She arrived, minutes later. A woman, tall, in a suit, carrying nothing with her. I sensed her at the periphery of my range, walking with a steady, strong stride.
I was reminded of the Siberian, almost. The way she moved with the confidence of the indomitable, the way that she was almost careful as she moved among people. Except that where the Siberian was only careful among her teammates, this woman was careful with everybody.
It took her five minutes to reach us, walking through the crowds, using the pedestrian crossings.
But the person I found myself comparing her to, as she approached the PRT building, wasn't the Siberian. It was me. She reached her home ground, and people started to recognize her. They reacted, moving out of her way. Showing respect. Showing fear, in some cases.
Three of the Wards were in the elevator when it stopped at the ground floor. Kid Win was taking his drone recharge station apart, which meant it was just Clockblocker, Crucible and Vista that crossed paths with her.
The Wards took only a moment to recognize her as she entered the elevator, and the two native Brocktonites left, pulling a protesting, confused Crucible after them.
In a matter of a minute, she was opening the door to the cell. A woman, the sort who could be forty but looked like she was in her late twenties. Hispanic, insofar as that was a descriptor, with darker skin and long, straight black hair.
But more than her description, the part of her that hit me was her presence. Almost without thinking about it, I got out of my chair, standing, the chains of my cuffs pulling taut against the lock on the table. My lawyer, Miss Militia and Tagg all stood, my dad a step behind them, bewildered. The only one not in the know.
"Chief Director," I said.
"Deputy Chief. I've stepped down from my position, but I still have to train my replacement," she said, her gaze piercing through me. I couldn't even tell that one of her eyes was a prosthetic. "And seeing to some leftover crises. Hello, Ms. Hebert."
She extended a hand. As though driven to accept the handshake by a peculiar gravity, I extended my own hand and shook it. Her firm grip could have pulverized me. I might have been less intimidated if I were trapped in a small pen with an angry bull elephant.
"And Mr. Danny Hebert," she said. She shook my father's hand.
Tagg stood from the chair at the table and moved over one left, leaving the seat for his superior. "Since you've made up your mind about staying, you'll need to know. This is Deputy Chief Director Costa-Brown of the PRT."
My father nodded. I was getting the feeling he was almost shell-shocked. To find out about the situation his daughter was in, and countless other things, the name of this woman might not have even processed for him.
"Otherwise known as Alexandria," Alexandria said, taking the chair opposite me.
"Are we not keeping secrets then?" I asked. Alexandria glanced at my father.
"I would prefer not to. We have too much to talk about to be dancing about the truth. If that is a problem..." she trailed off, looking meaningfully at Danny.
"I'm staying," he said, firmly.
"Very well. I have been brought up to speed already, unless Director Tagg has made any deals before I arrived?" Alexandria asked.
"Sadly not," my lawyer replied.
"I see. Then shall we begin with what you are hoping to accomplish here today Ms. Hebert," Alexandria said, turning her implacable gaze to me.
"I thought you were already brought up to speed," I said, trying to buy time.
"I would like to hear it in your own words," Alexandria said, her face staying perfectly neutral.
"We need the Protectorate. But no one has faith in it at the moment. As things stand, everyone is going to fall apart and do their own thing instead of working together. The PRT needs a win," I said, firmly. "My surrender can be that win, to keep us united in the face of the Endbringers and other...threats," I couldn't help but glance at my dad as I finished.
"What other threats?" he asked, glancing between my face and Alexandria.
"She is referring to the prophesied end of the world in two years," Alexandria said bluntly. My dad went pale, Tagg shot a look at Alexandria, and even my lawyer looked a little perturbed.
"You're joking right?" he asked, clasping his hands together to keep them from shaking. "Prophecies aren't real."
"I am entirely serious Mr. Hebert," Alexandria said. "The supervillain known as Coil had in his possession a Thinker who can make sophisticated long term predictions about the future. Since Coil's defeat, the Thinker has revealed that there is over a ninety percent chance that the world will end in two years time. Our other Thinkers have been able to collaborate this."
