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Ari   

GM

 

Spider

 

~'Hey! Get back here! It doesn't proje-!'~ But the voice cut out as soon as Peri had ducked into the tower, the metal slats banging shut behind her. The noise rang and rumbled down the shaft, which stretched below Emerald Spider like an especially narrow abyss. Other doors opened and closed out of sight, in a mechanical rhythm that defied the superheroine's understanding of music and became simple, inorganic Noise. But even in an echoing, dark series of tunnels made of metal, it was at least possible to tell where each shutter lay. Which meant she could work her way to where other humans were, other humans and, hopefully, their sensitive computer systems.

 

Citizen

 

Inside, the complex had a remarkable lot in common with an early Star Trek movie set. Clear, sharp lines, bright colours and shiny fashion plate hiding all the troublesome infrastructure guts. There were familiar touches, security cameras(turned toward the walls), the broad, couch-festooned simplicity of a waiting room punctuated with a rack of magazines in Mandarin and Korean. A desk, behind which a bald man in a crisp white uniform emblazoned with the Ming Xi eye was reading a Castle Comics Bowman & Arrow with the look of deep scrutiny and skepticism of somebody first meeting a poisonous snake. At the entry of the robot-borne alien, the man rose and bowed politely, gesturing to a wall which opened without a sound to admit access to a sparse white hallway. Hermit Ochre nodded once, which the man took as a sign to resume his seat.

 

Sharl could feel the data flowing through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the air itself thick with transmitting information. All of it utterly mundane but heading somewhere deeper in the Ming Xi complex. Before him the Hermit walked with soft, creaking footsteps, the OtherSharl beside him marching with a slightly irregular gait and clanking feet. They met one other person in what seemed like an hour(really five minutes, according to the time in the corner of his right eye), another Hermit. This one stepped out of another door that opened behind the trio, they wore a pale green mask and fell in on the other side of Citizen without a word or gesture  

 

-'Citizen'- the words scrolled across his vision, via his link to Archetech West -'We're getting some of that interference again, if Spider can get somewhere they send or receive data from outside, we can find out what this is'-

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It wasn't often that Peri's daytime occupation help her out with her secondary activities, but this kind of ventilation systems was something she'd studied quite a bit over the last few years. Though not normally designed by someone quite so paranoid, though considering their business it wasn't a complete surprise.

 

There sacrifice for her accuracy with the systems was that she couldn't concentrate as much on keeping herself completely quiet, steady footfalls weren't necessarily the quietest, but she hoped few would be around to hear any noise that she made.

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"Nope," said Citizen aloud, unconsciously channeling Gina Evans as he often did in these situations. "We're going to stop right here," he said, doing just that, "and you are going to explain to me how you got your hands on the Mark IX," he said, indicating the damaged unit carrying a broken fragment of his consciousness, "and who you are and what you've been doing in this city, or I'm going to go out through that wall-" he said, pointing to the nearest one, one that he was reasonably sure did not have a door behind it, "and come back with the Emerald City authorities. I've got you on a couple of things already - and Archetech West has heard about it too." He'd made sure they knew about the other Citizen, at least. 

 

Working on it. Keeping them busy. 

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Ari   

GM

 

The party halted. Besides OtherSharl, who staggered another step forward before managing to stop.

 

"We found him, Citizen," Hermit Ochre spoke without looking around "someone had torn him apart and tried to hide the body by throwing it into the sea."

 

"I-I was still conscious, even without the c-*ZZZZZRK*!" OtherSharl jerked his head so hard it looked likely to tear itself from its moorings. Head tilted nearly sideways, he went on casually "Couldn't remember much, though, just bits and <sea life is integral to the survival of this biosphere>."

 

"Seawater got into the electronics. Despite our best efforts we could not repair that damage without causing more, the technology is very different from what we are used to here." Hermit Green mumbled a little, as if half-asleep. "As for what we do..."

 

Ochre tapped one of the walls, and at once they became translucent.

 

To the right, a dead Grue biobeast lay on a slab, surrounded by drones armed with slim blades and probes operated by other Hermits in an observing room above.

 

To the left, the crisped and twisted armor that had once been the proud mantle of a Star Knight was being methodically taken apart by a small team of people in impressive protection gear.

