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TheAbsurdist

It's Not Mooching If We're Friends First

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March 11th.
 
 
The message had come through the hero contact methods he had out there.  It was easier this way, as trying to get a hold of him directly was as difficult are contacting the CEO of any large, international, financial institution.  So next to impossible.
 
Of course he was taking this on faith, but thus far he hadn't been called or setup in an ambush, and it wasn't like Fleur de Joie was someone like that.  She was fairly well established, if a kid.  Or not a kid?  That was tricky sometimes when he started to examine these sorts of things. He was older than most of the other heroes, retiring seemed a little, but...
 
That was less likely for him.
 
Amir al-Misri stopped before the mirror, checking to make sure the red track suit and black t-shirt covered the containment suit.  Seemed like every few months he got to do something he thought impossible, and his powers were... going wonky.  WHich he assumed was the scientific term.  So now he was saddled with this thing, just sort of gave him the reins on his abilities, which he was okay with.
 
Satisfied he wasn't looking so idiotic, he left the expensive Parkside townhouse.  And he crossed the street.  Enjoying one part about beings a public hero, as he used his power of flight to get over the busy avenue.  Landing in the grass, when he opted to clear the fence and get to the lawn, before he started towards the Botanical Gardens (after all how could he resist having the meeting there?) from Poet's Grove.
 
As he walked along the path, intent on being there at least a half hour early, he casually thumbed through his alerts, and sending Ana a message reminding her of this meeting.  It wouldn't be a problem, his schedule was actually clear, apart for tomorrow.
 
So all was left as he crested a bend and walked into the garden proper, putting a little something into the donation box as he stepped inside, taking in the sights, before settling on a bench near the main entrance, as he worked off his smartphone, sending messages, and trauling through some of the massive amount of news and media he consumed on the day to day.

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Exactly at the appointed hour, a knothole in the tree next to to Asad's bench yawned open like a door, letting Fleur de Joie step out. She was definitely not a child, a quick visual estimate marked her as in her late twenties at least, and with the self-possessed air of a woman comfortable in her power. Fleur wore her typical heroin uniform, green shirt and pants with sturdy brown boots, and a brown cowl jacket with a hood to cover her hair, though she'd eschewed her mask for this meeting. After a moment to get her bearings, she turned to the bench. She smiled at him when she saw him, extending a brown-gloved hand. "Asad? It's so nice to meet you, I'm Fleur de Joie. Thank you so much for meeting with me today." 

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It took a moment for Amir to acknowledge her, and then came a... "One moment..."  And he tapped away some electronic missive, before he pushed himself to his feet, and he put away the phone, into a pocket on the jacket he wore, and he extended his arm out to her and took her hand.  The billionaire, despite the outfit, projected an aura of confidence or something.  Not looking older than her, despite being in his forties.  He shook her hand firmly, and flashed a warm, winning smile.

 

"Please, call me Amir.  Though they are sort of interchangeable I suppose."  A small chuckle escaping him, "You must be Fleur de Joie?  Please, I do apologize, I had to respond to an email.  Taking time off is... more an illusion than anything."

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"Call me Stesha," the heroine invited. "I understand how valuable your time is, that's why I appreciate you coming out to meet me here so much. I have a charitable effort that I and some other heroes have been working on for several years now, but at this point our costs are in danger of swamping us. Earlier this year, the base of people we're serving expanded tenfold, and the infrastructure isn't quite keeping up. I was told by several people that you're interested in philanthropic causes, and I hoped I could give you, well, my pitch, as it were." She gave him another bright smile. "Sorry, I'm not really used to this sort of thing. If you have a half-hour you can spare, I'd like to show you what we're doing." 

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"Alright, Stesha, you don't have to say my time is valuable.  Believe me, I always have more work to do at any given time, and the last time I had a vacation I was kidnapped by a mad scientist who wanted to experiment on me because I had powers.  Something, something... unlock the potential of mankind... something, bwaahahaha."  He waved his other hand in a circle, as his voice went droll.

