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Game On! (IC)

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June 14, 2011

8:32 PM

Jessica Parker settled back in her mesh-covered office chair, feeling it give against the metal frame ever-so-slightly. She hunted around her desktop for the proper icons, getting used to using a keyboard and mouse for the affair -- an anachronism for her, really, but something she was used to doing. Besides, this was game night! It was a floating date, given the schedules involved, but she and Mara always tried to play some kind of video game together every week. Or so. In any case it was always fun and challenging, whether she played co-op with Mara or against her; with their shared technopathic abilities, latency and the power of their own computer systems were really the only things keeping their in-game reactions back.

Jessica activated the voice-chat program, finding Mara's handle easily. "Evening, Mara." She sent the words over the connection even as she spoke them aloud. "Ready to get your game on?"

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Mara stretched, leaning back on her couch and grabbing her wireless keyboard off the cushion next to her. "Here," she replied. "And of- ...mmh."

She frowned at the microphone on the table in front of her, and bopped the power button with the heel of one foot. "Here. And of course. Long day - looking forward to relaxing a little. Games, fun, junk food. Decent challenge." Somewhere from the main floor of her warehouse there was a thumping sound and a few beeps and whistles; she snorted, fondly. "Puppy says 'hello'. So - thoughts on the game?"

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Jessica smiled at the idea of her friend anthropomorphizing the Christmas gift. On the other hand, considering who her friend was, Jessica wouldn't be surprised if Puppy had some rudimentary (or not so rudimentary) AI by this time. The young woman trusted her friend to be kind enough to the robo-pet that it wouldn't go all Skynet anytime soon.

"I found a really fun-looking sports game," Jessica said/sent. "All these weird non-human players doing excessively violent things to one another. I think there was a ball involved, too." Her cursor moved over to the shortcut she'd placed on her desktop, a bare skull and a green humanoid face pressed against each other antagonistically. She clicked once -- and stopped. The icon had changed to a pair of arches, on intersecting the other. Jessica frowned and hunted around for the skull-to-head icon again, but it had disappeared. Perturbed but determined, she hovered over the icon for Counter-Strike. "Actually, come to think of it, I found this excellent CS server the other night. They run rotating all-weapon rounds, so all shotguns, all sniper rifles, all pistols, like that." She clicked the icon -- and was staring at the arches again.

This was unusual, to say the least. She clicked several other icons experimentally -- a word processor, an internet browser, an anti-virus application. They all changed to the interlocked arches, and before long her desktop was littered with them. She folded her arms and addressed Mara through the link. "Mara, did you give my machine a bug? Something weird's happening here."

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Frowning, Mara tilted her head. "No." not sure whether to be insulted that she thinks I have a virus - or that if I sent her a virus she'd find it that easily? - mmh - doesn't matter - curious She leaned forward, crossing her legs under herself as she regarded her screen like she thought she could peer through it into Jessica's computer. Which, she admitted, she probably could if she wanted, but it was best not to go invading a computer that might have something wrong with it. "Define 'something weird'?"

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Jessica frowned and tapped at her computer's screen directly, regardless of the chance of breaking the screen. "Some icon is showing up all over my desktop," she complained. "There's no text describing it, and the associated filepath looks like more a set of GPS coordinates than anything I have on my computer." The young woman bit her lip and hovered her cursor over one of the icons. "Are you sure there's nothing like that on your screen? Looks like, I dunno, a couple of arches? Kind of like the McDonald's sign." She was tempted to click the shortcut and see what happened; that 'push the big, red button' instinct every human seemed to have. My back ups are up-to-date, aren't they? Oh, if I lose something, I'm gonna find whoever made this and feed him his own kidneys.

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"The McDonald's....?" Mara raised an eyebrow, glancing toward the microphone. "No. Shouldn't. Don't recognize it from the description; fairly certain I haven't seen it before on my......what."