 

"Ming Xi Visions has government permission to study and reverse-engineer the product of alien science, so long as they are found within this nation's borders." Hermit Ochre had started walking again, a door opening at her touch.

 

It revealed an elevator.

 

"I would very much appreciate you hearing us out, Citizen. We are as lost and suspicious as you appear to be. We had hoped repairing your counterpart would be seen as a sign of good faith, clearly we misjudged the situation and our Board will be only too happy to respect whatever terms you or your associates demand."

 

Meanwhile...

 

With consummate skill and grace, Peri navigated the clanging, smashing shutters as they let through and blocked blasting gusts of air from deep within the tower.

 

Finally, she found something useful as she followed the path of greatest power consumption: A security station with one single person watching hundreds of monitoring devices.

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Peri was very glad of two things as she blundered through the venting, that she wasn't afraid of confined spaces and that Nan had insisted that she carry on her gymnastic lessons. That with her suit allowed her to stay in pretty awkward positions for long periods of time.

 

Right now she was crouched in such a position as she looked to see if she could catch anything from the monitors from this vantage point. If not she had the inkling of a plan, something she'd been thinking about for a while. She had the pattern needed for the function all worked out but had never had a chance to test it before now.

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Citizen closed his hands and then opened them again, scanning the room all the while, an autonomic reflex that let him keep his body busy while his mind worked fast. He thought suddenly of Kimber and her worries, years ago, about the state of his 'soul'. What would she think now, confronted with a Sharl that still carried the memories of another life? He had enough issues with his extradimensional counterpart, the one that was doing his job in both Troniks even now. "Your culture is obviously not baseline Terran," he said, keeping his voice level with an effort. "If you're fugitives, I'm not affiliated with the Star Navy or law enforcement. What are you?" He studied the robot, not detecting any signals coming from it, and tried sending an electronic signal to his counterpart. 

 

I woke up in the home system and rebooted into another body. A moment's pause, and then, I'm sorry about what happened to you. What do you remember about what happened? 

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Ari   

GM

 

Sharl could feel the look that snapped between Ochre and Green faster than a normal human could have followed. "That is...most kind, Citizen." Ochre ventured at last, something like relief and a faint Core accent slipping into the English "After this long we had hoped our past allegiances had been overlooked, or our leader pardoned at the cost of abandoning his followers. When I learned your counterpart spoke Lor, we feared the worst."

 

"We can't go back now." Green sounded as if he had finally woken up, and didn't like it "No matter if Th'emme or Frankan wins, we'd be killed if we revealed ourselves now."

 

"Overstatement, of course!" Ochre laughed hastily "The Act of Oh-Seventy drastically shortened the timeline of prosecution for treason."

 

Meanwhile, OtherShar's answer came more haltingly and probably even less helpfully.

 

A flash of a dim circular room, whose walls slid back to reveal dozens of glowing pink eyes and the faces of Negators. A crisp, aristocratic voice saying "Lincoln. Now.". Unimaginable pain. A sudden blue flash. Walking down a long stairway covered in Lemurian murals like in the Smithsonian. A sewer littered with metal limbs. A woman who looked like Temperance taking off her head to reveal a modular socket beneath. Ochre and a roomful of Hermits shouting "Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!"  at a man with pink eyes and a grotesquely-swelled brain, watching his body's central core wash out into the Pacific...

 

On the same channel, OtherSharl asked fervently Do you know any of this? I dondondondondondondon-

 

Meanwhile...

 

There was a lot to see on the monitors. There were bodies being dissected, there were live bodies being examined, there were the smashed, spindled and mutilated remnants of countless examples of high-technology that didn't look at all like they came from Earth. There were other monitoring stations, too. All of them empty. 

 

On the screens Emerald Spider could also more normal-looking factory spaces, full of people in more rudimentary protection gear working with electronics, overseeing assembly lines, taking breathers in the spacious and homey break rooms, working in cubicles.

 

Side by side they looked like views from alternate realities. 

 

The guard's attention was currently on the hallway where Citizen, another Citizen, and two Hermits were standing. The hatch led to directly behind the guard's chair, the ceiling vent built to push and pull air in a circle around the room. Wonder of wonders, it was on a convenient hinge.

 

Suddenly the guard got up, moved to the centre of the room, and started doing push-ups, singing faintly to herself about killing dragons. Her Mandarin was a little old-fashioned, however, so Peri could have been mistaken.

