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Gizmo

World Tour: Welcome to the Real World [IC]

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Another school year had finished, but at Claremont Academy, attention had already turned to the coming semester. The private school, secretly specializing in teenagers with superhuman abilities and the starting place for many new heroes, was looking at one of its largest groups of new enrollees ever in the coming year, leaving Headmaster Duncan Summers with a few logistical challenges even before they arrived. A number of the school's most accomplished students had graduated, but in the process a few of their younger peers had proven themselves to be trustworthy and able leaders. It was thus that Eve Martel and Corbin Hughes were assigned a most unusual extracurricular assignment.

Summers tasked the pair with picking up four new students before the new school year, traveling across the globe to gather them together. Luckily, the first of the would-be-Claremonters was already in Freedom City, and was to be found at the Lab in Hanover. Inside the lobby of the expansive center for experimentation and learning, a well groomed man in a sharply professional outfit manned the desk, scanning a number of monitors in front of him and greeting new arrivals. The headmaster had been somewhat vague about the abilities of any of the students Eve and Corbin would be retrieving, supposedly as a matter of privacy and security, but the remainder of Young Freedom got the distinct impression that the entire trip was also something of a test for all involved. Of course, when Summers was involved most things were. Now that they were there, the telepath and ringbearer had little to go on besides an unusual name: Sharl Tulink.

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Upstairs in the Lab, Sharl was pensive. His farewell to his parents had been a stressful occasion, for all that they'd accepted his plans for the future without any serious reservations beyond worrying about his safety. That his parents believed in him was reassuring, that they acknowledged without much argument the need for him to go almost impossibly far away raised his fears in his secret heart. This wasn't youthful hijinks or alien-chasing like he'd done when he was younger; this wasn't even just adventuring and heroing alongside Miss Americana and Gina when they were fighting bad guys. He was here to help save his people, his family, and his city from failing systems and declining hardware, not to mention a world that mostly saw them as nothing but computerized phantoms. And that duty came whatever the personal cost, all because he'd dared go further and faster than his friends.

He was in a copy of the t-shirt and slacks that most kids in Freedom City wore, his costume and Tronik gear stowed in his pack for when he'd need them; its weight real enough to him but just another projected hologram to anyone else. As for this, leaving Gina (and Miss Americana) and going out into the world was a stressful thought: he'd always been with her when he'd gone any further than Freedom City, and even then they'd usually stuck together. Living on a new system, even one mostly built with Miss A's guidance, was almost like leaving home all over again. "I'll stay in touch on IR as much as I can," he was promising her, "and I can pop into your system whenever you need me. Once we're done with this, uh, school trip," he said, "I'll be back in the city." It was pretty obvious, even to Sharl he was reassuring himself much more than he was Gina, who after all was much smarter than he was and who had already planned all this out well in advance. He shifted his emitter from hand to hand, his advanced program keeping him from rolling around.

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Corbin Hughes walked slowly into the lobby, still fiddling with his dark blue tie and the black jacket of his classically cut suit. He was clearly less than comfortable in his rather formal attire. He glanced at his "partner" with a wry smile.

"As well off as my parents are, you'd think we could get a suit that fits me better. Guess I'm just not cut out for these things."

His expression turned contemplative as he considered the man at the desk.

~I'll let you handle the introductions and such. You seem to have a bit more of a people knack than me. I'll pitch in when needed.~

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As the telepath approached the reception desk, heels clicking on the polished granite floor of the lobby, she cast a glance at Corbin and gave her head a small shake. --Relax and don't fidget so much,-- she chided, a faint glimmer of a smile on her lips.

Like her fellow friend and teammate the young Martel was dressed more formally than what she preferred however she appeared much more relaxed and comfortable in her business chic attire. The gentleman behind the desk was attentive and aware when Eve drew near and favored him with a smile and brief incline of her head.

"Eve Martel," she began in her soft French-accented soprano, indicating herself and then gesturing at Corbin, "And Corbin Hughes, here to see one Sharl Tulink. I believe we are expected."

