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Millennium Comics, West End location. Saturday, March 23, 2019. 12:35 pm

 

It had been a while since Grimalkin had done a signing event of any kind, but when her favorite local comic book store asked if she was willing to partner them and the charity of her choice, how could she refuse? The usual table was set up near the back of the store, and the changeling's ego got a bit of a boost since the line snaked its way out the front door. In the near five years since she'd returned to Freedom, she'd done enough crimefighting and overall heroics to put herself back in the public consciousness  after being gone for the three previous years. And she had always proudly maintained her roots in the eclectic West End, to the point that many people still considered her one of their own.

 

It was the usual crowd: middle-aged fans who'd been following her since 2008 when she first made her appearance, die-hard Interceptors fans in their twenties who always asked when she was going to rejoin Jack's team (she was always diplomatic and did nothing but praise the current team line-up), and now the new wave of cosplayers and little girls in their homemade costumes. Thankfully her current fan base was a lot less 'pervy' than it used to be, a welcome change in the last few years that made it a lot easier to do this sort of thing. And it helped that every dollar generated went to Freedom's Warriors, one of her favorite charities that helped out disabled local vets.

 

The next group was two simply adorable little girls in cosplay, herded up to the table by their mom, holding her cellphone in one hand. Lynn's heart simply melted as they rushed up and grabbed her by each hand. 

 

"Hi Gimalkin!"

 

"Hi Grimalkin!"

 

"Omigod, you're so cuuute! What are their names?"

 

"Sasha and Felicity," offered their proud mom, hands shaking in shared excitement as she tried to focus her iPhone.

 

"Well, Sasha and Felicity, let's do a cool action pose, okay?"

 

"Yeah!"

 

"Cool!"

 

All three Grimalkins stood in front of the backdrop Grim had conjured up that morning, a photo-realistic depiction of a moonlit roof top, crouched forward together with their claws out and snarled for the camera.

 

"Grrr!"

 

"Rawr!"

 

"Raaahhhh!"

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A man stood in line, three people behind the two cosplaying girls.  He’d been in the store almost since they opened, before Grimalkin arrived, looking carefully and methodically through their merchandise.  He was quiet, eyes constantly darting around, wearing a long dark brown coat and slouched hat; one might think he was cosplaying one of Freedom’s “Trenchcoat Brigade” types.  A trade paperback of the first six issues of The Interceptors comic -- a recent reprint, not an original -- was clutched in his hands.

 

Alright, Viktor, you can do this, he thought to himself.  You’ve been away for a long time, and you’re going away for maybe even longer, but you need to do this.  Need to meet with the people from your past. Some of them might not want to meet with you, and that’s fine, you can’t force it.  Just present to them the chance.

 

The line moved, and Doktor Archeville moved up with it.

 

Thank goodness Grimalkin has a decent social media presence, else I would not know where to begin.  Well, that’s not true, there are ways I could find them… but, no, I’m not going down that route. I’m going to be open, and trusting, and accepting of whatever criticisms they have for me.  I disappeared so suddenly, they should know why, should they care, and have a chance for closure.

 

From the man, Grim could detect an oddly familiar scent, a cologne she'd not smelled in many years.

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Grim wouldn't have been much a hero if she hadn't noticed Mr. CreepyPants lurking about the store, but so far there were no alarm bells going off in her head, so she just kept him in her peripheral awareness. Sometimes heroes, especially female ones, attracted fans who while initially appearing unsettling but were in fact just very, very shy. She'd encountered a few of them over the years, especially in Japan, and she'd gotten pretty good at handling them. They typically waited until almost everyone was gone to approach, so she'd have to watch for that.

 

But then he moved into the line, with a purchased item no less, so she had to reevaluate his motivation. But then a familiar scent of cologne wafted by her nostrils, along with traces of metal, ceramic and just a hint of blutwurst...

 

No. F###ing. Way.

 

Despite herself, she felt her heart racing; this was a reunion she was both looking forward to and absolutely dreading. What would he say? What would she say? It took all her strength to keep the shake out of her voice as he finally stepped up to her table, but the resulting smile was rather strained.