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Sharl would have been more sympathetic a few years earlier, before the Communion. Citizen didn't think much of Lor who had let the Republic burn while they hid here on Terra - but exclaiming that sort of thing would be impolitic. He ran through the list of offenses against the Republic that called for the death penalty in his head, then the specifics of treason, and found himself offering, "There was an amnesty. Could see if you qualify." At the moment, though, under the dizzying array of images coming from his counterpart, he didn't care very much. We'll get you somewhere they can fix what happened to you, and then - He didn't have a good answer beyond that - nor, when he really thought about it, did he have a good answer for what that kind of fixing might entail. "Like I said, it's not my concern. I need you to tell me everything about how you found him." 

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Ari   

GM

 

Breaking from the loop, OtherSharl fell silent. Another transmission was sent 'If I'm fixed, will I still be me?'

 

"We need to bring you to the Board..." Ochre and Green looked briefly at each other "...later. This way."

 

Green stepped quickly to the end of the hallway, swiped their hand against the wall next to the elevator. The wall sizzled into a door leading to a stairway leading down. A deep, broad stair, ending fifty feet below on a small dock overlooking the Pacific coast at low tide. It was a relatively long drop to the sand a rocks below, but both Hermits did it easily, rolling nimbly to their feet and brushing off the sand and seaweed as they led the way along the pleasantly-reeking beach. A few hundred yards along the beach was a massive grate marked "EMERALD CITY DEPARTMENT REGULATING  ENVIRONMENTAL & GARBAGE SERVICE-". The 'S' was cut off by the hinge of the gate. Behind it shone and bobbled shallow sewer water.

 

Inside were dozens of robotic limbs, heads, rusted-out chassisses. OtherSharl averted his eyes...only one wholly obeying the command, the other stuck staring at the grisly scene.

 

"We found...him here. He was in pieces, but enough was intact to be put together relatively easily." Green pointed to a ghoulish skeletal hand reaching out of the water "Most of the remnants are too corroded or contaminated going through this line of the sewers. It attaches to the KessKorp facility a half-mile or so inland. Sometimes, victims of hitmen end up here as well."

 

Ochre stroked her masked chin "But there's no telling where you-I mean, he came from. Do you have some means of doing so? Would- QUIET QUIET QUIET!" Out of nowhere, Ochre fell to her knees, clutching her head in her hands, followed immediately by Green, both of them shouting frantically "QUIET!

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Emerald Spider considered her options. In her mind she needed to find a way to get this information out to the world, people deserved to know and those held here needed to be given their freedom. This shouldn't be how they treated those who came here from beyond this little blue-green planet. She could quite easily take the guard, thanks to the power of the Spdr Rig, but there was a chance that he could raise the alarm and she needed to give Citizen as much time as she could to discover what they had planned here.
 
So for now she’d have to rely on stealth to achieve her goals. She examined the equipment, the best she could from this angle, to see if she could discover where the images were feed in from, she could probably record or even transmit the images if she could find this. She checked her burner phone to see if she got a signal this far in, it would be an easy method to get the data out, even if she had to scavenge the cell for parts.

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Ari   

GM

 

Spider

 

As it happened, there was a whole extra green bar of signal strength for both her wifi and data, which even for hyper-connected Emerald South was an oddity.

 

A relatively mundane server rack occupied half of what her compass app told Peri was the western(right hand) wall. A very neat, labeled system of cords ran across the other walls and ceiling to connect with the servers, grouped into color-coded series that corresponded to the wings or sectors or whatever the strange coloured Hanzi letters in the screens' corners were supposed to say. They didn't look like anything Peri had seen, not even while working at Subatdau Systems, where she had first encountered the Spdr Rig.

 

Below Emerald Spider the guard kept at her exercise routine, switching to a slow Nestorian hymn.

 

And very suddenly one of the monitor screens switched off. Then another. Then another. Then two. Then five. Then ten.

 

There were dozens of windows, but from the look of things, as the main screen began to slowly clear, that wouldn't last long.

 

Citizen

 

With a final shout of "QUIET!" Hermits Ochre and Green got shakily back to their feet. There had been nothing in sight or sound that could have caused such distress. Just screaming gulls and sloshing grey-green waves rich with seaweed.

