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Independent Threats

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GM

July 6th, 2013

Pyramid Plaza, Freedom City

7:42 AM

Pyramid Plaza was crowded with runners, volunteers, and on-lookers as the last touches were put on the day’s big event. The red-white-and-blue arch straddling Wading Way was already up, with gold and blue balloons tethered to it and ready to fly off. Volunteers were standing behind folding tables, signing in the last few attendees, while other runners stood in close knots or began stretching in preparation of the day’s activities.

Off to one side, a line of news vans were lined up, and several reporters were shooting second or third takes for the morning news. One reporter, however, was preparing for a live broadcast. Melissa Zhong checked her appearance in a hand mirror one last time, made sure her audio lead was invisible and her microphone was working, and took her position in front of the camera. “Ten second, ‘Liz,†the cameraman said. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…â€

On cue the light went on and the reporter’s face broke into a pleasant, sunny smile. “Good morning, Freedom City,†she said. “This is Melissa Zhong, with Channel Four news in the morning, reporting live from Pyramid Plaza!†She walked and the cameraman rotated, swinging the view from the Channel Four van to the base triple towers, an icon of the city’s skyline. Right now though the view was crowded with people, and Melissa indicated the crowds with a sweep of her arm. “Hundreds have come out for today’s run, the 41st Annual Independence Day Charity Marathon. Almost every corporation in the city, from Dawes Tech to Martel Industries to Majestic Industries, has sponsored at least one group running here today.â€

The reporter plunged into the crowd and the cameraman followed. They quickly zeroed in on one young red-blonde woman, as she stretched and checked a device hanging from her neck. “Speaking of which, here’s Jessica Parker herself! Ms. Parker, who are you running for today?â€

Edited by Raveled

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Jessica Parker was in a haze as she prepared for the race. Like almost everything else in her life, she was relying on technology for that. She had just finished rigging up a system to measure her glucose levels via sweat – a nifty idea the Lab was working on for active diabetics, adapted here to general sports equipment – and was checking her pedometer/blood-pressure monitor when she heard someone call her name. She looked up and her eyes widened in a fear reaction as the beaming reporter and the pitiless eye of the camera zeroed in on her. “Oh. Um. No, no I’m just running by myself. Well, walking is more like it. This is a full marathon, and forty-two kilometers is a long way to run.â€

The reporter was used to dealing with people who were less than eloquent under the camera’s gaze, and she attempted to steer the conversation in a direction that the young genius would find more comfortable. “I suppose the race would be easier if you were running it in a super-suit, huhn?â€

Jessica, however, seemed immune to any attempt to make her appear graceful under the public eye. “The Ironclad armor? I wouldn’t run a race in that, it flies. Flight’s much easier than running – although I think you could do it. Hm.†Her brain started picking away at the problem, as her eyes unfocused. “Simplest way would be to attach a wheel structure, but that’s cheating. Human joints can only take so much movement per, so the easy way would be to enhance strength and leap with every step – but that’s jumping, not running. But if you harnessed a baby black hole and projected the event hori—“

“Well that’s very interesting,†Melissa interrupted, gamely heading off the flow of techno-babble before the station lost viewers. “We’ll just leave you to your preparations, shall we?†Without waiting for a response the reporter and cameraman dove into the crowd again, putting distance between themselves and Jessica.

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Jack wasn't a "racing" sort of guy (his travel inclinations were always aimed at the sky), but racing as himself being sponsored by his own company spoke of either arrogance it confidence on his part.

Besides: it was good exercise.

Other folks might have considered the tight raving suit perhaps a little form-fitting for their tastes, but Jack had worn spandex since he was fifteen: he was used to it.

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"No, of COURSE it's a good idea, Doud," Jack said into his cellphone as he approached the starting line, drinking from his water bottle. Doud was not convinced, and said so.

"Because it's almost literally free publicity! Besides, I used to be an AEGIS agent. I once had to rundown an actual terrorist holding an actual neutron warhead, while carrying fifty pounds of equipment, this'll be easy," he claimed.

Doud continued to claim otherwise.

"I don't care that one of the racers is a superhero. Johnny Rocket's not in the race so I should be fine. Besides, I'm thinking of poaching Doctor Steele out from Johnathan Grant's nose. We have that biotech department and I..."

Doud continued to express his worry.

"Relax. Nothing is going to happen. I'm surrounded by a full crowd and there's an actual superhero here. Later," he ended, hanging up before Doud could continue complaining. Clarence Doud was excellent at PR, and awfully efficient at managing the demands on Jack's time, but he was more then just a bit conservative compared to Jack's more outgoing PR strategy. Jack knew he meant well though.

