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It was another morning in Freedom City, and the SuperCrime! crew were back at the TV studio. Yesterday's cold, clear weather had turned into miserable, sleety drizzle today, enough that Paige had needed to change her clothes and redo her hair and makeup as soon as she arrived. Since the studio space they'd borrowed didn't include a dressing room, she wound up hiding behind the blue scrim pretending to be the set's side wall while wriggling into a dry SuperCrime jumpsuit. "Okay, I know we've got a bunch of these to run through, remind me who's up first today," she called.

 

"First up this morning is Jill o' Cure," Fred reminded her from the other side of the curtain. "Healer type, local to Freedom City, was on the Interceptors during the infiltration."

 

"Ah, right." Paige paused in her dressing a moment. This interview would be a little bit tricky, just by the nature of secret identities and the super community. Paige Cline knew Ellie Espadas through a score of Nicholson family nights and Saturday field trips over the years, but that was an entirely different thing from Paige Cline the television personality or Hologram knowing Jill o' Cure. That family guarded their identities well enough that Paige only knew because Richard and Will had gone to a party at Fleur de Joie's place once and met Ellie's brother Erik, who was Jack of all Blades. Secret identities could get very confusing but Paige did her best to respect them absolutely, even to the point of concealing them from her crew.

 

Paige stepped out from behind the scrim and finished toweling her hair before going for a quick makeup retouch. "I'm going to keep this interview loose and see what she wants to say, then maybe prompt her a little," she explained to Fred. "Be ready if I call for a break, I don't know if we'll need one, but this stuff can be difficult. We all ready to go?"

 

"Sure, just don't make us go outside again," Dave called from his camera. "We're ready to go whenever."

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It alway felt strange to enter a building through its front door while in costume rather than slipping in through a second story window or crashing through a skylight. Jill O'Cure contented herself with approaching studio by swinging from rooftop to rooftop then dropping down to street level on her line. A transparent blue dome shimmered above her head, following along with her acrobatics and keeping the rain off. It's colour contrasted with the deep crimson of her outfit and the black dyed hair she'd let get long enough again to put into a loose braid that swung about behind her as she touched down.

 

Letting out a huff, she second-guessed herself for the umpteenth time. She'd had a long discussion with Mara about whether or not to agree to the interview, then with her brother and even talked it over with Erin and Steve to make sure everyone was on the same page. It had been a traumatic time for everyone but if it was going to get dredged up it felt like someone needed to set the record straight and she was better equipped to do so than some of the others. In theory at least.

 

Checking her bandana mask in her reflection in one of the studio's window and straightening her jacket, she knocked on the door and waited, one hand on her hip while the other maintained her force field umbrella.

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The studio door was opened quickly by a young person in a lime green beret and a black SuperCrime! jumpsuit. "Hi! Welcome!" they said brightly, holding the door open for her. "Come on in, we're all ready for you!" The studio was a bit on the warm side but not terrible, and was set up in a classic interview style with two chairs angled towards each other and a small table in between for coffee and a potted plant. "Would you like some coffee or tea or a pastry?" 

 

Paige rose when the door opened and turned to greet their guest as well. "Hello," she said warmly, coming over to shake hands. "It's lovely to meet you! I'm Paige Cline, you can feel free to call me Paige or Hologram, whichever is comfortable. Thank you so much for coming in today to speak with me!" Her eyes held a hint of amusement, but nothing else in her face or voice suggested that she wasn't meeting the healer heroine for the first time. 

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"Thanks but gotta stay disciplined to rock the crop top," Jill told the production assistant, framing her abdominals between her hands for a moment. Her force field umbrella dissipated with a subtle ripple and soft crackle of energy as she stepped inside, eyes flicking about the room and taking stock of its occupants, layout and exits. Dwelling on the whole incident with the Curator had a way of ramping up her paranoia.

 

She still managed a confident, lopsided smile as she accepted Paige's offered handshake. "Probably go with the out-of-costume name. Always sounds a little weird when people are calling me 'Jill' and then I'm like, 'Excellent point, Commodore Plutonium-Groin'."