 

"Cortex" From the way Green said it, it sounded like a curse "he can reach this far into the field?"

 

Ochre was trembling, her voice strained as she began "Citizen, with respect, I think we'd better leave you and..." she glanced at OtherSharl.

 

"Larhs"

 

She shrugged "Yes, quiet-I mean...anyway. There's some psychic force that tries to invade our minds if we stray from the Fallen Heavens Complex. You and he are immune. If you check the tunnels you should find where your counterpart was attacked. Good luck Sharl." Without waiting for a reply the two Hermits hurried back to the dock, leaping up the thirteen feet block of concrete, into the facility and out of sight.

 

'Larhs' peered into the sewer tunnel, eyeing the metal corpses nervously. "They just throw them away..." he shook his head, doggedly fighting against the stopping and starting motivator "Any ideas? This all seems too much like a setup to me. Like they're trying to keep us away from the Complex. I could check the sewers while you go pull something useful out of the Hermits. Doubt there's anything in there, nothing dangerous anyway."

 

~Citizen!~ with a jolt, the link to Archetech West appeared in the corner of Sharl's vision ~That was the interference! That's why we couldn't figure it out, it's raw psychic energy! Nothing on record of anyone called 'Cortex' in the Northwest coast, though I have no idea how someone so powerful could stay hidden. Oh! Er,~

 

~We've been trying to reach you for ten minutes, but this wall of we didn't know what sucked everything in like a black hole. We got desperate and tapped into your audio-visual feed, sorry about that. We cut that line when normal channels opened back up.~

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Time slowed to a crawl for Citizen. To his Archetech contacts, he thought Negator is in the Emerald Cities. Call everyone on the ECL. The emergency contact list was everyone with superpowers in the city he and Archetech knew - it wasn't the same as contacting the Freedom League, but it would at least get cell phones ringing. There were mysteries to solve still, and plenty of them, but right now there were lives to save too. He grabbed the other Citizen's arm, loathe to drag his doppleganger into the fight but loathe to go without an ally in what might be a difficult battle. Wonder if he's the one that killed me. "Citizen, I need you to stay here and protect those people," he said, pointing back to where the other Lor had sensibly gotten away from the fight that was about to break out. "If those Negators get past me, they're going to need some help. Guard the complex, make sure the people in it are okay." He almost warned the other Sharl to keep an eye out for Emerald Spider - but figured it was best not to give Peri away. "Good luck." 

 

With that, he dived down into the tunnel himself and ignited his magnetic propulsion systems, the electromagnetic engine that powered the robot directly connecting to Terra's magnetic field as it ripped him forward faster and faster, as fast as he could without slamming into one of the sewer tunnel walls at speed. He trusted in his internal systems to navigate him, especially when darkness descended. He headed straight for the sound of antimatter explosions, sought out the coming Negator swarm, and without hesitation flew directly through it before the other paragon had time to say a word. 

 

 

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As Peri racked her brains as to where to send the feeds, so was very much aware of the irony that she'd stopped something very similar not that long ago.

 

"Maybe we can compare notes from adjoining cells if this goes wrong." she mumbled to herself as she worked.

 

She quickly went through and discarded several places as being either to unsecured or easily connected to her civil identity. Indeed apart from the MarsTech servers, which she did not trust this data with in the slightest, only one place seemed to fit the bill, the ArchTech West building. Which seemed pretty fitting considering.

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Ari   

GM

 

Citizen

 

His counterpart had started, narrowed his malfunctioning eyelids and opened his mouth to protest his orders, but by then he was facing the Gems' Guardian's back. 'Larhs' grumbled something Sharl didn't catch as the latter was whipped out of sight, but Citizen did hear him rev up his own magnetic launch and hurtle back to the looming Fallen Heavens tower.

 

Meanwhile, Dr. Lo was audibly shaken by the news that a living antimatter engine, with the power to split into dozens of equally-powerful clones, was unleashed on a city with almost no superhuman presence.

