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INTERVIEWS 1.7

We are here now in the Lost Lands of Gondwalla with the Wyrm, for an interview that was arranged through intermediaries. Thank you for inviting us.

“You are welcome, thank you for agreeing to this. It’s surprising how many reporters don’t.”

You DO have a reputation as a criminal, murderer, and terrorist.

“All true, but there are no examples of me violating my word when given. Wealth and power are useless without a social system to utilize them, and those systems generally operate best with a level of demonstrated trustworthiness.”

Let’s start with this. ‘The Wyrm.’ Why that name?

“At its core, Wyrm is another word for serpent. In the Bible, which is among my favorite bits of mythology, the serpent proves that God is keeping secrets from mankind, and thus making man vulnerable. If God had told Adam and Eve why they should avoid the tree of knowledge, what it would do to them, they could have made a rational choice. Instead, like abstinence-only sex education, he depends on total obedience to be enough to protect those less developed, less educated, than himself. I am a creature of knowledge, and planning, and open information. I am the Wyrm.
“The word ‘wyrm’ has also come to mean dragon in many cases, of course. Dragons are classically creatures of power and wealth. Who wouldn’t want to be compared to such a creature?”

It’s been suggested you took the name because when cut in half, there end up being two of you.

“Ugh. That’s been suggested by one specific idiot, and it’s a gross simplification. It is true that I react to overloads of force, kinetic force included, by forming an additional temporary physical vessel. I’m a third-generation Boomer. That is not the same as ‘being cut in half,’ which if it actually happened to my core body would leave me as dead as anyone else.”

Very well, we’ll get back to the owner of that quote in a bit. Before that, we must confess to surprise that you agreed to an interview. Why do it?

“Why? Many reasons, one of which is because the league of idiots who wish to ‘bring me to justice’ have done more damage to the public, and cost them more money, then I ever have, and I wanted an opportunity to declare I’m not responsible for their excesses or obsessions. And here there’s no risk to me, personally. Gondwana is a sovereign nation that does not recognize the warrants or extradition requests of other nations, and I am held in high regard by the Shaman Supreme of this land. Indeed, it is at my request you were granted safe passage.”

Which we appreciate, though it may impact the reception of this interview. Most people doubt that Gondwana, or its Shaman Supreme, even exist.

“Most people can’t grasp the gambler’s fallacy, and think they are free of cognitive bias, which is itself a bias. I stopped worrying about what ‘most people’ think before I performed my first operation.”

Indeed. And you call them ‘operations’ instead of ‘crimes.’ Why is that? Do you not think of your acts as criminal?

“Oh no, they are absolutely criminal. I’m not fooling myself about anything in that regard. I just don’t CARE that they are crimes, for the same reason I do not care about the opinions of others. My own Zen requires only that I look to care for myself to the best of my ability, and I often discover that my best interests are served by arranging for me to benefit at the detriment of others. If I were less able, I’d likely think that obeying the artificial constructs of law and morality western society clings to would serve me better.
“No, I only call them operations because that is the fact that’s relevant. A crime can be simple, complex, heinous, or petty. None of that tells you anything about how to be successful in committing it. An operation is, by its nature, a delicate matter requiring planning and skill. That’s the thing I never want myself, or my agents, to forget.”

Interesting. It also seems, despite your apparent comfort here in Gondwalla, that a majority of your operations occur in Gulf City. Why is that?

“That belief is a matter of confirmation bias. Actually, fewer than 40% of my total operations occur in Gulf City. However, because that place is plagued by idiots who have decided Ahab is a role model, and I am their Great White Whale, people remember things involving me in Gulf City longer than they remember other things. They also assume I am involved in mysterious Gulf City events when I’m not.”

Care to give an example of an occurrence misattributed to you?

“One? Certainly. I had nothing to do with the 2009 sea serpent attack on the city, or the looting that followed. Indeed, the people who launched the attack had nothing to do with the subsequent looting, that was mostly petty criminals and panicking local citizens.”

And yet when that was reported as the Sea Wyrm War, you did nothing to correct the record?

“Reported by whom? By members of my own personal Star Chamber, who seek to vilify and persecute me in everything they do, lead by ‘that idiot.’ These are people who are clearly unbalanced, but are given endless credibility despite their obvious mental illnesses.”

The heroes sometimes known as your personal Star Chamber are a bit eccentric, it’s true, but are you serious in characterizing them as mentally ill?

