• Published 12th Dec 2013
  • 8,726 Views, 559 Comments

A Friend In Need - sopchoppy



Something has happened and Twilight finds herself in a strange and dark new world. The Bipeds here have strange magic, advanced technology, and a lot of problems. She needs a few friends, and they just might need her. WORM crossover.

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Interlude 12 - Alexandria

She fumed as she waited outside the Oval Office. The petty power play, whether it was the Chief of Staff or the President himself behind it, was beneath the situation. The world was being re-written as she was forced to sit here so someone could feel more important about themselves. She didn’t let any of this show on her face, however, she had long grown used to people disappointing her.

The door across from her swung open out of the white wooden paneling and the President’s secretary stepped into the room.

“The President will see you now, Director Brown.”

She stood up and walked in a purposeful stride towards the door, when she noticed the mostly concealed hints of commiseration on the secretary’s face she gave her a brisk smile that contained just the right amount solidarity in the face of stupidity and replied.

“Thanks, Cathy.”

She pulled the door closed behind her and walked towards the couch where the President and Chief of Staff were sitting. They looked up from their discussion and rose together, extending their hands. She politely shook with both and then the President motioned for her to take a seat across from them. She didn’t think the positioning of the seating was a coincidence, more power plays. She was almost sure the Chief of Staff was behind this one. Arranging things so he was symbolically on the President’s side and making her an opponent instead of a colleague. Friendly meetings here between more than two people almost always had a circular arrangement to avoid exactly that.

“Rebecca, I would apologize for cutting through the pleasantries, but I know you hate them anyway. What the hell is going on in New York? It certainly doesn’t look anything like the itinerary you provided me this morning.”

Years of practice allowed her to keep herself from sighing. Of course they wanted to start with the least consequential thing going on right now. “Upon landing, Princess Luna altered the plan.” An irreverent, ’Pray she doesn’t alter it further,’ ran through her head at the unintentional paraphrasing, but she continued without noticeable pause. “You’ve seen videos of her after the battle of Brockton Bay. It’s practically impossible to divert her after she has set herself on a course of action.”

“So we’re fine with letting her joyride around New York? It’s a security nightmare, and traffic has basically ground to a standstill in the entire tri-state area with too many people either leaving in fear or trying to get into the area in hope of catching sight of her.” Emmanuel said while President Barkley nodded along.

“Frankly sir, given what she’s capable of, and what happened the last time a being of unstoppable power visited New York? Lets be thankful for her comparative subtlety. My advice would be to adapt to it and start building contingencies in future plans based on her personality and actions to date.”

“Let her do whatever she wants. That’s your advice, Rebecca?” The President asked in a tone that bordered on mocking incredulity.

“What’s the alternative? Do you really want to risk antagonizing her in any way? Especially over something as minor as going off schedule and wandering around New York like a tourist?”

“That’s it right there, Rebecca,” the President said seriously. “Have we just replaced being at the mercy of one group of monsters with being at the mercy of more telegenic ones? Have we taken refuge from being stabbed under a giant Sword of Damocles?”

It was a good question, one she had herself, but she felt she needed to deflate the rhetoric a little. Barkley had a habit of slipping into speeches if you let him get rolling. “Been watching FNN have you?” The President let out a short bark of laughter and even Emmanuel cracked a smile. “Sir, for now, any shelter however threatening or unstable is a welcome change. The sword is over our heads, but we’ve been bleeding out for a while now. We’ve spoken about this, about how much damage the system can take before it breaks down completely. I know we’ve all tried to be optimistic about this in the past, but I think all three of us had our own estimates on how long we’d last under the status quo, I don’t know about you, but mine was about 20 years if we were lucky.” She paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “Regardless of how you want to phrase it, we have been praying. Praying for someone to win the power lottery, praying for someone to discover a weakness, praying for something, anything to appear that would change the game. Well, against all odds, something did. I’m not saying it’s without risk or consequence. There’s plenty of both to be had. The new game we’re going to be playing is dangerous and we don’t know all the rules yet, but its better than the one we’ve been losing for the past 2 decades.”

Emmanuel looked like he was about to speak when Barkley stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“That’s true enough. It was clear for anyone that really wanted to look that the wheels were starting to come off the global economy, and with it the political system. I did pray, fervently, for some sort of solution, for some kind of salvation. I didn’t expect the form it came in however, and now I’m thinking about gift horses and mouths.” Which was good for a couple of polite chuckles from the three of them. “However I don’t like being completely at the mercy of anything. We can’t count on the idea that this new alien power will always be aligned so nicely with our own interests. Tell me you’ve at least started working on contingencies.”

