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Summer 2022 

Freedom Federal Building 

 

The Patriot Cycle, powered down and disguised as a regular motorcycle, parked in the ample parking garage of the Freedom City Federal Building. It was after hours and largely empty, though the scattered few cars Ashley and Carmen had passed on their way in showed that it wasn't completely abandoned. They weren't even alone on their level. "Good evening, Patriot, La Puma Negra," said the smartly-dressed young blonde woman who was there to greet them. She'd gone heavy on the perfume to Carmen's senses, enough that she smelled more like Elizabeth Arden than anything else. She was younger than Carmen might have expected for someone with such a high-level job. 

 

"Hi Daisy," said the Patriot, matching her secretary's tone. She was in full costume tonight, geared up and helmeted, and had suggested Carmen do the same 'or whatever you're comfortable with.' "All quiet?" 


"So far," said Daisy, a faint smile tugging at her bright red lips. 

 

"We've learned not to say 'everything's fine,'" said the Patriot, returning her secretary's look. "That's a curse. So, any questions before you get the tour?" 

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La Puma Negra

 

Carmen didn't really like the humid heat of the Summer night as the two rode through the rather quiet streets of Freedom City. Even for such a busy city, the Federal Building seemed to not have too much activity as they pulled into the parking garage. Having been told to dress up in costume, or for her at least, something that meant she could do work in at least, which meant the use of a modified school gymnastics, sporting the blue and yellow of Claremont. The only difference was a dark greyish belt at her waist. It may not have had anything in it at the moment besides her cellphone and a little bit of money, but she had plans to add far more uses for it in the future.

 

Like a lost kitten, the young heroine would follow Patriot into the Gov't building, stretching out a little bit from the ride. It was only her second time on one and she still wasn't rather used to it. In fact, she wasn't used to Freedom City at all, especially as she cringed at the smell of strong perfume, enough to daze her if not just for a second, shaking her head in a nod to greet Daisy. Daisy's youth was somewhat of a surprise, but with how strong it was, it was as if she was compensating for something.

 

"So, you like, work for the government or something?"  Carmen asked, inspecting around herself, "Like a secret agent type?"

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"I'm just an administrative assistant," said Daisy with a smile that was almost dazzingly white even in the semi-darkness of the parking garage. "The Patriot was kind enough to hire me when she was looking for a secretary/social media manager who could work all night." 

 

"Daisy and I knew each other when we were teenagers," said the Patriot evenly. "We both had some issues with the hero world when we were kids." The two women seemed to exchange a look, then Daisy folded her hands in front of her primly. Inside the elevator upstairs, there was silence for a moment before the Patriot and Daisy talked briefly about conditions that night. It sounded to Carmen's ears like all was quiet; the Vice-President's last set of phone calls had all been returned, Sovereign Citizen hadn't appeared again since his last sighting in Florida, and the latest stack of reports had all gone off to AEGIS. 

 

Upstairs, the door opened in what certainly appeared to be an almost-deserted lobby, occupied only by a couple of uniformed security officers and an older, stockily-built African-American woman in a janitor's uniform running a floor buffer. The Patriot made a point of introducing her charge to all of them; Felipe, a Hispanic man who smelled distinctly of cigarettes you weren't supposed to smoke indoors, his partner Roland who looked about as white and blonde as Daisy (albeit without her charisma), and Barbara, who'd been cleaning floors in this building for twenty-years. 

 

The Patriot was obviously friendly with all of them as she made the introductions; asking Barbara about her grandkids, mentioning that Felipe was Boricuan off-handedly, and seemed to fit right in despite her strange costume. Carmen got a couple of odd looks from the night craw; but no more; it seemed like people around here had seen weird before. "So what do you want to see next?" 

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"Is that so huh?" Carmen spoke as she for the most part quietly followed Patriot and Daisy around the office from the parking garage to the building proper. Unlike the ride out to the woods, here it was more like a typical school field trip and the young catwoman was quickly growing bored. She'd only speak briefly to Felipe, giving only a small greeting, turned off from speaking further due to the strong smell of cigarettes, another smell she seemed to dislike.

