Interlude 2.1

Friday, January 14th, 2011. PRT Headquarters

"Final topic for today's review. The Dynasty." Director Piggot clicked through the next slide, showing a still image from Armsmaster's helmet cam of a towering figure clad in gunmetal steel armor. The skeletal mask seemed to peer into the souls of everyone present in the boardroom, and more than a few present avoided looking at it.

Renick was not one of those few, alongside Armsmaster and Deputy Consultant Calvert. It was not that the mask didn't unnerve him, everything about the figure did on some level. It was that after everything Renick had witnessed in Brockton Bay, a scary costume simply wasn't going to phase him like it might others.

The Director gestured at the figure, "Some of you may already be familiar with the Dynasty's operations in the Bay, but for those of you that are not, I'll summarize. Tuesday, the Dynasty revealed to us that the former Ward Sophia Hess, had been frequently violating her probation with us. Thursday, they engaged in a brief and thankfully subdued confrontation with men we believe to be under the employ of the super-criminal, Coil."

The slight but unmistakable raising of Calvert's eyebrow did not go unmissed by Renick. The consultant had a known interest in the enigmatic villain. It was a common joke around the water cooler that Calvert had missed his calling as a whaling captain, because Coil was clearly his white whale. Renick mentally started counting to see how long it would take for Calvert to interrupt the Director.

"Do we have confirmation on this?" Calvert asked.

Six seconds, new record. Armsmaster owed him a drink.

Director Piggot's mouth set in a thin line; she didn't appreciate being interrupted. She folded her hands together in front of her and said, "Armsmaster made contact with the leader of the Dynasty, who confirmed that she was aware of Coil's operations in the Bay. She goes by the alias 'Phaerakh' and seems to possess delusions of grandeur, believing herself to be a queen of her 'court', which seems to consist of only two other individuals at this moment."

She flicked to the next slide, revealing two similarly dressed men, one notably taller and well toned than the other. "We have no known alias for these two, so until we have confirmation otherwise, they are assumed to function as…" she seemed to stop herself from saying minions.

So far, the Dynasty had not shown any villainous intentions that Renick knew of, and had been nothing but polite and helpful to the PRT. But, the fact that they seemed adamant on remaining independent was a detail that Renick knew rankled the Director. Tinkers were powerful force multipliers, and the idea of one existing outside of any current power structure was something that would absolutely put them on Piggot's shit list.

Thankfully, she seemed aware of this, and cautiously said, "...To function as partners, to Phaerakh. Whether or not either of them are powered, is yet to be determined. Until we know otherwise, assume the worst."

A click, and another slide fell into view. This one showed one of several large mechanical scarabs clinging to the facade of an abandoned building in the docks, a large central eye on its head glowing a faint green. The Director gestured at them and said, "These scarabs seem to be the primary source of Phaerakh's tinker specialization. Assuming that she is in fact the technological force behind the Dynasty, of course."

On rare occasions, exceptional individuals were known to put on the air of being a powerful tinker, when the truth was they were simply working with one for weapons and armor. Traditionally, such partnerships rarely ended well. Either the Tinker grew tired of the limited vision of their employer, or the fickle nature of tinker tech delivered the unpowered individual to an early grave. Renick desperately hoped this was not the case, as such things rarely ended without excessive collateral damage.

Another click, and half the boardroom stifled their laughter. The slide showed two dozen or so naked men and women, completely bald, sprinting down the street with only the barest attempts to cover themselves. The Director rolled her eyes and continued, "According to Phaerakh, these men and women were employee's of Coil, sent to assault the tinker for reasons that are yet unknown to us. The current prevailing theory is that Phaerakh has begun taking territory belonging to Coil, in which case we will need to prepare for the inevitable conflict."

There was a pause, as the Director clearly took time to let that potential disaster sink in, before returning to the subject of the scarabs, "Phaerakh was unclear on if she was directly involved in the… disarming. However, based on current theories provided by Armsmaster, our lowest estimate is that she was able to disarm twenty seven individuals using her scarabs."