“Some, Mr. President. We’re starting to war game scenarios with our thinkers, but all of it right now is stuff I would file under long-shot, Hail-Mary, and ‘please don’t blow up the planet.’ Given the level of power Princess Luna has displayed, and ignoring for the moment whatever it is that Twilight Sparkle did, she could destroy the Earth on a whim. Fortunately after talking with her, my best guess is that something like that is not in her. As alien as they are, their thought processes are, for the most part, broadly similar to our own. I think we will make far more productive use of our time focusing on understanding both their similarities and differences, what their goals and morals are, and using that information to keep our interactions positive and leverage what good will we can create with her and her species.”

“Great,” Emmanuel sighed. “Kremlinology with aliens instead of communists.”

“So what do we know that my ambassadors and I can use before talks start in,” the President glanced at his watch, “Christ 18 hours.”

“You’ve read the executive summaries we sent over?” When both of them nodded she continued. “Then you know the broad strokes of it. If you imagine that Eidolon was the absolute monarch of a country comprised entirely of parahumans, and all the complications that would arise from something like that, I think you will have a decent idea of where Princess Luna is coming from. She is used to command, and having her commands followed with little question. If she makes a decision, it will likely be hard to change her mind later. I think she would take the breaking of an agreement badly, so think long term when negotiating and think twice before signing. Clever turns of phrase and anecdotes amuse her, dissembling and not being forthright with your intentions irks her quickly. She’s sharp and obviously used to politics. I wouldn’t try to slip one past her if I didn’t have to. Have a few amusing stories on hand for Luna, and a rare book for Twilight and you’re likely to start off with a decent amount of goodwill.”

“Thanks, thats helpful. Emmanuel, get someone on an appropriate book, and I’ve got a few family stories I’ve mined for politics before that should work.”

“Oh, and bring daisies, or have some delivered to their hotel suite,” Rebecca interjected quickly.

“Daises?” Emanuel asked.

“Twilight’s mentioned on a few occasions that they are her favorite.”

“Easy enough. At least one thing is in all of this.” The President glanced down at a notebook in his lap and looked back up somberly. “Speaking of Eidolon, do you have any leads on where he is?”

“We’ve been unable to locate him at this time. Given his abilities, he will only be found when he lets us find him.”

“What do you think about Ms. Sparkle’s statement that he’s connected to the Endbringers?”

She sighed. “I think it is true. They responded with unprecedented behavior to try and prevent that knowledge from being disclosed. I also think that it came as a complete shock to Eidolon. I have known the man for many years, and I am one hundred percent certain that he was unaware of whatever connection there is between him and them.”

“Have you asked Ms. Sparkle about the nature of this connection?” The President asked, leaning forward a little on the couch.

“We have not had the opportunity to speak privately with her about it, and as we unsure of what the answer will be, we felt it better to table it until it could be discussed in confidence.” She replied, as if he didn’t already know that.

“Find the time soon. I want to know what is behind that. It feels like a big puzzle piece to everything that has happened.”

‘Yes, it is,’ she thought before replying, ‘and I’m not sure if that is a puzzle you need to solve.’“I’ll move it to the top of our priority list.”

“Good. Ok, moving on to more concrete things. What’s the tally from the battle, and how affected is the Protectorate and PRT going to be?”

“Losing Eidolon, even if it turns out to be temporary, will severely effect our deployments. Eidolon covered a vast area of the southwest by dint of his power, and the fear of that power repressed villain and other criminal activity in his sector. We are going to have to shuffle a lot of personnel and put some of our heavier hitters on some kind of rotation until we can more permanently plug that gap or he returns. As Brockton Bay has effectively ceased to exist, we are likely going to cannibalize some of their personnel as a starting point once negotiations in New York are settled.”

She paused for breath and let her voice take on an appropriately somber tone.

“Armsmaster is our next biggest loss. He was instrumental in developing several technologies the PRT and Protectorate use on a daily basis, was a respected leader in the Protectorate and a powerful cape on the battlefield. Special mention of him should be made when going over those who sacrificed themselves in the battle. In a bit of a mixed blessing a few high-tier villains died. If we continue to have Endbringers, any high-powered cape loss is significant one, but if the Endbringers are a thing of the past, the fewer villains the better. The immediate presence of Panacea cut down significantly on the number of capes lost to otherwise fatal injury, and of course Twilight’s shield at the beginning of the battle saved dozens.”

“Overall, for an Endbringer battle, we got off light on the cape front. Twenty-nine dead. Civilian casualties are another matter. For Leviathan battles, this comes in around the median. Far better than disasters like Kyushu and Newfoundland, but worse than our best outings. There were very few survivors, even in shelters, in the urban core of the city. Considering the fact that this Battle featured two Endbringers, and resulted in one being destroyed? The numbers are just shy of miraculous.” She paused as if she were debating how best to say the next part. “For the city itself, well you’ve seen the pictures. If it was me I would devote some resources into cleanup and relocation, and declare the whole area a national memorial park.”