 

"Wie gehts, Herr Doktor. How should I sign that for you?"

Edited by Heritage

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Okay, she knows it’s me.  I knew the cologne was a good idea.  And she’s not running, or punching me -- yet -- so that’s a plus.  Stay calm, man, steady on.

 

“Mir geht es gut, Grimalkin. Und Sie?,” he replied, just loud enough for her to hear.  Then, at a more conversational volume, “Could you make it out to ‘Archie,’ please?”  That was his voice, alright, though there was something ever-so-subtly 'off' about it to Grim's ear.

 

As he handed her the paperback, a neatly folded piece of paper slipped out out his coat sleeve and onto the table in front of her.  The outside said, in neat, crisp handwriting, “To Grim,” and beneath it, “From Dok.” She could easily palm it, or ignore it completely.

 

I wonder if any of the other Interceptors will show up for this?  That could get awkward.  

 

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"Of course," she said with a slightly warmer smile; it was oddly comforting to see that her former mentor was just as nervous around her as she was around him. The note disappeared in the blink of an eye, almost as though it had never been there. Then she spun the book around and sighed with wistful nostalgia as her fingers traced the profile of a certain interdimensional cowboy. Her dark eyes sparkled, on the verge of tears.

 

"Ah...good times..."

 

Then she quickly signed the book with a silver Sharpie and handed it back to its, a bit abruptly. "Nice to see you! Thanks for coming out!"

 

It was only after he stepped out of line that Dr. Archeville had a chance to read what the changeling had written.
 

Quote

 

To Archie:

"Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time." - Viktor Frankl

With love,

Grimalkin

 

 

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“Thank you, thank you,” the man said, practically bowing to her as he stepped out of line.

 

He smiled as he read over what she wrote.  Okay, this is good.  This is going well so far.  He lingered a few moments more, casting a few glances Grim’s way, then walked out of the store.  He looked up, felt the sun on his face for a moment, then headed to the coffee shoppe across the street.

 

As for the note he had left for her, it was much shorter, and more direct.  When Lynn gets a chance to open it, it reads

Quote

Yes, it’s me. If you’d like to talk, I’ll be at the cafe across the street, until they close.

 

At the cafe, Archeville ordered a small, basic, straightforward coffee, not even adding cream or sugar.  After he finished that, and had a gauge on what their baseline offering was, he went for some of their signature drinks, and a few pastries.  He didn’t need to eat as much as he once had -- and now he needed to add a few supplements to maintain his technorganic body -- but he still enjoyed the sensations of consuming good food & drink.  As he waited for see if Grimalkin would take him up on his offer after her signing, he sipped and nibbled, and used the cafe’s free wi-fi to get up to speed on what had been going on in Freedom City while he’d been away.

 

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A little after one o'clock, a young woman in her early thirties came across the street and entered the cafe; she was short, with dark brown eyes and curly, brown shoulder length hair. She wore well-worn hiking boots, jeans, a suede jacket and an FCU baseball cap, and some sort of tote over one shoulder. She quickly scanned the crowd, possibly sniffing the air for a brief moment, and then made a beeline for the German's table. As she approached, her movements were powerful and graceful, her face breathtakingly beautiful. She could almost be the aunt of a young girl he once betrayed...

 

The woman slid smoothly into the seat. "Hello, Viktor. You're looking well, although you smell quite a bit different."

Edited by Heritage

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Wait, is that really Grimalkin?  Or a relative that she sent to deal with me?  No, wait, she is a shapeshifter, and she just commented on my scent, so this must be her.  Alright… here goes.

 

The holodisguise he currently had on, under the coat and hat, were of a Statistically Average Human Male of German descent.  This way, anyone who looked past his clothing would not immediately know who he was, and thus he would not have to deal with many people at once.  Not yet, at least. At most they might assume he was a relative of the (in)famous Doktor, but so far no one had bothered him.

