Chester Chapter 5 (OR: Teacher's Pet and Cauldron's Turmoil)

Same Day

Original Seven Room, Original Point

I tapped at the keyboard of the small console in front of me, looking over the state of the Originals. None of them had even been minorly damaged by the fights they were in. A part of that was thanks to the electromagnetic shield that protected them from ranged fire, but a greater part was that the Originals were just that much of a game changer.

'Mom, I wish I understood why you felt the need to build the Neo Originals when you already had the regular Originals.' I thought as I confirmed that all of them were almost fully recharged, with Saudade and Dahlia being fully charged and ready to redeploy at a moment's notice.

The refueling and auto-repair systems that these sarcophagi had was insane; the G-ER Fluid was transmuted into whatever the hell the armor was, and could be converted into a solid, muscle-like state which acted as both fuel and body for the Originals. Once inside their sarcophagus, the G-ER Fluid was pumped in, replacing and repairing damaged equipment and armor before being absorbed by the solid G-ER Fluid, which also absorbed whatever electric charge that the fluid had. If that didn't fully charge them, a direct charging link could be used to fully top them off.

Mom, you were so awesome. I wish you could have been here to tell me all of this yourself.

"Tay, c'mon!" Emma stormed into the room and glared at me. "We have to get back to our families! Stop ignoring the problem, dammit!"

Rude. I wasn't ignoring the problem, I was just...redirecting my energies to a more immediate problem, is all.

When I said that, it earned me one of Emma's patented 'you're talking bullshit' looks. Urgh, been a while since she'd given me one of those...

"I am not going to create a Villain or Rogue persona so we can get back quicker." I informed her waspishly. "This needs some thought on what we need to do, not rushing off to do the first idea I accidentally and unintentionally threw out as a joke!"

"It is the best play, dammit Taylor!" my redheaded sister-from-a-different-mother retorted. "If you have one of the Originals deliver us back with a message or something we'd be in the clear!"

"Like with what, a video-message?" I asked in spite of myself.

"Yeah! Make an dummy body that can act the part, puppet it and speak through it and bam, we can go home!" Emma explained excitedly.

Despite my misgivings about the whole idea, I could feel my Tinkering senses warming up to the idea. I could see a blueprint forming in my mind of exactly what Emma was describing. It would be easy to build, especially with the resources and tools that Mom had left behind.

The question was, should I? Making a false persona wasn't the worst idea I'd had in the last couple of days, but it was far from an actually good one. So many things about it could go wrong, and the chances we would actually fool the PRT and Protectorate were close to nil.

But...according to the notes left behind by Mom, there were these 'Unwritten Rules' that the Cape community used, which were basically a gentleman's agreement to stop things from going out of control. If I wasn't caught in the act, then the authorities had to play along with the idea that Vigilante A wasn't me. A bizarre thing to think about, but it seemed to work for the most part, so...

"Urgh, fine!" I finally gave in. "But! It's still going to take a couple of days to throw something together. That's what my Tinker is telling me, so don't complain."

"How can it take that long?" Emma asked with a frown.

"It's not like we're going to just throw a bed-sheet over a mannequin for Halloween here, Emma." I said in exasperation. "If we want to make this look good enough to at least allow it to temporarily fool the authorities, it will take time and materials. I have the materials due to Mom's leftover workshop stuff, so what I need is enough time to actually design and build it, and make it good enough to reuse later on if we need to."

"We?" my friend blinked.

"Consider yourself my first unpowered minion, Ems." I said with a teasing smirk. "That means you have to help me make this thing."

"Aw hell." Emma groaned. "Tay, I'm crappy at just Arts and Crafts; never mind robotics!"

"You're good at designing clothes though, and that's what I'll need you to do." I informed her. Emma was a clotheshorse; she loved wearing the latest fashions, loved looking good, and she had taken up a few do-it-yourself clothes-making courses, which had all turned out pretty darn good. "This can't look like a robot, or not entirely. It's going to look like a cyborg. Now, let's get to the lab so we can get started on this thing; I've spent long enough prevaricating, so let's get to building!"

Grabbing Emma's hand, I dragged her out of the room.

Later

Dragonslayers Temporary Base, Canada/America Border

"Mags, I don't particularly care that we don't know where the Tinker is based in Brockton Bay." Geoffrey Pellick, better known as the leader of the Dragonslayers Saint, said patiently. "We have to get to this idiot and shut them down, permanently. Unlike with Dragon, we don't have a handy-dandy back-door into these AI's systems, nor do we have a kill-switch for if they go off the reservation. Dragon estimated that these were crude AI, that they weren't complete in some way; that's good, because it means that this Tinker has only just started their research into AI. If we explain to them the dangers, they might even just blow the abominations up themselves."

