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trollthumper

Viral Celebrity [IC]

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Friday, July 27th, 2012

9:46 PM

Eliza wasn't really much for nightlife. Sure, she liked to dance to a good beat - hell, there wasn't much she couldn't dance to - but doing it in front of other people, especially other people who seemed to do it for a living, wasn't exactly her deal. But Trenice had wanted to go to Midnight Hour for Fireworks, so the two of them had hopped across town for it.

"Come on, girl, own the floor!" cried Trenice over the thumping bass.

"I'm cool with window shopping for now," said Eliza. She was clustered in one of the few uncolonized booths, nursing a lemonade. She was waiting for something she could really dance to - dubstep-infused Top 40 didn't make her recoil like a vampire, but it wasn't exactly her jam - and kept kneading at her purse with her feet. It had taken a lot of practice, but she'd managed to fold a bottle of water and a peacoat into a night bag. She wasn't wearing the rest of her costume, but she could easily improvise - though the last attempt at torso armor in the style of her mask had left her looking like one of Lady Gaga's rejects.

Not gonna come to that, girl. Just a nice, simple night out with friends. And if it does come to that, hell, you can handle it. Just stay cool, and wait for a good beat.

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When the pretty girl's friend moved off, Sharl made his move and walked up to Eliza's booth. The Tronik teenager was dressed like a human clubgoer for once, his usual trenchcoat reprogrammed and shaped to look like a black hoodie and Miss Americana T-shirt. "Hey there," he said with a little nod, trying to play it cool like he figured Koshiro would. "I'm Sharl. I don't think I've seen you around here before." Of course, this was Sharl's first time at the club, having decided to go out on one of the nights he was at Miss Americana's place and technically didn't need to follow Claremont's curfew.

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Eliza looked the boy up and down. "Don't think I've seen you either," she said. "Then again, not like I'm a regular." She extended her hand - to Sharl, it felt slightly cold, probably from gripping the glass of lemonade for a while. "Eliza. Nice to meet you." She looked out on the club, the teenage masses dancing to someone infusing the latest Katy Perry single with the mating call of fax machines - or at least, that's what it sounded like. Not quite her beat. Not yet. "So, what brings you out to the watering hole? Feeling the need to lose yourself for a little bit?""

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Sharl's touch was faintly electric, as if walking on a carpet on a cold winter's day, but warm enough to the touch as he took a seat at Eliza's table. So far, so good! he congratulated himself. "Sure, I come here all the time. I came here tonight looking to meet someone," he said with a teenage boy's sense of drama. "And maybe I will." No, don't come on too strong! He'd tried talking to Gina about girls, particularly now that she had a boyfriend and all, but her advice hadn't been terribly helpful. "I checked out the reviews and heard this place rocked. And so far, so good."

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Eliza had to admit that the music was turning towards her tastes. "Yeah, it's not bad," she said. "Usually draws a good crowd, and the music's pretty good. And it sounds like it's getting better. Maybe they'll --"

Just as the beat was starting to get solid, a din started to rise in the club. Eliza pushed her way up from the booth to seek the source of the noise, her survival instincts from a life in Freedom kicking in. She was somewhat relieved to see the source of noise was a woman in a long jacket that looked it cost more than her dad brought home in a month entering the club. Her hair was long and flowing, and despite the darkness of the club, she seemed to be wearing Andy Warhol's lost sunglasses. She was carrying a steel case in her hand, one that seemed to be overflowing with vinyl.

"Heard they might be getting a guest DJ in tonight," she said. "Wonder why everyone's freaking out."

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"That's Gloria Greenwich, the debutante," said Sharl, taking a seat opposite Eliza. Up close the tall, skinny boy was pale and dark-haired now that he was under lights that didn't distort the color of his skin. Absently, he toyed with what looked like a black box attached to his jacket at the shoulder for a moment. "I don't understand why someone who is styling herself a new kind of celebrity would want to make her name by playing such old-fashioned music," he added frankly. "I mean those vinyl records have been obsolete for twenty, thirty years? When I was at Horizon," he confided, "they had all new systems, practically super-tech. It was pretty cool."

