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Freedom Aquarium - 9:00 a.m., Tuesday

 

It is a fine day on the Waterfront. Bright, sunny, and with just a hint of fluffy clouds in a warm blue sky, it was a safe day to leave the umbrella at home. A crowd unusual for a weekday mills about around the shops and ice cream stands, taking advantage of the cool - yet pleasant, for this time of year - weather. Many of these people are already lined up outside the Freedom Aquarium minutes before opening, eager to see a brand new exhibit featuring rare and deep sea specimens from the coasts of Japan and Korea. Most of the fish to be on display have never been featured alive for the general populace before, and a few are new species only discovered some months ago. The ticket booths are already running, trying to get ahead of the forming crowd of eager locals and tourists alike, and failing.

 

As the front doors open a cheer ripples through the crowd, and the line drips forward slowly by steadily. Meanwhile, a few school buses pull into the parking lot nearby, all carrying schoolkids on a unique field trip and their just-as-excited chaperones. 

 

As people filter into the aquarium, some make a bee-line straight to the new exhibit, while some meander through the older exhibits, patient to save the best for last. A dark interior of gently winding hallways and dim lamps weave through massive glass cases filled with millions of pounds of water and entire ecosystems of exotic fish and other aquatic flora and fauna. A low hum of banter intertwined with the occasional screech of a small child rises to fill the air, and smartly dressed tour guides enthusiastically start to lead throngs of patrons through the corridors, facts and trivia falling from their lips to land on the ears of an enthralled crowd.

 

Then, starting from the front, and slowly inching its way back all the way out the front doors, travelling past the ticket booths and even into the parking lot, haunting and hushed whispers wash over the atmosphere. Rumors of something gone wrong spread, hands cover mouths, and eyes go wide in confusion and concern. From the newly opened exhibit, several adults retreat, one ushering out two small, confused and irate children. Shortly after, employees close off the new exhibit, its grand opening lasting less than a few minutes. One tells another to call the police not quite quietly enough to avoid a few patrons from overhearing. The whispers ripple through the crowd again, rumors that the tanks featured no fish, no living things... nothing but blood-red water.

__________________________________________

 

Forever Boy

 

If it weren't for his physical build, Pan might have just fit in with the school kids.

 

The Aquarium wasn't much, but on some of the more boring days, you take all the adventure you can get, even the small ones. Besides, sometimes one just needs to relax a little. Never-before-seen fish? Having been on Earth as long as he has, Pan knows that they either won't be half as strange as some of the creatures from Neverworld, or they will be incredible, horrifying monstrosities he could never have dreamed of.

 

Slipping through the crowd to the front, however, the trickster is met with something truly unexpected... no fish at all. In fact, all he can see before employees begin trying to usher him and the others out of the exhibit are a lot of empty tanks with red water in them... save for one tank. In this one tank remains a lone fish. It is small and slight, barely as long as his hand, and its scales glimmer all the colors of the rainbow, and shinier than pixie dust.

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Queenie

 

Being an "unmasked" hero has its perks, although Maybelle may not enjoy all of them. She didn't arrive early like some folks, but as soon as a few people recognized her, the crowds parted like the Biblical Red Sea. Locals pulled out cell phones and began snapping photos and taking videos, some folks asked for an autograph. Maybe it was just because when she was cooking, she didn't have much time - or perhaps patience - to deal with autographs. Maybe it was just a novelty to see her outside of the diner. Either way, right now, she is being treated like a celebrity, and shuffled up to the front of the lines.

 

Not that all that did much in the end. All it meant was Maybelle was one of the first to see the new exhibit close down. Two steps inside and all she sees are tanks filled with red... and it doesn't take an expert chef whose fillet thousands of fish to guess what kind of red it is.

 

Only one critter remains... a small, slight dartfish, its body barely as long as her hand, but glimmering like a rainbow.

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Delta

 

What a day to pick a clandestine meeting.

 

Delta had been expecting a small crowd... someplace public, sure. But this... this was ridiculous. How was he supposed to blend in? Was his "anonymous informant" having a laugh? It seemed like a lot of trouble to drop coded messages and spend days picking a time and place to meet just to play a stupid prank. 

 

Still, his informant was nowhere in sight. Perhaps it had been foolish of Delta to trust a man (or maybe a woman. Delta didn't even know that much!) whose only claim was "I know someone who can tell you more about your past."

 

As the minutes pass, the threat of a trap grows ever more ominous, but that trap never springs. However, a wave of unrest ripples through the crowds of people. Something about the new exhibit... something about everything being dead.

 

A glance over his shoulder reveals what all the other glances have revealed: nothing. No informant. So far, Delta's only lead - if there even was one to begin with - lies with what has happened here at the Aquarium. After all... it might not be a coincidence that he just happened to be lured here at the precise time to witness all this unfold.