Unlike Calvert, Renick was polite enough to raise his hand to interrupt the Director. She raised a brow, but nodded for him to speak. "What is the current estimate on her stock of these 'scarabs'?"

"Unknown. Current minimum is a dozen or so, but given the size of her claim, we can expect at least ten fold that number. Potentially more." the Director admitted.

There was an odd silence in the boardroom at that, an air of unsureness. It wasn't often that tinker's with such obviously powerful tech simply appeared on the scene, regardless of the city. Autonomous robotic technology wasn't a particularly common specialization, but those that did specialize in it were exceptionally powerful. The implication was clear to everyone in that room. Even if they had only been 'publically' active in Brockton Bay for less than a week, the Dynasty had clearly been in operation far longer. That, Renick thought, was cause for concern.

Calvert, perhaps taking a cue from Renick, raised his hand to speak. The Director seemed more bemused by this and nodded for him to speak. "What is the current standing policy with Phaerakh then. Will we be providing support to deal with Coil?"

"The PRT," the Director said in a very stern tone, "will act as it see's fit. When we are in need of your advice on our next step, Consultant Calvert, you will be informed."

Unsurprisingly, Calvert's presence at these meetings were not a choice of the Directors, but a stipulation as a part of his consultation contract. Were it not for his assistance and service in the PRT, he wouldn't have ever stepped foot in that boardroom. But, as much of an ass as Calvert could be from time to time, the man was genuinely good at dissecting Parahuman thoughts and motivation. More than a few criminals had found themselves behind bars thanks to him.

For once, he seemed to take Director Piggots distaste of him in stride, sitting back in his chair with an amused smile on his face, "Understood, Director. Just, one more question. What is happening to the former Ward?"

Now the Director's face was one of extreme displeasure, "Miss Hess is being transferred to the Medhall Juvenile Hall until her court case has been handled. Unfortunately, due to the nature of her violations, we won't be able to keep this quiet. So if any of you are approached by the media, our current stance is: Sophia Hess acted without our knowledge and will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. Her handler has also been thoroughly sacked and will never show his face in this town again, if I have anything to say about it."

Calvert nodded, "Thank you Director, I understand." There were murmurs of agreement, as the Director seemed relieved.

Things quickly wrapped up from there, minor details and tasks were distributed to their appropriate persons of interest, before the meeting was adjourned. Renick left with much to think about. Unlike Armsmaster, who had made his distrust of the Dynasty clear, Renick had a more optimistic view of the group.

Yes, the fact that they had opted to remain independent was frustrating. But, they were openly in favor of working with the PRT, and had delivered Sophia and her crimes to them first. It would have been very easy to air the PRT's dirty laundry to any major news outlet. A show of faith like that, in Renick's mind anyway, deserved a similar return.

It was for that reason that when Renick made it back to his office, he picked up the phone and dialed a number. After a moment, a man picked up, "Renick? Whatsup?"

The deputy director leaned back in his chair, "Hey, Dauntless. I have a favor to ask of you, off the books of course."

"Yeah? What're you cooking up this time?"

Renick smiled as he turned in his chair to look out the window at Brockton Bay, "How would you like to lead the first joint operation between the Protectorate and the Dynasty?"

"...Who?"


-C-


Wednesday, January 19th, 2011. Hebert Household.

"Imotekh the Stormlord. He's a bit of a brute in my humble opinion, but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that he's the most influential of my kind in the known galaxy. He used to be-"

"Trazyn," I cut the necron off before he could get started, "Is the history lesson really important right now? I'm kind of busy."

He looked almost offended by my words, "Taylor, history is always important."

Lisa snorted, "Let him ramble, he seems to be enjoying himself."

"Thank you, Lady Wilbourne." Trazyn said with enough excessive flair that I knew he was just trying to bug me. I ignored it and focused on the task at hand.

After Coil's little probing attack, things at base had been pretty quiet. I had gathered the funds for the remaining Undersiders to go their separate ways, and had started building up a proper arsenal for when the time came to deal with Coil. At the moment, I was working on a staff that would manipulate the magnetic forces of reality, allowing me to move and manipulate objects at a distance. Very useful, and apparently appropriate for someone of my 'temporarily bestowed rank'.

