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A pair of Masks in civilian guise casually strode through the doors of HAX's Hanover headquarters, each with a small arsenal on their person. The male was a tired-looking twentysomething, with a couple of day's stubble and a mop of sandy brown hair hanging to the nape of his neck. He wore a loose, baggy black coat over a thick sweater and cargo pants. Beneath them, he wore a belt with a small arsenal of shuriken, a collapsible four foot long taser, and a handful of more advanced items. 


The female was slightly shorter and less disheveled looking, dark hair pulled up in a ponytail. She wore a plain white blouse over black slacks, with a battered looking leather jacket atop it all. She was less heavily armed, with nothing but an extendable metal rod tucked into one of her boots, and a belt around her waist with a control panel slung off to the side and hidden by the jacket.


"I think this is where she works..." pondered Chris Kenzie, casually looking around the foyer.


"Think, Kenzie? Could you be somewhat clearer?" came the exasperated reply of Liz Lawlett beside him. "Does she even know we're coming?"


Geckoman waved one hand airily. "Maybe. I've been busy."


At which point, unbeknownst to them, their hardware triggered the alarm systems.

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Moments after the pair walked in, the side door of the lobby opened and a half-dozen men and women in drab blue uniforms stepped out. Moving with the smooth precision of training, they fanned out into a semi-circle that would allow the pair to retreat to the street if they wanted, but advance no further. At the center point of the semi-circle was a familiar face, carrying a familiar bat still collapsed in her hand. 


It took only a second for Erin to recognize her old teammate, even without his extraordinarily loud costume on. "Chris?" she asked in surprise. "What are you doing here? And are you trying to start a war or something?" After the events of the past several months, familiarity wasn't quite enough to get her to relax, but she did hold up a hand to keep her team back for the moment. 

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Chris's face broke out into a broad smile for a moment as he recognized Erin. Which swiftly faded to a half-grin when he realised she hadn't called off her team immediately, and was just holding them off for a second. "Hey, Erin!" In the past, he would have immediately rushed forward, but with age brings wisdom, and with wisdom comes the proverb of 'no sudden movements when people might hit you for doing them'. "Um... long time no see?"


"People you've not seen in ages rush out to you with full security. Why aren't I surprised?" said Liz airily, slowly moving one hand towards her hip.


"No," said Chris quickly, shaking his head at her. "Anyway, we're here to see Mara. We... well, we don't work together per se, but she's a..." He knew Mara was out, but he didn't know how publically. I mean, he only met her around the Interceptors, and bar him they were all practically in-laws to her. He also didn't know if her employees knew about her extracurricular career. "Friend... yeah, friend of one of the people I work with. Eliza Espadas?" he finished cautiously.


"And we're not trying to start a war, we brought technology into a technology company." Liz looked like she wanted to shoot, but had her jaw firmly clenched. "It's pertinent to what we wanted to talk to Miss Hallomen about."


"Very pertinent," nodded Chris.


"Really the whole purpose, if anything."


"She's an entrepreneur!"


"Stop helping."


Chris took a couple of cautious steps forwards slowly, ending up looking like a cross between a waddle and a swagger. "Really, tell her 'Goggles wants a word'. Come on, Erin, you know I wouldn't cause trouble... well, not on purpose."


"Really stop helping."

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"You know, there's a remarkable piece of technology called a telephone that most of our contractors use when they're bringing tech in or arranging an interview," Erin pointed out sardonically, but she did relent enough to have her team stand down. They didn't leave, but they didn't look ready to rush into the fray, either. "Ms. Hallomen has a tight schedule," Erin told the pair, "and if what's on the scanner is what you're bringing to show her, she's not going to be interested. HAX isn't a weapons company." That was firm enough policy that Erin had no problem predicting the likely reaction from the boss. "We don't build them, we don't improve them, we don't buy or sell them. But if you really insist, I'll see if she's available." 

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Chris stepped in closer to Erin, so nobody else could hear him when he lowered his voice. "Erin. We have known each other a long time." And that long time knowing, he reflected, meant he was probably smart enough not to mention recent events directly. He knew what had transpired, but Erin was... sensitive about many things. "I don't sell weapons. This is my belt. But I'm hardly going to tell a bunch of people I don't know that. And Liz isn't going to sell any either. And I'm really not going to tell people who she really is... no, who she used to be."


