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January 25th, Saturday, 2020, 11.55PM

Outside Emerald Tower, downtown Emerald City, OR


The last lingering, heartrending notes pierced the chill night air, and UK's violin went silent. For a moment, all around Robin was an almost sacred hush as the renowned string virtuoso stood to take a bow. In the glare of red lamps that had filled the night sky, held in place by repulsor bands that turned clouds of countless paper shells into magnetically-unified pieces of airborne art, Robin saw K looking almost uneasy at the awestruck hush. Above and about flitted the newsdrones, covering the MarsTech New Years bash while other electric eyes took in events unfolding across the Emeralds. Of all the crowds, though, this was going to be the biggest.


There were familiar faces in the crowd, not like looming Chung was ever going to miss a chance to carry his "THE END IS NOW" signs where a camera was going to be, but on nights like this the comforting seas of familiarity was upset with crosswinds of newcomers, people who'd look at you funny and hurry on if you asked them how they werre doing. In that moment, though, all were united, Munchkin and outsider alike, by that same thrill through every heart. To make a sound would have been blasphemous.


Max Mars broke the spell, jumping out of the audience and onto the stage beside K with a single bound, applauding furiously with giant grin on his face. "Yue Kei, everybody! All you shapes and flavours out there, give her a big 'welcome home' hand!"


With admirable obedience the Emerald citizens cheered, the cold winter air blasted with steam from thousands of throats. In the heated shelter UK started, laughed despite herself, and bowed in rapid succession to different areas of the crowd.


Max grinned like an indulgent father. Switching off his mic, he and UK exchanged a word, the young woman nodding and beginning to clear up her music and put back her instruments. As she did so, Mars went on blithely.


"Nicely done! now, Kei has to leave us for the night, but stick around! Because on the stroke of midnight, as we enter a new year, I've got a little surprise for you...well, two surprises, but you'll see! Now, may I have a volunteer from the audience?" His brilliant green eyes scanning the crowd suddenly locked on Robin's. "Well hey-hey, Rob! Glad to see you could make it to another of my little shindigs! Like to come up?" he looked deeply chagrined as he added "I promise, no giant robots this time!"

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This was UK playing. Robin's eyes were lit up like the Christmas lights of last month, shining as she stared up at the scene. Of course she'd come for this, the MarsTech New Year's Bash was something she'd never miss, if nothing else to get a chance to get a good look at all of Max Mars' new ideas and innovations! And for the fun! It was always so much fun! This year probably wouldn't be any different from normal like that, but still, this was UK playing! It was already worth putting on a nice dress for this!


Robin quickly joined the cheer, eagerly clapping her hands and shouting for UK! She was complely absorbed, almost didn't hear what Max Mars said until he called her up. 


Robin froze. Her eyes went wide behind her classes, her hands stopping mid-clap. Last time Max Mars had called her up on stage, giant robots had been involved, yeah. She'd managed to switch to Justice, take care of the whole thing, and honestly, she'd felt kind of cheated at that, buuut... this was still her having to go up on stage, in front of everyone, and it was kind of scary to do that without her mask on. Justice could do it. Justice was made for the spotlight! Robin? Not so much.


Still... this was Max Mars calling her up on stage, by name! Her parents had to be watching from home, they'd see her, and... and this was Max Mars!


"Yes!" she finally shouted after a moment, pushing through the crowds and hurrying up the stairs to the stage, a great goofy grin on her lips. As she got up on the stage, everyone would be able to see her long dark red dress. It was a simple thing that reached at her ankles, though she wore sneakers under it. Too cold for nice shoes, she'd thought. She was wearing a small, open black jacket with fur trim around her neck on top of it, with her usual dark red backpack covered in pins behind. A bit of a mixed message, sure, but she was a bit of a mixed person, wasn't she? Her hair was done up in a long braid, which looked pretty awesome, if she'd say so herself.

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  • 2 weeks later...



"Thanks, Rob! See, people, this is the kind of trust money can't buy, what I hope all of us can share one day. And it's one half of the special surprise I have for the new year!"


An excited buzz began spreading through the crowd. Everyone had seen or been to a MarsTech product launch, and this was turning down a familiar and beloved road.  He was too short to comfortably put an arm around Robin's shouders, so Max gestured for her to follow him across the stage, to a curtained-off section near the back. Rubbing his hands together and shooting Robin a mischievous grin, Emerald City's favourite son asked a very simple, everyday question.


"Robin, how'd you like to be a superhero?"


The buzz around her began reaching a fever pitch.

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Robin followed, she was taken in. Of course she, this was Max freakin' Mars! He was her hero, maybe even more than any of the super heroes she had idolized. Well, in a different way at least. He was a hero in his own right, wasn't he? He could do the impossible, he had made impossible things, so of course she was gonna follow. 


