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Will Die for A Paycheck


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Almost a week after the unfortunate incident with the sabotaged plane, Naomi finally received a summons to ArcheTech headquarters.  She'd filed exhaustive reports, of course, been debriefed by her supervisor, Vithya Naganathan, as had Mike and Rory, her ground team, and Keegan her backup pilot. She'd had an extensive physical that included checks of vision, hearing, reflexes and proprioception, which had been a little bit interesting given some of the things she hadn't known her body could do until recently. But all of that had been done at the test facility at Lonely Point, a place she was already familiar and comfortable with. Today's summons was to the tower in Hanover, where Naomi hadn't been since she was hired. 


The lobby of the imposing building was not so bad; sure it was very large, but its grandeur was softened by the fact that it was full of schoolchildren exploring displays on the wonder and excitement of renewable energy and recycling. The noise and bustle of kids on a field trip was distracting until she made her way to the relative quiet of the horseshoe-shaped front desk, where an extremely efficient-looking young woman with an earpiece scanned Naomi's ID badge with a palm-held scanner. "You're meeting with Miss Americana," she told Naomi tonelessly. "You're cleared for top-floor access. Please follow the arrows." She gestured, and a line of green arrows lit up along the midline of the wall, heading for a bank of elevators. "Have a nice day." 


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Naomi brushed off the navy blue business ensemble a bit nervously. There's been many changes in her life, and rather brutally... And it's only been a week. To lose her Job would be the meanest twist of fate. Then again having a seemingly immortal Test Pilot Naomi hoped would be a good thing. She gulped as she followed the lines as she went to the Elevator and started the process of heading up.


Waiting in the elevator as it went up and passed through security scans as she neared the top floor was nerve wracking. Didn't help that Miss A didn't spring for a better Muzak service as she reached the last stop. "Please proceed to the double doors, Miss Baines." The elevator stated as the green arrows led to a pair of sliding doors. As she proceeded the elevator doors behind her closed, quickly, and the other office doors opened with a familiar Star Trek like swoosh.


She saw Miss A sitting at her desk, the light of the day shining through her window as she was turned, looking out on the city.


"Ma'am? Naomi Baines. Chief Test Pilot, Aeronautics Division. Reporting as requested." She said in her americanized slight Welsh accent, with some reports she was told to bring along under an arm. She clutched them like a life preserver at this point, as they were her sealed medical report... every doctor she went through said she had a clean bill of health, but she still couldn't believe it... she was dead... yet now here she was, Blonde Haired, green eyed, and sporting new elf-like ears... But to have her medical report sealed... "I brought the medical report as requested."


She sat the report on the desk. She saw the office was well lit, kept rather organized, in fact while she should feel calm she always had that "Principal's Office" nervousness... and that medical report has her brain turning in it's skull.

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Miss A looked up when Naomi walked in, setting aside the tablet she'd been working on and giving the young pilot a smile that transcended pleasant and went straight to actually friendly. In person, it was easy to see why the paragon CEO was so popular with nearly everyone she encountered. "Come on in and have a seat, Naomi," she invited, directing her to one of the plush visitor chairs near the window. She rose from her chair as well and headed in that direction herself, abandoning the formality of the boss's desk for the conversational grouping of seats overlooking Hanover.


"Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee, soda, water? I have a robot prototype up here who's finally mastered the Keurig, I'm very proud." Miss A chuckled and seated herself, smoothing out her pleated blue skirt over her knees. She was dressed in her usual red, white, and blue, today in a white blouse and blue skirt with an intricately knitted red sweater softening the severe look. A white lab coat was hung on a rack near the desk. 

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Naomi adjusted the red necktie on her white blouse... she had a fondness for the color combination Miss A sported herself, but liked blue more than anything. "To be honest Caffeine has no effect on me anymore. I'll stick to Root Beer if you have it. I... never quite liked Coffee." She said. Miss A completely disarmed her defenses. "I'm suprised nothing effects me anymore. I've been sneezed on and so far... not even a lick of the flu either."


She looked at the Lab Coat. "I'm not surprised you saddled up with this company, Ma'am. Suits you. Sucks I've only been a test pilot for around a year when that unpleasantness occurred." She said, remembering her first moments as someone different being stuck in her Ejection seat under about 75 feet or so of water north of Trainor Airport. "I... have to thank those that engineered our flight suits to have that secondary air-tank, otherwise I might have "rebooted" a few times trying to get out of that ejection seat." She said, laughing. "That life preserver felt like it was trying to pull my darned head off while I tried cutting free of the restraints. Of course that was after I could move my arms and legs."


