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December 9, 2017 

Freedom City Maritime Museum 

The Waterfront

 

Alexa Xieng's homework had taken her to the Freedom City Maritime Museum, a small private museum that discussed the history of Freedom City's shipping industry. There was actually quite a bit of history to see here, much of it going far beyond the age of heroes that had begun in the late 1930s. In her walkthrough so far she'd passed everything from a birchbark canoe like those used by the Lenape Indians who'd once lived all up and down the New Jersey coast to the cunningly hand-crafted model of one of the Nantucket whalers that had docked at Freedom's ports from the late 18th century on. The museum's tour guide, an older man with a white-streaked beard and a merchant marine cap, was obviously much more eager to talk about this part of Freedom's history than the "new wing." 

 

"Don't get me wrong," said "Captain Craig" a little awkwardly as he glanced into the newly constructed wing of the museum, its metal-walled rooms a sharp contrast to the rebuilt Victorian brick that made up most of the rest of the museum - which had once been a shipping baron's house, a century or so before Alexa's birth. "We certainly support Freedom City's hero population - but there isn't much to say about their maritime history. We discuss the Deep One invasion and the Atlantean one last year, of course," he went on as the two of them crossed the central foyer of the museum to the "hero wing", "but you can find that on your local websites. But don't let the curator hear me say that," he added with a wink. "We do have some fine artifacts preserved," he added, "all of them donated to us by the Freedom League. 

 

Behind Captain Craig, peering through the doors of the new wing, Alexa could make out the newer exhibits the man was speaking about - the Deep One invasion of 2011 being one of the main centers of attraction. In fact, a nearly intact Deep One suit of battle armor was in a glass case at the center of the room - but a half-dozen seeming-'tourists' were in the process of opening the case! The half-dozen men, all of them in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts that clashed oddly with the chilly weather outside, were intent on their work - and hadn't noticed them yet. 

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Alexia blinked a couple of times.  While the cultural moires of the US still escaped her from time to time, despite her best efforts at trying to research pop culture movies, she was reasonably certain that breaking into exhibits in a museum was frowned on everywhere.  Dressed in comfortable but practical clothes, tan cargo pants with a black colored loose sweater that hung down to around her mid thighs, she felt pretty mobile.  It would have to do, but certainly not where everyone could see her shift into someone else.

 

"Excuse me Captain Craig," she said trying to be polite.  "Thank you kindly for this tour, you honor me with your time.  This will help with my paper very much.  I'd like to look around for a bit before heading home, if that's all right.  There is so much here that is wonderful."  Looking back at the men, she really wanted to hurry, but her illusion required complete buy in.  While she was not the most patient person, she gave him a smile and bow before finally saying, "is that someone at the front door?"

 

She did her best to sell the con by looking to her side where the old entrance and main desk was and with a quick batch of code sent to her bracelet, created an illusion of someone just partially out of sight who appeared to be looking around for help.  Their voice, a middle aged woman, called out, "Excuse me... is someone there?  I have a few questions."

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Thankfully, the kind Captain Craig nodded to her thanking her for her interest and wandered back to the front to check on his new 'guests'.  Alexa practically crawled out of her skin keeping a benign smile on her face as her mind began to interface with her bracelets, generating code that would hopefully help her out with these vandals!  When he finally turned the corner, she stepped behind an exhibit and let the holoprojector bathe her in a rather realistic rendition of an 18th century ship's officer.

 

Stepping out from behind the display she tried to emulate a confident swagger as she started to approach them, "ho there lads!" her modulated voice called out, "this exhibit is for learning, not touching!"

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It was a good trick - but these guys were harder to scare off than that. "Jimmy, you and yours take care of this! We'll meet you back at the lair!" said the one who was evidently the leader of this group, gesturing to three of the other thugs who immediately went for SFX! They were of a type, this gang, their costumes too similar to each other to be anything other than a deliberate design choice - even their personal appearances looking awfully similar. With short hair and muscular, tattooed forearms, they looked like ex-servicemen or cops, though of the three facing down Alexa she could make out one with a mustache, another with an artificial eye, and a third with a long, hook-shaped scar along one cheek. 

 

But right now they were going for her! Glass Eye reached for her with thick, meaty fingers that just missed grabbing on, while Mustache's attempt to feint to her left left him grasping only hair. Scarface was more successful - snapping open a tonfa from his too-tight belt and cracking it fully against her sternum, the shock vibrating her like a struck bell but not actually hurting her in any meaningful way. These guys were strong, maybe, but they didn't have the kind of firepower to take her on!

