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Riverside Park, July 14th, 2012, 12.27 P.M.

After a mostly uneventful past year, the Riverside Park had re-opened the city-favorite Battle of the Bands event concert, and once again the sky-blue tents were jammed with milling, cheerfully(for the most part) sweating(all of them) and chatting music-enthusiasts and other citizens here to either spend a pleasant day listening to music at the stages set up around the blazing green park, be out with their families or friends, and even some loners who had come for reasons best known to themselves.

Already at least two metal bands were furiously competing against each other to beat the other's speed, a folk music group had gathered a hugely enthusiastic crowd in a Spanish dance, and

a thick-set old man was holding a circle of awe-struck Freedonians enthralled by his gentle and achingly-beautiful playing of the violin.

The overpriced bottled water flowed like liquid gold from the various stalls hawking them, the hot dog stands were crowded with hungry customers whose tempers frayed all too easily in the summer blast furnace, and at one of the eastern stages in particular, before a smaller crowd than most of the bands had managed to assemble, the Guitar Genius Riff was preparing for the first song in his own group's gig...

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Backstage at a rock concert can get weird.

Backstage when the rocker in question is a known superhero can get weirder.

But even the most burned-out roadie would have to do a double-take at the sight of a furry, tailed predator at a mixing board. Jay Xavier suspected he knew why the festival organizers had asked him to help out with Warren 'Riff' Wilder's crew; since superheroes had a peculiar tendency to attract unwanted attention from supervillains, it made sense to put all the targets in one place, so that everyone else would be that much more likely to be overlooked. Fortunately for Xavier's piece of mind, all of the regulars in Wilder's crew had gotten the holy crap, it's a cheetah!! out of their systems in less than an hour, once they started working with him:

"…check Mic 15, I think we're getting some interference from a loose connection," Xavier said to Korgo, one of the full-time roadies, just before he fed a CD into a player and routed the signal to a pair of amplifier stacks. "Hey, anyone who's free, I need an ear—I think I got the balance right between stacks 1 and 2, but I'd be happier with a second opinion on that—can someone gimme an ear on it?"

Once upon a time, Xavier had been a damn good musician, a vocalist with seven self-published CDs to his credit. But that was before he gained an unremovable fur coat, lost his old voice plus a non-trivial chunk of his manual dexterity, and figured out how to force a comprehensible approximation of human speech out of a 100% non-human vocal tract. He just couldn't sing…

It had been some time since Xavier did any serious sound engineering, but he found that the old skills were still there, still usable. He wasn't sure how he felt about that; it was as if there were two arguing voices in the back of his head, one of them dreading the inevitable re-opening of emotional wounds, and the other very happy because hey, music!

Well, it wasn't like it'd be him up on stage. Not now, and not ever again. But at least Xavier could help someone else make the music happen…

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Synth stuck her cap on to her hair, already slick with sweat from the heat of the venue.

"Happy Hank's Hot Dogs!" it said on her T-Shirt. If Hank could have printed it on her cap it would be there too. Instead, the yellow "H" was emblazoned on purple. Somehow, the yellow text on purple t shirt and cap was almost, but not exactly, a perfect clash. Looking at them made one slightly nauseated without quite knowing why.

Synth's theory was that this would detract away from the rancid smell of the hot dogs. Her sense of smell was far more refined than human's, and even her iron constitution would think twice before eating one of Hank's hot dogs. But then, they were extremely cheap, and at least free of food poisoning. And the crowd, drunk on alcohol and heavy metal, only wanted two things: cheap and filling. And Hank knew he had his market.

"Mustard?" she asked for the umpteenth time, before serving another greasy excited youth with unkempt black hair and too much jewelry. She had been getting a few lecherous comments. Unsurprising, given her looks, but she had done her best to down play them.

Cash in hand. Cash in hand. She told herself, as she served out another sausageinabun.

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Riff sighed as he finally put the face guard back on his guitar and started making quick work of getting the Bridge and pickups re-attached. The re-adjustments should certainly help out with this show. The first battle of the bands was great. Well, minus the interruption from The Maestro and the Green Man. He was hoping nothing like that was gonna happen again. Tightening the last screw in, he tossed the screwdriver aside and and got up. He could have sworn he heard someone asking something backstage.

