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Contracts & Chopsticks [IC]


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Saturday, May 19th, 2012


Victoria Knight walked through the front doors of Xi'an Moon, a small Chinese restaurant that had recently opened its doors. Dressed in a pair of jeans and an unzipped black hoodie over a grey T-shirt with several broken pens and pencils and text saying 'draw until it hurts' in red letters. She wasn't surprised she was the first to arrive, teleportation was nifty like that for keeping appointments.

Without removing the dark tinted sunglasses she wore she turned to the hostess, "Table for three please." The hostess nodded and took her to the booth furthest back from the front. While she waited for Cannonade and Fulcrum to arrive she pulled out her tablet and fiddled with some of the dungeon punk story she'd been working on since getting hired.

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Mona arrived only a few minutes later. Her attire was casual as well: her typical jeans and t-shirt look, a large manilla folder under one arm, and her (to most people) large engagement ring. She waved to Vicky and headed over her way. The staff stood dumbfounded at her appearance, but the exact thoughts going through their minds weren't readily apparent. Mona smiled politely to them and took a seat across from Vicky.

"Hi, Vicky. How is life treating you?" Dropping the folder on the table, she struggled to find a comfortable position. "You work fast I must say."

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Joe paused outside the door of the Chinese place. He'd just come off a long day at the foundry, and while he'd spent quite some time in the showers before the appointment, he still wasn't sure how this was going to go. He'd found the message from Wisp waiting for him at one of his regular patrol spots - she must have ported in and ported out right before he touched down on the roof. Said that she wanted to get together to discuss a business proposition. Those were words he hadn't heard much in his time as a hero, so he figured it was worth a shot. Plus, hey. Chinese.

He showed up still dressed for a day at work - work shirt, jeans, denim jacket, and work boots. He scanned the room looking for Wisp and the third party, hoping to get down to business. And maybe get dinner. He was starving...

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Vicky looked up from her tablet as Mona strode over. Setting down her pen she smiled as she looked up (and up) to meet the giantess' eyes. Giving her boss a winning smile she turned the tablet stand around, "Slight bit of motivation upgrade for that dungeon punk story. Crazy cultists and their demonic masters vs our intrepid heroes. Otherwise, life's good. School's almost done, apartment hunting's in full swing."

As Mona tried to get comfortable, Vicky spotted the reason everyone was gathering. "Hey, Joe, back here," she called and waved the guy down.

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Mona leaned forward, scanned the picture, and smiled, "Can't go wrong with cultists! Is that a new shading technique? The layers look more defined."

After another careful shift, she grunted and simply leaned back, looking resigned to the seating arrangements. "Apartment hunting huh? I don't envy you that. Especially if you want anything in Riverside or Midtown." She laid the folder down and thought a moment, adding, "I think my old loft is still on the market. Open design, good footage, exposed-brick finish, only two neighbors. Main disadvantage is the location: down by the south docks in the middle of a warehouse cluster. Cuts the price down though."

"Looking forward to being a free wo...," started Fulcrum. The giantess, all eight foot of her, turned to look at their dinner guest and possible client. She waved to him as well.

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Joe took a seat across from the two women. He didn't recognize Fulcrum entirely, but he was pretty sure he'd seen her from across the crowd during the preliminary line-ups in Tian - you didn't really forget seeing an eight-foot tall Persian woman in a cape. "Glad to join you two," he said. "Hope you don't mind if I order. It's kinda been a long day."

After placing a quick order for some chow mein, orange chicken, and a beer, he turned back to his hosts. "So, what's the business proposal?" he asked. "I mean, I'd hate to be blunt, but... is it a team thing? I'm pretty sure I could make it work, and it'd be great to work with you guys, but I'm already part of the League as is, and..."

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Nodding at the comment, "Yeah, something I've been trying out. The downside is that working on the 'guard dog' panels is taking a bit longer than it used to."

At her comments about her loft the teen nodded. "I'll add that to the list. But Brian and I were going to be looking for a place since we're both getting out and neither of us are interested in leaving town. The commute from Chicago to here would suck," she said with a smirk. "We've got an appointment to check out a small two-bedroom house in Ashton that's for rent in a couple days."

