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Re-Gifting (IC)


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December 6th, 2012

4:45 PM

Hanover, Freedom City


Dawes Tech's campus was rather impressive, even among all the high-tech companies that crowded the far northern border of Freedom City. A huge building with a triangular footprint, the points lopped off to make corner offices, it was all faced in black-tinted windows that reflected the square lab building across the way. It was also a perfect mirror as spherical ships dropped out of the low cloud cover and opened fire on the labs.

One particular ship, larger than the rest, settled down in the parking lot and opened a ramp from its underside. Troops spilled out and marched into the lab, futuristic weapons held at the ready.

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Jessica Parker was in the bowels of the Lab in Hanover, looking over data scrolling down a screen, shoulder to shoulder with a man twice her age. "Well I don't understand where the energy pulse came from, then," she said to the older scientist. "The dimensional viewer is strictly a one-way passage of information, there's no chance something could have tracked back down it. It's like saying that someone swings on sunlight, it's a logical --" Her phone buzzed abruptly with a distinctive and she paused, digging it out. A quick swipe and she checked the message. "DS TK ATKED" it read, and her blood started pounding in her ears even as her fingers and toes tingled with the adrenaline rush. "We'll have to finish this later, Dr. Siddig." She dashed for the exit and touched the bracelet she wore; in a flash of light she was surrounded by armor, and Ironclad was on the scene.

The young hero didn't wait for an elevator car. She overrode the door controls and jetted up the shaft, dragging a whirlwind behind her and causing a flurry in the lobby as she blew out the exit. Once in the open air she bent her path west and increased velocity. Someone had just attacked her grandfather's second legacy, and that someone was about to have a very bad day.

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Ah, patrolling! For the young Bee-Keeper III, the familiar sensation of fresh air against his face and the security of steel around his otherwise vulnerable form was always what he looked forward to after school. Sure, the excuses were becoming trivial at this point, what with his parents both constantly busy with the years' festivities on the way intermingled with their own conflicting work schedules, but it also meant that getting out of class late or 'hanging out with friends' were less prominently necessary. He could just strap on the yellow-and-gold armor, and off he went, eager to keep his beloved Freedom City just a little safer another day.

It always gave Baxter a bit of a rush when he looked down from his lofty cloud-laden view, surveying the metropolitan city below as though it were some living form of art. Even here in Hanover, the lively streets from above looked like a little racetrack with ants scurrying across a field of pitch black, pressed for time as they rushed to or from wherever they'd skittered away from originally. Nice and peaceful. Maybe today would be easy!

Then again...

From his sky-bound vantage point, something peculiar caught his eye. The Bee-Keeper III slowed to a crawl, mechanical wings beating furiously as he stared on curiously at the very out-of-place spectacle below as he peeked over a convenient cloud to survey the situation. Below him, numerous round-ish things - ships, Baxter guessed - were unloading their ordnance against the offices whilst another, larger sphereoid entity seemed keen on depositing ant-sized troops within the parking lot. Whatever was going on didn't look good, and these foreign aggressors were clearly no friends of the business center! There had to be more here than met the eye.

"Man, things never go smoothly," Baxter sighed, shaking his head at the sight of the attacking forces back on ground level. There was no time to dilly-dally! If there was anyone inside those offices, they were likely in for a rude awakening once those mysterious goons got through the doors. The Hero of the Hive had to act quickly; there was no telling what nefarious ne'er-do-well was responsible for this, but it couldn't have been a social call. Bolting his way down to the street and kicking up a nice trail of fallen leaves across the sidewalk, the armored avenger streaked just barely a foot above the pavement and whizzed passed several of the armed soldiers toting their hoity-toity weapons of tomorrow before coming to a stop just outside of one of the office buildings' front entrances.

"Hold it right there, evildoerzz!" ordered the Bee-Keeper III, holding up an open palm in an attempt to deter the troops from continuing and striking an overblown heroic pose as he did so. "I don't know who you guyzz are, but unlezz you wanna mezz with the Bee-Keeper, you'd better juzzt zzurrender. Tell your zzilly looking zzpace zzhipzz to dizzarm, and we can juzzt... I dunno, do the whole peazzeful rezzolution thing inzztead of me having to kick your buttz!"

