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Early October (Friday the 10th), 2008

The delivery truck pulled up to Doctor Viktor Archeville's modest house in Hanover at noon. The driver, a lanky man in his mid-30s, piled a page-sized envelope onto his clipboard and jumped down. He walked nervously through the well-groomed yard, eyeing the lawn gnomes suspiciously. I hate this "mad scientist" crap. I hope nothing explodes while I'm here. He knocked at the door.

A scratchy electronic voice shouted from some concealed speakers. "Halt!" The driver jumped. "Please state your name and the nature of your visit."

"Um, Fedex. I've got a parcel for you." He wiped some sweat off his brow with the back of his forearm, and strained to look inside the front windows. But he couldn't make out anything behind the heavy white curtains. "Not one I can just leave on the porch, either. Someone's gotta sign for it."

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A brief bit of harsh German escaped the unseen speakers before they cut off. The door opened, though initially nothing could be seen at all.

Until the robotic gorilla came into view. It was quite obviously robotic, with no skin or fur, and its left arm appeared newer than the rest of it. Shinier, less pitted or scuffed.

"Follow," it said simply, and then began to walk off to the left. Its voice was that of Archeville, though slightly distorted.

"Whoah, whoah, whoah! I ain't goin' down no hallway with no robotic ape!" the delivery man protested.

The gorilla let out a digitally distorted approximation of a grunt as it turned around to face him. "Fine, fine, I'll be up in a moment."

I don't get paid enough for this, the delivery man thought.

Meanwhile, down in the laboratory...

Gah, what now? I told you we should've built our base outside of the city, or else have it be completely hidden.

Yes, you did. And I told you why that wouldn't happen.

Oh, let's just get this over with. Maybe it'll be something nice, like those disease samples we ordered.

You mean the vaccine samples we ordered?

Archeville removed the bluetooth headset-like device from his ear -- the one that let him see, hear, and speak through the robo-gorilla -- and set it down on the workbench. Strewn about it were assorted plastic tubes and pipes and trigger mechanisms, as well as assorted chemical flasks; he appeared to be working on a series of water guns. He already had his Electromagnetic Screwdriver in hand,and it was easy to swing by the recharge station and pick up his Gravimetric Belt. He then made his way towards the foyer.

"So, vhat's all dis den, hrm?"

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"I don't open the packages, Doc. I just deliver them. Sign here please. And here...and initial here. There ya go. All yours. Give my regards to the...whatevers." The driver handed Archeville a large envelope, tipped his hat to him, and took off jogging across the cobblestone path through the yard and back to his truck. Which he had in-gear and back on the street in the blink of an eye.

The large Fedex envelope contained two smaller envelopes.

One was a utilitarian business-style, typed out in Courier. Inside was a form letter, bearing the letterhead of the Rhodes Foundation, indicating that the Foundation had awarded Doctor Viktor Archeville a grant to help fund his scientific research, "which has been shown repeatedly to benefit both the citizens of Freedom City and humankind as a whole." It was signed by the C.E.O. herself, Sofia Hernandez de la Cruz. The envelope also contained a cheque. A big one.

The other was the sort of heavy off-white formal style commonly used on wedding invitations. It held card printed in inlaid calligraphy, requesting "the pleasure of Doctor Archeville's company" at Pharos, at 7pm tonight.

Pharos - the world-famous Egyptian-themed restaurant on the top floor of 2 Pyramid Plaza.

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Wowzers!

That... is impressive. But I don't recall asking them for a grant; I've been trying to make an appointment to meet with them for a while, but that's it. Did you...?

No, no, I didn't. They just must've hard how amazing we are -- and it is only proper that they reward us!

Hurm.

Archeville drifted back to his laboratory, looking the letter, cheque, and invitation many times. Once there, he called Eastern Seaboard Bank and made arrangements to stop by later that afternoon and deposit the grant into his accounts. They were all too happy to oblige, especially since he had recently given them so pointers on upgrading their security. Then he tossed the letter onto his ever-growing "to-file" stack.

"I'm guessing the invite for dinner is from Ms. Cruz herself. Might as well look her up," he said as he drifted over to the large pillar of monitors in the center of his laboratory-workshop. "Computer! Bring up all data on Ms. Sofia Hernandez de la Cruz, CEO of the Rhodes Foundation."

Images and video clips of Sofia popped up, along with brief bios and descriptions of both her and the Rhodes Foundation.