There's something about being asked a question that should be obvious that keeps you from not poking around; she was certain she had nothing like that on her desktop, but as she talked she'd been poking around and there it was, in all its double-arched glory, taunting her from one corner of her screen. "....what. It's- that- what" She was incensed - invaded, even. someone put a virus or deliberately modified my computer - my private computers - going to find this person and teach them about personal space - with science - who would even--

Casual inspection didn't really offer her anything it hadn't offered Jessica, not that she'd expected it to. So she did the next best thing: a quick mental command ordered her central computer offline, unpowered and physically disconnected from the network. "Glad my gaming computer is not part of the rest of the system," she mused aloud, so Jessica could hear. "Going to figure out what this does. And then find its source. And then fry every computer within two blocks of the source."

She double-clicked the icon.

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For a moment it seemed like nothing had happened. The computer hummed to itself, Puppy rolled across the floor, the A/C rattled on and started blowing cool air around the place. Mara started to relax and was almost ready to call the whole thing a stupid hoax when her couch jumped several inches to the left, throwing her on her side. When she sat up, she realized she wasn't in her warehouse anymore. In fact she wasn't exactly sure where she was; a black, featureless space with some kind of illumination that seemed to come from everywhere at once.

There was a sharp crack like a wooden board breaking in two and Mara glanced around to see Jessica's chair coming in from nowhere at speed. The other young genius wasn't as fortunate as Mara; when some invisible force stopping the chair dead, it neglected to do so for Jessica and she ended up sprawled on the floor in a tangle of limbs. She pushed herself upright and brushed herself off, pushing her golden hair (cut quite short at the moment) back from her face. "Mara! Um, I didn't hear from you for a couple minutes so I, ah, kinda clicked the icon myself." She waved a hand in front of her face, dismissing the action, and glanced around. "Any idea where we are?"

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Mara'd gotten to her feet, frowning, and was looking around for any sign of...anything. She wasn't coming up with much. "No," she answered, tapping a finger against her leg. "Just a...void. As far as I can tell. Would almost suspect it was my own pocket technology if it wasn't black...mmh. Tangent. Am concerned about how we got here, too. Don't know what you keep in your office, but I don't have technology in my loft that could do this. Storage, maybe, warehouse floor, yes, but not up in the living space. Sudden transportation after clicking an icon on an otherwise normal computer is...troubling."

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"Strange dimensions are not my deal," Jessica reminded her friend. "Now, if some huge robot is rampaging through downtown, I'll own up to that." She walked around the edges of the space, trailing one hand along the -- well, it wasn't a wall, not exactly. It was almost like some kind of force field, or congealed fog; it resisted her hand slightly, then with more and more force as she pushed further into it, until her arm was elbow-deep in the substance and her fingers were resting on something like glass or smooth stone. Jessica pulled her arm out and rubbed at it, noting idly that whatever it was, the stuff was nearly freezing. "I'd say this was magic of some kind," she admitted, "but I've never heard of a magical computer virus before. Maybe we can't trust our senses? Maybe it's a case of shared --"

The young woman cut herself off as torches -- actual torches, set in metal sconces -- appeared out of nowhere, flaring to sudden, crackling life. A hooded, disembodied head appeared between them, many times larger than was natural. "Prepare yourself," a low voice intoned, "for the ultimate challenge!" The torches flared again to punctuate the sentence, casting shadows on the floating head.

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"....what?" Mara blinked at the giant head, more in bewilderment than fear. She'd never been very good at the 'fear' thing. "....definitely not one of mine," she confirmed, turning her head a bit toward Jessica, but without taking her eyes off the...face. projection? - illusion hallucination reflection hologram mental influence - data - torches? - very strange "My voids are usually...voids, and not full of giant heads. Or torches. Don't recognize this - but mildly cautious about 'ultimate challenge' that takes us out of our homes by force. Curious, though."

