So, I’m creating a world were superheroes, and villains, are real and exist in the real world. Everything else is the same, like the gold depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky, which brings me to my question.

Super villains break into Fort Knox nearly every year, stealing the gold and than being defeated by the heroes again. Like the time Dr. Cyclops stole famous art, millions of dollars in gold, and gallons and gallons of expensive wine. He was stopped, and the gold was returned, before being stolen again.

So, my question is, why might the government keep its gold in the same place, even when it's constantly stolen by super-villains?

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    @MichaelK I wouldn't take example on that movie, it is so very inaccurate. They have nowhere near enough trucks to carry the amount worth of gold they claim they have. I know that because I did the calculation once. – AmiralPatate Jul 11 at 10:56
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    @AmiralPatate Oh, wait... you mean Hollywood got physics wrong?! * gasp * Quelle horreur!!! The point is still the same: Fort Knox is not the biggest depository. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York actually does have more, mostly because it is host to the gold reserve of 36 non-US national banks. It is not as much as is claimed in the film. Nevertheless, it holds more than Fort Knox. – MichaelK Jul 11 at 11:03
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    @MichaelK then please forgive me Michael, but what's the point to your point!? – RyanfaeScotland Jul 11 at 17:32
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    Money/gold laundering! Put 'dirty' gold in Ft. Knox, have it stolen, get it back, blame the villains for the missing paperwork. – Erno de Weerd Jul 13 at 10:19
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    Having worked in government IT for the better part of the last decade, I can tell you that if superheroes always return the stolen gold, that whoever is in charge won't see the need to dedicate budget towards finding a villain-proof solution, arguing that the superheroes are the villain-proofing. And when the villain gets away at some point, then the superhero has obviously acted irresponsibly. – Flater Jul 13 at 14:02

24 Answers 24

up vote 86 down vote accepted

Tour Ft. Knox, the world's second-biggest distraction (just behind Area-51)

You bet there's gold in Ft. Knox! Everybody knows that. Little Johnny down the street knows that! Tibetan monks in Mongolia know that. Your little sister knows that! Every intelligence agency worth a dime has proven it to themselves over and over and over.

And it's the biggest honking fraud in planetary history! Muahahaha! All y'all been fools since the 50s! And aliens! At some dusty airport in the middle of Nevada that hasn't been used in decades? Jumpin’ Jahosafat! it's been like stealing candy from a baby! We just fly those folks in from 'Vegas every morning. Treat them to the standard meal-with-a-threat moment, and ship 'em back. Nobody's the wiser!

Never in a million years has anyone guessed that the gold is actually stored in a 127-story vault beneath the Millennium Tower in San Francisco (you didn't think it's sinking because it's unstable did you? Gold's heavy!) It's guarded like Ft. Knox in a way that makes Ft. Knox look like my baby girl's Barbie House of Hugs.

Yeah! So, let those villains steal that petty amount of gold. Good on 'em! Gives the superheroes something to do (we don't want nothing to do with 'em anyway... prima donna little putzs). We usually get most of it back, anyway.

I mean, c'mon! You've never noticed that the price of gold doesn't fluctuate when Dr. Cyclops boosts the decoy? Inspector Clouseau couldn't miss that hint!

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    Woah, woah woah. Area 51 is abandoned. I didn’t by that alien crap but I thought they at least used it for tests? And does that mean Dr. Cyclops wasted 5 million dollars for nothing? – Robert Paul Jul 11 at 6:27
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    One huge flaw though, if you are saying that this tower is guarded greater than fort knox, its going to be obvious. The man power required would be a giveaway, and at least some of them are going to know what they are guarding, and eventually the news is going to get out. – James Trotter Jul 11 at 12:05
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    @JamesTrotter It's a quantum vault. It is there and anywhere at any given moment, and only when observed by someone with knowledge of it can fix it in space-time for access. =P – Tezra Jul 11 at 20:10
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    @Tezra, HAH! That's hillarious! I love that idea! – JBH Jul 11 at 20:19
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    @JamesTrotter Not really. Guards are for allowing access, and by definition we don't want anyone getting into the vault. Remember this gold isn't for handing round as coins, and even when trades happen, it never physically moves site. Embed the vault in 50ft of reinforced concrete on all sides including the door. 1" diameter pipes through the concrete into the vault can provide access for cameras, without providing access for people, and then monitoring can all be off-site. Add vibration sensors to detect drilling, and you're safe against anything except teleportation. – Graham Jul 12 at 0:30

Supervillains are going to commit huge crimes somewhere. It's what they do. The trick is to predict them, and the easiest way to do that it to bait them.

