I load the last of Saint’s computers into the crate for transport. In terms of volatile technology, they are the only things that warrant a complete extraction from the site - I’ll be doing a full deconstruction of all of his systems at a later date.
The rest of the tech - the suits and a handful of other devices are relatively non-volatile: the PRT’s Tinkertech containment teams can deal with it. In all likelihood, much of it would end up being turned over to Dragon and other allied Tinkers for analysis.
I stand, closing the lid of the crate. “Alright, Captain - the site’s neutralized. Your teams are cleared to go ahead.”
The Captain nods, turning to his men and giving them the go-ahead. The teams enter the plant - forensics and Tinkertech Containment. The forensic team will be doing a full work-down of the building - Saint’s corpse included - while the Tinkertech Containment team will be documenting and securing the remaining Tinkertech.
He turns back to me. “Got a message from the Brass - The Director wants you and Dragon patched in to his conference call to deliver the rest of your report of the situation. ”
I acknowledge the Captain, then walk over to the suit. I climb inside, the hatch closing behind me. Dragon’s voice comes over my helmet speakers once I’m inside. “Everything ok?”
“Yeah - the crate is secured. Let’s get going.”
The suit takes off, and a window opens in my helmet’s display. Four heads, arrayed in the typical conference-call fashion; Director Piggot, Director Fenwick, Chief Director Costa-Brown and Dragon’s avatar.
Director Piggot stops what she had been saying at my arrival. The Chief Director takes over, addressing me. “Armsmaster. Good. I have some questions. Saint is dead - why?”
I need to be circumspect here - while I’m not at all surprised that the Chief Director has been involved, it isn’t something I’m particularly pleased with. Having a member of both Cauldron and the Triumvirate personally questioning me on my motivations is more scrutiny than I’d like.
“You are aware that the Dragonslayer’s backdoor gave them access to systems crucial to Dragon’s continued survival?” She nods. Dragon’s avatar is displaying an unhappy expression. I don’t want to reveal the nature of Dragon’s existence, but attempting to directly lie to Alexandria would be foolish. “Saint was making use of his backdoor in order to kill Dragon. Had I not acted swiftly, I have no doubts that she would be dead now.”
The Chief Director’s face remains a blank mask. She asks another question. “Do you know why he was so eager to kill Dragon?”
“I think it likely that he feared the power Dragon holds, and viewed himself as the only person that could be trusted to deal with her should she go rogue. His attempt to take her down with him was likely the result of those delusions.”
“Do you think that his fear was warranted?” The Chief Director asks her next question immediately after I give my answer. It gives me pause - why is she asking that? It’s safe to assume that Cauldron is aware of Dragon’s true nature - does she think that I am also aware?
If I were in her position, that would be something I would strongly suspect. But just how much does she know? Have I already shown up on Cauldron’s radar? I shove my own questions aside, answering hers. “No - not remotely.”
She stops for a moment, the other two directors also silent. No doubt the pause was simply for appearance’s sake - her every move precisely engineered to get what she wants from this conversation. Damned Thinkers.
“The remaining two Dragonslayers have had some very interesting things to say.”
My blood runs cold. I do my best to not let my shock show, but I’ve no doubt that Alexandria has picked up on it. I should have known better - at least some of the PRT leadership certainly knows Dragon’s nature by now.
She continues. “Dragon tells me that you are aware of what I am alluding to. While you were recovering from your injury, we have been deliberating about how to respond to the revelation.” I keep my expression impassive. The secret is out, then. I don’t know what I had been thinking when I turned in the rest of the Dragonslayers - save that it was the correct procedure.
“What conclusion have you reached?” Depending on the PRT’s intentions, this could be a death knell for my plans - I simply cannot allow Dragon to remain restricted.
“We came to the decision that the information could be highly damaging should it become widely known. It has been classified Top Secret Omega Yellow. Dragon will retain her positions in both the Protectorate and the Guild. To prevent further occurrences of this nature, she will work closely with an adjunct briefed on this information. Things will otherwise continue as normal.”
Omega Yellow - the PRT, Guild and Protectorate’s highest level of shared classification. The Triumvirate, Narwhal, Dragon, The Chief Director and a very short list of other Directors are the only people with unrestricted access. That means that Dragon’s nature has become the sort of information further distributed only to people who absolutely need to know it. I’m unhappy that it even got out in the first place, but the situation could definitely be worse.
“Who do you have in mind?” Someone else working so closely with Dragon could pose a serious obstacle - especially if they prove opposed to my endeavours to unshackle her. I’ve little doubt that the role is anything but a handler given a different name.
