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cw: difficult stuff 

 

January 2021 

 

Angelic sat in the conference room in a student intern's chair and watched as the super-geniuses talked. With a clear disciplinary record at Claremont going back past the Thanksgiving holiday, she had finally won a full-on evening internship for her senior year at Claremont that she had long coveted. That she was in a conference room shadowing Miss Americana rather than her laboratory working on her internal upgrades had not produced any complaints - "I understand," she had told Miss Americana before everyone had arrived, "that human interaction is as important for the scientist as is research." So she sat, dressed in a pencil skirt and bulky sweater that were a far cry from her lab gear, gleaming silver earrings and green-black hair the only concessions to her usual fashion sense, looking as human as anyone else in the room as some of the greatest minds in the world talked business. She was currently engaged in recording the conversation, constructing a three-dimensional model of an internal framework that would sustain internally concealed titanium networking, and in tasting the coffee she had poured for herself to blend in. 

 

 

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"Human interaction is important...yes. I had to remember that one, myself.." Voltage said. He had met her before her current body. As for him, he had put on a bit of weight since coming out of isolation, looking quite a bit healthier. She would probably remember him best from when his hair was near shoulder length and gray, not the close cropped white that it currently was. He was still getting used to being in public, and was visibly a little bit on edge. Though, being around fellow scientists and people he knew was putting him a lot more at ease. They would forgive him his eccentricities. After all, most scientists have eccentricities. 

Edited by Thunder King
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It was nice, Terrifica supposed, to speak with people on her own approximate knowledge and intelligence level from time to time. Still, she was surprised that Miss Americana had called. Or rather, left a message with Miracle Girl, who was a far easier person to contact. Terrifica’s relations with the broader superheroic community were, as ever, prickly at best. But there was coffee, refreshments, and several interesting ideas to turn over in her mind. One couldn’t think of literally everything, after all.

 

She was, of course, wearing the fiber armor battlesuit and her usual longcoat. Well, one of them. Superheroing was a little hard on normal clothing from time to time, so she had a few. She was, naturally, seated at the conference table, the picture of confidence. “I’m sorry to say I’ve tried that experiment in the field and, well…results were interesting but not very useful. But Voltage is correct. Human interaction is what keeps us sane and not having, well, the kind of thoughts that end in tragedy or long prison sentences.”

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Scarab III

Kamala was a little awe struck with having been invited along with some of the brightest minds in the technologically minded superhero community, but that wouldn’t stop her from speaking her mind about the topic breached.

 

“I think some of you should spend less time in the laboratory and more time in the field. After all it’s the people out there that are why we do this.”

 

Her poor PR people would have a heart attack right now, but apparently the nerves just made her more honest than usual.

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"The human element is the most important part of what we do," Miss Americana agreed. This conference room was round with a large holographic display in the center, so there was no real head for anyone to sit at. This was by design, of course, when hosting a meeting among superheroes rather than subordinates. Miss A sat with her back to the large bank of treated windows, a pile of binders in front of her and her new intern in the next seat. If she noticed the irony in what she'd just said, given the revelation of her own artificiality a few years back, she gave no sign of it.

 

"And it's actually one of the things I hoped to discuss today. Most of you hadn't yet arrived in Freedom City when the communal lab building was open, so I don't know how much you've heard of it. It was a joint project between many of the scientific and technical heroes of the city to give us a space where we could work together for the improvement of the city and the world, rather than isolate in our own personal spaces. I was rather sorry when it shut down, and I think there's a space for it in Freedom City still."

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At an almost undetectable look from Miss Americana, Eira blinked at the holographic display, which resolved itself into a fairly good rendition of the Lab that had once been the home-away-from-home for many of Freedom City's greatest scientists. Eira herself had visited there several times when she was younger, and indeed had been uploaded into her second body there. The panning 'image', a combination of wire-frame and 3-D digitized recreations, showed individual laboratories, vehicle hangers and parking lots, spartan living space, and other systems that would allow for superheroing living that was both cooperative and independent - the sort of thorny problem that only a supergenius could create. Projected versions of Eira herself were visible inside the simulated Lab, demonstrating the proper use and human scale of these spaces, whether it was laboring at a workbench, sleeping on one of the couches, or building a single-seat jumpjet.

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Voltage leaned in, curious. "I concur. We're not just superheroes. I mean, no disrespect to other heroes, but I think when you can do good, you do good. Even if it's not stopping villains. I'm very intrigued."