"Not at all," Vicky replied to Joe, getting the buffet option and a soda for herself after his order. "I've had a few long days myself lately, end of the school year, graduation, new job," she explained. "The last of which is why I asked you here tonight. We were looking at local heroes who might be interested to have their adventures published by a fellow 'Cape' than the folks at Castle."

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Fulcrum turned back to Vicky as Joe approached, "Ashton is a good neighborhood. Hope you like that one. If you need anything, please ask."

She smiled and looked at the menu as he ordered. She ordered as well, going for the buffet option with hot tea. Once the waitress departed, the conversation turned directly to business. Joe sounded like a straight shooter, and from the look on her face, Mona appreciated that.

"'Cape' being Vicky and I," she added, offering him a good, firm handshake, "Mona Teymourian. Pleasure to meet you."

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"Nice to meet you, Mona," said Joe, returning the handshake. "Think I ran into you on a business trip once." He was making small talk because he was still trying to turn over Wisp's idea in his head. A comic? For someone like him? It wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting. But... he could see the potential in it. He'd gotten in the game to honor a legacy, provide a good face, spread a message. This would be perfect. He just had to make sure it wasn't too good to be true.

"Yeah, I'd definitely be up for it," he said. "Guess we've just gotta talk about how it'd be done. Guessing some of the more... key details would be kept under wraps. Would you just be doing stories based on past stuff, or trying to tell new stories, too?"

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"If it's the one I'm thinking of, that was one hell of a trip," Vicky said with a smirk. Shifting from smirk to a smile she added with a chuckle, "As for how we'd do this, most of that's the boss' deal. I'm just the art monkey with the connections to some unsigned talent."

"Recently ripped from the headlines are always a good way to go. It used to work for Law & Order and it still works for Castle. It probably won't always be like that but anything you feel like sharing can probably be adapted easily enough." With a few taps and swipes of her fingertips, the young artist switched the displayed image to a picture of Cannonade punching an undead Nazi along the boardwalk. Turning it so Joe could see she said, "A sample, as drawn from my memories of that particular night. There's a few others of my team, my friend Glow, a couple of the boss, and even a few of Jubatus. Have a look around, I need a snack."

With that she slipped from the booth and a few minutes later returned with a plate nearly overloaded with food.

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Mona nodded to Vicky's replies, glanced at Joe and added, "I do vaguely remember a very interesting trip as well..."

Smiling slyly as well, she shook her head and continued once Vicky excused herself, "Small universe. Anyway, that's the basis. I want to tell real stories from real heroes. Past true stories are what I have in mind, at least in the beginning. Whenever you have a good adventure, drop by or contact us and we'll work out the details. Absolutely, key details will be kept under wraps. Privacy and security will definitely be a top priority. I do expect you to be honest though. From what Vicky has told me, you're a straight shooter, so I just want to make sure we're on the same page."

Glancing around for Vicky, Mona quickly added, "Art monkey, ha! She's got talent and a good head on her shoulders." She then leaned as if nothing happened.

"That being said, I'm looking at an anthology book right now. Various heroes telling their stories, spreading their message, until we can branch out into full-time books for individual heroes or teams." She glanced over Vicky's samples and nodded in approval before looking up at Joe, "We may have plenty to write right now though. Is that a zombie dressed in a Nazi uniform?"

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"Yeah, that was a... thing," Joe said, taking a look at the drawing. He noted the sheer accuracy; he doubt he'd have been able to reproduce something like that, his memory of the first wave limited to an overwhelming wave of glowing corpses. "Some weird experiment by Nazi occultists. They'd sent SS members through to Valhalla in a first wave - the hard way. Then, years later, they cloned their bodies using nanotech, then did some weird mystical stuff to call their souls back. Loki - as in, the god - decided to sabotage the whole thing, and the tech used to rebuild the soldiers was vulnerable to radiation. So you had radioactive Nazi zombies."

He shook his head. "I don't know what's worse - the fact that I'm still not used to that, or the fact that I can say it and it sounds almost normal."