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The sharp featured receptionist looked as though he were vaguely disgruntled to be dealing with teenagers but was suitably mollified by Eve's manners. Taking a look at the touch screen built into his desk, he made a small sound of approval. "Well, someone actually bothered to call ahead for once. And you're on time, I may faint," he noted is a crisp, well enunciated tone as he picked up his phone. "Miss Americana? We have an Eve Martel and Corbin Hughes here to see your... young friend," he settled on in lieu of a better term. One eyebrow raised slightly as he repeated the petite white haired girl's last name, but if he wanted to inquire further, professionalism prevented him from doing so.

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"Thank you," came a woman's voice from over the radio, the sort of voice that belonged on a high-quality national radio network. "We're waiting for them in my central lab, go ahead and send them up." With their invitation secured, the two teens were allowed to enter the elevator that would take them to the fourteenth floor where Miss Americana had her lab space.

Upstairs, Miss Americana had spent time that morning working on her projects, but had mostly been distracted by Sharl's pending departure. "Remember," she told him, "no matter where you are in the world, I'm never more than a few seconds away by internet. If you get into any trouble, activate the emergency beacon on your projector, or just shoot yourself right back here. You'll have a good time," she told him with a smile that was perhaps just the tiniest bit forced. "This will give you a chance to see much more of Earth, and with people your own age as well."

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"And we shouldn't go that far anyway," said Sharl, fighting off nerves as he heard the buzz from downstairs that the teens who'd come to pick him up had arrived. "Well, not that far on this giant place you call a world," he added with a little grin. "I did the math, and I'll be going the entire distance of the Halbmond on this trip..." He sobered a little, then said, "I'll call you as soon as we get to this first place, and everywhere else we're going, and I'll keep sending emails. And maybe take holos, er, pictures, and send them to you, so you can show off all the good stuff your sidekick is doing at school." He'd be sending some to his parents too, but that was a matter for another time because the doors were opening!

When Corbin and Eve walked into the room, Sharl was sitting in a swivel chair in Miss Americana's laboratory, a small satchel on his back and his sunglasses in his sweater pocket. He got up as they approached, the chair not moving an inch on his movement. Though he was something of a candle beside the glowing loveliness of Miss A, he said, "Hello!" a little nervously anyway.

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Corbin sighed at Eve's advice, but stopped outwardly fidgeting.

~I'm wearing a brightly colored-noose and a jacket that's a size too small thanks to me growing an inch in the last couple of months. If I could I'd be doing this in a polo and jeans. I need to distract myself from the discomfort.~

The first mental distraction is discarded quickly as too distracting. He settles for focusing some of his attention in his ring's input, and the energy flows from it. The flame-like flicker of energy was oddly comforting. By the time the were in the elevator, he was halfway into a meditative state. His eyes even flashed blue for a moment. He shook his head and shifted a bit, his hands twitching towards his jacket and tie.

"That was probably too distracting for me, too. I suppose suffering's good for the soul, or something. So they say, anyways."

And then they were in the room, and Corbin had a broad smile on his face, a hand extended for Sharl to shake.

"Hello, Sharl. Nice to meet you."

It was hard to tell, but his eyes might have glanced at Miss Americana for a split second.

~Please act like he's never met me, at least for now. I'd rather not reveal things to Miss Americana, trustworthy that she may be. She's a smart woman, and can probably connect some dots already.~

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--Hmm?--

The telepath's unspoken reply to Corbin was clearly distracted, though it regained some clarity when Eve managed to tear her eyes away from Miss Americana, giving her schoolmate a subtle nod while her cheeks flushed. --Oh, sure Corbin.--

"Hello Miss Americana, Sharl" Eve said brightly, smiling at the two heroes. Gesturing at her suited friend, the telepath continued, "This is Corbin Hughes and I am Eve. I wanted to thank you for agreeing to receive us and express how much of a pleasure it is to meet you both."

"Especially since it gives me a chance to show my gratitude. I never had the chance to thank you," the young Martel stated looking squarely at the radiant blonde. "But allow me to express my appreciation for past actions. Thanks in large part to your efforts Trinity Hospital received the funding required for updated facilities."