"Since when have Capes ever listened to us, Geoffrey?" Mags asked skeptically. "Look, I agree that these seven new 'bots are an unexpected problem, but we keep our ears to the ground about this kind of thing; surely we'd have heard about some Rogue or Villain Tinker gathering up enough stuff to build them?"

"Yes, we should have." Saint agreed. "Which means this person is good at keeping themselves hidden."

"In which case why are we moving before we find their base?!" the woman demanded in exasperation. "All this is doing is putting ourselves at risk!"

"Mags, we are running out of time with Dragon." the leader of the Dragonslayers said grimly. "Every time we reboot her, she finds and closes the backdoor we use to initiate the reset. Eventually, we're going to run out of ways to open new ones, which means Ascalon becomes useless, we won't be able to monitor her and the world is inevitably fucked."

Ascalon, a kill-switch black-box program left behind by Andrew Richter as an insurance policy in case any of his creations ever went out of control, was currently purring away in the back of the extra-large mobile home which was the Dragonslayers' portable base of operations. If any hint of Dragon going against any major part of her programming was ever seen, Saint wouldn't hesitate to press the button that would, from what he understood, disassemble her system architecture and collapse her code into an unintelligible mess of one and zeros, according to Dobrynja anyway.

"So?!" Mags asked.

"So, we need someone who can actively create an alternative entry into her systems." Saint said patiently. "This Tinker might be someone we can get to work with us, through money or threats, once we get rid of their robots. It may give us the definitive edge over Dragon."

"So we bring a Cape in on our operations, after we trash their best work?" the woman said dubiously. "That sounds like a disaster in the making."

"I agree." the usually silent Mischa, codenamed Dobrynja, chimed in. "And that is assuming we can even defeat these robots."

"Say again?" Saint raised his eyebrows. "We have armor built from repurposed Dragon Suits, along with their former onboard weaponry. I really don't think that these robots, seven of them or not, can stand up to that."

Dobrynja merely pointed at his screen. "There are videos on PHO, grainy, substandard ones, that show that these robots specialize in close-quarters combat, can fly as easily as our suits can, and have some form of ranged weaponry protection. Additionally, over three-quarters of the Empire 88's roster was capture thanks to these robots." he said gruffly. "You saw through Dragon's feed how that 'Diablo' robot took Hookwolf apart as if he were just an unruly pup, Geoff. Underestimating them would be stupid. We need more information."

"Right...right." the leader massaged his temples before looking up sharply. "Right. Dobrynja, I want you to download those videos. Clean them up as much as you can and try to get an idea of their abilities and limits. Mags, I want you to give all of the suits a good going over. Tinker stuff can't be maintained, but we haven't had a solid hit on it in weeks. Never hurts to check. I'll be keeping an eye on Dragon and Ascalon. Maybe we can get more details on the axe-wielding one if nothing else from her analysis of the fight."

"Now that sounds like a plan." Mags nodded in satisfaction.

Later

Meeting Room, Cauldron Base, Unpopulated Parallel Earth

"Nothing?" Alexandria looked at her compatriots in disbelief. "After going through all of our resources, we know nothing about this mystery Tinker?"

"Evidently so." Doctor Mother said as she examined a small chip of the blue substance which had been used to contain Shadow Stalker. "Some Tinkers that we can tentatively trust have examined this substance. They cannot replicate it, but they can tell that it is a far better container for electrical energy compared to contemporary batteries by a factor of twenty or so. Per inch."

"Tinkers are such bullshit." Legend quoted the commonly used phrase regarding Tinkers. "But seriously, why use a storage medium as a weapon?"

"It's obviously a multipurpose substance, intended primarily for power storage, but it can also be used for entrapment in a manner not too dissimilar to Containment Foam." the epitome of Flying Bricks analyzed. "If we can discover the way it is created, we could accomplish quite a bit with it. Not to mention all of the other things we might be able to do with a Tinker able to cripple the Empire with just seven machines."

"Contessa, any insights?" the leader of Cauldron asked.

"The Path...isn't forming properly." the Thinker replied, a slight frown crossed her face. "I just tried to form a new Path; to whit, 'Path to discovering the creator of the Original Seven', and it's flickering, unstable. As it it might be impossible. I don't really know, because I've never had a reaction like this before."

"So...whoever this is can stump even the Path to Victory?" Eidolon asked carefully.

"No...the Path is forming, albeit at a glacially slow rate." Contessa shook her head. "Ordinarily, it happens in the literal blink of an eye, but it's forming one step at a time, with no chance for me to view the Path as a whole until it is complete. At the rate it's going, it'll take an hour or so to finish."