She massaged her left arm, one of the two limbs that she knew broke from the incident. "Of course I'll save you the details of the bad that came before then... when I woke up. They're a bit..." she paused. "...morbid."


She cleared her throat. "Anyways... Root Beer, if you got it." She said with a smile.

Edited by The Osprey
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"It's all right," Miss A assured her, pressing a few buttons discreetly built into the low table between the two chairs, "you don't have to talk about anything that makes you uncomfortable. I'm sure it was a very traumatic experience. I've read all the reports, the ones you filed and the ones from the doctors, the salvage crews, and the observers. I believe I have a fairly good picture of what happened after the impact, and we'll definitely be using all that data to make our next generation of safety gear. If you can, though, could you please tell me in your own words what happened on that flight?" (1) 


A moment later, a side door to the office slid open, discharging a small robot that looked a bit like a trashcan on treads with a boxy head and long, skinny arms. It carried a silver tray with a glass of ice water and a twist of lemon, and a bottled root beer next to a frosted mug. Miss A took the tray and set it on the table. "Thank you Emerson, that will be all." 

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Naomi adjusted her blazer, pouring her rootbeer she took a sip. "I was flying at about 2700 feet on a routine circulation heading back for the E-W runway for a landing as my engine output dropped by about 45 percent and showed signs of dropping further, so I aborted the flight test before the engine dropped below the output needed to keep me from stalling. Right when I was over the bay north of the airport I had a engine fire report. As I went to activate the fire suppression system things got bright behind me. I didn't really have time to think as my dashboard went red and my nose went sharply downward. That's when everything connected in my head instinctively and I ejected. I didn't see much at that point as I closed my eyes from the force of the ejection. What was up... err unusual..."


She tripped over her words for a moment, as she took another sip. "I think I finally opened my eyes at 1000 feet or less when I noticed I still felt the ejection seat still behind me. Thankfully the radio was offline for some reason as there was screaming. It... wasn't my bravest of moments."


She looked down at the floor. "I hit the water and it all went black. That's where the missing time is. I wager when your brain's turned off you don't remember the details of croaking off."


She looked back up. "Then I woke up and there was... pain. Pain and anguish. Not from my legs and my left arm being broke and at least a ungodly amount of ribs puncturing my lungs, but everything correcting itself. Swallowed a lot of water before I exhaled it all at once in a blood saturated cloud. I instinctively pulled out the flight mask off of my helmet and stuck the pony bottle into my mouth. Biting down on it's regulator helped with the pain of exhaling the last bit of water and blood in my lungs out of my nose as my lungs re-inflated."


"I think for about 5 minutes I was pretty bewildered and shocked at my situation as I remembered I was under about 75 feet of water and I wasn't heading back to the surface unless I got out of my restraints. Took about a minute's time with my survival knife before I was shooting up to the surface. I think I had just about a minute left on the air tank when I spat it out. I waved to some passing motorboaters as I managed to get back to the airport, people looking at me strange all the way. I don't blame 'em."


"I mean when you fish out someone from the drink that looks like a half-drowned Lord of the Rings cosplayer well..."


She scratched her head. "Once I got back, I heard all about the ruckus at the hangar and the SHADOW agents we managed to flush out. All I could do was sit on the tarmac wondering just what the heck happened... to me, to my plane..."


"To be honest I'm surprised I'm wondering about that. Found out later everything that happened to me was sabotage. I... am takin' that personal." She said with a smirk.

Edited by The Osprey
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Miss A sat and listened to the whole story, not making any notes, but giving the impression of one paying very close attention. When Naomi came to the end of her story, she nodded and took a sip of her water. "That must have been a very harrowing experience," she remarked, sympathy in her voice. "And I assure you we're working very diligently to root out not only the saboteurs themselves, but the organization behind them. I understand you were treated by our staff doctors and psychologists after the crash. How are you feeling now?" (2) 

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Naomi smiled. "I'm surprised at my own resilience to it, Ma'am. Although I am seeing a therapist about it, as per regs." She said with another confident laugh. "Dr. Aino I'm sure sent the psych profile done on me saying I'm taking this pretty well."


She pulls out a picture a Archetech photographer took of her sitting on the tarmac. "Seeing myself after everything then actually gives me a warm and fuzzy feelin'. Like I just did something... amazin'." She said, showing it to Miss A. "Although my left arm still sorta hurts around the scar... but I think this is more how I'm takin' it isn't it?"


She leaned back, taking another sip. "When i realized I could drink my co-workers and co-pilots under the table, and probably imbibe more alcohol than a normal person's blood alcohol tolerance, I realized I'm... different."


