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Tuesday, July 11th, 2018

The North End, Freedom City

3:44 PM

 

Nothing. Even after several hours straight of observing, theorizing, and experimenting Dr. Eliot Westermen couldn’t figure out the Nexus Problem. He knew he had everything he needed to figure it out. ASTRO Labs was one of the greatest scientific facilities on the planet. They had reliable information on the paraphysics of the Cosmic Coil, access to salvaged Terminus tech and even an intact Omegadrone corpse for study. This should be easy. He should be able to see where everything connected. How this new portal system worked and how it could be deactivated. Westerman put his forehead against his chalkboard board and signed.

 

“But you can’t, West. They’re right. This is beyond you. Beyond any of us.” It took him a minute to really grapple with that. To finally put his pride aside and admit the truth.

 

“Chakwas couldn’t do. Oladeyle couldn’t do it. And you can’t either. They were right, we need outside help. A fresh pair of eyes to look at this nonsense.”

 

Westerman had sworn that it wasn’t necessary. That the heroes needed to be out there helping people instead of slumming it with the eggheads. That if he had just a few more hours he could crack the Nexus Problem and stop the invasion. No one believed him. Senior expert on Terminus Tech and Paraphysics be damned.

 

They put out the call for help about a couple of hours. Any heroes with an advanced knowledge of “exotic” technologies were asked to come to ASTRO Labs and help figure out how to dismantle the portal network that allowed the invaders to send wave after wave of monsters to wreak havoc on Freedom City.

 

Westerman didn’t have to look at his watch to tell that the heroes would be in the “War Room,” as the scientists had started to call their primary laboratory working on the Nexus Problem, in a few minutes. Perks of being a super-genius he guessed, you get a great internal clock. That put a smile on his face. Westerman couldn’t remember the last time he smiled since the invasion began. Moving away from the chalkboard, he took a seat in one of the rolling chairs scattered across the lab and tried to relax. The lab was a mess. On all four sides of it there was notes, files, tech, empty coffee cups and lab gear scattered everywhere. Not to mention one scary looking Omegadrone on a medical table. Westerman didn’t look much better. Lack of sleep does that. The heroes would be here soon and Westerman knew he had to be at his best to get them up to speed on what little he and the others had figured out and answer any questions they may have.

Edited by Cubismo

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Terrifica had been here for hours…is what she’d like to say. She had been one of the few heroes not in Freedom when the invasion began. A few high school students in the summer program were attempting to enter the International Physics Olympiad. Dr. Samantha Carson (Associate Professor of Physics) was selected to help out, as she was generally regarded as the best teaching physicist on staff at MIT. And then the Terminus ripped open a hole in the sky above Freedom City, and everyone’s plans for the day were discarded. A quick stop at home, to get Stan and the kids into the panic room, and she was off too Freedom.

 

Of course, it wasn’t so easy. North Freedom, by the time she reached it, was infested with Omegadrones and worse. She fought. A lot. She saved who she could. Put in a day and a half of work. She, of all people, lost track of lives saved, enemies defeated, time passed. Then the call went out. ASTRO Labs needed brain power, not another fighter. Getting there was…interesting, but she did manage it at last. Sans her destroyed motorcycle, sadly. When she entered the labs she was most likely a alarming sight. Her Fiber Armor hadn’t failed her, but her longcoat was made of weaker stuff and thus had various scorch marks, tears, and holes. The smell of smoke, grime, and other things best not mentioned clung to her. “Do you have anything substantial to eat? I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s been a day of vigorous exercise.” She knew Westerman by reputation, at least. She eyed the “War Room”. “Is that where we’re working? Good, I’ll have a look. If there’s lunch, please bring it to me.” She went to reach into her utility belt and realized she was still holding her staff. “Right.” She collapsed it and replaced on her belt, and set to work.

Edited by EternalPhoenix

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Westerman was lost in thought and self-pity when the superhero walked in. 