"Aside from the Endbringers, Zion and Eidolon, this is the first time anything had had any sort of resistance against your Path." Doctor Mother said with a frown. "These robots cannot be the source of it. Could the Tinker had built some sort of anti-Thinker field around them?"

"We've never come across a Tinker able to reliably accomplish something like that." Alexandria shook her head. "Of those who have been able to build devices specifically to interface with the Agents, most have gone off the deep end. The ones who haven't have only ever been able to use their machines on themselves."

"Which is this case is all they need." Legend pointed out practically. "Though I feel I must ask, Contessa...how does the removal of the Empire 88 as a serious contender affect the main Path?"

"It hasn't. As ever, the Empire was and is a nonentity in the grander scheme of things." the fedora-wearing woman replied coldly.

"A shame. If removing them had influenced the Path for the better, I would have happily taken care of them years ago." the openly gay hero sighed. "Couldn't risk letting my husband and son go near Brockton Bay because of them. How long until the remnants implode?"

"After they try and fail to rescue Kaiser and the others from the prison transports." Contessa replied. "After that, they'll scatter, with Krieg and Alabaster leaving the Bay to join up with one of several similar groups across the Eastern Seaboard, Fenja and Menja starting their own gang not focused on racism, and Crusader will go solo until he dies from a stray thrown brick to the head during a riot that will happen in a month's time."

"While interesting, the ultimate fates of the Empire Remnant are moot in the grand scale of things." Alexandria pushed forward. "What we need to discuss is the Brockton Bay experiment. Piggot's strong words at the meeting yesterday have sparked something of a backlash against previous policy regarding Brockton Bay; more than half of the Directors are pushing for a substantial reinforcement of the PRT and Protectorate, with appropriately substantial financing to support them. If it goes through, the experiment will fall through."

"While the Parahuman Feudalism Experiment is a useful one, it is not a vital one." Doctor Mother shook her head. "We promised Calvert we would be hands off as much as we could be in regards to Brockton Bay, which we fulfilled, and he has spent far too much time preparing and prevaricating. Now his inaction is coming home to roost."

The conspirators kept talking for a few more minutes before being Doored back to wherever they needed to be on Earth Bet. Doctor Mother bustled off to check the various vials that they were making from the corpse of Eden, leaving Contessa to ruminate on her Path to Victory.

She hadn't lied when she told them that it was flickering, but she'd neglected to state that every time that she'd found the base of the Original Seven and their Tinker, she was almost always sent packing by robots who could move faster than she could react; being able to see the future was of absolutely no use if she couldn't react in time to make use of it, or if the robots in question simply turned their ability to listen off so she couldn't bamboozle them with words.

Contessa had tried bringing in one of the Triumvirate to deal with the robots, but every time she did so, the path just...fizzled out. As if the world was going to end on that path. Quite why, she didn't know, but she had decided to allow some cat's paws to poke the sleeping bear. She hadn't even needed to do anything to get Saint and his Dragonslayers headed in the right direction.

The man was nothing more than a Teacher's Pet with a serious case of withdrawal and high on his own self-righteousness and paranoia. Contessa had examined Dragon rather firmly, Pathing out any possible way she might be used against Zion, and she knew that even without her hardwired restrictions, the last and greatest creation of Andrew Richter would never attempt to take over humanity...unless a certain moron with a cross tattooed on his face pushed her into it by using a corrupted version of Ascalon.

Still, even the foolish such as he could serve the greater good. Saint would lure out the Original Seven so that more of their capabilities could be documented, estimated and calculated. If Armsmaster and Dragon were as thorough as she knew them to be, Contessa was willing to bet that they were going to install some method of tracking subsonic flight in and around Brockton Bay so that the base of the Original Seven could be tracked down.

'And once that is done, whoever has built such a bevy of machines in secret will be pulled into the light.' Contessa thought with a grim little smile.

Two Days Later

Ward's Console, Ward's base, PRT ENE Building

Dennis, dressed in his costume as Clockblocker, sat at the console that monitored his teammates on patrol, and sighed heavily to himself.

He hated console duty.

Oh, he knew why it was an important duty, and he also knew that it was good practice for being a team leader. Hell, he even admitted that he had initially found it quite interesting.

Then Miss Piggy had decided to use it as a punishment detail, which really sapped any of the positive benefits away. Sometimes he got assigned to Console Duty back-to-back for days at a time, and sometimes with financial penalties added on top of it.

Miss Piggy had been a good soldier in her heyday, but she was a terrible manager of teenagers. He obvious lack of trust in regards to anything to do with parahumans was made obvious by her going against tradition and having the Wards Base set up away from Protectorate HQ. She didn't trust the Protectorate members to have the Wards underfoot, yet her obvious dislike of the Wards seeped through the cracks if they did anything she disliked.

