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Field Test (IC)

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"As someone who's been propelled into cement a few times please don't test that!" Chitin called as he hopped a half-step away from the robots engaging him and lashed out midair with a pair of snap kicks powered by his amour which reduced the general areas where the gearboxes responsible for their locomotion must have been to screeching, sparking scrap metal. He rebounded from the attack high into the air flipping into a backwards bicycle kick that took the robot attempting to menace Nocturne in the space between its head and shoulder, cleanly separating the two while the talkative teen landed upright next to his new friend.

 

He caught the airborne robot head in one hand like a basketball. "She's kinda bouncing between being super focused on one thing and ignoring the obvious problem with it and being really easily distracted by all sorts of tangents, right? I'm not a professional or anything but I do sort of know that feeling." He turned the head over to inspect it briefly. "Like, this is actually really good work but all of this is a really dumb way to use it." He tossed the head over his shoulder and sighed, putting his hands on his hips. "We're probably going to have to force her to stop before she'll sit down and talk it out. Man."

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GM

 

"Thank you for noticing the work! I do appreciate it, honestly. These really aren't my best, but they're functional, and as a professional it's nice to be recognized." If their mystery villain had heard the less-complimentary things Chitin had to say, she wasn't showing it. She didn't sound insulted, at least. "Were those kicks random, or did you find their central engines that quickly? It's impressive, either way; I've already noted the need for better gyroscopes, and harder shielding on the gearboxes may go a long way. This is all really very useful."

 

Ryder's assault left only the blaster-bots standing - or, well, sitting, but with a momentary lull in the combat they clanked back up onto their feet and leveled their guns again. Chitin, in his moving and flipping, was a target too erratic to track properly; Nocturne made for a nice, stationary target, but the shots that came her way lensed around her body in a perfect sphere, sheering off her nearly-invisible bubble in tangents to strike the surrounding walls. "....and more firepower, I think, if it's in-budget," mused the voice on the speakers. "That really is disappointing, I was sure at least one of them would get through."

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Nocturne could feel her bubble constricting a bit under the fire, but she had it under control. Right? Visibly, certainly, she had it under control, and the tight fist she was making was probably just how her powers worked. "I think she's like every mad scientist I've ever met," she said, with a tone to imply that she'd met a few. "You and I see the obvious problem but she doesn't because she has a head that's more gears than sense. Why bother even having these tests if she's--" One of the robots shot her bubble dead-center and it pushed her back a fraction of an inch, cutting her off; she took a deep and measured breath. 

 

"I'm talking," she rebuked; with a wave of her hand one of the shattered robots lifted off the ground and accelerated toward its energy-firing fellow. She'd missed, and she could already tell that she'd missed, but another quick save of her hand dragged the target sideways just in time to bring its head in line with her projectile, and she could at least pretend that had been on purpose. The now-headless robot sputtered and sank back down to the floor. "Don't interrupt, it's rude."

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"It's easy to miss problems when you're focusing on achieving your dream," Chitin noted with a shrug just before a blaster shot near eye level sent him ducking down into a roll. "You're right about it being hard to have this conversation in the middle of fighting robots though, yeah!" He bobbed and weaved as he closed the distance between himself and the remaining automatons and took a few jabs in return. His heart didn't seem to be in it however, as he gave more attention to examining the workmanship and trying to understand the mind that had made those design choices than he gave to reducing them to inert chunks. "Why even build soldier drones if you're not actually trying to hurt people?"

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GM

"I think I have what I need." The only two robots standing dropped their arms, blasters going dim as they audibly powered down, joints locking in a slumped but upright position. The room was very quiet, now, past the hiss of the speakers and some sputtering wreckage. "Thank you! That was very useful, you put up a much better fight than previous test runs. I think I'm not very satisfied with this model's performance, but with some work I can probably salvage most of what you've left behind. Ah, but I can't do that until you actually leave, so let's get on that."

 

The far wall of the chamber had a door to match the basement entrance, and this too ground open on unseen gears to admit the heroes to one more featureless, intermittently-lit cement corridor. "I understand if you want to rest, but don't wait too long. And do take this as seriously as if it weren't just a test, I really am trying to get some usable data."

