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Archetech 

February 2021 

 

The meeting with Miss Americana's people had gone smoothly. They were professionals, she was a media icon; everybody knew how the game worked and how nobody was going to try and make her look stupid. She'd been the right person to call; a synthetic heroine who herself had been instrumental in defeating a robot invasion, and someone who had been on the show before and knew the ropes. And talking to her was certainly always very pleasant. "It's the damndest thing," Richard had warned his intern Terry, who was new to this particular heroine. "Paige swears it's not anything psychic, and it's not anything biochemical or magic either. Maybe it's just, you know, all that smartness being used to figure out how to talk to people, or...I don't know! Anyway, she's something else." 

 

They'd agreed to meet outside of Miss Americana's office, in a small gardened atrium on the Archetech campus that bore the name of a staffer killed in the Deep One attack a few years back. Richard had stopped to smell the flowers already though and was tossing a ball to himself, back and forth, as he kibitzed with the crew in between letting them get set up for the shoot. Miss A's intern was already there, but the grumpy-looking girl with the green and black hair was mostly observing. 

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Miss Americana swept in exactly at the appointed hour, the slight humidity of the atrium disrupted by the cool outside air as she walked in. She was perfectly dressed and coiffed as usual, wearing an expertly tailored navy suit with a white shell and subtle red jewelry accents. "Good morning everyone, welcome to ArcheTech," she began, smiling at the assembled group. "Thank you so much for coming in! I'm very excited for the opportunity to be a part of your finale episode. Did you all have a chance to enjoy the refreshments?" she asked, nodding towards the cart of hot drinks and pastries that had been provided.

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Richard shot the awestruck Terry a look that could best be summed up as See? before getting down to business. "Hey there Miss A, how's the old red and white and blue these days?" He grinned and shook her hand, zipping over and coming back with a cup of coffee for the lady. That was just how it worked; and it saved the kids from making fools of themselves. "We're just glad you agreed to sign up," he said with a grin, "The show needs to have a heart as much as a brain, and you've got both to spare, am I right?" He sobered and added, "We take synthetic rights seriously on our show, and if we can make a statement that actually wins hearts and minds, we're going out with a little class." 

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"It's my pleasure," Miss A assured him, accepting the coffee graciously with neither of them pointing out that robots do not drink coffee. "I'm fascinated with the subject, actually. Even though I was caught up in the middle of everything, I never felt like I fully understood what happened. It took me several weeks to recover afterwards, and by the time I was up and around again, it seemed as though the whole situation had been put to bed. Nobody wants to think about how close the Curator might have come, I suppose, and everyone whose loved ones were taken were just glad to have them back. But it's quite a story you're trying to tell!"

 

She set the cup down on the table between the two interview chairs the team had set up. "So, how shall we do this?"

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"We'll take it nice and easy," said Richard, joining her in the chair opposite without seeming to have moved. "First we'll do introductions, then we'll talk about your experiences. Usually with hero stuff I try and share some of what Paige and I were doing when it all went down, but we were up chasing yeti in Bhutan when the Day went down. By the time we got word from our satellite team everything was all done. I recommend the place if you've never been, by the way," he added, "great views, nice food. Turns out yeti don't show up on cameras, though, so we wound up having to dub in their voices over an artist's rendition!" 

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"Mm, seems like that's always the way," Miss A empathized politely, sitting down in her own chair. "I've never been to Bhutan myself, but I've met several climatologists from there who are doing very exciting work. I hear it's a lovely country. I suppose that by the time you got back, everything was over and done with." She looked over to where Richard's crew was assembled. "I have a speaker setup in here, but I assume you prefer to use your own microphones?" 

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"You know how it is," said Richard with an easy wave as the crew went to work, "It's always better to work with your own gear." While the crew was finishing setting up (and Terry, gently jostled, was taking notes), Richard asked, "So even I have a hard time keeping up with Freedom City's greatest inventor - what's your latest project?" 

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Miss A smiled at the woman who pinned the lav mic to her lapel, then smoothed down her collar and crossed her legs comfortably. "I believe that the last time I was on your show, I spoke with your wife a little bit about the medical prosthetics we've been working on. ArcheTech is a company that covers a great many fields, of course, but medtech has been my interest for years. Nanotechnology is heavily regulated, and for good reason, but we've gotten some truly promising results with microdialysis devices that are currently in testing." She smiled. "And I'll confess that I put my hand in a little at ArcheToys with the designs of the new updated Freedom League SuperPlay SuperFun sets that will be coming out next Christmas. I think kids are going to be very excited to see what the new toys can do." 

