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Late June 2021

The Iceberg

 

A dark, sleek dynamo at five foot three, Kalinda Kaur had moved through the AEGIS base with a bright smile and firm handshake. The Vice-President was known as a critic of law enforcement outside but inside she'd been nothing but professional, even friendly, as she'd met with everyone from Director Bonham to the lowest office drones. She was the sort of protectee that liked to bull ahead of her bodyguards without so much as a backwards look. Luckily they'd spent most of today down in one of the most secure sites in Freedom City. Special Agent Ashley Tran, on special assignment to the Vice-President's detail, had done her best to blend into the agents who occasionally had to jog a little to keep up with 'Desi'. Jim Ward, the VPOTUS's usual detail head, had proved to be philosophical about the whole affair; something Ashley appreciated. 

 

This was supposed to be a big day. In just a week now, Paul Revere would make his Fourth of July debut as Patriot II - a new hero for a new generation! The program had been founded in the early days of the Cahill administration but the O'Connor administration had embraced the idea, even if Revere (who had been left quite the blonde, blue-eyed Aryan superman by the DNAscendant treatments he'd been given) wasn't quite the kind of person the O'Connor administration tried to promote. Ashley had heard about the program in its early days, even if her duty to Judith Cahill meant she was never seriously in the running for it. The man who had actually gotten the position? She'd met him, even sparred with him, having been brought in to test his facility with hand-to-hand combat. He was cute, certainly; she liked big, muscular alpha males and the fact that he was a cop wasn't bad. But something else was...not right. 

 


The Iceberg was home to a small studio, where against a curtained backdrop, Revere was practicing his speech. He stood behind the podium and gave the cameras a winning smile as he continued: 


"Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to." And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.

 

And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man.

 

Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

 

You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down - [up] man's old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism..." 

 

"Well he certainly can handle himself in front of the camera," said the Vice-President thoughtfully, "even if he does sound he's Ronald Reagan personified." She looked a little skeptical, but many of the agents in the room looked very interested in what the man had to say. Ashley knew for almost certain that one of the agents, a star-struck young sound engineer from Oklahoma, was actually sleeping with Revere on the sly. She hadn't said anything, but the number of people she could talk to about any of this was damn thin. 

 

"Beth, are the defense contractors on schedule?" Ashley knew for sure that they were; Alek and company wouldn't be late without finding a way to let her know, so while the Vice-President (and technical head of the project, answering only to the POTUS himself, who was back in DC getting ready for the holiday) chatted with her immediate staff, Ashley looked around and spotted maybe the only other person in the whole Iceberg whose knowledge of superhuman tactics wasn't theoretical. 

 

"Agent Zermeño," she said cooly from behind her shades, "a word?" She cocked her head towards the studio control room door. 

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Summers Advanced Design was an old name with new faces these days. The company that had been in a major slump and on the verge of hostile takeover had recently undergone a renaissance, courtesy of renewed interest from the Summers family and the bold actions and presence of their chosen representative-proxy. A young man who, just then, walked through the doors on the far side of the room. 

 

Aleksander Garen Nakani smiled and greeted everyone along his path as he made a beeline for Ashley and the Vice-President. He stopped when they were a couple dozen steps away, and allowed the stone-faced Secret Service agents to pat him down in what was becoming his "signature suit" on business affairs, and even indulged their desire to inspect his glasses. He'd assured Ashley they'd be the plain pair, rather than his subtle AR pair. He was accompanied by two teenager, both of whom had simple briefcases (leaving Alek's hands free). Aleksander turned and nodded at his interns, which was a signal to allow yet another inspection of the briefcases. 

 

Only Ashley caught the very slight air of tension around her fellow vigilante. She knew he hated having none of his "toys" with him, but they'd talked extensively about the scenario, and it was determined they were better off going subtle and low-tech today. One didn't play games with the Secret Service, after all. 

 

Finally, Alek was allowed to approach the Vice-President. He smiled and extended a hand.

 

"Vice-President Kaur, it truly is an honor to meet you in person, finally! I'm sure you know this but I'm Aleksander Nakani, here as a representative for the Summers Family as well as Summers Advanced Design. We're pleased you allowed us to attend this meeting, and look forward to what the future holds."

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This? This was huge. Being here, in the Iceberg, in, well, not exactly plain clothes but not his working suit? That wasn't something he had expected to happen any time soon.

 

Charles Arthur Pratten had passed all the security checks, but he had to leave all his gadgets behind, which wasn't really to his preference, but he'd make do anyway. Somehow, at least. Honestly, he didn't know that much about how to dress up for something like this, so he had let Alek help him. A dark grey business suit with a white dress shirt and matching dark grey tie underneath. His red hair was slicked back. He held one of Alek's briefcases in his right hand.