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The soldiers, dressed in blue in grey uniforms and bearing battle rifles, were brought up short by the Apian Avenger, but not for long. Before he was even through with his speech, two of the soldiers were already bringing their rifles to bear and firing at him! It seemed like the weapons fire was more to pin him down, though, since the rest of the soldiers just moved around the Bee-Keeper and into the lab building.

Overhead, the attack spheres circled around and prepared to add their firepower to the action down below, but Ironclad's green and gold armor flashed out of the sky and she blasted the side off of one with a concentrated burst from her wrist cannons! The sphere slammed into the ground hard enough to make windows shatter. The other two spheres reacted quickly, though, turning and hammering the flying hero with a barrage of energy bolts. They apparently managed to hit something vital because Ironclad suddenly fell from the sky like a rock, bouncing as she hit the pavement.

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Surprised that the hail of gunfire wasn't pelting him, the Bee-Keeper was even more shocked to see the armed goons barreling past him! The nerve of some people! They didn't even let him finish his speech! Regardless, it was painfully evident that these armed nutjobs weren't here for any sort of social event - at least not one that was meant to end pleasantly. This was all business; and it reeked of being on the nefarious end of practices. Whatever their reasoning, no doubt the heavily-armed patrons besieging the building had nothing but malign plans for their dastardly visit.

"Alright, you wanna do it the hard way? We can do it the hard way," the Bee-Keeper snapped back as he narrowly avoided the fire headed his way, cracking the metal knuckles of the gauntlets adorning his hands menacingly in retaliation. Some crooks just never listened to reason. But before the Hero of the Hive could begin his counter-attack against the vast array of troops and their flying transports, something spectacular interrupted him. From the sky came another figure clad in green-and-gold armor, and in its uproarious descent came with it a thunderous klaxon from the wrists. In a flash, one of the gigantic sphere-shaped vessels came crashing down as its side paneling was viciously blown away, inevitably becoming little more than a smoking husk against the blacktop below. Whoever this armored woman was, she meant business!

Alas, so did the other aircraft in the vicinity. With vicious retribution, the pair of remaining airborne vehicles let loose their own barrage of blasts, the Bee-Keeper III watching with wide-eyes behind his bee-themed mask as they struck true and the interceding heroine was laid low, bouncing off of the asphalt with enough force to make young Baxter Bowles wince in pain.

"Oh no! Not good!"

Suddenly, the Bee-Keeper was faced with a perilous decision. No doubt if he left the intervening individual where she was, the other ships might focus fire on her whilst he attempted to deal with the invading ground forces. On the other hand, if he moved to destroy the large crafts raining bolts of energy from the sky down, who knew what the remaining men in the grey and blue uniforms with the sophisticated weapons would do - perhaps go after the injured hero, or maybe continue on and put whomever was inside the spiffy looking buildings at risk? None were options Baxter liked. Smacking his teeth and twitching his antennae to survey his surroundings, he needed to come up with something quick. And quick it did, as the idea hit him: perhaps he could rescue the armor clad vigilante and still cut off the encroaching ground forces breaching the building! It was a dangerous gambit, but, perhaps, the pros outweighed the cons... or, at the least, the Bee-Keeper hoped so.

In a flurry of movement, the yellow-and-gold battlesuit bearer made a beeline for his fallen colleague, leaving the goons brandishing their weapons behind him in the dust as he zoomed through the air. Taking advantage of the Bee-Keeper Armor's superior strength and maneuverability, Baxter scooped up the downed madam in metal and turned tail, moving with breakneck speed... right back towards the office he was safeguarding only seconds prior! It might have been reckless - foolhardy, even! - as the duo raced through the air, the Bee-Keeper and his toted companion passing the armed troops yet again as he flew them through one of the shattered windows, desperate to find some kind of shelter before the assaultees shifted their focus from whatever was inside to the pair of heroes barging their way inside.

"Geezz! Are you okay?" asked the concerned insectile interceptor once he'd found suitable protection from the men sweeping the building. It wasn't going to be much of a reprieve; with all that was going on, every second counted. But still, the Bee-Keeper was worried the attack against the armored entity had taken its toll, ogling the scorch marks from the blaster fire worriedly. "C'mon, tell me you're zzolid. We don't have a lot of time. Whoever thezze guyzz are, they mean buzinezz. Zzeriouzz buzinezz."

