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A Little Blue Box IC


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The day spent with Alex earlier in the month had left Mike with a lot to think about, particularly about their future together. This was not a subject he generally gave much thought to preferring instead to assume it would all work itself out. While that hadn't yet proven true he also knew that at this juncture more was expected than his normal passivity. So he had pondered what he did want from their future. He knew he wanted it to be 'Their' future, but beyond that comforting thought he really wasn't sure about specifics.

They lived in such proximity and saw each other several times throughout the day, for now at least, but what about beyond high school when she was in grad school and he was working. Even with evenings and weekends, or at least days off, it was going to be a change. The more he thought about it the more the obvious drifted through his thoughts. What was the next step? Marriage. Though at sixteen it seemed too serious a commitment to make. Could he really know? And now? Sure it was a forgone conclusion for their friends and even Alex, himself as well really, but did any of them really know?

Of course none of them did, least of all himself, but he also knew that he couldn't conceive of a world without Alex in it. If that wasn't the real deal he didn't know what was. So there it was, the next step. Even the thought sent nervous flutters through his stomach, but that aside it was freeing in a way. Now he only had to actually take the next step.

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If the decision to move forward had given him a flutter in his stomach, his research into the actual process and moreover prices set it flopping like a fish out of water. Once he calmed though he realized that he did have time and more importantly virtually no expenses. He set about crunching the numbers and between his savings and some newly matured bonds his grandparents had given him when he was younger he had at least enough to find something suitable if not grandiose.

He briefly considered bringing one of his friends in on his plan but the fewer people who knew the better chance he had of it being even a little bit of a surprise. Thus he struck out without James expertise nor Marks moral support or even Chris' camaraderie. He left alone early on Friday to make his financial arrangements at the credit union then onto a bus downtown to Haas Brothers.

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Mike stepped off the bus and crunched his way through the snow towards the famed jewelers. The day was unseasonable clear with the sun emerging from the clouds to warm the chilled city for at least a day. Mike hardly even noticed, he was a man on a mission and strolled down the street with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Today was definitely going to be a good day.

Entering the showroom he was briefly dazzled by the splendor arrayed in the cases. Shocked at the size of the venue, he had been once to the old store with his father, they had been shopping for a ten year anniversary gift for his mother, but this showroom dwarfed their old venue. Well dressed sales people strolled along the cases with the friendly if somewhat plastic smiles of professional sales people, offering assistance to the the smattering of customers browsing the stores sparkling wares.

Almost as soon as he arrived an attractive brunette with a dazzling smile approached him extending one well manicured hand, "Hello sir, my name is Jennifer, how may I be of assistance?" She inquired in an almost bubbling tone.

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Mike blinked a few times somewhat taken aback by not only the store itself but being a 'Sir'. He gently took her hand and offered a quick handshake and a nervous smile. "Hi, Mike, Mike Harris." He said then paused uncertain of what to say next as he released her hand.

"First time visiting us Mr. Harris?" Jeniffer inquired with a smile as she guided him further into the show room, "Perhaps looking for something for someone special?" She asked leading him towards a central display with a wide assortment of fine jewelry.

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Mike's cheeks colored slightly as he nodded, "Uhm yes, for my Girlfriend, Alex." he replied the butterflies in his stomach had returned in force and looking at the choices arrayed before him Mike's head was swimming. His eyes darted to the various displays trying to figure out which was likely to hold the right ring. Unaccustomed to service such as this it didn't really occur to him to explain exactly what he needed to the helpful young woman at his side.

The skillful saleswoman at his side slowed her pace slightly and asked with a smile, "Oh lucky girl, any thing in particular you are thinking of?". as she caught the color on his cheeks she added lightly, "For any special occasion?"

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Mike cleared his throat and nodded his assent glancing at the floor, 'face down rampaging super villains no problem, tell the saleswoman what he was looking for and he couldn't seem to make his mouth work right. Typical.' He managed to croak out, "Yea, uhm, engagement." in reply. 'What is wrong with me?' he wondered to himself. Taking a deep breath he looked up once more, "A ring." then sighed to himself, 'Yea cus that wasn't obvious. Idiot.'

Jennifer smiled and began guiding him over to an expansive case containing a wide assortment of traditional solitaires. "Don't worry your in good hands." She said gently. And stepping behind the counter top display inquired, "Do you know her size?"

