Thomas sat in his office looking over the contract that Fortress Construction had been awarded to upgrade Brockton Bay's Endbringer shelters. There was a cold irony that this document was resulting in considerably more danger for him personally then forcefully taking territory from the Empire had. After all a body double could attend Coil's meetings, Thomas Calvert wasn't so lucky. Still with his power that wasn't really a problem, even if it had been acting a bit off lately.
In his other timeline, safe in his home, he opened up a dossier on the source of the danger, Daniel Hebert the head of the Dockworkers Union, and if Thomas' hypothesis was correct the true identity of the mysterious Praetor. Scanning over the document again Thomas saw exactly what he suspected, the man's life was boring and inconsequential until about three years ago when both his wife and daughter died. After that the man threw himself into his work, taking control of the Dockworkers Union. Under his leadership the union thrived, going from a relic of the cities past to a powerful political force, then it started to expand, quickly bringing other unions under its umbrella. Now you pretty much had to go through it to hire for almost anything in Brockton Bay.
Shifting through the files he opened the PRT's report on the man. During the expansion of the Dockworkers Union they had run a covert investigation on the man, worried that he was some sort of master, but their investigation had resulted in nothing so they dropped it. Glancing down the document he saw the signature of the lead investigator, Agent Williams. His own questioning of the woman had been the event that tipped him off on the flaws in his power, the timelines where he kidnapped her always suddenly collapsing a short time into the interview.
Thad event had also been what tipped him off about Daniel's likely alternate identity. If the rumors about Praetor were true, and rumors where all anyone had to go off of since there were no official sightings of him, he was a trump in the same vein as Teacher, someone who could grant powers. If Daniel had caught onto the investigation and compromised Agent Williams by granting her some kind of anti-thinker power it would explain why he was cleared and why Thomas' power wouldn't work on her.
Thomas wished he could confirm his suspicions but it had proved impossible so far. Timelines where he kidnapped Agent Williams always collapsed before she broke under the torture, and kidnapping Daniel himself had been proving impossible due to the three parahuman bodygaurds the union employed.
They were called Welder, Riveter, and Forge and their team name was The Defenders of the Docks. The PRT had them classified as a Mercenary Hero team employed by the Dockworkers Union. Each of them were a mid level Alexandria package with one unique ability, the PRT believed they were a cluster trigger, three dockworkers who survived an accident that had occurred shortly after Daniel had taken control of the Dockworkers Union. Calvert disagreed, if Daniel was Praetor then him arranging an accident to explain the sudden origin of three new parahumans that were willing to work for him was exactly the sort of thing Thomas would do himself.
In the timeline where he sat in his office Thomas glanced up at the clock, almost time for the meeting. This meeting was inconvenient but it was necessary, Thomas needed to hire some workers to meet his contract and he needed the contract so he could get the resources he needed to start constructing his own base without raising suspicion. That meant he needed to go through the union. This also represented an opportunity, he could use this to gain influence over a powerful parahuman, or use it to open up the opportunity for an assassination if that proved impossible.
A moment later the phone buzzed, his secretary informing him that Daniel had arrived. Thomas told her to let him in and moments later the door to his office opened revealing the man. Thomas rose to greet him, as he did he though he saw over the man's shoulder into his waiting room, where he could just make out the body of his secretary slumped over her desk.
Before he could so much as move Daniel Hebert had closed the distance between them and had his hand around Thomas' throat. The man gave him a smile that looked far to wide as he spoke, "Thank you for calling this meeting, Mr. Calvert, we were worried that we were going to need to risk breaking into your house to get to you within a reasonable time frame before you won that contract."
As he said it Calvert activated the lockdown on his house in his safe timeline. He considered collapsing the timeline but he needed to get more information first. Obviously dealing with Praetor couldn't wait. He also needed to figure out how he had been linked to Coil, he went to great lengths to keep the identities separate.
In the timeline with Daniel Thomas croaked out a question, "What are you going to do to me?"
Daniel's left arm split open revealing a terrifying array of drills and needles as he answered his voice bored, "Just some mild brain surgery, don't worry you won't remember any of the pain after the fact."