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Ironclad's suit didn't look pretty. There were metal fragments embedded all along the right side, and the flight thrusters were leaking black smoke. Inside the armor, Jessica Parker blink-clicked through menus at rapid speed, assessing the damage from within. It wasn't as bad as it looked; mainly an energy feedback loop that had tripped the safeties on the thruster units and locked the suit's 'muscles' into place. It had also shorted out her HUD, so she was only vaguely aware of being lifted and moved. She could barely hear a voice from outside, but without the suit's pick-ups it was muffled and unintelligible.

Then she hit the fast restarts and the suit flickered back to life in seconds. She sagged in the Bee-Keeper's arms as he laid her on the ground. The helmet unfolded and she shook her head, focusing on the black-and-yellow helmet. "I'll... I'll be alright," she insisted. "I just need a second to power up the peripheral systems. Although the flight systems need to be switched out for --"

Whatever she was going to switch them out for, she never got a chance to say. The assault soldiers, tracking the armored hero through the skies, managed to find the impromptu shelter without much trouble. While the rest of the squad leveled their weapons at the structure, two of the men pulled grenades off their belts, primed them, and tossed them over. Jessica saw the olive-green spheres pass overhead and her words ended in a terror-filled squeak. She instinctively pulled herself into a ball as the charges went off and the world was filled with light and noise.

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Glad to hear that the young lady was relatively unharmed despite the dastardly amount of damage done to her battlesut, a small sigh escaped the Bee-Keeper's lips. As the helm of her suit retracted, the incognito teen hero couldn't blame the auburn haired heroine for trying to shake the cobwebs from her head, clearly cemented on seeing this odd and abrupt tussle played out to its entirety. But even more commendable than her willingness to continue onward was her apparent knowledge of all things gizmo-ish; a trait the Bee-Keeper sorely lacked despite his abundantly potent suit encasing his body.

But all that technobabble left him unawares to the true danger moving to flank the duo. When Ironclad's elaborate explanation fell to the wayside in favor of a squeak of fright and she curled herself defensively, the Bee-Keeper gave her an odd look, all but oblivious to the pair of grenades arcing over his head. Only when they clattered to the ground in front of the pair of hunkered-down heroes did Baxter's eyes go wide behind the insectile helmet.

"Aww, nutzz," he murmured just before they exploded, showering him and his compatriot with shrapnel. As the Bee-Keeper was peppered with the flurry of explosive residue, he winced and let loose a low "Urk!" as a familiar soreness plucked at his torso. While the suit remained unscathed, its unfortunate passenger was not, and the young Hero of the Hive could already feel the welt forming where the jostling blow had caused him to buck right into the suit forcibly.

"Oww! Thozze thingzz hurt!" he wheezed out in his modulated voice, rubbing his steely abs with a gauntlet-clad hand where small fragments of steel had lodged themselves lightly, stripping away some of the fine paint he'd so lovingly applied and revealing its shiny, silvery underbelly. "I don't know who thezze guyzz are, but they're really zztarting to tick me off. You zztay here; I'll take care of thezze jerkzz!"

Darting out from the unsafe shelter he'd whisked the pretty young woman in the battlesuit behind, Baxter winced as he felt the strain on his newest injuries. But there was no time for bellyaching; if there were any civilians inside, they would be subject to the same explosive viciousness of these unknown adversaries as well. He had to keep them safe, and the only way the Bee-Keeper knew how to do that was to deliver the sting of justice!

"You azzked for thizz!" shouted the Bee-Keeper as he rushed the high-tech goons, poised to administer a whole world of hurt as he clenched his fists tightly in preparation for the ensuing blow. Time to put all that stuff he picked up from Erik to use!

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Apparently what Baxter had learned was very effective. He wove among the soldiers with surprising grace, deflecting blows off his armored forearms and striking back. It helped that they only seemed to be wearing flak vests, and so folded after only a few blows. Before he knew it he was surrounded by the unconscious or groaning bodies of the paramilitary goons.