"And you knew?" Danny whispered, turning his attention to me. I nodded.
"Yeah. This is the sort of thing I've been dealing with for the last few months," I said, cautiously.
"Christ," my dad moaned, putting his head in his hands.
"Perhaps it would be best if you didn't hear the rest of it," Alexandria suggested. "Director Tagg, would you kindly escort Mr. Hebert to the cafeteria? Perhaps get him something to settle his nerves."
"Yes, ma'am," Tagg said, with a stiff nod. "Come on, Mr. Hebert."
"Wha? No, I should..." Danny began.
"Don't worry, Mr. Hebert. Your daughter will still be here after you've taken a few minutes to compose yourself," Alexandria said, her gaze shifting meaningfully to my lawyer.
"Can you go with him?" I asked Mr. Calle. "Just to make sure he doesn't get pressured into anything."
"If you're sure," Mr. Calle said, looking doubtfully at Alexandria.
"I'm sure," I said, returning my gaze to Alexandria. We sat in silence for a bit while the others made their way out. I heard Tagg beginning to speak about peace of mind again to my dad as they walked along. "You did that on purpose," I said, finally breaking the silence.
"And you played along," Alexandria replied.
"I did. So what did you want to tell me that you didn't want my father hearing?" I asked, striving to match Alexandria's poker face.
"I do not care what your father knows. Feel free to tell him whatever you want after this conversation is done. It is Director Tagg who shouldn't hear this part of the conversation," Alexandria said, her face passive. I hesitated, unable to get a read off of Alexandria's body language. She might as well have been a statue for all the emotion she was showing.
"Does this have to deal with Cauldron?" I guessed.
"Tangentially perhaps. But mostly it has to deal with the end of the world, and the fact that everyone is watching Brockton Bay at the moment," Alexandria began. "If you had just taken over a city, that would be one thing. It could be ignored, and most of the world wouldn't notice. But not only has Brockton Bay experienced no less than three S-Class threats, two Directors have already been replaced, and most importantly, a portal to a new, Endbringer free, world has been created."
"But that's been kept under wraps," I protested. Alexandria snorted, and I almost jumped at the crude sound coming from her.
"Allow me give you a little bit of advice. Once more than ten people know something? You can consider it public knowledge. Much like the truth about myself, Cauldron, and the Case 53s. People talk and people listen. You can't really hide a truth like that so much as bury it beneath another story," Alexandria said, with a small smile. "But I digress. We were talking about you."
"And how I took over a city. Tagg was telling me earlier how I cannot be allowed to get away with it. Is this more of the same?" I asked, my eyes narrowing as I prepared to be lectured.
"No. For a while now, we-"
"As in Cauldron?" I interrupted, trying to provoke a reaction. Other then a quirked eyebrow, it was to no avail.
"As in Cauldron yes. For a while now, we have been intending for Brockton Bay to be taken over by a supervillain. Originally we planned on it being Coil, and when he died we were worried things were going to fall apart. Thankfully the Undersiders took over his operations rather than dismantling them," Alexandria said.
"...Why?" I said, my thoughts reeling.
"Because the end of the world is coming," Alexandria said. Seeing my incomprehension, she elaborated. "Can you imagine what it will be like? Thanks to Dinah, we know that at least some people will survive. A couple million. Out of billions. What kinda of world do you think that will be? Do you think there will be nations? Communications? Roads? Any kind of infrastructure at all?"
"Probably not, no," I said, feeling a bit shaken.
"That's right. And in such a world, who do you think will be in charge? A proper government elected by the people? Maybe in some locations. But in others..."
"You think villains will be in charge," I breathed, shivering a little.
"I believe parahumans will be in charge," Alexandria corrected. "Or at least, acting as the top enforcers for those in charge. And be they villainous or heroic in their behavior, they will likely have great influence over whatever community they are watching over."