The left arm then clamped around his head holding it in place and a terrifyingly long needle lined up with his left eye and started moving forward.
Thomas was about to drop the timeline figuring he would get nothing out of the experience when the clamp around his head suddenly released and the needle retreated, as it did so it closed into a seemingly human arm. Calvert felt the man's other hand release his neck and looked up seeing Daniel's eyes wide with shock.
Daniel regained his composure and spoke, "You are honored Mr. Calvert, the Praetor wishes to speak with you."
Thomas smiled in his safe timeline him waiting until the last second to end the dangerous timeline seemed like it was about to pay off in spades. In the dangerous timeline Thomas massaged his neck and spoke, fishing for more information, "I thought you were Praetor."
Daniel snorted, "I am honored with the position of Tribune, but the Praetor is far above all. Now follow or you will be made to."
Thomas did so. If Praetor was going to show him where they were based he wasn't going to complain, obviously he was going to need to eliminate them and the more information he had the easier it would be. In his safe timeline he was already drawing up plans on how to sick the Protectorate on them. Considering the obvious bio tinkering he had seen it shouldn't be hard to convince Piggot.
As he passed through his the door to his office he once again saw his secretary, a spider that looked to be made out of flesh and metal latched onto her face. Out of its belly he saw multiple needles poking into her flesh and a glistening black liquid being pumped into her.
Entering the elevator he was shocked to see Daniel push the button for the basement, turning to the man he asked, "Where are we going?" But silence was the only response he got.
They exited the elevator into the basement and stopped into the middle of the room. Calvert was about to ask again what they were doing when he felt a rumble through his feet. Looking down he saw a massive drill burst through the ground, opening a hole.
Out of the hole crawled a squat black monster covered in a hard carapace. One of its arms was replaced with the massive drill that had made the hole, while the other was a black fleshy claw. A second one crawled out of the hole and they worked together to widen the opening. Once they completed their task they both stepped back and knelt to Daniel.
The man ignored the two creatures and raised his right hand, a white glow scattering across his fingertips. Across the opening of the hole a platform made of white light appeared. Daniel strode forward onto the platform.
Thomas looked on in shock, he had figured that Praetor was a biotinker from what he had seen so far but hard light seemed pretty far away from that specialty. Before he recovered he felt a claw from one of the drillers grab him around the chest, lifting him up and depositing him on the platform.
As soon as the creature released him the platform began to descend rapidly. As the minutes ticked by Thomas' shock continued to grow, how far underground were they going. Finally, after what felt like half an hour, they were out of the shaft and into a massive lit cavern. In the center stood what looked to be a temple suspended over a lake of glistening black oil.
The size of the temple terrified Calvert, in his safe timeline he was already making plans to leave Brockton Bay. The scale of Praetor's operation baffled the mind. Still he waited, he was safe with his power and the more information he had the better. Maybe he could contact Cauldron about this and they would deal with it, he doubted they like having competition in selling powers.
The platform moved stopping at the entrance to the temple. Daniel stepped forward and into the temple and Thomas followed, the platform he had been standing on blinking out of existence as soon as his foot left it. As they walked forward Daniel paused and pulled him aside into a side room.
As they stepped into it light filled the room and Calvert paused at what he saw. In the center of the room was a machine, a raised platform with a wicked metal claw and a hook hanging from a rail. The rail ran around the room and from it hung bodies, glancing around he saw nearly a dozen identical looking Daniel Heberts as well as many more bodies, some which defied description.
Daniel stepped forward onto the platform and turned around to face Thomas. The hook from the rail lowered latching into his back and raising him into the air. As he reached the top, the back of his head tore itself open and the claw reached in extracting the man's brain. With the brain extracted the head closed again and then the bodies on the rail shifted rotating around the room. When they stopped a massive body that looked like a suit of armor made of white ceramic was in the center of the machine, at the joints he could make out midnight black flesh connecting the plates The head once again opened up and the claw inserted the brain into the new body. The body was lowered to the ground and stepped forward. A deep booming voice emanated from the armored form instructing Calvert to follow and it strode forward from the room.
