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World Tour: Conspiracy Theory (IC)

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After the excitement of their last flight, the final leg to India was likely a terrible anticlimax...but boring isn't always a bad thing. Still, after nearly ten hours of peanuts, recycled air, and terrible movies the rest of the passengers certainly looked like they were ready to be on the ground and stretching their legs. That plus a little more time to get through security and claim whatever luggage they'd brought and a plane's worth of tourists and natives were stepping out into a warm but overcast Mumbai summer day.

The city was busy and streets were even busier, but as fortune had it the collective of heroic envoys didn't have very far to go: right there at the sidewalk stood a tall, dour-looking man in a button-up shirt and what could only have been his daughter. Both were standing almost unnaturally still, like metal rods against the shifting tide of the crowd, but they were clearly watching the groups leaving the airport. The daughter, an attractive teenage girl in fairly conservative clothes, was holding a sign that read only: CLAREMONT.

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Surrounded by the press of the crowd, it took all of Sharl's concentration to keep his solid form as he moved his way through the crowd. He stood out in the crowd even so; a tall European-American looking guy behind black sunglasses in all black was a little odd even in the multiethnic world near the major international airport of Mumbai. Making his way through the crowd slowly, fighting the urge to stare at this incredibly novel city with its huge open spaces, Sharl finally made his way through and said ebuillently, "Hello! I'm Sharl! Nice to meet you!" Being new to Claremont, it didn't occur to him to add that's what he was from.

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Despite her small stature, Eve Martel had considerably less difficulty moving through the crowd than one would think. Perhaps it was the graceful but commanding way she moved, radiating a sense of competence and authority. Or perhaps she was telepathically or telekinetically nudging people out of the way. The more likely explanation, however, was that she had the rather large and powerfully built Corbin Hughes following in her wake.

In any event she eased up next to Sharl and nodded a greeting. "Mr. and Ms. Singh?"

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Corbin rolled his shoulders a couple of times as they walked through the airport; first class or no, he'd still felt cramped in those seats. At least he had fresh clothes by this point. He glanced around, taking in what sliver of the sites he could as they walked through the Mumbai airport. It was warm, but thankfully such things didn't bother him very often these days.

He raised an eyebrow as he saw the individuals they were supposed to meet, and smiled a bit as Sharl enthusiastically greeted them. He let his companions greet them first before taking a step forward and holding out his hand, a soft, friendly smile on his face.

"Hello. Nice to meet you folks. Name's Corbin."

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Mr. Singh was just this side of expressionless, focusing his stern gaze on each of the heroes in turn as if he was sizing them up or expecting them to do something strangely unique and offensive. Eventually, though, he extended his hand and gave Corbin a firm - very firm; the man was clearly much stronger than he looked, and he didn't look that weak - handshake. "I am Rishi Singh," he introduced himself, in a heavy but understandable accent, nodding to each of them in turn. "And this is Indira Singh, my daughter."

She nodded politely, offering a hand toward Eve for a handshake. "It is a pleasure to meet you all," she greeted, in a significantly lighter accent. And she certainly seemed sincere, if somewhat pensive and preoccupied; if her father noticed her distraction he certainly didn't show it. "Please - my mother is waiting in a restaurant not far from here. I am sure it has been a very long flight - are you hungry?"

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Sharl let the regular Claremont kids handle this conversation; the people seemed friendly enough and by now he was as much interested in the architecture and physical structure of Mumbai as the people there. "This city is amazing," he commented as they headed towards the restaurant. "I've never seen a city with so few buildings and so many people." He realized how that sounded a moment after saying it, and added apologetically, "I mean, uh, not that you guys are poor, but it's just so interesting! It's very different than the cities in America."

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Corbin quirked an eyebrow at the man's grip, but his grin didn't fade.

"It's an honor, Mr. Singh."

He turned to Indira and offered her a smile, and a handshake when she and Eve finished their own greeting.

"Indira, a pleasure. As for being hungry..."

The growl that rang out might have been mistaken for a large dog, if it hadn't obviously come from the large teen's stomach. His face reddened considerably.

