After Cranial was Mastered by Amelia, my belief that Cranial was massively holding back her true capabilities was vindicated.
As a brain and memory Tinker, her ability to brainwash people was extremely impressive.
The major advantage Amelia's power had over Cranial was that Amelia's power tended to circumvent most forms of Master resistance, and worked even other human Masters or Master victims.
The advantage that Paige's power had was that if it worked, it would temporarily override long-term forms of Mastering, like Amelia's and Cranial's, but took a lot more work to permanently Master someone with it.
Cranial held the advantage in precision, subtlety, and scope of possible effects. People's minds could be utterly wiped clean, or fully rewritten using her tech, even though that process took several hours per person. Fortunately Offensive Bias could operate her tech simultaneously on multiple people.
Commands, rules, and behaviors could be built into the core psyche of a person, making victims' brainwashing impossible to reverse, and also resistant to other Masters.
That said, it wasn't something Cranial was capable of before we captured her, or else she probably would have been far more dangerous and powerful, instead of being a minor Tinker in Toybox.
She only unlocked the truly advanced capabilities after we gave her the chance to study Amelia's and Paige's powers at work, and in turn, she helped them refine their own power use.
Together, the three of them also created a way to project Canary's power through recordings, but it had to be done with special hardware devices built by Cranial, and a way to use Canary's active power to reinforcement the long-term Master effect from Cranial's tech.
Armed with these powerful new means, I released Teacher's corpse from cryo, then revived Teacher via cloning, retriggered via memory transfer, and had these three Master him thoroughly. The previous sixteen prisoners I captured from the E88 were given to him as students, with his Trump-Master power effect also studied by Cranial, Amelia, and Paige, and then his students re-Mastered to be loyal to CRUCIBLE in a hierarchy with myself at the top, followed by Amelia and Taylor, then Offensive Bias and Paige, and so on, instead of just Teacher.
Four powerful human Masters working together would be more than sufficient to brainwash anyone regardless of their resistances, though I still didn't plan to use Teacher's power on any high value capes as a safety precaution.
And so CRUCIBLE was reorganized to strengthen loyalty and morale.
Coil, Bakuda, and Cricket fell under my control shortly afterward, with the highest level of Mastery. Of course I didn't forget to make some additional secret adjustments to Coil to make him believe that he was in fact the one who set Shadow Stalker on Taylor's dad.
That was followed by Uber, Leet, Chariot who were folded into the organization proper, and every member of CRUCIBLE that was formerly a villain, such as Coil's mercs. They were voluntarily working for us, but with their previous leanings, it was a necessary precaution to ensure they were genuinely loyal and properly dedicated to CRUCIBLE. They only received minor attitude adjustments as part of a CRUCIBLE self-improvement training course instead of the full Mastering, and then their loyalty was confirmed in discarded timelines.
At the same time, Teacher's students had been put to work together with Offensive Bias and my other Tinkers on building the device he canonically used to seal off a reality from outside access.
When the device was turned on and proved to work, I was immensely pleased.
It was a game-changer, one that could secure entire worlds under my control.
The moon base was nice, but the moon was a desolate place without resources.
It wasn't foolproof, nothing ever was, but being able to seal off whole Earths from Thinker perception was an enormous advantage.
It was even better than I had expected. All I remembered from the canon was that Teacher made a device that sealed off a reality from entry. If that was all it did, there would potentially be ways for other Tinkers and powers to break in.
But no, his Tinkers couldn't make anything that sealed the physical Wormvoid from entry. They actually created something that sealed perception.
This was better because among the myriad of worlds out there, how was anyone supposed to find where I had my operations set up?
If they couldn't perceive it, they would never find me. I hoped that it also worked against the Clairvoyant, Path to Victory, and the Simurgh. I didn't have any way to verify if it did, but the fact that even Coil's power failed against it was a positive sign.
It was interesting, the results of that experiment. If Coil was in an unblocked area, his power completely ignored anything to do with the blocked area. It was like the power treated the blocked area as if it were outer space.
However, there was one important difference. Other capes' powers still worked normally, and some secondary perception powers still worked. For example, Amelia's ability to read biology still worked normally, so did Paige's secondary Thinker power that allowed her to read emotions when she was singing to Master people. Taylor couldn't see out of any bugs within the blocked area, but she could still receive the senses of her bugs that were outside of the zone even if she herself was inside it.