"Hunh - maybe I should move my investments and holdings to Rhodes, they seem to have a better reach than E-Sea."

Archeville went back to work on some of his projects, though part of his mind was still on the Rhodes foundation. He intended to stop before 4pm, to give himself enough time to get to the bank... but that didn't happen. By the time he did stop to check the time, it was almost 6:30.

"Sonuva..."

After a quick change of clothes -- into his formal khakis, shirt and lab coat -- and making sure the cheque was secured in one of his coat's inner pockets, he flew off to the Pyramid Plaza.

* All dialogue translated from German, of course.

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Located on Wading Way, in the heart of Freedom City's business district, the three triangular towers of Pyramid Plaza are a wonder to behold. Each floor rotates a few degrees off from the one below it, such that the entire building seems to spiral upward around a central axis. The gleaming shells of glass and steel play host to some of the most hotly-contested office, retail, and living space in all of Freedom City.

Pharos takes up the entire top floor of Tower #3, 90 stories above the street. The view from the highest point in Freedom City is nothing short of spectacular. The restaurant itself is decorated in a predominantly art deco style, with many neo-classical Egyptian features, like palm fronds and lotus columns.

The maître d', a dark-haired Persian man in his late 30s, smiled and waved when he saw Archeville step out of the elevator lobby. "Doctor Archeville, I presume! So glad you could join us tonight. Your host has already been seated at her usual table." He grabbed a menu and a wine list out from behind the front podium, and motioned for Archeville to follow him. "Right this way."

He led Archeville across the room, to a table in the far southeastern corner of the restaurant. Privacy screens surrounded the booth, concealing the occupants from prying eyes while still affording a view of the landscape through the floor-to-ceiling windows. "Please be seated, and one of our servers will be with you shortly." He bowed, gestured toward the entrance to the booth, and walked back toward the kitchen.

The lone occupant was momentarily hidden behind the menu she seemed to study intently. A feminine hand appeared from behind the menu, placing a half-empty coffee-liqeur glass back onto the table. Upon the good doctor's arrival, she let it fall to the table as she stood up and offered him a handshake. He could see now that his dinner companion was not Ms. Cruz after all. "Buenas tardes, Doctor Archeville. My name is Elena Guerrero..."

...And it is a pleasure to finally meet you under better circumstances.

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Swanky place.

This is quite nice. We really should get out more.

Bah! What need have I for this miserably inferior lot?

... their superior cooking skills?

Archeville nodded to the maître d' upon being greeted, and followed behind, walking rather than gliding. No point in being too obvious, after all. Besides, he'd flown most of the way over, and his legs needed the exertion.

Once at the booth, he began to sit, then noticed someone else was already there, and was rising to greet him.

"Buenas tardes, Doctor Archeville. My name is Elena Guerrero..."

Archeville took her hand, "Guten abend, frau-"

...And it is a pleasure to finally meet you under better circumstances.

Scarab?

YOU!!!

Archeville cocked his head to one side, then released her hand and sat across from her. He was quiet, but only for half a moment. When he spoke again, it was with a smirk. "I take it, den, dat Frau Cruz will not be showing tonight?"

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Me.

"You are correct. Though she is already aware of anything we might discuss. Sofia is a...friend of the family." And if anything ever happens to her, they won't find enough pieces of the culprits to identify the bodies. "A friend who is more than willing to occasionally pull strings. Especially for one of her largest shareholders. I just wanted you to know how much we appreciated your aid regarding that unfortunate business."

Elena reached down and pulled a large envelope from her seat. She slid it across the table to Archeville.

"As promised, the keys to the kingdom. Access codes, and maps of the entrances. Those codes will get you far enough to enter in your own information, which will then be used to verify your identity at each visit from then on. You'll be able to come and go as you please, and make use of the resources my home has to offer. Once inside, you're free to peruse and dissect Mr. D's work to your heart's content. I hope it proves informative. I figured we could head down there after dinner."

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GET OUT!!!

I am, er, very sorry, ma'am, my... other half can be quite... difficult to work with.

"Oh, I vas qvite happy to be of help, Frau Guerrero. You and your sidekick caught me at a good time; a veek later und you vould haff missed me, as I vas in Munich for a... conference."

His mouth says "conference," but his mind says "Oktoberfest."

"I do hope you caught de von responsible for dat horrible event."

GET OU-... ah, protective of Sofia, are we?