Edited by BType

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Cassandra Steel was all smiles today.  Running in this marathon had become something of a tradition for her, this being the 10th year she was running.  There was always something in the atmosphere at theses events that just made her giddy.  But this year was special.  This year she was being sponsored by Grant Conglomerates, as was readily apparent from the logo on her runner's number.  She wasn't the only one running for Grant this year of course.  They had always made a show of having employees running the race to help foster goodwill in the community.  With the recent allegations of illegal chemical dumping, which Cassie had been assured were false, making the rounds on the news circuits, she felt invigorated to remind people of the good Grant Congolomerates was doing in the world. 

 

All of that being said, there was no way she was getting in front of a camera, especially live on TV.  No she would let the marketers take that particular bullet.  She started to making her way closer to the starting area as she began to limber up.  She wasn't fast enough to be one of those people in the running for breaking the tape, but she was one of the better ones regularly finishing in less than 3 hours. 

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"Cassie Steel, right?"

Jack said as he took position next to the doctor.

He dropped his most winning smile, reserved for girlfriends, possible dates, and business deals.

"Jack O'Connor. I've been following your work for some time!" he said in a friendly tone.

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Cassie gave quite a start when she heard her name as she didn't recognize the voice.  "Yes that's me."  she said almost reflexively as she turned around to greet the speaker.  And then she realized who it was she was talking to.  "Jack O'Conner!" she said breathlessly in unison with the man himself, her eyes going wide in comprehension. "I'm- I'm honored that you've been following my work." she said reaching out to shake his hand, her handshake being surprisingly firm.  Hoooooly crap!  Jack O'Conner knows me!  On sight!~ she thought to herself giddy at the prospect.

 

Her mind was reeling.  This was her chance.  If she got in good with Jack, then she got in good with the Mayor.  Then with the election coming up...  Jack could see the wheels turning in Cassie's mind before she visibly paused and regained her composure.  "Sorry about that, you just caught me off guard is all."  she apologizedNow what the heck do I say next?

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Jack smiled, shaking back and watched her re-compose himself. He was used to this sort of reaction, but he tried not to exploit it overmuch.

"No worries, my entry was kind of last minute anyway. So you're with the Think Tank? Some really exciting stuff going on there at GrantCo. That bone reinforcement thing is genius. I can tell that and biochemistry isn't my field really. So tell me, what kind if position you hold there? Do you run the project? You honestly should, you're almost certainly smarter then everyone there I've heard. It doesn't do your career much good to have other folks taking credit for your work!"

Jack did his best to NOT immediately offer a position at FreedomCo, but it wasn't easy, especially since Steele seemed to avoid the direct spotlight....and Grant might do his best make absolutely sure he and her did NOT meet again, knowing Jack's somewhat....comparative nature with GrantCo.

Edited by BType

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"Oh no, I'm just part of the team really.  We don't really have a strick heirarchy, in our sector at least." she explained, trying to clear up some of the confusion.  "See our jobs are to help out other departments when they hit a wall, so we have to be flexible and be able to tackle a problem from a multitude of angles.  Just because I've had a few breakthroughs recently doesn't mean I'm the golden goose or anything." she said humbly.  "The last few projects that had stalled, just happened to be right up my alley.  But I really couldn't have done it without the rest of my coworkers.  It's a group effort."  she concluded. 

 

See this marketing stuff isn't so hard.  But come to think of it, why is he so interested?  Wait... maybe he's trying to pump me for information about Grant for use in the election!  Well, this certainly complicates things.  But I guess turnabout is fair play. 

 

"But enough about me, you just got your own corporation off the ground.  That has to be exciting right?" she said trying to open up the dialogue. 

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"Exciting, exhausting, exhuberating, exhilarating. A lot of 'E' words, I suppose," Jack quipped.

"It's mostly time-consuming, but I'n trying to make a serious difference with my company. It's not JUST about applied technologies: it's about using them in ways that actually substantially benefit people. Anyone can just make a start-up tech group and make money. They don't even need to be geniuses, it just takes business savvy. Look at MarsTech up in Emerald City. Same principle. What I think MATTERS is finding ways to use it to help as many people as possible. I could just make....I don't know, the World's Biggest Death Ray or something, sell the specs to the Pentagon for a billion dollars and invest the rest into safe companies and all that, but do we REALLY need MORE ways to kill each other?" Jack explained, inadvertently switching from "sales pitch" to "heartfelt preaching", before catching himself.

"But that's just a personal opinion. Also, don't sell yourself short on your own work, it may be a team effort, but you're MVP on that team as far as I can tell. Besides, there's way too many people willing to sell you short without you helping it!"

Like your boss for one, Jack thought, but kept smiling. Johnathen Grant may not wear a costume and may not have superpowers, but if even a third of AEGIS's file on him could be proven he was supervillain of the worst kind: the perfectly legal one....

