A/N – Okay, I promised another chapter of Aftershocks, but I just finished reading Worm (parahumans dot wordpress dot com) and have been devouring fanfiction about this brilliantly-crafted world like Augustus Gloop and chocolate. After being mauled by plot bunnies, I got to pondering and figured some stuff out.
Disclaimer: I don't own Worm, nor do I own any other established properties – physical or intellectual – that I may reference. If I do own something, I will call it out. Otherwise, this is the only disclaimer I should need to post.
Wishful Thinking 0.01
What proof did he have that this would work? The rational part of his mind told him that it was a hoax; that what he'd been told – been promised – was impossible. But he'd seen them, so many of them... It had to be true. Curiosity had turned to utter fascination, which had given way to obsession. He'd been sitting in the car for...he checked the clock. God, almost a half-hour spent hemming and hawing outside this old barn. If they were thieves, they could probably have snuck up on him while he waited. Maybe they were on the level after all? Either way, two minutes left to the appointment.
Fuck it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. He shut off the engine and stepped out. Even though he'd resolved to go in, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up in apprehension.
"We'd thought you were going to leave, with how much time you spent outside."
She was just there. Standing off to the side as he opened the door was a rather nondescript, dark-skinned woman in a lab coat. He must have jumped upon noticing her, because she gave him a rather condescending smile, like a parent who'd found her child trying to eat Play-Doh.
"H-how–" He stopped, under the guise of composing himself. Of course she'd have powers. No reason to act like an idiot. "How did you even know how to contact me?"
The woman just smirked. "I'm tempted to say, 'We have our ways' and leave it at that. In truth, we saw your history: searching Parahumans Online, looking up sites that claim to give powers – all of them hoaxes, of course." She turned and started walking, something in her body language telling him to fall in step beside her. "You may call me Doctor; nothing more. And what do I call you?"
He quirked a brow, which then knitted together with its partner in consternation at her soft laugh.
"Yes, we know much about you, but we at Cauldron feel it's helpful to maintain at least some degree of anonymity."
He nodded. "Alright. Call me..." He just blurted out the first name that came to mind. "...Bill."
It was time. Three visits to the Cauldron facility had served to introduce him to the process, calculate finances, and conduct the necessary physical and psychological tests. Now, it was finally time. He was seated, changed into the requisite bodysuit, and gripping the chair's armrests. Things were very tense, very real now.
As always, the Doctor was just there. She reminded him, in a way, of one of his mother's favorite movies: the original Nutty Professor, how Buddy Love would just be there in the room; he was never shown entering. He'd just appear. The Doctor was like that, only hotter and a LOT more intimidating. She wasn't big and never demonstrated any powers, but she radiated an almost palpable aura of danger and authority.
"Alright, Bill," she said in her quiet, businesslike tone, "let's finalize things." She actually had a clipboard in her hand; was that really necessary? Or was it just to keep up appearances? "You're aware of the risks inherent in this formula, of course. But policy demands that we restate. Sample V-one-seven-seven-three carries a high risk of visible mutation, along with an even higher chance of a null result; that is, failure to produce a power. Regardless of the outcome, from physical changes to no result whatsoever, you are agreed to keep these meetings secret. And also..." Was it Bill's imagination, or was there a ghost of a smirk on her face? "There are no refunds."
A full hour had passed with Bill hooked up to the various medical monitors. Finally, the Doctor returned. "I'm afraid, Bill, that I must apologize. The sample did not result in any power acquisition. Fortunately, there were also no mutations." She unstrapped him and offered him a hand, her own grip surprisingly gentle. A conciliatory expression was painted on her features. "Good luck in your future endeavors, Bill. I hope that they are more successful than this venture was." She motioned him along. "Come; I'll show you to the changing room and you can get dressed again."
Oddly, it was a relief. Sure, he hadn't gotten powers and was out about two-hundred grand, but he at least knew he'd tried.
Terry Clements walked a little higher as he headed back to his car.