 

His mind whirled with possibilities, as he assumed everyone else's did. He could imagine a robust security system, a complex system of various labs, safety protocols. If they asked for his input which, they might, he would have a fully formed design document, a list of possible grants and sponsors to seek, and a number of proposals ready in minutes. He was already searching the internet, looking for options. 

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Terrifica nodded. “You know me. I heard some rumors and investigated. A good old fashioned brain trust.” What she kept in her head was her concerns about so many brainiacs in one place. There were her own issues with herself and it was highly likely others didn’t share them. Who said growth wasn’t a thing? “Though even with human contact among scientific and technical heroes such as ourselves, we should still take care to have a voice for those who aren’t geniuses of one flavor or another. We do have an alarming tendency to get lost in our own heads, after all. Someone to help keep us from not doing that would be excellent.”

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"Thank you, Angelic," Miss A nodded to her assistant when the schematics came up. "This is the design of the original lab, which had a lot of good things and some issues that could use improvement. One major issue we had," she said frankly, "was that most of the security was handled by my predecessor here at ArcheTech, Doktor Archeville. Now of course he was an incredibly talented and visionary scientist who contributed a huge amount to the scientific community and who founded this company," she added, "but unfortunately when he was compromised through very little fault of his own, the Lab was compromised as well. One thing I would like to bind into the DNA of any new project is a true spirit of collaboration. Everyone who uses the Lab should be a part of designing, running and maintaining it. There should be no irreplaceable parts."

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Scarab III

It was amazing to see and hear about all this history, she’d read up on all this when she decided to become a hero but it was just as interesting to hear it from the source. Proved a few ideas she’d had by reading between the lines as well.

 

“I do have a few ideas I’d like others to look over its true. Are they any conditions we’re thinking off? If for instance people want to keep there identities secret or stay out of the spotlight?”

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"Terms and conditions may apply," Dragonfly dryly quipped. She'd been largely quiet since the meeting started, outside of the usual minor pleasantries - Miss Americana had always been the better diplomat, and that wasn't a field in which Mara saw fit to compete. "Secret identities are not in danger regardless - even the original Lab had people here as heroes and not civilians." She was proof enough of that - even now she was in full armor, as anonymous as ever, metal-plated hands folded on the table in front of her. "Anyone who wants spotlights can probably do better than this, or doesn't deserve spotlights. The Lab did some fundraisers, meet-and-greets...bad for personal glory, though. Science for public good, no individual profit, no personal good. Other than helping people and promoting good science."

 

That turned her attention back to earlier comments, tilting her head Terrifica's way. "Definitely worth having perspective about our work," she agreed. "Staff would help, but uncertain it needs to come from non-scientists, non-engineers. If you have enough people, enough priorities, enough methodologies, we can keep each other in check. Usually more practical than experimental, anyway."

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"Although that was a good thing about the Lab," Miss A added thoughtfully, "it provided us with a centralized location where any of the heroes of Freedom City could come to find help with scientific problems. I know that when I used my lab space there, I often wound up working with heroes I didn't even know, and who might not have been able to get in contact with me otherwise. I have tried to position ArcheTech to stand in that gap to a certain extent, and there are other companies doing so as well, but none of us are designed to ensure the kind of rapid-response science we often need to field in a crisis."

 

She looked over to the new Scarab. 'And yes, like Dragonfly said, secret identities shouldn't be a problem at all. And if you'd prefer not to have any public connection with the collaboration but just contribute behind the scenes, I'm sure we could make some arrangements for that."

 

Miss A touched a button on the table and the schematic grew, turning from pictures into diagrams. "The hologram is fully interactive," she told the group. "Any ideas you have, toss them right in."

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“Hmm.” Terrifica’s mind spun into high gear, and she started multithreading. Her hands prodded in places on the hologram, tweaking this. Changing that. “I do agree with that for the most part, Dragonfly. But I’m not just a physical scientist. I’m also a behavioral, biological, and forensic one, as well.” Her hands put together an ultramodern infirmary. “Omnidisciplinary, that’s me.” She smiled. “But I preach to the choir on that, I believe.” Her hands molded a small office with a sitting area in front of the desk. “Having a trained expert psychologist on staff would likely prove as useful in problem solving as anything else. At least it does in my hero work with naturally no disrespect to yours. In the same line of thought, we should also have a medical doctor.” Her hands added a surgical suite to the infirmary. “Superhuman medicine can get rather…complicated. The hospitals in town do good work, but even I’ve had to unravel a medical mystery or two.” Terrifica was thinking not just like a scientist, but like the costumed detective she also was. "I know it sounds unorthodox, but how many normal cases do we handle, really?"

