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Kingston, Freedom City New Jersey

Late Fall 2019, 10:30 PM


Since the Terminus Invasion of 2018, much of Kingston had consisted of ruined buildings and empty streets. Only the most minimal efforts to start to rebuild had begun, and mainly along the boarder sections with other North Freedom neighborhoods, leaving the majority of the center of the formerly historic neighborhood still largely abandoned and in shambles.


Now, those that frequented the Kingston area were those that wished to be unobserved or otherwise isolated from the more crowded and active sections of Freedom City, while still maintaining a close proximity to the rest of the city. A small figure in a trench coat made its way through one of the empty streets in the heart of Kingston, moving among the shadows with a seeming confidence that there was nothing to fear among the dark ruins.


The figured walked for several blocks along the cracked and broken sidewalks, stopping a few times to peer around towards the dark recesses of the nearby buildings. Eventually the figure turned into a dark alleyway and was seemingly swallowed by the darkness within. If anyone had been following the figure, it would have seemed they had vanished into thin air in the alley.


However, the figure continued on its journey dozens of feet beneath the cluttered streets, moving along a path through the partially flooded sewer tunnels that ran under Kingston. The figure still moved at a steady pace, perfectly at home in the dark, damp confines of the sewers.


After passing through several city blocks of tunnels, the figure came to a bend in a tunnel where a section of wall had collapsed, beyond was a larger open area that appeared to be a half buried subway station. Several tables of various shapes and sizes had been set up along one of the platforms and were covered with a variety of scientific equipment.


Another section of the platform had been turned into a makeshift living area, with a bed and some other furniture set up. The entire area was partially lit by several emergency lights that had been placed around the platforms. The result of the makeshift lighting was that there were sections of the platforms that where relatively well lit, while the rest of the station was cast in shadows of various depths.


The figure moved onto the platform containing the collection of tables, stopping briefly to look at some of the equipment as it went by, before coming to a mostly empty table. The figure sat a large duffle bag onto this table and began carefully removing various objects from within it.


As the figure was focused on its task the almost oppressive silence of the chamber was interrupted by a cold voice from somewhere among the shadows. "Good evening Dr. Seidel."


The figure quickly turned away from the table, scanning the illuminated section of the platforms, even as he edged towards some of the nearby shadows. "Who are you?" The man asked, his tone a bit surprise but not necessarily concerned or frightened.


"Someone who has spent some time trying to locate you." The voice from the shadows simply replied.


The  trench coat clad figure identified as Dr. Seidel moved into one of the deep shadows near the collection of tables. "You will soon wish you had not done so." Dr. Seidel responded, his voice deepening and straining slightly as he did so. This was followed by a few pained grunts and groans before the shadows went silent.


Then, a large figure could faintly be seen climbing among some of the shadows above the platforms lit by the emergency lights. "So, you can now change your shape at will." Stated the cold voice that again seemed to come from multiple directions at once.


"All the more reason you will regret coming down here." Replied a deep, partially hissing voice from the large shape crawling along one of the uppers walls of abandoned station.


"Perhaps." Replied the cold voice. "But I believe there is a way we may help one another with mutual goals."


The large figures stopped, peering out to scan the darkest areas of around station with yellow reptilian eyes. "I suspect there is little you can offer which I will be interested in." It replied in almost a growl.


"I believe we may help one another in striking out against the Second Raven." The cold voice replied from the darkness.


There was a long pause as the yellow eyes of the large figure peered out at the shadows around the station platforms. "Go on, you have my interest."

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Hanover Zoo

Hanover, Freedom City, New Jersey

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

9:42 AM


A small yellow school bus pulled into the parking lot of the Hanover Zoo, continuing along toward the drop off area located near the zoo entrance. Inside the bus were several students from Claremont Academy, in particular members of Green Squad.


The outing to the zoo had been arranged by Veronica Danger, one of the returning members of the squad from last year. The Danger Institute had been partnering with the zoo on several conservation programs for a number of endangered species under the zoo’s care. Veronica had brought the other members of her squad along to get a backstage tour of the facilities for the program and a chance to get a close look at several of the animals, which included a pair of rare giant tortoise.


"We are almost there Prudence." Veronica said into her cellphone as she looked out one of the buses windows. Those that had been on Green Squad the previous year were well familiar with the personal assistant to both Veronica and her cousin Janus. As so often was the case, Prudence had handled the vast majority of the logistics for the visit.


"No, I still think it is fine that you are not going to be here for the visit." Veronica continued. "I am sure there is plenty of other matters that need your attention at the office."

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As he'd boarded the bus, Ben Wang quickly flipped over so that he was walking on the ceiling. "What up Squaddies! I mean, other than me..." He made his way to the back, greeting each student he passed with the usual grin, pair of finger-guns, and some kind of nickname.