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GM

A pair of arches, identical to the icon that had populated the genius' computers, appeared underneath the torches as the head faded from view. A figure popped into existence before the arches; it was clad in the same robes as the oversized head had been, but this one was human proportions -- actually, it was short. Shorter than Mara, even, and when the figure tossed back its hood it revealed a face that was still chubby with baby fat. Altogether, the person looked that they couldn't be more than twelve years old. Evidently this child had some power behind him, though, as he floated into the air and folded his legs underneath him. "Hello, heroes! Isn't this so cool?"

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Mara raised an eyebrow, watching the figure float up into the air. "Is...interesting," she carefully replied - and not so carefully added, "but 'cool' would imply enjoyment. Have words for being kidnapped off my couch and sent to a black void, but have been trying to cut down on my swearing. Isn't polite." She tilted her head, glancing around again. avatar? - hologram - in-person - curious abilities regardless - mmh - more information "Obvious questions: who are you? Where, how, are we? 'Ultimate challenge'?"

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The floating child smiled at Mara and spread his hands. "I am Quirk," he announced, somehow bowing while staying 'seated' in midair. "The great and beneficent protector of Freedom City!" His smiled faded by degrees, replaced by a sullen look. "Well. I mean. The Freedom League doesn't really like it when I help. I mean, how was I supposed to know humans can't breathe underwater? You live so close to the stuff and you're mostly water anyway, so why would it be a big deal to use the Great Bay to put out a few fires? All at once?" His expression quickly rebounded to smiley and sunny as he focused on the present. "But that's why I help the heroes in smaller ways now! Like you two?"

"Us, two?" Jessica had been quite throughout the boy -- being's? -- speech, more than a little dumbstruck that their kidnapper looked like Dennis the Menace. "How, exactly, do you think you're gonna help us?"

"You like playing video games, right?" Quirk barreled forward without giving the girls a chance to respond. "I watched you play them, but you're so good and you get so into the games -- literally -- that they're not really fun, right? So I made the ultimate challenge! A real life video game, with real live monsters and real live prizes!"

Jessica glanced at Mara and moved closer to her friend, leaning down and whispering to the other woman. "I think it's best just to humor him for now," she said. "At least until we can figure out how to get out of here."

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"Mmh," Mara agreed, frowning and tapping a finger against her leg. It was awfully hard to not reach for the metal choker that rested at the base of her neck, but something told her that wouldn't be wise - the name and the mention of putting out fires with the Great Bay sounded...awfully familiar, and he certainly had some significant level of power to do what he'd done already. fine - for now "...okay. Have our attention. But games have rules - can't play if we don't know what we're playing. Or how. Limits, conditions, prizes, penalties. Game manual. Tutorial. Something."

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Quirk spun in the air, apparently unable to contain his eagerness. "The rules are simple," he said. "It's a race! Each of you picks a door to go through and each of you gets a different bunch of baddies to fight! The one that gets through first, wins. Simple as that, right! And as for prizes, well. I've been watching you gals for awhile now and I think I've got some pretty good prizes lined up for you."

Jessica blinked at the idea of Quirk watching her 'for awhile now' but reigned in her instinct to delve deeper into that. She had a distinct feeling that no matter what she learned, she wouldn't sleep any better because of it. Instead she just looked down at Mara and shrugged. "Flip a coin," she suggested, "or roshambo for the choice?"

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Mara ran pretty quickly through surprise, concern, embarrassment, and anger - each painted on her face in turn when she found out the little twerp had been spying on her. And possibly on Ellie, by extension. She made a frustration motion with her hands, but apparently decided that it was done and nothing good would come out of yelling at a kid with cosmic powers...still, she looked an awful lot like she wanted to strangle him until his blonde-haired head popped off.

"....fffine," she growled, through her teeth, before taking a deep breath and trying again. "Fine. Coin? More random. Both too quick-thinking and observant to make roshambo as fair as it's supposed to be."