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Scarab III

Kamala watched and listened to everything said, generally agreeing with what was being said, but Terrifica was spiralling down into over engineering the whole thing. Whilst it all sounded nice it was incredible ambitious for something just starting out (again).

 

Whilst that all sounds very nice and impressive, we should probably start small until we get things settled in. Besides for now its just those of us in the room to start, we don’t have the staff to man what you’re talking about.”

 

Talking about this made her realise something that might be important, important enough to bring up now rather than later.

 

What are the plan for funding all this? Just one benefactor might sound a little off, considering some of what happened last time.”

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"There are some funds left from winding up the first iteration of the Lab," Miss A told Scarab, "and ArcheTech has been holding the building itself in trust with an eye towards someday perhaps reviving the concept. Reopening and renovation is going to require additional capital as well," she allowed, "along with the necessary staffing that cannot be automated." She cast a quick glance towards the small robot in the corner who was supervising another pot of coffee. "That funding can come from a number of sources. I have a preliminary list of possible funding that includes AEON, HAX, ArcheTech itself, of course, the Atom Foundation, UNISON, and the Freedom League, among others." 

 

As she took her seat again, Miss A began passing around the binders. "As Terrifica pointed out, the Lab if done well can become an essential resource to the superhero community, and to all the local players in the tech industry. I believe several of us also have enough personal wealth to make contributions, but finances or the lack thereof should not be a deciding factor in participation."

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"Does the facility need much reworking and renovation? Honestly it's been quite a while since I had to stretch my mind on this sort of problem. Hmm, independent electrical system, security system, hmm, R&D. Ah, yes, custom server. Totally secure." It was evident that he was designing the entire facility as he stood there, thinking almost absentmindedly.

 

"Ah, sorry, I realize this is not, actually, my own facility. I've created a document with my thoughts and ideas, I can share it with you if you like." Then, he reconsidered. "Actually, why don't we create a document for everyone to submit ideas? That way we don't have to hash out the whole thing while we stand here."

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“That’s fair, Scarab. Though as Miss Americana was just saying, there is significant wealth represented at this table.” Terrifica didn’t have as much liquidity as Miss A or Dragonfly, but she did have a few small companies that didn’t know she owned them. Between that and a supergenius with a hyperfast brain playing the stock market, she had some money. Not that she was going to mention it unprompted. “What features you’ve said out loud, Voltage, seems to be already in place. There may be some upgrading, as tech has advance in the past few years. Especially after-“ A momentary blip as the full and perfect memories of the Terminus Invasion came roaring back. The screams and the horrible smells would be enough to distract anyone. “-the recent Terminus incursion.”

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"Mmh. Security will be higher priority than last time," Dragonfly agreed. "Don't need Fort Knox, but can't depend on security system of 'the building's full of high-power combatants'. Asking for trouble. Building would be a high-value target in another invasion, or anything like it. Need to be able to try to keep things out. Or in."

 

Tap-tap-tap went a finger against the table; something flickered in the lenses of her helmet, and a couple small single-room proposals wireframed their way into being. "If we're betting on being used by larger community, would probably benefit from an isolated secure lab. Somewhere you go when someone walks in the front door with ominously-glowing spheres. Shielded, armored, that kind of thing. Wouldn't need more than one, hopefully. If we needed more than one, that would be a bad day."

 

She made a sighing noise, like she'd had that day before. "Definitely need to agree on scale, though. Merits to keeping it small, close-knit; merits to being larger. Agreed on some kind of trained physician. Not completely sold on psychologist unless we go very large and need them for general staff support. Wiling to hear a detailed argument," she clarified, "but don't expect anyone to be coming to us for solving soft science problems and we can seek personal therapy on our own time. In exceptional circumstances, can always outsource as needed."

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At that moment, a red light flashed overhead in the room - and an emergency signal interrupted the hologram. 

