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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office (IC)

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June 20th, 2012, 10:42 AM

Business District, Freedom City

Dawes Consumer Technologies East Coast

The East Coast branch of one of the largest electronics supplies in the world was a surprisingly anonymous high-rise, a square-built edifice of glass and concrete that presented a dazzling face of windows to the world. There was parking underground for employees, but visitors had to either take a taxi or pay the spurious parking rates common so near the heart of a major city. Of course to Jessica Parker such things weren't much of a concern; though anyone familiar with the young genius would probably question why she had chosen to drive to the building, instead of fly there in her wondrous armor. Similarly, anyone familiar with the easygoing young woman would wonder at her quick pace, tense shoulders, and overall angry body language.

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Thomas was not entirely happy. Sure, he wasn't upset, but he was a little bit annoyed that he was in a car, driving to a meeting that he didn't need to be at. His dad wanted him to be there so he could see the business aspect, and the fact that Thomas was apparently a little better with technology than his father.

Either way, he decided to make the best of it. He was going to see Dawes' building and business, and get a first hand look at the new stuff Morgan Computers would be carrying in the store. That, at least, would be interesting.

Ah, well, maybe he'd have more fun than his initial expectations. He doubted it, though, he severely doubted it.

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Jessica strode into the building like she owned it. The lobby contained a few chairs and a blond wood desk with a blonde secretary behind it. Jessica marched up to her and put on a strained smile. "Hello. I'm Jessica Parker. I was expecting this facility to deliver a thruster unit before the weekend, but it hasn't come in yet. Can you let Simon Jacks know I'm here to see him?"

The secretary raised her eyebrows and turned towards the computer at her station. "Ah, Mr. Jacks is in a meeting until 11 AM. I could put you down for an appointment if you'd like."

Behind her, Thomas and James Morgan walked through the front door. As they entered, a portly man in a grey business suit rose from his chair and approached them. "James! Great to see you." It was, of course, Rupert Yoder, one of Dawes Tech's top salesmen for the region. "And who's this gentleman with you?"

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"Oh, this is my son, Thomas." James Morgan said. "I brought him along because he's my right hand man and does a lot of the repairs and services at our store. I also want him to see how these deals work so that, one day, he can take over the store and run it."

Thomas smiled politely and offered to shake the man's hand, but, in truth, he was bored. He knew he had to understand how these things worked, but he didn't enjoy the prospect. So, while he listened to his father, he also surfed the internet off of a nearby connection, reading news articles and the like while they chatted.

Sometimes, having a built in internet connection was very useful.

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"Um. It turns out the unit was received," the receptionist said, tapping at her computer, "but it was never shipped out. It seems like there's an executive hold order on it."

"That's ridiculous," Jessica said, her voice rising. "Who would put an order like that on my item?"

"According to the computer," the receptionist replied, "the CEO. Heather Dawes-Parker."

Jessica closed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. "My mother. I see."

In contrast to the drama unfolding at the front desk, Rupert was all smiles and gladhanding. "Thomas, hm? Glad to meet you, boy! You should meet my son, he's down in R&D right now. Heck, in a few years it'll be you buying from him, ha ha!" The salesman twisted around to see who was shouting at the poor receptionist. "What in Hell's bells is... Oh, I think I know what's going on. That's Jessica Parker." He whistled long and low, turning back to the Morgans and herding them towards the elevator bank. "You want to get caught up in the Parker's drama, trust me. Let's go up to a conference room, okay?"

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James nodded, but, inside, Thomas wondered who the woman was, and why she was asking for thruster unit, whatever that was. He wasn't sure exactly what those things were, but they certainly sounded more interesting than this man's sales pitches. He sort of drifted over towards the young woman.

"I'll be right in, have to use the restroom, sorry..." He said, waving at his dad. His father, James, being a man who trusted his young son, simply nodded in assent and entered the room with the man.

Thomas, however, was far more interested in the girl who wanted 'thruster units' and walked over there as casually as he could.

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Jessica put her head down and thought for a moment. Her mother had never approved of her superheroing; Jessica wasn't sure why, but her mother always pretended that it was more important that the young woman focus on preparing to run Dawes Tech than run around saving people. That made ordering parts through Dawes Tech a risk, but Jessica never believed that Heather Dawes-Parker would let a personal vendetta get in the way of making money. Of course Jessica could have ordered through another supplier or built things piece-meal at the Lab, but this was so much more convenient and she could be sure of high quality...

The girl straightened abruptly and addressed the secretary. "Okay. I am going up to have... words with my mother. Thank you for your help." She turned and almost ran into the young man standing behind her with the gray hair. She excused herself and routed around him, heading for the elevators.