 

~'What-...how?! O-okay, calling, uh, everyone!'~

 

~'...Which besides you and E-Spider would be that magic scarf guy and that speedster the cops want for murder. I'll add AEGIS to the list. I think they have some Super-Max suits...'~

 

For a little while Citizen was perfectly alone. The radio signals bouncing through the tunnels were a more than adequate guide, on top of the rapidly-approaching evacuations of matter from the universe. The Emeralds had even more of a problem with seasonal floods than Freedom, thanks to the close proximity of the Atlas range and their yearly deluge of snowmelt. Combined with the winter storms that lashed the Pacific coast, the Upper Emerald had built on top of itself once already to escape rising water levels, creating the vast underground labyrinth of the Undercity. It was theorized that, in the coming decades as global climate shifted, they might have to again.

 

"!uoy ƨɘɘƨ xɘƚɿoƆ !uoy ɘɘƨ nɒɔ ɘHHe can see you! Cortex sees you!"

 

Pink and red eyes blazed in the darkness as the many faces of Michael/Leahcim hurtled into view, limbs shuddering with the power to unmake reality reaching and grabbing at Sharl as he spend past!

 

Fast enough to knock the wind out of the Negator who had lagged just a moment behind the rest. The two went smashing down into the filthy water into a cacophanic tangle, smashing through the concrete like wrecking balls through particle board. They ended up in a pile of what felt and behaved like tank parts.

 

The former scientist shoved Citizen off his shoulders and darted back into the stale air, eyes a stark and sickly pink "Escape! Before he makes me kill you!" As he spoke his hands began to glow and crackle, small hollows in the atmosphere collapsing with thudding BOOMs.

 

Emerald Spider

 

The stream of data flowed freely. Even as one camera clicked off, its feed lost, several hundred others all but handed over their records and current observations with a smile and a bow. 

 

It wasn't immediately obvious if what Ming Xi was doing was illegal or unethical, but it was certainly suspect for the security firm to be dissecting aliens, monsters and robots. As she got a more holistic view, Peri saw how the whole system worked, from the top-most levels where the more mundane work took place, with people manufacturing electronics or working on the software that went into them, to the bottom where staggering varieties of life and creation were meticulously sorted for examination. Or termination.

 

A twenty meter by twenty meter square in the corner plunged a metal shaft into the earth, which when opened revealed a flow of magma from the subduction zone on which the Emerald Cities were built. It was ordinarily sealed, but for what seemed to be its intended purpose.

 

A man was being propelled towards this gulf. Or at least something shaped like one, towering  over the Ming Xi techs flanking him like a muscular colossus. His skin was craggy and dark, with the texture and heft of black granite. Two pools of semi-molten metal burned in his eye sockets, partially obscured by the heavy, hanging mattes of obsidian-like hair that flowed to his back. He was dressed in rich but archaic clothing, like a man from the Iron Age of Vietnam, with huge bracelets and armlets in the forms of twisted snakes, an armored skirt embroidered in the fashion of dragon scales and long daggered sleeves hanging with precious stones. 

 

He was fastened to an upright rolling frame, which was proceeding with neither haste nor deviation towards the open pit. Though ungagged, the man made not a sound and looked neither right nor left. But just for a moment his eyes lifted to the camera pitilessly recording him. 

 

His eyes and Peri's met.

Edited by Ari

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Citizen stared at the Negator-spawn for a moment, then raised a finger against his own lips in a "Ssh" gesture. With a Centurion's wink, he took off back into the air and called down the tunnel. "Negator!" He didn't actually need to take a breath, but he let the pause drag out. "The mighty man of antimatter!" he added in a taunt. "You and Cortex have no idea what's going on. I'm laughing at the superior intellect."

 

Wait for it wait for it wait for it. Let him think about it, let him debate it, let him try and decide if this is worth going off whatever the Hell his mission is.  

 

"Have fun beating up a bunch of science geeks. I'm gonna go take out your boss. Unless you think you can stop me!" he added, a moment before taking to the sky again, pushing his internal electromagnetic drive to its utmost. 

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Whenever things seemed to be going well thing seemed to go askew in some way, Pyeng luck she called it. The camera was provided all the information she was after and more showing something serious something she couldn't ignore. Her mama raised her to always do her the right thing, but it still made her swear softly in Korean.

 

Quickly sticking the cell to the box, she'd lost count of how many of these things she lost and getting a quick check of her bearing and the best route she swung towards where apparently they were being held. She'd worried out what she'd do when she got there, improvisation was one of her best strength.

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