“Yes, we were thinking along the same lines. I already have the Department of the Interior working on a proposal. Alright. One last item of business and I’ll let you get back to it. The CIA and some of our allies’ intelligence services have been picking up some chatter indicating the CUI are very interested in our visitors, and are seeing what appears to be a relocation of some of their cape resources. It’s not much to go on, it may be nothing more than a variation on their normal paranoia, but I figured you should know. We’ve mobilized the guard in the tri-state area, ostensibly for crowd control and mundane security, and given them instructions to defer to the PRT in the case of a parahuman emergency.”

“Thank you, Mr. President. Hopefully they won’t be needed, but I am grateful for the intelligence and the assistance. I’m headed to New York tonight and will brief Legend and the director Wilkins on the possible threat.” She stood up and the President and Chief of Staff quickly followed suit. Shaking both of their hands quickly she walked briskly to the door and out of the office. All the while, her mind whirling around the possibilities of a CUI action of some kind.

If there was one thing a situation as delicate as the next couple of days didn’t need, it was a group of brainwashed parahumans in the service of a paranoid government taking an interest.

---------------

Forty-five minutes of traffic and security procedures later Rebecca locked the door to the small cabin of the private jet as the pilot leveled off and headed north. The muted roar of the engines thrumming through the cabin walls and set the ice in the glass beside her chair clinking. Without preamble, she turned around and said, “Door, Alexandria’s office.” Immediately after she finished speaking a vertical square appeared in front of her, and through it, her Los Angeles office. With a step she was there, and the doorway closed behind her. The sounds of Los Angeles’ traffic now replaced that of the jet as she walked briskly to the back of the room she opened a drawer and pulled out a freshly cleaned costume. Within moments she was changed, and a few more minutes was all it took to remove her makeup and change her hair style. While she worked, mental gears switched and her facial and body language took on entirely different cues. Years of experience had made the transition between her personas almost automatic. Putting away Rebecca in another drawer and locking it, Alexandria walked over to her desk and turned on her computer.

With a practiced motion of her arm, she swept her cape upwards as she sat down, allowing it to drape over the back of the chair. Leaning forward, she let the tinker-tech facial and retinal scanners perform their checks while a separate sensor in the chair checked her weight within the ounce.

A soft chime sounded from a speaker in the wall and prompted, “Pass phrase please. Fifteen seconds to comply.”

“Epsilon zulu thirty seven. My first thought was he lied in every word.”

“Accepted.” The hidden speaker’s reply was followed by the barely perceptible click of spray nozzles redirecting away from her position and towards the door on the far side of the room. She had learned over the years that there was no such thing as being too paranoid, especially when one dealt with parahumans.

She pulled up multiple windows displaying various secure communications from Protectorate leaders and PRT directors across the country. This included seven messages from Director Costa-Brown that she had sent earlier and now needed to answer or forward in order to maintain the electronic paper-trail supporting her masquerade. A few minutes of reading and responding delegated all but the most critical issues to those Protectorate members most well suited, or at least most conveniently located to handle the crisis of the day. She had just finished temporarily reassigning some of the more powerful and, more importantly, more competent capes from the relatively quiet northwest and southeast to cover Eidolon’s absence and reinforce New York when a gentle knock came from her door.

Only two people currently in Los Angeles had the access to knock on her door, and only after they had gone through several layers of security. Still, she brought up a screen that showed the outside of her office and keyed a command to activate the outside comm.

Rime was waiting outside, and when she noticed the light on the comm she spoke. “Pink elephant zulu ten. Laughter trapped in their frigid gizzards.” Alexandria typed a command and her door unlocked. Rime walked briskly inside, closing the door behind her. Her fur-trimmed blue outfit, while fitting with her ice themed powers, always struck Alexandria as somewhat incongruent in LA’s baking heat.

Rime settled into a chair opposite her without ceremony, but sat at stiff attention. It was her own method of salute. Alexandria nodded politely and Rime’s posture relaxed fractionally. Underneath her loyalty and crisp demeanor lurked a mild subversive streak that was only let out around those she trusted, like selecting whimsical security phrases to subtly mock their usage.

“I’ve already read through your report. How are the things that we don’t put in reports?” Alexandria asked in a tone carefully crafted to rest at the intersection of seriousness and commiseration.

“City’s quiet. I get the feeling everyone’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. Rosas Rojas are taking advantage of Carnival’s death to push further into East LA. We’re keeping an eye on it, but I don’t think we should intervene yet. The Wards are keeping a stiff upper lip, but John was well liked and his team in particular is taking his death hard.”

“Arrange a light rotation for them, maybe some fortuitous one on ones with some of the easier to talk to Wards from other teams.” Alexandria said as her eyes flicked down to her screen briefly and back up to Rime.

“Already done Ma’am.”

“I knew I left you in charge for a reason.”

“Thank you Ma’am. I take it I should expect your continued absence for the foreseeable future?”

“Yes, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you even more shorthanded. Whisper’s getting reassigned to Houston.”

“Damn. Any word?” Rime asked.

“Nothing.”