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Nocturne almost dropped her shield, bubble fading before she caught her own bad reflex and brought it back to full strength. Weakness.

 

"Well done, Cricket," she said, striding across broken machinery to look the two battle-worn blaster-bots straight in the...well, not the eyes, exactly. The sensors? "I still want to put her through a cement wall, I think. Perhaps more than ever. You said you had experience - would you rate it better or worse than being kicked repeatedly in the face?"

 

She looked back over at the armor-clad hero, golden irises flashing as the two robots slammed backwards into a wall. "If science is so important," she said in a voice like a sharpened dagger, "I think it's important we do studies of our own when we catch up to her." She gestured, a tiny thing, toward the open door. "After you, Cricket."

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Chitin tapped his gloved index fingers together pensively. "So I'm picking up that you've had some bad experiences with, like, experimentation? Unethical 'ends justify the means' sort of stuff?" He ducked his head in apology and started off in the direction Nocturne had indicated. "Sorry if it sounded like I was defending, y'know, all of this. It's just that I built this armour so I could help people, not just be stronger than anyone I disagree with." His tone suggested he considered that to be a ridiculous reason to do anything and considered the point self-evident.

 

As he walked he held up a hand to the side of his helmet's mouth plate as though trying to prevent anyone from overhearing. "And it was easy to tell where their locomotion gearboxes were because she made them humanoid. Like, where else was it going to be? Boring design. Right, Black?" The glossy black robotic beetle made clicks of agreement as it followed along on one wall of the corridor.

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Nocturne narrowed her eyes, short-heeled ankle boots tapping against the floor as she followed. "I've....some, yes. But not the way you're thinking."

 

Floor lamps were spaced more or less evenly down the long hallway, and she idly reached out with one finger, wispy black particles turning a lamp on its base to follow them for a bit. "Robots aside, I'm not some victim of science - but I've met the type. I think you're right, I think she could have built something better. I think she's installed robots and cameras in a long corridor in her underground base just to put people through it, and it bothers me that we don't know why."

 

"It's not mine, technically speaking," squawked the voice from a television partway down the hall, lighting up in static before the sound and image settled. The camera transmitting from her...office? lab? it was poorly-lit, either way, which made it hard to tell...had been moved to the side, apparently, or perhaps it was a new camera entirely; she was standing in front of a large dry-erase board, looking over notes. "I'm using it, but if I'd built it I'd have put the rooms closer together, maybe resized them for more optimal combat conditions. I'd definitely have laid down proper power cabling and spared us all the extension cables and terrible camera placement. It's really awful, and I'm disappointed in whatever group dug this all out years ago before abandoning it."

 

"....you're squatting."

 

"Repurposing. Salvaging space?" She shrugged, light gleaming off those metal-clad hands. "I did mean to track down the original title on the property, but I had so much else to do and I needed the room on short notice."

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"Okay but why?Chitin demanded, arms wide in obvious exasperation. "Why did you need it on short notice? What's the deadline for? Why do you need a bunch of robot drone soldiers? Seriously, if it's just to sell them to fund something else I'm going to be... I mean, not throw-somebody-through-cement angry but definitely getting there." His animated body language made the threat seem less serious but the way the sound of a fist hitting his palm echoed in the corridor brought it some of the way back around.

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They'd moved past the television and around a sharp corner, and that apparently rendered them exempt from whatever replies their villain of today might have summoned up; no televisions in this corridor, and very little in the way of speakers, just scattered cameras and lights and what looked an awful lot like a door at the end, at long long last.

 

It was all wrong, though. It didn't immediately look all wrong, but to Chitin's keen eye it had to be. There were too many strange breaks between the otherwise regularly pattern of work lights that shone their way, a few too many cameras spaced in oddly awkward places pointed in curious directions. Large bare patches of wall and floor and too-neatly-arranged extension cable screamed negative space in a way that didn't gel with the rest of the hallways they'd seen to date. And were those little holes in the wall a ways down, disguised as exposed rebar?