“That you, a serious reporter who I respect or I wouldn’t have bothered setting this up, feel the need to ask that question is proof of just how bad the cognitive dissonance in America is. Let’s consider who these people are.
“Early Bird. I shouldn’t even have to explain how crazed you have to be to think calling yourself ‘Early Bird’ is a rational course of action. The man dresses in a feathered cape and cowl, and claims to be the world’s greatest detective. If that were the case, wouldn’t he have found a way to deal with least a FEW of his major foes? Yet year after year, we keep committing crimes and making profits. Believe me, paying dozens of mooks, building secret bases in abandoned amusement parks and old canneries, having custom helicopters made, and sponsoring the creation of new ray guns and chemical weapons takes vast quantities of money. If any of Early Bird’s major foes were being inconvenienced by his supposedly vast detective skills, we wouldn’t be able to afford these things. And in that regard my own efforts are quite modest—I pay for only those things I need to succeed at operations with a reasonable chance of bringing in significantly greater sums of money than they cost. I’m convinced some of Early Bird’s foes spend money just to mock him. I shudder to think how much Enigma spends on needless complexities just to confuse the Feathered Crime-Fighter, but Mr. Iddle is as crazy as Early Bird.
“Also, Early Bird keeps doing the same thing in hopes of different outcomes, the textbook definition of insanity. And what has the response to Early Bird been? Aside from some mocking Korean animated news reports, he’s hailed as a hero. Not to mention the copycats who have followed in his insanity: Ladybird, Early Warning, and the rest of the so-called Dawn Patrol. These people actually get up early, to fight crime. Do you know what percentage of crime occurs in the early daylight hours? I do, and it’s not much. They are all suffering mass dementia. Even the idea of the hero patrol is ridiculous – it’s virtually impossible for a few dozen people to cover enough ground in a major city to hope to randomly come across a crime. They’d be better served setting up community watches, rather than wondering around on their own or in groups of 2.
“But at least Early Bird is seen as “eccentric,” as you noted. Many of the rest of my personal Star Chamber are worse. The Hook is at least as insane, but because he’s willing to kill people with an indestructible metal hook and his own wounds heal quickly, the public accepts him as some kind of serious vigilante. And who does this sadist spend time with? Bait. Not only is Hook and Bait a terrible motif, I happen to know Bait is 14. It’s bad enough that ANYONE thinks it’s a good idea to put a girl in a tunic, bare legs, and pixie shoes and send her out to fight crime, but her name is BAIT for goodness sake.
“The rest of the Chamber are no better. Jumping Jack truly is the world’s finest leaper, but I have no idea how that is supposed to qualify him to serve the public interest by violating laws on stalking, breaking and entering, and fraud. Karna? He believes he is possessed by the actual Karna from the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, and whether that is true or not he shoots people with a bow, hangs them off buildings and threatens to drop them as a form of inquisition, and swaps back and forth between razor-heads and a selection of technological arrows that are less-lethal ammunition. He’s clearly schizophrenic, likely suffering PTSD, and is a confirmed torturer. Miss Amazing? First, calling yourself that is a sign of megalomania. Second, she constantly creates some of the most spectacular technology anyone has ever seen for her crime-fighting efforts, and she owns a multibillion-dollar company, but nothing she has created ever actually improved the lives of any significant number of people. Poverty, crime rates, disease, all move along the same trends that have more to do with the availability of education and abortion (as increased abortion availability reduces crime rates 16-20 years later, in every case) than with anything Amazing Inc. releases. So… what she is really spending her time and money on, other than self-aggrandizing hobbies?
“But if these clearly-insane people say I, who has never been found in a single lie and has no connection to the sea, or giant monsters, was responsible for a sea serpent attack and the subsequent looting, no one even QUESTIONS that narrative.
“It makes me weep for humanity in general, and Gulf City in particular.”

That’s… that’s an interesting point of view. We can’t help but note it seems fairly self-serving.

“Your skepticism is appreciated, truly. You are a reporter, that’s your job. But what part of THEIR narratives aren’t self-serving?”

We… don’t have a ready answer for that.

“No, you don’t. I am a self-confessed criminal. I make no bones about it. But my so-called Star Chamber of Heroes is a true menace, and someone needs to hold them accountable.”

And is that the true purpose of calling us here, for this interview?

“What? Oh, no. Well, one purpose yes, of course. But secondary at most.”

Then what was the primary purpose?

“I knew one of those Star Chamber idiots would be unable to resist taking the opportunity to attempt to ‘bring me to justice,’ in contravention of international law. As we speak, Early Bird has a stealth Whirlybird violating Gondwalla airspace, with which he intends to kidnap me and bring me to the U.S. illegally.”

How did he know the exact time and place of this meeting? He didn’t learn it from any leak in our organization, I assure…

“No, of course not. Instead, Miss Amazing assisted him in hacking into every cell phone in the Greater Gulf City Metropolitan Area, and your branch office there forwarded the call to you when my agents originally contacted you. Those two ‘heroes’ have violated the privacy of five-and-a-half million people, and can now do whatever their own private morals allow with that data.
“But somehow, I am the great menace.
“In any case, now that they are angering the Shaman Supreme, my most important goal here is done. But this secondary operation has been successful as well. Because what I have said here will sit with you. It will eat its way into your brain, and make you see the world differently.
“Like a wyrm.”

INTERVIEWS 1.6

“So… Sudden-Oven-Man?”

“I prefer James.”

“Really? Is that your actual name?”

“It is, amusingly enough! When your first name is James, letting that secret out doesn’t actually give the shadowy conspiracy of anti-appliance villains a lot of help tracking your home or work address.”

“You have a, ah, ‘normal’ job?”

“I do, though I’d prefer not to go into it. It’s boring. Tedious, even. But if I told you I was a pizza delivery man, which I’m not by the way that’s just a hypothetical, but that might actually put other ‘Jameses’ who deliver pizza in danger. In case the League of Appliance Repairman Assassins ever went on a rampage.”

“You don’t seem to take this very seriously.”

“I get called ‘Sudden-Oven-Man’ on national television. How seriously should I take it?”

“So if you don’t like the name, how did you get it?”

“I strongly suspect it’s related to my ability to spontaneously manifest 40″ O’Keefe & Merritt ovens anywhere within a few hundred feet of myself. It’s a nice model. Four burners, chrome griddle, oven on the right side, ‘Grillevator’ broiler on the left. It even has side salt & pepper shakers.”

“We mean, who chose that exact name, which is so closely associated with you, and why didn’t you fight against it if you dislike it?”

“I’m pretty sure the Chicago Comet stuck me with that nom de mask first, when I got involved in the Battle of Bronzeville. As for why I haven’t fought it… what’s the point? I summon ovens. Suddenly. What am I going to come up with that’ll replace ‘Sudden-Oven-Man’ in people’s heads? If the ovens could produce fire I might go with ‘Grillevator,’ just because I like the sound of it, but it’s not like they come connected to gas lines.”

“Why DID you get involved in the Battle of Bronzeville? Over the years it’s become very clear you’re not motivated to be a full-time hero. Sometimes years go by without you doing anything with your powers.”

“I got involved because people were dying, and the heroes on-scene were overwhelmed. We all thought Gargoyle was dead, Red Tail was having to hold the line at Sunset on his own and Hexen started yelling near a shop where I was that we had to evacuate. She turned to face down a wave of razorlings to give us time to flee.. and I just didn’t see how she could do it. Not alone. A cop ran up next to her and started firing his pistol, and I figured I had to do my part. So I began dropping ovens on them.”

