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alderwitch

Of Martyrs and Men [IC]

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There was a little bit of a ruckus going on in a small corner of the West End. AEON, the company that Alex had founded, made a living off of buying failing companies and turning them back around. When you looked at the big picture, it kept the economy in the city and re-infused small business with the sudden influx of cash they needed to stay afloat. Sometimes, however, people took exception to the idea of a big cooperation buying out the 'little guy'. They were even less predisposed to like it when the whispers of 'freak Terminus baby' started up.

 

Alex had gone out to take a look at one of the small business that the company was considering making an offering for. A few angry words and suddenly Alex found herself surrounded with the start of a small mob. It would have been child's play for her to take over their thoughts and direct them safely elsewhere but it wouldn't have done a great deal to convince them that she wasn't a threat once they realized they'd been emotionally manipulated. So instead she was sitting patiently inside the slightly sparkly construct of a force bubble, watching it be pelted with produce. Calling for help was out of the question as her friends would just be angry. Alex wasn't angry. Just sad as she watched a head of lettuce spatter harmlessly against the outside of the force bubble and wondered how long it would take for them to wind down.

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Hands in the pockets of his faded jeans, Erik Espadas walked through the West End whistling to himself. A fitted, deep red t-shirt displayed the athletic young man's lithe musculature, and a short style kept his dusty drown hair away from his eyes as he sauntered down the street, a distinct swagger to his steps. Idle thoughts of errands to be run were driven from his head, however, as his ears perked up at the sound of shouting. Breaking out into a sprint, the acrobat rounded the corner to find a young woman enduring an angry mob from behind a glimmering force field. Even before his mind recognized her as Alexandra Albright, the teen who had come out as a Terminus baby on national television, Erik's legs launched him forward with surprising speed, sneakers skidding against cement as he snagged an overripe apple out of the air before it could rebound off of the translucent barrier. Throwing it to the ground, he rounded on the crowd, placing himself between them and Alex. "The hell is wrong with you people?!" he all but snarled.

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It was about a half dozen people roughly and they drew back a little in the face of the angry youth. One of them was still riled to grumble, "She's coming round here to sniff out another company to buy! I saw her on TV, she got some giant freak brain! People ought be worried about someone with God-knows-what kinda power. Maybe she's buying up all the places that those portals opened. Anyone looked into that, hunh?"

There was grumbling of agreement from the crowd although at least the fruit pelting stopped. A soft voice came from behind Erik, soft spoken and well-mannered, "Thank you, but I'm alright. It's just a miss understanding, really."

She was petite, 5'4" at most and with a slender build that made her look smaller. It didn't help that her shoulders were tucked in tight to her sides and her hands jammed in her pockets. The translucent barrier fell as she spoke and the crowd took a few more steps back, wary of what might be next.

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Erik straightened from his instinctive lunge as he looked over his shoulder at the teenager. The fencer took a step back and to the side to stand next to her, arms crossed. "No, see, a 'misunderstanding' is when someone isn't sure if there are fifty states or fifty-one." He tanned young man turned his attention back to the crowd. "This is a bunch of grown men and women who should damn well know better!" He pointed an angry finger at the man who'd just spoken. "If she was dangerous she'd've kicked your butt already, tough guy! Go home," he demanded.

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There was a few more rumbles and grumbles, but under Erik's fired up gaze, they dutifully faded back into the city until he and Alex were by and large alone in the fading sunlight. There was a moment of silence as Alex glanced around at all the spattered fruit. Alex extended one hand and the fruit remnants slowly floated up one by one to knit back together until they were whole and fresh once more. As she finished telekinetically reconstructing each bit of vegetation, she sent them winging back over into a small crate. "Thank you. I appreciate the gesture. I'm Alexandra Albright."

She offered her hand politely, the introduction perhaps unneeded but when someone came to your aid, good manners were the least you could provide. The fruit never paused in its dance as she glanced away from them and offered that hand and said somberly, "It really was a misunderstanding. That's not why AEON purchases local businesses."

