Kurt was idly twirling a pen in a dizzying array of flourishes as he pondered the spreadsheet in front of him. When the other core Cauldron members had left without a word, he had been mad, true, but could also understand their decision. It was the rational decision after all, since his abilities had become... unreliable as of late.
From a strictly utilitarian perspective, he was a compromised asset. Part of the explanation was what he had told the other core members when they asked him, Hive's interference had finally extended to the point that it became obvious that his powers were not as unaffected by her thinker limiting effects as previously hypothesized.
The true reason his utility to Cauldron had been going down was related, but one he had not deigned to share with the others. He had become obsessed. Numberman had always found refuge in math. Even before he got the power to understand the world through a lens of mathematics. It was the one language that you could not lie or deceive with. Misunderstand or obfuscate, sure, but you could not legitimately state a falsehood with true mathematics at the level that he understood them. Everything and anything could be defined with math to sufficient levels that it displayed the underlying essence of a thing. And his power gave him the understanding to get there. At least, he had previously thought it did.
It all started with a simple error. His mind went back to when he noticed the problem. It was a receipt that had proved to be his undoing. A regular takeout receipt from some mom and pop diner that he had grabbed lunch from. As was his habit, he ran the numbers through his head as he walked away from the counter after picking up his food. Expected total value of sale, $13.47, easy. He checked the receipt. Yup, as expected; $13.42. He was almost at the door when his brain caught up with the incongruity. Those were… not the same number. He looked down at his receipt again. His power was telling him that it was correct, at $13.47, but his eyes were telling him that is was wrong, at $13.42.
That was… unsettling. His power had never been wrong like that to his knowledge. He double checked the prices on the menu. Yes, everything checked out, the total was correct. He had not been short changed or rung up wrong at the register. It all came to $13.47. Something was nagging at him though. Instead of reaching for the intuitive answer to the question, he did the math manually, one step at a time, in his head. Adding the price of the burger and fries, plus the drink and dessert he had decided on, then adding tax to the total. $13.42. He looked down at his receipt. It stared back up at him, the correct value of $13.42 on there plain as day, except this time, his power agreed with what his eyes were seeing.
His power was lying to him about what the numbers actually were and then pretending it had been right all along when he double checked the answers. Since when did his power cook the books? How many errors had already passed him by because his power said they were correct without double checking them? This would not stand.
He decided to investigate the diner to see where his power had gone wrong. It took him almost three days, even using all the resources of Cauldron to find the answer. When he calculated the derived price manually with the knowledge that one of the owner's cousins was in the Birdcage and was helping him out subtly through the internet, the price came out correct, but if, as a hypothetical, he did the same calculation, but omitted Hive's potential interference from the equation, he got the answer that his power originally provided.
Of course now that he knew where his power had been going wrong, that specific issue no longer cropped up, as though his power learned from it's mistake. And so, Kurt was set on a quest of improving his power. He could not settle for numbers that were correct most of the time. It was a personal affront to him. So here he was more than a month later, sitting in an abandoned Cauldron base on Earth Bet, staring at a spreadsheet. He was learning as much as he could about how to do the math properly, manually, without his power, so he could correct where it was going wrong, and make the numbers godsdamned correct.
It was in this state that Legend found him.
"Kurt? I'm surprised that anyone is still here. When the others abandoned the place, pretty much everyone else left."
Kurt looked up from his computer, pen coming to a stop in his hand. He gave a deflated sounding chuckle. "Hah. Yeah, ever since my utility to the core of Cauldron went down, the other members stopped asking my advice. Bit of a wake up call to be honest. I'm at a bit of a loose end."
Legend frowned as he gave him a penetrating look. "I see."
The silence between them stretched.
After a brief mental debate, Legend addressed him. "Tell you what Kurt, I'm officially drafting you. It's time we started cleaning up some of Cauldron's messes. Your abilities are a good match for organizing things, so I'm putting you in charge. I'll get a list of priorities to you later today."
Kurt's head was slightly spinning. "Wha? Cleaning up Cauldron's messes? I know that we've done some unsavory things, but they are important to the eventual defeat of Scion. I thought you were on board?"
Numberman was surprised at the slightly out of place vicious grin that marked Legend's normally jovial face. "I'm afraid you're a bit late to the party on that front, Kurt. Hive killed Scion yesterday. Totally lobotomized him, and dumped a supervirus on the remains that will sterilize the entire planet over the course of the next month. It hasn't made the news yet, since he moved around so often, but people will probably notice some time this week."