“How do you do that?”

“Gravity, mostly.”

“We mean, how does your power work? Where does it come from? Why… why ovens?”

Actually it’s not just ovens. I can also summon a small stretch of tile floor, a gust of warm air, a cast-iron cooking tray, and some wonderful oatcakes. They just don’t come in as handy.”

“Do you know the origin of your power?”

“My grandfather was a Boomer Baby. No, I won’t say if you know him. My mother didn’t have any powers we ever noticed. And I summon ovens. Pretty clearly it’s a skip-a-generation thing. After Bronzeville, Doctor Phoenix checked me out. He says the oven, and the other things I can summon, are quantum projections. He suspects when the Big Boom hit in New York, one of the things it destroyed was a kitchen that had all the items I can now create, as hiccups in the space/time continuum.”

“Are their any limits to your, er… oven-summoning powers?”

“Many. The ovens don’t last long, about six hours on average, though if they get hit by high-energy states they sometimes go ‘piff.’ They are all the exact same oven, or copies of it. I’ve studied it pretty closely. There’s a scratch on the chrome on the left-hand side, and it’s not completely even on a level floor. It has momentum relative to the most influential gravitational field it’s being summoned within, which is a fancy way of saying it always appears stationary compared to the planet. I can’t ‘throw’ ovens, just drop them or set them on the ground. But it’s pretty heavy, so both those things work pretty well. The back is tougher than the front, weirdly, and I have learned to summon it in new orientations, so I can drop it point-first on someone. The oatcakes too, for that matter. And I have a maximum range of less than 1,000 feet, though Gargoyle won’t let me say exactly how far.”

“Do you interact with Gargoyle often?”

“Weirdly, yeah, I do. He arranges for training for me, though I’m never doing enough hours in a week to satisfy him. But I’m not really a hero. I don’t want to be. I help where I can or must, but I have no interest in forming ‘Kitchen Appliances for Justice,’ or anything. You said sometimes there are years I don’t do anything with my powers, but that’s not really true. My main power is humanity, just like everyone else. I pay my taxes, love my family, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Overall, I think those do more good than creating sudden ovens in the name of liberty. And, of course, there’s the babysitting.”

“We’re sorry, what?”

“Well, sometimes its ‘dog sitting,’ or ‘quantum anomaly sitting.’ That’s actually the main way my powers are used, which is to say to not use them but be able to if things go wrong. When one of Gargoyle’s allies needs someone to keep an eye on something, generally something weird, but they don’t think it’s important enough for a real hero to be sidelined doing it, they call me. I’m back-up. It’s a lot less dangerous than actual hero work, though I did once have to drop 47 ovens on a Fanashi Warcaster to protect a baby mammoth.”

“Does, does that sort of thing come up often?”

“For me it’s four or five times a year, on average. Some other folks in the back-up business have gigs almost every week. More during alien invasions and demonic outbreaks. I mean, look, we live in a world where people can fly by force of will. Mythic objects are walking around as people. Super-science allows zero-point rods to rewrite reality. Psychics can travel through time with the power of their bald minds. People wear onesies to fight crime. That’s the top level of weird. But there are lots of levels between that and spoon-bending, and for a bunch of us, that’s where we can contribute the most.”

“So you’re saying there are a lot of people doing… back-up?”

“Oh, yeah. More than full-time heroes. A lot of retired heroes in their 70s and 80s who don’t happen to still look 22. Apprentice Supreme Spellcasters. Younger sibling of kid sidekicks who can’t go into the field yet. And folks like me, weirdos with bizarre powers that are only sort of useful. We often call ourselves the Oddities. Sometimes we get together for Bar-B-Ques.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not this time, no. It’s a messed up world. I summon ovens for justice. None of that should get in the way of having a good time with friends.”

INTERVIEWS 1.4

“While the camera is rolling, obviously we’re not yet able to begin our interview. Security is, as always at the Hexagon, incredibly tight. The Tyrant is officially a 4th Tier Parahuman, but as a result of his experience, vast resources, and record of escape from both incarceration and any serious sentencing for crimes he fully confesses to having committed, the Hexagon has placed him under 3rd Tier precautions. That means that this interview will take place virtually, with lightbox projectors and low-fidelity analog speakers and microphones transmitting images and sound between ourselves and the Tyrant rather than any direct or even digital connection, the entire proceedings are monitored by off-site personnel including at least one unable to hear us and one unable to see us, and both rooms are rigged with deadman-switch countermeasures ranging from strobe lights and tear gas to explosives and a 100-ton free-standing ceiling that can be dropped to crush either chamber. Further, the interview is on a 30-day delay, and we will have no access to it for review or edit prior to its first broadcast. So it you are seeing this for the first time, so are we.
A 2nd Tier inmate, of course, is never interviewed by the press short of a court order and military operation. And, officially, there is no such thing at a 1st Tier Parahuman.
And we see the Tyrant’s image is being projected onto the viewing wall, so we presume everything is set to begin? And we are being given the signal that is the case.
So, first, let me say welcome to the Tyrant, and express our appreciation for your willingness to speak to us this morning.”

“It is a trifle. Much to my surprise, my appointment schedule is remarkably open.”

“Yes, indeed. You have been held for 103 days now, with no trial date in sight. So, let us begin with this: do you feel you are being treated fairly?”

“I have no complaints. I intend to conquer the world. I do not begrudge the existing governments their temporary victories. I do, in fact, see them as necessary steps in my long-term plans. Each engagement that fails to go my way is an opportunity to learn, to improve. I welcome those.”

“At the same time, isn’t it true you don’t recognize the authority of any government?”

“You mean some drivel like “legitimate authority,” the idea that some group or individual has the privilege of commanding and expecting to receive my obedience without gaining compliance through force or mutual self-interest? Of course I don’t recognize such things. If I told you I was now your king, would you obey me to the detriment of your own condition?”