“Shit. It will take a lot of capes to fill his shoes. Who else is getting robbed?”

“Northwest, and Miami mainly. I’m also stealing some others to provide special services for the summit in New York.” She typed a quick command. “I just emailed you a list in case something comes up and you need outside help.” Alexandria typed another command and logged off her computer, standing up as she did so. Rime followed suit. “Walk with me to the roof. I’m going to do a quick patrol around the city before heading Back East.”

“Showing the flag?” Rime asked as they exited the office and headed for the stairway at the end of the hall.

“Endbringers can be defeated. Unfortunately, that’s more than just good news. A lot of capes on both side of the fence are going to be thinking about how this changes things. I want everyone around here to think twice about any ideas they may have come to.”

“Thanks. That will help. I’ve been wondering who will be the first to do something stupid.”

“Rime,” Alexandria said as they stepped onto the roof, “someone already has. We just haven’t seen the consequences yet.”

—————————————————

Half an hour later she stepped out of another doorway and back into the plane, dressed exactly as she had been when she left, just as the pilot was informing her that they were on final approach into Laguardia. Within five minutes the plane was taxing into the PRT’s private hanger. Just outside, a helicopter’s blades started to spin up. The plane came to a stop and Rebecca waited a moment as the pilot exited the cockpit and released the cabin door.

She nodded thanks and made her way quickly down the steps to where Assistant Director Cox was waiting for her, clutching several folders tightly against her chest.

“Chief Director, it’s good to have you. As I am sure you are aware, things have been a little hectic today,” the taller woman said as she stepped aside and fell into place beside her. “Director Wilkins is waiting for you at HQ, and Legend should be there by the time we arrive.”

“Yes, just when I start to feel guilty about things like taking a helicopter to avoid traffic, I remember that I can still feel envious of those who fly and never have to see an airport at all. Any changes since I left D.C.?”

Rory handed her a manilla folder as a PRT trooper opened the door to the helicopter and they both climbed in. The officer shut and latched the door before running back to the hanger as the engine revved and they lurched off the tarmac. They each settled a pair of large sound-dampening headphones on their heads and plugged the attached cords into ports on the armrests of their chairs. Rory swung a microphone down in front of her mouth and picked up where the conversation left off.

“Things have quieted down a little now that we have our guests settled into the Plaza. We’re maintaining a five block cordon around the hotel where only official vehicles are allowed, and we’ve stepped up patrols in concentric rings around the hotel and at various higher risk locations around the city. We’ve shut down the 5th, 6th, and 7th avenue subway stations and closed the southeast corner of central park. This is, of course, causing bloody havoc with transportation in the city, on top of the problems caused by gawkers and celebrating crowds.”

“If bad traffic is the worst we have to deal with, I think we’d all agree that’s a win. Any noise from the local villain groups?” Rebecca asked as the Manhattan PRT building grew larger in the window.

“Not a peep that I’ve heard. Frankly, if you’ll excuse the cliche, it’s too quiet. I’m sure Director Wilkins and Legend will have more details on that.”

“Trust your paranoia. There’s too many schemers in this city for no one to have gotten some bright idea on how to use this to their advantage. Did you get the list Alexandria sent out of the capes she’s sending to reinforce?”

“Yes Ma’am. I can’t say that we weren’t hoping for more, but I understand how thin the Protectorate is stretched right now.”

“Let’s hope it’s enough.”

Rebecca spent the last few minutes reading through the briefing papers Rory had handed her. It was nothing she didn’t already know or suspect, but it wasn’t missing anything that the local PRT could conceivably have known about either. They had done their homework.

She took a moment to look out over the city from the mid-town skyscraper that housed the Manhattan PRT, the wind and the wash from the helicopter causing her hair to swirl wildly around her head. If she had her choice the summit would have been held in the middle of the desert, not in the heart of a city of eight million, but as always image and politics held sway over practicality. Turning away from the edge, she walked to a doorway guarded by four PRT troopers and an older Ward. She knew each of their names, and effortlessly recalled all the details from reading their service packets the last time she had been in New York. Micheal, the Ward, had a powerful aerokinesis ability, a good choice for powered support up here.

The troopers saluted her and directed her towards the security booth. A retinal scan and another passphrase got her to the elevator while a different passphrase got her and Rory off the elevator on the right floor. Rory quick-stepped ahead so that she could open a door to a large conference room. The view outside the windows was spectacular, but she only had eyes for the people who were arrayed around the table, a discussion already in full swing faltering as they noticed her arrival.

“-st. I don’t care what kind of perimeter you have set up, the Elite have shown time and again that that kind of security might as well not even be there if they are interested in what is behind it. Let me assure you that they are interested…” Mayor Addison trailed off, the last to notice the increasing quiet her entrance had caused.