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Returning to hear seat Vicky gave a slight laugh, "Definitely the latter Joe. Took me days to wash the stink out of that costume. That and most of a bottle of bleach."

Pulling a small protective case holding a pair of darkly lacquered chopsticks from her bag. After a few bites she flipped through the pictures on her tablet, stopping at one with Cannonade, Crow, herself outside the headquarters for Boston's superheroes. "There's also this picture but I haven't had a chance to pop up to Boston and see if they'd mind us publishing that little adventure."

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"That's...one wild story. Which makes it even better as comic material," said Mona, shaking her head in equal parts disbelief and excitement.

"I'd have to go with the latter as well," she added, looking closely at the detail work. "This stuff sounding normal isn't really the problem. The problem is getting jaded about the whole 'new normal'. That's when you know you need a break from the whole hero thing."

At the mention of the Boston group, her eyes lit up, "Whenever you get a chance, please do. Maybe we can make a shopping trip out of it?"

Mona almost forgot that she too ordered lunch until the waitress arrived with her tea. Thanking her, she stood up with plate in hand. "Excuse me one moment."

In a minute or two another heaping plate would be added to the table.

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"Yeah," Cannonade said, tucking into a plate of orange beef. "I've still got a day job. Still hang out with friends who aren't involved in this stuff. Still go to shows, get involved in politics. This stuff isn't my entire life. It's a good chunk, but it's not my everyday stuff." He took a break from the beef to sip at some beer. "Still. Wouldn't really give this up. It's great to be making a difference, you know?"

When the conversation turned to Boston, he perked up. "Yeah, I hear they got Faneuil Hall put back together in record time," he said. "Actually gave Fathom a call a few months back. He said no signs of life off the coast, that the Deep Ones may have moved out deeper. But with the Architect back up and running, the city's safe from stuff like that. Which is a good thing, as my brother's going to Emerson in a few months. At least he isn't gonna be dealing with fish gods."

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At the mention of a shopping trip, Vicky's eyes seemed to light up a little. "Think we should drag our guys along to carry the bags?"

"I hear ya there Joe," she said after finishing a piece of general tsu's sauce covered broccoli. "Before Mona offered me this job, I'd been pretty conflicted about staying in Freedom or going back to Chicago after high school, helping out there."

Vicky took a sip from her soda while the SHARP relayed the news from Boston. "That's great. Last thing the city needs is more overgrown trident wielding fish."

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"I wouldn't give it up for the world," replied Mona to Joe's rhetorical question about making a difference. At least she did while sitting down with her plate.

"The Deep Ones have been really active lately," Mona commented between bites, "I wonder if the whole extra-dimensional manifestation relied them up or if something bigger is in the works."

A thoughtful look passed over her face before she asked, "I'm not terribly familiar with the Boston superhero scene. How is it?" She looked genuinely curious, and this coming from someone who chatted with Vicky about heroing on both coasts and Chicago.

As for the shopping trip? Mona gave Vicky a sidelong glance and smirked slyly, "As stereotyped as that sounds, the laughs would be worth the effort. Still I have to, reluctantly, suggest no. Imagine the amount of trouble those two, alone together, bored, could cause. But a shopping trip sounds great. How is your calender?"

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"Boston?" said Cannonade. It's small, compared to ours, but they make it work. They've got a few legacies, like The Architect and Silversmith, and some veterans like Almsman and Fathom - you should see that guy, he's like a badass wereseal or something. Then you've got some of the mid-cards, about 'round the tier of Wisp and me. Amplifier, Howler, Soundbreaker, guys like that. Still less than 10, though, but from what I heard - Deep Ones and their gods aside - things are kinda sedate up there."

He meditated on his fried rice. "Don't know if it's tied to any great sort of cosmic coincidence. That's someone else's department. But I know it took the Deep Ones a lot of time and mojo to pull that off, and it still blew up in their faces."