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"Oh yeah," said Richard cheerfully, "my son Bryant loves the junior set. I remember when we got him the new set, he started shrieking with laughter when he found out he could make Tiamat poop out the bad guys she'd eaten, so that became the new favorite thing for about three days." He gestured with his hands to show what little Bryant had been up to, letting his own mike get pinned on with a smooth familiarity with the moment. "So we're going back eleven years," he said as the boom mike operator moved into position, "jeez, doesn't seem like that long ago. Bryant's four, we didn't, uh, even have him yet." He shifted in his chair, took off his sunglasses and said, "Okay, it's eleven years ago, the sky's about to fall in. What are you doing?" 

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Miss A laughed at the description of Bryant's favorite toy, but the amusement cleared from her face when Richard moved on to the real topic. She drew a deep breath and released it slowly. "It was a long time ago, but it's easy to remember," she admitted. "Harrier and I were dating back then, but it was still pretty new and we were keeping quiet about it. Both of us happened to be in Blackstone Prison that day. He was interviewing a prisoner with Gabriel and I was doing some upgrades to a different cell." She took another deep breath and tucked invisible strands of hair behind her ear, looking more visibly discomfited than Richard had ever seen the poised heroine. "I'm sorry," she told him. "This is more difficult than I thought it would be." 

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"Oh, I'm sorry," said Richard, sympathy thick in his voice without actually breaking the moment that might have led her to talk. "Take your time." He'd already spoken to her former sidekick up in Washington, who'd done his best to sketch out the circumstances of the Americana "family" during the Day of Wrath - but Citizen's story had left out a lot of the details. He considered offering her a tissue box if she needed it - but was that something robots did? It took all kinds. "Had there been any advance warning about - anything?" Is it racist to ask if robots can recognize other robots? Better not, he decided. 

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"The thing you need to understand about the replacements," Miss A began carefully, "is that they were incredibly detailed and sophisticated. The Curator did not choose his targets at random, and the people he chose, he studied beforehand. Once he had them, he was also able to duplicate portions of their actual memories and personalities and program those into the replicas. It wasn't a matter of just a physical resemblance, these robots knew how to act and what to say to make people not look twice at them. I noticed changes in Harrier's personality, but nothing that made me suspicious. My experience, and the experience I've heard from others, is that the replacements deliberately tried to keep loved ones at arms length to avoid being found out." Her smile was tiny and humorless. "I thought we might be fighting, but no, I had no real idea." 

 

She looked upstage for a moment, concentrating on the fake back wall before turning back to Richard. "I hadn't known Harrier was going to be at the prison that day, so it was surprising to see him there. They were interviewing a dangerous prisoner, trying to get information on possible Terminus activities. I stepped over to help, so I was only a few feet away when it seemed as though the prisoner's taunting enraged Harrier into running him through with his sword." She took another deep breath. "That wasn't how it actually happened, of course, but at the time it seemed very real." 

 

Now that she was on a role, the superscientist seemed to want to keep going. "Gabriel and I tried to stop him of course, but it had been incredibly shocking to see someone who always looks for a nonviolent solution just murder a man like that. It gave the replacement enough time to damage the prison's security systems and start heading for the nuclear reactor. I went after him and he was able to use those borrowed memories and observations quite ruthlessly to say things that would slow me down and make me doubt myself. By the time Gabe and I caught up with him, the only reliable way to stop him was to call on the prison staff to release an EMP blanket on the entire area."

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"Oh..." said Richard, feeling lame for saying it. Images of what he'd do if something like that ever, ever happened to Paige, or his kids, or anything else. "That must have been very hard." Physically as well as emotionally, jeez. He took a moment to think, then said, "What happened next?" 

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Miss A picked up her coffee and took a steadying sip before answering. "Both robots were destroyed, of course. After the Beekeeper's riot in 2011, the prison's systems were substantially upgraded against robotics, a project I actually had a small hand in. This was long before I decided to go public with details about Miss Americana, to the point where even other heroes didn't understand that the figure they worked with was more of a powersuit with no body in it than anything else. I was able to give Gabriel a quick warning of what was going to happen,  but not much else. Luckily for me, the Miss Americana design was substantially different than the Curator's design, so it was pretty obvious that I hadn't been replaced. The haptic feedback from having a robot I was inside destroyed was quite painful and I needed medical treatment afterwards, but another hero came to my assistance. By the time I was able to get back to work, we were getting reports from around the city of the same thing happening to other heroes that had happened with Harrier. It was clear that something major had taken place." 

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Richard paused a beat and considered that one - and decided to move onto a less painful subject. Making someone like Miss Americana relieve personal trauma was - rude. Not good television either, but what were they going to do, cancel him? "When did you start to get a picture of what was happening?" 