 

"Oh, yes of course." He walked to one of the compartments on the wall and opened a cupboard revealing a box of granola bars. It wasn't much but if he wanted to get her something that wasn't crackers, beef jerky, granola bars, or old coffee he'd have to walk down to the lower floors. There were windows on those floors and Westerman didn't have the nerve to risk a peek and see what was going on outside. Hearing the explosions was bad enough.

 

He walked up to hero and left the snack beside her. She had that look. The look he got whenever his mind was so focused on a problem that the outside world became distant. Still, he had to ask her all the same, even though he knew it would probably take her out of the "zone."

 

"Sorry. We kind of ran through lunch before you got here. Besides the granola bar there's coffee and couple other snacks."

 

Welp, might as well ask the big question.

 

"I know you've only been here for a bit, but do have any questions... or answers. We could use a couple answers about all of this." 

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Solar Sentinel hovered in the air, scanning the area for anything they might need. "Say the word." He said. "I'll fetch whatever you need. I'll be providing muscle, both of the lifting and fighting kinds. Also if you need anything from anywhere outside this facility, I can get it quick." 

 

"However, if you were hoping I could make sense of the scientific stuff, I'm afraid I'm not much good for that." 

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Salvo stuttered into the room, half leaping and half flying, as black smoke trailed behind her and energy crackled erratically from the rents in her scarlet-clad form. She had just arrived at ASTRO Labs facility after what seemed to her like years fighting on the streets. She had no time to sleep, no time to eat, no time to fix Bellicose, her armored suit. For who could rest when the world was on fire?

 

With what Bellicose was capable of, it only made sense for her to be fighting at the front lines. She had been doing it since the time when the Omegadrones began streaming down until her last fight, when she heard the call for help. It was the one best thing she could do, even better than magic or fighting. To think. Not that her magic or fighting helped much out there. She flew to ASTRO Labs defeated, knowing she would not survive another engagement at her current state, barely able to stay awake now that the adrenaline was fading. She left the other heroes to fight, left the civilians that she could have helped.

 

It stung. Badly.

 

With a deafening bang, her jets gave up and she landed on her knee with enough force to crack the laboratory floor.

 

"Stupid. Piece. Of. Crap." Every word was punctuated with a slam of her palm to the side of her leg, as if hitting it would jar it to work. She stopped on the fourth try and, her eyes bleary with fatigue and emotion, looked up. Three people caught her attention.

 

Inside her mental interface, her father placed a hand on her shoulder and she shrugged it off instinctively but when she turned to him, something of his expression as he looked back at her stopped her from snarling a barbed remark. Sorrow? Understanding? She looked away confused and focused on the material world outside.

 

"I wouldn't know, Doctor." Salvo spoke up, channeling her full seventeen years of sass at the closest adult physically there instead of her dad. "I don't tend to formulate groundbreaking theories on lateral dimensional movements while fighting for my life."

 

"I need something to work with; academic papers, reports on the ground." She pointed to the Omegadrone. "That thing, maybe we need to gather more data ourselves."

 

She shook her head vigorously, sending sparks to fly from the motion. "Yeah, more muscle will be good. That's what no one ever said in a lab," she muttered in response to Solar Sentinel, just loud enough for everyone to catch. She didn't care, couldn't give a flying crap really, not with her nerves frayed to an edge.