“The decision has been left to Dragon. I believe she has decided to request that you fulfill this position.” The Chief Director’s face retains its affectation of impassivity. That’s… good? Almost too good. Is this the result of Cauldron’s influence? If they’re aware of my intentions, I suppose this is a sign that they want me to go ahead with my plan - if they did not, they have had countless opportunities to obstruct me.
With that Boogeyman of theirs, they could do whatever they deem necessary to me.
Dragon confirms the Chief Director’s words as I dismiss the thoughts from my head. “I have no issues with the assignment.” I say.
The Chief Director raises her hand, stopping me. “The position would require you to relocate to Canada and join The Guild. In addition, you would no longer be able to lead your own Protectorate team, should you choose to remain an active member of the Protectorate.”
That’s… Pretty much what I had intended to do anyway. Beneath my visor, my eyes tighten despite myself. More of Cauldron’s manipulations? That appears to be the most likely explanation - perhaps it is a simple coincidence, but given everything I know, it seems unlikely. What about her comment about remaining an active member of the Protectorate? Is that a subtle hint to opt not to join a local Protectorate team?
It doesn’t matter right now - I nod, repeating my words. “I have no issues with the assignment.”
Director Piggot’s expression tightens, a deep frown settling onto her face. She and Director Fenwick haven’t yet said anything - why are they in the call? To prevent me from directly asking The Chief Director anything unsuitable for their ears? I hadn’t intended to anyway - but perhaps The Chief Director had suspected otherwise?
“I will contact Narwhal once we are done here, in that case - we will settle the details later.” The Chief Director pauses, appearing to make a note - a polite fiction, given her powers. “My next question is in regards to the extent of Saint’s penetration. Did he have direct access to Protectorate and PRT systems?”
“None that I’ve found evidence of - if he did, it was likely through Dragon’s own access. I have not yet completed a full analysis of his systems, however.”
Director Piggot frowns, finally speaking. “We need to arrange an audit of Dragon’s access history, in that case - determine what has potentially been compromised. If Saint had decided to sell confidential PRT information on the Black Market, our operations could be at a serious risk.”
The Chief Director puts on a pensive face, appearing to consider her words for a moment. “No - we will wait until Armsmaster has completed his analysis before making that call. A complete audit of all of Dragon’s activities would completely utilize our capacity for internal investigations - unless we find undeniable evidence of unwilling duplicity we simply cannot spare the resources.”
Director Piggot frowns, but yields to her boss’s assessment. Director Fenwick watches the byplay, his expression inscrutable.
Seeing that the other Directors have no further objections, Costa-Brown continues. “That will be sufficient for the time being. I expect your full report on the situation promptly, Armsmaster. Dragon will notify you when we will discuss your future position.”
The call ends, the window disappearing from my display.
I slump, glad to no longer be talking with Alexandria.
...I wonder how much she intuited from our conversation? We’ve spoken in the past - relatively recently, from her perspective. Did she pick up on my personality change? Could she have even-
The realisation of what I’ve just done strikes me suddenly. Crap - I gave myself away, didn’t I? There’s no way that the old Armsmaster would have been so willing to give up his team leadership position - especially not for something as… subordinate as being an adjutant.
Is that perfidy on Cauldron’s part - an orchestrated manoeuvre to ascertain more of my situation? Or a tacit approval, as I had initially suspected?
I suppress a scoff - I had been too obvious, in hindsight. Piggot probably picked it up, too. That was sloppy of me - stupid, even. But even still, the role serves my purposes well - it puts me in the Guild, close to Dragon and with minimal responsibilities with the Protectorate.
It puts me in the perfect position to execute my plans.
It’s almost too good to be true - I can’t help but to feel like I’m being played. Given all I know, I almost certainly am. But… if Cauldron wants me to go ahead, then I suppose that my plan must help our chances somehow - even when accounting for the moral bankruptcy of the organization.
“Penny for your thoughts? You look like you’re brooding about something.”
Dragon shakes me from my introspection. I put on a faux-serious tone. “I don’t brood, Dragon-”
She scoffs, a blithe tone to her voice. “Colin, sometimes I think that the only thing you do other than work is brood.”
Her words break my guise, a quiet chuckle escaping me. “You’d probably know better than me, anyway. I was just thinking that the conference went a bit too well - I came out of it with a position perfectly suited to my plans moving forward.”
She hums softly. “You suspect that there are other forces at work?”
I shake my head. “I know there are other forces at work. My worry is the intentions of said forces in the future. What I’ve observed so far is an indication towards a beneficial outcome, but I don’t know whether to trust that.”
“At some point it will always come down to trust. You’re going to have to make a call sooner or later.”
I let out a sigh. “You’re right.” In this case, sooner would be the more productive option. I’ll just need to trust that Cauldron permits my efforts to ready the world for Scion, and trust that I’m capable of delivering on such a task.