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What Happens In The Shadows


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October 2, 2018. Freedom City. Hanover. The Nova Technologies, Inc Building. 2:30 AM.


There was no such thing as a cake job. Shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never deal with Mr. Infamy. And most famously, kack the mage first. Street proverbs, all. Neisha Germuth knew them well. She worked in Human Resources for this branch of Nova Tech. Her skin was brown, her hair black. She showed clear Indian heritage. She dressed well, showing how far she’d come up in the world since the days where those street proverbs were the difference between life and death. And she was nervous. So much so that she put the word out for legit superheroes to meet her in the lobby tonight. Plenty of Nova’s dealings skirted (or, being more honest, outright broke) the law, and meddling superheroes could easily find out enough to cost her her job if she wasn’t careful. Still, if she was right, she’d need the help just to keep it. So she waited by the elevators, just out of sight, to see who would show up.

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The Red Rat...


...was not the most legit superhero on the street. Technically, she was a Soviet Spy. Technically, UNISON wanted her for questioning (although, admittedly, they did not so much view her as malign, but more a person of considerable interest). She was paranoid. She was a liar. She was out to survive. And she believed in taking down corruption wherever she saw it. 


The Red Rat saw corruption everywhere. 


And this. Well, this was too good to miss. Nova Corp was interesting enough. But something Nova Corp was worried about it. It was a banquet. 


She could only guess that Neisha, and Nova Crop, where as paranoid as she was. Even half as paranoid would do. 


So she walked in, unarmed, just dressed in a business suit with her hairstyle slicked back and executive. And introduced herself to Neisha. 


"Ms. Ruby Rat, pleased to meet you. Forgive me coming...a little undercover" she said, smiling moderately. "But you kind of sounded like you needed help. And it kind of sounded like a low profile was helpful...."


WARNING: Entering decadent and corrupt captilistic building of commerce!


By now, the HUD display in her eyes, scrolling across her visual fields thanks to SLAVE, the soviet microcomputer system in her skull, was merely tedious. But she could never completely ignore it....

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John Ross was nearby, in fact perched on the building opposite with a clear view of the Nova Tech building, but he was not coming in, he wasn't about to risk his identity and although he suspected that the Black Mamba Power Suit could deal with almost anything that Nova Tech wanted to throw at it dealing with people, particularly corporate people was certainly not his specialty. Fortunatly he didn't operate alone, even though he didn't like exposing her Akhona had been insistent, getting into Nova Tech's building of course was of interest to her a competitor and sometimes partner would always interest his more business oriented wife.


The Elevator dinged soon after Red Rat stepped out and revealed a dark skinned woman of African descent, she was in her early 50's, relatively attractive but it was her attire that caught attention. She was garbed very traditionally, her long robes black and gold, her arms wrapped in multiple golden bands, four golden bands around her neck the first resting on her graceful collarbones and each about an inch thick. She smiled, her dark skin crinkling with well worn smile lines the white dots painted onto her face in traditional Dakani patterns around her eyes and on her forehead only serving to accent the long hair styled and piled atop her head.


If only they knew how long that hair had taken?


Akhona's smile was genuine as she slid from the recess of the elevator, her large golden earring swaying gently as she stepped into the lobby of the Nova Tech building, her bright brown eyes taking in all the details and turning towards Neisha she stepped forward. Nodding at the Red Rat, already running scans on the various faces as she spoke,"Greetings, I am here to represent the Black Mamba, he thought it might not help if he was seen entering in person."


Careful, Akhona, don't bait them. I can get to you but it will take time.


I am always careful, John, and remember it is because of you I am here in the first place.

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Vernon was all truth being told, rather cranky, he'd had an extremely long and bumpy busride in which he'd very nearly gotten into a fight with some punk who put his feet up on the back of his chair, so his mood had taken a sour turn.


He'd just finished checking into the B&B when he'd learned his watch was slow and it was actually a half hour later than he'd imagined and he had to throw on some clothes and rush to the Nova building.


Needless to say a rather dour looking young man in a taupe trenchcoat with its collar popped and a widebrimmed hat drew up on the others currently engaging with the company rep.


