexandria had originally named herself after the Library of Alexandria, though she’d ceased mentioning that, choosing to leave enemies in the dark instead.

Just don’t crash and burn on us.

Was I onto something about Alexandria and Skitter being similar?

As strong as she was on a physical level, her mind was equally formidable.  She never forgot a detail, absorbed information quickly, reading two pages of a book with a glance, and she learned quickly, retaining everything she picked up.

Awesome.

She knew most commonly spoken languages, no less than ten styles of martial arts and she could match some of the best non-tinkers in the world when it came to computers.  Not only was she rated well in the brute classification, but she held high scores in the mover and thinker categories.

She signs her high scores ALX.

So basically what you’re telling me is that Alexandria is really coddamn amazing.

“You’re saying we’re already facing an end of the world situation,” Alexandria said, “And this is just accelerating the timetable.”

Yes.

“Yes.  Any measures we take are still vital.  They’ll help here, with this scenario, but if it never occurs, it will still help against the Endbringers.”

That is a very good point, yeah.

“Are we assuming the Endbringers are at the core of this end-of-the-world scenario?” Eidolon asked.

I do think they might be related somehow (especially if the threat comes via Noelle rather than Theo, though Jack has no known connection to Noelle besides Noelle being Crawler’s nominee), but that’s a dangerous assumption to make.

“Likely,” Alexandria said, “But let’s not rule anything out.”

“Provided this is really occurring,” the Doctor spoke.

“We can’t afford to say it’s not,” Legend said.  “You have precogs among your staff and customers?”

“Unreliable ones.”

“Some,” The Doctor answered.  “I can ask them about this end of the world scenario.”

Legend nodded.  “Good.  Eidolon, you want to try your hand at it?”

Oh yeah, he could just give himself the power of precognition, couldn’t he.

I’d like to learn what Eidolon’s limits are. Maybe he can only prepare so many powers per day?

“If my power lets me.  It only gives me what it thinks I need, not what I want.”

Oh… Oh, that is good. That is a really good power, both in practice and narratively.

Especially if the power is anything like my impression of the Dandelions, not really understanding humanity.

“No.  Her employer didn’t say anything on the subject.”

“We’ll take measures,” Eidolon said.  “Evacuation, we’ll also push for automatic shutdown controls on power grids and nuclear facilities.

Evacuation? To where? Mars?

With the Endbringers out there, it would be sensible to do it anyways.  We can reduce the potential damage.”

Yeah, I don’t know about evacuation, but this part is a good idea.

“Unless,” Alexandria said, “The numbers the precog provided are already accounting for us having this conversation and taking the extra measures.  If she does view the future, it’s very possible she saw this very meeting and everything that followed, in a manner of speaking.”

Right. That’s a good point. Things always get tricky when you try to circumvent prophecy.

(If this is a trope you like, go read both Homestuck and The Wheel of Time.)

That was sobering.

“We’ll do it anyways, of course,” Eidolon said.

I mean, yeah. The numbers may not be able to go below 33%, but you should still push towards that end of the range.

Legend and Alexandria nodded.

“Let’s remember,” the Doctor said, “The numbers already pointed to an endgame situation at the twenty-three year mark.  If the Endbringers continue doing the damage they’ve been doing at the current rate, things won’t be sustainable.

Good point. The End was already being Brought.

We’ll be forced to withdraw from damaged and dangerous areas, populations will condense, the Endbringers attack those pockets…  and that’s without considering the possibility that they achieve something big in the interim.

The Endbringers are the slow way of destroying humanity and even they’re making some big dents over time.

We’ve talked about the crisis scenarios: Behemoth triggering a nuclear winter, Leviathan obliterating or tainting the world’s renewable water supply.”

Nuclear winter from Behemoth? How exactly? Just by destroying nuclear plants, or does he have another element on top of earth and fire/lava?

“That’s the best case scenario?” Alexandria asked.

It’s interesting that he seems to think a 51.4% population reduction is better than a 33% reduction. Maybe he’s accounting for overpopulation?

(Someone get Thanos in here.)

The man shrugged.  “It’s unlikely it will occur.  The bare minimum of people would have to die, there couldn’t be any bodies, and there wouldn’t be anything left unattended that could cause uncontrolled fires or nuclear incidents.

Oh wait, I see what he means now. That best case scenario is what would happen after a third of the population dies to the apocalypse.

If I were to ballpark a number, talking about events that could kill one-third to nearly all of the world’s population, I’d say roughly seventy-two percent of the earth’s population are likely to die.  That leaves one billion, nine hundred and fifty million alive.

Damn.

Also, while I don’t think fast math is the full extent of his power, it does seem to be a part of it.

More than half of those individuals would die over the following twenty years, and more than half of those who remain would die in the ten years following that.  Keeping in mind these are estimates, of course.”

So then after thirty years we’re down to a quarter of 28%, i.e. 7%.

“Of course,” The Doctor said, “Precogs are unreliable.  I’m surmising this girl doesn’t know exactly how this occurs?”

I think I’ve got a better idea due to the kind of future vision I try to avoid.

“Precogs are notoriously unreliable.  I tell many of my customers that when they express interest in seeing the future.  I think I even told you.  Or was it Alexandria that I discussed it with?”

“It was,” Alexandria replied.

True, given the choice-based futures in this setting. Dinah is one that sees (as far as we know) all the various branches rather than just the most likely one, though.

“You’re right,” Legend said, “Most precogs are vague.  They have to be, because the future is vague.  But all reports point to this precog being veryspecific.  Jack Slash was mentioned as the catalyst for an event that occurs in two years.  More specifically, she said this occurs if Jack escaped Brockton Bay alive, which he did.”

That’s not quite what she said. There’s a correlation, sure, one that’s a bit uncomfortable for my theory due to the amount of time between Jack talking to Theo and Jack leaving the city and the various times he could’ve been killed before leaving (if I’m right, many of the timelines where that happened should still lead to the apocalypse… though maybe not if the news made it back to Theo in time). But that’s not necessarily a causation.

There were nods around the table.

“What do you mean when you say the world ends?” Eidolon asked.

“Thirty-three to ninety-six percent of the population dies in a very short span of time.  I assume the aftermath of this scenario leads to more deaths in the long run.”

Probably, yeah. Just the population reduction in itself might cause that (hospitals getting understaffed, etc.), but the aftermath of the thing causing the population reduction almost certainly makes things worse. Post-apocalyptic settings are rarely very comfortable.

The Number Man spoke.  “Depending on the circumstances of death, the demise of even one in three individuals would lead to further casualties.  Lack of staff for essential services and key areas, health, atmospheric and ecological effects of decomposition on a massive scale, destabilized societal infrastructure… The best case scenario is that Earth’s population drops steeply over twenty years, until it settles to forty-eight point six percent of where it currently stands.  Three billion, three hundred and ninety-one million, eight hundred and three thousand, five hundred and four.  Give or take.”

Well, I see why they call you the Number Man.

So is his power feeding him this info, in a manner similar to a cross between Dinah and Tattletale?