"Console, this is Aegis. We've completed half of our patrol route. No sign of anything noteworthy. Over." his headset crackled.

"Aegis, Console here. Good to hear. Check in again once you've completed your patrol. Over." Clockblocker said in a dull monotone.

"Roger that. Over and out." Aegis replied before going silent. He was on patrol with Kid Win, as both had a way of flying, in the Broadwalk. It was, even in this clusterfuck of a situation, a milk-run, being firmly under the aegis (ha, a bad pun) of the PRT and Protectorate. Aside from purse-snatchers and the occasional mugger, the worst crime there had been Hookwolf's little attack a few days ago.

He frowned as the screen in front of him, displaying text from the conversation he'd just had (another irritating way Piggy had sapped any kind of fun, amusement or relief from the boredom on this job, by officially recording and logging every single word spoken and disciplining him for any irrelevant or unnecessarily lax conversations he had) started to flicker and static over.

'Great, this'll be something else for Piggy to blame me for.' he thought dully before pressing the intercom to the technical and maintenance division. "Technical, Console here. The screen on the console has just filled with static for no good reason. Please send a technician to fix it."

"Technical and maintenance here. Roger that. Be with you in a moment." came back quickly.

Settling back in his chair, Clockblocker started to wait patiently for the maintenance technician to arrive. He honestly hadn't done anything to the console (this time), so hopefully the tech could clear him of anything so he could get out of an unwarranted punishment from Miss Piggy.

Abruptly, the screen started to clear up...no, a brand new image was being displayed, not one that had ever been displayed on it before...hell, the screen was only supposed to display text, not imagery at all!

"Well, that don't look right." the tech said a moment later as he came in and observed the console's screen displaying what looked like the image of a stylized right-handed bronze claw mounted over a radiator of some kind. It almost looked like...

"...like a symbol." Clockblocker realized before dashing over to the Wards' TV and turned it on, revealing the same symbol. No amount of channel changing erased it.

"I think this is beyond any kinda technical fault." the tech observed.

"Yup." the Striker agreed before pressing his headset's outgoing button. "Console to Armsmaster. We have a situation in the PRT Building. All screens in the Wards Base are displaying an unknown emblem and cannot be changed. Request assistance on securing the electronics in the PRT Building from suspected external hacking."

A second later, there was a response. "Clockblocker...is this another joke?"

"Console to Armsmaster, negative, I repeat, negative on jocularity here." Clockblocker replied. "Request you RTB from patrol, sir. This is a serious situation."

Seriously, there was a time for jokes and this wasn't it! Even he was aware of that! Give him some credit, jeez...

"Very well. Fortunately, I'm almost done with patrol. ETA five minutes." Armsmaster said, abruptly cutting off. Sheesh, and people said he was unprofessional with radio discipline.

It was an anxious five minutes later when Clockblocker finally saw Armsmaster striding into the Wards base.

"I see what you mean." the Tinker said slowly, as his visored gaze swept across the Wards base's TV and the screens on the console.

"It's worse than you think." Clockblocker answered. "I've had maintenance sweep the building as much as they can. From what they've been able to tell, every TV, monitor and display screen in the building is showing this emblem. All of them."

"That shouldn't be possible." the Tinker said, sounding slightly indignant. "Dragon and I designed the security in this building ourselves; even a programming Tinker shouldn't have been able to penetrate them easily!"

"Did you put the same security on the TV antenna's connection? 'Cause that's where it looks to be coming from." the technician suggested.

"I was informed that I was being too paranoid in wanting to reinforce even that, so I didn't manage to do so." Armsmaster grated.

'And the only person likely to have said that to him was Miss Piggy. Lovely, so she was going to be shown up by all this.' Clockblocker though sarcastically. 'I'm not going to leave that dang console for the next two months!'

Before Armsmaster could do more than glare at the large screen TV in annoyance, the image displayed changed. A man, wearing what looked like a white straitjacket-like overcoat, with a chain reaching from his high-collar to his gloved left hand. His right hand was more visually striking, as it was a brass claw, with what looked like razor-sharp blades on its long fingers. On his head was a helmet with a blank faceplate, aside from two ruby eyes.

"Oh dear...hello? Is this thing on?" the figure said in a gentle, kind voice, leaning forward slightly. "It is? Well, that's good."

Straightening up, the man inclined his head at the camera. "Greeting to all who live in Brockton Bay. I am the Tinker responsible for the Original Seven...that is, the robots which intervened against the terrible actions of the Empire a few days ago. I am The Comrade, and I seek nothing more than peace."

So...there's the ending of the chapter. Yay.

Further news to my TVTropes status: [RWBY: Duelling Roses] now has a page! I'm on a roll here.