The number one question that I was asked, by both the public while on patrol and fellow capes in private discussion, was ‘how do I control so many bugs at once?’ The answer I always gave was simple: they’re just like my hands, something I’m aware of and can move instinctively — a natural extension of my body and will. Of course, having millions of hands was not something the curious questioners had any experience with, but it served to explain my power in the most succinct way possible.
It also explained why I jerked awake in confusion and panic when they all vanished at once.
Several things were very wrong, to the point that my lack of bugs was the least of my problems.
Instead of my bedroom in the Chicago Wards HQ, I was in some sort of messy… living room? Pizza boxes, random papers, books, beer bottles, and so on covered damn near every surface; it was basically a stereotypical den for a house full of college students. The presumed occupant lounged on a couch up against the wall, staring at me with wide eyes, a slightly smoking bong hanging free in his hand. His stare made me uncomfortable, and not just because I was still in my pajamas.
I stared back, trying to formulate a plan. It was very strange that there were no bugs in the room, and a quick glance around revealed that there were also no doors or windows.
Was this a dream? Was I being Mastered somehow? Tinkertech hallucination machine?
“Uh,” the young man said, and I whipped my head to face him at the sudden sound.
“What’s going on here?” I asked slowly, head twitching nervously without my usual omnipresence.
The room’s only other occupant was obviously intoxicated with something, possibly many somethings. His eyes were bloodshot and when he spoke, it was lilting and unsteady. “I’m, uh, Rob. I’m kind of bored, so I summoned you to, uh, be amusing for me.”
“You summoned me,” I said dangerously. “For your amusement.”
“Woah woah, you’ll have fun too!” he said, raising a hand in a placating gesture. “You’ll have superpowers and get to go to a cool universe and stuff. Everyone always wants superpowers, right? This should be the best day of your life!”
I gave the guy a flat stare. “I am already a parahuman, and it was due one of the worst days in my life up until that point.”
He blinked a few times. “You… already have powers?”
“Yes,” I said. “Just what the hell is going on here?”
The man seemed to consider that, and a bit of clarity returned to his posture and expressions. “Just what I said. I summon you, give you powers and perks and stuff, then drop you off in a specific universe and watch as you have fun. It’s surprisingly therapeutic.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “That’s nonsense.”
“No, really!” he said, waving his hands to a manila folder sitting on a small podium next to me. Neither had been there a moment before, which suggested that this was a dream. “You’re not dreaming, Taylor. I summoned you here specifically because you have all of the qualities necessary to go onto a dangerous and unforgiving world and be the hero that saves the local multiverse! Or destroy it, or seize control of it, or whatever you choose!”
“And what do you get from this?” I asked sarcastically.
“I get to watch!” he exclaimed. “You mortals are so interesting, and it’s fascinating seeing what you do with power. Certainly better than daytime television.” He took another hit from the bong and gestured with the device. “You even get to customize the experience to your own liking, so that you maximize your potential entertainment value.”
“I’m already a hero working to save the world,” I said.
“Yeah but I bet your world sucks compared to the one I could send you to,” he said. “Just take a look at the folder.”
After a brief staring contest where he kept waving his hand at the podium, I sighed heavily and opened the folder. The first page had a picture of Earth from space, except that it was impossibly detailed. If I had a microscope, I felt that I could see individual people walking around. Underneath the photos were a list of eleven numbers followed by a ‘colloquial name.’
According to the page, this was Earth Bet.
I turned fully so that I could lean on the podium while I read. My home was, apparently, nearly standard in many measurable ways compared to what I assumed were other Earths. Things like atmosphere and gravity were all within the printed error bars.
The next few pages were slightly more surprising. They detailed a quick and rough history of the planet, starting in 1982 with the appearance of Scion and hitting many of the usual historical bullet points. It even had a quick description of the downfall of Brockton Bay, describing the Boat Graveyard, the hopeless political situation (including Cauldron, inexplicably), and finally coming to… me?
What in the everliving fuck?
I couldn’t help but keep reading as the ‘world outline’ covered the last few months of my life in a rather disturbingly light tone, condensing the horrors of the Nine and Echidna into two paragraphs. It also included my defeat of Alexandria, a short and extremely interesting treatise on Cauldron, and my joining the Wards.
And then it kept going.
With slowly mounting horror, I read as Jack’s Slaughterhouse 9000 emerged, followed by his apparent conversion of Scion and the beginning of the end of the world. I read about Cauldron’s efforts, the various heroic last stands, the other Entity, and finally…
I stumbled backwards as my shaking legs refused to support my weight any further. A chair materialized behind me so that I landed on a cushion instead of the floor, but my mind was racing and I was barely paying attention. Was this the actual scenario that I was preparing for right now? Was this so-called ‘Rob’ a precog? An entity himself? Something worse? Everything in that overview was completely correct and included details that I was pretty sure had never been made public.
I thought I was done having dreams about Dinah’s note.
“Are you alright?” the man asked. “I know that this may be surprising, but —”
“Is this accurate?” I snapped, interrupting the rambling man. “Is this really how the world ends?”
“Well, yes,” he said, turning to frown at me from a handheld game he was now playing. “If I’m going to send you down there, I don’t want you to be caught unaware. That is not entertaining at all.”