Normally Kurt was pretty unflappable, but for once he was feeling pretty flapped. "Ah."
Legend's grin was toned down from malicious to merely sadistic as he clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll do a great job, Kurt. I'm counting on you. Oh, and I'll sic Hive on you if you don't. There is that."
Kurt looked into Legends eyes, looking to see if he was serious. To his consternation, Legend was deadly serious.
With a sigh, he turned back to his computer. Legend wouldn't have come to the base if he wasn't looking to start clearing up Cauldron's messes in earnest. He had better get started.
Alexandria was at the head of the small conference room, with Eidolon, Doctor Mother, and Contessa sitting in surprisingly comfortable office chairs around the table.
"I think we're ready. The base is now finished, Doormaker and Clairvoyant are both in a secure location that we control, and we have as many resources as Contessa could gather before the Path started running into interference.
We still have all the results of the previous experimentation with power vials. My proposal is that we move to a new stage of testing. Our previous efforts were hampered by trying to balance every formula for the absolute lowest chance of rejection or failure. I'm sure I'm not the only one that noticed the fact that while many of our earliest attempts failed, they also produced the strongest results when the did succeed. Moving forward, we should use a larger sample size and try to maximise for the total power of the vials. Any objections?"
She had not really phrased it as a question, despite the words, and Eidolon didn't feel up to arguing with her. Doctor Mother and Contessa were in total agreement with her.
After meeting the eyes of each of the others, Alexandria nodded, and spoke confidently to the air. "Doormaker. Portal to the Garden of Flesh."
Several seconds passed in uncomfortable silence.
"Doormaker. Open a door to the Garden of Flesh." She tried again, albeit with a little bit less confidence this time.
Again, nothing happened. She turned to Contessa and was about to ask for a Path to figuring out what was going wrong when a portal finally opened.
It was with some surprise then, that it was not to the Garden of Flesh, but rather to one of the many former Cauldron bases on an uninhabited world. Legend was sitting in a chair on the other side of the portal. Which shouldn't have been possible, she had ordered his portal making privileges revoked herself.
Legend stood up and walked into the conference room they were using, the portal closing behind him.
He looked with distaste at the notes and papers that they had recreated and were sitting on the table detailing the creation of new vials.
Finally, he spoke. "I see that you all have finally decided to come out from the hole you crawled into. I would ask what you-"
He was interrupted by Alexandria. "What are you doing here, Legend? I thought you got the message that we were breaking off from all former assets. How did you wrest control over Doormaker and Clairvoyant?"
Legend sighed and rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I asked. Nicely."
That seemed to bring her up short.
Legend spoke in the silence. "Look. I'm not here to give you condescending speeches or anything. I just wanted to let you know that your former actions are not acceptable. You are going to be abandoned here as punishment. Don't bother trying to get to another world, we know a lot more about interdimensional travel than you do."
With that said, he looked to the side and spoke in a softer tone of voice. "Door to 137 alpha alpha gamma please."
The others in the room did not understand the coordinate system that Legend had used, but they were less than surprised when a portal immediately popped open beside him and he walked through.
"Wait! You need us for defeating Scion. Are you really going to just allow him to kill everyone? And who is we!" Shouted Alexandria, her calm demeanor cracking and allowing some emotion into her voice.
Legend turned and looked at his former friend sadly.
"Hive killed him more than a week ago. You'll just have to live with the knowledge that your former means were not justified by the end."
Doctor Mother finally spoke. "How was he defeated? Surely something more than just a direct conflict."
He gave her a long look, before the corner of his mouth twitched in what was almost a smile. "That is information that you do not need to know. After all, you are no longer a useful asset."
With that, the portal closed. Alexandria turned to Contessa and asked about a path to opening a portal again, but Eidolon was starting to tune it out. He had a sneaking suspicion that they wouldn't find anything useful on that front. He proved to be correct when Contessa finally spoke.
"I can't find Doormaker or Clairvoyant at all. I can't even tell if they are alive or dead. It reads like the heaviest interference from Hive that I have ever encountered."
Eidolon slowly drifted out the door, then out of the base entirely, ignoring the increasingly heated discussion behind him. So. It had all been for nothing in the end. And now here he was, on a dead end planet with allies more than friends. And still his power waned. The job was done, and he still had nothing to prove himself against. No final confrontation, no epic conclusion, no desperate last stand. Just an empty planet with nothing to do.
It was less than a month later that the first of the new Endbringers showed up on their world.