"Lara Croft!"






"Shape o' Water!"


"Johnny Cash Junior!"


When the driver insisted that he couldn't sit on the ceiling while the vehicle was in motion, he rolled his eyes and dropped down into a seat with a loud sigh.


As soon as the bus doors opened, one of Ben's tentacles shot out from the back seats, making a *SPLAT* noise as it stuck to the inner windshield. The tentacle retracted in an instant, yanking Ben to the front of the bus in the blink of an eye and nearly decapitating anyone who'd peeked around their seat to look. He skipped the staircase, bounding out directly onto the ground.


"I LOVE THE SMELL OF NATURE IN THE MORNING!" He turned back to the bus and clapped his hands together. "Move it, Peeps! Stuff ta see and things ta do, chop chop, forward march, a-holes an' elbows! We don't wanna miss feedin' time! Squirtle's gonna do a monch, and it's gonna be super-effective! I read on the way here they'll eat whatever you put in front of 'em as long as it's not moving! Veggies, roadkill, even other turtles! You thought they were vegans, turns out they're just lazy!" He turned back toward the zoo, tapped a fist against his chest, and pointed. "Yo, I can relate. I feel ya." He turned back to the bus and stood off to one side of the doors. "Hey, I'm that guy who's always standing next to the helicopter in war movies. 'GO GO GOOO!!!'"


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Heroditus had been one of the first ones on the bus, and the normally stoic Atlantean was practically bouncing with excitement as the others boarded.  "Yes, yes, come, come!  We should have left by now!"  He was very eager to see all the "exotic" land animals, which was to say all the land animals, and anything else they had.  During the ride, he asked the others what their favorite animals were, which transitioned to talk of pets.  When asked about his own pets, he assembled his hologram-casting circlet from the components in his pouches to produce images of Marmo, a marbled electric ray.  "He's been with me since I was six!"


 He bounded out after Ben, paused for a quick drink from his waterskin, and hopped from foot to foot as he waited for the others to disembark. 

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Danica had been to the zoo many times since she'd moved to Freedom City, including several previous field trips. That didn't even make her a tiny bit less excited to be going to the zoo today, however! She'd filled any moment of silence the others had left during the van ride with facts about the zoo in general and about tortoises in specific, and by the time the driver had gotten her Segway unstoked and off the bus, she was all but vibrating with excited impatience. "Can we see the tortoises first?" she asked, climbing onto the scooter and steering it in a tight circle. "I want to see the new habitat! My parents helped consult on it, but I haven't seen it since they finished!" 

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Micah Roebuck was more of a mechanical guy than an animal guy. He had no real desire to go into biology, zoology, or really any of the -ogy sorts of studies. He had no innate desire to, like, hug a turtle or something. But he was also still at least a bit of a kid at heart, and zoos were pretty cool. He had a solid team group, and so he was looking forward to the trip. The energy and excitement of his fellow students had fed that, at least a bit.


Which was why he was on the ball enough that when he leaned into the aisle and looked back toward where the surprise tentacle came from, that he just used super-speed to duck out of the way. He smiled as he lobbed a complaint forward.


"Watch it, Sir Armsalot!"


Yeah, Micah was definitely a bit more sassy than normal. And if you looked outside, the weather was great. The young weather controller stood and walked toward the front of the bus, hefting his small backpack back on as he did so. He waited by the door to help anyone out who needed it. Danica got a helping hand onto her Segway, but everyone else was looking pretty well on top of things. 


"I think that's an entirely reasonable thing, Danica. That's pretty cool! Did they lay out all the plans, or just the rough drafts and major ideas?"

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Veronica Danger


Having gotten off the phone with Prudence, Veronica was free from distractions to be ready for Ben suddenly shooting to the front of the bus pulled by one of his tentacles. Thankfully her years of traveling the world with her parents and the related adventures had resulted in pretty quick reflexes, so she had little trouble making sure she was out of the other student’s path.


With Micha given a mild verbal rebuke, Veronica simply gave a small shake of her head, though she could appreciate the enthusiasm shown by Ben and some of her other squad mates.

Following closely after Ben, the teenage Danger stepped off the bus and looked around the front entrance of the zoo for a moment. As always, Veronica was dressed as if she were getting ready to hike off into the wilderness, grey cargo pants, a fleece top and well broken in hiking boots. Because of the colder weather, she had a rugged dark green winter parka.


"Sure Danica, we can do that." Veronica said in agreement with Micha at the other girl's question about starting with the tortoises and their habitat first. "We just need to meet with our guide and get our badges first." Spotting a zoo employee heading their way the teen then added, "and it looks like they have found us."