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Paige laughed. "Good point, though honestly I'd give my eyeteeth for an interview with somebody with that name, just to say I'd done it. Come on over and have a seat," she invited. "I know you had some concerns during the pre-interview process about the scope and depth of our conversation, and I just want to make sure that you're completely comfortable with how things are going to go." 

 

She led the way to center stage, where two plush beige armchairs sat angled towards each other with  small table between them. Two bottles of water sat on the table, neither opened yet. Paige sat down in the chair on stage right and leaned in just a bit to indicate confidential conversation. The rest of the crew could probably still hear, but there were no cameras rolling. "The depth and breadth of the interview is totally up to you. We are trying to get as many stories of the day recorded as we can for posterity and so people can know how it all happened." She smiled reassuringly. "I'm not a lawyer or a cop, and you never have to answer a question you don't feel comfortable with. In fact, if you feel like you're able, I'd like you to do most of the talking, just tell your story however feels right and I can prompt you for clarifying points. Would that be all right with you?" 

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Jill followed Paige's lead and sat down opposite the host, rearranging herself a few times to try to find a sitting position that would look natural. Settling on one she let out a long breath and all of the restlessness seemed to abruptly leave her body language. Gymnast mode off, surgeon mode on.

 

She gave Paige a quick nod and cocked an eyebrow. "Usually people are more worried about getting a word in edgewise. But yeah, sounds fine. I guess my question would be how graphic you want me to get? Some of the stuff on the Curator's ring world was... pretty dire. Related question: what's your show's policy on swearing?"

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"You can tell the story however you want," Paige assured her. "We aren't going to be airing these interviews in their entirety; we've only got ninety minutes to tell the story plus some webisode extras. If there's anything that winds up being too graphic we won't put it on the show, but that's just an editing thing and you shouldn't worry about it. We're on the Discovery Channel so we do bleep swear words," she admitted with a slightly rueful smile, "but you're not going to give anybody here the vapors if you use them." 

 

From offstage, a woman approached with a small black microphone in her hands. "Here's Kelsey," Paige explained, "she's going to pin this mic to your collar and we'll run a couple of sound and light tests. I assume you'd like to keep wearing your mask for the interview, so we won't worry about makeup. Did you have any questions while we're getting started?" 

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"Why mess with perfection, sure," Jill joked just a little bit stiffly, craning her neck to give Kelsey better access to her jacket's collar. She nodded in thanks as the sound tech stepped away and resisted the urge to fiddle with the microphone or her mask. "I think I'm good whenever you are. Anything other than 'check one-two' for the sound check, yeah? Yeah, I've seen plays, I'm cultured." Pausing the deadpan stream-of-consciousness banter long enough for the filming crew to do their jobs the masked medic did her best to learn where to look and how loudly to speak before looking to Paige for the go-ahead.

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The checks were fairly quick and painless, and in just a couple of minutes the crew had cleared the set and left the two women sitting there alone. "Jill," Paige began, shifting seamlessly into her television interview voice, "we've been talking to a lot of people about their experiences on the Day of Wrath, what they saw and did, how they felt. For you, though, I imagine the whole experience was incredibly different. When did it all start for you?" 

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"Well, from my perspective it started when I woke up on the floor of a deserted hospital to the sound of explosions outside," Jill answered matter-of-factly, spreading her palms in a small shrug. She let out a quiet breath and caught herself; the point of this interview wasn't to be glib. "I think the first thing you actually need to understand is that the Curator is - was just plain mean. You've probably talked to a bunch of people about how he was driven by, like, pure curiosity or whatever and you expect a giant, ancient, space computer to be super logical but everything he did to us - the people who were replace, I mean - was... it was just..." She rolled her shoulders uncomfortably and grimaced. "It was the same sort of 'curiosity' as a kid with a magnifying glass burning ants. Because he could have just kept us sedated or in cold storage but he wanted to see how hard he could throw his new toys against the sidewalk before they broke."