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Should heroes be scared?  It was not just an academic question any more as there were six very angry looking thugs who wanted to beat her with sticks and knives!  Somehow the journey to being a hero didn't seem so.... real and violent.  She didn't like the idea of having angry men anywhere near her so she stepped back making the code for what she wanted even as she did.  With a quick subroutine, she sent her code to the nanobot swarm.

 

Even as they surged towards her, the ground itself seemed to ripple as tendrils of floor snaked up, wrapping around several of the thugs.  She gave a silent apology to the Captain who seemed to be a really nice man even as she turned to face the remaining two.  His floor wouldn't quite be the same later... although she could write something to put it back in place if needed.

 

Oh!  Say something pithy!  She nearly forgot the most important part.  But nothing came to mind!  How could she write complex code on the fly and not come up with a clever quip, "um!  Stay put too!"

 

She groaned inwardly, that would never make the final cut.

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"Run!" declared Mustache and Big Nose (those two being the only one of their group that had avoided the tendrils from the door - the latter being the group's leader.) They ran for the rear fire door and soon were gone, their unhappy parters shouting angrily after them. 

 

"You dumbasses!" yelled Glass Eye as the steel door slammed shut. "You think Devil Ray's gonna let you come back without his armor?" 


"Geez, Jerry, shut your stupid mouth!" yelled Scarface in response, the bindings pinning him down having both his legs and his arms, forcing him to twist his head to a painful angle to glare at his counterpart, shooting a meaningful look back at SFX as if to suggest that perhaps shouting that they were working for a notorious Crime League member was a bad idea! 

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For a moment, she thought about running after the other two, she was a runner of sorts, and she might even be able to catch them.  However, there was the matter of the four that were still trapped here.  She looked to the front desk where the nice Captain was.  If she left, these four would likely get away and who knows what they would do in the meantime.  

 

"Captain Craig!  Please call the police!" she called out to the front area, "there are people trying to steal from the museum!"

 

Then looking back to the four, she kept the code active for the tendrils as she did her best to look, well, more competent, "now!  You'll please be telling me where your treasure is!"  No!  That was too much movie, "I mean, you'll be telling me what is this about Devil Ray and what were you doing with that dive suit yonder!"  

Edited by BlazingCoconut

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By the time the police arrived, SFX was able to tell them what she'd learned from her interrogation - the thugs (who were ex-US Navy) were working for Devil Ray, who'd dispatched them directly to steal the Deep One armor and take it back to them. But they weren't in the mood to say more than that. Something about their boss seemed to have them on edge, more so than the usual minion fear of their employer, anyway. In an event, they were certainly more scared of Devil Ray than they were of Alexa or of the regular squad cars who'd arrived to take them away.

 

While taking the thugs away, and assisting her with the cleanup of this wing of the museum under the watchful eye of Captain Craig (who'd been talking about the young patron who'd fled in terror the minute the battle had broken out), one plainclothes officer named Detective Bencher, wearing a rumpled suit that looked older than his own mid-thirties, seemed particularly interested in taking her statement - and in discussing it with her. 

 

"Deep Ones, eh? God. You don't sound local," he added, "you probably weren't here back six years ago when those scaly bastards boiled out of the ocean and came for us all. We lost a dozen cops that time. I hear they had to raise their damn hybrids in the aquarium afterwards. You know anything about Deep Ones or ocean magic, kid?" he asked her speculatively. 

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"Well..." she stammered and did a very quick search on the internet.  Sadly, there was a lot of material, just not a lot of it that was particularly useful.  Although, a quick search of the prior invasion of Freedom City gave her at least some basics.  "I know a little.  Perhaps you could fill me in though.  It would be an honor to hear your information."

 

Somewhere along the process, she had dropped the cabin boy's illusion and replaced it with her standard costume, letting the one seemingly fade into the other.  Her costume was a high collared stylish shirt combined with a functional skirt and leggings.  With red and greys being the predominant colors.  The thing that made her really proud was that she had the illusion of bring purple hair, which people really didn't appreciate how difficult it was to code realistic looking hair.

 

"Also, this Devil Ray?" she asked as well, "why would he send thugs here?"

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Bencher shook his head quickly. "I don't know anything about those things - just that they're killers, with power and technology we don't understand. And if supers like you hadn't beaten them and their god-thing six years ago, we'd be nothing but scraps on their table now." He hmmed, then went on, "As for Devil Ray, I've never heard of him showing any interest in Deep Ones - but who knows what those costumed crooks get up to in their spare time?" Looking at SFX, he said, "I think I can send you to someone who might know. You know the DuTemps Building?" It was a rhetorical question - it was hard to miss the skyscraper with the gigantic medieval castle perched on it in the middle of the downtown. "There's this..." He seemed briefly at a loss for words, "pair that lives there - and we've used one of them as a consultant before. If you talk to her, maybe she can tell you what all this means," he said, gesturing to the Deep One armor, "and why Devil Ray might be showing an interest in this crazy magic BS." 