He started making his way over, dodging roadies and backstage hands while plucking a few strings on his guitar and twisting the machine heads. He froze in place when he finally managed to spot to see what looked like a cheetah working by the amplifiers. He shook his heads. I have a giant cyborg bat. A Cheetah working on amps is not the weirdest thing out there. He tilted his head, trying to hear over the sound of other bands playing in the distance. "Sounds good man." He called over to Xavier before ducking back into his room. He and the rest of the guys would be on very soon.

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Tona Baudin was making a concerted effort to explore what this world had to offer. Much of it was still inexplicable to her, but the idea of investigating a music festival appealed to her. Her trip in town with her friends had shown her that there was much greater variety in the music of this world than her home, so it promised to be an educational day, in any event.

After some consideration she'd settled on a pair of tight jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt with a white anarchy symbol on it. As always she brought her backpack with her bow and an outfit to change into, should trouble start, but for now she was enjoying herself. The heavy metal was too loud and generally incomprehensible for her to truly enjoy, but the atmosphere was charged and she'd had fun dancing in the crowd. Now she was hungry, though, and looking for a place to eat. There were stands selling food, of course, but Tona had found that so much food on this world was over-processed and greasy, so she'd brought some pieces of dried fruit with her, instead.

A large tree presented itself and in a twinkling she was up in it, braced steadily in the upper branches. She brought out the dried slices of apple and banana and chewed on them as she let her eyes drift over the festival.

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"Stacks 1 and 2 sound just about perfect, Jay!" called over one of the other set technicians, who had paused in front of the speaker stacks in question to gauge them "I'll check on the power lines, something sounds off with one of the amps" he added, vanishing into the back end of the set. Setup was proceeding very smoothly, all things considered. So far every problem encountered had been a niggling issue, nothing had to be replaced, and everything worked precisely as needed. It was a refreshing change of pace. The only fly in the ointment was the bulky man with the impressive head of curly black hair and thin, Mephistophelean goatee, with the ID badge naming him "Alfred Manderley". He had arrived along with the rest of the crew, and seemed almost transparently up to something, examining the cords of certain speakers, amps and subwoofers with a thin grey tool, silently helping to fix the things that went wrong, but never actually explaining what he was doing when asked, though at least he hadn't broke anything. The man passed by Jay as the troubleshooter put in the CD, and as he did a nearly unnoticeable hum came singing through the air, something almost outside his hearing range...

The audience just beyond the stage Riff was performing on was swarming, jostling, laughing and in some cases silent from deep anger at the weather. They all, however, eagerly and impatiently waited for the moment the Guitar Genius would finally take the stage and play the music they had been anticipating for the last few hours. Quite aside from the ambient noise of the Battle of the Bands and his own eager crowd, Warren began to hear a strange hum cutting through the air, coming from backstage. The humming buzz wasn't impossible to ignore, but it seemed to be growing...

Synth's hot dog stand was doing excellent business, most of the reasons being purely biological. A steady stream of concert-goers passed around the cart amid the stalls selling the merch of local metal and rock bands, with the unsurpassed king of the market being the stand selling the shirts of the alternative rock group called Madman Finale, whom rumors said were considering adding a new member to their lineup, a rumor that had sparked enthusiastic speculation among their fan base as to who the 'new guy ' would be. "$4.75, that's cutting my own throat" muttered a heavy-set young man as he walked easily through the milling crowds away from the stand, stuffing his wallet back into his pocket. Raising an eyebrow at the comment, an athletic blond man in the pure-blue track suit who had been waiting behind him sighed loudly as he took his own meal, saying wryly "Kids today. No respect, eh miss?" as he handed over his own dollars and change, taking the sausage with a warm smile as he stepped aside to let the small family by. "I remember a day when young people like that kept a civil tongue in their heads" we went on casually as he surveyed the passing Freedonians, most of whom were wearing some species of black pants and shirt with at least mildly offensive slogans on them, which considering he looked to be in his mid-thirties was suspect at best.

While sitting among the branches of the majestic tree, Tona was witness to an odd conversation. A white-haired woman in a denim jacket, white shirt and blue jeans wandered casually over to the same ash, leaning against it with her hands in her jacket pockets and smiling to herself. Shortly after her appearance, a strong-looking blond man in a blue track suit came strolling by licking an ice cream cone. Catching sight of each other, they retired to the shade directly underneath the archer, speaking without apparent fear of being overheard.