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"Once reports started coming in, the picture began to come together fairly quickly," Miss A explained, her demeanor sliding back into the normal easy composure of previous interviews. "The replacement bots were programmed to cause as much chaos as possible, then self-destruct as soon as capture became inevitable, so there wasn't a lot of physical evidence to work with. Midnight, Dragonfly and I began to analyze the remains of destroyed robots even as other heroes in the city were dealing with the ones still at large. Fleur de Joie was able to capture one that was still functional and interrogate it briefly, and with the help of that and several other heroes gathering information and doing research, we came to understand that the Curator was behind everything that was happening." 

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"I have a short talk with Fleur a couple of days ago," agreed Richard, "she gave us that story." He considered the conversation some more, decided to risk probing just a little without going out of his way to bring back bad old memories, then said "When you knew what had happened - how did you feel?" 

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She considered the question for a few moments, as long as one could comfortably pause during an interview and not one iota longer, then responded. "I suppose it was a mix of emotions. I was terrified, of course. At that point we had no way of knowing for sure what had happened to the people who'd been replaced. The Curator has been known in the past to digitize and simultaneously destroy entire worlds, feeling that if he knew everything about them, there was no need for them to exist any longer. There was a strong possibility that Harrier and the others had been murdered in order for their replacements to take their places. And yet at the same time there was a tiny feeling of relief," she admitted. "I know in the deepest fiber of my being that Harrier is a good man and a true hero, but seeing him do the things he did that day had shaken me. Knowing that it wasn't him who had done or said any of those things... it let me be sure that I hadn't been catastrophically wrong about someone I cared for. And of course that just motivated the incredible sense of urgency we all felt to find our lost friends and colleagues and loved ones." 

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Richard knew who Harrier was - they'd even reached out to the man for an interview. It was hard still, even almost thirty years on, remembering the chronic, sustained, unthinking cruelty they'd shown during both invasions, thinking of an Omegadrone as a man people loved. But he knew what it was like to be judged for who you were and what you had been, and the life he'd lived had in its own way been great at overcoming prejudice. All this passed through his mind quickly before he said, "Do you have any idea why those taken were spared?"

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"There's no way to know for sure," Miss Americana admitted, "but I think it's safe to assume it was mostly for research. The Curator is a being motivated by an endless and pitiless curiosity about the universe. In many cases, it has confined its explorations to the macro scale, but in cases of Curator-bot replacements, that is replaced by intense individual focus. I believe the Curator put enough time and energy into understanding the people it replaced, that it became loathe to kill them without studying them further. The abductees have said that they were placed in a sort of simulation to test their reactions; that is something we might expect to see if it was interested in continuing the research on them." 

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Richard thought for a minute, remembering The Rats of Nimh, which he and Paige had tried watching back in the day on acid. It hadn't gone well but at least nobody in the hotel had gotten hurt in the stampede. Can't ask her about what happened with the abductees, though, what's she going to say? "Oh yeah, my husband might have been altered by the Curator, sure."  Might be worth looking into though. "As a friend of mine likes to say, space is really, really big. How were you able to find them in all that space?" He made a spreading gesture with his hands to demonstrated. 

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That brought a small smile to the beautiful scientist's face. "Your friend is right, space is indeed really, really big. Our interstellar allies had already shared with us the coordinates of the Curator's base, a massive ringworld structure larger than our entire solar system. Up until that point, the information had been mostly academic, simply because it was so far away and even our handful of spacegoing heroes had concerns much closer to home. Now we needed to know where to find the Curator, and we did. As for how we managed to get a faster-than-light ship to make the journey, well..." Her smile became a bit more mysterious. "I'm afraid I actually had very little to do with it. The heroes of Freedom City have always been at their very best when the stakes are highest and the odds longest." 

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Miss Americana grinned. "Well it wasn't mine, I'll tell you that much. It might be fun to have an interstellar spaceship, but ArcheTech isn't in the space business and hasn't been for a long time." Miss Americana hadn't spoken openly about her ascension to CEO of ArcheTech for years, nor of the calamitous fall of the company's founder, but it was an open secret that ArcheTech had closed down its weapons research entirely and largely scaled back its space research in the hopes of assuaging public fears about the company's capabilities. "Just make yourself a list of the most prepared, most engineering-savvy, most likely to have a purpose-suited vehicle heroes in Freedom City, and I imagine you'll at least get close on your own. It had been in mothballs for quite some time so we did have to do some repair work, but that didn't take too long." 

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"We'll do just that. We kept meaning to get up into space for the show, but..." He twirled his sunglasses in his hand for a moment, then decided that however pretty and trustworthy Miss Americana was, that wasn't something he needed to open up to her about, especially not with the cameras rolling. "So you went out into space looking for your future husband! That's a pretty great story!" He grinned, then asked curiously, "With how your...powers work, how did that actually work?" He knew enough to know that she wasn't a human being riding around in a Miss Americana suit, but how exactly Miss Americana function was beyond him. It turned out she wasn't just a really pretty robot after all the way he'd heard, he knew that much. 

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