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Bee

 

Melissa is one of the first in line for the aquarium. Most people were here to see pretty fish. However, unlike most, Melissa is just as interested in the science behind it.

 

The only reason half of the new specimens were on display was because of some fascinating technology. First, deep sea submersibles with the capability of capturing specimens had to be built and installed with a pressure chamber. Without the chamber, any organism from too deep would die from the journey up to the surface, as their internal body pressure became too great for the atmosphere around it.

 

Next, those chambers had to be transported and seamlessly emptied into equally pressurized tanks, the very same tanks the Aquarium had spent millions installing. Through a very careful process and a series of airlocks, the specimens were introduced into their new homes here in Freedom City. 

 

Finally, to maintain the ecosystem in the tanks, automated maintenance robots were installed to monitor and clean the tanks as needed. After all, the less need to open the tanks or introduce a human element, the less risk of human error, or mechanical failure resulting in the untimely death of the new residents.

 

All of that effort seemed to be wasted, as Melissa found out as she reached the exhibit. Nothing remains, save for the dark red tendril stains slowly diffusing and mixing with the water.

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Pan had come to see the fish. Simple as that. The adventure of the day, a visit to a new place, and what better day than one where the promise was of something truly extraordinary? Well, extraordinary if you liked fish, at least! While he had never had the greatest of interest in marine life, he had decided to try to expand his horizons a bit. Maybe learn something more about the Earth. 

 

While he had considered just sneaking in, he had eventually decided on doing it properly. He was supposed to maintain a secret identity here, after all. Regular clothes it was, then. Jeans, a red t-shirt, a short, dark green jacket over it. Nothing fancy, just some things he liked. Moving with the crowds, he had marvelled at the sights that he saw on the way to the exhibit. Well, he had looked at the fish, at least. Most looked extraordinarily like those back home, but many were unlike any fish he had seen before. 

 

He didn't make it to the exhibit before it was closed, and the rumors began to spread. For a brief moment, he entertained the idea of simply leaving. The fish were gone, after all. But this sounded like a mystery. And wasn't that just another kind of adventure? As the employees began to try and usher him and the rest of the visitors from the room, Pan slipped away, to the side. He could go in unnoticed, at least. Weaving an image of nothing around himself, he kept the illusion of simply not being there, as he moved into the room, where he saw the single rainbow fish. He was sure that he had never seen anything quite like it before. Not here, and not on Neverworld. 

 

He moved closer, though keeping his distance to anyone else in the room. He would have to make a suitable entrance, after all.

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The black long sleeved hoodie he was wearing, covering his bulbous eyes and the diodes that flashed on his head, was working well only the strong chin with it's darker skin really showing. As long as he kept his hands in his pockets and didn't pull any of his tricks out of his belt he was likely to be fine but as the time wore on he knew that more and more people would start paying attention to the guy who never removed the hood, even in the darkest of exhibits no matter what the internal temperature.

 

His irritation and general surliness increased as his wariness grew, he was a soldier, although the honor implied in that name was stained somewhat by his past service, but the patience of grueling hours waiting for a target to arrive and the sudden action after had left him well prepared even if his 'trigger' got a little twitchy as more and more people crowded in. Then the rumors started to flow and people started to be ushered out, a small smile creasing his lips. Was this it? Was this the moment his contact was waiting for?

 

Perhaps it was, perhaps they were hiding in the now closed exhibit it's one surefire way to ensure privacy? Enforced by the police themselves. Sighing he slipped back into the shadows of an exhibit and as soon as he was out of sight of the majority of people he reached to his belt and activated his cloaking device. Soon that corner was home to nothing but a black, long sleeved hoodie neatly folded. Delta, under the cover of his cloaking device slipped through the throngs heading towards the closed off section in search of his contact....or anything else that would be suspicious.

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Bee!
Melissa might have come to see the technology, but she was also excited by the entire experience of the aquarium. She might be an entomologist at heart but she loved learning about all animals, she’d spent the whole evening before studying up on all the different aquatic animal at the place and worked out the perfect route through the place. To some, it might look like randomly running from exhibit to exhibit, but there was a strange order to her plan. She’d even worn her favorite clothes an over-sized knitted black and yellow jumper and a bright yellow skirt.

For a moment she was a little disappointed at the final exhibit, the deep sea tank, and for a few seconds, her face fell.

“Hmmm, something seems to be amiss her maybe someone should look into this.”

Realizing that this was an opportunity to do the hero thing she smiled once again as she looked to see if anyone else was around.