He took a couple of casual saunters backwards, and put his arm around Liz, casually pushing her wand arm off to one side as he did so. "So sorry for not calling, things have been... hectic."


"We're just here to speak to Miss Hallomen about a job,"  said Liz diplomatically. Then paused for a second. "For me, not him. Really, I wouldn't hire him."


"Yeah, I'm not- wait, what? I have a brilliant resume! I can wire up- no, this isn't the time. But yes, please, we do insist. I've got a personal matter to square with her as well."

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Erin's lips twitched at Liz's comment about not hiring Chris, but she managed to maintain her unamused facade. "Wait here for a minute. And try not to break anything, Chris." She stepped away a few yards and activated her radio. "Hey boss, I've got a couple of people down in the lobby who want to speak with you. They're carrying weapons, but one of them is an old friend of mine. From school," she added, figuring Mara would know what that meant. "And he asked me to pass along the message 'Goggles wants a word.' You want me to bring them up?" 

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"Mmh. Been watching on security feed. Actually only got it up a couple of seconds after you'd gotten there - good response time," Mara noted, tilting her head at the nearly wall-sized screen in her office that was usually covered in designs and notes. Right now it was playing the scene down in the lobby from any angle she could get while HAX's sole head and owner frowned and tapped her finger against her radio for a moment.

"....'goggles'...okay, yes. Can come up for whatever they want to talk about. And let them keep their...things. Punch them if they try to sneak off, though. Just in case."

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"Can do," Erin assured her, then toggled the radio off and stepped back to the visitors. "She says you can come up." A nod from her had the rest of the security detail dispersing, but Erin herself stayed to lead the way, badging the elevator that would take them up to Mara's office. "No offense or anything," she told Chris, "but we've got to be careful. There was an incident here while I was gone, a pretty serious breach in security. It's better to be a little overcautious than to relax and miss something." Erin didn't look like she was in any danger of relaxing and missing anything as they rode up to the floor where Mara's office was located. 

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Chris and Liz followed Erin into the elevator. "Yeah, I get it. Security's important." He remained somewhat silent, however. While, logically, yes, he knew that they probably had a good reason for all the paranoia... they were meant to be his friends. He might screw up a lot, but he didn't like the idea he might do something deliberately. 


Liz was much calmer. She hadn't been blessed with the same background as Chris, had been an active supervillain, and didn't really have all that many friends. On top of that, she'd stopped much caring about the opinions of other people a good while back. But she could tell her boyfriend was upset, simply because his lips had stopped moving. And if this girl knew Chris, she'd notice that quickly if it stayed silent.


"So, uh... Erin? You went to that school with Chris, didn't you? I take it, you're... well, like him."

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Erin raised both eyebrows at that assumption, tucking tongue in cheek as she replied. "Well, in a way. I guess. A very small resemblance. We used to be on Young Freedom together, back when that team was just starting up. But I was never particularly good with any of the gadgets and technology, and he never did learn how to take a punch. But he graduated a year after I started there."


The elevator doors slid open, revealing an empty corridor lined with doors and a number of discreet cameras. Erin led them to the end of the hall, then gave a quick knock on the door before nudging it open.

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Mara Hallomen was not exactly the platonic ideal of the owner of a company like HAX - she was neither imposing, nor well-dressed, all 5'5" of her clad in what looked like an old t-shirt and jeans. Somewhat dirty jeans, at that: the center of her office was currently dominated by a makeshift workspace where she was prototyping...something; whatever it was wasn't complete enough to hint as to its final purpose, but it was certainly complete enough to have left a couple of machine grease marks on her legs where she'd been leaning on it.

"Hello," she greeted, wiping her hands on a rag. "Know Erin already told you, but we don't do weapons, or things that can be turned into weapons. Don't hire people who intend to make weapons on company time. So if that's really why you're here, going to be a very short conversation."

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Chris opened his mouth so say something, but Liz cut him off. "Why would I do that? I have my own facilities for that."