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Paige sat and listened attentively, her face showing sympathy but not enough to be offputting or distracting while her guest was speaking. When Jill paused for a moment she nodded understanding. "We tend to think of curiosity as generally a good thing, but it can be terrifying in a creature with no concept of empathy or sense of restraint," she commented. "What do you think the Curator was trying to learn from you?" 

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"Like I said, literally just how hard he could push us before we broke down. Each of us woke up in a replica of somewhere that we'd recognize but... apocalyptic." Jill leaned forward a bit in her seat and interlaced her fingers. "Shelled out, on fire, empty except for the bones. Harrier thought it looked like the aftermath of a Terminus invasion and he doesn't do hyperbole." She shook her head, nose wrinkling in distaste as she relived those first terrifying moments. "It was bizarre to find out afterward that putting all of that together to mess with us wasn't even the main thing the Curator was doing. Even the robots were just a distraction, mostly. But creating a whole fake hellscape - and it turned out to not just be the city but a whole damn planet - was so easy for him, picking apart our memories to figure out what buttons to push was such an afterthought that I guess he was just like, 'might as well'. Like the devil finding time to come up with a special punishment for every little soul. I'm not even trying to be dramatic here, it's just the scale the Curator operated at."

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"That's really quite something." Paige absently opened the water bottle on her side of the table and took a drink. "Even seeing the pictures of the Ringworld from space, it's hard to comprehend the true size involved. To set up such a massive testing zone..." She shook her head, indicating her inability to truly understand. "What happened after you woke up in this destroyed world? Were you able to find the other abductees?" 

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"So I wake up in the hospital, no idea how I got there, yeah. Remember going to sleep normally and then bam, here I am, full costume and gear but totally alone and it sound like the end of the world outside. First instinct is that I've got a concussion but I rule that out pretty quickly. Second instinct is to run directly toward the what sounds like a plane crash because, well." The masked heroine gestured to herself from top to bottom with both hands by way of explanation. "I run out the front door and it's just bones. Like a mass grave after scavengers got at it." She paused for a moment to inhale through her nose and exhale through her mouth. "But I also see Wander out there, heading in the same direction. As in toward the explosions because, well."

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This would probably end up going to background, Paige calculated, just because it was getting pretty dark already for the episode they'd planned so far. It was fascinating, though, and might make a good webisode all on its own. Something about the way Jill told the story had her almost able to envision the blasted, wasted landscape in her head. "You both wanted to help because you're heroes," she said out loud for the benefit of any slower audience members. "Did you know Wander or any of the other abductees before this?" 

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"Wander and I were, y'know, work friends and people I trusted trusted her and that's a bigger deal in the community than it maybe sounds like." She leaned back again in her chair and actually allowed herself a small smirk. "Everybody likes to play Fantasy Freedom League, right? If you could have anybody on a team or who would win in a fight, that sort of thing. I'll tell you right now, at the end of the world, in the ass-end of nowhere, up against who knows what there is nobody you should be picking over Wander. I'm serious, I don't care about flashier powers, bigger names, whatever. She's smart, she's absurdly tough, she always makes it out the other side and she doesn't leave anybody behind. The rest of us don't make it home without her there, end of story."

 

Jill rubbed the back of her head ruefully. "I knew Harrier already, too. Friend of the family, you could say. Which was good because a couple of the other people there had about the reaction you'd expect to running into a heavy combat Omegadrone in, y'know, an already high stress situation. That part could have gone better."

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"High praise," Paige agreed. "That's one thing we've heard over and over again from heroes in every era, finding trustworthy allies is key." She almost made a comment about interviewing Wander sometime, before remembering that they were out of time for that. Depressing thought! Moving smoothly past that, she continued. "I remember that when Harrier joined your team, the Interceptors, he did so in the persona of Caradoc, with the stylings of a medieval knight. I assume that was probably to avoid just this sort of situation? Were some of the other abductees reluctant to work with you on escaping?" 