"So, how goes the set-up?" the woman asked gleefully

"As well as could be expected" came the slightly monotonous answer, the smile appearing to be more for form than a real indicator of mood

"That's great! Tell Wlodjyka to hurry up and get the sonic ready, we need to move in case that berk with the cape shows up" she said, a little more soberly this time "And get out of here when it starts, we can't get involved" at his nod, they shook hands and quickly departed.

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Tona stared down at the pair, banana chip halfway to her mouth. She wasn't exactly sure what a berk was, or what 'the sonic' referred to, but she knew that capes were superheroes, like herself. If these people didn't want superheroes around when whatever they were planning went down, then it seemed like their plans weren't going to be good for anyone caught in them. Likely the people at the festival.

The young archer snacked on the banana chip as she watched the pair part ways. Once they were a good distance away she dropped to the ground and set off after the woman, her hunter's training allowing her to slip from cover to cover and shadow to shadow easily.

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In the crowded park, tailing one person was hard to do if you weren't taller than most of the concert-goers, but conversely it was even harder to detect someone following you if you were being tailed. So Tona shadowed the white-haired woman with ease, threading through the crowds and keeping her quarry well in view, the hot, loudly talking Freedonians providing her with just about the best cover she could have asked for while she slipped to more stable concealment on the way.

The woman didn't appear to meet anyone else on her way, and ended up at one of the main entrances of the park, keeping a close eye on one of the eastern stages where a sole guitar-player seemed to be performing, tapping out a countdown as she sat down on a vacant concrete bench parallel to the graveled path. She was relaxed and smiling, utterly confident that what was about to happen was going to be wholly in her and her accomplices' favor.

The blond man appeared shortly afterwards, sipping at soda through a straw. He leaned against on end of the bench, also watching the stage. The throb of the combating genres pulsed through the park, with the occasional dip in one leading to a surge of music in another, especially a few of the metal bands performing who were trying to outdo each other's playing speed.

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Tona stopped several metres away from the couple, hiding partially behind another tree. The woman didn't seem like she was moving anytime soon, a view confirmed when the blond man reappeared and sat down next to her. Part of her wanted to get closer to the pair, but her hunter's experience warned her away from it. She bit the inside of her lip, worrying about her next move. After a few moments she hauled herself up into the boughs of the tree once again. Once safely braced she dropped her bag into her lap and started rummaging around in it.

Her bow was near the top and she pulled that out, setting the folded length of carbon-carbon fibres aside for the moment. Next came a folded coat in the Claremont colors. Tona had considered packing a complete costume, but eventually decided against it and just went with the light jacket. That slipped over her shoulders and she fastened up the front, tugging it into place over her shirt. With the mask slipped over her eyes, the only thing left to identify her was the tight jeans, and lots of people here were wearing those.

The interior the bag lifted up and out, revealing itself to be a pouch suspended from the sides of the backpack. She tied the top of the pouch together and set it next to her bow; then she undid the fastenings at the side of the backpack and flipped it inside-out, revealing the numerous arrows attached to the side. The newly-revealed quiver went over her back, and then the pouch went next to it and slightly higher. The whole arrangement wasn't graceful, but Blue Jay wasn't in the habit of leaving any of her equipment behind.

The archer peered through the tree's leaves at the pair on the stone bench, reaching out for her bow without looking. A quick jerk unfolded it and then she settled back, waiting.

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Nobody else seemed to notice that irritating high-pitched noise… which was only to be expected, as that sound was scraping up against the high end of Jay Xavier's enhanced hearing range. Normal human ears simply couldn't register that hypersonic pitch—which, now that he thought of it, he'd heard coming from a few other places in the general area, just not so obtrusive as it was at the moment. Oddly, the hypersound source that had captured Xavier's attention was evidently something on the person of that new hire, Alfred Manderley, who nobody liked and nobody really knew what his duties were… and Manderley looked familiar, somehow…

"I'm taking my ten-minute break now," Xavier declared to everyone in earshot. He upshifted, to systematically seek out all the sources of hypersonics his ears could detect—and there were rather more of those sources than he'd been expecting! Specifically, a number of small grayish pellets, all of them hidden in inconspicuous spots, lost amid amplifier cables and the like in Wilder's equipment and that of a few other musicians. What the hell is the point of the hypersonics? The audience sure ain't gonna hear that crap! Is that even a frequency that's known to have biological effects on those exposed to it? Well, fine: At best, the hypersonic devices were a completely gratuitous power drain, so he'd just have to…