It may not have been fashionable but it did the job of covering his costume and hiding the bulky aparatus of his applicator gauntlets.


"I heard you were having a problem?" He stated simply when the oppertunity presented itself to inject himself into the conversation. The glint of his purple protective eyeware peeked out from under the hats brim as he examined the other applicants.

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Well. They were an…eclectic group, to say the least. But that was superheroes for you. Especially on the shady side of things. “I’d welcome you, but officially I’m not here. It’s a little complicated.” Neisha straightened her subtly expensive business attire. “I work in Human Resources. It’s a field I’ve always worked in, just not necessarily…here.” There were several terms for it. All of them were slang in one way or another. Agent. Fixer. Talent broker. Etcetera. “I find people with the right skills for the job that needs doing. You develop a feel for people after a while. Situations you see them in, too. I’ve successfully warned security about a half dozen attempted break ins during my tenure.”


SLAVE put up something about how obvious former criminal was obvious, but there was listening to be done and the Red Rat had long ago mastered the art of ignoring snide comments from the computer in her head. Akhona knew very well that Nova Tech’s hiring pool wasn’t full of candidates for sainthood. Skills and aptitudes were where one found them, the company apparently believed, and went to no small expense to get the best available. Even if they were currently wanted criminals, actually in prison, or simply working for a rival company. Even death didn’t stop them…or so the rumor mill went.


Neisha went on. “This one is…slick. There’s nothing I can point my finger to. There’s no scruffy looking mercenary types lurking in the halls. No suspicious vehicles spending too much time doing nothing nearby. Even the computer system is still clean.” She sighed, a touch of frustration leaking out. “But I know. Nova Technologies has been thoroughly cased, and the team will strike soon. Perhaps even tonight. Without anything tangible, I can’t officially report it to security. But everyone knows superheroes just show up when crime happens.” She smiled. It was…not the smile of an innocent saint. She knew exactly what she was doing. “So here you are. Just showing up when crime might be happening. Lucky, lucky Nova Tech. Just do me a favor, and stay out of classified areas. Unfortunately, ” –and there was that smile again- “I have no authority over security.”

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The Red Rat


This smelled like a dirty pile of dirt. With a side helping of dirt, spiced with essence of dirt and marinated in dirt. The Rat did not believe half of what she said, and the other half, she disbelieved. 


"Sounds great" she said. 


"You can rely on us to do what we can. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that is very much. We don't know who will be trying to steal, we don't know what, we don't know how, and we don't know why. That hamstrings us badly" she explained. Her voice was polite steel. 


"That may be something you can do nothing about. But we need to start narrowing parameters if you want us not just to try and help, but actually effectively help" she explained. "So, can we work on any of those questions?"

Edited by Supercape
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Akhona rolled her eyes at the Nova Tech's people pusher tried to give them the 'I don't know anything line'. Sighing she crossed her arms,"I doubt very much you know nothing at all. The young lady is very right, Black Mamba and myself will be all but useless with 'just hang around here and wait'." She shook her head, bangles clattering lightly as she uncrossed her arms,"Just waiting around is why you hire good security in the first place. Super heroes are not Security..they do not have the right skills or demeanor."


She glanced at the others around her,"They are great at reacting with force, are you saying that in all your nothing that you know you don't mind collateral damage? You won't point out which areas are classified and which are not? Can you at least tell us which areas are so sensitive that if the 'attack' occurs we are not allowed to intervene?"


She sniffed and raised one eyebrow, her tribal paint wrinkling as well,"Or is this a publicity stunt? Hoping that enough Super Heroes will arrive and you just record it?"

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For his part Vernon opted for stern silence as he observed the woman intently, she was clearly no saint and it was likely that there were some internal power politics at play but at the moment there were no real...vulnerabilities to pick at, he was not a very sociable person by nature so he was content to look expectant of answers of neisha as he formulated his understandings into what he saw, what he knew and what he believed.


one question however did come to his mind as the conversation wound on.


"How do you know that the place has been cased already if theres nothing to go on with your own security? metahuman talent? Hunch?" he asked almost none chalantly as he reclined against the nearby wall, trying to catch a little shade, his getup was killing him!