 

“Yes, well, that is one of the things I wanted to talk to you about,” he began.  His accent was faint, not the exaggerated one she had known, but still present. “About a year after…,” he paused a moment, “after what happened had happened, I died.  Was killed, rather. And then I was brought back.” As he talked, his holodisguise slowly, subtly shifted, and now, under the coat and hat, he looked like the Viktor Archeville she had remembered.  “Not quite the same as what had happened to you, but there are some parallels. Which is why I thought it best to come to you first. That, and you have the biggest social media presence of all the Interceptors, so finding you was easiest.  Also,” he paused again, taking a sip of his drink, “you might actually let me talk a bit before hauling off and striking me.  Though I would understand if you did.”

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"Ah, there you are," she said after he made the change. "I thought maybe you'd had some work done, but I should have known; you always were good with holograms." After he'd spoken a bit more, 'Grim' chuckled, her voice now a bit deeper than it used to be, and her Jersey accent wasn't quite as strong. "Well there's a reason I didn't pop you on sight; I've had some time to think it over. Like, a lot of time." She sighed as she signalled for a waitress. "I spent some time in a parallel dimension while you were gone, one where time moved a lot faster relative to ours. 'Course you wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm old enough to be your f###in' grandma."

 

The waitress came, and the smiling shapeshifter placed her order (some ghastly mint mocha concoction and a raspberry tart), which gave Archeville a little time to process that information. Once the waitress left, Grim leaned forward to whisper to the mega-genius. "Oh, and by the way, call me 'Lynn' when I look like this."

Edited by Heritage

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Archeville leaned back a bit at the revelation of her age.  “I had suspected you might be one of the longer-lived members of the Interceptors.  That is not how I pictured proving it, but, well, things happen.”

 

Wait, if she- did the others?  Was Colt with her? Did they have- is he still?

 

He was quiet as she placed her order, processing what she’d said.  When he saw her lean forward after the waitress departed, he leaned in to meet her.  His mouth became a thin line when she revealed her name.

 

… hunh.

 

“A part of me wants to admonish you for giving your name out so freely, something that countless faerie tales warns us is a no-no.”  He gave a half-hearted chuckle, then glanced down at the mug in his hands, “but I also know how hypocritical that would be of me.”

 

Another moment of tense silence.  “So… so when you were in that other dimension, did any of the others go with you?  How did it happen? What was it like? Was it another of those quasi-medieval paralleles that seem so prevalent in the multiverse?  Did- wait, no… I-”

 

He set his mug down and held his hands just over it, letting the steam waft between his splayed fingers, “before we go down that road, I need to show you something.  In the interests of full disclosure and transparency.”  He held up his left hand to shield his right from any onlookers, and before Lynn’s eyes his right hand changed.  The holodisguise faded away from it, revealing the hybrid of flesh, metal, and circuitry that his technorganic body had become. “My resurrection did not quite go as expected.”  

 

He'd already told the Freedom League, Dragonfly, Miss Americana, Phantom, and Scarab of this, and asked them to pass word along to the Interceptors, back when it first happened.  But he decided to err on the side of caution and tell her himself.

Edited by Dr Archeville

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Some people might have been shocked, repulsed or even intrigued by the good doctor's revelation, but Lynn Epstein had seen way too much weird s### in her life for an advanced cyborg to throw her off. "Wow; I should have known you'd go cybernetic." She reached out and gently poked the surface of his 'skin'. "Cool. So in answer to your question, just me and my husband went through it, about three days after you...embiggened. We ended up in Colt's home dimension. But we couldn't get back."

 

She paused briefly as her drink and pastry order arrived, but unlike the Grimalkin of old, Lynn didn't eagerly slurp it all down; instead she just stared at the raspberry tart on her plate for a few seconds before continuing. "Eventually we gave up, settled down, made a life for ourselves. Had three kids, seven grandkids and eleven great-grandkids, at my last count. That was five years ago." Then she stared out the window at a young mother pushing a stroller. "But I had to leave; my kids made the point that I had to let them go, let them live their own lives, make their own mistakes. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Well, after burying Colt, I guess..." She picked up her mocha and took a sip, her dark brown eyes fixed on Archeville.