Hmm. I don't actually know what the devices do. Since a good number of them are here, in Riff's tech, there's a damn good chance I don't really want to find out the hard way. Okay, what's the best way to ensure the gizmoes stay harmless, while at the same time minimizing the risk of triggering any booby-trap(s)..? After considering and discarding several plans, Xavier decided he'd use an X-acto knife with an insulated handle to scrape each hypersonic gizmo loose from its resting place; lay each device on the sticky side of a length of duct tape, making sure no two devices were in physical contact; when a length of duct tape had no room left for more pellet/devices, lay that tape on a sheet of mylar, sticky side down; and wrap each such mylar sheet up in several thicknesses of aluminum foil. The thin metal sheets would serve as a Faraday cage, blocking any signals that might be transmitted to, or recieved by, the devices… or at least that was the theory.

Within a small number of clock-seconds, Xavier had found and thus neutralized all of the hypersonic pellets. And when Xavier asked the festival's organizers about Manderley, he found that the man had been hired two weeks ago, replacing a roadie with more than a decade of experience who'd quit because of an inexplicable series of migraines. Xavier was not surprised that Manderley had been bounced from his first crew over a dispute about whether or not he'd planted something in that band's equipment…

…and there was one more thing: Manderley was a dead ringer for Konrad Wlodjyka, a European engineer who divided his time between working on spacecraft and speaking in defense of various supervillains. And it just so happened that Wlodjyka was currently on leave from the European Space Agency! Gosh. A tech-savvy villain sympathizer, depositing mysterious devices of unknown function-slash-purpose in and among the tech of a superhero-cum-performer? Yeah, nothing at all suspicious nor worrisome about that…

Well, whatever peculiar scheme Wlodjyka might have had in mind for his little hypersonic pellets, Xavier was satisfied that stomping on that scheme was merely prudent. No point in confronting the man now; the longer he believed his scheme was still running smoothly, the better it would be for everyone else.

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Riff clutched his head for a moment. What the hell was making that noise? He wondered as he continued back to the room with the rest of the band. The guitarist wondered for just a moment if this was a sign that this show was going to get attacked or sabotaged by someone. He tried to push that thought out of his head. He hadn't seen or heard anyone he knew that would hold a grudge against him. Lack of a secret identity to hide behind was making him more and more paranoid as the days went past. He pushed the door open and ducked in.

Everyone looked anxious to get onstage. David, the drummer looked like he was ready to run out of the room. "We going to be on soon?" The drummer asked as soon as Riff was in the room. "Soon man. Guys are nearly done setting things up." He said with a nod as he fished out a can of coke from the cooler. They were pretty talented, Warren had to admit. He saw them perform before asking them to play at Battle of the Bands with him. Some small part of him hoped however that they remembered the drill when someone decides to attack. Again he tried to force that thought out of his mind was he drank a mouthful of his drink before getting back to tuning his guitar.

He could have sworn that hypersonic buzzing was fading. Must have been a busted speaker or amp. He thought to himself. That seemed to calm his nerves just a little.

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Collecting and neutralizing the hypersound gizmoes was no bad thing. But how that Jay Xavier had the devices, what the heck was he going to do with them? Stuffing them all into improvised Faraday cages should prevent them from receiving command signals from external sources, and that was great as far as it went.

It just didn't go far enough.

Suppose the devices needed to receive a 'heartbeat signal' at regular intervals, and were programmed to do Bad Things when the 'heartbeat' stopped?

Xavier spent several dozens of upshifted clock-seconds wracking his brains for a solution to the problem of What To Do With Potentially Hostile Hypersound Devices, cursing his lack of expertise in sonics… and then he realized there was an expert in the field within a 50-yard radius. A person intimately familiar with exotic applications of sound and sound-based technology. A person that Xavier was on the payroll of right now, technically speaking.

Upshift, seek-and-find, downshift, and a bipedal cheetah popped into existence next to Warren 'Riff' Wilder. "Hi, boss. Don't think we've met, but my name's Jay Xavier, and I got a little problem there's a damn good chance you can solve..."