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Neisha-who still hadn’t given her name-shrugged her shoulders. “Have you ever seen someone with all the proper credentials and just known they didn’t belong? Their uniform didn’t quite fit right, it was just a little too new, or simply cleaner than expected?” She eyed each of them in turn. “Ever come home and something’s a centimeter to the left of where you left it? Ever misplaced something, gave up on it, and then found it in plain sight an hour later? Maybe your computer wasn’t working, but before you can call for repairs it starts working again?” She shrugged again. “It’s a thousand things like that. Happening here and there all over the building, over the course of a week. Tiny little oddities and coincidences. I know the best pro teams are this slick. No proof they were ever there.”


She sighed, deciding something. “I don’t know what they’re after.” She held up her hands to forestall the three. “I work in Human Resources. I don’t have access to anything like that. All I know is that Research and Development is in the basement, and the financial records are on the fourth floor. I’ve headhunted three new people for R&D in the last month. Rumors say there’s a big new project. And, well, imagine what use any company’s full financial records would be in a rival’s hands. Even partial access could be extremely damaging.”


“As for collateral damage…” She shrugged a third time (and there was that smile again). “This is Freedom City. We’re insured. If you can, stay out of the fifth floor and the sub basement. There’s executive offices on the former and even asking about the latter will get me in a heap of trouble I neither want nor need.”

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The Red Rat


It was all true, that nagging suspicion. It had saved her life more than once back in the cold war. And yet it was still spectacularly unhelpful. 


"Its an inside job then" she concluded, with more certainty than she actually possessed. "Any body that slick will have an inside man, or woman. More than one, maybe"


And I guess that's what got you so riled. Its your head on the block if it is an inside job. 


"So if you are serious about stopping this, you will need an inside man to. Namely, me" she volunteered, boldly. "Can you give me a job?"

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Akhona's eyebrow rose slowly,"How long are you expecting for this to take? I could have a little...look...in your computer systems if it would narrow things down for us?"


She sighed, this was one of those things John had decided to embark on where she felt he was making poor decisions in an attempt to redeem himself. He had to learn to forget the past, but it seemed he was unable,"This is starting to resemble a massive waste of time. You want us just to sit around and wait till something bad happens? This isn't a publicity stunt is it? Gather some heroes together and have strategically taken photographs to show them supporting Nova Tech?"

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Vernon considered the options that were coming up before him, if this was a publicity stunt he'd probably be able to spin it to his advantage, strike some real fear into his old man....if it was a real deal he could interrogate them for information about him and go pay a visit..win win as far as he was concerened, especially if he got to work out some of his frustrations on them but again he opted for quiet contemplative looking as he listened on, though he was far from unintelligent he lacked the social grace and ease that made or broke these situations.


"I'm in." he eventually spoke, a plain answer offered with no explanation offered

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Neisha smiled sweetly, as she slipped on a pair of thin kid gloves. “I can give you a job, Ms. Rat, but it would require at minimum partial access to your current legal identity. A new one can be created, certainly, but that would be a significant investment by the company. Thus necessitating compulsory employment until such time as the company recovered the expense. Neither you nor I want to know how employment is made compulsory.” She reached into her well tailored jacket and pulled out a blank keycard. “Or we could skip all of that and you could have this skeleton keycard. It has five uses before becoming a paperweight. It identifies you as an unpaid security consultant.


She met Ahkona’s gaze with a level one of her one. “I can neither welcome nor permit non-employee access to our internal computer network. However,” She moved her fingers and there were two blank keycards slightly fanned out  in her hand. “I do have a few of these. Do be advised that their status is tracked by security. Once the five uses are up, you become an unauthorized person and they will respond accordingly.”


She nodded acceptingly at Vernon and fanned out a third blank keycard. “Excellent. Whenever you’re ready, good sir.”

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The Red Rat


She is as slippery as an eel coated in oil! 


WARNING! Corrupt Capitalistic Enterprise Alert!


One of those rare occassions she agreed with SLAVE. How she would like to get her hands on Novacorps hidden data! There was crime here, for certain, but she fancied it was in every direction she looked. 