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Alexa give the officer a very unheroic smile, but added in a respectful bow as well, lowering her eyes to show him proper deference for his age and position.  She knew that was certainly not an American cultural norm, but to skip it just didn't seem right.  Expressing honor to people was just ingrained in her upbringing and she wasn't going to stop even if American's didn't quite go about things the same way, "thank you very much for your help Officer Bencher.  I would have not been successful otherwise."

 

As she walked out of the museum, she stepped around the corner and sent the command to her bracelet to drop the costume after looking around to make sure no one could see her.  She was smiling as she waited for the bus, SFX had not been around much more than a few street toughs in her neighborhood, but she really had done it!  Each time that she went out as a hero, she gained just a little more confidence.  Besides, she now had a real crime to try and investigate!  That was not normal for her, usually it was something like breaking up a mugging, or a robbery.  She wondered for a moment if this was too big, but then talked herself into following up.  That's what real heroes did!

 

As she got on the bus she paused at the drivers station, "excuse me Sir.  Does this bug head to the DuTemps building?"

 

"Yeah, it does.  Fifth stop.  That'll be $2.50."

 

She paid, thanked the man, and sat down, using the time that the bus wound through the majestic streets of the downtown area to at least gather some information on the DuTemps building and who might live there.  

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Beyond the information on the building itself, with its stores, offices, and condos so extensive that some people never left the complex, SFX's investigation told her that the DuTemps Building had quite a few super-people living there, a loose team of mostly women under the leadership of Eve Martel, the French heroine Blue Fox. There wasn't much information about Sea Devil, her putative contact - just that she wore a full suit of power armor that was rumored to be extraterrestrial, and spoke with a strange booming voice that sounded distinctly like the product of the suit. As best Alexa could tell, the armor did indeed look extra-terrestrial - it certainly had a distinctive design very different than anything she'd seen on the likes of Daedalus or Dragonfly! Sea Devil, who was evidently female herself, traveled with a woman named Singularity who had great physical strength and endurance, the latter of whom was a pale-skinned blonde about ten years older than Alexa herself.

 

The bus deposited her in front of the DuTemps Building, and once inside (past the many holiday tourists and Christmas shoppers that filled the gaily decorated lobby) she was actually inside it was time to try and get in touch with her contact. She hadn't been given Sea Devil and Singularity's home address, just a number that when she called it gave her voice that was distinctly - odd, a croaking bay that rumbled low in her ear. "Hello! This is Sea Devil! The people told me you were coming!

 

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As she was walking through the lobby, she gave some thought as to how she should appear.  However, given who lived in the building and their secretive nature, it was likely that Alexa wouldn't get very far and that SFX was again needed.  It was easy enough to shift into her illusionary costume by ducking into a bathroom.  Stepping out, she made the call and was somewhat surprised to get any answer back.  While there were still people around, she did her best to stay at the edges of the room, looking around to make sure that no one was upset with a costumed hero in their midst.

 

"They did?  I mean, yes, of course they did," she tried to change her tone mid sentence.  Confident!  That's what SFX sounded like even if Alexa did not always share that trait.  "I was told that you had information that could help me, but I am not confident discussing this over the phone."

 

That was very true, given that she knew perhaps a dozen ways to snatch phone conversations out of the air.  "I would like to meet with you to discuss my problems."

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"Oh yes!" Sea Devil croaked loudly. "I have many of those. My friend will meet you and take you to where I am. Where are you?" When she had a description of where SFX was waiting, Sea Devil said, "My friend is a woman like you. Her hair is blonde, and she has pale skin. She will take you to me." At that, Sea Devil hung up - leaving SFX alone in the lobby with tourists who were just beginning to realize a costumed heroine was among them! As cameras snapped and people came over to ask for an autograph, the building's security moved in, giving Alexa a momentary reprieve from the crowd, if she was so inclined. 

 

Upstairs, far upstairs, in Aquaria and Jessie's apartment, the former was smearing herself down with her moisturizing ointment, three-fingered hands smearing the fish-scented stuff over her torso and face. "She sounded young," she croaked to Jessie, "like one of those juvenile ones." She exhaled softly, bulging her throat sacs so she could fully moisturize them. "I think I will use the hiding spell. It would only frighten her to see me." She hmmed, fixing her great eyes on her reflection in the bathroom mirror. "I was in the butterfly garden today. It is warm and comfortable there - but the tourists will not be there until tomorrow.