Stop that! Miss Guerrero, please believe me, we would never let That One do anything to anyone you care for! Or do any harm to anyone, at all!

Archeville took the envelop and looked through it, a large Cheshire Cat grin spreading across his face as he did so.

Muah hah hah hah hah hah! All Daedalus's secrets will be mine! Then I'll show him!

Ah, dammit! We've gotta make sure you're monitored!

"I presume dat dere are security measures, both in terms of surveillance equipment und logs for vhen people come in und out? You cannot be too careful, you know."

Elena was a tad surprised at Archeville's ability to hold two mental conversations and one verbal one, all simultaneously, with no apparently difficulty. Most folks have trouble holding one verbal & one mental conversation simultaneously.

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"The matter wasn't resolved as neatly as I would have liked. But then again, few things in life are."

"Yes, there are logs and surveillance devices and locks and alarms and...you get the idea. My security measures were the prototypes for those He later incorporated into...his second home. You could probably bypass them with some effort, but for the most part they are more than adequate."

"That's actually something I wanted to ask you about. I'm placing a great deal of trust in your hands. Partially because I believe in the potential for good I see in you, and because you've yet to give any of the citizens of Freedom City any reason to doubt you. And, admittedly, partially because you're smart enough that, if I tried to sedate or blindfold you before bringing you down, you'd just figure out the location anyway."

"But do you have your...problem under control? Are you seeing a psychiatrist? And if you feel yourself begin to lose control, will you have the courage and good sense to get help?"

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Problem? I'm no problem, I'm his inspiration, his drive!

Reluctantly, I do have to concede that point, at least partially. While I try to rein That One in and use our mind for good and helpful things, our energy does ultimately stem from That One, from the more primitive, reactionary drives which That One embodies.

"It is..." he began, "mostly under control. As far as I know, thus far de vorse it... ve... I haff done is draw up plans for assorted super-veapons, vons no von should ever, ever have, as vell as appending mein files on assorted metahumans mit notes on how to... to take dem out. I delete any such notes or schematics vhen I find dem, but even so, dey are all still present up here," he says, tapping his left temple, "if not also copied to some hidden drive. I do find, however, dat by indulging it for brief moments -- such as by using its manic energy in de construction of certain devices, or by really turning up de 'Mad Scientist' act -- it becomes quieter for a time aftervards."

"Unfortunately, most psychiatrists vould be of no help. Mein knowledge extends to de bahavioral sciences, und as such I know de techniques dey vould try to use in diagnosing und treating me, und know how to skew dem in order to evade any real help. Vhich is vhat, on a subconscious level, I vould do, preventing any therapist from even getting a solid diagnosis on vhat mein problems are in de first place. Und even if dat veren't de case, de fact I think so much... more, und so much faster dan others vould be an impediment to diagnosis. Dey vould haff trouble keeping up, und if I tried to slow meinself down for dem, I vould get very, very frustrated after a vhile, de same vay somevon vaiting in a slow line at de grocery store vould get frustrated."

He pauses to get some water, "Vhich is not to say that I haff completely forsaken de psychiatric fields as an avenue of remedy. I am self-medicating, a mixture of carbamazepine, clonazepam, fluoxetine, und lithium carbonate -- all anti-anxiety agents, most used in de treatment of bipolar disorder. I am trying to tackle dis from several angles... und some additional 'monitoring' vould be very, very appreciated."

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With that, the hissing of miniature jet engines and the sudden sound of sucking air was all the warning anyone in the restaurant received before several of the floor-to-ceiling windows exploded inward, littering the floor with tiny shards of jagged glass.

Elena suddenly vanished from Archeville's sight. I'll be right back.

Four humanoids floated down and in through the shattered windows. Each was clad head-to-toe in gleaming chrome armor, adorned with a large numerical character on the chest. 2, 4, 6, and 8. Three of them were carrying large canvas bags.

#2 did the talking. Her voice was tinny and mechanical as it rang out through the speakers in her armor. "We know it's a long walk home for some of you, so we're here to lighten your load. If you would all be so kind as to place your valuables on your tables, get down on the ground, and put your hands on your head, this will all be over soon with a minimum of fuss, and you'll all have a great story to tell at the next party."

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What the? This was a set-up!

No, it wasn't, it's just a robbery by four guys in powered armor suits. Hunh, odd how I can say that so nonchalantly....

Whatever, let's just go kick their skidplates so we can get back to dinner!