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And with the sudden appearance of Xavier in the room, Riff was close to chocking on his coke from the cheetahmans appearance. Most of the band members were freaking out just as well. Warren coughed a few times, trying to clear his throat. "Its ok guys! Just one of the techs." He managed to get out. They started to stop panicking, but it was still a little weird to see him in the room. Especially so suddenly.

Finally managing to clear his throat, the guitarist nodded. "OK..Whats going on?" He asked, still a little shaken. "One of the speakers ready to blow? I was picking up some weird noises before."

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Looks like I misjudged their familiarity with me and my tricks, the feline thought as he noted… everyone else's… reaction to his appearance. Oh, well; my bad. He did not even consider apologizing for the shock; given his peculiar appearance—and even more peculiar voice—Xavier simply expected spit-takes and such from people, regardless of what sort of entrance he made.

Finally managing to clear his throat, the guitarist nodded. "OK..Whats going on?" he asked, still a little shaken. "One of the speakers ready to blow? I was picking up some weird noises before."

"Right idea, wrong tech," the feline replied. "Those ultrasonic noises you heard were being emitted by a bunch of little grey pellets…" and he gave Wilder a concise, comprehensive summary of what he'd found, what he'd done, and what he suspected about the source of the hypersound devices. "…that Manderley-slash-Wlodjyka character. I've got the pellets wrapped up in aluminum foil as an impromptu Faraday cage—" Here Xavier pulled a flat, foil-wrapped package out of one vest-pocket. "—so if the gizmoes need an external signal to trigger anything, that signal ain't gonna penetrate the metal. The problem I was hoping you'd help with is, what should we do with the pellets now? I'm not really comfortable with carrying them all on me, but that was the least-worst option I could think of, and I'm hoping you've got some better ideas, like, say, how to deactivate them without tripping any booby-traps they might have been equipped with."

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Riff nodded his head as he listened. Xavier's voice was a little strange to to guitarist, though he guessed it was some sort of voice modulation to compensate for the fact he did not seem to have a human face to communicate properly in human languages. It weird though. "Hmmm...Can I take a look at those? Might be able to get a better idea of what they do exactly." He asked as he carefully opened the foil. He focused for a second and wrapped one of the pellets in a a mix of a sound vibration field and levitated it from its improvised cage. He studied it carefully for a moment, working out as much as he could from sound and its shape. Soon, he started recalling details.

"Yeah...I think I've seen something similar to something A.S.T.R.O was working on. Compact sound amplification technology in conjunction with speakers that could boost sound. There were plans to use if for...I think it was search and rescue operations. Y'know, moving debris or getting people trapped under rubble out collapsed buildings, that sort of thing. Last I heard news of its development dropped off the radar when they found that it only worked well in laboratory conditions but not in real life with variables involved. So on the bright side this isn't going to be an alien pod people situation as far as I can tell." Riff noted as he let the small metal pellet drop into his hand and he lifted up another with his mind. He studied the other, eyes darting between them. "Hm. Kay that's odd. They seem to be amplifying each others sonic waves instead of another sources directly. Feeding off each other. Sound frequency is also changing. Its subtle but..." He paused as he dropped the second pellet into his hand and raised it to his ear. His eye twitched just a little as he struggled to listen. "Sounds a little like speech patterns." He shook his head as he dropped them back into the little Faraday Cage. "That is never a good combination."

"Never heard of this Wlodjyka guy before before but it sounds like he's he might be doing some freelancing for someone. Wouldn't be surprised if it was the Maestro or someone else. Personally I recommend putting these things under a boot and stomping on them. Hard. If that doesn't work separate them, preferably from a long distance from each other so they don't play off each other or sealing them in a sound proof environment. The power supply shouldn't last too long for something this small even if its modded tech." He crossed his arms as he explained it all to the cheetah-man. "By the way, where is he anyway? If he set them up he or someone else might have something that could combine with the sound waves of these things and I am pretty much not looking forward to seeing the end result of that."

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After he handed over one foil-wrapped package of hypersound gizmoes, Xavier observed the Guitar Genius with genuine, evident interest; the feline was mostly a solo act, so he didn't have many opportunities to watch another competent person do their thing.

"Yeah...I think I've seen something similar to something A.S.T.R.O was working on. Compact sound amplification technology in conjunction with speakers that could boost sound…"

Xavier paid close attention to everything Riff said about the little grey pellets; the feline hadn't even considered that A.S.T.R.O. Labs might have any relevance to the problem at hand! Thus, the value of a specialist like Wilder, as compared to a generalist like me.