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"If you want," Jessie allowed, skinning quickly into her own uniform. "But if she's going to be a hero in Freedom City, she's going to need to get used to seeing scary things. It might be easier to start her out with scary sights that aren't going to try and eat her. Just don't do the thing where you lick your eyeball," she suggested with a half smile. "That's a little too much." Clipping back her hair with a silver comb, she headed for the lobby. 

 

The elevator doors nearest SFX slid open, disgorging a tall and muscular young woman in a form-fitted black costume. From a distance she looked like any of a dozen twenty-something blonde superheroines, but up close there was something eerie in her brown eyes, something dangerous and carefully controlled. She gave SFX a small, polite smile. "My name is Singularity. I'll take you to see Sea Devil." She turned and headed back to the elevator, obviously assuming she'd be followed. 

 

 

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SFX gave her a bow in return and by the time she looked back up, the other woman was already heading back into the elevator, prompting SFX to run to catch up.  It was not dignified and her mother would be horrified at how she was handling herself.  Still, she needed information and this incredibly competent looking woman was going to lead her there.  "So you work with Sea Devil?  Can you tell me what it is like to work for her?  I have very important questions that I need answers too... I mean things that will help people.  I'd just hate to make a mistake because I didn't ask."

 

She did make sure to stay just far enough away that this larger woman wouldn't bump into her and realize that her entire costume was nothing more than an illusion.

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"I don't really work with her, she's my roommate and sometimes I follow her on her adventures to try and keep her out of trouble," Singularity told her with perfect frankness, her face blank. "But if you're looking for someone to give you information on Deep Ones, there's absolutely no better source." Now there was an expression on her face, a twitch of the lip that was hard to quantify. "She doesn't want to scare you, but I told her that anyone who wants to be a superhero in Freedom City is made of tougher stuff than that. What do you think?" 

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"I think I'm made of stern stuff," she said without really feeling the conviction of it.  While she had handled the thugs, she had been terrified afterwards.  So who knew what she would do when faced with something really terrifying.  "It is necessary in this type of work and I have experience."  That was perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.  Her experience was tonight and three separate occasions with muggers and thieves in her own neighborhood.  However, if she told this powerful looking woman how little she really had been dealing with this type of work she'd never get the answers she needed.

 

Still it was encouraging that she was in the right place.  Someone wanted to get a suit that the deep ones used and she really wanted to find out who.  Besides, if these two were roommates how scary could things be?  I mean, she looked and acted normal enough.  That at least gave her a certain amount of confidence.

 

 

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Now Singularity smiled, just the tiniest curve of her lips, but it did seem as though she approved. "That's good to hear," she said gravely as the elevator doors opened. The scene itself was certainly nothing scary, a glassed-in atrium full of plants and the heavy, almost drugging scent of tropical flowers. Butterflies were fluttering everywhere and the air was thick with humidity. Beyond the glass walls, the Freedom City skyline spread out in all its glory. 

 

 "It's okay!" Singularity called out into whatever might be waiting in the thick undergrowth, "she says she's not scared!" Raising her eyebrows, she made an "after you," gesture to SFX. 

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She had wanted to remain cool and professional, but the flowered atrium was about the last thing she had anticipated.  Looking all over she marveled at the species of plants even while her brain was wondering what could be here that she would need to be warned about.  The one advantage of having an illusion as her costume was that regardless of the environment and humidity she would be seen sweating or looking uncomfortable.  She could remain looking crisp and fresh even if the warm damp air seemed to envelop her like a blanket.  

 

"Thank you," she said as she finally stepped out of the elevator door and walked slowly into the room.  All the while, she was trying to find the architect of note from the internet and get a floorplan of this amazing building.

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"Okay!" came a croaking voice from inside the garden. "Thank you! I am over by the pond!


SFX headed into the garden, made a few turns, and found herself by an aquatic pond full of flowering plants and small animals. Crouching on the stonework by the pond was...something. Its bulging black and gold eyes were set much too far apart to be a human's and its nose, flattened almost against its face, was more like a snout. It had no visible ears - but its mouth was big, very big. Its skin was mottled green and white, white towards the belly and green towards the black, a dark green the color of certain unnameable seas. Its body was not quite shaped 'right' either - its limbs are too long and jointed like a frog's rather than a human's, its torso too sturdy and rounded, and its arms and legs both ended in three-fingered 'hands'. Its skin was covered in blue and black tattoos depicting strange and fantastic scenery, looking like something out of a hallucination. Looking closely, Alexa could make out gill slits on the neck, and a scaled, ridged back. Alexa had been in Freedom City enough to know what a Deep One looked like. 