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Terrifica wasn’t listening to Westerman. Oh, her brain recorded him speaking all right. It was a habit she’d gotten into at a young age, not long after her powers activated. What she was doing was correcting equations on the boards with erasers and chalk. Sadly, her social skills were not at their peak. She hadn’t yet mentioned her name. “You were missing something. It’s not the math that was wrong; it was your core assumptions.” She spoke absentmindedly, as if lost in thought. Which was reasonably close to the truth. She rarely stopped thinking, after all. “There’s a third dimension they’re using as a…bridge, or a bypass.” She paused for a moment. “No, link is the most neutral word there.” She crossed to the (hopefully) dead Omegadrone. “This extra sheath they have is radiation shielding. Which leads, since neither our dimension nor the Terminus is known to be dangerously radioactive, to the link dimension being so.” She started fiddling with her utility belt again. “Give me a few moments to think.” And then she noticed others had come by. “Oh, yes. Hello. I am Terrifica. Let’s skip the pleasantries.” Memory check. Oh, right. She retrieved the box of granola bars, unwrapped one, and devoured it in unladylike fashion. “Well, if you can’t help in here, perhaps you can find some more substantial nourishment for us downstairs.” No, wait. That was a touch rude, perhaps. “I mean to say, my blood sugar is lower than I’d like and that is detrimental to the functioning of my mind. If you could lend me your assistance, I would appreciate it.” She started fiddling with her utility belt again. “Thank you, Doctor Westerman. Let me finish my work before I draw any conclusions.”

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"Forgive my lack of manners," Westerman nervously uttered to Terrifica. He looked up to the ceiling and than to the teenager at the door and quickly said the same thing to the new arrivals, but making a point to thank the floating hero for his willingness to brave the outside if needed. He was never that great at greetings or socializing in general but even he was painfully aware that he wasn't being the most hospitable guest.

 

"Thank you all for coming. This is probably redundant but ASTRO Labs, no, Freedom needs your help to deal with what were calling the Nexus Problem. Basically, the invaders are coming into our dimension and we at ASTRO Labs didn't know how to stop them." An another prong of fear and anxiety hit him when he said that but Westerman did his best to push it aside with hope.

 

"But...but, you're all here know. Terrifica's already made a lot of headway. We know those there's some kind of third dimension that's acting as a link between our world and Terminus. If we can somehow sever it or destroy the adjoining dimension we could, no, we would be able to solve the Nexus Problem and stop the invasion!"

 

Just as Westerman was about to overwhelmed by the thought of success his brain reminded him of his responsibilities as a host. He steeled himself.

 

"Right I'll make sure to get a couple sandwiches from the fridge downstairs. You guys look like you could you use the energy." Looking to the exhausted teenager he added. "And maybe I should get some first aid equipment, too?"

 

 

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Salvo waved his offer away. "I-- no, just some coffee will do. I'm just tired."

 

She walked to the ASTRO Lab mainframe, that which dominated the room in her mind. Computers. Not so obvious at first glance, but it was this field which she excelled at the most. It was present in the software of Bellicose that she had brought to life with, encoded it and melded the magic and mundane with worlds of data and codes and systems. Nothing would run without the electronic presence running through its very skin.

 

She connected to the mainframe's databanks and began to search, delegating the task to her AI even as she scanned the information for pertinent details within her mental interface. Then she moved to the Terminus technology, her outward sensors unfurling like an unseen field of roses, scanning the wreckage pile through radar first then the more esoteric means.

 

"A third dimension?" Salvo repeated at the mention of Terrifica's discovery. Like a dam, the implications began to flood her brain. "It's odd that they are able to reliably send data packets through the dimensions, coordinating as much as they have. I assumed the various staging forces were coded various contingencies and plans, but with how well they are adapting to changes in the invasion and unknown variables this makes simpler sense."

She took a breath and blinked, still watching as her sensor suite work. "The doomforges provide a somewhat plausible nexus, but what if they were still directed from the Terminus?"

 

She turned to the others, breaking her scan momentarily. "But that would be impossible-- no, just very, very hard. And the only way to do it would be to create or find center points that not only connect each dimension to the other, but are stable and robust enough to exist simultaneously in all three. The physics and amount of energy required..." Fingers plied at her helmet in concentration. "Much too fragile for outside interference. Vacuum-sealed and locked. Perhaps with nano-second evolving systems to ensure equilibrium of data and software. Such things might be ported to existing extra-dimensional technologies but... maybe."