"In a way I'm pretty bewildered by the experience. It's like getting a new plane and you're told: 'fly it. And we expect you to win a dogfight in 10 to 1 odds'. And in a way when you look at it all... you know you can yet you just don't know how yet... like you're lookin' at that edge of the door before a nighttime skydive. Nothin' but that blackness of the world below dotted by the lights of the night."

Edited by The Osprey
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Miss A nodded at that as well, a slight smile on her face. "It's amazing, that feeling when you first realize what you can do," she agreed. "It sounds like you're adjusting well to your new circumstances, and the reports I have been given from the doctors, while considerably redacted for your privacy, are all encouraging. Even so, it is company policy at ArcheTech that anyone who dies and is resuscitated or who is healed through magic or preternatural means of otherwise fatal wounds while working for the company is offered the opportunity to resign with a generous severance package and assistance finding less dangerous employment, if they should so desire."


Her face was compassionate as she studied Naomi. "Many people who go through near-death experiences find it difficult to handle similar circumstances on a daily basis in the future, and there's absolutely no shame in it. Are you still interested in working for ArcheTech in your current capacity?" (3)

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Naomi grinned, sitting back. "Like I'm gonna let a little thing like dying stop me. How many times have I cheated death working for you before it actually happened?"


"At least now if anything that would be fatal again happens I could report back what happened before everything goes black... I'd be pretty efficient as a suppliment to the black box, but I can't promise ya I won't be cryin' before hand... and... I hope you don't blame me if I bail out every once in a while? I mean Dyin's temporary for me now, but it still hurts."


"If we can agree to that... I'm your girl." She said with a smile. "There's no doubts here, this is my family."

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Naomi's employer raised both her eyebrows. "Bailing out will definitely be encouraged," she assured Naomi dryly. "We can view your immortality as a nice tertiary safety backup that I hope you never have to use again. Even beyond the questionable ethics of it, and beyond the trauma it would inflict on your coworkers if not you yourself, I doubt the FAA and the ICAO would be very amused with test data that includes repeatedly smashing one of our pilots." She smiled slightly, taking another drink of her water. "You mentioned you've had near-death experiences before?" (4) 

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"Well, there was that time I punched out over Wharton just moments before hitting the treeline and ended up hanging from a pine for a day or so until someone picked up on my return beacon. I think you got the report from the medics a couple days later, busted a couple fingers and got smacked in the face rather good. I think I got knocked out and I sorta remember the whole light at the end of a tunnel thing before I woke back up."


She scratched her head. "6 weeks on the bench. Sucked. I think I didn't mention that whole 'I saw the light' moment then. Bravado took over."

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"Yes, I do remember reading about that," Miss A agreed. "Your recovery this time has been markedly faster!" She was interrupted for a moment by a soft whistle at her elbow, and turned to find her robot back again, this time holding a file folder, a medical folder to judge by the orange cover. Miss A glanced at it, then muttered to the robot, "Yes, I already saw it, I don't need to read it again. Stop being helpful!" The robot whistled again, this time sounding rather impudent, for a machine. Miss A ignored it, turning back to Naomi. "It's very fortunate that your powers manifested when they did. Have you got any theories as to where they come from?" (5) 

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Naomi looked up at the ceiling after that question was asked, letting it hang. More like she was looking for some non-existent ejection handles. This question was a doozy. She wasn't a scientist... "Well I can guess with the sudden hair color change, eye color change, and the fact I got elf-ears... I'm thinking... some sort of magical thing... but the docs said I got some sort of "Somatic Psychic Inversion" going on, so I wager Magic's disqualified as the trigger of my transformation..."


She scratched her head. "So to be honest I'm clueless... unless you got some idea, I'm pretty much guessing I'm some sort of Psychic Elf."


She blushed. "I'm... probably 100% wrong, aren't I? And I wager that sealed folder I brought up is gonna laugh at my assumption, isn't it?"

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"Hard to say," Miss A temporized, picking up her tablet. "One thing I've found is that it's unwise to rule out magic too early in any mystery, but you're right that it seems unlikely as a proximate cause in this case. There are a number of physiological causes that can lead to sudden eye color and hair color changes, and though the doctors have ruled out the most common factors, they nonetheless show that it's possible. The ears..." She paused a moment. "The ears are a bit more unusual, it's true. Were you aware that you have nonhuman DNA sequences in your genetic code?" (6) 

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Naomi steepled her fingers. "Psychic shrouding."


Miss A looked up for a second from what Naomi said. Naomi elaborated. "It's what one of the Docs well versed in psychic phenomenon said. Something about how a person's astral signature if they have repressed psychic potential can hide certain facets of their genetic code. When I was young, just after my parents' deaths in a car accident I was on a cocktail of different psychological drugs. Enough to keep me out of military service even after I was off of them as a teenager. She theorized that it caused my psychic energy to infuse my genetic code and focus inward, instead of outward like most psychics."