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"Some people like the old school," said Eliza. "They say the vinyl gives it a richer sound, that it takes real talent to mix the music with your hands instead of some sort of tuning program." She kept her eyes on the table as the aspiring young socialite as she laid the vinyl onto the tables. "I've never really been able to tell the difference. And really, I don't care that much. Just as long as --"

Gloria's first song cut across the floor - something upbeat and poppy, but mixed with a dancehall-style backing track that gave it a unique beat. Just the kind she was looking for. She got up from the booth and nodded to Sharl. "Feel like dancing?"

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Gloria's first song cut across the floor - something upbeat and poppy, but mixed with a dancehall-style backing track that gave it a unique beat. Just the kind she was looking for. She got up from the booth and nodded to Sharl. "Feel like dancing?"

"Er, yeah, let's dance," said Sharl with a smile, his electronic heart starting to pound. New as he was to dancing, Sharl was good at imitating humans, and it was something that seemed to come naturally as the music pounded down. His hand touched hers briefly as they reached the dance floor with that same electric spark, before they found a clear place on the dance floor. "I've gotta admit!" he called over the music as the lights shone down on him, "this beat rocks!"

Sharl was into the music and into the pretty girl; so into her, in fact, that at one point, still dancing, he proceeded to step half into and half-out of an oblivious guy trying to make time with another girl nearby: luckily no one seemed to have noticed his slip, so he threw himself back into the rhythms!

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Eliza took to the floor, admiring the moves of her dancing partner. While he seemed new to it, he had a bit of a natural rhythm to him, and he managed to blend in easily with the other dancers. So well that -- Wait, did he just...? Nah, it's gotta be the strobe lighting. Makes everyone look like ghosts. Or ninjas. Besides, he's not flagging the weird meter... Eliza shook it off, losing herself in the flow of the song once more. To Sharl, her movements were fluid and graceful, like some of the martial styles he'd seen displayed in training classes.

There was a five second lull as the dancehall-pop number died down. "Not bad," she said to Sharl. "You get out on the floor often?" Soon after, something more electronic and chopped up - something more Sharl's speed - blasted over the floor, and Eliza moved to the new beat.

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"Not very much!" Sharl confessed, headbanging to the music. "It's very crowded where I'm from! We don't really have space for things like this! Music's about the same, though!" He certainly liked what they were doing, though, the kinetic girl he was dancing with both nice to look at and nice to talk to. "You look like you get to dance a lot!" He wasn't paying much attention to the annoying human celebrity behind the music, all his eyes were focused on the pretty girl. "You look good! At dancing, I mean!" Smooth, Sharl, smooth. "And other ways too!"

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Eliza blushed slightly, thanking God - and all other associated forces - that it was somewhat dark in the club. "Thanks!" she called back over the base. "You've got a good - I mean, you've got good form as well!" Yeah, real smooth, girl. Smooth as frozen grease. Throwing herself into the beat, Eliza's gaze traveled off of Sharl and over the floor. She noticed Gloria was keeping the pace behind the turntables, keeping the vinyl moving and mixing it together. It probably wasn't expert level stuff, but she at least knew how to handle herself.

As the next song was kicking in, however, Gloria paused, drawing her cell phone from her pocket. The strobe lighting kicked in hard core, so Eliza didn't see the look on her face - but when the lights kicked on as best they could, she'd taken off from the DJ booth, running across the floor and towards the ladies' room.

What the heck is that about...? Eliza thought. As she wondered, she heard the chirp of smart phones going off around her, the latest news transmitting straight to the source. Her old fliptop phone wouldn't pick up on the news, but Sharl could easily hear what was blazing out across the ether. It was a story from TMZ, seemingly seconds old:

GLORIA GREENWICH FOUND DEAD IN NIGHTCLUB; STORY DEVELOPING

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"Holy cow! I've, uh, gotta go," said Sharl, extemporizing quickly. "It's too loud in here, and I bet I can't get a good signal! I'd better call the cops from the men's room." He turned and headed straight for said men's room, naturally finding it crowded with people on such a busy night. He didn't hesitate, walking straight into a stall and closing the door. Once there, a thought from the electronic teenager transformed Sharl Tulink into Citizen, the costumed hero of Tronik, as his jacket and shades erupted over his body and face, proud blue symbol blazing to life on his chest before he vanished into the ether, or in his case the wireless system around the club. He divided his efforts, trying to both watch through the club's security cameras even as he scanned for the source of the ominous broadcast.