Agreed, though I believe our companion had the right idea. Though perhaps with a bit of misdirection thrown in.

"Oh, how terrible! Won't someone save us?!" he shrieked in as high and girly (and French) a voice as he could manage. He then immediately faded from view, and slowly flew around the screens and towards the closest Power Corps member he could reach.

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The maitre'd approached #2 with his hands held palm-up in front of him. "Please, we don't want any troub-" *CRACK!*

#4 interposed himself between them and backhanded the maitre'd across the side of his face. He crumpled to the ground, clutching his head and wincing. "'Everybody on the ground' means you too, Captain Courage. Now take your wallet out, put it in the bag, and shut up."

After snatching the maitre'd's wallet out of his outstretched hand, #4 stomped over to the table Doctor Archeville had shared with Elena a moment ago. "You gotta be rich to eat here at all. Get your own booth, that means you're rich even by these people's standards. Let's see what we've got..." He grabbed one of the screens and tore it away, revealing...nothing and no one. "What the...?" He hefted the one screen and used it to batter aside the others. Then he grabbed the table with both hands and ripped it up out of the floor. Finding nothing, he threw it aside and turned to resume collecting the spoils.

Most of the customers pulled off their jewelry and dropped it on the tables, along with wallets and purses, and frantically scurried to the floor, as instructed. One elderly couple, however, maintained a dignified bearing. They placed their wallet and purse slowly and carefully upon their table, and the lady did likewise with her necklace and bracelet. But they left their rings untouched.

"You." #2 pointed at the unflappable senior citizens. She and #4 made their way to the table, kicking aside the panicked customers huddled on the ground in their path. "We said all the jewelry. You don't get to pick and choose."

The Old Soldier stood up out of his chair, straightened his shirt, and stared straight up into #2's opaque visor. "You can take these trinkets. But we've decided we're not letting you take our wedding rings. We've been married for almost sixty years. I'm the veteran of two foreign wars. And I will NOT be pushed around by two-bit thugs like you!"

#2 laughed, and nodded to #8. "Yes you will." #8 swept The Old Soldier's feet out from under him with a circular spinning kick while simultaneously hitting him with an open-palm strike to the chest, knocking him down to the ground. Then he grabbed The Old Soldier's ankle and lifted him up into the air. The Old Soldier beat #4 about the legs with his fists, but his blows clanked harmlessly against #8's armor.

The Army Wife leapt up out of her seat, grabbed her chair, and smashed it against #8's head and torso. The chair splintered into very small pieces, but #8 didn't even flinch. She might as well have been a bug hitting a windshield. #2 casually adjusted a dial on her arm and pointed her fist at The Army Wife. A beam of blue energy exploded from #2's gauntlet, launching The Army Wife across the room. She crashed against the far wall of the room, near the elevator lobby entrance, several feet in the air, then collapsed onto the ground face-first. The front of her dress smoldered.

#2 cocked her head back toward their improvised entrance. "You people seem to think we're playing around. Allow us to dispel that myth." #8 nodded, pulled The Old Soldier up, and walked a couple steps toward the broken windows.

Doctor Archeville heard The Scarab's voice echo in his mind once more. Save the old man, then back me up on offense.

#8 swung The Old Soldier around in a circle, and hurled him out the window.

The Army Wife reached out toward The Old Soldier and screamed. "HAROLD!"

Suddenly, The Scarab appeared across the table from #2. She raised her palm up a few inches toward the ceiling, and The Old Soldier's table scraped up off the ground and tilted sideways. #2 turned halfway around. "WHAT THE -" she exclaimed as The Scarab pointed at her. The table flew directly at her, striking with such force that it shattered on impact, sending #2 sprawling to the ground.

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Crap!

Off-ense! Off-ense!

Save the old man first!

Someone outside the building would see the Old Soldier be flung out, then suddenly stop in mid-air. They would then see his rescuer fade into view, and lower him gently to the ground.

"Nothing broken, Sir? If not, could I trouble you to call de police und report dis? I've a battle to rejoin." To some surprise, the Doktor then saluted the Old Soldier.

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Harold doubled over for a moment, then stood up straight. "Pretty sure that shiny bastard broke a couple ribs with that kung-fu nonsense, but I'll be alright. But please, help my wife! Ruth is still up there, and she took a direct hit from that laser doohicky." He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and dialed 9-1-1.