Ironclad picked herself up, shaking her head to get the dust out of her hair. She looked at the downed soldiers and whistled shortly. "Nice job," she said, moving out from around the cover. "I would've just blasted them, but this is much nicer on the furniture." The helmet came out and around again and soon she was looking at the world through the enhanced view of her HUD. The building shook suddenly, and the pair of heroes could hear the whining energy blasts from outside. "We need to get back out there and get those spheres out of the air," Ironclad said, "before they bring the roof in!" She turned and leapt into the air -- only to fall on her face, the thrusters at the back of her suit sparking wildly. "Dammit, they really did a number on the suit. Oh well, guess it's the ten toes express!" Metal feet clanking and remembering to breath deeply, Ironclad began to run towards the nearest exit.

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Admiring his handiwork for only a moment, the Bee-Keeper brimmed at the sweet satisfaction of justice intermingled with a tinge of revenge. He might not have been a master of unarmed combat, but he didn't have to be so long as the battlesuit did most of the heavy lifting. Still, there was something to be said about dispatching an entourage of paramilitary hacks with nothing but one's mitts - gauntlets or not.

"Zzee? All you guyzz had to do wazz put down your gunzz, and we could've gone out for donutzz or zzomething," snerked the armored avenger before turning on his heels. "No one ever wantzz to juzzt get donutzz."

The battle wasn't over though. Oh, no. Not by a long shot. Whoever was behind this debacle had to be in one of those ships the young battlesuit wearing woman was rushing back off towards on her 'ten toes express,' as she so charmingly put it. Regardless of whether the mastermind was or not, Ironclad still made a solid point: it wasn't going to do the Bee-Keeper much good in thwarting the boarding party if the building just fell down on whomever may or may not still be inside. Speaking from personal experience, having a roof fall on your head isn't all it was cracked up to be!

"Hey, wait up!" the Bee-Keeper buzzed, fluttering after the grounded redhead as she darted off back towards the fracas outside. If nothing else, at least he could admire her spunky drive for saving the day even with her suit less than fully functional.

Arriving back on the scene, the Bee-Keeper looked skywards towards the pair of remaining aircraft bombarding the buildings with their blasters. Between the two of them, despite the minor setbacks they'd incurred, Baxter was still confident that this was going to be a piece of cake - provided no more mishaps blindsided the techno-team.

"Dibzz on that one!" announced the Hero of the Hive, pointing an open palm towards one of the floating spheres of doom. With a concussive thump, the dark-striped bee-themed vigilante fired off a blast of energy from his hand with unnerving accuracy, thanks to the helpful little bee within the HUD doing the aiming.

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The tremendous blast reached up and swatted the sphere from the sky, the side of the machine bursting into smoke and flames before crashing down. Ironclad exited the building not far behind the Bee-Keeper: her blood was up and it didn't take long for her systems to lock onto the last sphere in the sky. She brought both wrist blasters up and shot it with an overcharged blast that blew it up in the sky and left burning metal fragments raining down.

With the assault thwarted for the moment, Ironclad relaxed a touch and made her way over to one of the downed spheres. "It's time to figure out where these guys came from," she said. Routing power to her servo muscles, she ripped open the skin of the machine with brute, brutal force. Her skilled eye traced back connections to a heavily-armored computer drive buried near the center of the machine. She carefully snipped the connections before pulling it free and looking it over. "Titanium shell," she observed, turning it over in her hands, "looks like a single casting with no weld marks. Which suggests that all of it was assembled micro-scale inside the shell. Interesting. I should be able to get through it with the diamond saw..."

She looked up and walked back to the Bee-Keeper. "Hey. I don't suppose you'd be willing to drop me off at my apartment? I need to crack this case, and my thrusters are out, so..."

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Shielding his eyes as the last of the aerial assault craft was blown to smithereens, the Bee-Keeper brimmed with enthusiasm. Maybe it was just luck, or just the vastly superior firepower between Ironclad and himself, but whatever it was Baxter was nothing but grateful that their adversaries had been wholly dealt with.

"Nizze zzhot!" exclaimed the bee-themed teenager, his modulated voice simulating a much older persona inside. His counterpart certainly packed a wallop with those wrist-mounted blasters, easily rending the comparatively fragile ship asunder. It was the first time he'd seen another person in a battlesuit; doubly so for one in-action. From his point of view, Baxter never really thought much about just how devastating a suit of powered armor could be; in fact, he always felt lackluster in comparison to other superheroes - and even super villains! - who could just conjure their might at a whim. He wasn't so lucky in the genetics or mishaps department, but now, seeing Ironclad in action, he at least felt some self-worth in what a little technological advancement could accomplish.