 

At this point in her life, she didn't really mind the odd looks. Carmen had slowly grown used to them over time, but it was the crowds that was of distaste to her, where she felt out of place, "I guess we can see your office if you don't mind?" fidgeting a little before looking around the empty office building. Since it was clear that it was a Gov't building, she could only assume that the mention of the Vice-President only showed how high Patriot was, but she didn't really recognize them name of Sovereign Citizen or this AEGIS. In the back of her mind, it felt more like what she had heard was more like an employment pitch.

 

"How long have you been working here?"

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"Since 2020, or thereabouts. My previous employer skipped town and I was at - loose ends before the Patriot found me." 

 

Ashley steered Carmen away from the staff as they headed for a door marked The Patriot, where a white star against a red, white, and blue background sat on frosted glass like the picture of a tooth in an old-time dentist's office. Daisy went ahead of them, flipping on the lights as they came, revealing - what turned out to be a pretty standard office waiting room. The pictures on the wall were of various patriotic scenes, ranging from Norman Rockwell paintings to the various Patriots and Lady Libertys in action, the big wooden desk by the inner door clearly Daisy's from how she moved by it to check her mail. There wasn't much at all on her desk, which smelled of her perfume even more heavily than Daisy herself did, just a publicity image of famous heroes Psyche and Phalax that might as well have come with the frame. 

 

For her part, the Patriot studied Carmen before saying, "Tell me what you think of the decor here. Be honest." She stood in front of an image of the newest Lady Liberty, fighting terrorists along the US-Mexican border, and folded her arms behind her back in a pose that unconsciously mirrored the second Raven. 

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2020 wasn't that long ago in terms of how long ago that was. At that time, she was still sulking around back home in Puerto Rico, watching the heroic world from the periphery. Now she was in it, dead center in the superhero world, and far from her native home, "Sounds like it was pretty rough setting back up I bet before he found you," she'd respond, following her straight to her office. It was a hunch that it was the former Patriot's own office, given the names, wondering if that ever got confusing for people to remember. Having been rushed through a few of her classes to be caught up with other students, Carmen's hero history was still a bit rough, and while she couldn't get the names of most of those pictures, the young heroine could still identify the heroic identities of each one.

 

Even looking down at the desk, filled with a strong smell of Patriot's preferred perfume that invaded her senses, she could identify Psyche and Phalax, famous heroes of Freedom City. She assumed they were close friends, as every other photo seemed to be of major heroes and heroines, especially those that were of the predominantly patriotic kind. So, hearing a question asking about what she thought of the decor wasn't too much of a challenge for her. Then again, Carmen wasn't much for artistic, her own artistic pursuits being rather tame and or drab in comparison.

 

"I guess it's fine. Makes you think a lot about your history, who you are."

Edited by MoonSimply
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Up close in the space of the outer office, Carmen was able to tell that the perfume smell was coming from the secretary rather than the heroine - whatever Daisy actually smelled like it was impossible to say. The Patriot herself smelled like grease and the road dust they'd just left, which made sense given recent circumstances. Speaking of which, it was hard to read the Patriot's face, but the look she seemed to be giving her was decidedly - measuring. "Lots of the Patriot's history," she said, leaving Daisy behind as she headed into an inner office that looked to be decorated with much the same color scheme and general fashion sense. In here there were no extra desk decorations, just a shut-down computer and stacks of file folders, not even the desk image of other heroes that Daisy had had on her desk. "But there's nothing in this room that has anything to do with the woman behind the helmet. Which should suggest...what?" she asked. 

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"Well... I don't really know. My guess would be that you don't really get to use it much or well... maybe you want to be your own person. I get the whole legacy thing, but I'm not sure really if that's what you're asking," Puma responds back to her after inspecting the room. Daisy's perfume was obviously screwing with her senses, but now slightly away from her, it was far easier to concentrate on what she actually needed to look around for. To her, it was just another boring office, this time with far fewer personal affects littered around, not to mention none of the interesting photographs of heroes that came before them.

 

She'd respond with a question, noticing the best she could see the look that Patriot seemed to give, "How was the Patriot before you, what were they like?"