Director Wilkins stood up from his chair and motioned towards an empty chair to his right. She headed that way as Assistant Director Cox closed the door and made for an open seat at the opposite side of the table. Besides the Mayor and Director Wilkins, Police Commissioner McClane, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, UN Ambassador Freeman, Legend, his second in command Prism, and a Major from the National Guard occupied the remaining seats. Regardless of the importance of the various people in the room, without word or gesture everyone present came to an agreement, the floor was hers.

She settled into her chair, poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher in front of her, and set the papers Rory had given her down. After taking a small swallow she addressed the room.

“Gentlemen, Ladies, First let me extend my thanks to everyone for the job done so far. While things might not have proceeded according to plan, nothing has exploded and the only injuries so far are those typical of any celebration involving too many people in too small an area drinking too much. Frankly, given everything, that’s a miracle. One I hope we can maintain for the next forty-eight hours. With that in mind let’s start breaking things down. Local parahuman threats, Robert?” Rebecca turned to her side slightly, addressing the New York Director of the PRT seated beside her.

Wilkins cleared his throat. “Yes, we were just discussing that as you came in. Of the major villain groups in the city, I believe there are two main concerns. Contrary to the mayor’s worries, I don’t think the Elite will make any sort of move right now. There’s too much attention, too many eyes focused on our visitors and the conference. Their strength lies in their subtlety. They’ll wait for the lights to go down before they make their move. The same goes for the Black Hands, the Dingos, the Easy Aces, the Fastballs, the Hopilites, the Judas Bunch, the Moonrunners, the Stonebreakers, and the Zulus. They may not be as subtle as the Elite, but they're smart enough not to draw heat from us right now. My only worry from that front is that the Moonrunners have already started using drawings of Luna in their tags, which might escalate tension between them and the other groups or prod one of the other groups into hitting some place where a kid drew a pony on the sidewalk. More concerning to me are the Adepts. Like the Elite, they tend to be smart operators, but the ponies and all of their talk of magic might push too many of their buttons for them to resist doing something. I don’t think they would try anything violent, but I do think they will look for an opportunity to have a discussion with them. They wouldn’t be above causing mischief or property damage towards those ends. Any of the local PRT and Protectorate can tell you how hard it is to pin down someone that manipulates time like Epoch does.”

He took a small sip of water before continuing. “The largest concern we have from local capes are the Teeth. The’ve been quiet lately, they like making statement attacks, and they have little compunction about violence and collateral damage. We’re directing a lot of our surveillance assets towards tracking their movements, but given the powers at their disposal, if they decide to make a move we’ll have a few minutes warning at best. The only thing we have going for us there is that they aren’t stupid nor are they inclined to be martyrs. They know the kind of response that they would be asking for. We can only hope that’s enough to deter them.”

“If someone isn’t deterred by the fact that one of the ponies in question moved the planet, I’m not sure there’s anything we are doing that will deter them further. Speaking of, what the he-“ Prism seemed to realize who she was in the room with and after a seconds pause continued in a more measured tone. “What are we going to do about pony retaliation if something happens? The city could use more green space, but I think people would object to a Brockton Bay style makeover.”

“We assist, we contain, and we try to de-escalate as fast as possible. That’s about all we can do if that situation comes up,” Rory responded. Rebecca nodded and spoke again to keep the discussion moving in the direction she wanted.

“So, about the best we can ask for as long as we are holding the conference anywhere with people,” Rebecca said with a measure of humor that elicited a couple of knowing chuckles from around the room. “Commissioner, what’s the situation in regards to unpowered trouble in the city?”

The police commissioner straightened in his chair as he was addressed and had a rueful smile as he spoke. “The organized crime that is still operating here are the ones that learned early on not to get involved in the affairs of capes. There won’t be any trouble on that front. What we have to worry about are the lone nut-jobs hoping to go out in a blaze of glory. We have everyone working overtime and are deploying using a plan modified from presidential visits. With the National Guard helping crowd control and filling in the gaps,” he paused and nodded to the major, “in as far as we can be prepared, the NYPD is ready.”

“Thank you, Commissioner. I took the liberty of dipping into the discretionary fund and have pre-arranged hot food and coffee to be catered for each shift change at each precinct for the duration. Let them know we appreciate the extra hours they’re putting in.”

The commissioner chuckled. “I’ll send your regards to the duty sergeants. If anyone ever wondered how you ended up as the head of your organization, you just revealed your secret.” That set off a round of knowing laughter, everyone in the room acknowledging a move by a fellow colleague in their world where practicality and politics so often intersected.

“Ambassador, Wendy, should we expect any surprises from our more familiar foreign dignitaries? They will, of course, be the ones with the most direct access to Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna.”

Ambassador Freeman and Undersecretary Sherman, seated next to one another, had a brief discussion between themselves before Ambassador Freeman addressed the room as a whole.

