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Ari

Behold the Hunters(IC)

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GM

June 23rd, Saturday, 2012, 8.45 PM

Suzerain Chemical Lab, The North End

The thefts had been going on for a week or so by this point, small batches of compounds here, a few vials there. In the most extreme case so far, an entire oil drum that was being examined to determine if it contained dangerous impurities had been carted off. They all, for whatever reason, were returned with no sign of tampering whatever. Apparently the oil was perfectly fine, though, according to the words chalked on its sides.

They had started shortly after the strange disappearances and reappearances of the labs' chemists, some of whom vanished for two days without a trace, just long enough for their families to start to panic, and just before a serious effort to find them could be mounted.

The people in charge of the laboratory had started to request police escorts for their personnel directly after the second mysterious vanishing, only for the escorts to turn up at the lab without their charge, and no memory of what had happened to their charge, to the dismay of just about everyone involved. That and the various difficulties in trying to keep the thieves out were seemingly insurmountable. To that end, the issue was kept mostly a tight secret, to prevent any wise guys from using the issue to extort money for phoney captives.

Word, of course, traveled, especially to places with a similar raison d'etre like the Freedom branch of Franklin and Wesler Co..

"Hey, you heard about the stuff happening at Suzerain? You did? Aw, it's just crazy. I heard from the brother of one of the security guards they can't even get a solid witness, everyone who claims they saw the kidnappers, even if they give phone photos, dates and locations they all show something totally different, and some will be completely contradictory, even about things at the same time and place! Yeah, even the security stuff inside the lab can't catch a glimpse of the thieves, even when they're right in front of the cameras!"

Even a few street people, who knew what they had seen, had a good handle on the situation at the beleaguered lab. They mostly kept their mouths shut, though some people could get them to open up.

"Ah, thanks mister! You know, I've heard a few...things happening down by the chemical lab. Seen some things too, listen good..."

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The grubby, weather-beaten man in the rumpled old clothes named Nicholas was someone Marceau almost dreaded meeting with on his informant rounds. He was possessed of a vagueness that made the simplest reports teeth-pullingly difficult to extract, and a paranoid sensibility that tinged what information he did divulge with elements of fantasy bundled with every gram of fact, leading quite often to the vigilante over-preparing for simple thieves and low-ranking powers, on the off chance that the tale about blazing golems and or rumor of a master assassin were true. His tales had been no less immense this time. This place is ridiculous! he thought in exasperation while he swung from the roof of the small office building over to perilous ledge bearing a ruminating gargoyle. Landing with a *clik* of his hard boots on the concrete, he surveyed his position. It was on a short Art Deco style skyscraper housing a number of local businesses that served the nearby Freedom University, all tan and beige, with a little gray moulding to liven things up. The edge he was standing on looked over to the Suzerain lab with a vantage few other buildings in the are could boast.

Nodding in satisfaction and patting the head of the gargoyle affectionately, he affixed small pads to his boots fired his grapple gun at the roof of the structure and rapidly dashed up the side, his feet now cushioned to the point where he made next to no noise. He knew of old how embarrassing it could be to make a slight mistake with you footing, and end up getting the attention of dozens of people below while on a stealth mission. "<No need to take chances>" he muttered to himself absent-mindedly, rolling dexterously over the edge, smiled at the rush and grace of it and crouched just behind the lip after adjusting his cape and collar to block the stiff sea-breeze. Taking out his binoculars he commenced to scan the area, finding other roof-dwellers in strange garb would be invaluable in case the thieves struck tonight. He might even get a lead on them!

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Jasmine stretched and yawned as she walked out of the building with a think folder in hand before absently reaching up and scratching her eyes under the lenses of her glasses. It had been a long day, and was going to be a long night. Half this stuff she had to crunch out some numbers and double check the facts before she started on patrol. It meant she had a date with lots of coffee, and likely no chance to get the time for a meal. Ordering out was the most likely cure since she couldn't stand so called gormet frozen meals, and had cleared out the leftovers when she spent the weekends out on patrol.

