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A few weeks after the events of Everything They're Asking For And More

 

It had been an eventful few weeks of show prep, interrupted by chaperoning Holly's very first trip to Sanctuary with the rest of her Claremont class and Bryant waking up with one of those high fevers that goes and comes quickly in small children. But Richard and Paige had gotten a lot done despite all of that. They'd talked a little bit about their respective interviews, but they had been too busy to do their usual repeated comparing of notes. Some of what Richard had heard and seen had stuck with him, hanging like a dark cloud around his head as he sat at the dining room table, coffee in one hand and yellow legal pad with giveaway ballpoint pens in the other, writing names and question marks, a frown on his face. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

"You're thinking hard," Paige observed, sitting down across from him with a mug of tea in her hands. It was late enough in the evening that she'd changed into yoga pants and an oversized Universal Studios shirt that was older than several of their children, but she was awake enough as she glanced at the legal pad. "Which episode now? Oh, finale stuff. I thought we were tossing the interviews to the editing team so they could get us some good clips to stitch together?" 

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Richard looked up at Paige and took a moment to smile at the perfectly familiar sight of his lovely wife before he responded, "Hey babe. Yeah, I've just been going back and forth on some of this." He looked at her then said, "Hey, when you were talking to that Welsh girl with the sword and Jill O'Cure..." He wasn't going to ask if she'd read their minds without permission; he might as well have asked if she'd grabbed their ass when they weren't looking. But sometimes Paige got impressions even when she wasn't actively looking. "...did you get any vibes off them?" he finished, tapping the side of his head. 

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Paige raised her eyebrows and took a sip of tea. Almost thirty years of marriage to a psychic and Richard still couldn't discuss psychic phenomena without resorting to hand gestures and spooky noises. She'd given up and decided it was part of his charm ages ago. "Vibes?" she asked anyway. "They both had some trouble during the interview, needed to take a few moments to regroup during difficult portions. Ellie especially, but she was kidnapped into space so I'm not too surprised." She tilted her head to study him. "Did you notice anything weird in your interviews?" 

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"Just a few stray comments. Nothing from Crimson Tiger, I think she was as baffled by what was going on as anyone else. I thought it was weird that Miss Americana said she never examined her boyfriend after she got him back from the Curator, but I guess...she must have done something since then. The guy's a cyborg from Hell, he can't exactly go out to Jiffy Lube when he needs a check-up." He got up and started moving around the room, zipping around in the short bursts that meant something was driving him besides super-speed. "I just started thinking. You and I know a lot of heroes, but they don't always give us a straight answer, even in private. You ever wonder what they're not telling us, or anybody else, about this?" 

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Paige furrowed her brow. "I've always been under the impression that Miss Americana is the chief mechanic for most of the cyborgs and robots in town," she pointed out. "I would assume she's pretty familiar with her husband by now, yeah. Though I don't know," she added with a grin, "you do still say 'vibes.'" She frowned a little at the last question. "I'm not sure what you mean. I'm sure there's stuff they all want to keep private. I'm about seventy-five percent sure that we have some archival footage of Miss A's civilian identity in the press videos we've pulled, and we're going to have to decide what to do with that, and we're going to have to be careful in how we cut interviews in order to avoid blowing a couple other secret IDs. We've always agreed that heroes deserve their private lives." 

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"Oh yeah," said Richard with a nod, "we've got to sit on that until we get a reason otherwise." He'd gone his whole life without a secret identity as such, but that (and being a father) had just made him understand the need for privacy all the more. "I've just been thinking...doesn't it seem weird to you that nobody ever took a close look at this before we did? Half the heroes in Freedom City either got kidnapped and replaced by crazy robots or they know somebody who did, and everyone just sort of shrugs it off afterwards! Miss A said she doesn't even know any robots who got grief over it, which is nice, but....weird. I think there's something going on they're not telling us." 

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"What did you expect people to do?" Paige asked, raising an eyebrow. "Fourteen kidnappings is certainly a lot, but when you compare that to the total population of heroes and villains in the city, it's closer to what, five percent? Less? And I don't think anyone exactly shrugged it off, not really. Of all the abductees, hardly anybody wanted to speak with us, even after ten years. Hardly any of their loved ones or associates wanted to speak with us either, and you know how unusual that is. I got the feeling that being replaced by a robot or having a loved one replaced by a robot was something that doesn't really get any easier to talk about, even with the passage of time."