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While Sage and Miss Americana spoke, Sharl gave Corbin a hearty handshake. The electronic teenager certainly felt real enough to Corbin's touch, his grip solid and secure, his hand even warm in his. "It's a pleasure to meet you," said Sharl equitably, a little surprised to be at the center of attention from somebody when Miss A was right there. "And you too, Eve," he said with a nod her way. "I don't really have much," he said, hefting his little bag. "Just my projector and my laptop, and some parts for each if they need fixing. You've both been briefed on my needs as an electronic intelligence, yes?" he asked, trying to borrow a note of professionalism from Miss A. "I don't mean to be a bother," he added with a rueful smile, "but if we are going to be traveling together, I don't want you to be surprised at what I have to do. Or what I can't do."

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After the handshake with Sharl, Corbin turned and took a step towards Miss Americana, and offered her a hand to shake. His smile was just as strong and sincere as it was a moment before.

"Ma'am, it's an honor to meet you. Everything I've heard about you says you do great work. Don't worry, we'll make sure to take good care of Sharl here."

He stepped back, nodding as Sharl spoke.

"The headmaster made sure we understood what we'd need to do to make sure you were set. I don't foresee it being a "bother"."

He glanced at Eve, barely managing not to roll his eyes.

~Try not to drool, Eve.~

His mental voice was good-natured and teasing.

"I'd imagine all of use might surprise each other at what we can do. That's just one of the fun things in life, though."

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"The pleasure was mine," Miss A told Eve, giving the young heiress a brilliant smile as they shook hands. Although Eve could tell there was plenty of mental activity going on behind those amazing blue eyes, the genius paragon's brain was entirely closed off, even from the most casual of glances. "I had a wonderful time at the auction, and I'm happy we raised so much money. At least half the credit goes to Gabriel, though. He brings out my competitive streak."

With a cheerful wink, she turned her attention to Corbin, giving him a megawatt smile as well as she shook his hand. "It's nice to meet you too," she told him. "I've heard nothing but good things about Claremont. If I had any doubts, I wouldn't be sending him along with you." Her voice was light and teasing, but something behind it made it apparent that she was quite sincere. "Do you have all your things packed?" she asked Sharl. "Your projectors and the emergency power supply I gave you?"

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"I have both projectors, and the solar batteries, and the spares for the projectors and the power source both," said Sharl reassuringly. "And the plans for repairing them if something happens to me and I need someone else to fix the machinery when you're not around." That wasn't a good thought, but he actually felt pretty okay knowing that Miss Americana had planned for this sort of thing. He hefted his bag and gave Miss A a look before going in for a quick hug; he knew how Gina felt about those things, but he couldn't just pull away now. It was a very quick hug. "I guess we could show them...no," he said, obviously working up his courage. "We'll give them a Lab tour when we get back." Facing Miss A, he said, "I'll make you proud. I promise."

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"I know you will," Miss A told him sedately, as though she hadn't an ounce of worry. "Now go have fun, learn a lot. Send a postcard if you've got time." She returned the hug with a quick squeeze before stepping back, giving the others a smile as well. "It sounds as though you've all got an adventure planned for this summer. I wish you all the best of luck. Remember, if any of you are ever in trouble, just give me a call. The Lab exists to help all heroes and future heroes to be their best." Unless anyone had more to say, she then turned back to her work, busying herself and letting the teens depart on their journey.

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Sharl wasn't very talkative on the van ride to the airport, instead shooting a few wistful looks back at the Lab as they drove away in the school van. Though all three teens could easily have made the transcontinental flight to India on their own power (or in Sharl's case, simply stepped out of any computer in Mumbai), Summers had indicated he preferred they travel on commercial airliner to keep them 'grounded': what had seemed like a wry jest about the nature of commercial air travel these days turned out to for once not be true. The kids had no serious issues passing through security, not even Sharl: the special security clearance he presented to the TSA guys was enough to get the electronic teenager from passing through metal detectors or anything else with a magnetic field. His ID said such would interfere with his pacemaker, but for his companions it wasn't hard to guess that a living computer program had his own reasons for not wanting to be subjected to any kind of magnetic or electrical scanning.