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Mike was confused by the question for a moment not certain what size she was asking for, he finally settled for nervously indicating her rough height with one hand eying the saleswoman's reaction carefully.

Jennifer let had an amused twinkle in her eye. Even in her short time at Haas Brothers she had seen worse, not much worse, but worse none the less. She quietly corrected the tall boy, "Ring size sweetie." She gently patted his hand and added with a kind smile, "and I'll take that as a no." She pulled a basic sizing chart out and set it atop the counter with a wink, "We have a few trade secrets for just such a situation."

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Mikes face fell when she clarified, he was completely lost here. He shook his head confirming he had no idea what Alex's ring size was but was comforted that it was a common enough event that they were prepared for such an event. He listened intently as she quickly explained some of the various methods they used to surreptitiously uncover a ladies ring size. The old standby of a 'borrowed' ring clearly wasn't going to work, Mike didn't recall Alex ever wearing one.

In the end they settled upon a series of estimations, mostly on the knowledgeable Jennifer's part, to determine a size that would at the least fit and not be grossly over-sized. Mike nodded along as she explained the average ring size and modified it given Alex's petite frame and a few well aimed questions to Mike about the kinds of activities she preferred. Sizing concerns taken care of she smiled and pulled out a small selection of solitaires for him to peruse.

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Mike was definitely glad for Haas Brothers famed service and particularly thankful for the kind way in which Jennifer handled what he at least felt was gross under-preparation if not down right incompetency.

He carefully perused the selection expressing a preference for the more traditional yellow gold over the assorted white golds or platinum bands. Jennifer nodded agreement and showed him a wider selection of settings and band designs from elegantly simple cuts to more complex faceting and arrangements. While elegant simplicity was not a term Mike would usually apply to Alex's style it seemed that it might be the best fit in this case.

A short while later he managed to further narrow the field inquiring as to which were the best for more 'active' lifestyles. Soon he had narrowed his selection to a sparse selection on one small velvet pillow. Throughout the process Mike hadn't even thought to ask about price of course and as it occured to him they were reaching the end of the selection process he nervously once more began to inquire, "So, uhh, how much are ..."

Jennifer smoothly pulled up a small reference sheet to explain the pricing scheme, with assorted price points for various carat values listed. "I'm sure we can meet your budget needs, we offer a variety of stone sizes as well as payment plans and layaway." She explained gently, "So what is your budget?"

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Mike boggled slightly at the prices listed for some of the larger cuts but grew more comfortable as his eyes drifted down the list. It felt odd placing a price limit on something of this nature but it was also simple fact that he did not have unlimited resources. He had considered trying the trick from that old Centurion movie of crushing coal into diamond but in the end discarded it as both unlikely and even if ti did work would probably lead to questions he didn't really want to answer.

Jennifer lightly cleared her throat snapping him form his brief reverie, "Oh, uhm, sorry." He said somewhat chagrined and pointed to his budget range on the sheet. Jennifer smiled and replied, "Nothing to apologize for sir, its a big decision not something to make an impulsive decision over."

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Mike offered her a thankful smile and nodded agreement as she skillfully arrayed his top choices along his budget gradient for him to peruse. Mike took a moment to look consideringly at the selection before indicating his selection. Jennifer paused for a moment before carefully inquiring, "Are you certain Mr. Harris? That isn't exactly traditional."

Mike Nodded his assent with a smile explaining, "I am, I know its not traditional but it is definitely Alex."

She quickly guided him through the payment process and other than a brief if nerve wracking wait for the payment to post it was painless in the end. She deftly tucked the selected ring into its box and slid it across the table atop the assorted information on the purchase and Mike was about to pick it up when the street facing windows suddenly shattered inward from some sort of concussive blast.

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As the plate glass exploded inwards Mike turned and instinctively stepped between the blast and Jennifer and the rest of the nearby civilians. As the smoke cleared four heavily armored individuals swooped into the showroom, landing next to unconscious guards and brandishing gauntlet mounted weapons at the frightened civilians. The apparent leader, her chest emblazoned with the number two, commanded, "Get on the floor, and no one will get hurt."