 

So... an intern getting in here? That was a big deal. He had to act the part.

 

Charlie held the briefcase up for yet another inspection. "So, uh, everything's still fine, right?"

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Madame Raven

Callie was a disappointed that she had been allowed to come along. Make no mistake the moment that she’d discovered that this was happening she was going to attend with or without permission. With a smile she considered how well the other two knew her to just allow her to come along. Still it would have been nice to have tried and sneak into this place, the challenge alone would have made it worth it alone.

 

To play this part she’d decided to go for the classy look a well cut skirt suit, hair pulled back in an extreme ponytail and a pair of sunglasses. For now she was Calliope Shen, wealthy heiress and investor in the new revitalised Summer Advanced Design. She’d almost wanted to go by Tzin, but that particular spelling would have raised all kind of alarm bells.

 

Besides once this was over she’d donate all this to a good cause and go back to Callie Sen the student again.

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Vice-President Kaur had been a critic of the government's cozy relationship with defense contractors during her time in Congress and brief time as a Presidential candidate in 2019, but she was all smiles for Alek. "Mr. Nakani, it's a pleasure to meet you." She shook his hand firmly, and though she was smaller and lighter than Alek by a substantial margin, her presence seemed to fill the small room all the same. "I'm glad that we have continued the fifty year relationship between Summers Advanced Design and the United States. Ms. Shen, Mr. Pratten, it's a pleasure to meet you as well. I'm so proud that your generation is already standing up as leaders. I just hope that people like myself and Mr. Nakani will know when it's time to get out of the way." She made a little gesture to the door, and led the way in her smart orange pumps as they headed out to the elevator. "Shall we go below and meet 'America's newest hero'?" 

 

Down below, the room where the new Patriot was waiting looked like a large press conference room, with space set aside for the press who were supposed to be here in a few days for the big announcements. Overhead, videos of Revere's previous careers in the US Army in Afghanistan and as a Border Patrol agent along the US-Canadian border played silently. At the sight of the new arrivals, Revere took a few quick steps from the small stage and jumped down to join them. It was immediately clear that how much the Patriot process had changed him; he was big, taller and broader across the beam than Alex, his short blond hair in a crewcut and his blue eyes impeccable. "Hello, little lady!" He smiled at the Vice-President and threw his arms wide; sweeping her up in a hug that made Kaur visibly tense (and her Secret Service escort notably move to a higher alert) before he set her down. 

 

"Captain Revere," said Kaur cooly, "it's a pleasure. All of America thanks you for your service to our nation, I'm sure." Ashley had reentered the room during all this and had moved to take a position at the Vice-President's side, and was looking up at Revere unsmiling from behind her classes. 

 

"Oh well," said Revere easily, "it wasn't so much. I'm just glad to be here ready to keep on serving the American dream. Sorry if I came on too strong, boys," he added with an easy smile for the Secret Service, "even after all the tests and the interviews...I still can't believe this is all real. Hello, Agent Tran," he added with a smile for Ashley. "This," he said to Kaur, "has to be the deadliest person her size in the federal government. She taught me a thing or two about fighting hand-to-hand before I fully grew into my new, ah, pants," he said with a look down at his empowered body. 

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"We're doing what we can to have conversations with all of our long-running customers about future directions, Madam Vice-President. Summers Advanced Design, and the Summers family themselves, intend to have something of a...fresh start. This just seemed like an ideal situation to be present for the conversation."

 

He gave a small but genuine smile at the mention of the next generation.

 

"Well, I'd like to think I still have at least a few years left in me...but they're learning well, ma'am. So I agree."

 

When Revere not only moved up to the Vice-President, but took her into a physical embrace and picked her up, Ashley saw Alek tense visibly. Callie and Charlie would notice it, and likely a couple of the Service agents with high experience in hand-to-hand might pick up that Alek was not just an air-headed businessman; the movement had been subtle, but it was there. When Revere set the Vice-President down, Alek took the chance to step forward and offer the big man a smile and a handshake.

 

"Mister Revere, it's an honor to meet you. I'm sure you hear this quite a lot, but I do want to thank you for your service to this country. I'm Aleksander Nakani, I represent Summers Advanced Design. I'm here representing the company per the request of the White House. Apparently there's a thought we might have a useful thing or two to contribute to all of this."

 

Only the "interns" and Ashley knew him well enough to know Alek was being anything less than sincere, and even then it wasn't by much. 

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Madame Raven

Callie had been raised a Summers and as such had been taught to be suspicious of anyone that seemed to good to be true. As such she couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the gee sucks attitude of this new guy, luckily the shades help hide the eye roll she was doing right now.

 

Looking over at Charlie she smiled and mouthed

 

Is this guy for real?”