"It's my cave!"


"I inferred as much when I spent the weekend attaching a ten foot long drill to the bottom of an airship and flying up a riverbed while you... well, I don't actually care, point being, it's my workshop." Liz took a deep breath.  Unlike Chris, Liz could not care less when these two women thought about what she chose to carry on her person, but a flush of red had been creeping up his neck at all the weapons comments. While a lot of capes had a much more sanctimonious attitude on weapons than he did, he still asked her to fit a powerful electromagnet to a weapons array because he still wasn't entirely comfortable with having no other recourse but to shoot.


"Now, I am very sorry my partner didn't have the foresight to call ahead, but we had no particular desire to compromise our identities simply because he forgot to make a phone call. He apologises."


"I do? Oh, yes, I'm sorry for not phoning ahead," said Chris brightly. "But I offered to pull double patrols for Erik, Mara, in light of..." he trailed off. "Well, I wasn't thinking entirely straight, and I apologise."


"Are you ever?" muttered Liz. "Anyway, I'm looking for a job, and Chris suggested you because I could prove my credentials without having completed a degree, because... well, I could probably teach most of those classes."

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"Comes up depressingly often," Mara countered, tilting her head at the pair as they bantered. "'Could make so much money with defense contracts!' 'Don't have the tools for electric bullets at home!' 'You can't throw me out, I'm an agent of -' blah blah blah." She threw her hands into the air in frustration, rolling her eyes. "Fun to watch them escorted out, but really get tired of it after a while. So have to assume the worst."

The apology got a nod - not a dismissal, but simple and serious acknowledgement and it was clear Mara didn't really think it was worth the fuss at this point. The job-hunting was a little more interesting. "Can't exactly judge you for not getting a degree - own lack of formal education isn't exactly a secret anymore. But if you're that smart, probably have plenty of options. Start your own business, freelance, consult, visit higher-profile companies - ArcheTech, whatever. Why here?"

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"Ah." Liz bowed her head for a second. "I... uh..."


Chris took a step forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "Do you want me to...?"


"No, no," she said, waving a hand. "My idea of fiscal management until a couple of years ago was... shoot, rip the vault doors off and leave with the loot. I was... the supervillain known as Spellbound."


"But not anymore." Chris's voice was unusually hard, harder than Erin or Mara had ever heard him speak before. "Not for a good long while.


"Listen, Miss Hallomen, I have changed. I don't do that anymore. And that means the straight and narrow, working for a boss. I'm not especially inclined to go be my own boss, simply because of the temptation to do wrong." The young woman spread her hands outwards, palms flat. "And Chris suggested we come to you, because..."


"Well, because I actually know you personally, and it'd be easier to work around circumstances if we can be somewhat open about the situation," explained Geckoman, casually, but conveying the notion that 'somewhat open' wasn't going to be leaving that room if he had anything to say about it.

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Mara was quiet for a moment, mulling that over. Whatever gears were turning in her head seemed to come around in Liz's favor, though - when the young woman uncrossed her arms and made her way over to her wall screen, her tone was appreciative. "Honest. Good," she complemented, dismissing the security feed and pulling up two sets of designs: blueprints, notes, even a basic three-dimensional model for each that seemed to match up with the provided plans.

"Interview time. Character appraisal done. Skill appraisal: two separate projects, different goals; make them better," she invited, gesturing at the screen and stepping back. "Any way you can. Touch screen should be intuitive; pen's on the cabinet to the left if you want to write on it."

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GM Post


Liz blinked slowly at Mara's... non-reaction to the news. She glanced back at Chris, who just smiled and shrugged, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes. "Um... OK." She slowly moved over to the projections of the two projects, and cast an eye over the first one.


She frowned and scribbled down a few algorithms, running them through the software. She made a few hurried notes, then drew a couple of lines on the diagram. "I don't know if I'm reading this diagram right or not... but from the looks of it..." She crossed out a few numbers, and substituted new ones, frowning again. "I'm not sure this can be salvaged without scrapping it altogether. The power output seems to be sufficient, but the way it's constructed, it'd run through heeeeeree..." The reformed villain circled a couple of points on the schematic. "Meaning, even if you rewire the specifics, the power still runs through these couplings in such a way that the housing would conduct the current, leading it to go to this point here, which would lead back to the power socket and destabilise it, and sort of, kind of, explode?" She winced and looked back at Mara for confirmation, unsure that 'this is unworkable' was the right answer to give in a job interview.