“Certainly not.”

“And why should you? And if I gather a score or more like-minded individuals, and we all say you must obey, does the fact we outnumber you cause you to suddenly become loyal to us if you are not threatened?”

“A group such as, say, the Teen Tyrants?”

“Not even in the hypothetical would I ask anyone to obey that battery of self-propelled disasters.”

“The Crime Council, then?”

“Unlikely, given how we parted company, but appropriate for this discussion, yes. Imagine I was to work with the Crime Council again, and we took control of this facility. Indeed, suppose we declared we had conquered it, as the ancestors of every modern nation of note once conquered the natives of the lands they now rule. Would you feel some moral obligation to obey our dictates?”

“No, we would not.”

“No! You would not. And if we maintained control of this facility for three generations, feeding those we ruled and keeping them from outside harm, and your children’s grandchildren were suddenly allowed some say in a government we established, for our benefit, and designed to enrich us above others, would that mote of participation somehow obligate your offspring to be willingly obedient?”

“We do not believe it would.”

“Indeed it would not! And yet when I turn in defiance against the United States, who, as a nation, conquered a land not their own, repeatedly made and broke treaties with the indigenous people, brought whole other populations to these shores in chains, and then pats itself on the back for freeing those who were only enslaved by its actions, I am told that I am rejecting “legal” authority. I accept no authority other than that which I grant of my own free will or can be compelled from me through force or negotiation. I accept the state’s power to incarcerate me here, because there is a logic to their actions and they have proven they have the power to enforce their will.”

“And if you manage to escape?”

“Then I shall enforce my will on others. That is the only reality of the world. Politics is just the language of oppressors, used to determine who can enforce their will while doing the least damage. Not because we wish to avoid harming others, but because we plan to rule them, and why damage what you will own?”

“Well, we confess there seems to be no point arguing this issue further. Let’s move on to some interesting positions you touched on during your explanation. You seem to have little regard for the Teen Tyrants.”

“Very little.”

“But they are your apprentices, aren’t they?”

“I wouldn’t say apprentice. I think ‘child soldier’ is the commonly accepted term that comes closest to describing them. But yes, they are my child soldiers.”

“But why spend so much time, and apparently considerable effort, training them and sending them to commit crimes on your behalf if you have no respect for them?”

“Do you respect a box of rats?”

“Ah… no. Not as such.”

“If you wanted to distract someone, do you see how releasing a box of rats in their home might be useful, despite a total lack of regard for the rats. And how training the rats to be more violent and cunning might make your distraction even more effective?”

“So, you see them as nothing more than disposable tools?”

“Perhaps not nothing more than that – I see potential in many of them, much as a blacksmith need not respect an ingot of iron, but can envision hammering it into a sword. But yes, they are primarily a way to keep those masks and agencies that might trouble me too busy to do so as often.”

“Do the Teen Tyrants *know* that?”

“Of course they do. A reputation for brutal honestly is an amazingly powerful tool, one I have honed over decades. I’m not going to put it at risk by dissembling to the likes of Double-Tap and Slamazon.”

“So, why do they follow you?”

“Why do teens do anything? Some are troubled and have formed foolish emotional attachments to me, so they lie to themselves even when I tell them the truth. Others wish to anger their families, and this this as a means to that ends. And many correctly see this as their best chance to be trained in arts others refuse to teach young Masks. As long as they are obedient, their reasons are their own.”

“You also seem to have left the Crime Council on poor terms?”

“Well, perhaps more accurately on ‘unfriendly’ terms. I was well along in taking control of the Crime Council when the Masked Alliance tracked me down and defeated me in combat in response to unrelated operations of mine. That left me unable to complete my takeover, and exposed my plan and methods to the Council. I suspect Red Jack and Kubla Kong, at the least, won’t easily forgive such machinations. Most of the rest will follow the strong leaders, like sheep.”

“So, are there any colleagues you respect? Or any Parahuman at all, for that matter.”

“Certainly! I am not such a vainglory as to claim I have no peers.”

“So, name a few.”

“As you wish. Kubla Kong certainly has my respect, given that he lacks many of the societal privileges others take for granted and yet remains a force to be reckoned with at least as great as my own. He cannot hide in the world population, or see how others have done what he wishes to do. The ‘Great Ape’ must use his own strength and intellect to forge his own path. I’d be a fool to claim the core members of the Masked Alliance do not include several individuals who are in my league, if not at the same pinnacle as I. The Pulsar Knights serve an invaluable service to our whole region of space, and Gold Pulsar himself has my deepest respect. The Morlock King is without a doubt a peer…”

“We’re sorry – did you say the Morlock King?”

“I did. I respect him perhaps most of all.”

“The… the Morlock King who has been defeated by the Powers Clan something like seven times? Not to mention Angel’s Host, the Quiverfull, Science Team Alpha, and for that matter the Auxiliaries’ Alliance?”

“Indeed, the very same. A tall, thin and pale man with filed teeth and beady eyes, who you all take so lightly. But ask me this, have any of those heroic orders you mention ever managed to keep him locked up?”

Ah… not that we know of.”

“Precisely. To you all, the Morlock King is an under-powered joke to be defeated by B-Teams and teen bands of sidekicks and poseurs. But he is in truth a king, a royal ruler of a vast empire of ghouls and cannibals, who will inevitably conquer the surface world in a few thousand years. He is a time traveler, and a master tactician, and even when you defeat him now it is rarely until after he has managed some minor adjustment to the present that results in his Feasting Empire continuing for centuries longer in his own dread future. The Morlock King has, from his perspective, already won, and his every appearance just drives the moment of his people’s ascendance a few epochs closer to the time the races of the surface world will be cattle, playthings to be hunted, tortured, mated with, and eaten at his leisure. He is the greatest threat your entire species faces, and you don’t even take him seriously.”

“We, ah, we had no idea. When does this horrifically-described future come to pass?”