The reason Lisa was here was… well she had invited herself. Since she knew my name, my new…minion? Henchwoman? Partner? Annoyance?

The new annoyance in my life hadn't had any trouble finding my home, and had simply shown up on Monday evening before dad had gotten home. She had popped in again today, supposedly to talk shop. The reality was that she seemed more interested in gossiping with me and enabling Trazyn.

Dad wasn't supposed to be home for a little while, so I was content to let her stick around while I worked. The commentary was annoying, but at least it was different from Trazyn. The old necron had gotten it into his head that I was interested in the current political situation in his galaxy. I was pretty sure a lot of what he was telling me was biased, but at the very least I could agree with one thing.

Those Aeldari he talked about sounded like pompous assholes.

"So, I do have an actually serious question." Lisa asked me.

"Oh yeah? What's that?" I replied without looking at her. I hid a smile as the staff started to respond to my touch. Even only wearing my under armor, I should be able to summon it to my side with but a thought. According to Trazyn, once the infrastructure was in place I'd be able to summon it from mid air.

Lisa's face was an expression of thought as she spoke, "When we've dealt with Coil, what happens next?"

"Empire 88." I said, practically on reflex. "Nazi assholes have it coming."

"Fair. And after them?" asked the blonde.

"ABB probably. The Merchants are last on the list. They're nasty, but they're not really a threat compared to 'I'm a fucking dragon' Lung." I explained, and frowned. Were Trazyn's mannerisms rubbing off on me? I wasn't this casual with people, was I?

Lisa leaned forward, "Okay, and then what?"

I blinked and looked up from the staff, "Huh?"

"You heard me." she said, "What happens when you've wiped out all the gangs in Brockton Bay? Where do we go from there?"

I stared at her for a long minute. That was a… very good question. Even Trazyn seemed to agree with her, though he stayed mercifully quiet on the subject.

"I… hadn't really thought about it, to be honest. It feels like a very 'far away' problem."

Lisa casually leaned back on my bed, "True, but it's something to think about I guess. You've got an arsenal unlike anyone else in the city, from what you've shown me. The question isn't really if you'll beat the others, it's more a matter of when."

I felt embarrassed that it was so obvious to her. The threat of what Coil might do to us next was enough of a threat that I hadn't been focusing on much beyond expanding our defenses and our weaponry. Lisa alone had a personal swarm of a dozen or so scarabs to protect her, and was always wearing a necrodermis undersuit at all times, like I was. The thought of what came next just… hadn't been in the cards.

Our conversation was cut short by the sound of the downstairs door opening and closing, followed by my dad's voice, "Taylor! I'm home early, and I brought pizza!"

"Shit!" I cursed and tossed the unfinished staff under my bed. Trazyn's hologram blinked from existence and Khepri dove for cover in my closet. I pulled some clothes over my armor and debated shoving Lisa into the closet when dad knocked on my door before opening it.

"Taylor, you here?" he asked and froze when he saw us.

I had just finished tugging my shirt on and hurriedly adjusted it to hide the necrodermis alloy, before smiling nervously at dad, "Hey dad! Sorry, I was just busy with.. Um…"

Without thought, I wildly gestured at Lisa, "This is…a…um, a friend from school! This is Lisa, yes, sorry."

The blonde waved a hand without missing a beat and smiled, "Hi, Mr. H. Taylor's just helping me study."

The grin on her face was decidedly large and unnecessarily vulpine, and only grew larger as dad looked between us. He looked at me and said, "Ok… does… I mean, is Emma okay with this?"

I blinked, "Um… yes. Yes she is. She's a friend of Emma's in fact."

"Casual," Lisa added, "Very casual."

That seemed to at least quell my dads curiosity. He nodded, "Okay then. Tell Emma I said hi. Um, Taylor, there's-"

"Pizza, yeah I heard you." I forced a smile, "We'll be down in a minute."