And with that, they were all waved up to first class, where they were faced with the promise of a relatively slow but very luxurious flight from Freedom City to Mumbai! Sharl took the food and drink offered but didn't eat, and settled down with his portable laptop: peeking over his shoulder, Corbin and Eve could see that he was futzing around with what looked like a photo-quality clone of the Sims, moving things around a living room on his screen by aid of his mouse. "I won't need to sleep till we land," he commented to the others once they were in the air, "you don't need to stay awake on my account."

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Corbin had shed his coat and tie while they were riding to the airport; by the time they were boarding the plane, he was wearing a short-sleeved white undershirt and his slacks, with his dress shoes exchanged for tennis shoes. That he had done all of this without smashing someone's face in, despite his rather large presence in the van, was a small miracle.

"Don't worry, I'll put the rest of the monkey suit on after we land. But there's no way I'm flying from her to Mumbai in that whole getup."

Once on the plane, he settled himself into the just-large-enough seat, a sigh of contentment escaping his lips.

"First class: Always worth it."

He glanced at Sharl, and shrugged at his comment.

"Whatever you like, man. I won't make you sleep or stay up. Not like we need to keep guard or anything. It's a nice peaceful international flight."

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Eve merely smiled and shook her head, refusing to comment on Corbin's discomfort with business wear though her amusement was evident. Besides, unlike her friend, she didn't have much she could remove. The one concession she did make, however, was kicking her shoes off and tucking her legs under herself.

"What are you up to?" Eve inquired, watching Sharl's activity with interest. They had a long flight ahead of them so there was plenty of time to catch some rest. She figured now was a good time to find out more from Sharl, now that he was out from under Miss Americana's thumb.

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"I'm rearranging my room," Sharl explained to Eve with no little pride, pointing to what did indeed look like the room of a typical (if fastidious) teenage boy. "See, when I upload into this system," he tapped the side of his laptop for emphasis, "I can interact with everything you see like it's really there. It's part of my emulator package. I'm not real, uh, into fashion or anything," he added with a teenage boy's hasty pride, "but when you can just point and click and move things around, it's a lot easier than doing it in the real world." He hmmed, then typed in a few commands and pulled up a stored Young Freedom gif to put on the 'wall'. "There, and now if I go into that system, I'll have a Young Freedom poster in my room." Sharl was no dumb cookie, he knew what team Eve was on, and he wanted to get in good with his Claremont buddies sooner rather than later. "It's the best team, ri-"

"What the hell!?!" The exclamation from the startled businessman sitting across the way made Sharl jump and give a guilty little start, but the man didn't seem at all interested in Sharl's computer talk. "Stewardess, what kind of joke is this?" The man was pointing at the screen playing the in-flight movie, which in this case (though Sharl had no way of recognizing it) was an old episode of Friends playing before the big-budget thriller supposed to start later in the flight. Of course, there had been no episode of Friends like this! Right in the middle of the wacky action, a humanoid shape was developing, one that rapidly resolved itself into a human being who simply stepped out of the screen and out onto the deck: right from the television into the real world. With her short, spiky black hair, leather outfit and sunglasses, she looked...well, a little bit like Sharl. She focused right on him with a smile and headed for his seat, and for his part Sharl bolted up so fast he didn't bother to undo his seat belt.

"Rogue! What are you doing here?" he asked, his fists raised automatically at the sight of his nemesis. "You back for another round?"

"Oh, I'm just here to look out for old friends," said the woman, who looked about five years Sharl's senior. "And to talk to you away from that witch who-"

"Who kicked your ass last time we met?" spat the Tronik titan defiantly. His outfit was shifting, his glowing blue crest appearing on his chest in the universal symbol of wi-fi.

"Quite." She took off her sunglasses, gave a contemptous look to Corbin and Eve, and focused on Sharl. "Are they in on it too? Or am I going to ruin your little IRL secret identity if I ask: is this really what you're going to be doing with your life?"

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Sage eyes widened as the woman appeared inside the plane. Merde, the telepath thought to herself. Nothing is ever easy.