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Cops? Eliza looked to the rapidly departing Sharl, and then to the ladies' room that Gloria had just run into. Oh, hell. She ran for the restroom, but not before stopping by her booth to grab the night bag from under the table.

Eliza slipped into the bathroom quietly. It was the large, multi-chambered bathroom you'd expect from a high-volume nightclub. Gloria was standing before the mirror in the far corner, holding her phone before her in her hand like it was radioactive. She hadn't seemed to notice the door opening, nor Eliza's entrance. She slipped into the nearest stall and reached into her bag for her pea coat and the bottle of water. The coat slipped on easily; the water would take more time. She shaped it in her hands like clay, then brought it to her face. It froze in a second, forming her mask. She was Temperance again, and she was listening down the way.

Citizen, meanwhile, saw Eliza duck into the bathroom and vanish into a stall. Gloria hadn't noticed anything; she was too focused on the voice coming from her cell phone, one he and Temperance heard equally well. The strange part was that Citizen could easily source Gloria's presence - her phone was one half of the connection, the receiving end of the signal. But there was seemingly no sender. No IP to trace, no phone call to triangulate. It was as if the call was originating directly from her cell phone.

"Please... please, not this, there's got to be more..."

"Gloria." The voice on the other end was female - just. It had that polished British accent that could go from matronly to glass-cutting in an instant and sounded slightly distorted, as if transmitting through radio static. "We made a promise, dear. You wanted this, for you and all of yours."

"You think I wanted this? You think I wanted... that, getting out?"

"You said you wanted fame. Nothing more, nothing less. And the public adores you - or loathes you. The two can often be the same thing. But you're at a crescendo, dear. Tomorrow you will be immortal, and your family shall ride the wave unto eternity. Gloria in excelsis."

There was the rattle of dropped plastic and a sound like a television tuned to a dead channel, and Temperance was suddenly aware of the presence of another person in the bathroom. To Citizen's eyes, Gloria dropped the phone as if she'd been shocked - and a figure began crawling out of the smart phone's screen, slowly unfolding to human height. She was dressed in a gown that looked like it cost a small nation's treasury, had looks men and women alike would kill for - and eyes of polished mirror.

"It will be painless, dear. The public does love a dead celebrity..."

There was no time left to sit idle. Temperance kicked the bathroom door open, causing Gloria and the mirror-eyed woman to start. She strode out onto the main floor deliberately, taking in the strange apparition.

"I believe she said no," she said. "Last I checked, that still means something."

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The mirror-eyed woman took Temperance in. "This is private business," she said - even in person, the voice took on the strange tone of a broadcast. "A contract must be fulfilled."

Contract...? She took a step forward, and saw the strange gleam reflecting off the woman's skin, like the last rays of twilight. Sure enough, she was a spirit. "Last I checked, such deals were heavily frowned upon," Temperance said, as if she'd know the particulars of how this one's court might operate. Maybe if she adopted the tone her dad did that time she came home late... "I suggest you eat your loss."

The woman made a move for Gloria, but Temperance had been ready for it. With a flick of her arm, the sinks along the wall roared to life, spitting out great volumes in a matter of seconds. They shut off as soon as they kicked on, the water leaping out of the basins and wrapping around the spirit, flash-freezing on contact. She was wrapped up to her neck, and given that she was manifest, that was going to be quite an obstacle.

"Clever little girl," said the spirit. Temperance could feel her hair standing on end, and it wasn't from fright. "You think you're the only one who meddles in the primal arts?"