Edited by Heritage

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Archeville smiled a bit when he saw how nonchalant Lynn was about his hand.  “Not by choice, but it is better than the alternative of being dead in a shallow grave in a forest.”

 

He was silent as she explained her & Colt’s time away, and for a few moments after.  He avoided meeting her eyes for a bit, but finally worked up the nerve to do so, and swallowed hard.  “I… I am happy you got to live a life with the man you loved. And got to experience the joys and trials of motherhood, grandmotherhood, and great-grandmotherhood.  I am sorry I was not able to see Colt again, though of course I cannot say if he would have wanted to see me again.” He looked down, took a sip from his coffee, looked at it for a bit, then back up to Lynn.  “So you were able to find your way back here, eventually. Or did someone from this side manage to pull you back? Did all of your children stay there, in Colt’s home? Did any of them travel to other dimensions?  And did you get back with the Interceptors, or did you feel you had changed too much to go back to them?” Now that he was really looking, he could see how different she was from the young pixie he’d known.

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"It took me several years to find someone to get me back here after I made my promise to Zach and Ruthie; he was a bit of a manic, working out of a lab under the tennis courts at their version of the University of Chicago. I had to pay him a lot, but it was worth every gram of platinum." Lynn sighed and looked thoughtful as she took a bite of pastry. "I don't know if the twins ever dimension hopped; I pray to God Jon-Jon never did."

 

She didn't elaborate on why she'd be concerned about Jon-Jon, and seemed thankful to move onto other subjects. At the mention of the Interceptors, the changeling looked a little wistful. "Oh, I met with Jack and his crew when I got back; it was pleasant enough, but-" And here she struggled a bit, trying to shape her thoughts with her hands in the air. "It was like a high school reunion, y'know? The connection was still there, but somehow, through no one's fault, it'd lost all weight. I mean, there was a time I'd take a bullet for Jack, on instinct...not that I wouldn't now, but-" Finally she just threw her hands up in the air. "Y'know what, you can't get the Beatles back together, and it's not Yoko's fault; end of story, move on."

 

Lynn drank her mocha and ate her tart for a time, somehow not gagging on the mixture of mint and raspberry; a brown and white mustache formed on her lip, showing that not everything about the dark fae had changed. "So what about you, what've you been up to? Do you still have all your castles and stuff?"

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Archeville could sense that there was much being left unsaid, but also knew this wasn’t the time to press the issue.  It may never be time for me to press any issue with any of them…

 

He nodded along she discussed the reunion, eyes darting between her and the mug in his hands.  “Yes, time does have a way of changing things. ‘You can’t go home again,’ as Wolfe said.”

 

Which segued neatly to her next question.  “Well, let me see,” he released his hold on his mug and started counting off on his fingers.  “My castle was destroyed by UNISON Agents. ArcheTech was given to Miss Americana. My submarine was commandeered by Deep Ones, crippled by Gabriel & Ironclad, and the remains went along with ArcheTech.  The same thing happened to my orbiting satellite station, but it was eventually abandoned and decommissioned. And my other space station -- the one in the asteroid belt, that almost no one knew about -- was attacked by Blueshift, Push, and Victory, later used by The Lab as a remote location to study The Gorgon’s nanites, and is currently mothballed, but may be used as a long-range early-warning system to warn of extrasolar threats.”  He finally extended his thumb, “I still have my house in Hanover, though it was kept under lock & key by the Freedom League while I was away.”

 

He paused a moment, breathing slowly, before continuing.  “As for me, I was convalescing for a time, here in Freedom and also back in Germany, working to restore both mind and body.  During The Incursion I was stuck fighting on another planet, desperately trying to avoid capture by the Communion, for fear of what they could do with my knowledge and my technorganic self.  And over the last year or so,” he allowed himself a small smile, “I have spent some time re-acclimating myself to working with the public by serving -- under an alias -- as a substitute teacher, back in Germany.”