This was the plan set in her head before she caught a glint in the distance. Letting her glasses slip down her nose as she glanced up and distinctly saw a figure she yawned again before pushing them up and moving to her car.

It was about five minutes to change, and drive up the slope and approach. She didn't care if he heard her, but she walked over to the doorframe full suited with a pot in her hand and said behind him,

"Coffee?"

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At the moment Catalyst spoke, the King of Suits was busily scanning the alleyway between a small electronics shop and a college bookstore(gritting his teeth as he recalled a horrible instance in his college days when a very expensive book had turned out to be just slightly out of date on a crucial matter...), where he was certain he had caught traces of stealthy movement. He was thus quite unprepared for the nonchalant voice behind him, and said so. "You step lightly, madam!" he exclaimed with a slight French accent. Taking a small thermos from his belt he removed the lid, gladly took the pot and poured a measure of the liquid into it, replaced its top and sipped from it gratefully. Handing the pot back he said gravely "I am indebted to you, madam. Such comforts are much longed-for in our line of work, and I never seem to manage to take more than a few litres of water with me whenever I go staking-out" sliding the binoculars halfway into their pouch he asked casually "I am called the King of Suits, may I ask your heroic title?" he asked, with a flash of white teeth "As well, am I correct in assuming you are here for the same reason I am, trying to catch those miserable thieves in the act?".

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"You poor deprived thing, you know, you can buy these cold by the dozen at the grocery store. Though it's better warm, I never travel without the coffee maker running."

She produced some stacked plastic cups from her belt that were usually used by backpackers and hikers. She always found having a cup on hand useful, especially as she poured from the pot,

"I'm more curious about the end game of said theives, it's very strange. Also, just a bit curious about you, and was thinking that I might investigate to see if you were connected. Seems that's not the case as you haven't attacked me, otherwise I'd needed to waste this perfectly good coffee."

She handed him the cup as she produced packages of dry creamer and sugar from her pockets and sweetened her own cup,

"I'm Catalyst by the way."

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Politely declining the sweeteners, Marceau savored the brew. He wasn't in the least a regular coffee-drinker(and considered the idea unhealthy), but he knew better than to say "No thanks" to something warm as night approached. Swishing the liquid around his teeth for a few seconds before swallowing with a gulp, he nodded at the woman's observation, and brightened at her chosen name. "'Catalyst', you say? Well Catalyst, you are entirely correct. Though I ought to mention I rarely attack people unprovoked regardless of their probably being criminal. To my mind it is hardly sane to pre-emptively attack someone just because you think they might attack you in the future" he smiled broadly before turning to scan the area below for a moment, just in case he caught the thieves beginning to make their way to some point closer to the chemical lab.

Seeing nothing he replaced the binoculars and took another sip, continuing "I have no connections in the case, I merely heard recently about this spree and decided I should try to help" he shrugged "going by the reports I(and I am sure you) have read this sounds at least slightly beyond me, but I would be a greater fool not to try." He took another, slightly longer sip "Delicious" he stated as he put the thermos down close to hand, wiping a few stray drops from his lips. After careful consideration of the starless sky above them he said "I think we would be wise to work in tandem. Did you already have a plan of how to apprehend the thieves? I was going to set a few triplines, knockout-gas canisters behind the exits, that sort of thing. Then I was going to sneak in and drive them into the traps." This wasn't technically true. He had been working over the best way to capture whoever was causing so much trouble, but only then had the concepts crystalized.

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"Not in the least."

Catalyst took a sip of her coffee,

"I was going to sit for a few hours and catalog the number of humans enter and leave the building then note if any do so through an alternate route then usually or if any significantly higher then the usual night staff make an appearance."

She walked over to the building and adjusted her goggles to get a scope on it,

"I have only started observing, and the more information I can gather ahead of time, the better prepared I can be in case of a confrontation if it is indeed nessicary."