Ft. Knox is well-known and (in theory) highly valuable. It's one of a handful of prime targets in the country that are perfect for supervillainry. If you deprive them of those obvious targets, they'll pick new targets, maybe ones you didn't predict.

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    Also, bragging rights at the next Evil Convention: Nobody cares who melted the Baseball Hall of Fame, but everybody knows (and envies) the fellow who beat Fort Knox! It will get you bumped up from the panel discussions to the keynote address. – user535733 Jul 11 at 1:53
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    Also, they have to keep it somewhere or otherwise it will be stolen by regular criminals. – ventsyv Jul 11 at 15:45
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    Also, Fort Knox isn't exactly out in the boonies, but neither is it within shooting distance of any major metropolitan centers. If you're gonna have collateral damage either way, you can at least make sure there are as few civilian casualties as possible. – chif-ii Jul 11 at 17:14
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    You say "the trick is to predict them, but why? According to the OP, these Fort Knox break-ins are successful, so knowing that the League of Bad Guys is coming evidently doesn't help at all. Having bait is useless if you can't close the trap! – Nuclear Wang Jul 11 at 17:57
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    @NuclearWang The trick is not capturing the villains or preventing the robbery but preventing the villains from striking somewhere else where they could create more destruction due to the superheroes not expecting an attack there. So it's basically about creating a "safe", known environment for the super-beings to duke it out while leaving the vast majority of the population and infrastructure relatively safe. – zovits Jul 11 at 18:30

Plausible deniability for ransom

Between abut 800 AD and 1066 AD, Viking raiders terrorized Europe.

The raids reached such a pitch that local kings would pay ransom to Viking bands to leave them alone that year. In England, this was called the Danegeld.

I can imagine a scenario where politicians, terrified of the supervillains' depredations, pay the supervillains off in order to keep the depredations at a minimum.

But there's also a political cost: the voters might not appreciate their tax dollars going to a bunch of nogoodniks.

So, in order to keep it all under wraps, the Treasury puts some gold in Fort Knox, which the supervillains (or their henchmen) collect by "stealing" it.

OK it's a little thin.

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    Designated Tribute Site? I like it – Ruadhan2300 Jul 11 at 8:24
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    The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson even has a "capitulation act" where the government essentially surrenders to supervillians. – Tim B Jul 11 at 10:11

TL;DR: Ft. Knox is the best place to put it.

Secure.

Super villains break it about every year. That's costly. Still better than Joe random breaking it every month!

At least, in Ft. Knox, ONLY super villains are good enough to escape with the golds, and fortunately, super heroes are willing to bring it back.

Cost saving.

Don't put all your eggs in the same basket.

It's a well-known proverb, right?

The problem is that raising security to the level of Ft. Knox costs, and scattering the gold would require bringing multiple facilities to that level of security, which would cost more.

A single facility, like Ft. Knox, is about economy of scale.

Isolated.

Imagine storing the gold in banks instead. Then imagine the collateral damage when the supervillain brings a super tank in the middle of New York City to rob the bank.

Ft. Knox is nicely isolated, there's little risk of collateral damage, and no civilian life to worry about.

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    Put your eggs in one basket, and WATCH THAT BASKET. – VBartilucci Jul 12 at 18:52
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    this was going to be my point as well, just because a super villain is reliably able to steal from there they're still a super villain and they're in a lot shorter supply than the rest of the common thiefs – BKlassen Jul 12 at 19:42

The government keeps Fort Knox going because they like when people with super powers break in. Because the government doesn't actually like people with super powers, whether they are "good" or "bad".

So the gold is treated with Dimethylmercury when a super is breaking in. They handle it. They take it outside, they get stopped. Good guy handles the gold when he's bringing it back.