 

"I promise, you will not be the worst pitch I've heard this week.  Or even ever.  I have all day, I just wanted to stop some of the inevitable whining.  So let's do this, shall we?"  The handsome billionaire flashed another smile.

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"Perfect! Right this way, then." The knothole-door yawned open again, and Stesha escorted Amir through with one light hand on his elbow. They came out in another very parklike area, but this one had no paved paths, and no sounds of city life droning behind the birdcalls and wind in the trees. "This is Sanctuary," Stesha explained, leading the way up a gentle slope to a clearing on the top of the hill. "It's an alternate dimension Earth, about four sheaves over in the great big bundle of near-Prime realities. Most of the life on Earth in this dimension was destroyed nearly a century ago by a destructive war fought with alien technology. I came across it five years ago and began rehabilitating the landscape, largely as a way to practice my powers. I built an oasis of sorts, a small area where live can thrive in the middle of all the blasted land. Then I realized that there were still people living here." 

 

They'd obviously arrived near the top of the hill already, since the height they were at offered a panoramic view of Stesha's "project." Far off in the distance, the sky was a smoggy gray, the horizon dotted with the shattered hulks of destroyed buildings. Everything nearby, though, was green and thriving, from the forest at their backs to the neatly laid-out patches of crop and garden dotting the plain below them, to what seemed to be a giant field of giant wildflowers (or some trick of perspective) off to the southwest. Just below them, a tidily-organized little village was spread out, sod houses surrounding a central square of prefab buildings, with solar panels and a windmill running power into the largest structures. Dozens of people were out and about today, working the fields, weeding the gardens, washing, mending, and tending to the few visible children. 

 

"This is Mayberry, it's the largest village on Sanctuary right now," Stesha explained. "It has a little more than five thousand people, all of them refugees from the Terminus. Springfield, the second-largest, is a few miles west of here and has almost as many people, refugees again. Both of these villages are less than a year old, we threw them together in a hurry when the need arose. There's another village, Homewood, to the northeast, that's older and more established, with about three hundred people. That's where the descendants of the survivors of this world live, for the most part. When I agreed to take on the refugees, I thought there was only going to be a thousand of them, but there was no way we could turn them away. We've been making do." 

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Amir let himself into a knothole door to... elsewhere.  It was a strange sensation.  "You are going to have to pardon me a little, I am not really that knowledgeable about alternate dimensions.  I kind of get it, in the same that most high school grads get the whole 'taxes thing.'" Another smile, a winning one, though without a sense of it being practiced, and it even lent a sense of conspiracy towards Stesha, as if he was including her in on a secret.  Of course for all the complaints of Amir's fecklessness and ability to ruin any potential invite something like say... the Freedom League might offer him, he was astoundingly personable and approachable.  Even beyond the mere qualifier of 'for a billionaire playboy fiancier philanthropist.'
 
"Hm."  He listened to her speak, as he looked around at their environment.  "Alright, alright.  So here is the first thing,"  he said as he gently pulled from her, "Congratulations on this, it is a amazing, and I have more than a little jealousy about the fact that you can do this."
 
Pressing his hands together flat before his chest, he turned his head to survey what their vista currently, offered.  "In the terms of traditional philanthropy and charity, this is not going to work.  Honestly.  I am pretty sure tax law doesn't cover anything involving alternate worlds, and neither does any insurance."
 
Turning his head back towards her, he twisted his wrists down to point the pressed together hand towards her.  "However, what I can do is something else.  Given this world is ruined, on a scale that isn't readily available for us to examind on earth, I can allot resources towards some of subisidaries towards ecological reclamation here to try and bolster your efforts here.  In addition to agriculture support and developments."  He paused a moment and pursed his lips a bit, "Does that sound good?  It does mean money, logistics, and what scienctific resources I have can be invested here, just... I am going to be using this as research and development in a 'worst case scenario' type of environment.  I understand if that is a bit... peery, but it is the best way for me to be able to allocate such to you, without additional headaches."