Pulling her longer sniper rifle off her back she adjusted it on the buildings edge,

"If I do that it is, I can stop them as they exit the building."

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Pulling his long cape a little closer around himself, King of Suits whistled at the sight of the long-range paintball gun Though really, maybe I should put a damper on that. Not like it's some kind of amazing thing, just a paintball gun he thought idly as he considered what Catalyst had told him.

He took a quiet sip of the coffee, closing his eyes for a moment to savor it.

Giving a brief look to the chemical lab far below, the reddening light of the sun bouncing off its windows forcing him to squint and shade his eyes, at last saying in a slightly gruffer tone than he had used before "Now that I think of it, I have an idea: you have a penchant for fighting over long ranges, aye? Well, I prefer short distances. What if I take up position on that ledge down there," he pointed down at a broad outcropping on the roof of a much smaller electronics shop below them and across the street "and you cover the exits and entrances from up here? That way you could stop any of our thieves from escaping my traps, and I would catch anyone who evaded your steady hand and keen eye" he tuned and smiled cheerfullt at her "What do you say, Catalyst?"

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"Sounds good,"

She aimed at the door quietly as she looked over the building.

"Somethings going on and if there's someone else on the ground I can get a more complete picture, you have a cell phone?"

Reaching into her pocket she fished out her spare and held it up,

"If you don't, this has blue tooth and push to talk, just be sure to give it back when you're done, it's a pain to get them replaced if they get damaged."

Given, she'd already gone through three just like that whenever someone happened to knock it off her in a fight. At some point she was wonder if her service provider would get suspicious.

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Taking the cell phone with a look of deep surprise, Marceau briefly reacquainted himself with the device, checking to see its sleep timer, the sensitivity of its buttons, all the while quietly amazed at the power contained within it. After a minute's quiet investigation, he slid the phone into a small pocket on his armor's side, latching the top shut as he nodded thankfully to Catalyst. Realizing that his attitude warranted explanation he said with an embarrassed quirk to his bearded lips "I haven't managed to get my hands on a mobile like this in years. Ordinarily I am not quite so like a primitive wondering at a mirror" he added with a wry look. Getting to his feet, he smiled brightly as he shook her hand

"It is an honour to work with you Catalyst, good shooting!" With that, he hurled himself off the roof, a minute retort echoing hollowly around the building as he fired his grapple gun at the roof opposite, swinging himself neatly onto his new vantage point. Landing in a roll, he quickly got into position, giving a brief wave to Jasmine before vanishing mostly from view, hunkering down to await the coming of the bizarre thieves.

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GM

After a few hours, the sun had set entirely and the stiff sea-breeze was whistling its ageless song over and around the city, sliding through and between seemingly any surface and protection against it besides a solid wall. Besides the wind and the ever-present thrum and grumble of traffic throughout the metropolis and the noise of cars passing by beneath them, there was hardly a sound. From within the chemical lab, the distant music of the janitorial staff played a merry tune, and the silhouettes of the workers as they passed by the windows gave the place an almost charming appearance.

At last, the workers departed, the security staff locked the doors and set up their positions around the building perimeter alongside the police officers assigned to assist them, and a silence began to grow. The soft noises of their shoes on the concrete and asphalt and the occasional garbled syllable of one of the guards speaking to another drifted through the night air.

All was quiet for another half-hour. Then it happened.

From his vantage point, the King of Suits saw the large yellow van(with IGNORE on its sides in twelve different languages) very plainly as it barreled through the back streets behind the lab, its tires screeching as it was hurled around the corner into the alley beside the stunned security officers as bullets whizzed out of it and guns inside blared a deafening cacophony, who to their credit instantly got to covered positions and signaled for it to stop besides shooting it.