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"Excuse me, thruster unit?" Thomas said, curious. "I know it's none of my business, but that sounds very..technical. What sort of thruster unit?"

He almost slapped his forehead. He wasn't sure who this woman was, but he didn't think talking to her was smart. She already looked angered, last thing he needed was to set her off.

Ah, well, it was done, and there was nothing he could do about that. He just braced himself for impact, whatever that meant.

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Jessica glanced at the young man as she kept walking. Her first instinct was to brush him off in irritation, but she quashed that. This man wasn't the cause of her problem, and blowing up to a random person wouldn't impress her mother. Heck, all things considered he was a customer, so it wouldn't help Dawes Tech, either. Besides, he was kind of cute, if you didn't mind the silver hair.

"A very small thruster unit," she explained, "of my own design. It puts out in the area of five thousand, eight hundred newtons per second per second. And for some reason it's a week overdue." She shook her head and muttered, mostly to herself, "I provided very clear plans..."

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Thomas merely nodded. He understood what she said, and understood exactly why she was annoyed about it. Of course, the fact that the young woman seemed smart enough to design said thruster unit didn't bypass his notice either. People that smart were a very, very rare find in this world.

"I kind of know what you mean, a few weeks ago I did a repair on a PC for a customer, but they needed a component for the motherboard. I ordered it through our supplier, but it took so long the customer took their PC back in anger. Needless to say, I wasn't happy about it. Kind of why I'm here, actually. My father's trying to negotiate a parts supply deal with Dawes. Prompt service is absolutely necessary when you never know what sort of things you'll need for customers."

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So he was a customer. Or at least the son of a customer, which meant that with luck he would be a customer himself in a few years. She pressed the call button for the elevator and stepped back to wait. "Yes, well. This is a bit smaller of an order than Dawes Tech usually fills, I'll admit, but it still should have been ready by now. I'll bet you I know why it's late, too." She sighed and shook her head. "Ever get the feeling your parents would be a lot happier if they could just be you?"

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"Eh, kind of. My dad is a scientist and I'm a computer guy, but, there was a time after I got hurt where I could hardly breathe without my parents wondering where I was. It was annoying to have to check in, every hour, on the hour."

To be truthful, he really couldn't relate to her in that respect at all. His parents had never put great restrictions on him, and they'd never interfered in his life.

Still, though, if they ever found out he was Voltage...that might change things. He doubted his mother would like that very much at all.

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"Well, my mother," Jessica spat, "seems to think that how I spend my time is every bit her business. That being a superhero is far too dangerous an occupation for the heir to the empire. Or maybe I should be working on my PhD instead of doing practical things at the Lab!" The elevator arrived and the doors opened with a ding. Jessica charged the interior of the cab, reaching out with her mind to trigger the control for the highest floor. "If I let her, she'd probably make an itinerary for my entire day, with a full hour blocked out for sitting quietly in a room with no sharp objects around."

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Thomas was in a unique state. He could relate to the superhero business, but he couldn't afford to let her know that. He could barely relate to controlling parents. However, he did realize, and recognize, that it was a potentially dangerous thing to do, however...

"I hear what you're saying. When you have a gift, you should use it to try to make the world a better place. I mean, if I had super-powers or whatever, I'd probably use them to help people too. The world is a dangerous place anyway, what with superhero battles going on. You can't make the world a perfectly safe place. All you can do is try to make it a better one."

He hoped she wasn't some sort of psychic...because 'if I had super-powers' was more than a bit sneaky...

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"Exactly!" Jessica threw her hands into the air, the light catching her bracelet/watch and glinting. "It's Freedom-damn-City, you know? Maybe carrying a can of mace works in New York, but here we do things a little differently." She laughed and brushed her auburn hair back from her face; finding a kindred soul had let her really relax, and she was feeling a lot better about this upcoming confrontation. She turned to the young man and extended her hand. "Jessica Parker, by the way."

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"Thomas Morgan." He said, shaking her hand with a polite smile, stepping into the elevator. "What you do here is amazing, fascinating, really. The technology of the future, today."

It was then that he realized, too late, that he'd stepped into the elevator. Ah, well, he hoped she wouldn't really notice. She seemed like she didn't care, so, he might as well take the opportunity to get to know her better.

"I can imagine that all this hero business is as exciting as it is time consuming. Those fights always look larger than life. I can't even imagine what they're like when you participate in them."

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"Hectic," Jessica said, laughing. Her eyes went far away for a moment and a button lit up on the elevator's control bank without her moving a finger. "My suit has a pretty good sensor suite," she continued as the elevator lurched into movement, "but even so there's things I miss. That's why it's a good idea not to go it alone," she added. "You get overwhelmed and either you get hurt, or even worse the people you were intending to protect get hurt."