 

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Lynn whistled. "Wow; they really did take all your toys away, didn't they? That must suck." She finally wiped her mouth with her napkin, and then quickly reapplied her mustache with another sip of mocha. "So are you like on house arrest or something, like wearing a monitor 24/7? I know Miss A said something about memory wipes, which kinda blows, but which also makes me feel a lot safer; no offense."

 

She looked a bit sheepish as she nibbled on her pastry.

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Archeville smiled, not as weakly as before, but still far from his old self.  "Not house arrest, no, though I was in intensive therapy for some time.  For parts of that time, I was catatonic, unresponsive as I processed everything that had happened.  That I had done."  He pauses a moment.  "For parts of it, I screamed endlessly as my body shifted and changed, expanded my senses -- I could see gamma rays, hear x-rays, smell gravitons.  Such beauty... such terrifying beauty..."

 

He pauses another moment, then exhales a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in.  "Yes, Dragonfly and Miss Americana and Phantom and Scarab erased some of my memories -- the secret identities of all the heroes that I knew.  Erased it from all my computer systems, too.  I would have to re-earn that knowledge, that trust, if such a feat is possible.  Some may never be willing to forgive, and I accept that.  All I can do is make a sincere effort."

 

"So," he shifted, trying to lighten the mood, "what have you been up to since you returned?  Are you running with another team of heroes, or are you patrolling solo?"

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As the discussion turned to more current events, Lynn became visibly more comfortable, almost chatty. "Well, I finally managed to reopen my grandfather's bookstore, which has made me deliriously happy; we're actually coming up on the five year anniversary. You should stop by!" But at the mention of teams and partnerships, the changeling grew more wistful. "Uh, no team, but I did have a partner; a damn good one. Very good with the technical side of things." She sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Then we started dating, and thinks got complicated; we're taking a break right now."

 

After another sip of mint mocha, Lynn's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "So what happens now? Are you moving back to Freedom, or just passing through?"

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"Oh, that is wonderful!" Archeville replied warmly, remembering how fondly she'd spoken of her grandfather and his book shoppe.  "And I would absolutely love to see the place... ah..." his tone shifted back down a bit, "perhaps in disguise."

 

He was quiet a few moments more, partly from not knowing what to say, partly from not wanting to open the door to talking about his own romantic relationship.  At last he said, "I am sorry things went that way.  'Workplace romances' -- for whatever definition of 'workplace' one uses -- can often be difficult.  And us tech-heads are notorious for troubles in that area, on top of that," he added with a small smirk.  "But I hope that, at worst, you two part on amicable terms, having learned something from each other, and about yourselves.  And if you two do wind up getting back together... then that's good, too.  Though, I am curious," he paused to take a sip from his drink, "what sort of tech did she focus on?  Electronics?  Biochemical?"

 

Maybe steering her there will avoid unpleasant questions.

 

"I'm not sure yet," he replied quickly to her last question.  "I have a few ideas.  I do not think I will be moving back to Freedom, though I do wish to stay for a bit, undercover, and touch base with a few folks.  I've considered moving out to Emerald City, or perhaps even further out, and explore the stars.  Daedalus did that, back in the 1980s, but I know there's a lot left to explore."

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"We're in a sort of weird... I'm not sure what it is; she's running Silberman's Northwest, out in EC. We talk daily. She's younger, and she needed space. And time." She sighed and smiled. "I hope we can make it work again someday; we really are good together."

 

After a few quiet moments of personal reflection, Lynn continued. "Electronics, mostly, but also acoustical engineering. She's also a very talented musician with a voice like an angel, and a truly wicked and dark sense of humor. God, I miss her!"

 

The changeling shifted in her seat and changed topics before she got too maudlin. "I could see you doing well out there in 'the Black'." She pointed skyward. "Buuut don't you need a spaceship for that?"