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"I've got a coin!" Quirk pulled a golden coin out of the air -- literally, Jessica was willing to believe, even if he did flourish his hand like a stage magician's trick -- and tossed it to the young woman. She caught it and examined it; on one side was what looked like a shed sinking in the water, but from the legend of C.S.S. Virginia she took it to be the very first iron-hulled warship. On the reverse was a rough drawing that declared it to be ischnura heterosticta. Jessica glanced at Quirk, who bowed his head with a smile. She rolled her eyes in return and flipped the coin in the air, catching it deftly and slapping it against the back of her hand. Sure enough the ship was showing, and as soon as both women had a chance to see it the coin literally evaporated back into thin air.

Jessica glanced at her friend and shrugged before turning to regard the arches. One seemed to be made of some red-veined sandstone, all rough edges and facets. The other was sculpted metal, glowing softly from within and humming just on the lower register of perception. The heroine touched the slim titanium bracelet she wore at all times and was enveloped in a shell of blazing energy. A heartbeat later it faded and revealed her in full armor. "I'll take the metal door," she said aloud and strode over to it. She didn't pause as she walked through, even as a fog swiftly grew and enveloped her. A minute later it dispersed, leaving Mara alone with Quirk and the second arch.

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Mara frowned as Jessica - Ironclad, now - disappeared into the arch she probably would have taken herself - not that that was too surprising, given their shared engineering habits. Still, she'd agreed to the toss and lost, and sitting around out here wasn't going to accomplish anything.

Lights danced behind her eyes and the choker at the base of her neck flared at the glass and seams; a ripple in space itself flowed outward across her body, leaving her battlesuit in its wake. Dragonfly spared no time in getting her defenses online, either, a twisted outline appearing a couple inches from her profile as she scowled and made her way through the sandstone arch.

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Ironclad found herself in a broken, upright tube deep in some complex; inoperative computers and overturned tables abounded. The surfaces were brushed metal of some kind, possibly steel, but stained and corroding. The whole thing looked like a mad scientist's laboratory right out of a, well, video game. Specifically it looked like the aftermath of some monster's escape which lead to a ham-fisted moral about the folly of man or science or... something or other. Beneath her mask Jessica rolled her eyes at the abundant cliches.

The floor at least seemed capable to supporting the suit's weight, and the hero walked through the lab. Overhead lights flickered or went out at random intervals, and the suit's built-in enhancements clicked on to compensate. There was a single door leading outside, the panels made of thick metal. She levered them apart and stepped out into a metal corridor that stretched away to either side, curving slightly. Other doors opened off the corridor at regular intervals, and the entire scene was bathed in more of the flickering, inconstant lighting

Her suit picked up heavy, clanking footsteps and she turned in time to see one of the doors open and a heavily suited figure step out of it, lugging something that looked too much like a Vulcan cannon for the heroine's liking. The other armored presence -- a robot? Another person in a suit? -- stopped when it noticed Ironclad. Then it swung the cannon to and the barrels started rotating. She barely had time to bring her arms up in a defensive position and crouch behind them, before she was bathed in a furious storm of laser bolts!

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GM

Dragonfly, for her part, dropped straight into a disaster. The black void vanished as soon as she stepped underneath the arch, replaced by flames and chaos. The heroine blinked and took another look at her situation; she was surrounded by primitive huts, mostly grass and wood and turf, and most of them were ablaze! Humans, most of them dressed like extras in a Robin Hood movie, ran all around her, some carrying piles of goods and others toting buckets of water. Still others were sitting on the ground and cradling charred remains, wailing to the sky.

There was an ear-splitting cry and everyone's attention, including the heroine's, was drawn to the sky -- the night sky, she noted. Most of her attention, though, was on the huge reptilian creature there, its scales reflecting the firelight redly, as it flapped through the clouds of ash. Its long form twisted sinuously in the sky for a moment before it dropped down and swooped at the village, belching a long stream of fire at a row of mostly-intact huts. It flapped hard and climbed again, returning to altitude and circling slowly.