Edited by BType

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Cassandra's brow started to furrow as Jack continued on his speech.  Her suspicions seemed to be confirmed as he finished.  "I'm usually not this blunt, but, are you trying to recruit me Mr. O'Conner?" she asked flat out.  "Because if you are, I can save you a lot of time by telling you that it's not going to happen." she continued being way too honest for her own good.  "No disrespect to you, or your company, but I'm quite happy at Grant Co.  Whether or not people decide to see it, we do good work.  We're furthering the cause of science and helping those in our community.  And on a personal note, they're the ones who gave me my first real shot, and they've always treated me right.  I'm not going to betray that trust.  So thanks, but no thanks."

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Jack smiled and nodded.

"I can respect that actually. If you DID jump ship so fast, especially with the election coming up, I'd be a little be surprised to be perfectly honest. Tell you what: if you ever get tired of working for John Grant, give me a call," he offered, holding out his card.

"And food for thought? Next time ask your boss to lock security down on his products. Ran into some pretty interesting biological modded soldiers in the Middle East awhile ago with the same bone-density enhancements and muscle tissue boosters you were working on, or if they weren't they were pretty much identical to yours. Grant could use some extra security on his biochemical projects of hired mercenaries attacking a village in the Dakar Valley got their hands on it, and I'd hate to see your work misused, you know?" Jack added as he went back to stretching.

Jack didn't really expect much out of Steele immediately anyway. John Grant didn't stay in business since before Jack was even born by not insulating himself from all the possible political and legal blowback of his products. At least two of Jack's cybernetics research experts had left GrantCo subsidiaries after they had their intellectual properties forcefully appropriated and abused before Grant laid them with massive court ordered lawsuits lying in threat if they decided to blow the whistle on their ex-boss.

Grant made it next to impossible to tie him to any wrongdoing, and had so many friends that even after thirty years if doing what he did somehow remained squeaky clean enough to run for Mayor. Jack knew about having friends in high places, but Grant's organization seemed to practically invent the concept.

"By the way, my uh, cellphone number is on the back of the card. I'm not always in the office. That and you might want to grab a lunch sometime and talk science. And I promise to leave the business at home if we do," Jack added finally, continuing to smile.

Edited by BType

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A lot of things happened very quickly in that conversation just now.  "Uh... I'll follow up on that.  Thanks..." Cassie said slowly as she took the card out of reflex. What the heck just happened?  she said, her mind reeling once again.  And on top of everything else, did he just hit on me?  How does he switch gears like that?  she thought incrediously. 

 

"Yeah, I'm going to have to get back to you on all this." she said as she gave the card a once over and put it in her pocket.  "I need to get back to warming up and focusing on the marathon here.  It was... interesting... talking to you." she said excusing herself from the conversation. 

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GM

Melissa Zhong's circulation around the crowd had brought her out the news vans again. The live feed had ended and she was sipping on fast-food coffee, eyes hunting the runners for an interesting interview subject. With luck, this could be aired before the commercial break, or even on the evening show. But to do that, she'd need to find someone the audiences at home would recognize...

And there he was. She swallowed hurriedly and snapped her fingers, bringing her cameraman to his feet as she plunged back into the crowd. "Jack O'Conner!" She inserted herself in the businessman's path. "I hadn't heard that you were running today. Are you part of a group from Freedom Consolidated?"

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Jessica Parker hummed to herself off-key, her mind already far past the idea of super-speed power armor and wondering what sort of topological effects she could create with captured singularities. If I could bend an object across the fifth dimension and fold it back into itself, it would appear to be two-dimensional and could be hidden inside a wall. If it's also folded across the seventh, even that two-dimensionality would disappear... I would if that's how Mara does her thing?

She began to walk around the plaza to get warmed up for the marathon, when she saw a familiar figure out of the corner of her eye. She stopped and turned to the athletic woman. "Excuse me," she said. "Are you Dr. Cassandra Steel? The same Dr. Steel that spoke at the bio-enhancement seminar the Lab hosted last year?"

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"Afternoon Miss Zhong. You look nice today. New perfume?" Jack quickly responded without even missing a beat, giving her his most winning smile.

"But to answer your question, I'm not with a group, I'm racing by myself! It's a great way to keep in shape, and it seems like ever since I started up on FreedomCo I never have a chance to do it! What's the point of owning a major company of you can't find time to take care of yourself, am I right?" he answered with a laugh.

"Besides, I'll admit when I saw everyone else showed up I figured I might as well too, and make it a personal appearance at that!"

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Cassie was going about her warm ups, while also mentally going over a problem she was having a work.  A reaction wouldn't catalyze, she was hoping this run would give her the time to mull over some solutions to try in the lab on monday.  Then it appeared that she had another visitor appear out of the crowd. 