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"Yes," Mara agreed, sounding rather pleased - she'd taken to leaning back against her desk to watch Liz work, tilting her head as her eyes flickered over the notes and equations as they were written. "It is a trap. The question, I mean - had too many people lie about their qualifications during interviews. Almost lost one of the second-floor labs. So now, nobody who falls for that," she emphasized, gesturing at the plans that had almost physically hurt to draw up, "gets hired."

"Other one's real, though. Not a real business project - can't show those to people who aren't hired; non-disclosures, confidentiality, whatever. Company lawyer starts making angry faces. But it's an actual, working machine. That needs improvement."

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  • 2 weeks later...

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"Ah," nodded Liz at Mara's comment about explosions. She was very familiar with those. Her eyebrows weren't 100% real. "I was worried for a second that I just didn't see the solution. That makes sense."


She pored over the second set of schematics. "Right, this looks like a more effective means of nuclear shielding." She picked up the stylus and tapped it across a few places. "Conveniently, I'm quite good at that. Force fields are a good idea, it means you're not having any stray particles managing to phase through, buuuut..." The ex-villain crossed out a couple of lines in the design. "You've got unavoidable seams. Which means you can't build this as plates, you need to do it clinker." She scored a handful of wavy lines atop the schematic. "That means any gaps are covered by a secondary layer, should reduce any bleed-through by, oh, about 70-80%"

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Mara raised a curious and faintly concerned eyebrow at Liz's mention of her skill at nuclear shielding - better skilled than unskilled I guess? - but overall seemed fairly impressed. "Good," she noted, running her eye over the design and building a schematic in her head. "Most people just try to reinforce what's there. Which is sometimes fine - often have jobs where we don't make it better, just smaller and cheaper and more efficient - but good to keep in mind that things can change. Especially for safety."

She was quiet then, for several minutes, staring off at nothing with her head tilted to the side as her brain turned things over.

".....Erin probably wouldn't like it. But I trust people who trust him," she said, gesturing at Chris, "and he trusts you. Transitive property of...whatever. Would be obvious ground rules, have to say them anyway: company would not protect you if you broke most laws. Possible grounds for dismissal - actually in the contract. Can't use company resources for personal projects without permission. Wouldn't be higher or lower in hierarchy than any other engineers - other than me and my assistant, pretty much a flat company. Split into teams as needed. Means you aren't likely to be in charge of anybody for very long at a time, no 'management promotion track', but also means you only really have to answer to me."

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  • 5 weeks later...

GM post


"Thank you?" said Chris uncertainly. He was unsure if 'trusting people who trusted him' was a compliment or damning with faint praise. 


"That's fine, I'm not really a 'leader' type of person. And I won't be using company resources for personal products, or breaking any laws which are actually enforced..." Liz trailed off uncertainly.


"Ah, US airspace," grinned Chris, staring off wistfully into space. "It's just so... open!"


"Yes, that." Liz rolled her eyes. "But beyond that, yeah, that sounds great to me. When should I start?" The ex-villain managed a small smile. "And... thanks for giving me a chance. I... don't get too many of them right now."

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"Don't screw it up," Mara cautioned. "Probably harder to get a third chance. And want you in my company. But if you screw the company over, I will end you."

Mara's tone wasn't threatening or violent, but there was something about the way she'd said 'end you' that implied it wouldn't quite stop at getting fired. "Start...mmh. On the first? Used to do it earlier, but our 'hr department' is one person and she got mad. Paperwork. Am sure she'll give you plenty of things to sign on your first day. Until then...homework."

She tapped her finger against her leg for a moment, turning her mind over to the thought that'd been growing for the last few minutes. "Will probably start you out working on improving our security. Had an...incident, a while ago. You have valuable experience. So while you wait to start, think of ways you'd break in, steal or destroy things. And then think of how you'd stop or prevent you."

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