When Archeville saluted him, he let loose a half-smile and saluted him back. "Give 'em Hell."

Meanwhile, upstairs, #6 reacted quickly to The Scarab's appearance, firing off a blast from his gauntlet. But shooting "from the hip," his accuracy suffered. And being the weak-minded fool that he was, The Scarab was able to predict his firing pattern before he even raised his arm. She moved aside so effortlessly she appeared to be moving in slow-motion. The stray blast blew a hole the size of a basketball through the back wall of the restaurant, and the bank of elevators beyond it.

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He seemed nice.

He probably fought our grandfather.

Yes... well... let's not dwell on that now.

Right, time to bust heads! First, a bit of chaos...

Archeville returned the half-smile with his own. "Yes, Sir." He then shot straight up, fading from view again as he went, like a television image going so out of focus it disappeared.

Once he reached the window he had dived out of, he adjusted his Eletromagnetic Screwdriver so it could emit a low-level radio-frequency burst. "On de downside," he muttered, "dis vill knock out any cell phone calls people inside may be attempting, as vell as and vireless netvorks. On de upside, it should knock out any communications und sensors of de armor, und hinder deir ability to co-ordinate deir actions."

He then moved into the restaurant proper, and moved to #2, the apparent leader of the group. And then activated the pulse.

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The pulse itself had no perceivable effect, but the effect upon the Power Corps was far more obvious. They all clutched their helmets in unison and screamed in pain. The metallic screeching of static was slightly muffled to ears not encased in steel, but for those inside, it was almost deafening.

#4 shouted to his comrade, but his words came out as a meaningless jumble. #6 shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. #4 made a short and curt series of hand motions involving several different ways of pointing at himself, #6, and The Scarab. #6 nodded, then the two took off running. Stomping across the room at diagonal angles from each other, they met in the middle, coming at The Scarab from two different angles.

#6 made a wild swing at The Scarab's jaw. She reflexively rolled to the side, out of the way of #6's seemingly clumsy strike and right into the path of #4's armored fist. In an instant, she managed to focus the totality of her considerable will on that fist. She threw her hands up, and an inch away from her face, #4's hand was turned aside by some invisible barrier. The Scarab stumbled backward, still reeling from the impact of #8's energy blast.

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#2 rolled to the side, shook the cobwebs from her mind, and pulled herself back up to a standing position. She screamed through her visor at her comrades. "FALL BACK! INITIATE ATTACK PATTERN DELTA-SIX!"

#4 and #6 nodded, and began slowly stepping back from The Scarab. Each Power Corps member tapped a couple of buttons and turned a dial on the edge of their gauntlets, then braced themselves and aimed a fist at the crimson-&-gold clad hero. A blue glow formed around their wrists.

The Scarab chuckled. "Time out." She reached a hand out behind her, toward #8, and pushed her palm a couple inches in the air. #8 jerked up several feet into the air. He started to wave his arms and legs around frantically, as if drowning. He engaged the rocket boosters in his boots, which only caused him to spin around in circles, as if tethered to some invisible axis.

Then she scooped her hand through the air toward the others, and #8 sailed through the air like a giant chrome cannonball. He collided head-first into #4's chest with an audible *CRUNCH* sound. Cracks formed instant spider-webs across their armor. Plates and chunks of machinery were cast off. #4 was hit high and knocked down on his back. The angle of impact sent #8 bouncing up over #4 like an involuntary backflip. He slammed to the ground a couple meters away.

"Now sit in the corner and think about what you've done."

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She's rather impressive.

Bah! It's only because we disrupted their communications!

You know that's not entirely true.

I know nothing of the sort! But I do know that we can take out their leader!

Still concealed and hovering over #2, the apparent leader of the group, Archeville once more adjusted his Electromagnetic Screwdriver. A long spike extended out from one end, though the end was not a tapered point but rather a USB plug.

He studied his target a moment, and soon found what he sought: an access port on her helmet, near the base of the skull. He moved carefully, almost missing the connection as she moved her head unexpectedly, but quickly compensated and made a solid connection.

Several viruses then uploaded themselves into her battlesuit systems controls, overriding all safety protocols, and sending a massive electrical feedback into her.

Both she and her suit shrieked.

As she slumped down (and pulled free of his gadgetry), Archeville faded into view, and pointed at the remaining Power Corps member. "You should not haff disturbed mein supper!"

