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Avenger Assembled

Downloading Uptown (IC)

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A few days later, after the first of February on a calendar Sharl could barely follow, it was time for his trip out of GIna's house. He'd spent that morning eating the breakfast Gina had left him for him and preparing himself, putting on clean versions of the clothes he'd been wearing when he arrived and memorizing the sorts of things people talked about on the outside. "Just think of everything I'll be able to take home!" Nothing physical, since this place wouldn't be real in Tronik, but he'd have so many memories and stories to take back to his family. _And I do want to go back there,_ he reminded himself. _But it's not an adventure till you have a really good story to tell...even if I don't know exactly what I'll tell them yet._ He sat before the computer monitor Gina had made for him, tapping buttons on the push screen he'd figured out how to program. "I am Sharl Tulink," he told the computer, imagining it was the face of someone on the outside. "I am pleased to meet you!" _I can't believe I'm going to meet more aliens! Wow!_

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There was a knock on the "door" of his habitat, and Gina's voice filtered down through the air. "Sharl, are you ready to come out now?" she asked. "It's almost time to go, but I wanted to talk about a few things with you first. My friend's going to be here in about half an hour." Outside in the real world, Gina sat at her terminal, her brow furrowed with unease that she couldn't hide. She wasn't really used to concealing her emotions on this face anymore.

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"Okay, sure," said Sharl, sitting up as he looked for the invisible source of the voice. Sometimes Gina appeared to him in her full body; other times just as her face. Today, though, it seemed as though she was just going to talk to him. "What do you want to talk about?" He was sensitive enough to pick up on an edge in his friend's voice, and he was worried. Gina was his hero, the woman who'd saved him from madness and death, but he'd picked up on the fact that things in her house weren't like the houses of the people he saw on TV or on the Internet. Had something happened to her friend? Was the trip off? Nervously, he got up and walked to the rear door of his rooms, using a mental shorthand he and Gina had agreed on to make his transition easier. "Okay, I'm ready."

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The door swung open, allowing Sharl to step out and into Gina's basement. Gina handed him the projector that was providing his body, watching as he tucked it safely into his pocket. "Miss Americana, the person you're going to be traveling around with today, is a good friend of mine," she began. "She's very nice, and very smart. I've shared the specs of your program with her, and you should listen to her like you would to me if she tells you something."

Gina took a breath. "I value my privacy very much," she told Sharl. "Besides Miss Americana, no one you're going to meet today knows me or anything about me, and I want it to stay that way. If anyone asks, you can tell them that Miss Americana has been helping you with the holographic projections and with decoding your programming language. Please don't mention me, or where you've been living these past few weeks. I would consider it a personal favor."

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"Oh..." Sharl looked uncomfortable for a moment, but then shook it off. This was a weird request, he was almost sure, even if he didn't know half the reason people did things here. "Okay, if she's fine with me doing that." He gave her a serious look and said, "You know how much I owe you, Gina. I'll do anything you want." He nodded, as if coming to an internal decision. "I've seen Miss Americana on TV," he offered. "Everyone says how wonderful she is. I'm sure she's a really good friend." He smiled at Gina. "You're a really good friend too. And if your helping me needs to be a secret, that's the way it'll be."

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"It's not the helping you part," Gina told him. "It's simply that... you've been watching TV and reading about superheroes online, right? You understand how many of them have secret identities." She waved her hands indistinctly. "I have a secret identity as well, but it's one that is more secret than most. I don't even tell other heroes who I am. The fewer people who even know I exist, the safer I am. I trust you to protect that for me when you go out and interact with other heroes. I know you can do it."

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"I understand," Sharl promised. "I know it's important to have secret IDs, and I won't try and hurt yours. Or even admit that it exists at all." He smiled. "It'll be our secret, just like Tronik. That is secret, right?" he asked her, sounding worried. "I mean you said it was, but I saw a documentary on cybercrime and villains with computer control powers. I'd hate to think of someone like that loose in my city. And from what you said, if they knew it was there, they'd be able to find it..." He swallowed. "We have enough problems as it is."

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"That's right," Gina agreed. "We're definitely not going to tell anyone about Tronik at this point, though I may have to bring in a collaborator at some point if I run into trouble getting you back. We'll take careful precautions to make sure that not only do we get you back, but that we patch up whatever hole caused you to fall out in the first place. No one else is going to get lost the way you did. For now, you might want to explain yourself as a super-advanced artificial intelligence. Miss Americana will be able to help you bolster your story with the tech words," she assured him.

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"That'll be good," said Sharl, considering that. "I'll tell them I'm a young adventurer from a wild system, ready to take on the world!" He smiled thinly. "And hey, that's sort of true, right? Just not quite what they might think it means." He debated suggesting that maybe Miss A should be introduced as his mother, but somehow that just sounded weird. After all, Sharl thought, he already _had_ a mother, one who was probably worried about him. He had good reason to be gone, but that didn't mean he didn't worry about her.