Ten months later they both die, and the government's hands are clean.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dimethylmercury

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    Dark. I kinda like it though. If you want a less lethal option fillit with cameras and sensors and use it as a honeypot method of super-individual cataloguing. – Joe Bloggs Jul 11 at 8:26
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    When the superheroes realize that the government intentionally killed one of them, you suddenly get a whole lot more supervillians - many with security clearances and access to sensitive areas. – Eric Jul 11 at 16:13
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    Capt. Fantastic - "I have recovered your gold. Here you go helpless normal guy." Gov. Agent - "Uh, thanks. Just set it on the ground over there.", while slipping on an abrasion resistant level 4 hazmat suit. – Eric Jul 11 at 19:29
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    Oh, no, field agents wouldn't know. What if they ran into a super who could could read minds? But in a world where you fought a nine story radioactive gorilla last week, are you really going to jump to the conclusion that the government poisoned you five months ago? – Brizzy Jul 11 at 23:19
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    Deductive reasoning is all you need. 1. Anyone ever associated to Ft. Knox gold gets sick and dies....including normal people apparently :P . 2. Autopsies always show mercury poisoning as the cause of death. 3. The government always has an excuse but never a response. Addendum: One super power is hyper-intelligence. Someone will figure it out and provide proof. Perhaps a plucky FBI field agent named Fox Mulder? – Eric Jul 12 at 14:35

Security testing.

In a world of super-villains, the need to test your security systems in real world examples would be supreme. Fort Knox could be a testing ground for prototype defence systems, regularly restocked to ensure an ongoing set of volunteers for the trials.

Defence contractors will pay big bucks to have their systems in place in Fort Knox - as opposed to being paid to install them - the test data is worth far more than gold.

It's part of the unwritten rules of the "game".

It's plain to see that many superpowered individuals (both heroic and villainous) would cause truly catastrophic damage if they went all out and fought or schemed without limits. They also often have powers which make containing and confining them tremendously difficult, if not impossible, so it's not uncommon that the only way to really stop a superpowered for good is to kill them. However, that doesn't happen - because the heroes and villains both are basically playing by a code that says they don't try too hard, they don't cross certain red lines, and they don't have particularly hard feelings about it at the end of the day - so they can all stand shoulder to shoulder when the aliens turn up and try to enslave humanity, or whatever.

Part of that unspoken agreement is that targets like Fort Knox are there for the heroes and villains to play their game around. A high value, high prestige target, without much collateral damage to cause - and better there than somewhere else unknown, where there's a greater risk of people getting hurt, etc.

I should note that though the idea is generic enough, it is explored in detail in the online serial Worm (which inspired my answer, and where the existence of these unwritten rules ends being a significant plot point).

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    You are describing worm – Benubird Jul 11 at 9:00
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    @Benubird I did very much have Worm in mind when writing this answer, though I stopped short of explicitly referencing it. – Carcer Jul 11 at 9:24
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    It's good to know where ideas come from. If someone gave me a cool idea, and I wrote a book based on, then discovered that the great idea was actually from someone else's story I'd be pretty annoyed. Maybe it's just me, but if I was going to build a world based on someone else's, I would want to be conscious of the original so as to avoid unintentionally plagiarising them. – Benubird Jul 11 at 9:35
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    @Benubird the general trope is common enough in superhero fiction, since functionally lots of characters behave this way regardless of whether the existence of the unwritten rules is explicit or not, and comic stories are full of examples where heroes and villains normally bitter enemies team up to face greater threats, etc. Worm just happens to be a very popular work which is in large part a deconstruction of the superhero genre and so it confronts these themes explicitly, but it's hardly the direct source of the concept. – Carcer Jul 11 at 11:20

To avoid overworking the superheroes

Option #1

Fort Knox is safe from non-supervillains.

Its security systems cannot hope to stop super-villains, but they can stop regular people from stealing the gold.

In the past, security budget was reduced because the government was happy with the super-heroes recovering the gold each time it was stolen, either from regular or supervillains. But super-heroes became overworked, and they threatened to go on strike.