"Personally, I recommend putting these things under a boot and stomping on them. Hard."

Hmm… Looks like Wilder doesn't think there's any significant chance of a booby-trap. Good to know.

"If that doesn't work separate them, preferably from a long distance from each other so they don't play off each other or sealing them in a sound proof environment. The power supply shouldn't last too long for something this small even if its modded tech."

Xavier nodded. "I'm on it. Betcha the suckers won't survive the impact of a steel hammerhead moving at Mach 4, hrrmmm? I'll leave two of the pellets intact—they could give us a little advance warning when Manderly makes his move, also just in case we need 'em for evidence later—but the rest are toast." So saying, Xavier sliced at the duct-taped package of pellets with his claws, cutting two individual pellets free, each of which he wrapped up in its own EM-blocking shroud of aluminum foil.

"By the way, where is he anyway? If he set them up he or someone else might have something that could combine with the sound waves of these things and I am pretty much not looking forward to seeing the end result of that."

"Not sure where Manderley-slash-Wlodjyka is right this second, but he was within arm's reach of me a few clock-minutes ago, so he's probably in the near vicinity. I also recommend we hold off before we confront the man. If Manderley turns out to not be Wlodjyka, just an innocent dupe of a look-alike, leaning on him would be a mistake; if he is Wlodjyka, we probably don't want to spook the man while there's a friggin' crowd of civilians around."

Then he held one of the two individually-wrapped pellets up for the Guitar Genius to take if he chose. "Okay. One for you, one for me?"

Once that minor question was settled, Xavier gave the Guitar Genius a 'be seeing you' salute and blurred away. At the converted SUV he called home, he paused long enough to pick up a massive ball-peen hammer, then sped off to the shoulder of a nearby highway a couple of miles from where the music festival was occurring. He laid all the pellet-packages down on the asphalt, and then, still maintaining his upshifted tempo of 40, rained supersonic death down on the offending gray pellets at a rate of several score impacts per clock-second…

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The super-fast hammer blows smashed and battered the small pellets into broken and rather sad piles of warped and dented microchips, metal and plastic. As they cracked and bent under the assault, a sudden *POP* resounded in Jay's ears, and he felt a twisting whine like static run through him while a crackling buzz grew around him.

After a few seconds, the hum abruptly ceased, replaced by a slow repeating throb in which the words

Who are you? Where am I?
could be clearly heard.


Blue Jay saw the white-haired woman and blond man stiffen when something on the stage they were watching happened. "Paris, I think that's our cue to leave" the woman said briskly, jumping to her feet and quickly walking out of the park. 'Paris' shrugged, swallowed the last of his drink and followed, tossing the cup in the nearby trashcan.

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Jay pressed her lips together as the pair got up and walked off. Part of her wanted to open fire right now, another part advocated staying in the shadow and following them more, but the young woman was getting anxious. So instead she jumped down and strolled right along behind Paris and the woman. Her arms swung freely, the bow in hand and mask in place, and she whistled tunelessly as she stepped in their footprints.

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Who are you? Where am I?

What the hell..? Xavier thought. Weird. Okay, let's start by triangulating the source of that voice. This was trivially easy; the voice was a highly localized effect which emanated from exactly the spot where Xavier pounded the other pellets into grey dust. Oddly enough, the sole pellet Xavier left intact was not that source—wasn't making any sound whatsoever! Again: What the high holy hell..?

What was going on here? The voice sounded like a lost traveler crying for help, but how accurate was that impression? For all Xavier knew or could tell, the voice might be the bait for some kind of scam. I think… I'll treat it as genuine, and see how that goes.

Xavier moved into the proper position to hear the voice, and spoke in as normal a tone as he could manage: "My name is Jay, I'm not sure where you are. Can you describe what you see around you?"

Now to wait for a response, if any. Should be interesting.

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The voice said quietly and obviously in confusion

I...I can't see anything. I can feel many vibrations around me, m-mostly below. You're Jay? I'm Constance. I..
a horrified tone crept into the voice
I'm not dead am I? Where am I?!