“As things stand now? Ten-thousand or so years hence.”

“That seems fairly distant.”

“Of course it does, to you. But when he first took power, it was nearly a million years until his kind would rule. In the temporal halls, his domain controls more years than any other empire has ever claimed. And he can relentlessly consider current events with the full benefit of hindsight, and contemplate how to bring about his reign earlier and earlier. I confess, I made a conciliation with him decades ago, to our perception, and have never regretted it.”

“If you are right about this, why haven’t you warned the Powers Clan? Or the Masked Alliance?”

“Who claims I haven’t? But I am renowned for using distractions to pull foes away from areas I wish to operate. No one believes me.”

“And what is going to be the result of that disbelief among the world’s greatest heroes?

“And now, this interview is concluded. Thank you for your time. I trust this moment will, when broadcast, bring about exactly the sequence of events I plan for.”

INTERVIEWS 1.3

Interviews 1.3
“Can I grab a pen and pad, too?”

“Not right. Not how you talk. Hnnn. With the other masks. They get the we.”

“Wha?”

“The we. The editorial we. You speak to masks in the formal tone, the Fourth Estate voice.”

“Ah… so we do. Sorry, we were not prepared for this.”

“Unavoidable. Apologies. Hnnn. Can not appear in a station house. Can not risk a call.”

“I… er, WE totally understand. May we grab a pen, and writing pad?”

“No. Recorder is enough. Nothing pointed. Nothing flammable. Unacceptable risks.”

“Very well. For the record, we wish to state that we are in the basement of our own home, tied to a chair. Ah… not one of our chairs. Where did this chair come from?”

“Hnnn. Home Depot. Sturdier than your chairs. On sale.”

“Ah… of course. We are tied to a chair from Home Depot, speaking to the vigilante known as Kilroy. The conversation is being recorded digitally, with a dedicated recorder. We do have a recorder program on our phone, if you’d prefer.”

“No cell phones. Traceable. Trackable. Possibly cancerous. Recommend against them.”

“Ah, yes. We’ll consider that. So… Kilroy. This is your show. What do you want to say?”

“Hnnn… nnn. Do not know. Not a reporter.”

“You… you forced me to interview you, and you don’t have anything to say.”

“Not my job. Your job.”

“So, you want me to ask you questions?”

“Yes. Faster. Security weak, no one coming yet. But major reporter of interest. Watched, monitored. Random patrol may come by, or random hero. Twelve minutes safe, hnnn, thirteen a risk. Have used eight.”

“Of course. Well, then, let’s get to the basics. You are a wanted criminal, a vigilante who deals street justice, yet you claim to be an agent of law and order. How do you justify your actions.”

“Hnnn. No justification. Lawbreaker. Should be taken in.”

“You… you think you should be taken in?”

“Yes. Hunted. Brought down. Judged. Locked away. Hnnn. Violent offender. Likely insane. But dangerous. Maybe in Segefield. Maybe in Hexagon.”

“So, if you think you deserve to be locked up, why not turn yourself in?”

“Heroes can’t reach everyone. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Some only I can reach. Hnnn. If I stop, who catches those? No one. Unacceptable.”

“But, who will catch them if you get caught?”

“If caught, then no longer the best. Whoever catches me can catch anyone. I would not, hnnn, not be needed. Survival of the Justice.”

“So, you want to be caught, because that would mean you weren’t needed?”

“If caught by a righteous agent. If caught by evil, hnnn, my loss would be disastrous. But, also, a warning. Heroes would notice. Work together. End the greater threat. But only so long as I am best. As long as I never falter, or give up.”

“So no matter what, you should keep doing what you are doing and make every effort to avoid capture, which you deserve, because only by doing your best can you ensure your loss brings about even greater good?”

“Hnnn. Never put in those terms. Yes.”

“Isn’t that a little self-serving?”

“Yes. Likely insane. Well aware.”

“All right… let’s move on to some specifics. You are famous for spray-painting “Kilroy Was Here” wherever you take down a criminal, or even a common thug. Why?”

“Because it is unusual, and the media talks about it often.”

“Wha… ah. No. Not why are you famous for it. Why do you do it?”

“First, to mark my work. So when the day came, I could be convicted of everything. My mind, hnnn, my mind lies to me sometimes. Paint doesn’t lie.”

“You say at first. Did other reasons emerge?”

“Yes. A warning. When taking down a fence, each post is marked. The next post sees, and knows it is next. The posts shake. Boards fall lose. Fear does half the work.”

“Are… are you literally speaking about a fence?”

“No. Allegory.”

“So, the fence is… ?”

“Any group of scum. Racketeers. Cheaters. Mobsters. Corporations. Thugs. Homeowner’s Associations. Gangs. Bikers. As you mark the loss of each outer member, the inner circle sees you coming, and knows fear.”

“I’m sorry, did you say homeowner’s associations?”

“Modern cattle barons. Petty tyrants, and a common source for money laundering, extortion, and, hnnn, drugs. Many are alien fronts.”

“Do… do you have any proof of this?”

“No, Cats took it to the moon.”

“Cats?”

“Allegory.”

“Ooooo-kay. Let’s move on. You also work with several vigilantes, the so-called Nomads, though you carefully don’t accept that you are yourself part of that group. If you deserve to be brought in as a vigilante, don’t they?”

“Most, yes. Some never break the law. Centipede. Huntsman. NIN. Maybe Tarnkappe, though he mostly likely does, just not while he is seen.”

“But the rest are lawbreakers.”

“Yes. Many times. Serious crimes.”

“But you work with them. Why not bring them in?”

“Bring in those who do more harm than good. Brought in Balefire, and hnnn, Sinstress. The rest are lower on the list. New entries higher up keep getting added before I get to them.”

“Yes you did, both after specific spectacular crimes. But… you do intent to bring the rest of them in eventually? To either hand them over to authorities, or disable them yourself as you’ve been known to do?”