A women in her mid-thirties wearing a jacket with the zoo’s logo on the front was making her way over toward the group of Claremont students. "Miss Danger?" The woman asked as she approached the group. "Good morning, I am Molly Ellison, one of the assistant zoologists here. We are very pleased to have you and your classmates here today for a tour of the facilities your family's foundation has helped fund."


"Here are your badges for our tour." Ms. Ellison continued as she passed out a badge for each student to wear around their necks and started leading the group towards the zoo entrance.

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When asked about his own pets, Heroditus assembled his hologram-casting circlet from the components in his pouches to produce images of Marmo, a marbled electric ray.


"Oh hey, that kinda looks like the fish that bit me!" Ben pulled his smartphone and brought up a picture of a blue-ringed octopus. "Tiny little dude, thought he was cute 'till I felt the pinch and started puking my guts up all over the pavement."



"Can we see the tortoises first?" Danica asked, climbing onto her Segway and steering it in a tight circle.


"Yeah, I'm with Wheels here." Ben pointed a thumb at Danica. "Let's go say 'Shello'."



"We just need to meet with our guide and get our badges first."


"Badges? We don't need no stinkin' BADGES! ...No? Nuthin'? *SIGH* Look, just ask your parents...'s parents...'s parents. Friggin' swear, man, I'm the only one here who knows anything about CULTURE."



"...And it looks like they have found us."


"But not if WE find THEM FIRST! ...Wait, no, that doesn't work."



"Good morning, I am Molly Ellison, one of the assistant zoologists here. We are very pleased to have you and your classmates here today for a tour of the facilities your family's foundation has helped fund."


Ben slid up next to Dr. Ellison. "YOOO, Molly! Wait, sorry, 'DOCTOR Molly'! 'Doc Molly'? Nah, we gotta come up with a name for ya that doesn't sound like yer sellin' pills out of a nightclub bathroom. Sooo, is it true that the turtles'll eat another turtle if it's dead and, like, not as far away as other food? 'Cause, seriously, I can relate. Any of you guys kick the bucket, y'all better hope there's a bag of frozen taquitos and a microwave sittin' between me and you, otherwise it's down the hatch, know what I mean?"


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"A kyanos dachtylidi?!," Heroditus exclaimed when he saw the creature on Ben's phone.  "You are lucky to be alive, then!  Their venom is exceedingly lethal.  It is a blessing that they are so very docile -- wait, no, the proper phrase is 'chill,' yes?  And you say the bite of this is what gave you your abilities?"  He leaned back a bit and made a sound somewhere between a whistle and a series of clicks.  "I do not think I shall ever adjust to how," he paused a moment, seeking an appropriate yet inoffensive word, "malleable Surface Humans can be."


Ben's next few outbursts drew uncomprehending looks from the Atlantean, owing largely to having no idea what he was referring to.  The cannibalism comment, though, which mirrored what little he knew of Deep One funerary practices, drew a sincerely horrified look.  "Is... is that a mindset you developed after your..." he gestured vaguely in his direction, not sure what the zoo's staff knew of their background and thus what was allowed to be said in regards to their powers, "or is that a... a family tradition?"


Does Octo-Ben have a Deep One lurking in his ancestry?  Could that be why the bite changed him instead of killing him?  This may warrant closer investigation.

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"And you say the bite of this is what gave you your abilities?" He leaned back a bit and made a sound somewhere between a whistle and a series of clicks. "I do not think I shall ever adjust to how," he paused a moment, "malleable Surface Humans can be."


"That's the theory, yeah. I mean, I didn't have powers before I got bit, and I had 'em after, so it'd be, like, the freakin' Gigantosaur of coincidences if they were just totally unconnected. But it wasn't a normal octopus. The truck that hit me had a whole buncha animals, all super-poisonous. The labcoats at ASTRO caught a couple of 'em, and they said they were radioactive and their DNA was messed with BIGTIME. Big mad-scientist lizard-dude probably still tryin' to find a cure for bein' a big lizard-dude. Most of 'em got away when the truck crashed. They're probably still crawlin' around in the sewers under us." Ben looked down at the ground and waved. "Hiii Poisonous Radioactive Death-Monsters!" He looked back up at Heroditus. "But the poison still shoulda killed me, so maybe I got somethin' else goin' on, dunno." He shrugged.



"Is... is that a mindset you developed after your..." he gestured vaguely in his direction, "or is that a... a family tradition?"


"What, cannibal turtles? Nah, man, that's just on Wikipedia." He held up his smartphone, showing a browser window with a Google search for "cannibal tortoise". "See? Wait...you thought I was SERIOUS about EATING YOU? Dude. DUDE. Like you said, CHILL. Joke. Sarcasm. Verbal irony. HA-HA."


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