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Still Defiant

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The suit shifts in the air, changing it’s heading. “So. What’s the plan? Back to the Toronto PRT HQ?”

“Not quite. We’ll be going to the Guild headquarters - there’s a lab there that you will be able to make use of. Narwhal is currently occupied in Mali, but she’ll be speaking with you once she returns.”

“Will I have the chance to put my affairs in The Bay in order? Or are they meaning to push this transfer through quickly?” I’ve unfinished business - the one real downside to this opportunity - and having to find an excuse to be back in The Bay may prove inconvenient.

I’d given idle thought to a lot of possible paths of action, but only two things stuck with me as particularly important: ensure an amicable introduction to the Cape scene for Weaver, and offer a position on my team to Tattletale.

There’s plenty of other things I can do, but those two in particular stand out to me as the most effective uses of my time. If Weaver becomes a Hero from the start, she should prove a valuable force for good in The Bay - which will undoubtedly become destabilized with my absence. If I can tempt Tattletale to join me, I will have a potent asset in my efforts to prepare for Scion - and an invaluable member of my team, besides.

My team... I don’t really have one anymore - nor have I had one for quite a while. Unless you could consider two people an entire team. I need to start building it.

“Colin?”

Dragon’s voice brings my from my thoughts. “Pardon?”

“You spaced out there.” Her tone is quietly concerned. I had - hadn’t I? Worrying. “I said that you will likely end up with a week more in the bay. The person they assigned to fill in for you is there on a temporary basis only - they’ll need to find someone to make up for your departure.”

“Good to know. I should be able to make adequate use of the time.” I stop, considering my words. “If I were to make contact with a parahuman willing to work with us while I was there, would you be able to arrange their recruitment?”

“I’d… need to speak with Narwhal, but I can’t imagine she’d decline. You have someone in mind?”

“I do. I’ve worked with them… before, and I think that they would prove valuable in our efforts.” I briefly consider whether to reveal who I’m talking about. “If that person were to have a criminal record - nothing too serious, strictly small-time - would that be an issue?”

Dragon is silent for a moment. “It would be more difficult… but not impossible. If this person could demonstrate a genuine desire to reform, it would be relatively easy to arrange. The crimes matter, too - the more minor, the better. There is provisions for recruiting villainous Parahumans, but the stipulations associated may prove to be difficult to work with. If you tell me who you have in mind, I could give you a more precise analysis.”

I nod, more to myself than Dragon. Of course it wouldn’t be quite that easy - still, if I recall correctly, Tattletale hadn’t much of a rap sheet at this point. Especially compared to what she had later on. Even still, I might be getting slightly ahead of myself here - I still need to actually convince her to join me. Given that I barely know anything of significance about the woman, that’s a tall order - even putting her Thinker power aside.

If the stakes weren’t what they were, I would be far more reluctant to involve a Villain. With things as they are, such concerns are petty at best - the stakes are simply too high. The past version of myself would be far more… intractable on the matter - but if my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that a measure of forgiveness is warranted - especially when working towards greater goals.

Even still, it will be helpful to know whether what I’m pursuing is futile. “Tattletale.”

A beat passes. “The Thinker? From what we know of her,  it wouldn’t be too much trouble, assuming that she’s willing to work with us.”

I let out a sigh. “That’s just the trouble, isn’t it? I’ll need to both find her and convince her to work with us in a week.”

“I’m confident we’ll be able to figure something out.” The suit jolts, the hatch opening. “Anyway - we can brainstorm later. For now, you’ve got a computer system to analyse.”


 

I follow Narwhal’s lead, sitting down opposite her in the conference room. She’s dressed in civilian clothes - jeans and a jacket - rather than her usual skin-tight suit of shields. Her identity remains concealed by a shimmering mask - sans horn. Perhaps it is more appropriate for non-combat situations, but seeing her dressed so casually is a little jarring.

She’s silent for a few moments, appearing to consider what to say. Despite her casual clothing, she still has a sort of gravity about her - understandably, really. With a simple thought, she could create a forcefield through my heart, brain and neck simultaneously - ending me in an instant.

“Dragon gave me a report on the flight over. Two, actually - but one has me particularly concerned.” Her eyes are sunken, her voice uncharacteristically shaken. “If anyone but her were vouching for you, I’d call them crazy. Then sic the Thinktank on you to be safe.”

It’s easy enough to guess which she’s concerned about - it seems that Dragon’s nature hasn’t fazed her. Perhaps she already knew? I can’t recall whether she did .“Are you willing to work with me to prepare for the threat?”

She sits up, most of the fatigue she had previously been showing melting away. “Of course. We don’t have procedures for this sort of thing, but Dragon informs me that she has already seen enough evidence to convince her. Even if she ends up being wrong, any projects we end up working on could easily be repurposed towards the Endbringers.”

