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Adrian Tymes
Jack of many trades, master of some
Jack of many trades, master of some

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The latest KS update wanted input on, "Other parts of the world, places in the US that are not Chicago". So here's a thought on my home region.

Breakthroughs are "sometimes the result of monomaniacal focus or psychotic drive"? Oh boy, is Silicon Valley in for it. (Being the pre-Event world's highest concentration of startups, and thus of startup founders, who are known for their focus and drive.)


"Mere Genius"

There are regional databases of known breakthroughs, and studies of known breakthroughs per capita. If one examines these maps, one might notice a noticeable dip in the region centered around the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, commonly known as Silicon Valley. But this is only known breakthroughs, who either came forward or are observed.

It is theorized the region has a high number of "soft" breakthroughs, who stressed themselves through career-related mental exercises with no physical danger (aside from the normal dangers of extreme stress, such as potential heart attacks), which exercises were common in the area before the Event. (For example, in the most extreme of weekend-long "hackathons", some participants would go without sleep for 48 hours or more. While no such hackathons have yet been documented to produce undeniable breakthroughs, there have been reports of meditation-induced breakthroughs that involved less stress.) Many of them do not realize they are breakthroughs, and simply find themselves far more competent at whatever field they were studying.

Then there are cases like Omniglot, an archaeology professor at Stanford University who can understand anything written (with the possible exception of deliberately encoded texts: he says the NSA has asked him to treat the answer as Classified, which he'll go along with even if he otherwise refuses to work for them on principle), who is not only writing translation guides for extinct languages but also working with local artificial intelligence companies to translate understanding of language into computer code. Despite being in his 70s and of failing health, Barlow's Guide lists him as a B rank. Before his breakthrough, he had been working on his own startup machine translation company (now abandoned), dreaming of using his academic skills to get rich. Reportedly, he broke through during a particularly intense conversation, while already overworked and tired by many accounts, about how providing free translation for everyone would actually make money, specifically when asked to consider that the dream he was so focused on might leave him unable to care for himself and his family just as he would be forced into retirement, "unless you can read, like, everything".

For lesser examples than Omniglot, it can be difficult to truly distinguish "merely" human intellect, education, and training from a true breakthrough. That said, the region hosts a number of mental-type breakthroughs, and every major police force in the area has at least one cape. Famously, the San Jose Police Department has a Cape Unit ("Superhuman Affairs Division"), split roughly evenly between officers capable of restraining at least a B-rank Atlas or Ajax type, and officers capable of solving crimes committed and covered up by at least a B-rank mental type. The former are sometimes deployed to assist nearby jurisdictions (even showing up in Los Angeles once, to the delight of Hollywood). The latter, sometimes called "Holmes", are stereotypically overworked from local cases. (Fictionalized depictions have them traveling to other states or countries to solve cases that have baffled local authorities, as vacations. SJPD's official comment on that is, "What our officers do when on leave is their choice.") Per department policy, they all wear standard police uniforms on the job, with nothing to mark them as a cape unless they are using their abilities.

Most breakthroughs find employment in local industry, with powers that are either about or easily used for creating things that other people can use (most of these are categorized as Verne or Merlin types, resulting in a higher concentration of those two types than anywhere else in the world). Many take a cue from Omniglot, and try to help design programs or robots to do what they now know how to do. Several others support causes or people they favor by making gadgets for them. (For instance, there is a trio specifically working on devices for emergency workers and police, in particular the Cape Unit - though it should be noted, they have admitted this is more field testing and enlightened self-interest, such as getting supervillains off the streets, than simple altriusm.) While this is not entirely unique to Silicon Valley, what is unique is the scale and commonality, with countless conferences, informal meetings, and workshops where these breakthroughs can collaborate and improve each others' designs, or contribute pieces that a lone breakthrough would lack, making these efforts far more effective. None of the breakthroughs have been able to mass manufacture their designs yet, but this seems to be only a matter of time. A large number attempt supervillainy out of greed, but more than one ex-supervillain seeks out budding supervillains to convince them it is more profitable to use their powers for good. A few apparently-normal people are even putting together an online presentation preaching this message, and an outreach campaign to try to get it to new breakthroughs at risk of villany.

Those who stick with supervillainy tend to be masterminds, who obscure their trails making it difficult to prove who did their deeds, or inventing new fields of crime - either new takes on existing crimes, or what will soon be outlawed once legislators hear of their deeds. One Merlin-type, Jester (who displays enough legal training that many suspect his secret identity is a lawyer), made performance art out of the latter, targeting legislators and their staff but always stopping the moment his latest scheme was outlawed (in at least one case, literally one second before the bill was signed, with police on hand at his invitation to witness his timing), until he was appointed as a county legislative consultant with the promise to take his suggestions for new laws seriously. (More than one of his suggestions have been adopted statewide, and his local Congressional representative has used some in bills for federal legislation.) He insists on staying disguised on the job and being paid in cash, in case that promise is eventually broken and he needs to resume his old ways.

There is speculation that the preponderance of "soft" breakthroughs might eventually attract origin chasers once word gets out, especially if hard evidence of the breakthroughs can be found, but that has not yet come to pass. Nonetheless, local civic groups are promoting a guide that essentially says, "If you want to become a cape, focus on a hard problem instead of on breaking through."

Further confusing the situation, there are many, many non-breakthroughs with talent, good equipment, and luck who attribute their success to breaking through. (Mechanically, they may be +3 in a certain area, but have +2 from equipment and an Aspect they often invoke for another +2, resulting in +7. If they don't know better, and do that one thing a lot, they may conclude they are a C rank breakthrough. Those around them see the result of the +7, and go along with calling that person a breakthrough - and more importantly provide resources that, in game mechanics terms, sustain the equipment bonus and create more Aspects with free invocations for the person to use - in the hopes it will lead to more results of similar caliber.) Some claim there are less than a hundred, perhaps not even ten, true breakthroughs in the region, with the remaining several thousands of apparent breakthroughs being these "imitation breakthroughs".


What do you think?

Credit to Tim Bucknell for the original idea for Omniglot.
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