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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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"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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"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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