“In a perfect world, the threat that the Endbringers pose will be neutralized. I’ll need a team. There’s a few people I have in mind for recruitment already - I worked with all of them in some capacity the last time around.”

A smile appears on her face for a moment, before being replaced by a serious expression. “You don’t aim for easy things, do you? That’s good - you’re the sort of person The Guild wants. We are considering potential recruits already anyway - I think a team can be arranged. Get a list on my desk once the paperwork for your transfer comes through, and I’ll give it some thought. We can talk more about this later - for now, we need to discuss your future with The Guild and The Protectorate.”

She pulls out a phone, tapping a few buttons before speaking into it. “We’re ready. Put her through.”

I sit up, the screen on the wall of the conference room turning on. Chief Director Costa-Brown’s face appears, her expression as impassive as ever. “Armsmaster. Narwhal.”

I nod to the camera, silently acknowledging her.

“Chief Director.” Narwhal pulls a pda out of her jacket pocket, setting it down onto the table. Pressing a few buttons, enunciates her next words carefully. “Five-twenty-three pm, seventh of March, two-thousand-and-eleven. Meeting between Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown, Guild Head Narwhal and Protectorate member Armsmaster regarding Armsmaster’s future employment in the guild.”

The recording started, Narwhal turns back to me. “Armsmaster, in a previous discussion with the Chief Director, you accepted an informal offer to assume a position as Dragon’s adjutant within the Guild, and to retire from your current duties as the leader of the Brockton Bay Protectorate. Would I be correct to assume that your stance has not changed?”

As if a switch had been switched, Narwhal’s demeanor shifts as soon as the meeting officially began. Where before she had been somewhat casual, if still serious to a degree, now she’s all business. Her posture had hardened, and there is an intensity to her voice that had been absent before. It’s somewhat off-putting, but I change gears quickly. “That is correct.”

“Do you have any inclination to join a Candian Protectorate team, or would you prefer to dedicate your attention towards the Guild entirely?” The Chief Director asks me directly, her expression neutral.

“I believe that dividing my attention between the two organizations and mandates would not be an acceptable course of action in this case. If possible, I would choose not to remain an active member of the Protectorate.”

She nods. “Understandable. As a member of the Guild, would you still remain on call for high-priority situations?”

Endbringers, in other words. Other A-Class threats, too. “Of course.”

“And would you continue your current contracted work as a Tinker, as well as the maintenance of devices currently employed by the Brockton Bay Protectorate?”

This conversation is merely a formality - she undoubtedly already intuited what my course of action would be. Still, I maintain the fiction and give my response. “I would be amicable to continuing the analysis and collaborative work currently ongoing, however the logistical issues of maintaining Tinkertech from a different country are too much to continue indefinitely. I believe that Kid Win would be up to the task if given some time to adapt the technology towards his own specialties.” No doubt she had only asked the second question at the request of Director Piggot.

She looks down, taking note of my answer. “For operational reasons, I would request that you return to Brockton Bay and begin transitioning the department to new leadership by the tenth. I will instruct Director Piggot to host a conference regarding the topic of your departure from the Protectorate on the fourteenth. Following that, you will be permitted to transition into the Guild as their own timetable allows. Are there any objections to this plan?”

The question is a matter of politeness - in this case, the Chief Director’s word is law, and she would not be so careless as to have made an oversight worthy of such an objection. Seeing that nothing is raised, she continues. “In that case, the Parahuman Response Team has no further stake in this meeting.” By way of farewell she nods to the both of us “Armsmaster. Narwhal.” The connection closes.

Narwhal turns to me. “Regarding your duties as an Adjutant, you will be expected to maintain a close working relationship with Dragon - such that a repeat of the security compromise perpetrated by the Dragonslayers would not be possible without first compromising you. In a similar manner, you will also be required to maintain a working relationship with several other Guild, Protectorate or PRT Employees trained to recognise a Master-Stranger situation. The objective of these measures is to make it such that compromising Dragon and her systems is not possible without first compromising a significant amount of the Guild. While this is ongoing, you will be clear to either engage in projects of your own or to assist Dragon in her various duties. Is this clear?”

“Yes.” This entire job absolutely reeks of outside influence - it’s practically a mandate to do whatever I want, and to maintain a close relationship with Dragon while doing so. Too good to be true is the least of it. Of course, Narwhal could simply have been swayed by Dragon putting in a good word on my behalf, but I would not so quickly discount the possibility of Cauldron having a finger in this pie. Regardless, this is exactly what I want - I would be a fool not to take this opportunity. Perhaps I am drinking from a poisoned chalice, but I simply have no way of knowing - nor do I have any evidence beyond my own suspicions, either.

The meeting continues, but throughout it all I cannot help but feel that I’ve been played - not by Narwhal, of course. It’s an ugly feeling - one that I’d rather shake - but it sticks with me despite all reasoning to the contrary.