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Erik blinked in surprise, reflexively accepting the girl's proffered hand as the produce flew about. "Uh, hey, don't worry about. I figured you could have handled things, but you shouldn't have to, right? Can't have those morons giving the neighbourhood a bad name," the young man noted with a charming, lopsided grin. If what Doc and Lynn said is true, she could have more than 'handled things'. Better that her hand wasn't forced, he mused, although it was hand to imagine the petite teenager as a threat despite her telekinetic display. "Not buying up Terminus access points? Well, that's a relief," he chuckled

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"Could have handled them, yes, certainly. Could have handled them without them thinking worse things about what I can do, that would be a more tricky problem. One I was contemplating at your timely arrival," Alex said with a faint smile as the last tomato scraped itself of the ground and reassembled into a nice ripe tomato in her palm. She dropped it in the box and pushed it over to a stoop with one sneakered toe. Her sneakers had bright pink laces and hearts on the side. "So, I think we can safely say you handily rescued me without any qualifiers."

She chuckled a little and turned back, tucking her hands in her jean pockets. "And no, there would be no point. The locals hold no inherent energy nor would those energies -were they to exist in large quantities- do anything I'd want done to my 'big ol' brain'. Or any other portion of my anatomy. The hardware store here is failing and facing a foreclosure, that's all. If there's a chance we can turn it back into a lucrative business, we'll purchase it. It really is that simple. And my board of experts would quite cheerfully shake me for stating in so simple a terms."

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There was no way for Alex to know it, but Erik's metamagi awareness of ambient energies confirmed what she was saying. After his unpleasant encounter with Mona's unbridled Terminus emissions, there was little chance of the young man failing to notice the presence of those particular nauseating forces. Instead he turned his attention to the hardware store. "What, Tony's place? Aw man, I worked there part-time for a while! It's seriously going under?"

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Alex did indeed have a slightly different version of the Terminus energy than Mona did. For her, it ran through the air around her and through every single cell of her body, down to the last atom. It was as much a part of her as her eye color or her hair, hard coded into her very genetics. She was, indeed, a terminus mutant. Alex turned to follow his gaze, hands still in her pockets, "Yeahp, 'fraid so. Not right now or next month but the store's in the red with little chance to recover quickly enough to stop treading water. He's already laid off two employees and its simply not enough."

She sighed, her expression crumpling with a worry that seem ill suited to the teenager. Too old by half but it cleared quickly and she walked over to the stoop in those sparkly sneakers. "But I think its salvageable. Its a good location, and its got a loyal customer base that will see it through a few changes. It just needs a little help to make those changes. We'll probably make an offer this week."

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"Damn..." Erik murmured softly, sticking his hands back in his pockets dejectedly. He worked as hard as he could to keep his neighbouthood safe, but it was still a tough place to live compared to much of Freedom City. "Shoulda known Tony was having problems," he muttered to himself, suppressing an involuntary wince. Between his patrolling and training he'd had little time to stay in touch with everyone he knew around the West End, but that did little to dull his feelings of guilt. He looked over to the upbeat teenager. "What kinda changes are we talking about, here? I mean, it's Tony's, y'know?"

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Alex sighed softly and then gave him a tiny smile, "You don't have any idea how many times I've heard something along those lines. It will still be Tony's. However he'll get a better cut on whole sale because he'll be part of a larger purchasing block. He'll have access to the low interest loans that we've cut deals for to make some changes and upgrades to the store. All of the little code violations will be dealt with and the store will have a few superficial changes to make it more inviting to new customers. Like every business we purchase, he'll have a specific troubleshooter with expertise in his area assigned as a go-between."

She rattled it off as she glanced through the window idly, her eyes unfocused for a few moments. "And any structural defects in the building will be corrected. If it needs it, the whole place will be retrofitted. There's just too many super villains that go crashing through Freedom City. Sure, Doc Metropolis can fix all the buildings after the fact but that doesn't do a lot of good for people trapped in the rubble. There's a power point presentation, if you'd like to see it."

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Erik blinked and rubbed the back of his dusty brown hair. "That's... okay. I'm good." The athletic young man tilted his head to the side. "If you don't mind me saying, kinda sounds like something you've rehearsed," he noted before spreading his arms to encompass the entire neighbourhood. "Folks around here don't like change, and they sure don't trust a free lunch. It's not like it'd be the first time they've been screwed over, y'know? Slideshows? Not gonna win 'em over so much."

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"No one ever likes change and yet its the only universal constant. Really, the only thing you can rely in is that things are never going to remain static." Alex said pragmatically, turning back to face the young man, "And its what I represent to everyone. Change, at a genetic level. The energies of the Terminus are entropic, the great grinder at the end of the coil. A necessary function taken to an evil extreme."