 

She made sure that none of the others could see her doing this, as a cowl it was just force of habit to be aware of various eyelines. Useful in combat and espcially useful in social encounters like this.

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Revere was big. Like, seriously so. What had they done to him, some kind of DNAscent process or something like that? Charlie had read up on those a while ago, back at the cave, but this guy... he seemed excessively so.

 

America's newest hero? How long would that nickname even last? People were popping up all over the place all the time, after all.

 

Like Callie, he stayed back. Let Alek do his thing, and hope that the boss didn't try to punch Revere if he tried to go in for a hug. Charlie could kind of recognize the way his shoulders tensed, and it wasn't good.

 

Noticing Callie's reaction, he shrugged ever so slightly, looked around to make sure no one was watching, then mouthed back. "Where'd they even find someone like this?"

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"Mr. Nakani," said Revere with a smile, "it's a pleasure." His grip was firm, perhaps a little too firm, and the handshake went on just a little longer than it should have by any rational standard. "I know being the Patriot means you've got to make friends in high places, but it's all new to me. I'm just a cop from Maine who got picked for the greatest honor in this whole country." He had a distinct Maine accent when he spoke, the sort that made listeners from elsewhere really want to hear him talk about chowdah. "Come on, Agent Tran," he added cheerfully to Ashley, "not even a smile?"

 

Ashley peered up at Revere and said cooly, "Mr. Revere, you should know by now that the United States Secret Service never smiles."

 

That actually did get a few smiles from the detail, quickly stifled, before the Vice-President spoke, "She's right about that. Mr. Nakani, I'm sure you and your staff have questions for Mr. Revere, so I'll just sit back and watch the show if you don't mind. Would you prefer a private conference room, or out here?" 

 

"Oh I don't have any secrets!" said Revere easily, clapping Alek on the shoulder. "Let's just get down to business out heah. What can the Patriot do for your company, Alek?" 
 

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Alek showed no sign of minding the grip or the handshake. It was perhaps for the best no on there was a telepath, though.

'Pathetic. You're the best they could find?' he thought deep inside his own mind. He was nothing but smiles on the outside, though.

 

"It's always an honor to meet those who step up and serve our nation, whether it's as Vice-President, a member of the Secret Service, a military member, or anyone else who serves in any capacity." Alek gestured around the room as he spoke.

 

He didn't glance at where Revere clapped him on the shoulder. However, he barely moved, something that (if she could speak into his ear) Ashley would have told him to avoid. Revere's strength should have made a man Alek's (apparent) size move a fair bit, but the disguised vigilante was feeling spiteful. Instead, he gave Revere a small smile that morphed into a contemplative expression.

 

"Well, I suppose we're in a bit of a situation like that one old Tom Cruise movie, the sports one? Yes. 'Help me, help you.' That's where we're at today, Mister Revere."

 

Without looking, Alek gestured toward Charlie to bring him the briefcase he'd been keeping a close hold on.

 

"Thank you Mister Pratten. Now, while Summers Advanced Design has stepped back from any active research, development, or production of weapons systems, we do still produce defensive gear and various useful pieces of equipment. We're not quite as cutting-edge as Archetech, or frontier-forging as Hallomen Advanced Experts. But we do pride ourselves on offering technology that is both reliable and scalable to demand."

 

He opened the briefcase his intern had brought and drew out a folder, clasping the case shut before handing Revere the documents.

 

"Those are just some preliminary designs, based on some general ideas. What we need to know are a couple of broad ideas. Do you want to prioritize protection, durability, and survivability, along with volume of available gear? Or prioritize agility, speed, and ease of donning and use? We can balance these things, but we don't know the way you like to move like you do. As well, we were not given a clear picture of the intended sorts of missions you'd be undertaking. Search and rescue? Working within American borders to respond to meta-grade threats? Assisting our allies abroad? A bit of everything? That can also influence the optimal mixture of equipment."

 

He glanced at the Vice-President, then back at Revere.

 

"Don't concern yourself with cost, yet. There's just one of you. The scale of this won't make the numbers different enough to matter. What matters is what's going to work best for you."

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Kaur and Revere talked over each other for just a moment before Revere smiled, raising his hands in mock-surrender. "Hey, I'm a good soldier. I follow orders. You better tell him the new plan, boss." His smile at Kaur did not seem terribly sincere. 

 

"We see the Patriot as acting primarily in a domestic capacity," said Kaur to Alek, putting her hands behind her back primly. "For search and rescue, counteracting metahuman threats, that sort of thing. With our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the recent downturn in the War on Terror, the emphasis needs to be on the super as much as the soldier these days. People need a symbol of America that means more than just a strong man with a gun." 