“Yes. Have told them as much. Many times. Most don’t believe me. Or don’t want to.”

“While we are on the subject, why do you turn some criminals in, kill a few, and mutilate others?”

“Turn in those that can be punished by the law. Cripple those who can’t, if it will end their crimes. Kill them if nothing else works. Or if they resist so much no other option.”

“Does it bother you, deciding who lives, and who dies?”

“Hn. Not anymore. One of the most serious signs of mental illness. That and the cats.”

“Real cats, or allegorical ones?”

“Both. Time is nearly up.”

“We… understand. Very well, let’s talk about something you’ve never talked about before. How do you avoid getting caught?”

“Cautious. Smart. Not a big enough threat to enough people for the right resources to be brought in.”

“All right, sure. But, some amazingly successful heroes have stated their intent to bring you in. Anthem and Anthem Lass can both see through solid matter. How have they not identified you to sketch artists for a manhunt?”

“Can’t see through the cowl.”

“You… you mean the dirty piece of cloth you always pull over your face? That bit of worn linen can block Anthem Lass’ vision, when a solid steel door doesn’t?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell us how?”

“If you ask, hnn, yes.”

“Ah… very well. How? How does an apparently ordinary piece of cloth protect your identity from the heroes who can see through hundreds of feet of concrete, metal, and flesh?”

“Cowl is not one piece of cloth. Cowl is ur-rag, the perfect piece of cloth in all universes. It is the ultimate unimportant object. In every reality, in every place where choices lead to people, there is a Kilroy. We all have the cowl. Hnnn. One cowl. It makes us the same, but we are all different. We have no powers, no magic. Nothing but the cowl. Anthem looks through it, sees us all.”

“If… if that’s true it’s amazing. How did you come by the cowl?”

“Saw it, hnnn, in the gutter. Saw it for what it was, when life broke. Saw the mission. Saw the crimes. Knew I was Kilroy.”

“Very well, but, listen. You say you know you are mentally ill. You say your mind lies to you. And you have a social, unique cowl that gave you a special destiny. Doesn’t it seem more likely that you are seriously schizophrenic, and that’s all a delusion.”

“Yes, hnnn, of course. Not stupid. Except… ”

“Except what?”

“Anthem never found me. Anthem Lass doesn’t know my face. Gargoyle can’t find me. Troubleshooter can’t track me. Which is more likely — a schizophrenic no hero can catch, or a universal agent of the multiverse with destiny?”

“Um… “

“Time is up. Good interview. Do not edit it.”

“No, we won’t, of course. If we can ask just one more… “

“No.”

click

INTERVIEWS 1.2

“So, ah, can you hear us?”

“Yes, I can hear you perfectly. In fact given the pickup on my parabolic microphones, I could hear you when you were still inside. Doing this outside is more about you hearing me, without my speakers blowing out windshields and breaking windows.”

“We’d have been happy to have you leave your…. suit?… for the interview and come inside.”

“I’m… I’m not prepared for encounters outside the battle pod. Or, rather, I’m not satisfied with my preparation for such encounters.”

“That’s fine, really. We’ve done interviews on the quad before. Red Giant, Colossia. Even the Mist, though that was more about ventilation than size.”

“I saw that interview. I was amazed the Mist agreed to one.”

“Well let’s start there, then. You’re Scrap-Iron, one of the newest masked heroes on the scene. You’ve already made a major name for yourself, helping to take down the most recent attack of Injustice Machines on Flint, Michigan. Several editorial programs have made public offers of big money if you speak with them exclusively. Why agree to an interview with us?”

“Someone I trust suggested a four-meter-tall, rusted armored capsule with big guns and no sign of humanity might make people nervous. So, I thought this might help. If people have a better idea who I am, what I hope to accomplish, they might be less likely to crap themselves when I land behind them at a park. Ah… can I say crap? I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Believe it or not the 1994 McCloud Act actually allows us to broadcast what you say word-for-word without repercussions. You may get a visit from federal regulators, however. So, you wanted to get a message out–why not do it on a show that pays you for it?”

“All those shows seem… look I don’t want to claim I know how television works. But I also don’t want to feel like I’m being turned into a corporate mascot or somehow find myself on billboards selling used cars. I talked to some of those shows, and their interview contracts are hundreds of pages long. I didn’t trust them.”

“So, you’re cautious about corporate intentions?”

“I’m cautious about anyone who needs 200 pages to outline their intentions.”

“Fair enough, and obviously we’re delighted to have you. Since you are new on the scene, and you want to put people at ease, perhaps we should cover the Severin-Simonson Questionnaire?”

“Oh, awesome! Ah, I mean, sure, Yes.”

“Do you want to go over them all yourself, or have us ask you one at a time?”

“I, ah… Why don’t you ask.”

“Okay. Everyone remembers the first two, which we think go together. What is your nom de masque, and why did you select it?”

“My masked name is Scrap-Iron, and mostly that’s because this thing looks like it’s made of scrap. Well, and it is. It is scrap, and recycled parts and leftovers. I got most of it from junkyards and scrap heaps. It’s all I could afford, to be honest. But, I guess, I also wanted to make a point. About the things no one considers worthwhile. Scrap. Refuse. Garbage. If scrap can become something like Scrap-Iron, something like a hero, then what else are we throwing away, or ignoring, that could help save the world?”

“That’s interesting, and we’d like to get back to that in a moment if you don’t mind. But let’s finish the Severin-Simonson first. What made you want to be a masked hero?”

“I live in Saginaw Valley, the Tri-Cities region of Michigan. Times are hard. Unemployment is up, crime is up, hope is down. In Detroit, they have Gargoyle and his whole crew. But in Flint, Bay City, places like that there’s aren’t a lot of major heroes. Saginaw Joe, the Tri-City Sentinels, and that’s about it. People needed help, and instead governments are doing things like cutting back on services, not patrolling blighted areas, turning off street lights at night. I thought I could help. I thought someone had to.”

“What gives you the authority to act outside the law?”