“I don’t think we will need to worry about anything like a physical attack from any of the delegates. Now, do we need to worry about what they’ll say? Absolutely, but I don’t think there’s any way to avoid pricking ourselves on that particular thorn. The real question I have, and one I think everyone has been avoiding: We’ve all prepared the best we can against the threats and problems we’re familiar with. What have we done to prepare for the ponies?” He paused to let that sink in and then continued.

“I’m not talking about the threat of an attack, at least in the immediately foreseeable future. If that was on their agenda, I think we would have seen something different than we have from them by now. I’m talking about how they have upset the entire global power structure and political landscape, and I’ve been thinking about how their story seems just a little too neat.”

Some around the room we’re nodding in agreement with this. Others, including Legend, looked skeptical.

“What do you mean by that? Since both of their arrivals you’d be hard pressed to find anything even hinting of malicious action by either. Look, after being attacked by some of the worst our planet has to offer, Twilight Sparkle’s first action was to organize an effort to rebuild and revitalize Brockton Bay,” Legend rebutted.

“Yes, that’s just the kind of thing I’m referring to actually. I’ve read the briefing papers that the PRT has provided for the diplomatic corps. Isn’t it curious at all to you that Twilight first presented herself as something akin to a lost grad student, with convenient holes in her memory and an appearance that could not be designed to look more innocuous to us? She only broke this facade when ambushed by the Nine and she had no choice but to abandon it. Just how likely is it that someone can accidentally travel across space, time, dimensions, what have you and land somewhere habitable and populated? Then there’s the convenient timing of Princess Luna’s arrival. Twilight supposedly is lost among the cosmos, with no way to communicate with her people, but the moment she’s faced with a foe she can’t defeat alone, reinforcements arrive.”

He shook his head ruefully, as though acknowledging an opponent’s move as they took his queen from the board. “No. I don’t believe it. It’s a great story. It’s too great a story for it to be anything but. It’s a convenient and pleasant fiction for our consumption, and with the defeat of the Nine and the Simurgh it’s a fiction that our populace has been all too eager to consume. I’m not arguing that we’d be better off with the Simurgh still alive, not at all. What I am asking is this: If you dismiss the fairy tale, what truth remains?”

The room was silent for a moment, then everyone present tried to speak at once. Rebecca Costa-Brown stayed silent. She listened.

Long after the last meaningful thought had been shared, the meeting finally broke up, not out of any consensus that the conversation had long past reached the point of diminishing returns, but due to the various duties those in attendance could no longer put off. Another ten minutes of polite goodbyes ensued before the room contained only Legend and Rebecca.

A series of silent expressions that they had honed over their many years of working together were exchanged. Over the course of fifteen seconds of silent communication they stated their positions, disagreed, debated, and reached a compromise that would have taken the participants of the just disbanded meeting at least twenty minutes to arrive at. Anything further would need to be discussed elsewhere.

With a nod, Rebecca stood up and locked the door to the conference room. A few quick messages sent from phones to both of their subordinates opened up a small window in which they would remain undisturbed, barring a significant emergency. Rebecca pulled a small device out of the inner pocket of her jacket and swept the room once. Satisfied, she spoke.

“Door, Cauldron.”

A vertical square appeared instantly in front of her, and on the other side was a hallway with white walls and white tile, otherwise unadorned. She walked through and Legend followed. The moment they both were fully over the invisible threshold it vanished. Legend wasted no time before speaking.

“Just what the hell was that? I know Rebecca’s supposed to be the ruthlessly practical one, but letting that group walk away with a bunch of overblown and unfounded suspicions of the Aliens when we are going to desperately need them in the near future doesn’t seem like the smartest play to me.”

Rebecca didn’t slow her pace as she continued to walk down the hallway, but she turned her head slightly to respond.

“Everyone in that room got to where they are by being good at their job and canny political operators. Within the week each one of them would have come to conclusions similar to those of the ambassador. Any naysaying by me would have simply heightened their suspicions and merely made them suspect that I knew more than what I was telling them.”

“You do,” Legend said, deadpan.

“Quite. This way I maintain the persona they expect of me and also get to hear directly what each of them is thinking. It’s much easier to manage people when you cut out the guesswork.”

“But-“

“They’re all smart enough to keep those thoughts to themselves, at least until the ponies in question do anything to validate them. Frankly, I share some of them, but lets wait for everyone.”

Legend let out a frustrated sigh but acquiesced to the request. A minute later they walked into a circular room with windows along the far wall looking out onto the vast uninhabited plains surrounding the only man made structure on this world. The vista was a welcome contrast to the endless white of the facility. Around a table, waiting for them, was the rest of their organization.

Standing and gazing out the window farthest from the doorway was a man with short blond hair wearing thin-rimmed glasses and a button up shirt. He was tapping a foot in a manner that might suggest impatience to those that were unfamiliar with him.

A dark-skinned woman wearing a long white lab coat was hunched over a laptop and occasionally typing something while a pale woman in a smart business suit reclined casually in a seat beside her, nodding at Rebecca and Legend as they entered.