 

For his part, Revere shrugged. "Like I said, I follow orders. Raising national pride and pulling kids out of collapsing inner city buildings is honest work. But they tell me that the serum and radiation treatments mean I'm going to be active in the field a long time. If plans change in the next administration, I want to make sure I'm ready for anything." The conversation went on like that, Kaur laying out an agenda for the Patriot that sounded a bit like a government-managed Centurion, Revere obviously expecting something a little more combat-oriented.

 

He never actually argued with her, was never openly disrespectful, but it was obvious his agenda was rather different than the Vice-President's. He was the sort of big man who was full of confidence and ready for a fight, a man who seemed professional, even, but there was a tension that crackled in the air between him and the Vice-President. 

 

"Mr. Nakani," Ashley spoke up, a hand to her earpiece, "if you and your staff are finished, I'm being told there's a messenger from your headquarters upstairs. I can escort you there, since I believe the Vice-President has a meeting with Director Bonham..." This was a prearranged code phrase to get them into a private meeting room. 

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Aleksander had mostly stayed an observer as the Vice-President and the Patriot-Elect seemed to rehash a half-dozen arguments. When there was a lull in them, and Revere mentioned being "ready for anything, he spoke up gently. 

 

"We can keep going over the options but we've got a couple of models that allow should do that. Definitely special-forces material, yeah?"

 

When Ashley spoke the code, he didn't give a hint as to knowing something was going on. He instead gave the air of a man who was surprised and uncertain.

 

"Really? I suppose it's as good of a time as any for a break. Hm, Mister Pratten, Miss Sen, let's go. Hopefully this will be quick. Agent Tran, please lead the way. I feel like I could get lost in this place!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Charlie dutifully stepped up with the briefcase, then stepped back and folded his hands behind his back. He had suppressed the urge to raise an eyebrow at Alek, no need to give anything away after all, but one he was back with Callie, he couldn't help but glance over at her and mime "Seems like he got his own plans", before snapping to attention again.

 

This was still so weird. Undercover as himself. Well, more undercover than he was at Claremont, at least. And then Revere and the VP started their little thing and... yeah. Probably a good thing that Ashley called them away.

 

"Yes, sir." His response was short, perhaps a bit too quick, but he kind of wanted out of there, right now

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Ashley guided her 'guests' to a private meeting room a few doors down from where the Vice-President was meeting with the Patriot, then carefully locked it behind her. She nodded up towards a camera in the room's upper left corner and reached up, standing on tiptoes for a moment to hit a button underneath. "That'll put it in reset mode for a while, give us a chance to talk." She shook her head, turning back to the others. "Do you see what I mean?" she asked, spreading her hands. "That man in there passed every physical and psychological test. He has been a cop, he has been a soldier, and every supervisor he has ever had signed a letter of recommendation for him. He's already gone through the DNAscendent process, so there are about eight figures of government dollars in his veins alone. But when I look him in the eye, when I see the way he talks to people...there is something wrong here." 

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Alek instinctively reached into his coat, but his hand stopped halfway there with a slight grin and a shrug. Ashely knew the signs of "reaching for a scrambler" very well. When he spoke his voice was a half-octave lower; it was Alek's most "natural" voice, somewhere between the open, airy one he used with board meetings and general public schmoozing, and the deep growl of the Raven. 

 

"Yes. Still putting my finger on it. But he feels way too...partisan."

 

He frowned at that phrasing.

 

"Not sure if that's the best word? But it's not just that he's too rigid or too military. Get the sense he has agendas and ideas, and specifically doesn't like the politics of the new admin. Genuinely thought Cahill was at least better than that for something like this."

 

His gaze sharpened a bit as he looked Ashley in the eye. 

 

"Do you think he'd be likely to try and take action against the lawful government for being 'too liberal'? Almost getting vibes like that."

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"He feels off, yeah." Alek pretty much hit on exactly what Charlie had been thinking. "I dunno, the whole big friendly guy he's putting on, with hugs and everything? It feels kind of forced."

 

Charlie shook his head and looked up at the camera. He would've prefered the scrambler, but Ashley knew what she was doing, and probably not a great idea to use tech like that in here.

 

"What's the deal with him and the VP? Got some really bad vibes between the two of them. Any history that we know of?"

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"Kaur was a critic of traditional law enforcement during her career in Congress," said Ashley, "at least until she found herself in the running for Vice-President." The Secret Service agent smirked a little at that, with them safely away from the others, before she added, "And Revere is...he asked me where I was from, and I told him New Orleans, and he said 'no, your parents.'" Now she wasn't smiling at all. "Some men don't think of themselves as racist, or sexist, and they can pass any test you give them about women's equality and people of color. But when you put them under pressure, you can see it, even if they'll never admit it." 

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