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Maybelle McQueen did her best to be a humble woman. Sure, she had a gift in the kitchen. And yeah, she flaunted that to the fullest extent of the law. So to speak. But everything was a distant second. She protested all the special treatment until it was obvious that everyone developed spontaneous deafness when she did so. So she reluctantly went along with it. She just wanted to see some pretty fish, after all. But there were no pretty fish to be had. Well, the one. But the rest? Murder. Murder most foul. Well maybe. She approached the nearest aquarium employee, one of the ones who were shooing people out. “Excuse me. I’m Queenie. Is there some way I can help?”

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GM

 

Melissa's search doesn't take long. Just as she begins searching for a stand-out face, a woman not ten feet away announces to one of the employees that she is Queenie, public hero and famous chef. The employee initially tenses up, ready to give a standard, non-specific excuse and direction to a nosy customer, but his shoulders drop when he recognizes Queenie.

 

"I don't know what you can do here, Ma'am," he replies, a thick southern accent marking him as a non-native to the city. He shakes his head, a few strands of long brown hair slipping loose from his pony-tail. "Everythin's already gone. No idea how, though... we checked on 'em five minutes ago!"

 

Unseen to Bee, Queenie, and the employee, an invisible Delta slips by them and the police blockade to enter the room unannounced. It doesn't take long to take in what the others had already seen, that being a lot of fish tanks, and no fish save one. The lone, rainbow-colored fish drifts alone amidst a sea of crimson tendrils.

 

Vision of Pan's body has already slipped away unnoticed into the void. None of the employees or officers seem to notice that one fewer customers have exited the room than had previously entered, and he is left momentarily to his own devices, but not alone. He and Delta remain invisible to each other just as they do the rest of the world.

 

Pan steps closer to the tank. The little dartfish drifts in place, only just barely swaying from side to side. It stares out from the tank, seemingly not bothered by whatever had transpired. Was it sleeping? Did fish sleep? It's eyes were open, but... did fish even have eyelids? Regardless, the creature looks to be tranquil - perhaps even creepy - as it sits in place as motionless as possible, staring out from behind the glass back at Pan.

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What a curious fish. Even if he ignored its unique color palette, Pan was under the impression that fish moved around quite a bit more. Not just flatly floating around such as this. And if something had violently removed all of its fishy friends, then he believed that it should have had some sort of reaction. Could it even see him, behind his veil of nothing? It seemed to be staring straight back at him. 

 

So, if all the other fish were gone, then why did this one remain. A mystery, to be sure. Had it eaten them all? It seemed unlikely, given its size, but Pan had seen weirder things. Well, he was in here now, and people had left, so there was no sense in staying hidden. He could hear the an employee talking to someone that called herself Queenie outside the room. A hero, perhaps? Well, no reason to stay hidden. It was indeed a mystery, a puzzle that Pan would love to solve. 

 

It took but the blink of an eye, then Pan was in his costume. Red and green, with a green mask to conceal his identity. He had learned much at his so-far brief time at Claremont, chief among his lessons being that he would need to conceal his true identity, even if he didn't have much to conceal here. 

 

To onlookers, the Forever Boy would simple appear in the room, standing in front of the aquarium with the rainbow colored fish, staring at it with his hands folded behind his back. He spoke out loudly, to make sure the employee could hear him. "Excuse me, sir. That is not quite right. There's still one fish here. It seems rather small, so it hardly seems possible that it ate the rest." He didn't really believe that possibility, but the employee would know better.

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Delta was content to watch the fish and scan the surroundings, his radio scanner sent out waves received by the various implants on, in and under his skin to give him an accurate picture of the room and the occupants there in even the smallest like the fish. There was one anomaly, an anomaly that rapidly revealed itself to be some kind of superhero...or maybe a villain...in a red and green costume. Delta's eyes swiveled, without his head moving, to focus on the fish, the apertures closing like a chameleons eye as he focused on the fish before widening as they scanned the room again.

 

For now he chose to remain under his cloaking field, willing to see where the red and green boy was going to go with this investigation and who else would climb out of the woodwork...he believed that was the expression? It seemed in Freedom City that many people were willing to risk life and limb to save others, and it was a conundrum to him, so many individuals with powers beyond normal many of which could be used for both good and ill...and ill was what he was used to seeing so he always was a little more cautious.

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The collection of present employees and police officers turn to look at Forever Boy in surprise, but it wears off quickly. By now, most of the employees at the aquarium have gotten used to superheroes popping out of thin air every time there is a strange situation. The one who had spoken before answers first. "Yer right about that. It's called Kaguya's Dartfish," he replies, butchering the pronunciation of "Kaguya" with his own accent. "It's carnivorous, but yer right. It eats krill and shrimp. We had some fish in that same tank that were a meter long or more, so there's no way it ate 'em. Besides, even if it did, that doesn't account for all the fish in the other tanks."