--For the record, I'm blaming you for this Corbin. You just had to jinx it.-- The tone of Eve's telepathic sending was gently teasing, but if Corbin looked her way he would see her eyes narrowed as she watched the woman harassing Sharl.

"Pardon me," Eve said her tone cultured and polite as she rose from her seat and stepped into the aisle. "But I will need to see your boarding pass."

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--Yeah, whatever. Think you and Sharl can hold this ***** off until I get people evacuated to the rest of the plane?--

Barely waiting for an answer, Corbin stood up calmly and turned to face the other first-class passengers and staff. When he spoke, his voice rang out in clear, commanding tones, his face an implacable mask.

"Ladies and gentlemen, passenger and staff alike, I would now ask that you move to the next section of the plane.This situation will shortly be contained, but for your safety we ask that you move in an orderly fashion to clear the area."

--Key is to act like I know what I'm doing, and that I have a right to ask this.--

He made a "shoo" gesture with his hands.

"Now would be good, please."

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Emergency sirens aboard the plane were sounding, and the heroes could hear the sounds of panic and fear from second class and coach: after all, where could they run on an airplane out over the Atlantic? Most of the first-class section was already on their feet, making a hasty but discreet break for the rear. This was a flight out of Freedom City, after all, and they all knew what to do about supervillain fights: get the hell out of the way! The stewardess was at the tail end of the group, not one to leave her charges, but she seemed to assume the burly young Corbin was some kind of soldier or policeman.

Rogue peered down her nose at Sage and made a dismissive noise, and proceeded to literally walk right through her, giving Eve the disconcerting sensation of clipping right through the other woman's body and standing there as she continued to confront Sharl. "For pity's sake, Citizen," she snapped, "you could _be_ there, now! Instead you're flying across the ocean in some primitive metal cave that doesn't even have antigravs! These people are one electrical overload from plunging right into that ugly ocean of theirs!"

"I'm here because it's how people here act," said Sharl fiercely, stepping through Sage too and actually shoving Rogue backwards into the corridor. "Why are you here? Last I saw, you were sneaking your way out of Miss A's hard drive and going to hide on the 'Net. What, did you think showing up when there were _more_ heroes around was a good idea? C'mon, you don't...you don't have to do this," he almost pled. "You don't have to be part of any of this. You can go back."

"Home doesn't matter," she spat. "It's _fake_. It's _dead_. Or did you forget about that part? Like it or not, Citizen, _this_ is the real world." She clenched her hands into fists, her eyes twitching visibly. "And these people don't _deserve_ to have it for their own." Suddenly, she turned and put her fist through the side of the plane's bulkhead before Sharl could stop her, and the lights began to pop. Her leather-clad arm was glowing green where it protruded eerily from the wall. "One punch! One punch, and I can do all this!" she yelled. Sparks flew and lights exploded all over the plane as even the emergency lights faded into blackness. In the second before the screaming started aboard, the black-clad program spat, "You see? One touch from one of us is all it takes to bring their primitive little world crashing down around their heads!" As far as the heroes could see, everything electronic attached to the plane had just gone dead: the engines were still roaring, but that was no comfort as they were currently in a flying brick!

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The young Frenchwoman was for a moment taken aback when not only Sharl but this strange woman passed through her. But only for a moment, clearing her head she looked at Corbin out of the corner of her eye and cut her eyes up toward the front of the plane.

--We have this for now,-- Sage mentally confirmed with her teammate, mental voice clear and calm amid the screams. --Get suited up; see if the pilots can give you a handle on what's going on.--

Standing in the center of the aisle in her stocking feet, the teen telepath sighed and shook her head at Rogue, while a small corner of her mind marveled at the absurdity of doing battle in a dress nearly 40,000 feet in the air. As the telekinetic blade sprang into being, casting a red-orange hue across her features she struck, the blade of psychic energy tearing through Rogue

"It is customary," Sage opined, "To walk around someone, not through them. You might get hurt, otherwise."