"Uh...sorry. Yeah, they didn't have much on the flight, food-wise. I tend to have a big appetite, I'm warning you folks now."

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"It is the most populated city in India," Indira supplied Sharl, smiling. She hesitated when Corbin offered his hand, but shook that too. "Mumbai has been a very interesting place to live, but I am looking forward to American cities. I have heard good things, and am looking forward to a school where I might...fit in better."

That last bit got her a sharp glance from her father, and she immediately changed the subject, inviting the trio to walk with them toward the promised restaurant. And, as promised, it was indeed nearby - just a few minutes brought the group to a restaurant promising quality food from almost any major country in the area. They weaved their way through the floor not to one of the main tables, but to a door toward the back that opened to a small but private room. "My mother, Maya Singh," Indira introduced, politely indicating an attractive woman already seated.

Mrs. Singh smiled, and stood to shake hands as everyone took their seats. "We are not rich," she explained with an accent to match her husband's, "but the owner of this restaurant insists on offering us a private room after he was...helped." That last bit was accompanied by a sharp glance toward Indira, who looked suitably embarrassed. "It will allow us to talk in privacy, though my husband and I will soon leave you all alone to get to know each other."

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Having secured a menu, Sharl flipped through it avidly, looking for all the world like a kid in a candy store. And maybe he was: so many things to eat! He'd have to use the toilet here before he left, of course, but he didn't feel as bad doing that here as he would have at Gina's place. After all, they were supposed to be able to clean up food waste. "Oh wow, so the school is paying for all the food and the meal provider is your friend?" he asked. "That's wonderful! I'm going to get all the modak I can eat, as spicy as they can serve it. I've always wanted to try Indian food," he confessed as he peered at the menu he'd laid flat on the table before him, "but my, ah, boss doesn't like the way it smells."

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"Every city and country has its own unique...flavor, I suppose you could say. Whether they're only 10 years old, or 1000, every city has a story..."

Corbin stopped and shook his head with a rueful chuckle.

"Sorry. That's the aspiring historian in me peaking through."

Whether he realized the irony of being a teenager who was built like an NFL linebacker, but was looking to be a historian, he didn't reveal.

When they arrived at the restaurant, Corbin gave Mrs. Singh a warm greeting as well before seating himself.

"Oh, um. I thought you guys would want to stick around, but whatever works. Not like you can't coordinate and communicate or anything. The privacy is nice, though."

He lapsed into silence while he perused the menu. He started racking up a mental order, sampling a fair variety, but angling more for the milder foods. He wasn't a wimp or anything, but he'd rather avoid super-spicy foods while doing international travel.

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The food was, if not stellar five-star quality, quite good (and this close to the airport, was probably relying on many people not having enough experience with the spices to know the difference). Conversation was polite and standard - questions about Freedom City, Claremont, how was your flight, where are you headed next. Mrs. Singh and Indira did most of the talking, really - Mr. Singh seemed much happier (if such a stern face was capable of the emotion) to sit and observe, watching the trio of heroes as if he expected them to pull out knives or a ray gun. All too soon the food was finished, the plates cleared, and Mr. and Mrs. Singh were (in Mr. Singh's case, reluctantly) standing up and politely excusing themselves, saying they'd give the young folk time alone to get to know each other or look around the area before they had to worry about leaving.

Indira remained all manners and polite smiles until a few seconds after the door had closed behind her parents...and then she almost deflated, exhaling and slumping for a moment in relief. Ingrained manners almost immediately reasserted themselves, but even sitting straight and speaking politely she seemed a lot less apprehensive and - unfortunately - a bit more worried. "I - I asked my parents if I could get some time alone with you, to get to know you better before we left; I know my father can be...intimidating. He only wants the best for me, you understand. And I do want to get to know you all - I do - but I...I need your help." She smiled a little, but it was a tight, unhappy smile. "Some things were stolen from me, and I was not supposed to have them. I could get into a great deal of trouble if I do not get them back very soon; I was able to track down where they are, but I am not sure that I alone can safely...please. I cannot possibly hope to ask this of you, but I would consider it a great favor, and...I suspect that if I do not get them back and they are found out I will not be able to attend Claremont. Or Earth."