“I don’t accept I do act outside the law. Most of my actions are based on preventing imminent bodily harm to myself or others. Where I move beyond that, I am applying the standards of citizen’s arrest under Michigan law and the Taylor v. Trantor ruling.”

“That’s a popular answer, since Anthem first gave it. Do you really think the ‘Bounty Hero’ Supreme Court case from 1872 is relevant today?”

“Anthem set a standard for a lot of us. He made it relevant, for a lot of people. I never met him of course, but I am certainly inspired to try to meet the expectations he set for masked heroes.”

“All right, last items from the Questionnaire. Where do your powers come from, and where do your loyalties lie?”

“I designed and built Scrap-Iron myself, so I guess my powers come from my own mind. My loyalties…”

“Are you a Boomer? We’re sorry, but we need to delve a little more into your powers. Obviously the Scrap-Iron, what did you call it earlier, a battle pod? Your battle pod is obviously a remarkably accomplishment of incredibly advanced science. The fact you build something from junk that can take on multiple Injustice Machines is proof your mind is well beyond normal human limits. So, are you a Boomer baby?”

“No, I’m way too young to be a Boomer.”

“NextGen, then? One of your parents or grandparents might have been a latent Boomer.”

“No, I know all my grandparents, and know about my great-grandparents. We’re all native to Michigan. No one was in New York for the Big Boom.”

“So, where does the intellect to build a battle pod from scrap come from?”

“I, ah, I wasn’t planning on talking about this.”

“You wanted to put people at ease. Whether it’s fair or not, there’s a lot of suspicion of masks who conceal the source of their powers.”

“Yeah, but shouldn’t we be judged by our actions, not our origins?”

“Does that mean you don’t want to answer the question? It’s entirely up to you.”

“I guess… I guess I should. Two years ago, during the Midnight Sun?”

“The 2013 conflict in Near Earth Orbit, between a Kindred Seeder Ship and the Vaelar High Guard Fleet?”

“Yeah, that. Like a lot of people I went outside to see why the sky was so bright at night. A Vaelar Tech Princess got shot down near where I live. I went to see if she needed help, and a wounded Kindred blade-drone was attacking her. I hit it with a bat, and it was in such bad shape it collapsed. I tried to help her, but she was dying. She asked me to take her thought grid – that’s a, ah, a virtual program that lives in her brain. It’ll die if it doesn’t have a host, and she didn’t want a Kindred to get hold of it. So I took it, and it moved in. Into my brain. The Vaelar weren’t happy, but apparently a Tech Princess can do what she wants with her thought grid. And since then, I’ve had a much stronger grasp of technology.”

“Okay, let’s look at some of that. You, ah, you attacked a Kindred? With a bat?”

“It was already pretty badly banged up. It had to survive re-entry”

“Blade-drones are eight feet tall and weigh six hundred pounds. That still must have been very frightening.”

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. They’re all claws and teeth and quills, and mucus.”

“And then an alien put a cybernetic implant in your head, and you use it to create alien technology.”

“Um, no. It didn’t come with any technology. The Tech Princess wiped it clean, so she wasn’t betraying her people’s secrets. No blueprints, nothing like that. It just shows me new ways of thinking about things. About how they go together. But it’s all Earth technology. Actually, the Vaellar keep asking if I’ll give them the thought grid when I’m dead, so they can see how I built Scrap-Iron. Sometimes they ask… rigorously.”

“Are you saying you’ve been attacked by Vaellar?”

“No. I am not saying that. You wanted to come back to something, earlier?”

“Yes, but first, the end of the Questionnaire. Your loyalties?”

“My loyalties are with everyone who is need of defense, justice, or a second chance.”

“So, not with the United States?”

“I take my cues from Anthem. The United States is my home, and I love it. But it’s better, WE are better, when we worry more about the downtrodden of the world than ourselves. And I want the United States to be a better place. And I think it can be. It must be.”

“Okay, so, we wanted to come back to your thoughts on Scrap-Iron showing that garbage can be something more. We’d love for you to expound on that.”

“I… I don’t know, exactly. I think too often, we throw away things when they aren’t perfect. People, too. If it’s easier to get a new thing rather than fix the old one, for almost anything, we do it. But… but not everything is easily replaced. And everything you get rid of has a cost. If we all took it on ourselves to make things, people, places, all useful, I think we’d all benefit. There are more abandoned houses in the U.S. than homeless people. That can’t be the only way to do things. But… but I don’t have a better answer yet.”

“Thank you. That takes you through the Questionnaire, and our initial thoughts on your answers. We hope you’ll speak to us again, when you’ve had some time to think about the answers you’d like to see enacted.”

“Yeah. I mean yes, sure. I’d be happy to. So… if we’re done you’d better back up. The backblast when I take off is a bit much close up.”