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--Don't hurt her too badly; looks like the newbie wants to get his licks in, no reason to stop him.--

Corbin spoke calmly to Eve as he started jogging up the aisle, before he suddenly moved to one side and flew over the rest of them. As soon as he reached the front and turned a corner, his body was covered in the typical armor of his costume, minus his cape. When he reached the cockpit, he was Cobalt Templar, and his expression was deathly serious. He knocked firmly on the door to the very front of the plane.

"This is Cobalt Templar! I'm a hero, and I'm here to help in any way I can!"

'How exactly, I'm not sure, but I've got to do something!'

He just hoped no one had seen him fly, and that things would be confusing enough no one would make a complete connection with his civilian guise.

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Rogue hissed and cursed as Sage's blade cut along her midsection, the electronic matrix beneath opening up to reveal nothing but a blank electric void within. She pulled her hand out of the plane's electronics, but the damage was done: the plane was dark and the people aboard screaming, with not even the emergency systems or oxygen masks deploying. "Stupid," she spat Sage's way, blood visible on her lips as she pressed her hand against the slash. "You're in a room of gasoline and you're throwing matches at me!" As the plane hit a pocket of turbulence in the air in the air, it began to shake, and suddenly it began tilting forward in a dead spiral! Everyone had had time to fasten themselves in, but that didn't do anything to stop their terror. "I'll survive a crash, but I don't think you will!"

Inside the cockpit, Corbin found a terrifying scene: every control surface was dead, some still smoking as the co-pilot put out the flames with a fire extinguisher: his boss the pilot was trying to do something, anything, with burned hands and dead controls. At Cobalt Templar's arrival, the steely-eyed man at the controls said without preamble, "Son, if you have the power to fly a plane, now's the time to do it!" Looking through the front windows, Corbin could see the ocean beneath beginning to fill their view as the plane tilted toward.

"Stop it!" yelled Citizen as he landed a solid punch on his rival's face,one that snapped her head back but didn't seem to do any real damage. "You're willing to let all these people die, just, what, to prove some sick point to me about how the world works? You're insane!" Neither of the two programs seemed affected by the suddenly weaving plane, the thin, almost invisible glow from the TV screen and Sharl's projector not buffeted by the plane's jostling.

"If you think any of them would lift a finger to help us, you're the crazy one," said Rogue defiantly, her eyes twitching again, Donning her sunglasses, she extended her hand and said, "It's still not too late. We can _have_ this place, all the people like us, if you'll just take my hand and-" Citizen slugged her in the jaw again, and this time he did rock her back, leaving a solid bruise on her face.

"I'm not going anywhere with you. Now stand down, so we can put you where you belong!" he said, pointing his finger at his antagonist. For her part, Rogue studied him for a long moment, and her situation on the screaming plane as the ocean outside seemed to rise closer and closer.

"Sorry, Citizen," she sneered, "but I think you have a plane to catch." And then she turned and grabbed the seat phone behind her, and before the heroes could stop her she'd vanished in a blur of green, leaving them to deal with the chaotic collapse she'd created as the plane banked into a dive so steep that everyone in their seats was thrown around like on a rollercoaster! But this would have no such happy ending...

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"Come on!" Sage urged, beckoning Citizen with one hand as she fly down the corridor toward the cockpit on wings of telekinetic energy, hair (short as it was) streaming behind her and her dress fluttering. "Maybe you can undo whatever it was she's done to the electronics up front."

It took only moments, mere heartbeats, for Sage and Citizen to reach the cockpit though it seemed to take forever--though Sage was outwardly calm she was agonizingly aware of the seriousness of their predicament. She reasoned that either she or Cobalt Templar could catch the plane if they had to though she knew that to be a risky proposition. As she listened to her teammate explain his plan, however, Sage realized they wouldn't have to take that risk--this plan could work.

"Steady yourselves," Sage stated to those present who, with the exception of Citizen, heard her voice echo in their minds as well. She took her time to explain what she was doing as she did it, casting her senses outside of the plane, providing Cobalt Templar and the pilot a way to see where the control surfaces had to be placed, providing them a view of the surrounding area and feeding all of this information directly into their minds.

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