Thomas followed the armored form as it brought him deeper into the temple leading him to an ornate door, a stylized Phi symbol drawn across its surface. The armored form opened the door and stood back allowing him entry.
Thomas strode into the room, in it stood a massive table. At the head of the table sat what appeared to be a teenage girl with solid black eyes.
Moments after stepping into the room Thomas felt something smash into the back of his right leg forcing him to kneel. Beside him the giant white armor kneeled as well, its booming voice speaking, "Praetor, I have brought you Mr. Calvert as requested."
The girl smiled, "Thank you Tribune. Is that your new war form?"
The armor replied, "Yes, Praetor."
"Wonderful, meet me in the training area after, I would love to see what it can do. Now leave us, I wish to speak with Mr. Calvert alone."
The armor sounded hesitant, "Yes, Praetor."
The armor stood turning to leave the room.
As it left the girl then turned her attention to Thomas her voice becoming a conspiratorial whisper, "You can get up now, Danny is a wonderful tribune but he is very firm on visitors giving me proper honor." The girls smile widened, "One time he proposed creating a body locked into a kneeling stance with its eyes on the floor, and that we just extract every visitor's brain and place it into said body so they wouldn't even have the chance to glimpse my form. I'm pretty sure there is actually a prototype of that sitting somewhere in this temple."
Calvert stood. He hesitated a moment before stepping forward and sitting at the table. The girl continued her voice returning to normal, "Thank you for coming Mr. Calvert, or would you prefer Coil? I have an offer for you."
Thomas decided to take a risk, "I don't believe I had much of a choice Miss Hebert, and Thomas is fine."
The girl's smile never wavered, "Then you may call me Taylor. Thomas, I have called you down here to offer you the chance to join Phyrexia."
Thomas paused, he was going to agree to the deal and then end this timeline before she got a chance to do anything but he needed to hesitate first, "What is Phyrexia?"
"Phyrexia is mankind's future, a society that has that has transcended death." Taylor's voice sounded almost wistful, "We will perfect this world."
"Interesting, and if I refuse." Thomas asked.
"Then you will return to the surface with no memory of this, though you will have a few compulsions that force you to assist with our goals. I assure you, they will feel completely natural to you. You probably won't even notice they are there."
Thomas fished for more information pretending to consider the offer, "That might not be so bad, what compulsions would I have?"
Taylor dropped her smile, "I see, with that daydream of yours you aren't going to take this seriously." Then her eyes flashed blue and Thomas' safe timeline ceased to exist.
Thomas felt a sharp jolt of panic, "What did you do?"
Taylor answered, "I ended that little simulation you had running in your head, the one about you being safe in your home. You need to understand that the choice I am giving you is real not some illusion you can discard at a whim."
Thomas felt panic rise he tried to make a timeline where he fled the room but before he even stood from his chair in it her eyes flashed blue and it ceased to exist.
Thomas looked into her eyes and at the back of his mind he felt power radiating off her. His mind screamed that the thing that sat before him wasn't human. Shocked he asked, "What are you?"
Taylor replied, "I am a Praetor of Phyrexia, here to Compleat this Plane."
As she said the words her eyes flashed blue again and understanding flooded his mind.
Thomas' head rang with the knowledge she just imparted, "What choice is there? Nothing can stop you."
Taylor's smile returned, "A choice between ignorance and knowledge. No matter what you choose you will serve, but you may find yourself happier to live with your illusions for a while yet."
"If I except will I still be me or will I become something else?"
"You will change, Thomas, but that is to be expected." The girl sounded like she was speaking to a child. "Are you the same man that you were before you became a parahuman? I doubt it, becoming more than human changes a man, so when I offer to take you far beyond that point why would you be surprised to find yourself changing again."
Thomas paused to think about it before asking, "But I'll still be me, not some husk carrying out your will."
"If I wanted a husk I would have just let Danny finish turning you into a Sleeper Agent. I want you, Thomas, I can the potential you carry."
Thomas paused, from the understanding that had flashed across his mind earlier he knew that this girl's ambitions far outscaled any he had seen before, even his own, and in those ambitions was the potential for control.