He closed the door without a word. Once his footsteps faded, I let out a sigh of relief, and Lisa started to cackle.

"What?!" I demanded of her.

She managed to stop, look at me, and said, "Oh… oh wow okay, you don't… that is hilarious." and she started laughing again.

"What are you laughing about?!"

I received no answer. After a bit more laughing, Lisa rolled off my bed and headed for the door, waving off my questions as she did, "Don't worry about it. I'll tell you when your older."

"What? What do you mean when I'm older, we're the same age!"

No answer still. Trazyn, however, took that moment to chime in with his own two cents, "Taylor, if I may."

"You may not."

He ignored me and continued, "Over the many millennia I have lived, I have bore witness to wonders beyond imagining. The births and deaths of massive stars, black holes so grand in scope they devoured whole systems, and alloys of such magnificence only the mightiest machines could move them. So understand that when I say this, it comes from a place of well documented experience. You are, without a doubt, the densest object in this universe."


-C-


Wednesday, January 19th, 2011. Somewhere under Brockton Bay

It was fair to say that Coil was not a man that appreciated inconvenience. Nor a man that enjoyed unexpected obstacles. He was especially irked by situations that combined the two. Which was what the Dynasty situation had turned into.

After his first failed assault on the Dynasty's headquarters, Coil had made sure to withdraw those under his employ. He knew there was no way that Phaerakh would have simply let his men go without trailing them, so over several days he had cautiously moved them from those buildings and structures that were closest to the old Undersiders headquarters.

It had been a slow and nerve wracking process, not helped by the radio silence he had instilled in his employees. Only a fool would risk an obvious weakness against a Tinker with yet-unknown capabilities. If anyone in his organization wanted to contact him or anyone else, landlines only.

So far, it seemed to have work.

Though his attempts at getting a closer look at the Dynasty's operations continued to end in failure, his enemies had yet to make an actual move against they assumed he was unwilling to act, or were simply biding their time, he was not sure. What he was sure of though, was that he would use the time to prepare.

Already the numbers in his organization had swelled, as Coil had been forced to dive into his emergency funds. Physical cash of course; only an idiot would depend solely on digital when Tinkers existed. The extra hands and equipment would help, but this was going to require more firepower than simple guns and bodies.

His call only made it to the third ring before a woman picked up and asked, "How can we be of service, sir?"

"I'm in need of extra security at one of my warehouses, and you have the muscle I need, Faultline." he said, bluntly.

Faultline had proven herself a reliable sort. Smart enough to never accept an offer without pay, but dumb enough to spend her talents in the service of others. So far, she and her crew had yet to fail Coil. Though he felt the Dynasty would certainly put that record to the test.

"I'll be at our usual place in an hour, we can discuss rates the-"

"$100,000 each up front." Coil interrupted her.

He heard her choke for a moment, before recovering, "T-that's a generous offer, but-"

"Another $100,000 each when the job is done." Coil interrupted again, and smiled a little at the silence.

Finally, Faultline said, in a shaking tone, "What's the job?"

"A man will deliver the details to your residence within the hour." he explained, "If you are interested, send him back. All objectives should be listed there. Am I clear?"

"Crystal."

"Good." and he hung up.

There was still a lot of work to do, and little time to do it. He picked the phone back up again, and began dialing. His first contract had been signed, now it was time to… strike an accord with his next business partner.

It was, after all, the only way to keep the Dynasty in check.


A/N: Let me be clear that the last two years have been, for my productivity, absolute hell. Between an existential crisis on the direction of my life and watching the world wanting to implode, and my inability to keep track of time, this all took way longer to put out than it had. Ultimately, and maybe ironically, changing this from an actual chapter into an interlude fixed the writers block I was having. Theres some bits and bugs to iron out as I'm a bit out of practice and my editor is preoccupied, but it was a good enough quality to me that I felt it was time to finally release it.

I can't guarantee when the next chapter will be, just that I will try to avoid another six month content drought if I can. I hope this chapter was enjoyable for you all, let me know in the comments your thoughts and criticisms, and I'll see you at the next chapter!