"So what does this have to do with me?" I asked, my stomach plummeting.
"It should be obvious," Alexandria chided me gently. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
"You want me to be an example," I said, picturing my life over the last few months. "On what to do, what not to do. How to behave towards my allies, how to treat my enemies, how to build a reputation, how to lead desperate, hungry people."
"Exactly. Just like how the Protectorate will hopefully be an example to larger hero groups," Alexandria said.
"But the PRT is in trouble. It's falling apart and we do still need it," I said.
"True. And a solid win could turn that around. But that win can't be you," Alexandria said, calmly.
"The other Undersiders-"
"Are not you. You have lead them to ruling the city, and you are the one everyone acknowledges as their leader," Alexandria said, leaning forward, her eye catching mine with its intensity. "Oh, I'm sure your Tattletale is clever enough, and your Grue is capable enough, but neither of them has your presence."
"I'm just a teenage girl," I protested.
"A teenage girl who rallied a school of high school students to attack heroes," Alexandria replied. "Think about that. They risked everything to attack official heroes clad in armor made to fight Endbringers when they could've just stood by and watched you be taken away. Do you really think Tattletale or Grue could have done the same?" I stayed silent, dropping my gaze.
"We still need the Protectorate," I said, trying to rally myself.
"We do," Alexandria said. "But that, is not, your problem," she finished, emphasizing each word.
"you," she said, talking over me, "will be very busy running this city. Trust me, that will be hard enough. You only have two years to prepare, to try and get as many people through the portal as you can. Try and build up and prepare for the hard years after the end."
"You talk as if the end of the world is inevitable," I said, my eyes narrowing as I glared at Alexandria.
"That's because it is," she said, holding up a hand to forestall my reply. "Remember, even if we get lucky and manage to take out Jack before he causes the end directly, we are only delaying the problem. Not solving it. It will buy us another decade or so, but that's all."
"Alright fine," I snapped. "I'll do it. I'll escape, and keep leading the Undersiders to be some villainous version of the Protectorate. But if you want me to be rule over Brockton Bay, then why the hell did you make someone like Tagg the director here?"
"To be an obstacle," Alexandria said, bluntly. "Anyone reasonable, you'd negotiate with. Anyone corruptible, you'd buy. Only a stubborn idiot would actually oppose you at this point."
"Okay," I said, rubbing my temples. "And why on Earth would I need that?"
"To be blunt, he makes you look good," Alexandria said, with a slight shrug. "He picks fights with you that you not only win, but make you look like the reasonable party."
"I suppose that makes a certain kind of sense," I said, doubtfully. We waited in silence for a bit while Tagg ordered my father a beer. I cleared my throat with a cough. "So. This isn't at all what I expected when I saw you arriving."
"I will admit, I had thought of cornering you, and forcing you to escape on your own," Alexandria admitted. "But that seemed needlessly messy. PRT personal would be put at risk. Your father would be put at risk, you would be put at risk. This," Alexandria gestured to the empty room around them, "is much simpler."
"It is a nice change of pace," I agreed, relaxing a bit. "So what now? We've still got some time before my dad returns."
"Now we plan your escape, and you take responsibility for this city."
Author's Notes: A small one-shot that came to mind one day. I was thinking about this scene and I was asking myself; what was Alexandria trying to accomplish with the whole crazy scheme of hers? My conclusion was that she was provoking Taylor in the hopes of making her hate the heroes and refuse to ever surrender to them again. Why? Because we know that Cauldron wanted the Undersiders to take over. We know that other villains mimic Taylor after Golden Morning. My theory is that they wanted her to be an example of how to be a successful warlord. That also explains why Tagg was brought it. So that Taylor could set an example on how to deal with a hostile enemy who is on the side of the heroes.
So I asked myself, what would happen if Alexandria just explained that to Taylor? This is what I came up with. Well, the beginning is directly lifted from Worm, but after Alexandria introduces herself, it's all my work.