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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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