Before you read this, I will warn that the first Epilogue is where I originally intended to end the story. It's a very jagged ending that I felt was appropriate to the Worm universe.

I was convinced that it was simply too jagged. I eventually agreed with this, but chose to address it in the future, after the first epilogue, in a second epilogue, rather then removing the first epilogue.

You have been warned.

I leaned back against the white vinyl padded bench. The tissue paper crinkled obnoxiously loudly - there was nothing to absorb the sound in the room, as the floor, walls, and ceiling were all covered in a bright white tile. My eyes were drawn to the heavy bandages around my left foot and I squinted hard to force away memories of death and panic so I could concentrate on the second most important thing that had ever happened to me. I touched the crutches leaning against the counter next to the bench, just to be sure they were stable. Then I carefully controlled my arms and did not allow them to wrap around my chest in order to try to retain some warmth, despite the raging case of goosebumps. It was cold in the room, and the coldness wasn't all measured in Celsius.

The woman in the lab coat was very clinical. From the time I hobbled on my crutches through the strange hole in the air, I had felt more like a lab rat than a paying customer. That bothered me more than anything else. There was something very wrong about her attitude. Typically people who were selling things tried to at least act like they had some warmth. I kept my mouth shut though. Buying powers with the money from fenced stolen jewelry didn't make me a customer with legal rights. As far as I knew, Doctor Mother didn't have any sort of known power, but one never knew. I certainly didn't have powers. Not yet, anyhow.

"Mr. Davis, you have requested a tinkering power and a breaker survivability power. We can supply that." Her pen moved on the page of the clipboard, obviously checking something off.

After a brief pause she continued. "As noted in the contract we signed with you, the powers we sell are not fully predictable. We do not know exactly what abilities you will acquire. The process is certain enough that we can be confident what types of powers you get, but there is still some uncertainty." She paused. "There is even a possibility of death or mutation. Are you certain that you wish to go forward? We will refund ninety percent of your full payment if you wish to back out of the contract."

I stared at her, and she glanced over to her bodyguard, who merely nodded fractionally. I saw the doctor's eyes track downward and caught the bodyguard's hand moving, clearly signaling something in a sign language that looked a lot like what a catcher might use to signal to a baseball pitcher. Three fingers pointed down.

The bodyguard looked at me. I shivered and averted my gaze away from her back to Doctor Mother. The woman scared the hell out of me. I was pretty sure I knew who she was, based on scuttlebutt I'd heard while Tim and I were arranging this deal. Contessa. A cape you never, ever wanted to fuck with. Period. Even if you had powers of your own.

Doctor Mother looked back at me. "Mr. Davis, I need you to acknowledge that you accept the danger and wish to continue. Even though we are not under the jurisdiction of any government, we still attempt to make certain that our customers understand the risk. You could afford a great deal of medical care for the price you are paying us."

Stop wasting time. I'd rather not think about how dangerous this might be, I thought to myself as I tried to keep my voice civil. "I am certain I wish to go forward with the procedure, regardless of the risk of death."

The doctor's pen made another checkmark on the page.

If I managed to stay out of jail, sure, she was right. Medical care is free in prisons anyway - so are the injections administered by inmates. My brother Tim had spent some time in the big house and absolutely refused to talk about it at all. He never would talk about it either, because he'd been killed by the police in the high speed chase after we robbed the seventh jewelry store.

I closed my eyes, grimacing against the pain in my foot. I hadn't gotten away without injury myself. My foot had been mangled pretty badly by the bullet that went through it. It could have been worse - it had been worse for Tim. He caught a bullet through the chest as we drove away, and I'm pretty sure he was dead before we even made it to the highway.

"As agreed in the amendment, due to the additional funds you brought to us, we will be providing a slightly more potent mixture, which should result in a substantial increase in your power levels. Again, we must stress that the additional potency means additional risk. Are you certain that you wish to incur said additional risk?" The doctor peered over the top of her reading glasses at me. Coffee-brown face calm, clinical, like she was discussing the weather instead of my upcoming guinea pig adventure. "If you wish to drop the amendment to our agreement, that money we will return to you in full. We have not yet adjusted the mixture to the higher potency. It will take only a few moments to do so. Please verbally state your response."