With a wide grin, she walked behind him and over to the curtained-off section near the back. What was in there? It could be anything, right?


And then, the question. And for a moment Robin froze completely.


Did she want to be a super hero? She was completely blank for a moment. Did Max Mars know? Was it just coincidence? He was Max Mars. He might have figured it out. He was smart enough for it, even if she'd tried to be safe.


"I... errr..." Think quick, make a decision, any decision. "Yes, of course! I'd love to!" Nice, great! Deflection! Who'd think someone who was a super hero would want to be a super hero? Nice save!

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  • 2 weeks later...



"Well...now you can!" Mars swept a hand towards one of the curtains, Robin's quick eyes catching the flicker of his fingers controlling a BeliqOS remote input device somewhere onstage. It was a pivotal, much-touted feature in the upcoming Max Reality AR program, supposedly something that would let people explore and access the Emeralds without having to leave their homes. The closed beta was already leaking rumors of unparalleled disability access and making good on the promises of the digital age from decades ago, of a new way to interact with others and a better, more open future.


Unkind people, the regular stable of doubters and Luddites who had been prophesying doom and destruction and failure at every initiative taken by MarsTech in the last 27 years, had already been asking pointed questions about why Max felt the need to change the program's name from "Gemverse" to his.


And as an uncannily-similar suit to Robin's appeared from behind the curtain, those questions bubbled back up. It was her suit, standing on a Roman pedestal with MarsTech's subsidiaries logos splashed all over it. If not the one she had made, a close copy. 


"Rob, one and gokwai, starting tonight, anyone can become a hero!" At another flourish of his fingers, Mars revealed other suits risng from beneath the stage, each wildly different but borrowing from the Justice suit. "We've all dreamed of having powers, to fly like Captain Thunder, be one with the shadows like the Raven, to be stronger, faster, more super than we already are, and now with the Ultio Suit MarsTech is pleased to announce that dream is real!"


Over the now-roaring, cheering, applauding crowd, Mars' voiced boomed happily, the translator program now audibly sieving his words into dozens of languages echoing across the city "With the Ultio Suit you can become the hero! Customize your suit your way, with points earned from acting like a true hero! Face off against the bad guys, save others from disaster, or just enjoy being super! An uplink with the MarsTech TroubAlert account will keep you up to date on any perils, wrongdoers or even supervillains in the Emerald Cities!" 


A faint chorus of 'boos' were heard from the crowd, and Mars nodded unhappily "Yeah, you're right to be disappointed, folks! I've already prepared everything for worldwide release, but even with all the facts and expertise on our side my buddy, our good ol' Governor George, can't get this past AEGIS. Cops, am I right? No offense to our sea-greens, but seems like AEGIS' only job anymore is keeping all the power and innovation locked away from us, the people! But I've been having some very productive talks with the local branch director, and I have a feeling that might change soon!"


"Hey Robin!" he grinned up at the teenager "Wanna test your suit out?" He shouted to the crowd "That what you'd like to see, right folks? a little suiting up montage?"


The crowd screamed its approval.

Edited by Ari
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What was this?


Robin was just staring. That suit Those suits. That was hers. That was her tech, her Justice suit, just with some logos and bell and whistles. Variations on her design, on what she had worked hard to build, to figure out.






Just... just what?


She wasn't a good actor. She knew that. Helped when she put on her suit (and of course she'd brought the belt in her backpack, why wouldn't she bring the belt along, super stuff always happened at the most inconvenient times, after all), but this was something else entirely, right?


Robin was staring wild eyed up at the suits on the scene, she barely even heard what Max Mars was saying. Oooh, this was bad. Bad bad bad. So much worse than that guy that had used bits and pieces of her suits and used them to blow stuff up. So, so, so much worse. But Max Mars was a good guy, right? Had that going for it at least, right? C'mon, it was Max freakin' Mars, of course he was a good guy. He was spreading her tech, letting other people get to be heroes, too!


So why was she getting such a bad feeling about this? It wasn't just because that was her tech on the scene, being paraded around like something Max had created (and how did he even find her tech to duplicate? She'd been so careful not to leave any bits or pieces left behind, not since that guy that had stolen those bits and pieces to make his armor!), and she wasn't given any credit. 




Max had picked her out. For these suits.


Did he know about her? They had met a few times before, in and out of the armor, and Max Mars was smartMuch smarter than Robin. He could've figured it out. Wouldn't be surprising if he'd figured it out. And Robin hadn't even thought about him having figured it out.


But, but, but... maybe he hadn't figured it out. She should, she should play along, right? If nothing else, keep everyone else from finding out.


Robin suddenly felt very aware about how long she had spent just thinking about things, her eyes flickering between Max and the stage, when the crowd roaded at the suiting up montage.


"Ye-yeah. I guess so." Not nearly as enthusiastic as before, she knew that, of course. Couldn't help it. 