INTERVIEWS. 1.1

“Thank you for joining us.”
“Thank you for having me. I know both my schedule and my security requirements can be difficult to work with.”
“We’re more than happy to make accommodations. You are, after all, the world’s greatest hero.”
“I certainly wouldn’t characterize myself that way, but I do appreciate your willingness to take the steps to make this possible.”
“The security is obviously for our benefit. And, well, you missed our last appointment because you were, what, stopping an alien invasion?”
“The Pulsar Knight Accords prevent me from going into details, but it was a situation involving non-Terrans, and yes some military options were being explored before it was resolved.”
“But you’re here now! So… Anthem Lass?”
“Yes?”
“That’s the first question. Your name. Why ‘Anthem Lass?’ Is that the kind of name you think all female masked heroes should take?”
“I think heroes of any gender should take names that are meaningful to them, and speak to what they stand for. As for why I took Anthem Lass, I’d think that would be obvious.”
“Yes, but you took it in the late 1960s. Times have changed, our culture has changed. Many women in public venues have suggested it’s not appropriate for you to have a name that makes you seem like a lesser version of a male hero. That as a role-model for young women, you should identify as you own, unique person. Do you not worry about that?”
“I worry about how my actions will influence people, young women especially, every day. It is one of my greatest concerns. I have had the remarkable privilege of being given the power to help people in ways very few can, and society as a whole has largely embraced my doing so. I think that’s part of a social contract, and part of upholding my end of it is that I need to be mindful of how my words and deeds may impact what is considered normal, and right, and reasonable.”
“And yet you still present yourself as the female version of Anthem, rather than your own person.”
“I like to believe I present myself as much more than a name.”
“But you acknowledge that your name is an homage to Anthem?”
“Of course I do. Anthem was my mentor, and friend, and a great role model in his own right. And when I first started taking public action, in many ways I was a lesser version of him. He was older, more experienced, wiser, and better-known. When Eddie and I first got costumes…”
“You are referring to Eddie Throne, better known as the masked hero Power?”
“Yes, Eddie Throne. When Eddie and I first got costumes, we were both just trying to live up to Anthem’s example. He became Anthem Lad, and I become Anthem Lass. We were pretty clearly inspired by the ‘Science Heroes’ radio dramas of the 40s and 50s, with Atom Lad and Atom Lass, and similar characters. But we also really wanted to identify ourselves with Anthem.”
“Because he’s your father?”
“No, but nice try. Even Eddie doesn’t talk about our exact connection to Anthem, and I don’t expect we ever will. But he was an important part of our lives, and we wanted to honor that.”
“But in the 90s, Anthem Lad became Ultimate. You don’t think it’s time for you to make a similar change?”
“When we lost Anthem, it hit us all very hard. Eddie had to handle that however he felt best, though I’m never going to call him ‘Ultimate.” That shouldn’t be what our public roles are about. So no, I don’t think it’s time for me to make a similar change.”
“A lot of heroes other than Eddie Throne changed their names in the 1990s.”
“A lot of heroes did a lot of things in the 1990s I think were mistakes. In many cases, they’ve reversed those decisions. I think many of them wish they’d never done some of those things. But as I said, having Anthem die, having the one hero who never failed, never gave up, and always fought the good fight, fall… it hit us all. I don’t blame anyone for making bad decisions right after that, though I also don’t forgive those I think went too far.”
“Like Ultimate?”
“Eddie deserves to have me say anything I have to say about him to his face, and nowhere else.”
“Okay Anthem Lass, but you changed your name too, didn’t you? In the early 1990s, just a few years before the Battle of Hell Gate…”
“Mill Rock.”
“… sorry?”
“The island is officially named Mill Rock, so it should be the Battle of Mill Rock. I don’t believe in allowing murderous tyrannical demonic invaders to name Terran historical events. And I don’t like the idea of saying ‘We lost Anthem at Hell Gate.’ I’d appreciate it if you’d use the location’s actual name.”
“Okay, we can do that. The point is, even before the battle when Anthem died, you changed your name for more than a year.”
“You mean the Aurora Angel identity? Yes… and no. While that was me, in a sense, it was the mind of a version of me from an alternate reality, where everyone but her has super-powers, inhabiting my body in this reality.”
“… Seriously?”
“Absolutely. During that same time, I was living the life of ‘Normal Lass,’ the only person without powers in Reality-AACX1. I was there for roughly 18 months. I switched back to Anthem Lass within a few weeks of returning. Mostly because it took that long to get new costumes.”
“Why have we never heard about this before?”
“Mostly because I took legal responsibility for all the actions of Aurora Angel. I think an alternate version of myself, in my body, is close enough to me that I’m not going to hide behind transdimensional drift to avoid some citations and lawsuits. But my statement about the event is on file with the Masked Alliance legal registry, and has been vetted by both Professor Phoenix and Dr. Athens.”
“So… you’ve never considered a different hero name?”
“Of course I have. Every time I change costume, if nothing else. But I always conclude I am still proud to be Anthem Lass, even if that seems a bit out-of-place for a woman now in her late 70s, however young I still look. But there was only one Anthem, so I can’t take his exact name, and Anthem Lady sounds terrible. At least Anthem Lass has a history of actions I am proud of behind it.”
“What do you say to women who feel you are undermining gender equality with that name?”
“Only that I encourage them to continue to fight for what they believe is right. Gender equality is an incredibly important issue. It’s one I have spoken out on, despite it still not being the norm for masked heroes to address social issues. And there’s no doubt that some institutions and organizations have a double standard when it comes to female masked heroes, and women are taken less seriously than men in many fields of endeavor. I do think how we act, and how we demand others treat us, is more important than what names we use, but I won’t pretend the issues might not be related. I think it would be different if most female heroes these days felt the need to identify as distaff versions of male heroes. I think Hexen made a powerful statement when she stopped being Gargoyle Girl, Nemean made a good choice when she switched from Lady Hercules, and Tech is a stronger name than Tech Woman. I applaud those choices, and I am glad we’ve come far enough that most people accept them. But all you have to do is read the comments section of any online article about those heroes, and you’ll see that societally we still have a lot of sexism and gender bias, and there’s a long way to go. I may even be making a mistake to decide to continue to honor my mentor this way. I’m far from perfect. But I have to do what I think is best. With the influence and power at my disposal, I very rarely have the luxury of doing anything other than what I think is wisest.”
“There’s a rumor that the Masked Alliance won’t let you change the name, for marketing reasons.”
“That is totally, unequivocally, untrue.”
“But there are rules about the names of heroes in the Alliance?”
“Yes, there are now. There didn’t used to be, but a few juvenile stunts forced the organization to ban names that are obviously inappropriate.”
“Like what?”
“One member claimed to be switching his name to Goat Porn Man, pointing out there was no rule against it.”
“Why?”
“You’d have to ask Troubleshooter, he’s the one that pressed the point. And unfortunately, that’ll have to be the last question. An alert just went up on a volcano in Ecuador, and I need to leave now if I am going to be sure to be there if it erupts. Thank you, again, for your patience.”