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Sharl had eaten like a trencherman throughout the meal, almost gleefully putting away tremendous quantities of delicious Indian food. I am really going to need to find an alley or something before we leave, I can't leave this for the restaurant people. At Indira's words, though, he fell silent and studied her with a mixture of suspicion and fascination. He was a smart kid who'd spent his whole life fascinated by alien life (never knowing just how alien it would turn out to be), but the isolation of his youth made this still a slightly unreal situation. Still, it didn't take him long to put two and two together. He was tempted to address her in Tronikese, but he dismissed that one too. "Do you want to tell us where you're from?" he instead asked her gently.

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Eve picked at her meal, fielding the questions directed her way, or supporting Corbin as he provided some detail on Claremont and Freedom City. Mostly, though, she was quietly observant, watching the interplay between Indira, her parents, Corbin and Sharl. Eve had to admit she liked watching Indira, she moved with a fluid grace that was exceedingly rare, reminding Eve of her own preternatural agility.

So of course she perked up when Indira's parents left and the other girl laid bare her troubles. "Of course we'll help," she said and then blushed, flashing an apologetic smile at Sharl at nearly interrupting him.

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Corbin displayed excellent table manners, especially considering he'd ordered more than even Sharl! Then again, he was probably bigger than any of his comrades, and twice as big as Eve!

Still, he politely answered every question he was presented with, expounding on things where he felt it was appropriate. Despite his intimidating size, he had a friendly, open manner about him that ought to put most anyone at ease. Mr. Singh's almost suspicious attitude didn't faze him at all.

--I know it's not gracious of me, but I almost want to laugh at Mr. Singh's whole "I'm an intimidating figure" mannerisms. Or am I just jaded after what happened at the beginning of summer break?--

He bid the parents farewell as they left, then turned to give Indira his attention as she spoke. He'd just polished off dessert and was currently letting things settle a bit in his stomach. He raised an eyebrow at her request, but didn't seem perturbed.

"Like Sharl and Eve said, we'll help. Just what are you-Wait."

Her words clicked fully in his mind, as did Sharl's, and his eyes widened in a fair bit of surprise.

"You're...not from Earth? Oh. Huh. That...might explain why you're considering Claremont?"

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The revelation had apparently distracted Indira from her more pressing concerns, and she glanced between the trio as they simultaneously offered help and connected the dots. Dots she thought they'd already connected! She blinked twice in rapid succession, and a sharp eye might have noticed that in the space between blinks her eyes went from a normal deep brown to pure, solid black orbs and then back again. "I - no. Please, we should...." She trailed off, but she was gesturing politely at the door, and her meaning was clear enough.

The teen was highly distracted as she led them through the streets of her city, but at long last she straightened up and sighed. "I am sorry. I had thought you had already been told, and I was not sure...but it is the least that I owe you for helping me. I am not from Earth, no, and yes, that is why I shall be attending Claremont. I am Kinigosi, though we are not the most...numerous of races, and I do not expect you have heard much of us. But please...do not tell others. I would be in a great deal of trouble if word left the planet that we are here - which is why the loss of some personal items is distressing."

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"There are a lot of aliens living on Earth," said Sharl, hands steepled before him as he studied Indira. In all his studies of what Tronik knew of space, the Kinigosi had never come up: of course, if they hadn't yet left their solar system 2000 years earlier he wouldn't expect that. "People from the various Lor planets, some right from this solar system, or so I've heard. Even some Grue." He hmmed. His new-found friends (Are they my friends? I suppose they are!) hadn't probed into _his_ background, so he opted to give Indira the same courtesy. "Why don't you tell us what went missing, and how?" he asked her. "Do you think you were targeted for the thefts deliberately, or were you robbed by people who had no idea what you were?"