She gave a little shrug of her slim shoulders and sighed, "Its not going to be me that explains it, its going to be an empathic older woman who's from a similar socio economic background. I was just stopping by to take a look for myself. I like to, when I can, come and get a feel for the business. My information sources are good but not infallible but I'm only a majority shareholder, not the entire organization. Even I'm not that able to multi-task. I find the process runs more smoothly when people aren't directly faced with the sixteen year old genius that happens to be mutated by the terminus. It makes people jittery."

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The acrobat's eyebrows all but disappeared under his short, dusty brown bangs. "'Similar socioeconomic...'?" he repeated reflexively. "Damn, Half Pint, that's ice cold." The tanned young man looped one thumb into a beltloop on his jeans and gestured with the other hand for mild emphasis. "We're not talking about bellcurved data and universal truths here, they're real people, y'know? Sounds like your heart is in the right place, and I get that you're a busy sixteen year old genius etcetera, etcetera, but 'it's for their own good' only gets you so far, see?" Thought emphatic, Erik's tone wasn't accusatory as he rubbed the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. "Tell you what, you got time for the ten cent tour of the West End?"

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"No, its not cold. Its honest." Alex repeated with a sigh. Her tone wasn't defensive, it was resigned. "No one would believe that I can empathize with their plight. No one ever believes that. Believe me, I understand the 'real people' thing better than you think I do. Better than most people can, but that's alright."

She pulled her hand out of her pockets and gave a little wave of them, "But, sure, go for it. I always love seeing more of Freedom City."

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Erik looked chagrined. "Aw, kid, I didn't mean it like that. Hell, you think I was trying to single-handedly revitalize the city's economy from the ground up when I was your age? Let alone actually succeeding?" He rubbed the back of his head and winced, eyes turning skyward. "I just get kinda overprotective of the neighbourhood, you know? Plus the talking without thinking thing. My offened-not offended teenage girl ratio hasn't been that great this quarter, seriously." Recalling his unfortunate exchange with Wander at the sparring matches only deepened his wince, and the athletic young man's shoulders slumped. It seemed like every conversation he had devolved into an argument. For a while he'd blamed the hellfire left over from the demonic invasion, or found other ways of rationalizing it, but he had to admit that the common denominator in each case was him. "Look, I'm sorry. I was trying to help, but I'm giving you as much grief as the idiots with the fruit. How can I make it up to you?"

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Alex gave him a sunny smile, an entirely genuine one. It lit up her whole face and went much better with the sparkly shoes than her too solemn eyes had. "I'm really, really hard to offend. I still like Breakdown and he's gotten way, way closer to my personal boundaries than you've managed to in a single conversation. You care about the city, so do I. Its very, very hard to get where I'm coming from for most people. I don't see things the way most people do and I don't mean it in a bragging sort of way. It makes it hard, I think, when I start talking about my plans. I kinda have to consciously change things around and I'm a little rattled."

She said the last like it was a bit of a confession and she was apologizing, "I mean, I can see emotions. I don't mind the fruit but I can see just how scared of me they are. Just how much they hate me, painted across them like you'd say 'red' or 'blue' and when I'm stressed, I use lots of big words. That's what my roommate says. Usually I sound more 'normal'."

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The corner of Erik's mouth rose in a lopsided grin, though the look in his eyes made it clear that he wasn't ready to let himself off the hook so easily. "Thanks, kid. Actually, I kinda know what you mean. I've got, well, it's a sort of synesthesia, you could say. See, smell, taste things other people don't." The fencer shrugged smoothly, leaving out the fact that Alex herself was giving off a wafting aura of unpleasantly overripe strawberries thanks to her particular brand of Terminus energies. Thankfully they were nowhere near the radiation bath Mona had given off, but it did make the hair on Erik's arms stand on end a bit. "So the 'seeing things differently' thing? Yeah. At least you're putting it to good use, right?"

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"I try and put everything I have to good use. It's hard to balance that out without ending up martyring myself a lot of the time. That's what a lot of people think the tv interview was about. That or some misguided desire for fame." Alex said ruefully, tilting her head at him as she cataloged his response. She let the synesthesia comment go, as he seemed uncomfortable with that and stepped down off the stoop to join him. "So, can I still get that tour? Did you grow up in this part of town? I'm a Freedom City native myself, obviously."