 

This time however, it wasn't their first meeting.  True they had met only very breifly, but a founding member of the Lab and the big boss of one of the largest tech companies in the city is someone you remember meeting.  "Yes I am.  A pleasure to see you again Mrs. Parker." she replied beeming and extending her hand to the other scientist.  "I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I am so thankful for that opportunity.  It really fostered a lot of connections in the community."  she said humbly, trying to get that out of the way first so she could gush about the Lab's facilities. 

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GM

"You shameless flirt," Melissa said, smiling. "So you mean this is just a normal day out for you? A bagel, some orange juice and coffee, and a twenty-mile run to start the day? That's a heck of a training regimen, Mr. O'Conner. I wonder if you have any words for your fellow runners?" She smiled and held out the microphone, as the cameras kept rolling.

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Jessica blushed and stammered at Cassandra's Missus. "Well -- I mean -- You're welcome. It's nice to see people other than the normal group benefiting from the Lab. That's part of why it was founded, so that scientists and engineers would have a place to meet and converse without worrying about overheads and deadlines. But..." She blushed deeper. "You don't have to call me 'missus.' I know I just turned twenty, but I'm not married or anything! Call me Ms. Parker, or heck just call me Jessica."

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Jack laughed a bit "Hey, I'll have you know I have plenty of shame, Miss Zhong, contrary to popular opinion. And no, I wouldn't say it's a normal day I suppose, but I do try to keep in shape, you know? I find I have less time for it these days then I would like. As for the other runners: I think everyone who's come out today is a champ, if they win or not. It's a charity, and just showing up means you're helping people, which I've always said is the most important thing about these kinda things, and it's a city tradition to boot. Freedom Consolidated is a new company, but it and myself are proud to participate in this tradition Miss Zhong. And to viewers: hi Uncle Mike wish me luck," Jack said, waving at the camera with a smalll salute.

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Cassie looked at Jessica a little cock-eyed as she started to stammer.  Why is she the nervous one?  Cassie pondered to herself.  But when Jessica gave her reason, Cassie couldn't help but burst out laughing.  "Oh I'm sorry!  I didn't mean to embarrass you." said Cassie as she put her arm on Jessica's shoulder to console her.  "I forgot how young you were Jessica; you've done just so much in your life that it's hard to believe you're practically still a kid." she explained pointedly with a smile.  "And to top it off, most of my coworkers are married, so 'Mrs.' is kind of the default for me."

 

"That little faux pas aside, how are things going down at the Lab now?  Any little projects I should be jealous of?" she added with a smirk. 

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GM

"Luck, indeed," Melissa said, laughing as she turned away to face the camera. "Well, we'll be back in a few minutes to bring you the start of the race. In the meantime, back to the studio."

Robert MacKay was still early in his career, and being in the crowds was raising his blood pressure. He slipped past groups, keeping an eye on anyone and everyone, watching for any person leaving a bag behind or staring too intently at a cellphone. He suddenly felt something tugging at his belt, and dropped a hand to his holstered weapon. It was still there of course, safety strap still buttoned. He patted it and turned to track a young man who was jogging around the exterior of the plaza --

The smell of cordite registered before the gunshot did. His adrenaline spiked as he unsnapped his weapon and looked around for the attacker. It had been close, MacKay's ears were still ringing. And in fact, his leg and foot felt hot and wet. He glanced down, at the ripped trousers stained with blood, and in a woozy moment realized that he had been the one who had shot, and had been shot.

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Jessica shrugged. "I could probably have a PhD in something," she said offhandedly, "but school takes up too much time. I'd rather be working, you know?

"Anyway, I'm not really plugged into the biochem parts of the Lab as much as I should. I think the big project at the moment is using nanites for body-mapping purposes -- sort of an all-in-one x-ray, CT scan, and fMRI. Inject them, let them circulate, and they build a 3D map of the body and how it's functioning. It's interesting, but of course the problem is always in making enough nanobots cheaply enough, and making sure that when they break down there's nothing harmf--"

She broke off abruptly as a gunshot rang over the plaza. "Was that a... excuse me for a moment, Dr. Steel." Jessica touched her titanium watch and towards the sound of gunfire.

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As soon as the shot hit his ears, Jack's mind immediately accelerated, and the construction facade of confident corporate playboy and beloved city Mayor's son was gone, replaced by four years of AEGIS training and experience from being a teenaged hero.
Single-shot in the crowd. Not from a building, report to close. .40S&W round. Standard issue FCPD armament is a Glock 23 chambered in that caliber, Jack's mind calculated and analyzed, even as he cried for Melissa to "Get down, get down!" and he ran in the direction of the report.

Dammit, time to change, no place, no cover, too many people around, I'll have to do this as Jack O'Connor! he thought in frustrastion, maneuvering people out of the way with the experience of someone trained in crowd control duties as he moved as fast as his legs could take him.
 

Edited by BType

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