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"That's one way to put it. The Curator dumped us there with all of our equipment, remember? Blue Jay and Beekeeper - not the one you're thinking of with the giant bees, this was a young guy in power armour - tried to shoot him out of the sky. Which, considering they thought he was a normal drone was pretty ballsy in retrospect. At the time it was, uh, 'tense'. Some less than family friendly language was exchanged, heh." She decided against clarifying that most of that language had come from her less charitable assessment of the the teens' judgement in the moment. "Once we sorted things out we found out we weren't the first ones to be dropped there. Quickstep - she was just a kid at the time, barely a teenager - she'd been there about a month and a half already, just trying to survive. Doc Stratos we ended up figuring had been there maybe more than a year? It was tough to keep track."

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"That's right." Paige frowned slightly at the reminder. "Stratos' drone replacement had been caught months earlier, but nobody made a connection until you returned with him from the ringworld." In some ways, that was even more disturbing than Quickstep's story, especially given Paige's own family history with subtle replacements... but she definitely wasn't going to think about that now. "What happened once you all started working together?" 

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"The Curator tried to egg us on for a bit once we stopped actively fighting, sending fake comm messages to Beekeeper's armour, leading up around by the nose. When that didn't work he decided to take his ball and go home. Only in this scenario the 'ball' was 'the entire city we were standing in'." Jill made a few gestures with both hands to try to illustrate what she was talking about but again the sheer scale of it made it difficult. "Imagine you're an ant standing on the pages of an open book and somebody picks the book up to snap it shut. Vertigo doesn't really cover it. Quickstep really saved our collective butts. She was half-starved when we found her but she pushed it to the absolute limit to teleport us out of range one at a time while the whole place was being ripped apart."

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Paige's  eyes widened as she listened to the story, not quite able to envision what the young woman was describing, but with no doubt in her mind that it had been a hell of a thing to see. "That was incredibly brave of her. It must have been terrifying to see the extent of the Curator's powers on the ringworld. Where did you go from there? How did you manage to make your way off the surface?"

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"I don't know if terrified is really the right word. Like, it's one thing to look up at the night sky and know intellectually that you're seeing light from stars that are unfathomably far away but your brain just sort of bounces off the scale of it. Which is sort of also the reason things got a little tough to keep track of after that." Jill traced a large circle in the air with her fingertips. "So the 'planet' we were on was actually a ring around a star, right? Like a construct the size of an actual planet's orbit made up of all the places and people the Curator had stolen. So we were always facing toward the 'sun', meaning no day and night cycle. Made it very weird to try to keep track of time as we started heading west. Or, like, 'west'." She used air quotes around the word with a helpless shrug. 

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Paige nodded. "We're working on a graphic of the ringworld to put on the episode," she told Jill, "but the graphics guys are having a very hard time of it. It's hard to wrap your brain around even when you aren't standing on it." She took a sip from her water bottle and set it aside again. "So you traveled overland for awhile? Did you have a destination in mind, or were you just trying to find somewhere safer? What did you see?"

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"At that point we were just guessing. We knew there were things we might be able to use if we could get to another city assuming the Curator's version actually had those things. Or those cities. We just had to hope that we weren't still in some messed up scenario he was running." Jill took a bit of time to describe the specifics of their overland journey; she felt like most of that was going to end up on the cutting room floor especially since she didn't feel like sharing the small, personal moments between the abductees. "Basically it was like camping but the absolute worst. So, y'know: normal camping."

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Paige asked a few questions about the trip, but she seemed to have the same sense as Ellie about what parts of the story would be most relevant to the show. The bit about camping got a laugh from her. "It's not for everyone," she agreed. "I always preferred RV camping, and it sounds like you all were roughing it." She sat forward in her seat a little. "I've always found that the best and worst part of camping is all the time that it gives you to think. What did you think about when you were out there? Did you have any guesses about what was happening on Earth?"

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