“Jack convinces Scion to end the world.”
“Scion kills billions.”
“And I stop him after Amy modifies my powers.”
“Y-wait,” the man said. He peered at me with bloodshot eyes for a moment before going back to his game. “Yes.”
I grabbed the packet from the podium and set it in my lap. There was more history after the ‘Gold Morning’ and I desperately wanted to read it, but at the same time I still had no idea what was going on. My money was still on ‘dream,’ despite how real it seemed, but now that the adrenaline had calmed down I realized that it was far too much to ask that I would just be given the solution to all of my problems.
A thought struck me. Was this my passenger, somehow communicating things to me? That seemed unlikely, especially if what I had read about Scion and his shards was true. At the same time, Khepri had been some sort of amalgamation between possibly-future-me and my passenger (whose name was Queen Administrator?), so maybe my passenger wasn’t wholly opposed to killing off the Entity.
Whatever the case, I decided to keep going. The years after the Gold Morning kind of sucked, apparently, and Amy went off the deep end again. Then the Grey Boy bubble popped and Dauntless turned into a monster? And the Simurgh was doing weird shit? I filed it all away, hoping desperately that none of that was true.
“So, what do you think?” Rob asked, not looking up from his game. “Did you look through the rest of the informational packet? I can modify your body, give you all sorts of powers, send you to a whole bunch of different time periods, and so on.”
“I already have powers,” I pointed out again.
He glanced at me and his gaze sharpened. “Huh, that’s weird, we don’t usually get people from a universe with Entities. What power do you have?”
I gestured around the room. “Well, there aren’t any here to demonstrate, but I control bugs.”
Rob smiled. “Oh hey, that’s just like Skitter! If you want to go back and become her, you’ll have a leg up on using your powers.” He reached for the bong. “Huh, that would be pretty entertaining to watch. Oh! I can send you back to right before she fights Lung and see if you can do it better!”
“I am Skitter,” I said. Thanks brain, I really needed reminders of how bad I fucked that up.
The bong shattered on the floor.
“Shit,” Rob said, finally giving me his full attention for the first time since I appeared in the room. “Oh, fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck fucknuckles. Did I not fork things correctly? Or did I reverse the summoning?” A laptop appeared in his lap and he started typing like a madman. “Shit fuck ass, this is why you’re not supposed to drink and divine.”
The idea that Rob would have summoned someone else and made them become me was unnerving in the extreme, which was par for the course with my usual nightmares. This was probably borne out of my nightmares where Echidna’s clones replaced me in the Undersiders. I distracted myself by looking through the rest of the packet.
“Ok first things first,” Rob said, glancing between me and the computer. “What is the date in the timeline you came from?”
“March 17, 2012,” I said.
“Ah, right in the middle of the timeskip,” Rob muttered. I knew that being a Ward was boring, but that was kind of ridiculous. “Well, this isn’t how this is supposed to go, but I guess I’ll give you a few options here.”
“Oh?” I asked. “I don’t suppose you’ll just let me wake up from this dream and I can get back to preparing for Jack to end the world?”
“I could,” Rob said, “but that’s boring. You’re here already, we might as well do something fun. First option: I send you back with some upgrades, maybe some new powers, and knowledge of the upcoming end of the world. You get to be the only sane person in the room, which is all kinds of funny.”
“Uh,” I said.
“Second, I’ll give you upgrades or new powers and send you back to your first night out. You get to redo everything and maybe become the hero you always wanted to be! Although, now that you know the truth about the PRT, you probably don’t want to be a hero anymore.”
That was uncomfortably close to the truth.
“Third, uh, I’ll drop you off after the Gold Morning. Yeah! You will have died a rather inglorious end for having saved your local multiverse, so this way you get to actually enjoy your retirement.” Rob made a face. “Although, you’d probably end up re-ascending to deal with the shard network problems… actually, that would be awesome to watch, too!”
"And I could have another power along with my current ones?” I asked despite myself. Doormaker’s power was incredible, and I couldn’t stop myself from imagining what I could do with it.
“Yep totally, I mean, why not?” Rob said. “I can give you literal magic. The real stuff, not space whale brain cancer.”
“Or,” I said, leafing through the packet, “you could just kill Scion flat-out? What the hell?”
Rob shrugged. “Yeah, but that’s boring.”
“No it’s not,” I said, gesturing with the packet. “If what this says is true, Brockton Bay is a shithole because Cauldron are being idiots. If he were gone, I could go back and try to fix the city. Cauldron would never believe me about Scion being dead, and people like Tagg will be in the way, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep you amused.”
Rob seemed to consider that before laughing. “You know, this is why you have a reputation, Taylor. But you won’t be able to hold the city by yourself with just your current power.”
“If I can get Amy to make me more relay bugs… Or, just get her on board? What if I turned the Undersiders into a hero team, although wait, the PRT won’t…” My mind whirled, possibilities and futures flitting through my head. It was an interesting question, and I had more experience than anyone else about actually working to stabilize the Bay.
“Indeed,” Rob said, rubbing his hands eagerly. “Let’s talk about the details…”