"Well, Its the key card then. Im pretty sure you know I wont be selling out my identity to anybody ever again" she said, firmly, taking the key card. "Five uses. Well, thats going to take some careful judgement. But its a start" she said. 


"Now, I suggest we have two priorities. Finding out what they are going to steal, and how. And the best way of finding out that is working out who an inside man might be. Someone in security?"

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Akhona gave the woman a calculating glance before reaching out and plucking the pass from her fingers, looking down at the pass she analyzed it carefully looking to see if she could duplicate or manipulate the card to give herself more or greater access, looking up she sighed,"We're in...are we really expected just to sit around? Can I call the battlesuit in? No one going to try and stop a heavily armored battlesuit?"

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Neisha…blinked. “Yes, that’s probably a bad idea outside of R&D. There is access around back, near the loading dock.” She had recovered quickly, but it was obvious she didn’t know specifically who any of the four heroes were. “I’ll put it another way. Once you’re in the building, I won’t be there. Therefore, I won’t be able to stop you from doing what you think is best.” She held out the remaining keycard. “Officially, I’m warning some superheroes of a crime about to happen. It would be foolish of me to get caught in a hero-villain crossfire, after all.” She checked her smartphone. “And if I’m right, said crime should happen before the night is over. 3 AM is the well known hour of least wakefulness, and if this crew is doing their homework they’ll know I’m on to them. They’ll have to move tonight.”

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It was a fair conclusion, but the Rat did wonder if Neisha was turning speculation into fact. Conflating the two. Thinking too rigid could get you killed. 


"Thank you very much for all your help" she said, politely. "We'll be sure to do whatever we can. Right?" she gave a nod at the other heroes there. She didnt really know them. But she guessed by the end of the night, she would know them a whole lot better. 


She turned to Venomax and Akhona. "Well, this is a strange situation. I can't work out if we are given a blank slate to work with, or no slate at all. Or perhaps both" she said, laying on the enigma heavily. 


"I can handle myself in a fight. Up to a point. But really, you can best think of me as a spy!" she said, hand on hip, green eyes flashing. 


I pretty much AM a spy. But sometimes honesty is the best way to lie!


"I can go undercover inside. Probably the best. Or, I could just hover outside in the Ratcopter, my super secret spy vehicle!" she said brightly!


It was not a bad idea. The Ratcopter did have a whole array of snooping technology!



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Akhona sighed at all of Neisha's supposition, this was a set up, something controlled by the woman it had to be. No other way to accurately predict the strike of outside forces. But her head rose as the other woman spoke giving her an in for Mamba.


You heard that, head over to the loading dock.


Outside there was a flash of golden light as John acknowledged what Akhona was saying over the comms and flew around to the loading dock that his sensors were picking out as he flew. The computer and AI that Akhona had put into the thing doing most of the heavy lifting and John simply following the flashing icon...if only it was always that easy.


Back inside Akhona fixed her eyes on the self proclaimed spy and chuckled,"I would like to see this, Ratcopter, if you wouldn't mind? I would love to hide somewhere safe and work my electronic magic from there while the Black Mamba Battlesuit does all the dirty work..."


"You know I can hear you, dear?" Her smile only broadened at the words of her husband, words she chose not to reply to,"If that works out all right for you, Ms....." She left the last hanging so the odd lady could offer a name, or at least her superhero title.

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Venomax for his part listend to the two ladies talking and for the most part was preoccupied trying to imagine what a ratcopter might look like.


Finding a lull in the conversation he spoke up.


"Venomax. Metahuman with chemical synthesis powers, know some martial arts and sciences." He answered breif but to the point



"Mostly animal venom and toxin..dunno artifical stuff well, can do medicine and glue and such....id advise gasmasks if we're in a close space together..can't control what it does once its out."

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The Red Rat


"I don't think Gas Masks are going to fit in with us going undercover, but point taken" smiled the Rat. "Ill keep my distance if you fart" she said with the faintest snigger. She couldn't resist it!


"If you can fly, the Ratcopter will sure be handy" she said to Akhona. 


A moment or two later...


The Ratcopter was parked across the street, on the roof of a two story e-media business that had no idea that a superior soviet spy helicopter was on the roof. There it stood, a one-man micro sized helicopter made of stealth materials, invisible to any radar. Its rotors and engines equipped with sonic-supression technology, it was virtually silent. 