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Chitin stopped in his tracks and cocked his head to the side. "Hold up a sec," he asked Nocturne as she walked up behind him, simultaneously increasing the gain on the HUD overlay his helmet showed him into the ultraviolet spectrum. "The room's all weird, see? Like there's something that's supposed to be-- ah, yeah, bunch of laser tripwires all over the  floor." He looked over his shoulder and shrugged at the other teenager. "Too much empty space, right? When you're building a bunch of stuff nothing ends up cleared off like that unless you need to use it for something. Anyway!" He looked up and down, considering. "Hey, can you reverse gravity so we can walk on the ceiling? That'd be perfect!"

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Nocturne was quiet for a long moment, hands folded across her chest as she followed Chitin's description across the floor and around the walls. "That makes sense," she said. "So this is, what, stage two? We did the robots and now it's tripwires and traps? This isn't even a proper lair, it's a...."

 

She trailed off and started tapping her foot, running her eyes back across the corridor and then staring at the camera for a solid ten seconds.  "....I know what this is. She makes lairs. You make lairs for villains." She was pointing, accusingly, at the nearest camera...but there wasn't much response. "This isn't her hideout, it's a showcase. A lab. She doesn't use these things because she sells them to other people - all those big doors and tech and traps have to come from somewhere. She's a contractor. She's running lab tests on prototypes, and she's using us as rats."

 

Nocturne bit her lip, lifting one of the work lights with a gesture and a distressing sparking noise as it tore free from its own power cable. "But she sells this stuff to people who expect trouble, and real trouble wears a cape...and flies." She sent the work light sailing along the ceiling, and it made it almost to the halfway mark before what should have been a air vent blew fire across the room, sending a half-melted piece of wreckage down to the ground. Chitin could see it trip a laser before immediately getting struck by arcs of electricity from the exposed 'rebar'. "I can absolutely walk us across the ceiling, Cricket. But we're going to need a plan to deal with that."

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Chitin threw his head back and made an irritated sound. "You'd think she'd have a little more respect for gig economy workers, then. Gross. Black, could you take a closer look at that for us?" The robug made a clicking approximation of a grumble and began crawling cautiously up the wall and across the ceiling to the air vent. He was able to get close enough to send a video feed back to Chitin without triggering the trap.

 

"Ah, yeah, cheaped out on the camera, that's just a commercial model hooked up to the flamethrower. Cut-off for activation would be any slower than, like, walking speed. Could probably break the cover with a good punch if I was up there or if you just want to, y'know." He mimed crushing something between two gripping hands. "Crunch. Or we could slo~o~o~owly slide something in front to block the camera! Take your pick."

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"I don't usually do subtlety," said the young woman in well-fitting black and gold, "but I don't think I want to be on fire today. Slowly, was it? How slow?"

 

Nocturne pulled another work light off the floor and off its cable, letting it drift up against the wall and slide, unsteadily, toward the vent. It wasn't a perfect process - the light earned a half-hearted guttering flame when it skipped across the surface of the vent at one point - but with Chitin for guidance and Black to nudge things into place the vent was well-covered and silent...for as long as she could hold a light in front of it.

 

Precision was always more tiring, but she'd had practice. "So far so good. Come along, Cricket." She had one hand gesturing toward the light, and with the other she spread her fingertips toward the ground; a dim ten-foot field of swirling motes bloomed under her feet, and she started to casually walk up the wall. "Stay in the circle unless you want to fall, and do try not to fall because I need you next to me to block the fire if we set it off by accident. That....was cleverly-spotted," she admitted, with noticeable hesitation. "Have you spent a lot of time with deathtraps?"

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"Thanks! Ah, this is super cool, haha!" Chitin replied cheerfully, observing his own feet as he walked inside Nocturne's circle of influence with fascination. "Your powers wild! Did you make your outfit to match the particles or can you change the particles to match what you're wearing? Strong aesthetic choices, either way!" As they switched planes again to travel along the ceiling he put his hands behind his helmeted head and considered. "Deathtraps, huh? Not really, unless you count stuff I've built. Like, wearing a bunch of heavy machinery around your squishy, breakable human bits isn't super safe, especially when I was testing it during development. For sure could have hurt myself way worse than I did and that's before even getting into the whole dimensional, folding space aspect. Which is why you don't test this stuff on other people, right?!"