"Uh... zzure. Zzure, I can give you a lift," the Hero of the Hive finally replied, somewhat stunned by all the technobabble spewed out by the pretty auburn-haired woman as he tried to wrap his brain around some of the jargon. It was the least he could do with her suit in such disarray. "What about the goonzz with the high-tech gunzz? We zzhould probably call the copzz or zzomething firzzt, juzzt in-cazze."

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Ironclad frowned beneath her mask. "No doubt someone's already called it in, but if it makes you feel better I'll make the call in the air. But I need to get going, I need to get a look at this computer case!"

With the Bee-Keeper's strength and speed, it wasn't long before they were landing on Ironclad's concrete patio. She walked up to the French door and punched in a combination on a keypad installed next to it; locks disengaged and she threw open the doors, striding into the apartment and making a beeline for the spiral staircase in the center. "I need to put this up in my workspace," she said over her shoulder. "Make yourself at home! There's, uh, water and pop and stuff in the fridge."

The young genius reigned herself in from rushing up the stairs full-tilt, since that would probably break the wooden steps and she couldn't very well fly up just at the moment. So she took them in slow, measured steps, until she was past her bedroom and up to the third floor. Whistling a tune to herself, she dug out a bundle of wires and starting threading connections. A few moments of twisting and soldering later and the apartment's mini-frame was connected and working on downloading and deciphering the data contained inside the drive.

Now came the more important task. The armored heroine carefully disengaged the separate sections of her armored suit, removing the clamshell helmet, the articulated gauntlets, and the several segments that made up the back- and breastplates. Then the vambraces, greaves, boots -- in a few minutes the entire suit was laid out on a workbench, opposite the armored disc drive that was humming away. Now standing just in her flight suit, Jessica turned over the backplate, greaves, and boots, revealing the damaged segments. An automated scanner swung down from the ceiling and made a 3D mock-up of the armor. Reaching in to manipulate the floating image, the young woman set a quick order of repairs for the automated systems. It wouldn't be pretty, but it would hold together until she got her hands on whoever it was that attacked Dawes Tech.

With the repairs in motion and the computer working on the drive, Jessica headed back down. She hoped the Bee-Keeper wouldn't be one of those stoic types who refused to relax until the job was done.

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After depositing Ironclad at her sweet digs, Baxter aptly did as he was bade - and why not? It would have been rude to tell the young lady no after she was nice enough to let him rummage around in her fridge! Besides, thwarting ne'er-do-wells and paramilitary thugs ransacking high tech office pavilions was thirsty work. With the girl genius up-and-away in what Baxter could only presume was a land of science beyond his scope of reasoning, he instead busied himself scoping out the supposed pop within the stocked shelves of the woman's refrigerator, thirst gnawing at his very being as he entered the apartment's kitchen. Sure enough, there inside its fabled contents sat a beverage worthy of Baxter's stock - sweet, delicious, sugary soda!

Carefully peering over his shoulder to make sure the auburn egghead hadn't made a stealthy return, the heavily armored hero removed the canned liquid treat, then almost reflexively looked behind himself again like a child rifling through the cookie jar when he ought not to be. The coast clear, Baxter did something foolhardy - a rookie mistake if ever there was one. Disengaging the pressure seals around the neck of the helmet with a sharp hiss, the dark-skinned young man cracked the canned beverage's top with a swift press of his metal fingers, and pushed up his helm with his other free hand just enough to expose his mouth. In a few swift gulps, the refreshing liquid rejuvenated the bruised battlesuit bearer, struggling to banish both his thirst and the uncomfortable sweat he'd built up battling those mysterious armed men at the Dawes Tech facilities through the cool drink. Sometimes it was the simple things that made it all the heroic shenanigans bearable!

Letting go of his helmet and letting it seal itself back in place again, the Bee-Keeper promptly smashed the canister against his reinforced noggin with a low clink as the aluminum folded like cheap... well, like aluminum, oblivious to Jessica's return from her upstairs foray.