Mike repressed his urge to engage immediately, the voice of Mr. Archer ringing in his ears, 'too many potential hostages.' Mike sunk to his knees tucking the ring box into a pocket and shuffled back against the wall near a cluster of other customers and staff. At the least he could keep them covered if things went south. He gazed around the room trying to pick a safe spot to engage as the two of the other armored mercenaries, numbers Five and Seven, headed towards the back area. He knew the thieves would be gone before anyone could respond but just in case he thumbed the alert button on his Young Freedom communicator. Hopefully the signal wasn't blocked but he couldn't count on back up.

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This was clearly a smash and grab job and in all likelihood so long as nothing went wrong the thieve wouldn't hurt anyone. But if things did start to go wrong there were a lot of potential hostages here. Mike let his vision slide over and pierce the walls as Five and Seven passed through the door into the back. He could see one begin to work on the massive vault door with some kind of device as the other took up a guard position next to him.

These guys were cool and professional every step of the way, his best bet might be to engage as they fled, but he didn't know what kind of speed they could manage. The decision however looked like it was about to be made for him he saw two of the other customers eying one another, more importantly he saw the guns they had hidden under their coats and the STAR squad insignia on their hidden body armor. But they were too far away for him to help.

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Time was up the officers came easily to a knee and pulled their firearms from their concealed holsters smoothly firing on the armored assailants, but to no avail. The Power corps soldiers returned fire immediately and both officers collapsed in a pile. Number five came to the door at the sound of gunfire and leveled his own weapon at the crowd.

The showroom was lit up by the blasts of energy and the air was filled with the screams of the frightened civilians. Mike came to his feet in a flash and crossed the room quickly to interpose himself between the mercenaries and the wounded officers. Thankfully the officers were still moving though weakly, "I really wish you hadn't done that." He scolded the facing down number Two.

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Number Two callously taunts him in return, "Really? I think you're going to wish YOU hadn't done that." Then raised her blaster and commanded "Drop the kid." before opening fire herself.

The blasts burned through his cloths exposing some of the costume he had taken to wearing beneath it but had no effect whatsoever on the superhuman youth. Phalanx struck quickly and surely as the blasts died down, slamming one hand against the leaders helmet and trying to pull her into a hold. Though dazed by the blow she managed to stumble free of his clumsy grab.

Number Three shouts toward the back, "SEVEN! hurry it up. We got a Cape."

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Number Three calls out to Five, "Give him all you got." and unloads withering fire of his own at Phalanx. The Hero braces himself against the attack and miraculously manages to shrug off the terrible barrage without injury.

His clothes in tatters and his costume marred by numerous scorch marks Phalanx redoubles his efforts against the faceless villains. "Thats enough of that." He says as he swings a mighty blow at the midsection of Number Two but the heavy armor holds up to the assault. As Phalanx tries to shift the blow into a hold the skilled mercenary is able to reverse the grapple and pin the young Hero exposing him to the fire of his cohorts.

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Phalanx calls out, "I don't think so." And brutally yanks Number Three over his shoulder to slam him into the ground as the other Power corps members fire yet another ineffectual volley of blaster fire his direction.

Lifting the injured Number Three over head he heaves the heavily armored villain across the room like a rag doll Shouting "Catch!" as the impromptu missile fly's at Number Five. Number two slams into Number Five and both continue on into the back room to fall in a crumpled heap on the ground.

Number Seven rushes past her cohorts a heavy box clutched to her side, "Got the Stone." she announces to Two.

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Two nods confirmation and calls for a retreat, "Get to the rendezvous, I'll cover you." as she released several bursts from her gauntlet blaster to keep Phalanx from reaching the other Power Corps member.

Phalanx ignored the blaster fire and lunged out at the last second managing to grip Sevens ankle just as she was almost out of reach. "Not so fast." He intones and his shoulders ripple with the strain as he swings her overhead and slams her against the ground with a deafening clang the flooring splintering under the force of the blow.

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Sirens can be clearly heard rapidly approaching and Number Two clearly decides discretion is the better part of Valor and engages her flight systems Rocketing away at max speed. Three manages to disentangle himself from Fives unconscious body and ignite his own flight systems in preparation go fleeing as well but his injuries prevent him from getting far.

Phalanx spins still grasping Sevens foot and launches her into the now hovering Number Three both of them lapsing into unconsciousness next to Number five. The Youthful Hero then gently grasps the box they had been so desperate to get their hands on, quietly inquiring, "What could be so important?"