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"Good, then we're all settled," Gina said, rising from her terminal and heading for the stairs. "And since I was up all night making sure that your projector is going to hold out through your little adventure, I'm absolutely beat. I'm going to grab a sandwich and go to bed. Miss Americana will be along very soon to pick you up. You won't be able to mistake her, she has a red, white and blue uniform, and she's quite a looker." With a yawn, Gina headed up the stairs.

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"What?" Sharl stared after Gina, but when she looked back he waved her off. "Oh, uh, okay. I'll be waiting down here for her, I guess." As Gina left, he contemplated going upstairs and sticking his head in the door after her. He was a younger brother: he'd stuck his head in plenty places where he wasn't supposed to put them over the years. But Gina was his friend, his savior, and he'd seen the look in her eyes that said this was important to her. _If this is what she wants to do, I should respect that,_ he told himself doubtfully. He looked up after the stairs, up where his friend had gone, and not for the first time thought: _Something's wrong with Gina._

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Sharl waited a few minutes, then went upstairs himself to wait for his ride. He found Emerson in the kitchen, dutifully using a small hand-vac to sweep crumbs off the kitchen counter, but Gina had apparently already retreated to her second-floor bedroom. By waiting at the front window, he was able to watch as an amazingly beautiful woman swooped down out of the sky and landed at the front door! He'd seen Miss Americana on the television before, she was something of a local favorite, but in person, she was only more gorgeous. Brushing a few errant blonde curls away from her perfect face, she checked a slim silver watch on her wrist, then rang the doorbell.

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Sharl briefly thought about calling out to Gina, feeling momentarily funny at opening a door in her house, but he shook off the impulse. He'd practiced enough with local doors that he knew how they worked, and so with a smooth economy of motion he walked over to the door, fiddled briefly with the knob, and soon had it open, his magnetic fingers sticking slightly to the metal. "Miss Americana! Hello!" He smiled at her, gesturing inside. "My space is your space," he said automatically. "Well, er, it's not actually my space, but you know," he added with a little shrug. She really was very gorgeous, and he had to make himself look her in the eye and not anywhere else. "Uh, hi," he said, offering her his hand. "it's, uh, really nice to meet you."

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Miss Americana took his hand and shook it firmly, giving him a warm smile. "You must be Sharl," she said, her voice captivating in its dulcet tones. "It's good to meet you too. Cyberknife has been keeping me updated about your progress here, and it sounds like you're ready to see more of the city than just this one little block. We can do that today. Where would you like to go first?"

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_Think clean thoughts,_ he told himself. "Well, uh, Miss Americana, I'd like to meet people. Maybe other superheroes first, people who won't freak out if something weird happens with my program. Maybe more science heroes like Cyberknife? Or you, I guess." If she knew about his program, she had to know about matters scientific. "And regular people too, like other teenagers, or just people on the street...and the zoo! I'd love to see the zoo," he added. "I mean, people and super-people are interesting, but I don't want to forget about all the animals!"

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"Why don't I take you to visit The Lab first?" she suggested. "That's a center for superscience in Freedom City, there's bound to be someone there you'll be interested in talking to. Some of the greatest minds on the planet work there on their nonprofit and private projects. I think you'll enjoy it, then after that we can go for a little tourism?" She smiled at his enthusiasm, but seemed happy to wait patiently until he made up his mind.

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"The Lab sounds good," said Sharl readily, the teenager having a very positive opinion of Freedom's science heroes. "So, uh, how should we do this? I can't send myself on the Internet," he said, "it's too dangerous. I guess you could carry my projector, but it'd be even more fun if you carried me!" Soldiering on, he added, "That way, it'll be like I can fly, and I can see everything, just like a superhero! It'll be great." Sharl had flown in sky-cars, even sat behind the wheel of the family craft under his father's patient tutelage, but flying under his own power, or under someone else's, sounded great!

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"You can come along with me," Miss A told Sharl. "Give me your projector." That was a request that required some trust, but Gina had told Sharl that he could trust Miss Americana like he trusted her. The beautiful heroine flipped open the top of the projector like she knew what she was doing and made a couple of fast adjustments on the tiny keypad. "I'm putting you in tether flight mode," she told him. "I'll carry your projector, and you'll automatically stay right next to me, flying or on the ground. That way I don't have to carry you."

She stepped outside, and sure enough, Sharl rose up slightly from the ground and floated after her! Outside the house, she took off into the sky, and so did he!