"Oh! Uh... hey!" he waved awkwardly as he whirled to meet his host, his other hand filled with the crushed contents of his delectable reward for a job well-done. Out of her hulking suit, the scientific bon vivant certainly left a vivid - albeit different - impression. Hopefully she hadn't caught him in the act of being all non-stoic and whatnot, though he was grateful at least that he hadn't completely removed his headgear.

"Zzo... nizze plazze," hummed the Hero of the Hive as he struggled to find a trashcan to deposit his destroyed goods in. "I wazz zzort of exxpecting, y'know, giant robot butlerzz and a zztuff, but thizz izz cool, too," he halfheartedly joked as he meandered back into the room and away from the oh-so-tempting refrigerator's siren song. Truthfully, Baxter was excited! He'd never met another person in a battlesuit before, and the exhilaration was obvious in his tone as he peered around the apartment, still unawares of just who exactly this lady was. He had so many questions! But he had to play it cool; the last thing he wanted to do was come off as some naive, wet-behind-the-ears, inexperienced hack finagling his way through the superhero game.

"I'm the Bee-Keeper. The Bee-Keeper III - no relation to thozze other guyzz," explained the yellow-and-gold apiary avenger, careful to put extra emphasis on that last part. "Guezz I probably zzhoulda azzked you for your name before, y'know, ranzzacking your fridge. Thankzz for the zzoda, by the way."

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Jessica looked between the armored figure and the crushed can and couldn't help but smile. "It's the least I could do," she said, laughter just under her voice as she retrieved a glass of water from the kitchen sink. She followed him into the sitting area in front of the big-screen TV and sat down on the couch, before leaning back and stretching out on the length of it. "I'm Ironclad," she said. "Or Jessica Parker, I suppose, when I'm out of the armor." She wiggled her tabi-socked feet, enjoying the unusual feeling of being in the semi-constricting flight suit, but not surrounded by tightly-fitted metal plates. "I really should thank you for your help, though. If you hadn't been around, those spheres would've really ruined my day."

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"Hey, it'zz all good," dismissed the Bee-Keeper with a friendly wave and a hidden smile, albeit slightly taken aback by her willingness to divulge her secret identity. Her openness about her secret identity felt both refreshing, yet oddly displacing for the boy. He'd never met someone so open about their heroic antics, and this lady didn't seem at all phased by either his lineage nor her introduction. It was a nice change of pace for Baxter to actually know someone who was a superhero in Freedom City, rather than just knowing the heroic identity hidden behind the visage. "It wazz a team effort, y'know?"

"Zzo... you zzure you're okay?" he asked, feeling like a broken record as he plopped down in a nearby chair, a discernibly heavy creak as his weighty physique sank into the cushion. Still, the sight of the sassy scientist plummeting to the ground below was a painful sight for Baxter, who would have likely been feeling that particular blow for days on end afterwards - and, more likely than not, whined about it the whole day. "Zzorry. Haha, I probably zzeem weird to azzk again and zztuff. It'zz juzzt, man, that fall was fierzze!" the still-armored vigilante chimed, animated limbs re-enacting Ironclad's crash landing like a poor man's mime.

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Jessica shook her head. "My pride was hurt more than anything else." Which didn't mean her ribs didn't sting a bit, but she'd had worse in her career. "I really shouldn't have charged in there without a plan, but I was just so angry." She put her head back and stared at the ceiling. "My grandfather founded Dawes Tech, and... he's very important to me. Or he was, anyway." She glanced over at the Bee-Keeper and wondered why she was opening up like this. Her 'civilian' identity was public knowledge and anyone could look up the history of Dawes Tech, but she couldn't say why she was telling all this to a hero she had just met.

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Somewhat surprised again by Jessica's willingness to share, Baxter sat stark still as he listened to the girl's explanation. It wasn't exactly the response he was expecting, but the young armored teenager still hiding behind his heroic facade couldn't help but lean forward in his chair, emitting another creek as the weight of the conversation shifted almost fully.

"You guyzz muzzt have been clozze," the Bee-Keeper buzzed back lightly, unsure how best to respond. He'd never had to deal with the loss of a loved one personally, but he understood at least on some level how the young lady must have felt. He'd have probably flung himself straight into the fray too if someone had attacked his dad's legacy. "I'm zzorry to hear he'zz gone."