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Startled by the sudden appearance of Doctor Archeville, #6 turned his atention from The Scarab and fired off a blast at The Good Doctor. The blue bolt struck Archeville squarely in the chest, but bounced harmlessly against his force field, failing even to move him from where he stood.

"You'll be eating your supper through a straw after I get my hands on you!" Still on her knees, #2 spun around and lashed out at her attacker, swinging wildly. Archeville was able to side-step her fists easily.

The Scarab nodded at Archeville. Two down, two to go. Why should I have all the fun? Let's see what you've got.

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Aww, what a nice gesture, letting us have some fun and not hogging it all.

Yeah yeah, whatever. Hey, doofus, this one's still kickin'.

Why, so she is. Impressive, I was sure the shock had rendered her unconscious.

Time to step things up a bit.

"You are still avake? How interesting -- I thought you had passed out. Vell, no matter. You haff been a very bad girl," he chided, wagging a finger at her with one hand as his other made adjustments to his wondrous wand-like gadget, "und so I shall haff to take your toys avay."

"Und from you, too, little man!," he added, pointing to #6.

Dozens of tendrils of light blue energy sprang forth from Archeville's Electromagnetic Screwdriver, lashing out at the two conscious Power Corps members. The tendrils moved lightning-quick over them, flipping open access panels, pressing buttons, turning dials, unhooking latches, tearing loose wires and overloading circuits. Archeville's gadget began to smoke and spark a bit... but the two suits or armor did worse.

And in a short moment, it was done. The suits, now completely shut down, were little more than bulky weights around the two mercenaries.

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The Scarab turned suddenly toward the broken windows. She crouched down and clenched her fists. Archeville felt a tingle, like a jolt of static electricity, pass through his forehead. Several of the restaurant patrons cowering on the ground suddenly shook their heads, and their expressions of fear were momentarily replaced with looks of confusion. And then The Scarab vanished.

As the tendrils of blue energy sprang from his Elektromagnetischer Schraubenzieher, a helicopter bearing the logo of "Channel 3 ACTION NEWS!" hovered down in front of the windows. Archeville could see two passengers, one holding a camera hover his shoulder, the other standing sideways and speaking into a microphone as she looked back and forth between Pharos and the camera. The noise from the rotors obscured their conversation as the arcs from Archeville's tool reduced the Power Corps armor to ergonomic paperweights.

The Power Corps members who still remained conscious struggled to lift their own limbs and stand, but their efforts were futile. They collapsed to the ground. "This...isn't...over!" #2 shouted defiantly as she propped herself up by her arms. Then they gave out under her, and her helmet smacked into the floor. "...OK, it's over. We surrender."

At that, half a dozen men and women in black body armor, emblazoned with the logo of the Freedom City Police Department S.W.A.T. team rappelled down the side of the tower, MP-5 submachineguns slung over their shoulders. With impressive efficiency and precision, they unhooked their climbing harnesses, hefted their weapons, and spread out across the floor and into the bathrooms, kitchen, and elevator lobby. They seemed to ignore Archeville as they made a rapid assessment of the floor. Within 30 seconds, several cries of "SECURE!" echoed across the restaurant.

At that point, a team of paramedics came rushing up from the stairwell in the lobby and into the restaurant proper. Most of them rushed toward The Army Wife. She was burnt and battered, but conscious.

One of the officers engaged the safety switch on his firearm and pushed it aside as he walked over to The Good Doctor. "Archeville, right? The man who called in the robbery said you saved his life." He extended his hand to Viktor. "Thanks for the help. I hope you can stick around for a while. I'm sure the men in trenchcoats will want to take your statement."

Viktor heard Elena's voice in his mind. Heh. All yours, Doctor. I'll see you downstairs when you're done. And try not to mention my involvement. I think you'll find that the other witnesses don't even remember I was there.

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During the 30 seconds the SWAT Team spent securing the perimeter, Archeville zipped over the Army Wife and checked her condition. He may not have been a medical doctor -- yet -- but he knew enough to realize she was not in any critical condition. He backed off and let the paramedics take over once they arrived,sharing what

Hey... did everything just taste purple for a second?

... yes. More importantly, though-

Hey, chickie's gone! That means we can claim all the glory for ourselves!

... that's one way to look at it, yes. Another way is that she gave this to us, because she doesn't yet want to be a public entity.

Whatever. Camera time!

"Vell, I suppose I coul-" Archeville was cut off in mid-sentence as several reporters had already made their way to him.