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Dragonfly just stood there looking up into the sky for a moment, incredulous, as the chaos milled around her. a dragon - really? - real enough - focus - aerial combat - stay off the ground - don't get cornered - probably faster than it is - more maneuverable? - don't rely on that - distract - harry - stay away from jaws

Four small nodes pushed out of the back of her suit, adjusting position as each projected a long, blade-like wing of neon blue energy. With a final check to make sure her defenses were well and truly online Dragonfly took off into the air, wings trailing a thin streak behind themselves as she maneuvered herself closer to the dragon (but not too close); the distortion she sent its way went wide, but at this range she hadn't been hoping for much besides distracting it from its peasant-eating. really hope Ironclad is having more luck than I am

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After an eternity -- or four seconds, to go by her suit's internal clock -- the bright rained thinned around Ironclad, dribbling off. Her suit reported all systems intact -- in fact, it didn't report a single strike! She glanced around herself and saw that the floor, walls, and even ceiling were all pock-marked and marked with carbon where the bolts had impacted and burst, but miraculously she was unharmed. As dumbfounded as the heroine, the armored figure shook its huge cannon a few times, spinning the barrels and toggling some kind of laser finder that didn't seem to want to stay on. Ironclad didn't let him/her/it have the time to diagnose the problem. She took a wide stance, amped up the power on her wrist blasters, and let loose with a point-blank shot. Gratifyingly, it tore off the arm supporting the cannon and tossed it down the hall, while the creature -- a robot she saw now, sparks and fluid lines trailing out the sundered arm -- staggered against the wall.

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GM

The dragon tilted in the air, Dragonfly's tailored distortions passing wide of its bulk. The creature screamed again and pumped its wide wings, hauling itself inelegantly through the air and towards the heroine. For all its mythic power though, the monster was unable to move very fast; though it stretched its long neck out to its full extension, its teeth chomped shut well clear of the inventor's armored figure.

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well - got its attention Dragonfly wasn't awfully keen on finding out what those big, big teeth would do to her armor; as she built up another distortion around her hand she reflected that - if this was some sort of game - dragons were probably designed to fight knights, and probably didn't think much of of a little metal. even my metal [bg=#555555]"Too slow,"[/bg] she critiqued, sending the distortion at the dragon with considerably better accuracy than last time...and then taking off away from the village, hoping to lead the thing away from people she couldn't be sure weren't real. [bg=#555555]"What you get for violating physics. Shouldn't be able to fly at all on wings built that way. Probably. Will model dragon aerodynamics later."[/bg]

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Ironclad launched herself at the robot with a war cry amplified by her suit's speakers until it made the metal hallway ring like a bell. Her metal fist impact the robot's metal chest and went through without slowing, shoving a great mass of wires and tubes out the construct's back. It grabbed her arm with its one remaining hand and tried to push her away; instead she ripped her arm sideways and tore a great, gaping hole in the drone's side, spattering more of the floor and opposite wall with yellow lubricant. The metal man regarded its innards for a moment, then reached out its remaining hand to grab her. Ironclad took a step back and it overbalanced and fell to the floor. Before it could attempt to right itself, the heroine stomped on the creature's head, which burst like a ripe melon.

With her opponent vanquished, Ironclad stood there, not even breathing hard in her suit. She regarded the destruction of such an intriguing machine with sadness; she would have liked to talk to it, or at least dismantle it. But it had proved a threat and she had moved as past as she could to put it down. It was a shame, but what other choice did she have really? The heroine put such thoughts from her mind and glanced up and down the corridor. If this was really some kind of underground lab a la Resident Evil or the like, there was probably an elevator around somewhere. "On the other hand," she mused aloud, "if I have to find three keycards and manipulate the colors via some complex alchemy, I'm gonna rip a hole in the ceiling and make an escape tunnel."

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