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"Wahooo!" Sharl exclaimed, shouting excitedly in an alien language before shifting back to the English he'd picked up along the way. The alien city beneath him was a carpet of sights and sounds, tiny houses cast even smaller beneath him, trees like tiny plants far below, cars and people moving, a spectacular sight cast beneath the strange blue light of an alien yellow sun. "This is totally grrrreat!" he exulted, unconsciously sounding like the cereal-hawking tiger he'd seen on TV. "I see the Pyramid Plaza, and clouds, and...wow! This is beautiful! Thank you, Miss Americana!" Never let it be said Sharl had no manners, even when he was excited. The flight was a little strange, the air half-rushing through him and half-blowing his hair back, but he was paying far more attention to the world around them to notice that for more than a moment.

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Their flight was all too short, and in only minutes they were touching down on the roof of a beautiful building that reminded Sharl a little bit of the decorative top stories on some of the nicer buildings back home. It glittered like a jewel in the sun, but like all the buildings around here, it was very small, surely not even twenty stories! As they touched down, Miss A touched the keys of the projector again, then handed it back to Sharl even as his feet settled back to the floor. "All right, here we are!" she said pleasantly. "Have fun, but remember, some things need to stay secret."

Apparently not feeling like she needed to elaborate, Miss A walked over to the elevator that led into the building and pressed her palm against a security pad. The door opened to let them in. As they rode down, she activated an intercom system that led throughout the building. "Good afternoon, everyone. I have a special guest with me, is anyone free to say hello?"

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Dragonfly blinked, wiping grease off her hands as she stepped away from some project or another - it was a bit too early to tell what the large mass of steel and tubes was going to be (aside from a crime against physics and the natural order of things). She glanced at the nearest clock, and frowned. four hours - how - behind schedule - can't fix that now - mmh

Sure, came the voice back over the intercom, with the weird distortion that meant she'd been either too busy or too lazy to walk up and properly use the intercom system. Could use a break. Probably need one anyway. Where?

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Radio broadcast on The Lab frequencies detected. Identifying... source identified.

ERROR: Onboard communications remain offline. Must use external comms.

"I am online, Friend Americana," a clear electronic voice came over the intercom. The mysterious robot had been clearing the kitchen (following an accident involving Supercape and a 'quantum foam'), and replied via the intercom panel set into the wall.

Reply to Friend Americana's message incoming. Identifying... speaker identified: Friend Dragonfly.

Observation: Friend Americana mentioned a "special guest." Guest could be an organic being.

Cross-Referencing: It is customary to greet new guests with gifts. Food is a common item.

Conclusion: Assemble and present "gift basket" of food items from Kitchen for Friend Americana's guest.

Primary Goal: Preserve as much organic life as possible.

Secondary Goal: Preserve life of members of The Lab.

Addendum: Due to Friend Dragonfly's repeated dereliction of personal nutrient intake, I shall bring a smaller food-gift basket for her.

"I am currently in the kitchen. Where would you like us to meet your 'special guest'?"

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Sharl let out a low whistle as he walked into the Lab alongside Miss A, impressed at the sort of luxuries they had available this far down. _Don't be silly,_ he reminded himself as he looked around the elevator, _This isn't the lower depths for them, it's a, whaddyacallit, skyscraper!_ Sharl didn't know much about Terran computers, but looking around the fancy elevator even he could see how impressive this place was. _I bet I'd be more impressed if I knew what half of it was!_ he thought wryly. On the other hand, he supposed, maybe this was just a fancy elevator. Not everything about a fancy science lab had to be high-tech! He was doing his best to concentrate on the elevator, truthfully, so he didn't keep staring at Miss A. Gina had some...some pretty hot friends, honestly!

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Jessica Parker's studies had overflowed her personal lab space and were encroaching on her office/study. Biology textbooks were stacked five or six deep on the floor, and there were several holographic computer screens floating in mid-air at different points. All of the screens displayed information on the latest efforts in cloning. It was hard going for the genius teen; the life sciences weren't her field, and cloning was a cutting-edge application of it. She was trying to fit a half-dozen years of study and degrees into a few hours of cramming -- she hadn't even begun to run tests on the dozen or so vials of blue-red blood arranged on her desk.

Her head was beginning to throb unpleasantly and half a dozen pencils had been thrust into the ceiling already, a testament to her growing frustration. Everything affected everything else and half of the science seemed built on supposition and hope! This wasn't any way to engineer a creation! "Intelligent design," she huffed. "Yeah, right." As such, Miss A's announcement of a new arrival was a welcome break. She half-ran out of her office, making her way over to the elevator. She met Dragonfly halfway and the two young women chatted as they rode down together.

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"Let's meet in the library," Miss A suggested, "that's a good place to start." She toggled off the intercom and pressed the elevator button. "Once you've had a chance to meet some people," she told Sharl, "I'll give you a tour of my lab. Some of the others might be interested in showing you what they're working on, but don't be offended if some things are too classified for you right now. We have a lot of high-security projects going on here, so we have to be careful." The elevator discharged them into the library, a wide-open space full of books and desks that covered an entire floor of the building. "Just don't speak too loudly," she instructed him, "the library is a quiet area."

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