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"You have a point, but I still would have paid good money to see it. As for my calendar, most of the stuff I'm bringing in for Dead Noon has been done for over a year so I've got a sizable buffer there. And the dungeon punk series isn't scheduled until July and I'm almost three chapters in with that. Pick a time after graduation and I'm likely free. I have a Discover card with no interest first the next year screaming to be used..."

During Joe's rundown of Boston's supers scene Vicky munched in her egg roll, finishing about the same time he did. "Must be nice, I swear this town is a bigger weirdness magnet than Sunnydale could ever have hoped to be."

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Mona nodded and replied to Joe, "Wow! A lot smaller then I assumed. Sounds like a good crew though. Plus the comfort that the villainous plans are just as convoluted up there as well."

"The Architect sounds familiar. Did any previous members work with Centurion? Could of sworn he did some missions up north with an Architect," she asked after slowly chewing a bite of, well, something delicious as far as she was concerned.

"Sounds like a plan then, Vicky. I'll double check, but my schedule should be free around graduation too. Barring an alien invasion or some nonsense." A note was added to her phone before she said, "Speaking of which, what time is graduation? Actually, for that matter, would you confirm the date for me too please?"

Frowning, she flipped through the calender on her iPhone, looking quite comical given the size of her hands. "I don't want to miss it or forget your graduation present."

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"I think one of them might have worked with the Centurion at some point," Joe said. "The legacy apparently goes back to when Boston was still a colony, Guessing he might have thrown in with one of the previous bearers." He stirred his noodles, looking over to Vicky. "I didn't know you were graduating. I think I'll swing by, too. Given how these things tend to end up, the more heroes there, the better. I mean, if that's all right. Don't exactly know the protocol for this sort of thing."

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Vicky flashed a smile at her companions before relaying the date and time of the actual graduation ceremony, "Thanks guys. I can't really think of a reason why Mr. Summers would keep you guys out but I'll double check with him if that would be okay. I'm sure some of the other... non-average students who've had active extra curricular lives will have guests of their own."

"And Joe, anyone who attacks my school directly is either the dullest crayon in the box or they had better be on par with Omega."

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"Dullest or craziest crayon in the box," replied Fulcrum as she typed into her phone. Her brow furrowed in thought, but whatever crossed her mind, she didn't voice the idea. "Regardless I wouldn't miss your graduation if I could help it," she added with a smile of her own.

Sitting the phone aside, she returned to her slowly dwindling plate, "Centurion was a globetrotter well before that was common practice. I wouldn't be surprised if he worked with the Architect or the local crew from time-to-time."

"Actually," she began after a sip of tea, "That comment about Freedom City being a weirdness magnet? That's because Freedom City is the center of our universe. At least that is the hypothesis floating around top-shelf mystic and super-science circles." Looking at her two companions, she shook her head, "I'm not kidding. Apparently the League has meetings over this idea. Freedom is the lynchpin to this universe's stability, and that is why we attract so much weirdness, good and bad."

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Joe's eyebrows raised at the thought of his hometown being some sort of mystical cornerstone of the universe. "I know everyone says we think we're the center of the earth," he said, "but I guess they mean that in more the New York sense. That's... a hell of a thing right there." He took a good swig of his beer, trying to process the sheer metaphysical implications of such a statement. "Guess it'd make sense that Omega targeted here, then. I mean, he targeted everywhere, but as far as I remember, he only showed up in person here. And then there was that Hades thing back in the Sixties, and I don't think he managed to get beyond the county line. Then again, guess he didn't need to..."

This kind of thing needed another swig of beer. "Don't suppose anyone has any idea how this happens? Or this one of those things that just... did?"

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Victoria polished off the last bit of lo mein from her plate before contributing. "Probably one of those things that just does. Once enough weird crap happens, more just starts attracting to it and it spirals out of control. Could be worse though, we could be Hoboken," she said trying to inject some levity into the discussion.

Setting her chopsticks aside, the young artist pushed her plate a clear spot on the table for when the waitress came by to take the dirty plates. She turned her tablet back towards her and began sketching a quick drawing of Joe, Mona, and herself in full costume sitting at a similar booth. "Mona, you ever get another call back from the New York Comic-Con or C2E2 guys?"

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