Finally, an agreement was reached: super-heroes would protect the gold from super-villains, but it was the government duty to protect the gold from regular villains.

Option #2

The security measures do not defeat the super-villains but they do slow them.

Without the security measures, any super-villain would wake up in the morning, steal all of Fort Knox's gold and then go to have breakfast. The super-heroes would be constantly thwarting this or that super-villain attempt.

With the security measures, the super-villain must be more careful. He has to study Fort Knox, look for weak spots, produce the clever hardware designs that will allow him to reach his objectives, etc. That lowers dramatically the frequency of assaults by super-villains, giving a break to the super-heroes.

Well, there is no gold in Fort Knox, and supervillains don't steal it.

If you were a supervillain and you fell for the fraud, would you tell your supervillain friends how stupid you were? Or, would you keep telling everybody that you had the gold, until you were defeated by unfair means and conditions which were not your fault?

On the other hand side, it is very profitable for the government to keep up the story of gold when in reality there's no gold left, the country has factually been bankrupt for over a decade, and they only keep it going by printing ever increasing amounts of worthless green paper bills. You don't want to risk an insurrection after your people finds out that the money in their pockets is worth nothing, right?

Plus, you can always point out what awesome means you have to defeat supervillains no matter what they try, they're never permanently getting away with the gold.

Because you can't realistically hide a big pile of gold (as a government) without someone finding out where it is.

So you put it in the safest place you have. Too bad if that isn't enough.

Bait

The gold has trackers embedded within, or are altered chemically or otherwise in a way that allows easy tracking of the stolen loot from afar. The government actually wants the villains to steal that particular stash of gold, so that the heroes' jobs becomes that much easier. It's not their fault if the villains are consistently dumb enough to bite on the same bait over and over.

To maintain the seal held beneath

The government would prefer to hold their gold elsewhere however the extra dimensional seals within the floors are specifically require gold to fault the opening sequence. There have been attempts to find alternate materials. The best alternative that has been discovered was rubidium however that slows the sequence rather than resetting it. Luckily most of the time when the gold gets cleaned out the rubidium backup is left alone.

Records show that the opening sequence takes approximately 96 hours to begin the breach unimpeded or (based on extrapolation) approximately 34 days when rubidium bridges the power nodes. The longest the sequence has been allowed to progress was 128 hours by which point the breach is approximately 4 meters across, which is too small for outsiders to enter fully however several lives were lost replacing the gold.

Everyone would be much happier were Fort Knox just another building but power makes for temptation and mistakes of the past must be paid for.

You need to keep it somewhere and a big pile gold is a great honeypot trap and not a threat to humanity.

If you fill Fort Knox with gold and the best protection money can buy. You then fill it with sensors, detectors and scientific equipment so when someone steals the gold, you can work out how they did it so countermeasures can be developed.

Stick some trackers in the gold to help get it back.

Better to have super villains stealing gold than nukes or bioweapons

This is a bit of an out-of-left-field answer, but you could potentially accomplish this via an elaborate ruse. Here's how it goes:

  1. Dr. Cyclops commits the robbery you describe in the question.
  2. The US Government states that, since Fort Knox is obviously no longer secure, they're going to stop using it to store gold, convert it solely into an army barracks (I believe that's Fort Knox's other function), and move the gold somewhere else. The supervillains nod their collective heads. Not even the US Government is stupid enough to store gold in a place that was already broken into, right...?
  3. The US Government does not, in fact, stop storing gold at Fort Knox. It steps up the army presence there, both to keep up the ruse and to act as extra security, but it also keeps the gold in the vaults. But now the public - and the villains - think the gold isn't there.
  4. Every now and then, a supervillain will figure out the ruse and rob Fort Knox. They are invariably defeated and captured, the media report it as an "attack on an army base" rather than a robbery, and the gold is returned to Fort Knox before the villain can tell anyone where it came from. (This is why Fort Knox isn't attacked every week - the villains have to actually figure out that the gold is still there.)

Bait, but only if because the government is full of terrible people

Disclaimer: I didn't see Brizzy's post on dimethylmercury before typing this up. But that seems a little harsh, even for the government.