She couldn't leave her backpack behind, at least. The belt let her call on the newest version of her armor. More advanced than the version these suits seemed to be copied from. Carrying the backpack with her, she stood in front of the Ultio Suit that had first been revealed, eyes wide. She slowly placed the backpack next to the armor, then reached forward for the suit.


What was she doing? This all felt so, so wrong. She had to do it, right?


While the crowds watched, Robin started putting on the Ultio Suit.

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It reacted to her touch, opening up like an unfurling flower. Low, pulsing music began, the stage under her feet starting to gently rotate to show off every moment of Robin donning her heroic alter-ego.


The inside was comfortable, cushioned and supportive at the same time. A black fluid covered the inside, faintly warm and pleasant to the touch. Almost anticipating her movements, the Ultio suit slid over her arms and legs, adjusting subtly to mould the torso around her frame. Like a snake shedding its skin in reverse, Robin felt hidden artificial muscles and a kind of gelatinous mass wrap around her. It was comforting, despite the circumstances, like she was being hugged from all sides. Finally, the helmet descended over her head, an augmented reality interface whooshing to life over the visor as a forcefield snapped into place in front of her face.


Reams of data and a bewildering array of options were at a twitch of her eyes, with plenty of space to just look out into the world. A world spinning slowly to a halt as a crowd passed in and out of eyesight, a beaming Mars, still a good ways shorter than her, in black and green with a dragon-like aesthetic.


"So, Rob!" he was shouting, an affectation for the stage rather than a necessity. His much-milder voice was coming in loud and and clear over an audio link, with captions identifying him and giving his tone on the visor.


CEO Maximilian Mars: [Encouraging, Wonderment] Wow, folks! She looks like a hero already, doesn't she?


The crowd loudly agreed.


CEO Maximilian Mars: [Parental] I've never seen someone take to the suit so easily! What kind of powers are you thinking for Robin Langley, Warrior of Justice?


Hollered suggestions, a segment of the options lighting up. Load-Out.


500 Hero Points were in her account already. She could afford one of the power packs, helpfully laid out with stylized examples of what kind of costume best fit it. 


There was an annoying golden light at the edge of her vision.

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Oh god, there was a freaking soundtrack too. Mars had thought about everything here, hadn't he? Of course he had. He was Max freaking Mars


The fluid was new. Not something she'd come up with, at least. It wasn't just her ideas at play here, then. Robin wasn't sure if she felt better or worse about that. As the helmet slid down over her head and the AR interface came to life, well... she felt off having her face exposed like this when in an armor. This wasn't how she worked normally. She really didn't need people to know everything about her.


And those captions were just weird. Useful, but weird. Maybe there was some way to turn them off?


She took a step forward, raising a hand and waving with a bit of hesitation, then froze completely when Max called her a warrior of justice. Come on, that could not just be a coincidence. He knew. Somehow, he knew. She was completely, absolutely sure that Max Mars knew that she was Justice. She had no idea how, but he had found her tech, he had used her tech and now, he was letting her know.


At least he was a good guy. Could've been much worse if someone bad found out, right?


She took a deep breath and lowered her hand, while looking at Max. Alright, alright. Chill. Stay in character. He might know, but nobody else did, and she was Robin Lynne Langley, super hero fan girl. This was the chance of a life time, and she had 500 hero points. Aqua pack, Blaster pack, Flight pack, Stealth pack and Tank pack available. That was, well... not an overwhelming amount of options. All labelled starter packs. Had to mean that she could get access to something else at some point. That weird golden light was distracting. What was it?


"Seems like I got access to a number of power packs. Any recommendations, Mr. Mars?" 


Yes. Stall a bit. And... what was that weird golden light. She at least tried to turn to get a good look at it.

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  • 3 weeks later...



Robin turned to face the light, and the light saw her. A moment and it had condensed into many staring, faceted eyes. Another and it surged to a flood, a tidal wave of scouring gold that blasted over the stage, over the crowd, over the intersection. Like round, smooth teeth, the light bit this fragment of the world free, and swallowed it.


Quickly it appeared and even faster it was gone, dissipating to reveal the all-too familiar sight of Z-Space.


"What is this?!" wailed someone, the rest of the crowd too busy staring in goggle-eyed shock to say anything.


"Another dimension, my friends!" Max smiled proudly "One that we will be seeing a lot more of in time to holy God people get down!" Mars' Ultio suit snapped out a set of blasters as something winged and shrieking rocketed out of the sky!


"Rob! Flight pack! I'll cover us from the ground!" he bellowed.

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Lights, all those lights. Robin raised an arm. The armor felt different than her own. Brand new, a bit stiff, probably needed to be worn to feel good to wear, not that it was really uncomfortable or anything like that, it just felt off, somehow. It wasn't her armor.


