LORD DOOM by RustPony
Disclaimer: I do not own worm by John C. "Wildbow" McCrae nor this fan fiction by RustPony. Story Posted here for Archival Purposes Only.
There was no grand announcement as Taylor Hebert committed her first crime, no great moment to mark her debut as a villain. The only fanfare was the gentle whirring of the ATM as its servos and mechanisms engaged in dispensing out its entire stock of cash.
But of course, in the eyes of the world Taylor Hebert committed no crime. Lord Doom did the crime and Taylor had nothing to do with it. A principle that went by many names, the Unwritten Rules, the Grand Game, Cops and Robbers, even Counting Coup.
Taylor's school life was beyond miserable, an endless grind wearing her down. She had found some escape in being online, there at least no one knew she was to be shunned. She had spent a lot of time on PHO and even the more obscure cape sites; she had discovered something that at first seemed a wild conspiracy theory.
But the more she thought about it, the more she read, the more it seemed to be true. The Unwritten Rules were real and they controlled the Cape scene. It was why so many Villains showed up to fight Endbringers, it was why jail had never held Über and Leet, it was why the PRT used exclusively non-lethal weapons while even regular beat cops carried deadly firearms.
And it was why Taylor had created Lord Doom.
Taylor wished that there was some significant moment, some concrete event, something so heinous the world would have to act against it. Something she could point to and say "see, that's why I don't want to join the Wards."
But the Trio didn't operate like that, Emma was clever. They never did anything more than "regular" bullying. They stole her assignments, spread rumours, sent her hate mail, sabotaged her every attempt at making something out of school, ruined Taylor's future. But no theft or assault, nothing criminal she could go to the police with.
Well, fine. Her life had been ruined, but Taylor could fix it. She was going to join the Wards at some point in the future, get a transfer to Arcadia and collaborate with Armsmaster and Kid Win. It will be glorious and she'll never see Emma every again.
But she was going to do it on her own terms: she wouldn't enter the Wards as a no-name trigger who just got their powers, she would enter as a well established Independent Hero. Someone known, with a reputation, someone the Wards wouldn't dare bully or sabotage.
Unfortunately Taylor was a Tinker and that meant she needed money. Lots of money. She knew the kind of Tinkering budget Armsmaster commanded from the Protectorate and it was a staggering sum. If she had access to those kind of resources she could do amazing things.
But unless she had proven herself, she was sure the Wards would classify her as a Tinker 1 and give her a budget of a dime a month.
She had to show them what she could do. This dilemma had driven her insane, for days she had pondered it. She had powers now, she was a parahuman, but it hadn't fixed anything in the slightest. No money meant no Tinkering.
Then she had remembered the Unwritten Rules. Despite everything the school said about her she wasn't stupid and inspiration had struck her like a bolt of lighting. Villains earned good money, Taylor could make a throwaway Villain and get enough money to get her Tinkering up and running.
And once she had fully set herself up, built the vast army she saw in her mind, then Lord Doom would quietly fade away. Taylor would debut as a new Hero and no one would be the wiser.
She had put careful thought into her throwaway Villain. The PRT varied greatly in its approach to Villians and those that did non-violent thefts were at the very bottom of the priority list. Humour Villains were treated even more gently: some Heroes got really into it, quipping back and forth as they engaged in a showy fight.
Taylor's life savings totaled a few hundred dollars and it had been just enough to get her started. She had built six drones, slow and stupid and barely capable of much. They were tiny ball shaped things that could fly and most could not do much more than that.
But the seventh was special, it had taken almost all of her money to get the parts together for it. It was the one thing that she had built that was truly Tinkertech, something that told the regular laws of physics to go sit in the corner and mind their own business.
She called it her Hacker drone and it was designed to get into sync with any electronic device: simply send the right series of pulses at them and she could force them to do anything. It worked on the basis of a complicated wave equation to do with sympathetic interference she could barely explain to a non-Tinker, but nonetheless it worked. Right now it was stuck against the ATM, making all the motors inside spin and dispense cash.
Of course, ATMs had cameras, Taylor counted on that. The first pictures of Lord Doom to the greater world, his debut.
The other six drones she had were flying in a loose formation and she had draped a heavy black cloak over them. It looked vaguely human shaped, certainly the low resolution of the ATM cameras wouldn't notice that it was really a bunch of drones hiding underneath a cloak.
The two holding up the hood of the cloak were glowing a bright red. Lord Doom was that kind of Villain, glowing red eyes, booming voice, the ultimate ham. The kind of Villain PHO loved most and the Heroes treated with kid gloves.
The ATM's motors continued spinning about, but no more money poured into her cloak. The bag inside was completely full of cash, so heavy her drones were almost unable to carry it.
She pulled them back, the mission accomplished.
She stood still for a long moment, letting the camera clearly catch her appearance. The heavy black cloak dragged onto the floor, the glowing red eyes shone underneath the hood through a piece of black cloth meant to hide that Lord Doom didn't have a face.