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As the crowd broke out in grateful applause Mike put that question aside and hurried to check on the downed STAR officers. Leaning down he was glad to see them already beginning to come around. He helped them to sit up as he tried to recall his limited first aid training. They seemed fine however just a little dazed from the attack.

There appeared to be no other injuries among the customers or staff and everyone was picking themselves up to dust off in the wake of the attack. Jennifer approached, with the general manager in tow introducing him as a Mr. Kelsey and explaining, "I believe that's a shard of Moonstone. We were commissioned by the Atom family to seat it for them. I can't imagine what those villains would have done with it."

Mr. Kelsey Agreed, "Indeed we are in your debt young man. That case is priceless."

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Mike shook his head humbly, "No sir I just tried to help, don't send me a bill for the floor and we'll call it even." he said with a grin. He really was starting to grow uncomfortable with the sudden attention. He wasn't really used to facing the public in this fashion usually leaving this part of the 'job' to Edge.

"Nonsense my lad." The manager retorted as Mike handed over the hefty case. "Who knows how much worse those dastardly thieves could have done if you hadn't been here."

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Phalanx grew increasingly uncomfortable with the praise. "Really Sir, that's not necessary." He argued as the Kelsey grew more insistent, "I'm just glad no one else got hurt."

Kelsey was apparently a man unused to taking no for an answer and plowed onward, "A noble spirit young man. But my employers have along history in this town and would never forgive me if I didn't see to it you were properly rewarded."

As he finished speaking the police arrived distracting Kelsey for a moment. Phalanx seized the opportunity the distraction provided and with a hurried, "Have a good day." took to the skies at speed.

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When he arrived back at his room Mike was glad to see that Mark was out. His identity certainly wasn't secret but he didn't really want to answer his enthusiastic roommates questions about the incident. The likely hood of the entire affair appearing on the evening news didn't even occur to him at the time of course.

He quickly changed into a non-tattered outfit before remembering the ring in his pocket. His eyes grew wide as he frantically searched the remnants of his clothes. But it was to no avail. The ring was undoubtedly somewhere in the shop still if one of the blasts from the Power Corps hadn't vaporized it entirely. Mike sunk into his chair and buried his face in his hands.

Drawing himself together he picked up the phone to see if the payment had gone through before the attack began and was grateful to find that the transaction had apparently been canceled. Thinking about it more clearly it made perfect sense of course. Kelsey could certainly have had the payment canceled and likely had done so after Mike had fled his attempts at finding a reward. Mike was relieved of course but uncertain where to go from there. Some days it seemed nothing was simple in Freedom City.

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A few days later there was a knock on his door. Mike gladly set aside the trigonometry homework he had been working on and swung the door open. Standing in the hall was the Saleswoman from Haas Brothers, Jennifer. "Hello Mr. Harris," she said quickly as she peeked around him to ensure he was alone, certainly wouldn't do to ruin the surprise after all, "I ah looked up your address from the paperwork." She admitted with a nervous titter.

Mike blinked in confusion for a moment then nodded, "Is this about the other day?" He asked not wanting to go further into the matter of the thwarted robbery.

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Jennifer affirmed, "Uhm Yes," and offered a nervous smile before continuing, "I know you didn't want a reward or anything but, I found this while we were doing the clean up and inventory." She held a small ring box. Then taking one of his hands quickly pressed it into his hand, "I think you dropped it on your way out."

Mike took the box in hand no small amount of relief flooding his face only to have a guarded look return, "But the payment was ..." But before he could finish she shushed him waving off his concern, "The owners themselves insisted Mr. Harris, I'll not go back telling them you refused."

Mike sighed, it wasn't really worth arguing about and he did need the ring, Maybe he'd just make payments on it, if they didn''t return any he attempted at least. "Alright." He said with a smile, "I can see I'm not going to convince any of you its unnecessary."

"Right you are Sir." She replied, then glanced down adding "and I might add, Alex is a very lucky young lady." then turned and rushed off past the group of approaching students trying to control the color that had suddenly bloomed in her cheeks.

Mike stood confused at the commentary for a moment before he noticed his friends coming down the hall and quickly ducked inside the room to hide the ring in his desk.

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