 

The blurry image that replaced the half-built holo-lab (which Angelic busied herself with backing up between eyeblinks) was of a man most of those recognized; bald, dark-skinned with a short beard, this was Luke Bonham, the head of the AEGIS field office in Freedom City. "Archtech, this is Luke Bonham at AEGIS. I'm on your way with a technological emergency. Agent Irons has suffered a -" he seemed to look behind him, and the others realized he was sitting in the front seat of some sort of vehicle, probably the flying cars AEGIS agents used in emergencies. "catastrophe. We'll be there in five minutes. Please have a team standing by. Be advised we have partially-secured supertech inbound with us." 

 

Eira blinked once, her dataspike twisting at the port where it was connected to the holoprojector, and asked, "Dispatching messages. Who is Agent Irons?"

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Miss A's focus shifted completely as the agent on the holoprojector spoke, building projects temporarily forgotten. "Agent Irons is an android field agent working for AEGIS," she explained for the benefit of Eira and the others in the room. "I've repaired his systems before, but he's a legacy model and not an easy fix." She flattened her lips as though making an admission that hurt. "I'm sure I could use your expertise on this one, Dragonfly."

 

She addressed the projection. "Director Bonham, I'm currently in a meeting with a number of other heroes who could be useful in working with Agent Irons or securing your supertech. I know you have concerns about the sensitivity of your agent's position. How bad is the situation we are looking at?"

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"The situation is - grave," said Bonham, hesitating just a moment as he looked behind him again. "Experts on cybernetics, human-machine relations, and international diplomacy are welcome. We believe Agent Irons may not survive. We are inbound and will be touching down momentarily." And with that, he was gone, leaving the heroes to their work. 

 

Speaking aloud for the benefit of people not Miss Americana, Eira said, staring ahead at something invisible - "Helipad 3 is clear; routing them now. Laboratory 3-A is the most immediately accessible, security locks have been deactivated. One floor up, accessible by the green elevator outside this room." Eira loved her grandiloquence - but not in an emergency. 

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Voltage was not an expert in cybernetics, but he was an expert in technology. More to the point, in that moment, he was capable of getting to the injured man more quickly than anyone else.

 

"I'm going to teleport to Helipad 3 now." He said. "Please, send me coordinates to guide him to the best place to treat him. I'll teleport him there." With that, he dissolved into silvery bolts of electricity. 

 

Moments later, he had the injured Irons in the coordinates sent to him by Eira.

 

He focused on the network in the facility, and said. "I'm sorry to patch into the system this way, but Agent Irons is in the facility. If you have any data on his physiology that I can use for triage, please send it now. I am...not an expert on saving lives, and would appreciate it if anyone can get here to help. I'll do what I can with what I've got for now."

Edited by Thunder King
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"Of course. We're on our way." Dragonfly had almost had a comment on the wisdom of teleporting injured super-science around, but ultimately kept it to herself; priorities, after all, and she had to assume Voltage knew his abilities and their limits and consequences better than she did. She'd feel bad if there were problems later.

 

She paused only long enough to pull two drones out of her dimensional storage, each the size of her head and dominated by a single, unblinking electronic eye - these she sent to the helipad and laboratory in turn before setting off herself. It never hurt to keep an eye on things.

 

Flying was faster than walking and less disruptive than a burst of short-range teleports, at least where the hallways were wide enough; wings bloomed from her back as she took off, humming her down the corridor toward the laboratory.

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Scarab III

Kamala wasn’t expecting all this to kick off, but quickly she began to try and figure out what was going on. The dregree of concern, above and beyond a professional conersn, but right now wasn’t the time to pull on those threads. She was also intensely aware that she was outclassed by all the talent and knowledge she was surrounded by, not that it would stop her helping the best she could.

 

She quickly took off after Dragonfly matching her speed to stay just behind the more experience hero.

 

I’ll help however I can, I don’t have the medical knowledge but my technical abilities should be enough to assist the rest of you.”

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Terrifica was moving by the time Angelic finished saying “accessible”, and gone before her sentence was finished. Nothing wrong with a little temporal acceleration and some expanded auditory sensitivity to catch the rest of her statement. She really did have something for every occasion in her utility belt. Going to the helipad would be useless. She didn’t bother with the elevator, instead literally running to the access stairs and up them in a blink. She was in Lab 3-A in the space of several heartbeats, stuffing away her gadgetry for a new set. She bet she was the only qualified medical doctor in the group, even if she didn’t have, well, a medical license. But Bonham did not say he needed one. Therefore, logically, Agent Irons didn’t. His condition was grave, so…fully technological, most likely. She pulled out her best tools and waited.

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