Lord Doom swept away from the ATM and its cameras, a slow stately retreat. Once he was clear of all cameras Taylor collapsed the cloak, stuffing it into the same bag as the cash. The drones flew up, starting their long journey across the night sky to stash the money somewhere Taylor could pick it up tomorrow.
Taylor's hands shook at the controls with nerves. She was being silly, she told herself. There was no risk, no danger. She wasn't anywhere close to Lord Doom, she was sitting in her bedroom. And the rules meant her house, her civilian identity, was sacrosanct.
But she still felt like the PRT was going to burst through the door at any moment.
Nothing happened as she parked the bag containing Lord Doom and her drones in an alleyway that happened to be on the route of her morning run.
She went to bed, but she didn't sleep a wink until dawn rose.
Taylor had money, more money than she had ever seen in her life. Nearly ten thousand dollars! But she didn't see money, she saw tools and machines and Tinkertech drones. The excitement she felt was electric, her power soared in her mind at the thought. She was going to build so many drones!
Right now she had stashed it all in her closet, in a brightly coloured handbag she and Emma had bought together way back. Something she wouldn't even use again. She took out a couple of hundred dollars, as much as her entire savings had been before she spent it all. The pile didn't even noticeable decrease.
Her first stop was an electronics shop off in downtown and she loaded up on all the gadgets. No more using her dads soldering iron and a dodgy pair of tweezers: she got the best soldering iron with accurate temperature control, a full set of tools for handling chips, chemicals for decapping, desoldering equipment and just about everything else she could think of.
The salesperson was an old man in his forties and he eyed her pile suspiciously. "Are you sure you're gonna need all of that?"
Taylor blanched, in her excitement she had forgotten what it might look like to the cashier. It practically screamed Tinker.
The cashier soldiered on over her reaction. "Some of this stuff is pretty advanced, maybe I can help you find something more on your level young lady. We have some starter projects, you just follow the steps and solder where it says to. Or are you buying it for your boyfriend?"
Taylor kept one of her drones inside a pocket and she was very tempted to call it out and shove it in his stupid face. Her very first drone, it even had a weapon. Sure, it was a dinky laser that burned hot enough to light a piece of paper on fire. Eventually. If you pointed it at the tip of the paper and waiting a few seconds. But still.
She was a Tinker, a real one. She knew more than him, more than any human, her knowledge of technology was literally superhuman. She did not need a starter soldering kit, her stuff didn't even use solder! She just used the soldering iron to extract chips so that she could repurpose them.
"Oh, no, it's for my boyfriend," she lied and just managed to keep the grimace out of her face. If she could pretend to be a glowing figure of doom at night with burning red eyes, surely she could also endure this conversation without outing herself as a Tinker. "It's for his birthday, I don't know exactly what he needs so I just got him some of everything."
"I'm sure he's going to love it," the man gave her a condescending smile.
Taylor went home, dumped the electrical engineering supplies. Now she had to acquire raw materials and this was the hardest part. And by far the most expensive.
Taylor went to a few different computer stores. She had learned from her first experience and she came prepared with a plausible story. She was starting at Brockton University next year as a graphic design student, she needed the highest end laptop they had to run all those heavy rendering programs.
If they upsold some accessories, well that was just fine. The thing Taylor lacked was a plausible excuse to spend money after all, not money.
Finally Taylor had spent almost all of her money and she had a pile of expensive laptops, drawing pads, mice, keyboards, adapters, external hard disks. She would strip them for chips and components as needed for her drones. Ten thousand dollars gone in a day and the only thing she felt was excitement about the Tinkering potential.
And now she had a decision to make. At the start, before she understood her power properly she had built her very first drone, the one with the dinky little laser.
And that was the issue in a nutshell, each of her drones could not do very much. But her power scaled, infinitely. If she had time and materials, she could build a hundred thousand drones with the same little laser. Her technology coordinated extremely well, the drones would fire on target and in synchrony with each other flawlessly.
Back of the envelope calculations told her if she did build a hundred thousand with that laser, they would be a very effective anti-tank weapon. As in they'd turn a tank into a puddle of molten metal.
But building that many was a complete pipe dream, she didn't have the technology to build the technology to build the technology to turn them out that fast. Not to mention she did not have access to the industrial quantities of electronic components she would need to build that many.
She could still make a first step, now. She could build machines to help her churn out the drones faster. Invest now for more potential later down the line. Instead of spending a full day's labour on a drone, she would be able to make a dozen a day.
Or she could build more drones by hand, an immediate increase in power.
Linear or quadratic? In hindsight it was an easy choice. She wanted to join the Wards as a powerful Hero, someone to respect. Having a few more drones wouldn't do that, she would need a lot more.
She was going to give Lord Doom a few upgrades, a few extra drones to help him be a more effective Villain. She needed more money, a lot more money, to buy raw materials for her new production line after all.