I should note that our own portals still worked regardless, because unlike Doormaker we didn't rely on Clairvoyant's senses, but instead used Offensive Bias's coordinate calculations, and the blocking effect didn't do anything to normal physical signals like those using the electromagnetic spectrum, and of course it didn't block Agate's Waypoint beacons for her portals.
Once I had the device, I had Offensive Bias reverse engineer it, and further ordered the Teacher students to produce a mobile version I could use to protect myself if I ever left the zone. Many more such devices were produced, and installed in all of our worlds.
But that was not the only benefit from having Teacher under control.
Thanks to Cranial and Amelia, Teacher's students were less mentally impaired than they otherwise would have been if they received more powerful powers.
That work experimenting on the brain, with assistance from the Thinkers of the group, and Cranial's own tech, produced upgrades to the brain that were proven safe for me to take.
I was now even smarter than I was before, and extremely resistant to most Master effects. Still not smart enough to learn Agate's Parallel Processing and Acceleration spells, but enough to noticeably speed up my learning everything else.
It also resulted in additional upgrades to the Bionanite Swarm and helped Amelia create the complete living symbiotic armour organism that could also be thought-controlled via the Bionanite Swarm.
It was at that point that I decided we were ready to seize full control of Brockton Bay.
Heroes and innocent people, I was going to leave alone for the most part. CRUCIBLE was still nominally a hero organization, and I might have a hard time convincing Amelia or Taylor to go after the innocent. For the same reason, I didn't capture the rest of Toybox. Although they were known to trade with criminals on the black market, that wasn't much of a crime. Cranial was an exception because we had proven after capturing her that she brainwashed some of her innocent clients with her tech. Otherwise I might have had to let her go after getting Offensive Bias to reverse engineer her tech, instead of Mastering her outright.
But actual villains were all fair game, and we would start with Brockton Bay.
Conveniently the Teeth tried to invade Brockton Bay, sending Animos and Spree to set up shop here. We noticed them long before we actually assaulted them, then used Coil to find the best way to handle them. Spree's ability to mass clone himself was meaningless in the face of the overwhelming numbers Taylor could bring to bear, but Animos was a Changer-Trump with a power-nullifying roar that was only slightly more difficult to handle.
Initially, his roar negated Taylor's control over all bugs that heard it, even though they continued the last command. Without coordination, however, they were much less effective. After a few discarded timelines, we discovered that Cricket could hard-counter his roar. Then Amelia made a new bug that generated soundwaves at the same frequency Cricket used to counter the roar, and sent that one instead in the final timeline we kept.
After that, we captured the rest of the Empire 88 without much trouble by hitting them at night in their homes. They were Mastered then quietly returned to act as our secret agents, without alarming anyone of a large number of missing persons.
Capturing Faultline's Crew and the Undersiders was more difficult if we wanted to operation to stay secret, particularly when both were gathered together at the Palanquin.
The main problem was Labyrinth, whose power could counter our most devastating tactics. She could shut down portals, move into a non-targetable 'in-between' space, shift bugs or other things out, and couldn't hear Canary's song when she didn't have a high degree of lucidity.
Bakuda had developed a Dimensional Flattening bomb that could force an area's portals to close which also worked on Labyrinth's interdimensional manipulation effects, but the downside of using that was that we couldn't portal in either during the period when the Wormvoid in that area was inaccessible.
That period was less than a minute, after which Labyrinth's powers would come back in full force.
Most other powers still worked, so the bomb didn't shut down all uses of the Wormvoid, but we only had one minute to invade from outside the Palanquin and subdue them all.
But more difficult did not mean they had any real chance of defending against us. Repeated uses of Coil's timelines showed Labyrinth's weaknesses and we inevitably captured them all.
The days after that passed by quickly as I continued to make my preparations to leave, training Amelia, Taylor, and Paige to take over, and researching powers with the cooperation of all the capes now under my control.
Even so, I never found out where mana was coming from, when traces of it were detected upon certain powers' uses. It was most likely something I would only figure out if I had access to the physical shards themselves.
Taylor had taken the news of my impending departure much better than Amelia.
"Okay," She said simply, after patiently listening to me explain my reasons. "If there's no major problems, how often will you come back?"
"It really depends on what I find out there. But the bare minimum would be a few weeks because of how long it takes to build up the energy for each trip. You're taking this pretty calmly," I said.
"I had hoped it wouldn't be so soon, but I was kind of expecting it."