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"What makes you think I don't already have one?," he replied, Lynn's fae nature coaxing out some mischievousness in him.  He was also happy to be shifting to a subject he was more comfortable with discussing.  "I've considered the issues surrounding space travel for some time -- had to, to get my satellite up.  Er, satellites," he corrected himself.  "And I was a member of the Freedom League Auxiliary for a time, so I had a chance to examine the Pegasus-class space planes that Daedalus designed & built.  That helped me refine some ideas, though also lead to further questions."

 

He paused a moment and took another sip of his coffee.  "Actually, with my current state of being, I could fly into space all on my own, without any vehicle.  Which would have certain advantages, and several disadvantages.  So, if I do go, it would be in a spacecraft.  And, like my home in Hanover, yes," he added with a wink, "it would be bigger on the inside."

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"That's awesome! You can go on adventures and pick up Companions and stuff." Lynn seemed genuinely happy for Dok. "I had my fill of space on the Other Side. I mean, at first it's amazing, like the first time you see Earth from orbit? But then I start to get claustrophobic, and miss the fresh air." She shook her head vigorously. "No, this little pixie is quite happy to stay Earthbound for now." Then she shrugged. "But ask me again in a few years, and who knows? Maybe I'll stick out my thumb and hitch a ride."

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"Oh, yes, yes," he nodded, "I completely understand your desire to stay here for a while, not go off on any whirlwind adventures.  And there is still much for me to do here, and my craft is still far from finished.  But... I will remember your interest."  He smiled, genuinely, warmly, then looked down at his hands, seeing through his holodisguise.  "My new... condition also comes with a prolonged life, so having a long-lived associate would be nice.  Especially one who's already seen me at my worst."  His smile faded, but the light did not go totally out from his eyes.

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At the mention of 'prolonged life', Lynn sucked air in through her teeth and shook her head. "Yeah, that's a whole deal, innit? It's such a mindf###. Like, I'm now older than my parents, but when I'm around them, I'm still their little girl, y'know? But I kinda love that, in a way; they still get to be my parents. And Benji will always be my big brother, and Eddi my big sis." But then her face clouded. "Until they're not, of course; not looking forward to those days. I mean, I know it's kinda selfish, but I hope Gretch-" And here she winced for second; she wanted Gretchen to decide for herself if Dok ever learned her name. "Uh, my partner finds a way to stop aging; it's a pretty exclusive club, and we're all gonna run out of dating options pretty quick."

 

And then a look of elfin mischief crept into her ageless eyes. "Y'know...when I left this Earth all those years ago, I was just a kid, and you were more like a father figure to me." The changeling cupped her chin in her hand and cocked an eyebrow, as she dialed up the glamour several notches. "How things change..."

Edited by Heritage

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If Archeville noted Lynn's slip up over Gretchen's name, his face showed no indication of it.  Instead, he tried to deflect with some humor, "well, there is Ace Danger, I think he's game for anyone.  And if you broaden out from 'unaging' to 'non-dying,' you've got folks like Avenger, or Dead Head."  He cracked a smile, then gave an actual chuckle.

 

Her next act brought a different reaction, of stern reproach.  "Now, Lynn, I know you've looked up to me, and we've shared many intense moments together..."

 

Too early to make a dom/sub joke?  Best to err on the side of caution and not go that route.

 

Tones of exaggeration and mockery began creeping into his voice, "but I was your employer, and it would be highly inappropriate for us to- I can't keep this up," his words trailed off into laughter.

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Lynn laughed, too, and it was warm and jovial; it was nice they could now talk and joke like equals. "Alright, alright; all kidding aside, it's good to have these conversations. It's good to think about the future, and our unique place in it." She sighed. "You're not the only hero who has past misdeeds to atone for; I hurt quite a few people before I got my priorities straight. I abused my powers selfishly and preyed on wealthy men. It's not enough to fight crime or root out supernatural evils; we need to think about how we can make a greater impact on the world."

 

Lynn's passion for the subject was palpable; clearly she'd become much more thoughtful with age, though she'd always been passionate.

Edited by Heritage

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