 

Bee knows that the employee is correct. She recalls what she had read about the exhibit before coming here, and the Kaguya's Dartfish stands out clearly in her mind. It - unlike many of the other fish displayed - is not a deep sea fish, and as such, was not placed in a pressurize, deep sea tank. The dartfish is merely very rare, being discovered perhaps centuries ago by fishermen and divers off the coasts of Japan and the Oceanic islands, as there are accounts of a rainbow dartfish from that far back. However, none had ever been caught before, and many believed the fish to be a cryptid until less than a year ago when a live specimen was first caught.

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Only krill and shrimp. And yet, it was all alone now. A single, rainbow colored fish, all alone in all of these tanks filled with water. Pan looked at it for another moment. He could try prodding it with an image of another fish, see how it reacted, but that didn't seem like the best idea. This was a mystery, after all, and aside from its name, diet and it being smaller than the dartfish's missing friends, he knew little about it.

 

"So, why leave this one behind? To my admittedly untrained eye, it appears quite exotic. And exotic means rare and valuable on this world, does it not? So, what makes this fish so different from the rest in here?" Pan was maybe enjoying this a bit too much, his eyes still fixed on the rainbow colored fish, as if he was afraid it would disappear if he stopped watching it.

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Bee!

Solving a crime was similar in mythology to the methods of the scientific method, something Mellisa knew well. And there was a mystery to solve right here she just needed to put the clues together.

 

“Hmmm the Kaguya's Dartfish, apart from being very pretty, isn’t a deepsea fish at all so how did it get into this tank? And they pretty rare even into the wild...”

 

She realised that the teen next to her was also on a similar path

 

“Yes exotic is a good word for them, hello there I’m Melissa, may I ask how the tank is kept under pressure? Smaller creatures are of cause less affected by such thing, it’s a function of surface area among other things.”

 

An idea was forming on how to check the tank, that would involve a teeny tiny hero just like her!

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"Ah, you're familiar, then?" the man asks Melissa. "Well, the tank itself is not unlike the water tank in a modern house. A flexible barrier separates the water in the tank from a layer of air in the tank. Then, we just pump in the water until the air is compressed to a desired level. That compression of air is what pressurized the water. The real revolutions are the valve system that allow us to introduce fish into the tanks without depressurizing, as well as the small robots inside the tanks that maintain it."

 

As if on cue, a shape drifts by in one of the tanks, slightly obscured by the red. It is no larger than a clenched fist, and has multiple arms dangling off of it, not unlike a jellyfish. However, unlike a jellyfish, the arms are joined and mechanical. They twitch and move as if powered by servo motors... which they likely are.

 

Those little robots monitor and help maintain cleanliness, temperature, and pressure, along with sensors lining the tank walls. None of the sensors gave us any indication that something was wrong, and so we didn't find... all of this... until everyone else did. The logs all say everything is normal, and has been since we last checked the tanks."

Edited by Portia Labiata

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Still cloaked Delta frowned as the situation developed and information poured in from his sensors and the mouths of the guards and those asking questions. Looking in at the robots that slid into view, frowning he reached out with his internal computer he scanned the machine and then tried to enter it electronically to look at it's code. Could the special robots have dome something to the fish?

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Honestly, Pan did not understand much of the talk about water pressure, but if someone thought it was important, it might be. The small robots sounded interesting, however. Automatic maintenance? Curious. Pan moved closer, planting the palms of his hands at the sides of his eyes to block out the light from the room, peeking in to try and catch a look at these curious machines.

 

"I'm guessing you're accessing the robots remotely, if you can see what they're thinking right now, right?" It might be obvious to people here, but Pan had not seen robots like these before. He might not know much about them, but he knew much about trickery. "Could that signal be tampered with somehow? What they are recording, what they are sending?" He turned away again, grinning at Melissa. "Hello Melissa, I'm the Forever Boy."

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Queenie thought. Honestly, this was more than a little out of her area of expertise. She was neither a scientist nor a detective. She was a chef. That said, she was a smart woman, and she’d watched many police procedurals. “Okay, I think the first thing we need to do is establish an order of events. And get a list of all the kind of fish and what tank they were in. Do you depend solely on the little robots or does someone come in the check on the fist sometimes? I mean, someone has to feed them, right? I’m looking for the last time a human saw them alive. Because as Forever Boy said, machines can be hacked.”

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Bee!

“The obvious thing would be to go in and have a look, something is obviously going on in the tank.”

 

She looked a little sheepish at what she had to say next, it sounded a little obvious even to her but there were a lot of heroes in Freedom City so she could hopefully get away with it.

 

“I know how to contact this hero, she’s called Bee and is really new. She has shrinking powers which could allow a bunch of heroes to go into the water safely!”

 

Already she was working out the details of how it would work, excited at her own chance for a fantastic voyage.

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