“Okay,” Legend spoke as soon as he cleared the threshold of the room. “So we formed a global conspiracy years ago in the hope to tackle the problem of the exponential growth of natural triggers and the problem that villains would eventually swamp heroes in sheer numbers. We formed the Protectorate and manipulated governments and media all around the world to help contain and reverse those trends. Then the Endbringers came and the fact that everyday villains were eating society slowly from the inside became secondary to the fact that there were forces out there that could wipe out land masses and demolish whole cities on a whim. Every year that has gone by, we have fallen farther from our goals.” He paused and looked around the room, silently asking for any of them to dispute him. No one spoke.

“Now, when the very miracle that we’ve been hoping for, that someone would appear with the power and temperament to tip the balance back in our favor, shows up I feel like I’m the only one here happy about it. Am I missing something?”

“Perhaps we’re worried that we all are. Missing something, that is. Perhaps some of us are worried about our missing friend and the most powerful hero outside of Scion last seen having an emotional breakdown before vanishing over the Atlantic? Or perhaps some of us feel like the events of the past month are little more than the opening moves of a new game that we don’t know the rules to yet,” Doctor Mother looked up from the laptop as she finished speaking.

“More concerning is Clairvoyant. He can’t find Eidolon. Which has never happened.” Doctor Mother added. Legend and Rebecca both shifted slightly to face the man by the window who turned away from the view with a slight grimace.

“I’m afraid that world events have kept me far too busy to try any of my own methods to track Eidolon down,” Number Man responded, never ceasing his foot tapping.

“I trust that we will all do our best to find our erstwhile colleague moving forward?” Doctor Mother waited for everyone to nod before continuing. “Then let us make the most of our limited time to discuss things we do have information on. Let us start then with the information that led to his disappearance, Twilight Sparkle’s claim that the only person the Endbringers care about is Eidolon.”

“Truth. I ran some numbers from previous fights. It’s there to see now that I know to look for it,” Number Man said as he stopped tapping his foot and started pacing along the windows.

“I agree. His reaction to the news was shock, but there was realization as well. Something clicked, he knew it was true,” Rebecca added.

“So, not only have we failed in all of our objectives, but one of us, knowingly or not, was connected to the greatest threats humanity has ever faced. I am beginning to regret ever taking one of your formulas Doctor. You never understood his powers, I picked up that much. You’ve never told me how they work, I think I was afraid to know the answer to that question, but did you even understand it? If something like this was underneath your nose for decades, what else have you unknowingly unleashed into the world? What other unknown side effects like the Endbringers have we been the cause of? Saving humanity? We almost doomed it and we weren’t even smart enough to realize it! I think…I think we need to tell people what we know. More specifically, what you know.” Legend took a breath. “Maybe someone out there is as smart as you thought you were.”

Contessa scooted her chair forward and began to lean her mouth towards Doctor Mother’s ear.

“No!” Legend shouted and pointed towards the woman. “No, I’ve had enough secrets for awhile. I don’t know who you are, another thing I suppose I didn’t really want to know the answer to, but If you want to say something, say it to all of us.”

“Legend,” Rebecca said calmly, unruffled by his outburst. “Calm down and think about what you’re saying. Disclosing our existence would completely discredit the Protectorate. Everything we’ve worked for all those years. Can you honestly say that is something you want to see?”

Legend stared at her, conflicting emotions warring on his face before settling down. He took a breath. “No, I can’t say that, but if we can’t tell the truth maybe we can let some of the Doctor’s research fall into the Think Tank’s hands?”

“Letting that much information out to a group of thinkers would effectively be the same as full disclosure,” Number man responded.

“Then find a solution!” Legend retorted and gestured around the room. “Because what we’ve been doing, its not working.”

“Your objection is noted Legend. I even agree with some it. We’ll find a way forward. For now though, let us move on. Has there been any action or reaction to the Simurgh’s apparent demise from Leviathan or Behemoth?” Doctor Mother asked.

Legend let out a frustrated sigh, but appeared to settle down. Rebecca picked up the thread of the conversation.

“Dragon’s seismic and deep sea sensors indicate that both stopped all movement the moment Twilight Sparkle hit the Simurgh with that last attack. There have been no readings since that time,” Rebecca answered.

“Wait,” the Number Man said as he stopped his pacing and pulled a pen from his pocket. He started moving it as if he were writing in the air in front of him. After a minute of this he stopped. “If, as is apparent, all of the Endbringers are connected, and if Twilight Sparkle’s attack affected the Endbringers not present through that connection, could it not also be the case that anything connected to the Endbringers might also have been affected?”

“Like Eidolon you’re suggesting,” Doctor Mother replied.