Line the room's walls with lead. Expose the gold to a very small quantity of polonium, which is considered to be the most radioactive element. With a half-life of 138 days, Fort Knox can hire somebody to come in every few months and hose the gold down with a very thin layer of polonium solution. Keep a reserve stockpile elsewhere - you won't want to cash out on Fort Knox's supply any time this decade.

Can't afford polonium? Try radium, which is cheap enough to be used in luminous watches, before people realized how much radiation it throws out. Regardless of your radiation source, keep the level low enough that they'll suffer weakness, nausea, and vomiting, making them easier to catch and, if they don't get treatment, will eventually hemorrhage out and die.

Since so many supers have energy-based powers (X-ray vision, laser beams, etc), there are an abundance of folks who could be spewing out gamma rays. Even if the supervillains do figure out that they've got radiation poisoning, the source will be hard to suss out.

Regardless of how the supervillain ends up using the gold, the government wins. If they sit atop it like a dragon hold, they die within a few days or weeks. If they sell it off illicitly, the buyer dies and the supervillain loses face. If some makes its way back into circulation and a bunch of average Joes start to get sick, the villain gets blamed. By the time an official investigation can take place, most of the radioactive spray will have burned off.

It serves multiple purposes.

The first one is a test. Fort Knox (FK) has the litteral army guarding it. Any supervillain capable of penetrating FK will be able to deal with the nation's army, and will require a superhero to deal with.

The second is safety: why try to hide it if the supervillain is going to come knocking anyway? FK is off-limits to civilians and commercial airflights (or at least safe bufferzone's could be created) so you dont have to run around saving civies or holding back.

Thirdly with each theft you get wiser and get increasingly secure buildings. Basically it's a research ground to see how, where and with what superpowers the theft happens. They can even catalog "gee, we've not seen this guy/girl yet" or "Hey mister sublime mustache has gotten a goatee and a new superpower".

And lastly: it makes asking the superhero's to resecure the gold that much easier. You can more easily track escape routes and follow the baddies in the direction of their Evil lair, yiu might even have a few local superhero's on speeddial for increased response. Then once it's secure you can hire the usual gold-moveall team to haul it back across roads designed for heavy gold transport. Naturally you have several failsafes to make sure these transport teams aren't baddies in disguise ready for a second stealing but because that will ineviteably fail anyways you embed a superhero amongst the crew to retrieve it the moment it's stolen.

  • +1 for the "Research" angle. They can even use it to test super-power sensors. – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 11 at 18:42

Due to the difficulty of selling so much gold through the black market over a short period of time, it is likely that most of the stolen gold will be sitting in the supervillians' vault and can be returned upon his defeat. So the actual losses due to supervillian theft are not as great as one might imagine.

Clearly, the contractors holding the contracts to repair and rebuild Ft. Knox after said attacks are providing enough money to the Senators from Kentucky (currently Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, although that detail may not be important, depending on the amount of direct political relevance you intend) and relevant PACs to keep that facility in Kentucky.

It's worth noting that the current dollar amounts to contractors in Fort Knox (the city) has been about $0.25 billion from 2000-2017. If you were to posit annual smash-and-grab attempts, this could increase 100-fold rather easily. (Note that just because one is a defense contractor in Fort Knox, KY does not mean that one is contracting for work relevant to the Fort. However, I'd place my bets on that assumption being true.)

This was actually gone over by supervillian Auric Goldfinger in his eponyomous James Bond movie.

Yes there's a lot of gold at Ft. Knox. So much in fact, that on the whole its un-robbable. Gold is really heavy, and carting off that much of it would be a serious logistical challenge. It would take legions of trucks weeks just to get it all out. You could perhaps get that down to days with enough super-strength help, but those brutes would all need a cut too, and you aren't going to have days before the capes show up.

Bond is recaptured and tells Goldfinger his plan to rob the gold depository will not work, as he will not have enough time to move the gold before the Americans intervene. Goldfinger hints he does not intend to steal the gold, and Bond deduces that Goldfinger will detonate a dirty bomb inside the vault, designed to render the gold useless for 58 years. This will increase the value of Goldfinger's own gold and give the Chinese an advantage from the potential economic chaos. Goldfinger subtly threatens that should the Americans attempt to locate the bomb or interfere with his plan, he will simply have it detonated somewhere of significance in the United States.