"It was just a feeling. A couple of small things, I guess. I wasn't really sure, but…that day when Amelia didn't seem to hate Paige so much anymore, and she was kind of...nicer? And more…focused? She was also acting a bit differently towards you. Like she was sad about something. At first I thought—um, I mean it just seemed like something happened between you two. And then Paige joined us properly, and you were talking about Scion. About how the strategy you knew might not work because you brought that knowledge here, and how we had to prepare for what happens if we can't win, how humanity can survive. That's kind of when it clicked. I didn't really believe it before, but after that conversation, it seemed like you were pretty serious about being from another plane of existence. And I guess I kind of thought that you…wouldn't give up that easily, so you must be planning something else. And maybe the answer wasn't in this plane of existence, so you'd have to leave to find it. Maybe you didn't want to mention it because you didn't want to give us false hope, like if you weren't confident you could find a way to win. And you probably told Amelia about it back then, that's why she seemed sad. You always tell her things first."
"I hope you aren't upset about that. That I told her before you, I mean."
"I'm not. You guys were closer even before I joined. And you live together even when you aren't heroing, so it's natural to talk more." There was no sign of any emotion on her face, but these days she often forgot to move her true body's facial muscles properly, so it didn't mean that she wasn't upset.
"That's not it. I just wanted to give her more time to adjust and come to terms with it. You're much better at staying composed and pushing past difficult situations. The truth is, I think you'd make a better leader overall. Amelia's got the potential to grow into it eventually, because she persists on things long past the point where anyone else would have given up or gone mad, but you? You just naturally have the kind of personality to take charge and shoulder responsibility."
"You really think so?"
"Yes. The shards are usually pretty good at matching powers to host personalities. That's why you've got a Master power that can work on such massive scale. And if I never showed up here, you still would have gone on to do great things. I'm confident that you'll take good care of CRUCIBLE while I'm gone."
"Thanks. I'll do my best."
Before I informed Paige about my departure, Agatetron gave her another revelation. This was after she had been informed about the shards, Scion, and my own status as being from a different plane, as part of her initiation into the CRUCIBLE inner circle.
"As His mortal incarnation foretold, the broken warrior is the harbinger of the end of days. The broken warrior god is but one of three lesser gods who have come to the earth in this plane. One has hidden itself in the deeps, one has fallen by the treachery of the first, and the last one has broke by the loss of the second. The broken warrior shall shed its divinity and become the abomination of desolation, and it shall bring terrible tribulation to all. The earth will sink and the seas shall boil and there shall be great terror and destruction, famine and pestilence, and none shall be safe from its wrath. The host of the Lord shall meet the broken warrior god in battle, and His great armies shall be led by the incarnation and the two chosen champions. Upon the Lord's victory, the champions shall rule in His stead with power temporal as reward for their labour. And you shall hold the power spiritual as His messenger and voice to proclaim the Lord's dominion over the earth as the great god exalted above all other gods, and crown the champions as queens exalted above all other kings and queens."
"How will I know who are the chosen champions, O' great seraph?" She asked, kneeling in supplication.
"They are already known to you, the shaper and the administrator, and the incarnation has bid you assist them in raising the host. The incarnation shall soon depart from this plane, for the Lord must gather strength from other planes for the great battle to come, and you must ensure that the champions do not waver from their destined path."
"Yes, I will carry out the Lord's command!"
That made my own conversation with her much simpler.
In the end, when all was said and done, I stood beside the Amphibious All-Purpose Vehicle (AAPV) built to carry some supplies and equipment, and made to fit within the space of the Kaleidoscape tunnel.
The majority was conventional technology based and demonstrably did not rely on Wormvoid physics, but I did bring some useful Tinkertech and a copy of Offensive Bias along as well. In particular, I was bringing a pocket dimension inventory system and mobile base based on Dodge, Leet, and Chariot's tech, that further stored a lot more things inside.
If the pocket dimensions survived transit between planes, and the Tinkertech also worked, I would have some incredibly powerful stuff to use. But if not, then at least I could fall back on military grade hardware.
While I wanted to be as prepared as possible, I simply couldn't fit that much stuff in the estimated size of the tunnel, which, like all things related to the Kaleidoscape, had a random component and so my stuff might get destroyed in transit.
It wasn't possible to bring enough equipment that Offensive Bias could build a self-sustaining industry based off of only conventional tech, so assuming that Tinkertech didn't work, what I had was what I'd be stuck with, unless I happened to arrive in another modern or higher tech world in which I could buy more equipment.