“Yes,” he said and flicked the smallest of glances towards the floor. No one without Rebecca’s attention to details would have noticed it. Then she realized what he was implying and she felt a new dread settle in her stomach. The entity. Could Twilight’s attack have affected it? If so, if one chased that rabbit long enough, she could have theoretically affected every cauldron derived cape on earth. They needed confirmation on that, but they couldn’t discuss it now. Legend was already wavering. Any further disclosure, like where cauldron powers really came from, or worse how they tested them, would push him over the edge. She didn’t want him as an enemy. They needed his strength and image in their corner. She gave Number Man an almost imperceptible nod in return. Disturbing message received, we’ll talk about it later.

“That is a disquieting thought. Though if it was the price to defeat the Endbringers, David would have accepted it. I’ll see if I can’t get some kind of confirmation from some of our thinker clients,” Doctor Mother said, readjusting herself in her chair. “Staying on the topic of Twilight Sparkle. While she has appeared benevolent in temperament and deed since her arrival there are a number of very concerning issues surrounding her. Perhaps the most concerning is the apparent similarity between some aspects of her power and that of the Simurgh’s. She has even stated the Simurgh’s power was some kind of inversion of her own. That she was able to counter and defeat the Simurgh implies a facility with mental and emotional manipulation on a scale and refinement even greater than the Simurgh was capable of. If that is not enough for alarm, I am not sure what would qualify. She has already demonstrated the ability to completely rewire one cape’s personality. We have evidence that a subtler application of this power is responsible for the changed behavior of some of the villains and heroes present during her final confrontation with the Simurgh. And her defeat of Jack Slash demonstrates that this ability does not always deal with what we would consider positive emotions.”

“Can you hear yourself? You’ve somehow turned the fact that she defeated Jack Slash, the Simurgh, and possibly all of the Endbringers into a mark against her. Anyone with that kind of power can be frightening if you choose to look at them in that way, but do you have any evidence of malfeasance? Or is the fact that she’s cleaning up our mess without invitation enough to mark her evil?” Legend retorted.

“Don’t twist her words, Legend,” Rebecca replied. “That’s not what she said or implied. She’s not arguing that Twilight’s come for our brains. She’s saying that caution is warranted. We only know the barest details about her or her society and we only have their, possibly dubiously translated, word on that. I’m not saying that this is the truth, but for all we know mass mild mastering of the populace for better unity is an accepted practice that they don’t even blink at. What she’s saying is that it is foolish to take things at face value or to interpret Twilight or Luna’s actions through a human lens. Those actions might have very different meanings to them than they do us. We have to keep that in mind. To do less is to do those who trust us with their protection a disservice. Even if you believe there is nothing to fear from them, can you really risk letting your guard down?”

“Ok, ok. I just don’t want this to turn into a snipe hunt. Sometimes people, or ponies, are what they say they are. I think some of you,” he shot a pointed look at the Doctor, “have lived in the darkness so long that you’ve forgotten that most people don’t. Most people just want to make it home at the end of the day and have someone there who loves them. So while you plot and prepare for the worst, keep it in mind that your opponent might be nothing more than your own shadow. Speaking of homes and loved ones, it’s past time for me to go back to Arthur and Keith.”

With that, he turned and walked from the room. A moment later, the Number man nodded and Rebecca allowed herself to relax a fraction.

“If the world survives another year, I’m not sure Legend’s allegiance to us will. He’s starting to suspect that there is a lot more we’re not telling him than he assumed,” Rebecca said.

“A problem for tomorrow, we’ll deal with it when it comes. We have enough of today’s problems to worry about,” Doctor Mother replied. “Like the possibility that Twilight Sparkle’s ability has had some unknown effect on the entity and the agents still connected to it, or even more worrying: every Cauldron agent hosted or not. Number Man, I want you to accelerate the next scheduled batch of test subjects. Deviations from your models might tell us what if any effect there was.”

“Of course,” he replied.

“Further down the list, it looks as if my experiment in Brockton Bay was a victim of Twilight Sparkle’s first attack on the Simurgh. Contessa, were you able to recover anything of value?” Doctor Mother asked.

“Just one. The path had me place her in one of our off world cells.”

“And Riley’s project?” Doctor Mother inquired further.

“Following the steps.”

“Ending the threat from the Endbringers?”

“Path completed.”

Rebecca let out a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding. One nightmare over, if only there wasn’t a larger one looming on the horizon.

“Killing Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna?” Doctor Mother asked.

“122,368 steps.”

“That’s different than before.” Number Man noted.

“It changes, sometimes I get no answer at all,” Contessa replied.

Doctor mother spoke again, “Killing Scion?”

“Blocked.”

“Too much to hope that had changed.” Rebecca commented.

“Getting Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna’s help in defeating Scion?”

“5,437 steps.”

‘That answer, when there was an answer, had changed as well,’ Rebecca thought.

“Keeping Cauldron secret from Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna?” Doctor Mother asked.

“No Path.”



‘Shit,’ Rebecca thought.

Author's Note:

Thanks again to Deadpan for editing. He has also written another omake covering what some of the late night shows on Earth-Bet have to say about all this - you can read it here.