 

She took another drink from her tea. "Hell, Duncan Summers retired over the whole thing, and nobody ever thought that was going to happen. Poor Dorothy and her family were in sessions with the Claremont psychologist until she graduated, and I think it was the only reason they didn't pull her out of the school. People needed time to heal." 

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"Geez, that poor kid," agreed Richard with a nod, briefly losing his train of thought. "That was about the worst thing I've ever heard happening at that school, and that includes that kid with the car." He shook his head, then added, "No, I mean..." He stepped to the window, then across the room to adjust a book on the shelf, before he said, "It just...it just stinks. They get penetrated that deep by robots from space, and they don't even set up, I don't know, blood screenings? Deep tissue scans?" He spread his hands and added, "And yeah, I know, that sounds weird coming from a guy who thinks all cops are bastards, but come on, they could have burned the city down if they wanted to. Maybe they still do," he added. "Even the real smarties don't know for sure exactly what the Curator wanted, and none of them have even tried to ask." 

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"Who still does what?" Paige looked completely baffled for a moment as she tried to follow Richard's train of thought from Claremont to Freedom City as a whole to some nebulous They who should be guarding against an equally nebulous Them... Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. "Oh my god. You interviewed the Conspiracy Kids. Damn it, Richard, I told you not to let them get inside your head!" She put her face in her hands with a strangled half-laugh. "What were they on about this time?" 

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"They made some - some good points!" said Richard defensively. "They pointed out that for all we know, there are still secret robots running around Freedom City, maybe the whole planet, right now. The Curator could take people out from under the noses of everybody from the world's greatest detectives and scientists, not to mention Claremont for the love a'Pete, and nobody's really gone looking for any drones since then." He considered a moment, then said, "And you know, those two aren't all crazy. They told me there was an infernal invasion of Freedom City back in '09 that everyone just forgot about afterwards. I talked to Erik at the PTA meeting last week and you know what, he said the damn thing really happened! Had to make me promise it wouldn't come up on the show, though."

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"I should've known something was up with you when you actually volunteered to go to the PTA meeting!" Paige accused, only half removing her hands from her face. "You hate going to the PTA meetings! Did you back that poor man into a corner and start spouting conspiracy theories all over him? Do I need to send them a card or something?" She sighed and pulled his notebook over towards herself. "I give up. What do demons in 2009 have to do with the Curator?" 

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"I will have you know it was not in a corner, and we were having a very normal conversation about raising teenage girls when it came up." Richard decided that Paige didn't need to hear the details before he said, "Because if the Conspiracy Kids, or whatever you want to call them, can figure out something like that just from looking in on the outside, that's evidence they're not so crazy." His notebook was written in the big, loopy, multilayered script that meant he'd been at it for a while. He'd also been turning it sideways to write when he ran out of paper, a 19th century writing trick he'd picked up that was a great way to keep out snoopers but didn't make it any easier to follow his train of thought. "And it's a big, ugly thing that the hero community kept from people so they wouldn't freak out. Especially since the whole thing was started because of some Claremont kid. If they're willing to cover their asses about that, what else are they covering up?" 

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Paige put her hands down and gave Richard a long, level look. "All right, let's slow this way down," she told him. "So you got some evidence that there was a demonic invasion of some sort in 2009 that most people don't remember now. And that evidence is that a hero who was here back then told you at a PTA meeting that it happened. He told you that at the PTA meeting, with two dozen other parents in the room. That doesn't exactly sound like an Area 51 level cover-up, hon." 

 

She held up a hand before he could rush in any more explanations. "It's possible that there is something there that's being kept out of the public eye. We both know that sort of thing happens all the time. Even you and I understand that people don't need to know all the dirty details of how close we occasionally get to being wiped out. It's possible that those kids got wind of it and strung together a whole sordid story about how and why and where and who. It's even possible," she added, her hand still raised, "that against all the odds and every morsel of logic, that they got something entirely right and that story is true. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. It has nothing to do with our story!" 

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