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"I only met him a couple of times," said the Patriot evenly. "He was - mostly retired even before I was in high school." She hesitated, looked like she was going to say more, then said, "You probably heard a lot about him in history class. Jack Simmons, the cop-turned-hero-turned-cop, the man who fought Hitler and founded AEGIS. Oh, and betrayed the Liberty League's secret identities to the government." She smiled thinly at that. "A lot of people hated him for that, but if you look at the circumstances, I think he was the guy who was willing to make the tough choice even if it turned out to be wrong-" 

 

At that moment, there was a flashing light on Daisy and the Patriot's desk, and the blonde secretary stuck her head in the door just long enough to say "I'll get that," before she disappeared out the outer office. 

 

"Anyway," said the Patriot, smiling, "the other guess is that if there's nothing really of me in this room, there must be something somewhere else...if you'd like to see that," she offered. 

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Carmen listened to the older heroine as she slowly paced around the room, looking around it to investigate more. There had to be something of the current Patriot's stuff here, but there wasn't much at all in this. All the elusiveness that the Patriot was giving off was confusing her but being a government agent likely meant that there was a good reason for this to be. From what she had seen, having to deal with such grave near godly threats was enough to a secret for anybody. Carmen also suspected that the previous Patriot must have had his own secrets as well, listening about the time with Simmons when he was under the mask.

 

La Puma's head quickly turned on a swivel rather quickly, her senses kicking in quickly as she looks over to the flashing light, catching the light as it shown on both of desks, "Assuming that just means someone is calling... or is it time for you to go to work?" she spoke, watching Daisy run out to likely answer the call of whatever it was, putting a hand to her hip, "So you got a secret room, all to yourself or something?"

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"The outdoor alarm is faulty, Daisy has to go shut that down at least once a week. And I have more than just a room," said the Patriot. "Here, this is a little dramatic," she admitted. "But it's effective." She walked up to the small bookcase by the side of the room and pulled out a volume, watching as the shelf rose up into the ceiling to reveal a carefully-concealed door. "Here," she said, tossing the copy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin to Carmen. "Keep that as a souvenir. Too much drama can make you look like some kind of dipwad, but a little judicious use of it can make a strong impression." She laid her hand on the handprint shape by the side of the door, then said aloud "Beyond the Years", making the secret door itself slide up, revealing an elevator inside, one bright and shiny chrome on the inside. "You want to see what things really look like around here?"

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Puma took the copy of the autobiography of one of the founding fathers of the United States in her hands when offered before watching as the secret shelf revealed it to be a hidden door on top of serving itself as a bookshelf. She'd inspect it, reading off the English on the back cover.  Now she was getting into the meat and potatoes of what she assumed the heroic lifestyle and career of what Patriot did. So, when offered to see more than just the typical government office building, the young heroine almost leapt at the idea of something that seemed rather exciting, making her way with the book in hand.

 

 

"¡Vamos!" she spoke, holding the book to her chest as she was first into the secret elevator, "I can't wait to see Patriot."

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The elevator closed around the two women, its inner walls lighting up with a soft white institutional light. "It's nothing special," the Patriot told Carmen as they descended, "it's just my space and some personal stuff. You have to have something that's yours in the office or you're always going to feel like a stranger. Believe me, I get enough of that as it is." 

 

The elevator descended. An instant before the doors opened, the Patriot cursed explosively, her pistols flying into her hands. "Get back!" She stepped in front of Carmen as the doors opened, revealing a large, furred individual that looked like a wolf walking bipedally, albeit with humanoid hands that it raised in front of it. 

The wolf cursed explosively, then said in a distinct Italian accent "Hey! Hey! It's all right! I am not causing any trouble!" The wolf smelled like oil and cloves to Carmen, a thick tangle of scents like a candle store crossed with a New Age pagan's front parlor. 

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Carmen smiled, "In my dorm I do the same thing. It makes me feel comfortable," she spoke before her senses picked something up. A dog. Did Patriot own some sort of dog? She didn't have issues with dogs, far from afraid of them as one would expect of the typical cats and dog style relationship. Something was wrong here however as things went into high gear rather quickly in the blink of an eye.