The elevator car continued its ascent, dinging every time it passed a new floor; it seemed they were going rather high indeed.

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"I couldn't imagine being part of all that, I mean, it's crazy." He added hastily. "I get why all of that is necessary of course. I've seen some of the things bad people do when there's nobody around to stop them"

He was grateful that elevator rides were so short. He honestly wasn't sure how long he could keep up the charade. It was already getting difficult to pretend he had no way to relate to her. He wondered if any of the other heroes ever had to do this. Ah, well, it was worth getting to know someone who had similar interests. Even if he couldn't relate everything back.

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"Well I mean. Not everyone has to go out and fight bad guys hand to hand, you know?" The elevator dinged as it reached the appropriate level, very near the top, and the doors opened. The hallways here were decidedly better quality than the entrance, with bone-white carpets, soothing gold-brown walls, and paintings from recognizable artists on the walls. Men and women in tailored suits, the youngest a decade older than the teens, hurried to and fro. A few gave the pair hard looks, but Jessica ignored them as she walked out of the elevator and turned down the hall. "As long as everyone does their best, I think the world will tend to get better, you know? Not everyone needs to be a superhero, but everyone needs to pull their weight."

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"I agree." He said. "I spend time volunteering, rebuilding computers to help people who need to learn computer skills to gain employment." He followed her and continued talking.

"Thing is, the world would be a better place if people stopped a minute to help someone that needed it. We all need help sometimes, nobody can get through life without ever getting help."

Here he was, out of his element, talking to one of the few people he knew to be smart enough to keep up with him, and his dad was abandoned to his fate at the meeting that was probably already underway.

He really hoped his dad would understand.

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Jessica nodded, more slowly than before. "Well, I think superheroes give a good example. Like I said, not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something. Excuse me." She stopped before the biggest office door yet, one with a polished brass plate that read Heather Dawes-Parker, and below that Chief Executive Officer. The young woman pushed open the door and walked through; immediately a young man in a well-tailored suit tried to stop her, but she brushed right past him. "I'm going in to see my mother," she called out of her shoulder, her tone suddenly icy.

Heather Dawes-Parker was in her early forties, but expertly applied cosmetics and subtle plastic surgery made her look ten years younger. In every other respect she was a more mature version of her daughter; tall and more curved, but with the same mass of blonde hair, the same intense blue eyes, and the same sharp mind behind them. Her eyes narrowed when her daughter planted her feet before the wide, mahogany desk in the office. "Jessica," she breathed. "I didn't expect to hear from you any time this year."

Jessica folded her arms and stared right back at her mother. "It's not that I want to come," she said, her tone saccharine-sweet. "It's that you're messing with a customer. Not a big customer, perhaps, but one with a stake in this company. After all, I own --"

Heather raised a hand and cut her daughter off. "Yes, yes. I know exactly how many shares you own, Jessica. Maybe you'd like to explain what you mean by me messing with a customer, though. I've stayed out of your... activities."

"My saving the day, Mother?" Jessica shot back. "I need my suit to do that, and if you embargo my tech I can't --"

"Embargo?" Heather snorted and flipped through some papers on her desk. "You're getting awfully accusatory there, Jessica. I haven't touched your precious 'tech,' I'll have you know. If you want to get your brains rattled punching mad gorillas instead of running this company like your grandfather would've wanted --"

"Don't you dare --" Jessica stopped herself from taking a step forward and physically assaulting her mother. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "You put a stop order on the delivery of one of my thruster units. If that's not an embargo, well, I'd hate to read to you from the dictionary, but if there's so much Wall Street Journal and between your ears that you need a dictionary for big people words..."

Heather stood up and glared at her daughter. "Don't you dare patronize me, girl. I'll have you know I haven't done a damn thing to your precious units."

Jessica sniffed and jutted out her jaw pugnaciously. "If you don't want me to be patronizing, at least hide what you're doing." She reached into a back pocket and pulled out a folded work order. She flipped it onto the desk. "Check that one out."

Heather snatched the paper and glared at Jessica again, before unfolding it and reading it. She turned to a computer monitor that seemed to sprout seamlessly from the wooden desk top. It took her a moment to navigate to the proper menu, but once there she entered the relevant data. And squinted at the screen. "That can't be right. I never gave an order for that."

"Then why does it have your name on it," Jessica taunted, folding her arms across her chest. "Really, Mom, at least try to hide your tampering. It's kind of childish to think that you could be so brazen and no one would notice."