Miraculously, it stopped almost as soon as ordered. The doors slammed open, and about a dozen people in mostly casual wear came out, all of them wearing grey jumpsuits and carrying firearms that glowed in at least five separate shades of neon from strips wrapped around the guns. One of them, clearly much younger than the rest, tossed his gun carelessly into a nearby dumpster before approaching the guards, who had gathered swiftly and efficiently to the scene, raising his hands and calling over to them "Put up your weapons, we do not wish to hurt anyone, merely to rob this place of valuable materials!" Staring at him in shock, a powerfully-built policeman called back "Son, are you on drugs? You can't just rob a place because you tell us about it. Now get over here with your buddies" he gestured with his gun meaningfully "And come with us back to the station, we're going to want to ask a lot of que-" he was cut off abruptly as two identical copies of him leaped out of the shadows, grabbed him and bound him despite his furious efforts to free himself, the others quickly finding themselves under a similar onslaught of doubles!

Meanwhile, Catalyst saw three odd figures in hats and trenchcoats on the roof, carefully working a skylight with a totally silent jackhammer.

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It took a while, just sitting and watching, and as much as this happened the yellow clad sniper could not really stay still. As such, Catalyst was taking a bit of a snack break when she spotted the trenchcoat brigade working the roof. She got back into position almost immediately with the pastry hanging out of her mouth as she lined up the sight. Though she had to question how in the world had they gotten up there? Didn't matter, she was ready to go. It was a very weak acid, make some mild irritation, and very hard to detect. Nothing that wouldn't just be red for a few days, so she was not too worried as she shot at the people several shots in a row to stop their current endeavors.

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GM

The paintball pellets whizzed towards the three trenchcoat-wearing figures. Traveling faster than the eye could follow, they were halfway across the street before one of the mysterious persons to the heroine's right drew a small handgun from the depths of their coat, aimed it at nothing, and with an equal number of shots blew every last one of the pellets clean out of the air, sending them splattering their contents across the roof in briefly smoking patches.

That done, they silently released his hold on the silent jackhammer, walking over to the edge of the roof and facing Catalyst from under the brim of their concealing hat.

The struggle below raged on, with furious cries, muffled swearing and thudding blows punctuating the night.

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Starting at the gunshots cracking sharply from above, the King of Suits looked sharply up at where they came from, a hand straying to the deck of razor-edged cards on his belt. A quick glance and the moon-lit night showed him that at least Catalyst hadn't been shot, and with a sigh of relief he drew out two bulky gauntlets that he attached with thin tubes to rounded packs on his armor. Pulling one of their triggers half an inch was answered with a powerful rumble from the gauntlet, and he smiled in relief "It still works" he said quietly, getting smoothly to his feet, a towering figure in the dark above the alley.

With a click of his boots on the concrete shelf, he hurled himself down into the milling crush of duplicates struggling chaotically with the security guards, using his grapple gun to slow his fall while crying out "Beware, evil-doers! Your thefts end tonight!" Landing lightly, he directed an impeccably-aimed punch with the gauntlet at the nearest of the attacking thieves, his armored fist sailing at a heavy-set man with a prodigious beard and a neat security officer's grey uniform.

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GM

The punch intercepted by his target's large and powerful hand, the King of Suits was almost instantly seized by some of the inexplicable small army, spun around, and thrown heavily to earth, or at least the dirty asphalt. As soon as he began to rise several bodies flung on top of him, pinning him to the ground while the battle above raged onwards, with a stray gunshot splitting the night air with its sharp report. Above the chaos of punches, thuds, groans and shouts of anger, the voice of the apparent spokesman proclaimed "Friends! Let us conclude this struggle quickly! The ones above are already under attack, and might not reach our mark before the appointed time!"

With a chorus of "Okay"s, small army redoubled their attack on the security team and police escort, those they managed to subdue bound and gagged with their conscious doubles dragging them into the bright yellow van, and disappearing in after them. Those who resisted for what their copies judged to be too long were more unceremoniously grappled and flung into the van from where they stood, their brief cries of surprise followed by metallic thuds and frequently short barks of pain ringing out into the night.