 

"Hello," croaked (there was no better word for it) Aquaria as the Surfacer female entered, crouched on all fours and keeping a careful distance. "I am Sea Devil - but my friends call me Aquaria." When Aquaria spoke, Alexa could make out sharp, triangular shark-like teeth - and lots of them. 

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Perhaps if Aelxa had been heroing longer than a few weeks she might not have reacted.  Perhaps with a little more age she might not have let the shock show on her face.  Perhaps is the woman behind her hadn't just said she was rooming with a deep one she wouldn't have been quite so stunned.  As it was, all of these things came true as she hesitated on the path and was dumbstruck for far too long to be polite.  When her brain finished processing all of it's thoughts, it was as if she had rebooted her system and began to take some much more cautious steps towards Aquaria.

 

"I am sorry," she apologized and gave a very shaky bow, "I did not expect you to be..."

 

She stopped her thought.  What exactly was she going to say?  A deep one?  A cross between a frog and a shark?  Instead she tried to start her apology again, "I am sorry, this is your home and I should not dishonor you while I am a guest.  Thank you for seeing me."

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Aquaria hopped up on a nearby bench and fixed her gigantic eyes on Alexa, guessing that one or the other of them had been the victim of a practical joke. "I do not look like you. It is surprising. They should have told you." Unthinkingly she reached up with a leg? - with a back leg? It was a limb attached below her rear and it had three webbed fingers on it, just like her hands, and scratched the side of her face for a moment. "They told me that you have problems with Deep Ones. Sing them for me." In addition to coming in croaks like an animate frog's, her voice had the slow, careful diction of someone speaking an alien language. Given what Alexa could see of Aquaria's throat, English probably was quite alien. 

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Sing?!  Of all of Alexa's talents, singing was certainly NOT one of them.  Yes, she had been to places where there had been Karaoke, and even been roped into singing once or twice, but it would never be anything that she would ever consider without some serious peer pressure.  

 

Even worse, her mind was blanking on any song that could remotely be of use.  However, thankfully spotify had atrocious security and it was child's play to get her phone to scan through some songs for something that would be remotely useful.  Don't Wait by Dashboard Confessional had at least several of the phrases she needed and it didn't seem to complicated.  Perhaps she could substitute out some of the lyrics?  Yes, she quickly posted them into an app which overlayed the words into the MP3 and hit play.  Her phone didn't have a ton of volume, but it was decent enough to her the tinny music and allow her to utterly butcher the song by trying to substitute her problems and questions into some kind of lyrical verse.

 

"You get one look

I'd show you something that some thieves took

But why is not understood 

Now let's speak of it again

Don't wait, don't wait

The road is now a sudden sea

And suddenly, you're a deep one

Why would the armor gone?

Why would the armor gone?

Who is the armor owned?"

 

As she finished she reminded herself why she never sang in public and cringed at the memory of what she just did.  A brief part of her mind wondered if Fleur de Joie ever had to do anything like this.  Although, given how well she seemed to manage everything else, she probably would have done a better job.  She made a reminder to scan YouTube to see if there were any clips of her singing... for research of course.

 

She gave a smile that looked like someone had just made her eat her cat, "did that make any sense?"

 

[Note: I linked the song in case you want to try and follow along.  She kept to the lyrics and syllables as best she could in a quick amount of time.]

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SFX was almost certain she heard giggling from somewhere in the garden as the song died down - but that sound was soon lost by the sound of Aquaria inflating her throat sacs with a booming bass like a gigantic bullfrog. "Beautiful!" Aquaria added. "No one ever sings for me!" She considered for a moment, then began to sing herself. It was distinctly odd singing by human standards, a deep bass like standing next to a concert speaker, but Alexa could make out the words. As she sang, Aquaria kept time by stamping on the rock beneath the bench where she crouched.

 

"Many were lost in

the Archevil war. They  

died for the false one.

 

Surfacers with pride

took what was to show their kill 

armor trident all

 

Armor of the priest 

Symbols of gods below 

great mighty power

 

But all is naught to 

Surface hands. No power for 

the cursed many." 

 

Aquaria croaked in summation, her crest seeming to stand especially tall as she finished. "The armor there wouldn't work for a Surfacer. They could not even wear it on their bodies - it would not fit. Do you know who might have tried to steal it?

 

.:

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