The static in the air condensed into a thin bolt of lightning, aimed right for her chest. She ducked out of the way as the bolt soared past her and took out a light fixture in an explosion of sparks. "At least I know what I'm doing. I'm not going to repeat myself --"

Gloria, finally regaining her wits, turned and ran out of the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. The mirror-eyed woman watched, far more interested in her than Temperance. "Look at what you've done. Now I'll have to chase her. And you wouldn't want to be in the way."

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With a crackle and pop, Gloria's cellphone snapped open on the floor. From it a voice sounded as a humanoid figure emerged from the big video display; Citizen's black coat fluttering in an invisible breeze behind him, the bright lights of the ladies' room gleaming off his mirror-black shades. "Two can play at that game, lady," he taunted, floating up in midair and keeping himself equidistant between the door and Temperance. She was certainly powerful enough that he wasn't worried about her, but a hero took hits for their teammate, one way or the other. "Listen, I don't know what kind of crazy techno-spook you think you are," he said brashly, "but I'm one of the most advanced computer programs ever made and my colleague here can turn H2O into H2Awesome! So you'd better step down before we have to stick you back in one of these phones and drop it in a donation box."

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The mirror-eyed woman looked down at the phone. "Oh, I see," she said. "You think it's a prison. It's anything but. This is my world - the world of wires and words, the world of whims and --"

The spirit was cut off by a storm of hailstones, borne out of one of the full sinks. "I don't care how verbose you get," Temperance said. "It's not going to sway me. If anything, it's just making this easier."

The spirit smiled, and Temperance felt the build of static around her once more. She tried to dodge, anticipating an attack, but the attack was everywhere. Lightning surged through the bathroom in a blinding flash, running through her and Citizen at full force. The storm cut off as quickly as it began; Temperance still had that feeling of numbness, like if she'd brushed a power socket with a wet finger. She was still standing, however, which she counted as a victory - and the spirit was still caught in the ice, though parts of it were cracked. All the while, her attention was past Temperance, focused on the world beyond the bathroom door.

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Citizen hissed against the electrical eruption and threw a punch, feeling the sickening sensation of his solidified electrical body striking something not entirely human. "Yeah yeah yeah, I get it, you're fancy with your powers and you think you're some kind of magic electricity ghost, and that means you can boss people around and hunt them like you're some movie monster," he taunted, trying to keep the being focused on him and not on the person she'd been pursuing seconds earlier. "You think you've spent time on the line? I was born there. You want to fight? We can fight!"

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Another rain of hailstones took the mirror-eyed woman right across the face. "Whatever deal you've made, it's voided now," said Temperance. "Go back to your corner of the realms invisible and stay there."

The spirit laughed. "You're asking me to unblot the page," she said. "Her image is out there. Everywhere. It cannot just be removed. She's a hero - or villain - in the eyes of millions. And now she will become immortal." The air grew heavy again; Temperance braced for the impact, getting out of the path of the worst of the bolts as her vision was filled with blinding light. When she opened her eyes again, the spirit was gone - as was her prison.

---

On the floor, Gloria was pushing against the dancing hordes. She needed to get out, get away, find somewhere she'd be safe. Suddenly, the music changed around her, to a rising crescendo. The dancers paused, thrown out of their rhythm, looked around the floor. Soon, eyes fell on the mad-faced, silver-eyed woman, trapped in a prison of ice. But while she was standing still, lightning was crackling off of her, threatening to strike anyone who got close.

"Oh, dear Gloria. I'm going to make you so much more than a victim. I'm going to make you a martyr."

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When Citizen floated out to the dance floor himself, the electronic teenager looked as scorched as he felt, the electrical discharges that woman was throwing around having fried his projected matrix and left him reeling. Got to concentrate, he thought as he floated up behind the sparking woman, can't let her get away again. "Hey, lady, I'm not finished with you yet!" he called as he flooded his projected body with power from his emitter. "I think it's time someone grounded you, lightning lass," he called a moment before ramming his hand right through her midsection, producing an exciting eruption of electricity indeed! "

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The force of Citizen's blow was enough to knock the mirror-eyed woman out of her wits - and more than that. Lightning arced out of her eyes as a high-pitched scream tore from her lips. The scream quickly ripped itself into white noise and distorted feedback as her body erupted into a veritable storm of sparks. The dancers who hadn't run at the spirit's initial manifestation now ran towards the furthest corners of the club. By the time Temperance made it out to the main dance floor, the only people left were Citizen, Gloria, and a few gawkers of iron fortitude.