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Indira was a picture of surprise, though her step didn't falter. "Grue? I...suppose you would not be so calm if they were not rogue. Still, that is very surprising....Grue. Hm."

She waved a hand, dismissing the thought for later. "They are personal items, but close inspection would reveal them to not be from Earth," she replied, grimly. "There are two: one is a bone, and the other is a picture. I do not think the original thief knew of their importance - the bag they were inside was stolen while I was preparing my things to move to Freedom City. But I have since tracked them to the hands of a group who is...you would say 'paramilitary'? An odd word, but a fitting one. They are well-armed and paranoid, and may know what it is they have."

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When Indira blinked and showed pure black eyes, Corbin couldn't help but tense up, his ring-bearing hand reflexively raising up in a slightly defensive posture. He corrected himself automatically, a tiny hint of shame in his eyes.

'Stupid stupid stupid! She's not an enemy, damn it! Black eyes don't mean Terminus all the time, you big oaf!'

He finished berating himself as she described what she'd lost. He nodded as she spoke.

"Sounds pretty straightforward. We go in, bust up these goons with guns, and head back out. Sounds simple. What do you think, Eve? Thirty minutes to find them, five to clean them up?"

He seemed very casual for a man about to face a paramilitary group who was clearly well-armed by average Earth standards.

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"Not all Grue encountered have been rogue," Eve commented, giving an involuntary shiver as she remembered the Grue incursion her first week in Freedom City. She shook her head, clearing it and returning her focus to the here and now, glanced at Corbin and laughed softly.

"It may have been a rather long flight, Corbin," the telepath said with a grin, "But I'm not so tired that it would take thirty minutes to search a city; I can search Earth and Luna in the fraction of the time it takes for people to find their car keys."

"I'm a telepath," Eve explained to Indira, "My direct communication range is rather limited, twenty miles or so. But I maintain a tenuous psychic link with everyone within a range of, well, it is considerably larger. If you give me enough information to go on I can separate those handful of minds out of billions and... Wait, you said you've tracked them already."

The psychic blushed and waved a hand dismissively, "Forget all I just said. Let's go get your stuff."

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Indira blinked again, and then chuckled; she looked like she really needed that laugh. It wasn't apparently only at Eve and Corbin, however, as she stopped and indicated a rather nondescript door set into the side of an equally nondescript building. "I did - and it is here, or was here yesterday. I even managed to acquire a key, though I could not do much more before having to leave out of fear of being caught. I do not know exactly how many people are inside, so we may have to act with stealth or ensure that we can-" As she was talking she'd pulled out a small key and opened the door; apparently she'd thought it was safe to do so because this door merely connected to stairs and a hallway leading to another, heavier, automatically-closing door.

Unfortunately, this layout had apparently also made a man in cheap urban fatigues decide it was a great place to sneak off and have a cigarette. The man and the alien stared at each other for half a second before leaping into action - she whipped out a kick that sent the guy flying down the stairs to land unconscious on the ground...but not before he dropped his pack of cigarettes, grabbed his shotgun, and fired point-blank at her face. Through her face. The shot tore right into her head and out the other side, the sound of pellets hitting the opposite wall of the alley almost lost in the echo of the shotgun's blast itself.

She didn't fall, however. She didn't even really move that much at first, what remained of her expression indicating surprise more than anything else. The inside of her 'wound' wasn't even gruesome, if one cared to look: under her skin she was apparently pure, solid, and metallic, a silver that wasn't so much as bleeding anything discernible as being blood. "I think," she said, head already filling in as shotgun-displaced metal flowed back together, "that stealth is no longer an option."

Down past the door at the bottom of the stairs, a great deal of commotion could be heard in reaction to that gunshot....

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"Oh my-!" Citizen startled as a wet plopping sound came from the ground beneath his feet, and the definite smell of Indian food mixed with tea filled the air. He'd been so surprised by the gunshot, not to mention Indira's terrible wound which she was already recovering from, that he'd lost control of his magnetic force field and everything he'd eaten had spilled out onto the floor beneath him in a rapidly spreading puddle. While he was dry, and kept dry by his body of magnetic forcefields, the same couldn't be said for the floor. Blushing red, he pulled his coat open as the blue crescents on his chest flared to life in the universal wi-fi symbol. "Let's get them before they get us!" he called out, flying right through the door as if it wasn't there.