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"The particles are what they are." Nocturne liked this topic; she was trying to not let it show. "I have some control over how many of them are around, but not their basic color. Since my hair's black and my eyes are gold, the outfit colors mostly worked themselves out."

 

Once they were past the vent, she dropped the light; this earned the hallway a quick blast of fire and a burst of spikes from what had looked like a solid concrete floor, but that was no longer their problem - in short order they'd reached the doorway. "Dropping now," she said, gesturing at the floor; the ceiling no longer held them, but their fall back to a right-side-up world was much too slow for normal gravity. She even managed to very gracefully flip back upright before landing - she'd practiced that. Was she sweating? She'd better not be. "If you wear the deathtrap, Cricket, I'm pretty sure the answer to 'Do you spend a lot of time with deathtraps?' is 'Yes, I spend a lot of time with deathtraps, and also I'll stand a few feet further away from you, Nocturne.'"

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"Your eyes are gold?!” Chitin tried to turnaround to face Nocture and get a better look while staying in the circle of reversed gravity but had to abort the attempt as they dropped back to the floor. He landed in a three-point crouch, metal and carbon fibre echoing off of concrete in the largely empty room before he bounced back up to his feet excitedly. "Cool.” Black fluttered down along with them and landed atop his head like a horned hat. "This version of the suit’s not that dangerous! Better than getting shot by robots or guys named Mike.”

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"Yes, it is cool, and that's extremely specific, Cricket," said Nocturne with pursed lips. "Been making a few enemies of Michaels, have we? A well-armed Anti-Cricket Michael Empire? What have you been up to."

 

She dropped an eyebrow, peering upward toward the door to their next challenge. "I suppose it would make some kind of sense," she admitted; "I don't think I've ever known a Michael who wasn't some kind of terrible. Considering how you handled those robots, I hope you made them rue the day they choose their name and target. It's the only way a Michael will ever learn."

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"I wouldn't say 'enemies'!" Chitin protested, holding up both hands in front of himself. "See, he was just super down about a fight he had with his friend and I gave him sort of a pep talk only I kinda assumed they were trying to start up like a food truck business and not selling assault weaponry out of an abandoned warehouse. Really, I think there was a lot we agreed on in principle but things escalated a bit when it came down to specifics, y'know?" The armoured youth shrugged helplessly, a gesture exaggerated slightly by the plates on his shoulders. "Hopefully we can talk again once he gets out of jail. I'll be honest though, it's a little frustrating to be dealing with somebody else who just wants to sell things to people who want to hurt other people. Like, what are the chances? Oh!" He straightened abruptly, having been momentarily distracted from their immediate objective. "Was your 'mad scientist' person named Michael, too? That'd be wild."

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Nocturne stared at Chitin for a moment, impassively, trying to figure out if he was pulling her leg. She was pretty sure he wasn't, and that was concerning. ".....no," she said, slowly, "I'm pretty sure he was a bookie."

 

She shook her head, brushing long black hair back under her hood as she turned back toward the door. "I've known you for less than a day, Cricket, and already I'm concerned about your survival instincts. You had better make much better armor, or your enthusiasm's going to get you killed one of these days. But for now, and speaking of hurting other people...."

 

The young woman drew up straight and snapped her fingers, sparking off a cascade of little particles. The heavy steel door visibly shuddered, making a very satisfying metal noise as it rocked on its tracks. "If I didn't know better, I'd think our host was stalling. She's being so very quiet."

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GM

"Yes," said the voice over the speakers, without so much as a trace of guilt or embarrassment. "I thought the traps would take you longer, anyway. That's actually where the last one stopped? They made a great jump, but that's what the flamethrower's for. I really should have gone for more tripwires."