That awkward feeling once more prevailed. But there was a strange sense of elation associated with his awkwardness. He'd never had someone so boldly have such a conversation with him. It was odd; Baxter couldn't quite put his finger on it, but there was a bizarre sense of comfortableness with the female battlesuit bearer wiggling her toes on the sofa. Maybe it was her lack of a real secret identity, though his knowledge on the who's who in the superheroic community was sorely lacking if Jessica had never had one to begin with. Regardless, it was nice to feel so welcome in the community for a change of pace.

"Did you find out anything about the guyzz who attacked Dawezz while I wazz, uh, raiding your fridge?" inquired the bumblebee bruiser, clearing his throat as he did so. "Had to have been after zzomething, right? They were... I dunno, organizzed. Dizziplined. And did you zzee thozze riflezz? Yikezz!"

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"I've seen lots of mercenary outfits that'll attack superheroes," Jessica said softly. "And it's not so crazy a notion if they were expecting to be in and out before anyone knew they were there. I guess it was... well, I guess it was kind of lucky that you were there. I've got my personal mainframe working on the drive I pulled out of the wrecked sphere," she added. "Once I manage to break through the encryption and actually get to the data, then we should be able to figure out where the thing came from."

Jessica fell took a swallow of water and fell silent for a long minute. When she spoke up again it was hesitantly. "So you're the... um, the new Bee-Keeper, then?"

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It struck the Bee-Keeper as peculiar that so many mercenaries would risk life and limb raiding anything even remotely close to Freedom City, given its booming heroic population. Still, it made a strange sort of sense, and it was rather fortuitous that the Hero of the Hive just happened along in the nick of time. Had he not been so lucky, things could have likely ended in a wholly different manner - a manner of which Baxter wasn't too keen on pondering given the weaponry the goons were brandishing. At the mention of her mainframe prying the info free from the contents of the destroyed sphere attacking Dawes Tech, the Bee-Keeper nodded his agreement. The sooner they knew what this whole fiasco was about, the sooner they could put the perpetrator behind bars!

Baxter drifted from the scene for just a moment, only to be brought back to reality by Jessica's newest query. He perked up slightly, both dreading the explanation yet excited to clear the air if she thought he was some villainous cad.

"Yep!" Bee-Keeper chimed, straightening up from his slouched position with a low groan from his comfy chair. "Third in a long line of crazzy kookzz with a thing for beezz. Y'know, sanzz the villainouzz zztuff. And, whoo, talk about an uphill battle there!" he laughed, returning to his more comfortable positon and resting his elbows upon his metallic knees as he looked to his host lounging on the sofa.

"Uzzed to bee that every zzuperhero in Freedom wanted to deck me in the fazze. Fleur'zz really done a lot for me; putting in a word that I'm not zzome inzzane criminal or up to no good. It'zz hard enough fighting guyzz with flying zzaucerzz without zzome new hero trying to make a name outta me!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Fleur de Joie's word counts for an awful lot," Jessica agreed. The hero's story of trying to make a name for himself separate from the others that had worn the armor touched something in Jessica. The revelation of her grandfather's actions while the first Ironclad had shook her, and made her reconsider her choice to wear the armor. She had come through the other side, but she could commiserate with some of what the new Bee-Keeper had felt when he decided to take up the mantle.

"I can actually kind of imagine what it would be like to fight another superhero," she said, casting her mind back a couple of years, grinning. "In fact when I was just getting started I --" The story was interrupted when her silvery bracelet began vibrating. She touched it and sat up, tapping the low coffee table in the middle of the arrangement of furniture. "Seems like we have something," she murmured.

The big-sceen TV at the focus of the furniture woke up, revealing a computer's desktop. The wallpaper was quickly replaced by a series of windows, which Jessica began to flip through with dazzling speed. She typed at the table like it was a keyboard, and maybe it was because before long the screen was displaying a satellite topography image. "New Jersey," Jessica said helpfully. A red line appeared at the northernmost point of the state and followed a blue line to the ocean, then followed the coast south. "They traveled underwater," Jessica noted, admiration tinging her voice. "That's why no radar tower caught them. Smart." The line reached Freedom City and stopped, but Jessica was already zooming in on the red line's origin.