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"West Ender, born and raised," Erik confirmed, gesturing for Alex to walk with him as he sauntered down the street. In the wake of the dispersed mob, it was oddly deserted, even those who hadn't been caught up in the attack on the red haired girl having wisely retreated inside. Erik may an annoyed face as he looked around. "It's not usually like this," he noted, his tone vaguely apologetic. "We can be a little, uh... slow to warm to new people around here, but this is just ridiculous." He gave the teenager a sidelong glance, one eyebrow arched. "What was the plan with the TV thing? You seem like you've got things worked out pretty well, but it kinda puts you in the crosshairs, doesn't it?"

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"Someone has to be in the crosshairs and of all the Terminus children that I am aware of, I'm the only one with the sort of... psyche able to withstand that sort of strain at this point in time, unfortunately. It would be easier if one of the others was out as well but I won't ask that of anyone." Alex said firmly, her thoughts turning to the others she knew and was aware of, briefly before to her own family. Her brown eyes looked unfocused again for a moment or two as she touched in on them before returning her attention to Erik thoughtfully.

"I'll tell you the truth about the why if you like but you have to swear you won't mention it, to anyone." Alex smiled slightly, turning her face towards him as she added gently, "And I'll know if you're lying."

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"...you are one intense little chica, you know that?" Erik noted as they walked, regarding Alex with an odd mixture of expressions and, to her eyes, emotional gradients. "That's a helluva a lot to put on yourself, but..." The young man placed his hands behind his head and looked thoughtfully skyward. The girl's determination to place the weight of the world squarely on her own shoulders without any help was more than a little familiar. "I think I get where you're coming from. Lemme guess: family?" He tilted his head to look her in the eye. "Hey, who am I gonna tell? Scout's honor." To be fair, Erik had never actually been a scout, but that was largely beside the point.

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"I have - or will have - a daughter. She's beautiful and bright and so funny.... and so sad it would break your heart. She gets my hair and her father's eyes and the same energy that mutated me and her father will give her the sort of powers that can destroy the world. Someday... Someday very soon, the same sort of groups that was responsible for the ten years that I and everyone like me spent in government controlled facilities will realize if not the actual girl, the potential for her to exist. They'll try and pass more laws so that our rights will vanish one by one. We'll lose the ability to marry, to have children. The rights that every man and woman irregardless of race or sexual orientation or religion should have. Unless the public tide of opinion turns against those sorts of groups, they'll be able to do it."

Alex tucked her hands into her pockets and began to quote a speech that Erik might have recognized, "They came first for the Communists,

and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist..."

She trailed off for a moment, the only sound the soft shuffle of her sneakers on the concrete and her gaze straight ahead and very introspective. She straightened her shoulders, her chin lifting up a fraction and she shrugged, "It affects my family, but in the end, that sort of thing affects everyone. So this is me, speaking up basically."

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It took Alex a moment to realize that Erik had stopped walking beside her and was standing a few feet back down the sidewalk, jaw slightly open, radiating shock. "You...you're not speaking hypothetically, are you?" he asked, stunned. He didn't really have to ask; the young man could spot a lie a mile away, and petite girl's words rang true. "Dios..." His emotions shifted suddenly and violently to red-hot, indignant rage. "Government controlled facilities. You were... Who knows about this?" he demanded, his eyes narrowed and voice quiet. She's just a kid! he snarled in his head, unable to help from imagining his own sister subjected to the injustices the telepath was describing.

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Alex pivoted to face him, pulling her hands out of her pockets. She looked at him with wide eyes that were almost alien in the depth of their perception. She reached up to touch one of the barrettes in her hair and straightened it like any sixteen year old would do but the gesture didn't match her expression.

"No, I'm not. I was five. We were five. They were benign and they could have been much worse. Kind where they could be. I got to live with my parents under surveillance and instead of kindergarten, I went to a government think tank. We still played with toys and games, its just they were all carefully structured to test our abilities, our psychological leanings. Our strengths. Our weaknesses. I was the Psyche project. Its a name I wear with neither shame nor pride."

She let her head tilt to the side, her expression turning sad again, "I've always been a telepath. Always. My powers didn't come at puberty, they came at birth. I saw their fear the same way I saw the fear in the eyes and hearts of the people here. It exists. It will always exist. But it can be lessened."

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