"Don't be willfully stupid, Jessica," Heather said, standing and coming around from behind the desk. "Anyone can put my name on an order. Someone's using your tech for something, but it's not me. In fact, why don't we both go down and --"

Heather never got a chance to fully articulate her plan. Just then the lights flickered and the entire building swayed; imperceptibly on the lower levels, perhaps, but the Parker women were tossed off their feet. "What in Hell's name was that!?" Heather demanded, scrambling to her feet.

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As if in answer, Heather's computer screen flickered and a face appeared on the screen. It was rounded like a bullet, and after a moment it became obvious that it was a mask. Nevertheless, words reverberated throughout the building. "Beware, all those who still dwell in this building! Today, you witness the birth of genius, the birth of a mastermind that will overthrow the city's established order and herald an age of true justice. Today, is the birth, of Hive Tyrant! And with his army of mecha-ants, he -- I mean I! -- shall conquer. First Dawes Tech, then Freedom City, and after that, the world!" The image faded, but the Tyrant's cackling laughter remained.

Heather stared in shock at her computer screen. "But... who in blazes would be mad enough to do something like this?" Jessica didn't bother wasting breath pondering. She was already heading back to the elevator at speed.

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"Crap, crap, crap!" He thought to himself. Jessica's gait suggested some form of emergency. How on earth was he supposed to handle this? She was likely going to need to use his hero identity.

She was a superhero herself. Ironclad, a trusted (albeit relatively new) hero in the community. She had more experience than Voltage in the hero business. She had about a year on him or so, but in hero terms that could be a long time.

So he had a couple of options. The first was right out. He wasn't about to let his new friend (Could he call her a friend? An acquaintance? Colleague?) fight this threat alone, not just to save his identity.

The second was to lie and run off, then pop back in as Voltage. She'd probably not fall for that. It'd be an insult to her intellect to assume she wouldn't make the connection. She wouldn't feel offended, well, probably not. Most heroes had secret identities, after all. She couldn't blame him for protecting his.

The third option was to simply admit who he was. Let her know she had an ally in the situation. They'd already teamed up once before, so it was possible she already knew!

So, he swallowed his pride and decided that just telling her was the best option. Besides, he could use a friend in the hero business. Couldn't hurt. He instantly reached out with his powers and shut off the security cameras.

"Look, it seemed like there was some trouble...some super-villain or wannabe villain. There's no easy way to say this, but, I'm Voltage. If you hear that there was some security issue with the cameras in this elevator later? That was me."

With that, he discorporated into electrical current and vanished. He was behind the building in an instant, his costume on. He fired off an email from one of his proxy emails and sent it to Jessica, letting her know that he was waiting for an excuse to come help. The moment she sent anything to signal him, he'd be there as if he'd just showed up to help.

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Jessica blinked at Thomas' sudden revelation. She wanted to stop him, to talk to him, but there wasn't time. She arrived at the elevator shaft and armored up. Her metal-clad fingers were more than capable of opening the doors before the on-board motors could, and stepped into the elevator car. She debated her options for a micro-second and blasted a hole in the floor of the cab. Her armored form dropped precipitously as she read Voltage/Thomas's email. The armored heroine fired her thrusters in time to hover in front of the lobby doors.

She wrenched them open and stepped out into chaos. Buzzing swarms of flashing mechanical shapes, no larger than her thumb, harassed office-workers and engineers. A figure stood in the middle, exulting in the chaos. It was a large, hunchbacked figure, blood-red with a bright yellow head that looked like an ant's, complete with antennae. Or rather, all fashioned in that guise; it was the same face that had shown itself on every computer screen in the building. "Yes, my mechanical children," he shouted at them. "Yes, my swarm! Punish these close-minded fools!" He noticed Ironclad stepping out into the lobby and singled her out. "The heir! Attack, my swarm! Destroy the dynasty, and the whole corrupt edifice falls!" With that he stepped out the front doors, and measure of the tiny flying machines following him out, but more than enough stayed behind to be a threat to Ironclad. She considered the situation and quickly shot off a reply email to Voltage. 'Hive Tyrant's escaping out the front. Intercept him. I'm dealing with flunkies in the lobby.'

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Within less than a second, Voltage got the email. Less than a second after that he had a plan.

Voltage floated overhead as soon as 'Hive Tyrant' made his way outside. His arms were crossed.

"Going somewhere?" He said, looking down at the strange figure below him.

He realized what he'd done, and shrugged it off. It was inevitable that she figure it out, especially with her intelligence. Besides, having someone who knew was an asset, especially someone who was also a hero and also a genius. It was a good way to deal with the isolation he felt from his family, to relate to someone on such a level was bound to be useful.

He made sure to be ready in case Hive Mind attacked.

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