On the other side, he threw himself into the melee, shrugging off counter-blows as he punched and kicked at the two men beyond. "There's a whole lot more through here," he called as he slugged one in the jaw, knocking him out cleanly, and disposed of another with a kick to the chest. "Be ready!"

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The room - for it was less a building and more a very large, glorified basement - was in chaos; this was apparently due to the hero's rather dramatic arrival and its natural state of being. Crates and boxes were spread out here and there, filled with assortments of vaguely unidentifiable objects, some neatly arranged and others rather haphazardly thrown into their containers. Oddly enough they seemed to be in the middle of packing, as opposed to unpacking. Their job might have been made easier if they hadn't decided to cover their walls in pamphlets, posters, and maps.

The first two ranged from amateur hour to quite professional-looking stuff, but the message was generally the same: they are here. They are watching. They come from beyond the stars, and if the propaganda splattered across the walls, tables, and floors (litterbugs, tsk) was to be believed, they were here for everything from women to resources to conquest to a rather unnatural fascination with probing humans where humans would just as soon rather not get probed. The map was something out of a conspiracy theorist's fever dreams, all pictures and newspaper clippings with pins and string making connections both real and imagined.

It'd be a pretty laughable thing, all told, if it wasn't also full of what looked like ex-military guys with rifles, shotguns, and body armor.

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So much happened so quickly Sage did the only thing she could do, she ignored it for now and decided to make sense of it all later.

The telepath threw open the door to the basement and half leaped; half flew into the center of the room, brilliant ribbons of energy erupting from her shoulder blades. As she landed among them, a triangular blade of telekinetic force condensed into her hand. With a casual slash, Sage's weapon fuzzed slightly as it cut through a gunman, dropped them to the ground.

"Don't you gentleman know," she said, her voice echoing in their minds, translating into their native language. "Stealing is wrong."

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In an instant, Corbin was no longer standing just outside that door. Instead, the shining hero Cobalt Templar was there, in full armor. Flames rolled through his hands, and after a moment, a futuristic rifle rested in his hands.

He gave Sage a moment to fully clear the door...before he blazed a trailed into the building, his right shoulder casually slamming the door all the way open again, denting it just a bit. He took a split second to take stock of the room, specifically the position of the remaining active paramilitary men. He smirked as he raised the strange weapon to his shoulder.

"Little lady's right, fellas. How about y'all just sit back and take five. Or maybe twenty."

With that, a thick beam of blue light sprung from the end of the weapon...and proceeded to bounce around at seemingly-impossible angles, striking one man only to ricochet off the nearby wall and hit another. After only a couple of moments, an abstract drawing's worth of light filled seemingly half the room, and had struck every single remaining member of the paramilitary group.

"You boys definitely need to relax for a while..."

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Indira was right on Cobalt Templar's heels, leaping through the slowly-shutting door only a second or two later. And 'leaping' was certainly the operative word: a sleek silver something entered hurling through the air like it had been shot out of a cannon, skidding to a halt in the room on four clawed limbs. Gone were the brown hair, the dark eyes, the clothes - the thing that hit the floor (with surprising grace for what was clearly a good bit of weight) looked for all the world like it was animated polished steel, searching around the room with three solid black eyes as a set of club-tipped, whip-like tendrils waved angrily through the air above it.

It didn't take too long for those eyes to take in the surprising lack of conscious enemies, however, and the creature looked...a little embarrassed. It - she? - stood up, front 'legs' rearranging to be a bit more arm-like (if apparently boneless) as her waving weapons retreated to a more manageable length, hanging idly down from where her shoulder blades would be if she had any. "Well, then," she said, without a mouth; wherever on her body the voice was coming from, it came with a slight hum, like she was being autotuned or talking through a speaker. "That was easier than expected."

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