The one thing Calvert craved above all others was control, he was content to limit himself to a city but with her power he could have far more than that. With enough time there may be no limits to the control he could wield, and once he understood her power and perfected his own he could ensure that future came to pass. "I'll accept your offer."
Taylor's smile widened, "Wonderful. I will summon Emma and she will begin the process immediately."
Thomas stood from his chair and turned to the girl bowing deeply, "At your leave, Praetor."
Taylor tilted her head for a moment her smile fading away. "Thomas, there is something I think you need to understand before your compleation."
Her eyes flashed blue once again and Thomas found himself floating in an endless black void. Taylor's voice echoed across his mind. "Your power allows you to ignore the short term consequences of your decisions but they still can have long term ramifications. I will be making you immortal, Mr. Calvert, this is something that can be either a blessing or a curse."
Thomas felt the familiar feeling of his power activating and two timeline present before him. In the first he walked through a city, glorious in its perfection. Surrounding him were hundreds of creatures, each created to fulfill its purpose and best serve his power. As he strode forward through the city each and every one paused to give him his due respect as Tribune. He was under the Mother, as all things were but all else was beneath him. Everything in Phyrexia was created to serve a purpose and his was control.
In the other timeline he felt pain. Every movement he took sent jolts of pain through his body, it was engineered to be that way. His stomach was a pit of unending hunger, but he knew food would never come. The need to eat had been removed from him but the hunger remained. His exhaustion made him want to collapse but he knew sleep would never be allowed, it was unnecessary for him. Before him stood a pile of stones. He bent down and picked one up, doing his best to ignore the pain. Lifting it he walked towards the other pile across the plain. When he was done moving the pile to the other side he would begin again, moving it back to its original decision. As he moved the slave that stood behind him decided that he was not fast enough and he felt the whip arc across his back, electricity arcing from it and coursing through his body. Each day a different slave was chosen to be his overseer, and they indulged themselves relishing in the chance to be on the other side of the whip. Everything in Phyrexia was created to serve a purpose and his was to be an example, to show them all that no matter how low you were you had further you could fall.
Thomas gasped as he once again found himself in the room with the Praetor. He looked up at her, her smile had returned, "I am glad you are joining us Mr. Calvert, I think you can go far in Phyrexia. Though do keep what I just showed you in mind when you decide into whose back you wish to stick your knife."
A/N: Screw this chapter. Coil is a bitch to write, especially when I need to track how his power interacts with Phyrexia. This was compounded by the fact I couldn't actually explain how his power interacts with Phyrexia in the chapter since neither him nor Taylor actually understand how his power works yet
In case anyone is curious Coil's power works by creating two simulations, each one based on the outcome of a decision that he made. The power then figures out which one Coil would chose at the point where he would chose to end the simulation and forces him to make that decision. The problem is that Phyrexia is extraplanar so the shard lacks the data to actually predict what a phyrexian will do. If this was occurring a century or so in the future the shard would have enough info on Phyrexia to actually predict what they would do, for now it is working on best guesses from its observations of the players.
So when Coil kidnapped Agent Williams his power knew that he would choose the timeline where he didn't kidnap her so it created the other timeline and simulated to the point where she would start to answer questions, then it stopped since it couldn't actually predict what any of the answers would be. On the other hand with Danny his power did its best guess based on Danny's previous actions. In every other situation where Danny met with someone to discuss a contract he discussed the contract as the head of the union and then left so the power figured that is what would happen and made Coil choose that timeline. The problem was that Taylor needed Thomas Calvert to be turned for her plans (you'll understand why when they get revealed later) so Danny went with orders to turn him, orders that his power had no ability to predict at the point that it made its decision. The sleeper agent orders got swapped at the last second when Taylor happened to scan his mind and realize that he was a parahuman and that is how the chapter happened.
Anyway, I'm still not completely happy with this chapter but at this point I just don't want to write it anymore. Don't expect his perspective again anytime soon. Hopefully the next chapter I put out won't take as long. If things go according to plan it will be the next chapter of The Lady of the Flies (but the question of what the odds are for that actually happening happening with my fickle muse I leave to the reader).