The four keeping Marceau from interfering said no word.

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Catalyst blinked, once, twice, as she looked at the people. Intercepting a bullet with a bullet was near impossible to do intentionally, doing it to a paintball, a couple of paintballs, they shouldn't even of heard it coming. That made things strange, but it didn't daunt her for long, switching ammo she aimed at the roof, estimating it's size and shot it in the center. Deep fog covered it spreading out into a cloud and obscuring the view for most but not her, who kept her aim on the people as she reloaded and tried to shoot them again,

Like to see them shoot these out of the sky.

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GM

The now-blanketed roof didn't give much indicator of what was going on inside the thick cloud that slowly billowed up into the air, but Catalyst could hear the sounds of confused shouts and wild gunfire as the three would-be infiltrators shot in every direction but the right one in a desperate attempt to eliminate their attacker, sending small sprays of concrete where the bullets embedded themselves into the building she was on. Her own pellets had much better results, the distant shouts cutting out one by one as the three dropped heavily to the roof, the chemicals contained within doing their job with impeccable force.

It was all but impossible by now that this would go as unnoticed as the last times.

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Trapped beneath the pinning weight of the weird..people who were trying to get into the chemical lab and steal what lay within it for whatever insane purpose they had, now with significantly more questions than before, Marceau wondered if he might have been better off leaving this be. Testing where resistance was greatest he thought about joint-locks, counterbalances and where all these people could have possibly come from. 'Cloning lab? Maybe they're illusions of some kind? I should ask some of the other heroes about detecting such things' he thought, suddenly lashing out with a foot and slamming it into the shoulder of the well-built and mustached man putting the most weight on his back. Toppling forward with a cry of pain, his sudden release gave the King of Suits the opening he needed to burst out from under his enemies and leaping to his feet, whirling around and punching the lean and wiry young man readying a plank behind him directly in the chin. He watched with satisfaction as the man crashed to the ground.

"Now!" the King of Suits said crisply, rubbing his knuckle as it throbbed with pain "Which of you would like to start talking about why they're here?"

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As the heads went down she did a scan of the area. There didn't seem anything unusual, well anything more then KoS fighting some weird dooplegangers. Okay, that was unusual, but it only took a second for her to shoot them down. When they fell she tapped her bluetooth and shot a message too him,

"Took out some guys on the roof with drills, though I don't see anyone else you should probably keep sharp, things are pretty weird, even for Freedom city weird."

She tapped again and did a quick inventory of her ammo before she took another look around.

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GM

In moments Catalyst's barrage had overcome the entire crowd of doubles, the strange doppelgangers collapsing to the ground coughing wheezily in the small clouds. With a frustrated shout of "Well done, heroes!" the spokesman of the thieves jumped into the drivers' seat of the van, and with a screech of burning rubber roared down the alley and out of sight in a cloud of chemical vapors. Its departure left the quiet block around Suzerain Chemical feeling emptier than it had even been before.

One of the security guards who had managed to not be captured before the thieves escaped dug her way out of the pile of her doppelgangers, kicking one of them viciously before turning to the King of Suits. With a skeptical look at him she asked "Well? What are you going to do about them now? Thanks for the assist, but it would be great if you could keep this stuff from happening in the first place."

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Marceau hadn't been expecting the barrage of shots to come hailing down from the skyscraper, or the brief call from Catalyst, slinging a salute in her direction and answering "Many thanks, Catalyst! I caught sight of the license plate on the van, let me just help get these doppelgangers tied up and I'll rendezvous with you back on the roof" releasing the call button on the headset he turned to the security guard "Your concern is understandable, miss. Prevention is the best remedy, as I have heard said, but it is quite impossible for any of us to tell what will be tried next or where. I doubt the Freedom League can tell with any certainty when Talos will make another attempt on our lives, for instance." Beginning the rapid business of pulling the arms of the doubles behind their backs and handcuffing their wrists together he went on "As for what we are going to do, my associate and I are going to track down these thieves and put an end to this madness" he tossed the latest captive over to the small pile of the others "I got that van's number, we can at least find out who is supposed to own it, and start from there." he got to his feet and nodded tot he security guard "Thank you for your assistance" he said without sarcasm, firing his grapple gun at the roof of the building opposite the chemical lab, sailing up onto it nearby Catalyst with a flap of his black and red cape with the ragged edge.