The Rat showed Akhona the equipment. As a helicopter, the controls were fairly standard, bar its speed and smoke-screen. What made it such a magnificent beast for spying was its array of sensors. It was fortunate that Akhona was so smart. The microphones could analyse and pick up all spectrum of frequencies, even able to compute the sound hitting material objects. In other words, it could hear through walls!


"So, I guess we all have our suspicions about whats going on here" she told Venomax, Akhona, and the Black Mamba. "More to meet than meets the eye. Even my eyes" she suggested. "But if there is a theft happening, I bet there will be answers there. For now, I suggest that Venomax and I go undercover inside. Akhona, if you feel you can fly my helicopter, then you can try and work out whats happening here. I can keep in radio comms with you..." she tapped her head. "I happen to have a communicator in my skull" she explained, hoping they did not think her crazy. 


"And the Black Mamba. Well, that armour may not suit undercover work, but it looks like you are our heavy artillery outside?"

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Venomax's brow furrowed in displeasure but he held his tongue as he followed along with the plans presented.


He knew it was an ego thing so he'd save his displeasure for these crooks when they turned up.


It was always cathartic.


"Sounds good to me." He answered plainly "probably a third story job right? No point in using the front door for a pro-team."

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Akhona smiled at Venomax,"Well, good news the Black Mamba combat suit is a complete life support system so if he is nearby feel free to use all your powers as you wish."


A few moments later once John was inside, the black and gold armor suit standing there with them as they spoke the two Ross family members listened to what they were saying and then answered. Alkhona, surprisingly was first,"I can fly most commercial and military grade planes and helicopter so I should be fine." The tour of the rat copter was filled with enough dignified sounds of amazement to ensure that the Red Rat was clear not only that she was impressed with the ratcopter but that she understood how most of the technology worked and understood how complicated it was. Her own abilities to 'see' through electronics combined with the ability to listen through walls from the Ratcopter would allow her to follow everything that is going on.


Black Mamba though was a little more pensive,"Yes, Artillery? I'm more hands on than that so it would mean I had to come through the walls if it came down to that." He glanced at Venomax and nodded,"Yes, they'll be either coming through the walls themselves or they'll be coming in through some kind of secret entrance, the sewers or even infiltrating as a security team. Keep your eyes open and communicate through the lady and the Ratcopter."


The plan was as good as it could be with the limited information they had, but it would work for now. Black Mamba knew this kind of thing never lasted past first contact.



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The Red Rat


The Rat gave a thumbs up. 


"As I see, we have three goals. Find out what they want to steal, find out why, and find out who is helping them on the inside. Because I am sure someone is" she said. "If we can find out the answers to some of those questions, we might be in a better position to stop the theft..."


If we even want to stop it...


"Personally, I can't shake the feeling we are being played somehow. But I cant turn my back on this beautiful mess, and I guess you guys can't either" she summarised. 


"So, Venomax, I think its time we went into the belly of the beast, and hope the Black Mamba and company can keep the heat off our backs whilst we do. Eyes peeled...they may come in any direction!"


Or they may be inside already....


"And let's make sure we don't take the rap for the theft. And if we do, we best make a quick getaway!" she half-joked. "Anything goes south, meet up in Liberty Park, by the statue..."

Edited by Supercape
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Inside the lobby, Neisha (again, not that she’d mentioned her  name) was nowhere to be found. The rent-a-cop was still at the front desk. He was awake, but clearly bored out of his mind. The place was kind of well, dead. Which made sense for a corporate office after 2 AM. The elevators did not ding. The lights were relatively dim except at the front desk. The only sounds came from the front desk radio playing classic rock and the occasional vehicle passing by. All in all, it seemed like nothing was happening tonight at Nova Technology’s Freedom City location. This, of course, was not true. As four superheroes (in one way or another) would soon discover.

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"Not much of a people person." He confessed to red rat unbidden, still a little sore about the fart comment but trying his best to not let it bother him too much, there was work to do after all.


"You handle that ok?" He inquired "Don't like our employer one bit...dunno why."

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