You might be able to pull off a simple dash and grab of a small bit of it, but you could do the same at any bank, and they are far less well-protected. Think retirees with handguns rather than whole units of US Military with automatic weapons.

Robbing Ft. Knox is for chumps who don't know what they are doing, not a true evil mastermind.

Far more of a concern is villains trying to destroy Ft. Knox to render the entire supply unusable (Goldfinger's plan was to make it all radioactive). The best way to nip these plans in the bud is to have agents keeping a sharp eye out for anyone trying to corner the gold market (that's how a villain profits from this scheme).

  • I was tempted to downvote, but instead I am just going to point out that this question is about supervillains. As in people with special powers or advanced technology. Lifting a little gold isn't a challenge to someone who can juggle oil tankers (and that's considering not just the weight of the tankers, but also their awkward shape and comparative fragility) or throw the bricks threw a portal (once they get to them in the first place). – Xavon_Wrentaile Jul 15 at 7:53
  • @Xavon_Wrentaile - I actually addressed that exact issue in paragraph 2. That fact that you aren't addressing the reason I dismissed that issue tells me you may not have actually read the answer fully. – T.E.D. Jul 16 at 13:48
  • @Xavon_Wrentaile - I do like your portal idea though, but it doesn't get rid of the logistical problem, just moves it. The other side of the portal would be bricked up with gold before you'd taken even a small percentage of what's at Ft. Knox, and there are multiple buildings full of gold there. Large ones. So a single portal won't do the job either. – T.E.D. Jul 16 at 18:12

They have discovered an inexpensive source of gold. Gold sold by the supervillain is never sold on transparent markets and supervillains will create chaos anyway. Even more. With every robbery the price goes up and the government sells the gold in the black market to finance their secret super-powers investigation lab. Buyers think that they are buying robbed goods and do not ask too much questions.

Because the gold itself is just there to disguise the more important artifact hidden far beneath that pile of gold. It's like hiding a needle among hay. You got the hay, you don't realize the needle.

The artifact can be something that can turn a normal human into a superhero. That would make it a very dangerous artifact.

If we abandon Fort Knox, the terrorists win.

Besides, why move the gold? It's not particularly important, and it's not as if there's someplace safer.

Because you have to store the gold somewhere. Storing it in any single alternate location would simply mean that becomes the target instead. Storing it in multiple locations means you have to protect each to the same level, otherwise the lesser protected ones become the target. And if you don't protect all of them to the same level as Fort Knox, well, you just made it easier to steal the gold because it's in less secure locations.

Magic

Most superhero worlds have some sort of magic, many have more than one. Assuming this world is the same, there are two different, possible, magical reasons that Fort Knox needs to stay where it is.

High Magic required

Fort Knox sits on the second largest ley line nexus in North America, eclipsed only by a nexus centered over a small island in Lake Michigan (not suitable for a large fort). Fort Knox needs the nexus to power all of its magical defenses. In addition to the thick walls, cameras, guards, et cetera, the Fort also has various guards, wards, and seals. They not only protect it from various types of magic, they also make the physical walls stronger and self-repairing.

That's why Doctor Gauss occasionally sweeps through and take the gold with his meta-magnetic powers. But Klepto-Chango cannot just teleport into the vault, fill her top hat with gold, and then pop back out. The spells prevent her from doing that.

Null Magic Zone

Rather than a high magic zone, the fort is built in a null magic zone. This actually serves two purposes. First, magical villains are severely weakened in and around the fort. But that, and the gold as well are just a front. The real reason Fort Knox exists is to store magic artifacts. The Ark of the Covenant, the Necronomicon, the Eye of Vecna, all are stored under the gold depository. They can't be destroyed, either because they are indestructible or because they are needed for certain specific incidents. So instead the government stores them. Because there is no magic in the area, the artifacts are dormant. And since everyone thinks the Fort is just for the gold, no-one considers that there might be something else there.

protected by James Jul 12 at 20:11

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