Back to the lights. It was... it was weird. They moved all over, but Max Mars didn't seem bothered at all, like it was all part of the show, so it was probably good, right? 


Then they bit into the world, pulling it away to reveal Z-Space.


What the actual #%&¤.


Z-Space. How did Max Mars know about Z-Space? Alright, he was a genius, he was brilliant, much smarter than Robin, she knew all that, but damn, Z-Space, that was supposed to be her thing, the thing she knew about, her safe place, her workshop, not... not just something everyone would know about. And opening a huge portal like that? That seemed really dangerous. All kinds of beasts and things out there, all very very dangerous. 


And... yep, a monster. Something big and winged and scary and Robin would really prefer to be in her own suit if she was gonna fight a big and scary monster, but she couldn't really do that right now, could she?


"A-Alright." Her voice was trembling. It wasn't all a show. She was genuinely freaking out. 


Shifting through the options, she choose the flight pack... and the suit more or less grew a jetpack in a matter of moments? That was... weird. What kinda tech just grew new parts when necessary? So so weird. That part wasn't stolen from her, at least.


Trying it out a bit, the controls seemed pretty intuitive, aaand... she had lift off, flying up to face the winged monster.




How was she even gonna fight in this thing? It didn't have any weapons! Was she just gonna punch and kick it?

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  • 3 weeks later...



Lifting off from the ground, Robin did her best to control the thrust and the movement. It was weird, flying like this... all she normally did was quick boosts, not sustained flight in this way and and... 


Alright. Game time. No more doubt, this was all so weird and strange, but really, she had to focus! Whatever Mars had done, however he had gotten to her tech and copied it, that would have to wait, because right now, people were in danger. 


Unless it was all part of Mars' show...


No, no. Focus.


Blasting forward, Robin propelled herself towards the flying terror from Z-Space, twisting herself around in mid-air to at least try and deliver a kick to the beast.

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  • 2 weeks later...



The hit to the leathery hide rebounded, the creature's ugly avian head twisting about in mingled surprise and anger, the dimensional being  turning from the large crowd of intruders to focus on the member of the herd who'd come forward to answer their challenge. Before they could do more than croak, however, a barrage of scintillating light sizzled against its skin!


Below, Max Mars stood resplendent in his draconic armor, the snarling snout jutting from his head smoking around the emitters, the jovial inventor straining against the force of his creation's furious attack!


Unfortunately, as the haze and smoke cleared, the winged creature flew past Robin, unharmed and maddened, focused now on the thing that had stung its eyes!


Mars turned, and his amplified voice blasted across the dismembered city street "Everyone! Listen! There's nobody coming to save us! we're the only heroes here! Who wants to save the day?!" 


For a second, everyone looked at each other. The call never comes to a group, right?


The monster let loose an ear-splitting scream, jaws unhinging to reveal a mouth brimming with crooked fangs! Some people ran, others froze, more began to cry.


Then an old man yelled into the silence "Max! I'm in!" his battered, salt-stained coat and weatherbeaten face revealed him to be one of the Jadetown fishermen, even besides his thick Cantonese accent.


"Me too!" A young Clatsop woman in a crisp new suit dashed forward through the crowd, jumping to be seen among the bodies, "I'm in, Max!" 


Galvanized, most of the crowd surged forward, compact cases flung to outstretched arms by Mars and a few loyal stagehands, grey armor snapping and sliding into place around old suits, new winter wear, jet boots forming over sneakers, mighty gauntlets coalescing over hands of every shape, size and colour in the human spectrum!


"Avengers!" Max shouted, pointing a dramatic claw at the freshly bewildered beast, "go!"

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That... didn't work at all. Robin stared at the thing. If she was wearing her own armor it might have done something, but she wasn't, was she? She looked down at her backpack, her belt was in it... she could fly down and grab it... Saving everyone was more important than a secret ID, right?




Robin was just about to go, when Max Mars called out to everyone, and the beast screamed at them. Robin threw her hands up, covering her ears. The sound was way too loud, it hurt, but... No. Grabbing her own armor would take too long. And Max was throwing armors everywhere, to everyone.


And another realization crept up on Robin, as Max Mars talked. The way he was talking, everything he was shouting... sure, Max Mars was bombastic, but all of this, the monster, the armors, the speech? What if Max Mars had prepared everything? What if this was all just a stunt to get his suits the attention he wanted?


He had stolen her armor, he had used her tech, mixed it with whatever else was in these armors. That was one thing, right? Bad, but not that bad, but... but bringing in a monster like this, somehow getting something from Z-Space to come here? Would he really do that? Could he really do that?


It didn't matter right now. It couldn't matter right now. Full power to the boosters, Robin set off directly for the beast, tackling it and grabbing on to it, doing her best to pull it back to give everyone else a clear shot. 


She would have to worry about Mars next. Right now? Right now she had to save lives.

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