"Who are you? How did you get here so fast? How did you beat them?"

"Who is he? That's Doctor Archeville! But how did you get here so fast?"

"Any truth to the rumor of you joining the Freedom League?"

"Please, please, ladies und gentlemen, von qvestion at a time!," he finally said. "Mein presence here vas a mere happy circumstance, I vas having dinner here. Unfortunately, dey barged in before I could even finish going over de vine list! Such a shame, using such advanced technology for such criminal ends."

Seriously -- all that firepower, and they resort to robbing customers at a restaurant? I mean, granted, it's a nice restaurant, and most folks here are loaded, but there are so many more profitable places you could knock over with that firepower!

... NO! Fire & rescue work! Police patrols! Construction! Exploration!

Archeville chit-chatted with the reporters for a few minutes more, telling them of the attack but leaving out all mention of Scarab and even of Elena and Sofia; he told them he had come to dine alone, as he was unsure if the Rhodes Foundation would appreciate him leaking the news of their arrangement just yet. He'd let them decide when or if to let the public know they were helping fund his research.

After a few minutes, just as the last of the SWAT team was heading out, Archeville zipped over to one; it turned out to be the one who had spoken to him earlier. He offered to give his own account of what had happened, an account largely the same as he had given the reporters though with more tactical and technical detail (though not so much as to go completely over the man's head). Making an 'official 'report to the authorities was a habit he'd forced himself into while working as an adventurer-hero-scientist -- it tended to put people more at ease when they know why and how the vigilante is stopping criminals, rather than wondering.

Once that was done, he headed downstairs.

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The maitre'd couldn't speak since #4 had apparently cracked his jaw. But he made a point of tearing himself away from the paramedics for a moment before Archeville left. He waved Archeville over to the podium at the front and hastily scrawled out a note indicating that he apologized for the inconvenience, and that The Good Doctor's next meal at Pharos would be "on the house."

The packet Elena gave him before their dinner was so rudely interrupted contained maps and directions. They led him below ground, through secret tunnels beneath the foundations of Pyramid Plaza, beneath even the sewers of Freedom City. He eventually arrived at a dead-end, a facade of rock that gave way when he tripped the camouflaged pressure-sensor. The facade slipped away to reveal a state-of-the-art blast door, like what he'd seen in Cold War era missile silos. There were keyboards, computer monitors, speakers, microphones, and scanners. Once Archeville had input the code contained in his packet, the system greeted him by name and provided automated instructions. He was to submit an alphanumeric code of his own, along with scans of his voice, handprint, and retinas. The information would be uploaded into The Lair's security system, and provide him with unrestricted access from then on.

The tunnel continued past the gate, and opened out into a large cylindrical shaft. A pole about a meter in diameter ran through the center of it, from the ceiling to the floor several stories below. Like the rest of The Lair, it was covered in a facade of tan-colored stone, like the most stereotypical of Egyptian pyramids. But Archeville could hear the hum of electricity and the soft scraping of machinery contained within.

The surfaces were engraved and painted with all manner of heiroglyphics and Ancient Egyptian artwork, mostly depicting two figures caught in an endless cycle of war, death, and rebirth. One of those figures was a priest, adorned in red and black robes emblazoned with lightning bolts. The other, a noble or general of some kind. His heraldry was red and gold, and his symbol was a scarab beetle.

At first, the elevator shaft seemed empty. Then, Archeville could hear the grinding of stone on stone, as the circular floor rose to meet him. Near as Archeville could tell, there were no motors involved. The floor wasn't even attached to the central pole. It was literally just a circular slab of rock with a hole in the center, hovering in mid-air.

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A bit hypocritical, don't you think?

Pardon?

Well, on the one hand, Elena can tear into someone's mind and dredge up any secret it might hold. And yet here she locks herself away, deep underground, where no one can see her secrets.

So she wants some privacy. And maybe to protect some friends or family. Big deal.

Big deal? You seemed to think it was a very big deal when I wanted some!

That's because you're a dangerous loon.

And how do we know she isn't? Even if she is a true-blue superhero and has the best of intentions -- which you know I have my doubts on -- the fact she's routinely exposing herself to some of the darker and more unsavory minds in the city would surely take some toll on her!

Archeville's mind was racing, and he almost didn't notice the odd construction of the "elevator" until he'd stepped on the platform.

"So dat's how de pyramids vere built: elevators!"

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