Meanwhile, the time for Riff's band to start grew closer, the crowd swelling with stragglers and people from other bands that had concluded their acts. Vendors of hot dogs, soft drinks and ice cream competed fiercely for customers, almost all of whom were eager to get their hands one something to eat and especially something cold to drink. The speakers were primed, the amps were ready for action, and the smoke machine was unblemished. Everything was ready, with even the faint buzzing noise vanished.

Meanwhile, Wlodjyka had reappeared backstage, lending a deft hand with one of the inexplicable tangles of power cords that arose almost inevitably with music acts. He peered just a bit too closely at the cords, as if looking for something.


The blond man stiffened and glanced back at Blue Jay when she began to whistle, then turned back with remarkable cool to the white-haired woman "'Taker, a cape" he said softly and urgently. Without missing a beat, the white-haired woman swung around and marched up to Blue Jay. "Well?" she said crisply, folding her arms in a confrontational way "Can we help you? We're in a hurry," she added, glancing down the block as if looking for something before turning back to the young heroine "places to be."

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I… I can't see anything. I can feel many vibrations around me, m-mostly below. You're Jay? I'm Constance. I…" A horrified tone crept into the voice. "I'm not dead, am I? Where am I?!"

Hm. Kid sounds like she's ready to lose it. On the assumption that this is for real and not a scam, she needs reassurance. Damn, I wish there were someone available who's, like, good at that kind of thing… "Dead? Doubtful, Constance. You're talking too much to be dead," Xavier replied. "I'm hearing you, and you're obviously hearing me, and since when can a corpse hold up its end of a conversation, hrrrmm? Okay… I can hear you, like I said, but I can't see you. And you can't see where you are. Hrmm. What can you tell me about how you got into, hrr, whatever situation you're in?" Keep her talking, hopefully, that'll help her keep on an even keel.

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The blond man stiffened and glanced back at Blue Jay when she began to whistle, then turned back with remarkable cool to the white-haired woman "'Taker, a cape" he said softly and urgently. Without missing a beat, the white-haired woman swung around and marched up to Blue Jay. "Well?" she said crisply, folding her arms in a confrontational way "Can we help you? We're in a hurry," she added, glancing down the block as if looking for something before turning back to the young heroine "places to be."

Blue Jay gave the pair a bright smile and a quick wave. "" she said, her native language tripping off her tongue lightly. "" She looked at the man, then the woman. ""

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There was a long silence as 'Taker' observed the archer sourly. At last she said irritably in French with a noticeable British accent "<I understand it. I'm English, it isn't uncommon there.>" she narrowed her eyes at Blue Jay "<I'm not fighting some child with a bow, just to make that clear. If you press the issue I'll just have this gentleman>" she jerked her right thumb at Paris standing silently next to her "<Hold you still while we go on our way. Your choice>" she stated grimly. Paris looked much less certain about that idea, but said nothing.


The sound seemed to relax, calming and slowing.

I-I thought I was a ghost or something, because I can't feel anything or see anything
she explained nervously, sounding more than a little embarrassed at voicing the idea.
Um, I think it was when I stepped into that glowy thing at the university. You know, that new device they're showing in the Complutense University?
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The sound seemed to relax, calming and slowing. "I-I thought I was a ghost or something, because I can't feel anything or see anything," she explained nervously, sounding more than a little embarrassed at voicing the idea.

Xavier nodded. "Sure; you're in a real weird place. So of course your brain is scrambling for any explanation it can find. But weird place or no, I'm thinking it'll be easier for you to figure out what's happened if you can manage to keep your head, okay?"

"Um, I think it was when I stepped into that glowy thing at the university. You know, that new device they're showing in the Complutense University?"

"Complutense?" Xavier said, puzzled for a short moment—and then he recalled where he'd heard of the place, and why. Universidad Complutense, located in Madrid, was one of the most-respected centers of higher learning in Spain, and a few weeks back, it had hosted an exhibition of superscientific devices which manipulated sound in interesting ways… one of which was a transducer that could convert any energy into sound. And the Universidad shut this exhibition down, after some sort of tragedy which wasn't described in detail in the reports Xavier had read… The feline didn't like the picture that was forming in his mind. "Damn. You're a long way from home, Constance: This is the United States—Freedom City, to be more precise. Okay… What can you tell me about the 'glowy thing' you stepped into?" Xavier hoped he was wrong about what had happened to Constance. He sincerely hoped he was wrong…

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