"High Point State Park." A few more tapped commands and the window split, the left half opening up a Wikipedia article. "Highest point in the state of New Jersey," she read off. "Well it would be. Otherwise that name would just be silly." Jessica sat back, leaving the map up on the screen. She looked across at Bee-Keeper. "I hope that armor is waterproof," she said.

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Keenly listening first to the young lady's tale, Baxter's enthusiasm quickly shifted to that of intrigue as her funky bracelet signaled her. It wasn't long before his own eyes were tracking the mysterious red line across New Jersey, blinking in momentary surprise as the computer soon revealed the starting location of the mysterious craft that had besieged them.

"Guezz we're about to find out," laughed Baxter, trying hard not to seem overwhelmed by the uncomfortable prospect of drowning. Giving the seat he'd taken up a reprieve and letting the cushion reshape itself from its sagging and disfigured form, Baxter was greeted by the familiar twinge of pain as he rose, a reminder of the painful welt he'd picked up from the armed goons who'd stormed Dawes Tech. He was eager to get to the bottom of this; to find out why they were so keen on raiding it. Jessica probably was, too, he wagered.

"Let'zz get thizz zzhow on the road."

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Jessica sprang up from the couch. There was a dull ache all along her left side where she had hit the ground, but youthful exuberance let her act like it wasn't there. "I'll be just a minute," she said, dashing up two flights of stairs to her workroom. The computer had done its job; while it was cracking the disc's encryption, the waldos had been at work repairing her suit. It certainly did not look nice, what with the jets unpainted and bolted on, but it would fly.

She redressed and came down the stairs more carefully, testing her increased weight on each step before committing. Before long she was standing on her porch again, ramping up the jets slowly to see if they could take the strain. They rattled a bit as they settled into the mountings, but before long she was hovering solidly above the concrete. "We'll make a bee-line," she said, winking at her ally behind her helmet. "No reason to hide we're coming, if they know we took down their attack drones!" With that she was off and streaking through the sky.

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Following right behind Jessica after she took off and cracking a smile at her pun, Baxter was all too happy to take the direct approach. Leave all that sneaking stuff to people like the Raven and Foreshadow. The sooner they got there, the sooner they could kick these guys' butts! The sooner their butts were kicked, the sooner Dawes Tech would be nice and safe from any future attempts! Nice and simple.

"Zzoundzz good to me!" buzzed the Bee-Keeper in response as he closed in alongside Ironclad, trying hard not to dwell on the aspect of submerging himself underwater in a giant metal suit. "We zzhow up, punch zzome badguyzz, they zzpill the beanzz about their plan, and then we ruin it. Couldn't bee too hard if thozze guyzz ranzzacking Dawezz are all we've gotta deal with."

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Ironclad lead the way, cutting a path through the skies, the Bee-Keeper easily keeping up in his yellow-and-black armor. In no time at all they left they urban sprawl behind and were rocketing over farmland. Ironclad kept a careful eye on her airspeed indicator, throttling back on the thrust until they were traveling at just below the speed of sound. Inside her soundproofed and insulted metal shell, Ironclad's world was silent. After a moment she opened up communications with Bee-Keeper's suit. "I like traveling up here," she admitted to him. "It's peaceful. I can't imagine what it's like for some of the natural fliers, like Fulcrum. Being able to go high up, or even into space, whenever you want must be amazing. Just to get away from everything and everyone for a few minutes."

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"I know whatcha mean," Baxter hummed back, following Ironclad's lead and keeping his own speed in-check. "It'zz like... when I firzzt zztarted flying in the zzuit, I wazz zzcared to death. Alwayzz thought I'd hit a tree, or a building or zzomething," the Bee-Keeper laughed, looking down on the scenic vista from above as they swooped ever closer to their destination. "It'zz nizze though; makezz me feel free. Maybe not azz, y'know, free azz zzomeone who can fly on their own, but it'zz got itzz perkzz. The peazzeful zzort of quiet givezz you time to think."

The Bee-Keeper paused for a moment, before turning to the armored lady beside him.

"At leazzt our zzuitzz have one thing goin' for em' that mozzt heroezz who can fly don't. We don't have to worry about catching bugzz in our teeth!"

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