 

She looked up at the others, frantically switching her gaze from one to the other. To Terrifica occuppied with her equations, to Westerman still standing there like a college student at a Nobel in Physics Laureates get-together, and Solar Sentinel who might as well be. "You realize what this means, right?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue

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Time seemed to stop for Terrifica. Her brain kicked into high gear. She didn’t go full speed very often in the field. Her body wasn’t nearly as fast as her mind, after all. It hampered physical movement, and that could be dangerous. One outward physical sign of the change was her movements becoming exceedingly precise, so much that she wasn’t reacting properly to physical stimuli. The other was all expression draining from her face and body language. (Truthfully, they were simply shifting too fast to be fully expressed before they were overridden by the next input.) Her hands, however, worked quickly. She had three documents and two sets of tools out from her utility belt. She was what she did. This was what she was very, very good at. One could even say…terrific. In seconds she had a workable schematic in her mind. In less than five minutes she had a equally workable prototype on a worktable. She exhaled and her mental speed slowed to something more suitable to conversation.

 

“Apologies, I had an idea. It was sparked by what this young lady said.” Terrifica smiled approvingly at Salvo. “Outside interference would be, of course, impossible. I’d expect no less from the Terminus. So we go inside. What we would need is a way to fool their sensors and get inside. I considered an explosive, but that seemed…crude. One doesn’t defeat the Terminus with strength. They would just be convinced to come again in greater force. Given how this invasion is going, I’d rather they didn’t learn that particular lesson. So.” She clapped her hands and gestured to her worktable. “I’d rather turn their own arrogance in using such a hostile dimension against them. This device is only a prototype and unfinished. However, once completed, one pulse should render the technorganic sheath protecting Omegadrones, transported equipment, and-hopefully-whatever it is they are using to keep the portal nexus functioning inoperable. With any luck, the resulting catastrophic loss of personnel and equipment should be blamed on technological failure as opposed to enemy action.” She smirked. “Meaning us. The resulting infighting should be, well, spectacular and keep the Terminus occupied for a while.”

 

Terrifica sighed. “With all of that said, we’re not there yet. As I said, we need a method to get past their sensors and into the interior. And my device is missing…something. It does work, but the destabilization-while effective at disrupting drone level sheaths-could falter if faced with a more durable variant.” She looked meaningfully at Salvo. “Have you discovered anything that could help?”

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Her curiosity piqued, Salvo stepped beside Terrifica, looking over the other hero's shoulder as she worked. Tools and documents out, her movements efficient, wasting little precious time on frivolities or non-necessities. Salvo struggled to keep up, even just watching Terrifica work, and there were several times when she was forced to abandon a thread of thought and skip several steps ahead , filling in the gaps with conjecture and Hail Maries, as Terrifica left her behind. The speed with which she worked was fascinating, almost as much as the project on the worktable, and when the prototype was finished Salvo took a step back, adjusting her bearings as the intensity of the mental exercise wore off.

 

Salvo shook her head from the wonder, and just a bit of envy, before she opened her files on her interface. "I have," she simply said as lines of code flowed from her suit's databanks to the prototype. "Terminus has been using a passcode to tag friendly assets going in and from the midway dimension. I'm passing on to you and ASTRO labs a workable solution to that dilemma." A few last second tweaks and flourishes and Salvo ended the data transmission. "This will provide a semi-adaptable e-offense to their defenses and the initial responses if they somehow manage to catch on to the disruptor before it could fully take hold."

 

"As for the effectiveness against more durable Terminus sheathes..." Salvo moved forward and lifted the prototype device to eye level. "Perhaps just increasing its energy output would be sufficient? We don't need finesse if brute force can get us the results faster." As she said this she slowly rotated the device between her hands, her sensors analyzing the cold surface and the delicate hardware beyond that. Where her fingers swept over, thin lasers branded the device with arcane runes, microscopic in size but not in the scope of its effects.

"There," she handed the prototype back to Terrifica. "This would do it."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue

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