Gloria had raised her arm to try and protect against the spirit's blow; with its exorcism, she lowered it and looked to Citizen. "You..." she said. "You... thank you. Is she gone?"

"For now."

"For now? What do you mean, for now? Is she dead, or... can things like that even die, or..."

"They can." It's just really damn tricky. "Do you know what it was?"

"She... she just promised me she could make me famous. If I'd known what she was going to do..."

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Citizen looked distinctly uneasy at the talk of people gaining power, social or otherwise, from quasi-supernatural entities of unknown origin. "You've got to be careful about making deals with things you don't understand," he said out loud. "Stepping through a door is always a risk even if someone's there to catch you." He shot a look at Temperance, trying to get a grip on the situation. "You seem to know something about those things," he said with a nod to the place where the former electrical being had been standing. It wasn't a person, and from the sound of things it might not even be dead. "What was it, and is Gloria here still in danger?"

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"Never really seen anything of that specific type," Temperance said. "It's a spirit. One of the... silent actors of the world. Never really seen one of that kind, though. Most of the electricity spirits I see just try to cause blackouts if they feel they aren't getting their dues." She turned to Gloria. "It's okay, you're safe. It's gone, and it's likely learned its lesson. I just need some info. What sort of deal did you make with it?"

"She... she came to me," Gloria said. "She told me her name was Optica. That if I gave her something, she'd make me famous. Make my family famous. If I'd known she was going to use that..." She shook her head. "I rode the wave. I had to. We all got what we wanted. What we needed. And she said if I kept it up, we'd sear ourselves on the eyes of the world. Her words, not mine."

"She say whether she'd done this before?"

"She said I wasn't the first client. I didn't dig."

Temperance turned to Citizen. "Spirits aren't supposed to make Faustian pacts. Sets them apart from the competition. And if she's got a Rolodex of clients, someone needs to break up the racket." She looked up to the speakers. "She may be ephemera, but she seems to love her hardware. Don't suppose you could try tracking the signals she uses, or something like that?"

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"Yeah, I can," said Citizen, grateful for the knowledge she was providing to this situation in which he was at sea. He stepped back for a moment to put his hand through the nearby wall. It wasn't that hard to reach out into the electrical and Internet connections inside the building, trying to find the spoor left behind by one particular target. "I've dealt with ghosts and wizards before, but if whatever that thing is is going to start hanging around Freedom City's networks, better to take it out while we can. We have enough issues with loose hackers programs on the local 'Net already, between one thing and another..."

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"Good idea," said Temperance. "Usually spirits tend to stay sedate. There were a few, back in the old days, who tried to set themselves up as gods and folk figures. You still get a few of the old crowd - I've heard weird things about a tall man with no face down in West Virginia..." She shook her head. "But as I said. Contracts like this are rare nowadays. Most spirits tend to focus on their own domains and avoid human contact. Then again, if you can pull one off... you've got a steady source of devotion. And that devotion can be turned into power."

She stood back and watched as Citizen scanned the airwaves. The whole thing was fascinating to her - he was involved in another invisible realm, one a lot more down-to-earth and tangible than hers but which was still one hell of a mystery.

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"So they're, what, mental vampires? That's disgusting," said Sharl with a curled lip. "As if your society doesn't have enough problems, you have crazy creatures from other dimensions or the future coming into town and feeding off people's belief in them." Sharl remembered the last time he'd discussed religion with one of his teammates, and opted not to go down that road. He'd seen enough that his old views weren't 100% true anyway. "All right, I think I've found the place," he said as he finished tapping on the electronic gizmo he'd pulled out of his coat pocket. "It's in Riverside, an old theater. I can get there, but it'll take a while, the nearest terminal is...man, three blocks away. Usually Riverside's better than that. How about you?"

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