I strongly suspect you're bullshitting me somehow, Doctor, but I'm not calling you on it. I'll probably get the same juice no matter what I pay, but if Tim had to die, I'm going to at least try to get something more out of this. I thought in her direction, but saw no response in her eyes.

"Doctor, I want the most bang for my buck. If I get any sort of moderately useful power, I'll be able to make money enough to support myself. I've already got some connections, and I did save back enough seed money after fencing the goods and paying the doc to live on for a year or so if I need to. I have no desire to nullify the amendment."

The pen moved again, the precise down-up of a checkmark. "One last thing. As discussed, we will require you to perform three favors for Cauldron in the next two years. The favors will not require felony lawbreaking, but may require misdemeanor lawbreaking. You cannot refuse to perform the favors. If you attempt to refuse to perform the favors, you will incur our wrath." She looked over the top of the clipboard, and the eyes were hard and cold, like a snake. There was no need for her to specify what the punishment would be. I was rather certain I knew.

"I understand I will be obligated to per... perform three favors over two years for the Cauldron." I cursed myself for the stutter. I was showing weakness to a criminal when in their facility, wounded, with no weapons. There was nothing to stop them from simply giving me Drano instead of power juice.

The doctor's expression softened a little and she nodded. The pen made one last check on the clipboard, and she handed me the clipboard with the single sheet of paper on it. "Please read the document. It is plain English, no lawyer bullshit." She smiled at me, a tight, but genuine smile - the first real emotion I'd seen from her. "Being outside the law means we don't have to deal with lawyers. Please read it, and then put your initials by each check and print your name then sign and date the bottom."

I did read it. Not that it mattered. I'd come too far now to turn back. Tim and I were supposed to be doing this together. He had wanted speedster powers, I had wanted tinker powers. We had robbed six jewelry stores and fenced the stolen goods before the seventh that was supposed to be the last. Everything had fallen apart. The law had apparently picked out a pattern to our robberies that even we didn't know we'd been following, and they were waiting.

My fist clenched hard and the pen bent. I put my initials next to the four checks, printed, signed and dated like I'd been told.

The doctor looked at the paper on the clipboard, then held out her hand.

"Oh, sorry." I gave her back the pen I'd reflexively stolen.

After retrieving her pen from me, she tucked it into a pocket with a clear plastic protector. Then she set the clipboard on the counter next to the tiny sink, stood, and walked over to a nearby workspace. A small refrigerator was opened with the whisper of a vacuum seal breaking. There were two vials visible in the refrigerator. One vial was far fuller than the other, I could see. The liquids looked very similar.

The doctor emptied the nearly empty vial into the half-full vial. There didn't seem to be any reaction. The now-empty vial was set back in the little fridge, and Doctor Mother brought the vial with my future in it over to me while placing some sort of seal over the top.

"Please be careful. Do not drop it. We will not reimburse you if you do. If you do drop it, I suggest you start licking as soon as you can, and ignore the glass shards if the vial does break. The tile is very smooth, and you should be able to get at least some benefit from the power juice you manage to lick up off the floor before it evaporates, if you act quickly." She handed me the vial. "The seal on the top of the vial will be removable after we leave the room and the red light over the door goes active."

Nodding, I dry-swallowed, and held tightly to the vial with both hands.

Doctor mother picked up her clipboard and left the room, followed by the bodyguard, who never stopped watching me with eyes that seemed strangely sad.

I broke eye contact with the bodyguard and looked down, shaking my head. I was imagining the sadness. I was sure of it. Bodyguards like her didn't do sad. I wasn't an expert on organized crime, but I'd been involved in it long enough I'd met quite a few criminal bodyguards. They didn't do emotions when they were on duty.

Something about the entire scenario felt weird though. I was good at judging people, and I knew the two women had been acting to some degree or another. The hand signals I'd seen clearly indicated there was something else going on that I wasn't supposed to be fully aware of.