"In this case though, it probably masked and repressed the expression of those non-human genes."


Naomi shook her head, amazed she remembered what that labcoat told her. "I wager non-human is a polite way of saying... Part Alien, right?"


"Would... explain a lot."

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"Could be part-alien," Miss A agreed, scrolling through the tablet with one finger. "Or part extra-dimensional being, or one of the non-human races who've lived on Earth so long we don't even think of them as aliens anymore, or a number of other things. Statistically, alien would be most likely, but it's definitely not Lor in origin. Something a little less common, perhaps. Any stories about aliens in the family tree?" (7) 

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Naomi's memories of her mother started to creep in. What few she had.


"I always noticed that my mom always hid her ears in family pictures. She'd grow her hair out long and have hair styles that would frame her face. She had blonde hair like I do now, and green eyes. I always thought she was beautiful. But she would always stroke my hair and look at my ears."


She sighed looking at her root beer. "My dad was 100% normal... that and my mom had no relatives. She said they were all dead."


A sudden realization hit her... "Wait, if my immortality is a feature of the alien side of my family tree... perhaps... No, my mom would have found me well before now... maybe..."

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Miss A blinked, but remained silent while Naomi had her little epiphany. She made a shooing gesture at the little robot, who obligingly rolled away and came back a few moments later with a second tablet. When Naomi trailed off, Miss A spoke up. "That does sound like there's a good possibility your mother was alien, or at least only part human. But there's too little evidence to suggest whether or not she might have had the same abilities as you've manifested. I take it your mother hasn't been in your life for some time?" (8) 

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"No... she died when I was 6... although they never found the body... we only buried my dad. They just found some of her blood on the dash and some brain matter."


"What I do remember of her... she was... something special. She always looked out for me, kept the bullies away. She always was there to make sure I wouldn't be in danger. Well, unless I was the one endangering myself. She'd always quip with every cut and bruise that 'that's how I gotta learn my limits'. You know... she wasn't really hands-on, but what I remember of her... man I can see where some of me comes from."


She looked over to Miss A. "To be honest she taught me to always take measured risks. Know your limits, but always push them forward."

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"I'm sorry for your loss," Miss A told her solemnly. "It sounds like you still carry her with you in the lessons you learned, and that's a valuable thing." She fiddled with the tablet, giving Naomi a chance to gather her thoughts if she needed it. She could've just gone ahead and looked into the personnel records, but asking face to face questions was often more revealing. "So were you raised by members of your father's family, then?" (9)

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"Yeah, my Auntie. Sarah. We lived near the piers in Cardiff. I loved watching the sailboats and the occasional float-plane taking off. I guess seeing that regularly and the planes at the small airfield nearby some racers took over got me all into flying." Naomi said, getting comfortable again, half-way though her Root Beer. "My Auntie was pretty hands-off, only really getting involved when I would step out of line as kids are apt to do."


"She still lives in that area, she gave me a call after the incident. She was a bit... shocked about my change when I showed her the ears over Skype. Although... she was just glad to hear my voice again. Even after all the craziness."

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"That sounds like a nice way to grow up," Miss A commented, taking another sip of her water. Despite all her sipping, she'd only finished a tiny portion of her beverage thus far, so maybe she was just looking for something to do with her hands. She certainly seemed perfectly composed as she sat back and asked, "Did you enjoy it? (10) And do you get back to visit very often? (11)."

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"Well being I got my share of sailing, and picked up my pilot's licences flying over that said water... well that and some of my tests for some of my parachutist licences, I loved it there. Treaded my fair share of water there. It wasn't too bad either to be there. Can't say I got bad memories. The winters were a little hairy at times, and boring as I wouldn't dare go out over the water then, but the summers were wonderful."


Naomi stopped herself from getting to nostalgic. "I come down there on vacations, say hi to my Auntie, meet up with old classmates... gonna be a hell of an explanation telling them how this happened." She said pointing to her ears.


"Then again we live in a world where we got people flying overhead bein' heroes and stuff." she said, scratching her head, above the scar over her right eye. "I guessin' I'm part of that world now, aren't I?"

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"If you want to be, it's certainly available to you," Miss Americana agreed. "Your durability would certainly be an asset, and with some training you could probably find a slot in any number of heroic missions. But simply having metahuman powers doesn't mean you're obligated to become a costumed hero," she advised. "Many people with metahuman powers never take up the cape or cowl, and that doesn't mean that they don't do their part to help society. Is doing hero work something that you're interested in?" (12)

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