"I guess it's time," I said. Amelia, Taylor, and Paige stood behind me. We were gathered on the M2 Dark Side Moon Base, where only Amelia's shard powers still worked, and watching the screen that showed the last objective to be checked off before my departure.
"Alright, Offensive Bias, go for it."
"All systems normal. Firing."
A notification and tracker showed a missile launching from the base's Portal Targeting Platform, right into a portal that opened through to the empty space between Earth M2 and its moon, and kept going for a short distance before the first portal pair closed and the missile entered yet another portal whose other side was in the Portal Targeting Platform again, but layered over a third portal that led straight to the target on Earth Bet. In this way, the portal on Earth Bet would merely show dark space on the other side instead of the missile's true source on the M2 moon base.
On the video screen that was showing Jack Slash leisurely walking down an empty street with the S9 following behind, a portal was shown opening momentarily right behind Jack, and in the next frame there was nothing left of him as Bakuda's disintegration warhead scattered his body into dust.
The remaining members of the Slaughterhouse 9 looked dumbfounded and paused. They looked at each other, unsure of what to do, while Bonesaw inspected the area where the glowing white rectangle—the back side of the portal—had appeared and blocked their view of Jack then disappeared just as quickly. She was joined by the other members of the S9, who started looking around, perhaps in search of enemies, or perhaps confused as to where Jack might have disappeared to.
It was terribly anticlimactic, and I too was confused.
Jack Slash was so vital to the original storyline that everything would be derailed. There had been theories that the Simurgh had planned out the way to defeat Scion, and if that was true, Jack should have been a part of that plan. I had used a few tricks to try and overcome her precognition, but it was still a bit of a shock that she didn't do anything to stop me at any point, from building the moon base until now.
I also thought Cauldron might have been secretly supporting Jack Slash. Considering that the prophecy about the end of the world came long before the end, it struck me as very strange that Cauldron didn't just kill him.
Unfortunately I didn't know the exact contents of the prophecy and Dinah Alcott seemed to be…malfunctioning, for lack of a better word. In discarded timelines where I tried to persuade and force some answers out of her, it was as if she didn't have a parahuman power. Her headaches and strange visions seemed to be actually unrelated to a power, though her brain did have a Corona and Gemma. I could chalk it up to Coil's power not properly simulating it, but I thought he was supposed to be able to get useful—if sometimes slightly inaccurate—answers from her in discarded timelines.
Teacher's blocking devices might have caused interference as well, but that was an unsatisfying explanation, considering that these timeline experiments with her were done on Earth Bet in unblocked areas.
All this strangeness was setting off alarms in my ahead, loudly telling me, 'Time to get out of Worm before your string of good luck ends!'
Oh wait, that was just Agate.
"It's done. The man who would have convinced Scion to destroy the world is dead. Scion will still attack eventually, but at least we've bought some time," I said, turning around to face the three who would lead CRUCIBLE in my absence.
"From here on, it'll be up to you three to make sure CRUCIBLE is ready for any other threats. Build up strength, recruit critical people, and refer to my notes with Offensive Bias when necessary. Don't be afraid to use Coil extensively. He's good for not only his power, but his own competence and intelligence as well. But above all, stay alive."
In fact, with Cranial's tech, it was now much safer to use Coil because we could even review his timeline memories after the fact.
"We will," said Taylor.
"You too," said Amelia.
"We won't disappoint you!" said Paige.
After a group hug, I wasted no time getting into the AAPV.
Offensive Bias piloted the vehicle forwards into a layered portal leading to a vacuum chamber. The air was vented, then Agate opened the next portal into the space beyond the barrier, past the moon's upper atmosphere.
We drove forward into the darkness of space only illuminated by the stars, and the portal shut behind us as we floated.
'ARMP Engaged. User Travel initializing. Destination selected: Random by Shortest Distance. 10 seconds to construct pathway. Please hold.'
This time when we shifted, I saw the universe flicker as if it was an illusion. Everything disappeared and I was in a space devoid of anything.
There was only darkness and I couldn't see myself or feel anything.
That feeling was almost like the float tanks I used for deep meditation, but it lasted only a moment until there was a single dot that expanded into a blinding white light.
END OF PART 1
O O O
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The main Worm segment ends here, and the story continues in the sequel, which you can find on my profile now as "Any Means Necessary: Rising".
There is additionally a quest version of the sequel running on Sufficient Velocity forums where readers can have some input into the story, taking on the role of Agate advising Kaleidus. See my profile for the link.