 

She was pushed back by her mentor, bringing her pistol to bare at the elevator door, revealing what looked like some sort of wolfman, standing before both of them much to their surprise. It immediately drove her senses into overdrive, growling with her claws out as she looked like she was about ready to pounce at this strange creature not too unlike herself. It still put her highly on guard, staying behind Patriot, hissing at this stranger. Smelling him was like a bad candle store, near making her sick initially as she wasn't used to the strong scent.

 

"Wa?" she spoke confused as she let down her guard, not sure what to do suddenly as this wolf creature back down, cursing his luck and backing off, "Who is this?!"

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"Woof!" said the wolf, "Hey, I don't want to start any trouble here!" Hands were up and he was stepping back, but the wolf-man was at least a head taller than either of the ladies who were facing him down. 

 

"You started trouble when you broke into a secret government facility you-" Ashley had been about to make reference to the fur on the guy's body but decided that wasn't cool in front of her mentee. "son of a bitch!"  

 

"Don't be so rude, lady!" said the wolf, a growl beginning to enter his voice. "Just for the record, my friends and I didn't even come here for your little bunker! Come on, catgirl," he said to Carmen, shifting to his left leg, "now's your chance!" 

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"¿Qué dijiste perro bastardo?" (What did you say bastard dog?) Carmen growled. It was more like a hiss if anything as anger began to well up inside her, slowly building as it looked like she was about to pounce at him wild and dangerously. At Claremont she was already in some counseling to deal with the more feral side of her mind, the one that could lash out with ferocity. Being called a catgirl began to rile her up more than one would have thought, maybe due to the natural rivalry ingrained in cat and dogs.

 

She pushed forward, tail focused straight and her claws out, "Say it again!" Carmen spoke. Gone was Puerto Rican young woman and returned was La Puma Negra, out now on the prowl and ready to defend herself.

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The young Carmen was gone, replaced with her persona of the La Puma Negra, anger and aggression full frontal as she came out to strike. In rather typical fashion of such aggression combined with a natural speed and reflexes, she was out first for the attack. Maybe she could have stopped a few moments to talk with this strange intruder but being called a catgirl wasn't something she rather liked to hear describe her, even if it was technically true.

 

Time at Claremont had homed in some of her skills and ability, bringing direction into how she fought, but the raw animal ferocity was still there as she pounced forward at the wolfman, coming around for a daring spin kick that'd land its mark. However, it was likely blocked, her claws being the only fully damaging, enough to draw blood if they were unfortunate. Puma would bounce off of him in a partial crotch, growling like a small animal.

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The wolfman bled with an animalistic cry, the hot smell of animal-human blood filling La Puma's nostrils in the aftermath of her palpable swipe. Despite having cut him deeply enough to bleed on the metal floor beneath their feet, he seemed more focused on her mentor, though - or maybe it was just that the Patriot unhesitatingly put herself between the wolfman's huge claws and her protege. The claws swung high over her head as she dropped to one knee, dual-wielding her pistols as she fired a volley of brightly glowing red and blue laser blasts directly into the creature's midsection. The wolf was wounded now, bleeding and burned, but clearly still in the fight. 

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There was no escaping the fight now as she moved out of the way of an attack towards her mentor, protected by the more experienced hero. Blood was on her claws after striking the wolf man, still unsure why he was there or whom he actually was at it seemed like focus was on Patriot. She watched the flash of her weapons strike into the gut of the intruder, scorching him. The smell of scorched fur was in the air, sickening to her inexperienced senses. She tried to attack again, going in from behind to attack, but with her mentor there it made things harder for her to hit in the close quarter melee.

 

"Watch it!" she spoke as she tried to hit him, unexperienced still daunting in trying to fight.

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The wolfman growled and swiped at the retreating catgirl, only to have his blow intercepted by the solid presence of the Patriot herself. Ashley caught the blow against her armored sleeve, turning so the claws skidded along the tough cloth, and spat directly in the werewolf's face. Then she came up with her left-hand gun and shot the wolfman in the face, twice, producing an agonized howl of pain that made the creature stagger back against the wall. Bringing both her guns up, the Patriot took aim. "Stand down! Final warning!" she barked. 