 

The door jerked into motion, grinding off into the wall to reveal a massive concrete room. Scattered lights illuminated nothing but cement and detritus, machinery old and new strewn across the floor like so many uncontrolled weeds. It had only four real features of note, aside from the door through which they'd entered:

 

1) Set high on the opposite wall, extending out from the otherwise-sheer cement, was a glass-shielded observation deck of some kind. There was a figure there, in a lab coat, working at some kind of console.

 

2) At ground level, below the deck, was a door. A simple thing, metal with an eye-level glass pane, like you'd see in half the secure buildings in the city.

 

3) To the left of the door was a security window, glass reinforced with lines of wire. A bedraggled group of people were looking through it. A couple were pounding against the glass, but they couldn't be heard.

 

4) In the direct enter of the room was what could only be described as an eight-foot robotic gorilla.

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Chitin was silent for a beat as he took in the scene. Then a raucous, lighthearted laugh escaped through his helmet's sound system. "Okay, I kinda have to respect making it look like a big monkey." He reached up and let his robotic companion crawl from the top of his head and onto his hand. "Don't worry about me, Nocturne. This isn't the good armour." She could practically hear the confident grin in his tone. "Today's beetle day!"

 

He placed Black against the faceplate of his helmet where the robug's body unfolded and incorporated into the armour distinctive horn extending from the forehead while legs formed a sort of cage over the large eyepieces and the shell moved to either side, creating a shape evocative of a samurai helmet. Chitin's belt enthusiastically announced, "Kabuto Beetle Instar! Can't beat this!" as those eyes glowed yellow and lines of light appeared across his frame, the displaced air sending Nocturne's outfit flapping while the spatial warping nudged her particles into small eddies. From the dimensional pocket glossy, slightly pearlescent black armour pieces appeared, attaching to the base suit with loud ratcheting sounds. Industrial looking pistons ran down his arms toward massive metal fists, giving him a similar silhouette to their simian foe. Overlapping black plates studded with gunmetal grey bolts attached to his chest, around his hips and over his boots, turning his acrobatic figure into an imposing bipedal tank.

 

Chitin rolled his shoulders experimentally then tapped his chest twice with a huge fist, the clang echoing in the room, before pointing to the observation deck. "You could still let those people go and call it a day, y'know! 'Cause you're not gonna like this data at all!" With a shout and stomping footfalls he met the charging robot head-on and unloaded a haymaker punch directly into its face.

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"No, Cricket. No calling it a day." Nocturne was striding forward, bubble already gathered around her and more particles beside bleeding off it like smoke. The denser they got the more they gathered together, macro-particles overlapping in blacks and golds. "I think she needs to come down here and get some data first-hand!"

 

A small wave of black and gold surged up toward the observation deck, cresting like a great taloned claw before crashing down to crack at the glass, steel starting to bend and twist as shards of window fell with much harsher speed than should have been warranted. It held, though, for all that it was taking on damage, and the figure inside started to step back. Nocturne grit her teeth. "I think your monkey's going to need some help."

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GM

Indeed, the robo-gorilla could have used it. Chitin's punch dented some plating but didn't seem to do much damage, the robot righting itself and slamming one chest-sized fist into the ground before swinging it the insectile hero's way. It was a rough punch, telegraphed and single-minded, but there was power behind it - whatever powered this things arms, it looked like it would hurt.

 

"I think I'll stay up here," said the voice, still confident but ever less so. "I really did expect you to be more worn down by now. That's my fault, I suppose - even for a budget job, perhaps I cut too many corners. Useful data for next time."

 

The people behind the window, still silent, were visibly cheering now. The lone captured hero in the group, even, was propped up on someone else's shoulders - they looked about as rough as they had on camera, but they had to watch. How could they not?

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Chitin sidestepped the robot's punch and braced his back foot against the floor. "Sorry, guy. I know this isn't your fault." He crouched slightly and brought his elbows close to his hips. With a hiss of pneumatics his oversized armoured fists slid slightly backward before shooting forward again as he extended his arms in a double punch that hit the gorilla under the chin like a battering ram with a mighty crash.

 

Sliding slightly out of the way as his opponent staggered backward, Chitin pointed to his suit's black elements and yellow eyepieces. "Oh! Hey, Nocturne! We match now!"

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