Clambering onto the surface with a grunt Marceau nodded gratefully to Jasmine "Good shooting Catalyst! I'm glad you're not my enemy. I got the license number for the van that was carrying those..people. Anything you think we ought to do before going and tracking that down, besides examining those fellows you left on the roof?" he sat down on his haunches, observing said roof with interest. "I didn't hear anything, but that looks very like a jackhammer" he commented in a puzzled tone.

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"They were trying to get in through the roof, and they were great shots, one of them shot my bullets out of the air. Given, that became impossible once I covered them in fogs so they pretty much went down after that."

She glanced around real quick,

"I think I'll hold my position in case any more trouble comes, those guys should be out long enough for you to get a good look at them."

She pointed at the bodies as she reassumed her position with the sniper rifle and started to scan the area again for antying out of the ordinary.

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A polite quiet greeted her explanation, the King of Suits blinking a few times before saying "Shot your pellets...understood, Catalyst. I'll go take a look at them. Again, thank you for this." he bowed to her slightly before throwing himself cheerfully off the roof and firing his grapple gun at the roof of the Suzerain laboratory, which latched onto the edge of the other structure with a harsh clack, zipping up and onto the platform with a swirl of his cape. Taking out a small magnifying glass and a few plastic bags, he went looking for the three bodies, upon finding each one he knelt and carefully examined them, removing their coats and hats.

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GM

They turned out to not be wearing not much else but those two articles of clothing and a pair of pants, the removal of their hats alone quickly revealed almost featureless red mouthless heads with pricked ears and glazed-over green eyes, unmistakable as members of the hated alien Grue Unity who had attempted to pry the Earth from the grasp of humans time and again throughout the 20th Century. Their invasions in 2003 and most fearsomely in 2010 still bitterly remembered by the city's inhabitants.

In contrast to the smooth uniformity of all drones seen before, however, these ones were warped and twisted around the arms and back. They had their muscles and what looked like their skeleton bent and curved in ways even the protean aliens couldn't normally do. On their unconscious bodies were small packs that were mostly empty save for narrow phials filled with bluish liquid.

Patient searching of their clothes turned up three small oddities: metal spirals studded with buttons hidden deep in a twisting maze of false pockets, along with several hundred rounds of 10mm ammunition hidden throughout their clothes.

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Marceau stared down at the mutated extraterrestrials "I am not prepared for something like this" Tapping the button on the Bluetooth headset he called Catalyst "We have something new on our hands. It seems the three people you shot up here were in fact Grue. They injected themselves with..something, at various places on their torsos and arms. These phials of liquid they have in their backpacks might be what they injected" Taking one of the spirals up to examine it he added "They were lightly equipped, only a single sidearm each, though they were carrying an unbelievable number of bullets." Standing up he took out a few cards, testing their flex as he spoke "I will wrap them up, handcuff them and deposit them with the other thieves we caught. I'll take some samples from them and see if they're unlike the other Grue we have encountered. For however much that helps us." Taking a few small scrapings and taking a few drops of blood from each of them he neatly 'cuffed each of the mysterious aliens, wrapping them in flexible strips of metal before lowering them down one by one with the grapple gun and turning his attention to the silenced jackhammer. A few minutes of examination proved it was there. Slinging it over his shoulder he returned to the skyscraper's roof.

Tossing it onto the concrete platform he shrugged to Catalyst "Your thoughts, madame?"

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