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It looked like intimidation wouldn't be the only way to try and deal with the intruder. Instead, it would just have to be a good old-fashioned beat down. She'd leap out from behind Patriot, moving with a speed far above that of any normal Human and with the reflexes to boot. La Puma took to such with ease, looking like she was trying to sweep him right off his feet, but then she came up, smashing a clawed foot right into the wolf man's chin with a flip kick. She may still be new, but Claremont was certainly catching her up to speed as she landed back on her feet, knocking the intruder out in swift style.

 

"Serves you right!"  she shouts at him.

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"Hm," said the Patriot, once she'd checked that the werewolf was down and out. Once that was done, she carefully bound the man, tying his wrists together first with zip-ties, then powerful-looking handcuffs that glittered with barely-suppressed internal energies. "Would have liked to interrogate him, but better he's down than we're hurt." She took a cylinder of metal off her belt, held it to her lips, and said "Flower Girl! Flower Girl, come in! Damn it..."

 

She looked around the level they'd entered, its walls a gunmetal grey rather different from the institutional interiors of wood and plaster they'd left upstairs, and said in a cool, professional voice that belied the tension she was actually feeling: "Going to keep trying to raise Daisy on the comms. Scout around down here and see if there are any more of these bastards, but don't engage - come back here."

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"How would he be able to sneak into a place like this, who the heck even is this perro?" Puma spoke as she watched the knocked out wolfman with a scowl, keeping her claws out and on high alert as she guards her mentor, Patriot cuffing him. It wasn't like she hadn't been in a fight before, and she had already met a near god-like being, but this was nerve wracking. A place that she wholly expected would have been safe and secure from all appearances was now terribly so one that could not be trusted in its security.

 

Puma would nod to Patriot, rushing forward silently and deftly along, scouting ahead for the rest of the facility. Like a large predatory cat, she'd sneak forward, as if on the hunt for whatever sort of intruder had found their way into the place. For all she knew they could be anything from thieves to utter assassins, holding back the fury it was that pervaded her mind to teach these thugs a lesson the moment she saw one, but she recalled Patriots words, keeping to scouting what was up ahead.

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It was hard to see much of what was going on in the Patriot's sanctum; most of the metal walled rooms Carmen could see were still locked. Only one room's metal doors stood open, a strange sight that looked more like a transporter room from Star Trek than anything she'd seen in Freedom City. The room was metal-walled too, with shiny reflections that showed Carmen her own feline face, and it smelled distinctly of wolf. It wasn't hard for her to guess where the wolf, and in fact several more wolves, had come in. Come to think of it, this did look like Star Trek - the whole place looked rather more high-tech than Carmen would have expected a government agent to have; looking more like pictures she'd seen of alien spacecraft than a US government installation. 

 

By the time she arrived back at the entrance, she was confronted by a grim-faced Patriot who was herself listening to audio playback from her wrist communicator. A growling, canine voice was saying: 

 

"If you want the ghoul back, you'll give us the Stone! You have ten minutes!" 

 

"You don't know what you're doing," Ashley said urgently into her communicator, "you need to let her-" There was a click, and silence, and she cursed. 

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Having managed to avoid being spotted or heard from her knowledge, Puma investigated the secret hideout of her mentor, low to ground like the big cat of her namesake. The smell of similar wolfman to the one that they had fought was in the air and she had to find them. Everything felt off, metal walls, all refined to make it look like some sort of government facility out of any sort of movie she had seen. She'd turn the corner, watching from outside a larger room that had plenty of the strangers there, like some sort of space alien from another planet or maybe world. She didn't like this, not one bit, and quickly came back to report her finding to Patriot.

 

"Who was that?" Puma questioned upon her return, overhearing the conversation, "There is more of them, a lot more. Isn't there like defenses or security in these sorts of places. After fighting him I doubt we can take on more than a few at a time?"

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