Tim and I had spent weeks researching triggers and powers after he got out of prison. He had made the initial contact with Cauldron through another prisoner, whose name he'd never told me. I thought about how natural trigger events were supposed to work for a moment. Natural triggers tended to develop powers that could relieve the stress or resolve the problem that was stressing the person who was triggering.

I held up the vial. Maybe they had simply been trying to keep me from being stressed, so my stress wouldn't interfere with the development of a chemically forced trigger? That made as much sense as anything else. If that was the case though, I would have expected sedation, hypnotherapy, or something to force me to be calm.

The door clicked shut behind the bodyguard and then there were more loud noises indicating heavy things moving and fitting in place. Reinforcements sliding into place behind the door. I looked at the vial, still held in both hands.

Doctor Mother's voice came over the intercom, and the light over the door turned from green to red. "We are disabling the locking cap on the vial now, Mr. Davis. Drink quickly, please. The power juice will evaporate rapidly when warmed to human body temperature by your hands."

After carefully grasping the vial with one hand and the cap with the other, and the cap came off easily. I sniffed the cap quickly, and then the vial.

Well, it doesn't smell like Drano. More like peppermint. I thought to myself.

Realizing that I was letting the fluid evaporate, I started lifting the vial to my mouth, then stopped.

This one's for you, Tim. I thought before I spoke out loud.

"Time cuts down all, both great and small."

I raised the vial directly in front of me, mimed clinking a shot glass with a drinking partner, and brought the vial back to my lips and poured the vial down in one go. It tasted like peppermint schnapps.

Looking at the vial and the cap, I started thinking. I still wasn't feeling anything. I looked at the cap, and it didn't look like it had any sharp edges, so I popped it in my mouth and swallowed it.

Then I examined the vial, and saw a couple drops at the bottom. I tore a strip of the tissue paper off the padded bench I was sitting on, rolled it up, and stuck it into the tube, then let the tissue paper roll unfurl. The tissue paper immediately became moist, and I carefully pulled it out without tearing it. I quickly popped the small rolled piece of tissue in my mouth and swallowed it. Then I repeated the process with a second piece of tissue, which came away just a bit wet. The third strip of tissue came back bone dry, but I ate it anyway.

I looked in the tube, closely peering from inches away with my eye. Was there anything left in there? Maybe some dried residue? The sink was close enough to the bench I was sitting on that I could get to it without crutches. I carefully stood on my good foot and hopped to the sink.

Turning the spigot, I started a tiny trickle of water, quickly setting the mouth of the vial under it. I filled it halfway with water, covered the top with my right thumb, gave it a good shake, and put the water down the hatch.

I quickly repeated the process. I was damn well going to get what I paid for.

About a minute after I'd drunk the main contents of the vial, I was drinking the fourth half-vial of water. Or maybe the fifth? I started to feel a bit woozy and weird, almost like bed spins.

I tried to fill the vial again, but I couldn't match the right vial with the right stream of water coming out of the tap. As I watched, there were four vials and streams, then eight, then a lot more. I saw hundreds of vials fall from hundreds of my hands into the sink.

The world tilted on several axis simultaneously. I felt myself starting to fall and remembered my foot. I needed to protect my foot. I pushed myself away from the counter and towards the bench, trying, hoping to get my chest over the top of the bench to maybe keep me from falling.

My attempt to get to the bench failed, and I started to fall, which was going to hurt, a lot. I might even re-open the wound on my foot. I tried to yell for help, but only heard myself growl as I crumpled to the floor. My entire body was a mass of pain. I felt bones moving, changing shape. My legs and wrists felt like someone was tying them in knots. My face felt like someone had grabbed my upper and lower jaws and tried to rip them off.

The pain was simply too much for me to handle. As I blacked out, I watched my arm turn brown and furry, but there was something wrong with the fur.

After the darkness was complete, the last thing I saw was a test signal. One of the round images that used to come before films and some black and white TV shows. I'd never actually seen one on TV, but I remember asking the coach about it when they forced us to watch that ignorant crap "Reefer Madness" in health class.

As I fell into darkness, I felt that, somehow, I was not alone.