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Stesha shook her head, looking a little bit lost. "I'm sorry, I'm really not equipped for a lot of legal and business talk. I was a florist before I took up full-time superheroing, and I kinda just change the channel when the business news comes on most nights," she admitted. "Can you break it down into smaller pieces we can talk about? I mean, I don't know what you mean when you say agricultural support and ecological reclamation, exactly. I've got a pretty good handle on the agriculture for right now, that's something I can do without much problem. And the reclaimed area gets a bit bigger all the time, it's almost to the point of being self-sustaining around the edges, at least in the less blighted places. But the people here don't have enough clothes, or proper beds, and there aren't enough animals to go around. The entire planet has one doctor, one nurse and one midwife, and they are volunteers. The children don't have enough books in their schoolroom, and there's no way for any of them to go to college. This fall and winter has been all about subsistence, but I want better lives for them."

 

She pushed her hood back, looking around at her oasis. "As far as what you want from us... you want your companies to have a look at the dead parts of the world? Or to set up something permanent there? What would that look like?"  

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Nodding emphatically, as he spread his hands then.  "This is not a normal charity situation.  This doesn't exist inside any normal government or framework.  I can get help and support here, but to do that I have to use resources and logistics available to me.  And I will need to explain some of it.  Does that make sense?"

 

He moved his hands and going to rest them onto his hips, arms akimbo as he looked at her.  Understanding the small little mistake about it.  "Realistically you would want these people to not rely entirely on your for agriculture, as they will grow, eventually, past your ability to provide.  Right..."  He moved his hand to pull out his phone, "Roughly ten thousand people with three hubs..."  He started to tap on the screen, working out notes.  "So first thing is health and sanitation.  I can get doctors and medical supplies, but we will need to focus on sanitation.  I know enough people and organizations that do work in third world countries we can get that worked.  So, the real big question Stesha, is how many ways are there to get 'here?'  As that is the first step before can really start to fill needs here."

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"I think you may underestimate my ability to provide," Stesha replied, just a little coolly. She folded her arms and fell back half a pace as he worked out his numbers, still watching him closely. "And our sanitation needs are one of our lesser worries, there are enough toilets, sinks and showers to go around, they're just all communal." As with the sod houses, digging out latrines and setting up natural showers and pools had been made much easier with the help of a geokinetic in residence. It had resulted in some nonstandard, but still  effective, sanitary arrangements around the three villages. "We definitely could use another doctor, especially one who is willing to train people without medical degrees, and the supplies to set up another clinic. As it stands, if someone gets sick or injured, we have to call one of the giant bees to carry them to Homewood. But I think I need to understand more about the explanations you're going to be using to get these resources, and what it's going to mean for Sanctuary." 

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He stopped then, and he looked at her for a moment, the smile was gone and he just looked at her.  "You have me at a disadvantage then, my powers are irrelevant to this scenario.  I can't will life from nothingness.  I can probably walk out into those wastes and survive.  That's about the size of what my powers can do.  Hardly anything useful in the large scale of things."  He turned his head and jerked it up towards the horizon, and what lay beyond it.  "Apart from cockroach emulation."

 

Frowning a bit, he kept his arms folded.  "What are you asking from me Stesha?  My help?  Or that I give you my money, on your terms, and bow out?  Unfortunately legality and my ego are not going to allow the latter."  He turned and looked back to her, his expression devoid of whatever winning smile he had before.  "You are asking for a considerable bit of money, even if you don't realize.  If this is my own private funds, then I will have to explain where they went.  If it is my company's money, I will have to explain it to more people.  So regardless of how it is used by you, I need a plausible explanation.  I'd rather not end up in Blackrock for embezzling or tax charges, if I can help it."

 

Then the smile was back, though it was smaller, "I am happy to meet you on your terms, but realistically I would like a portion of the money and effort I will expend on this to go towards them not needing to rely on you.  Or me.  So, medical, schooling, and some scientists  and engineer types to help sustain and expand the changes you've wrought here.  I am accepting that this is a wash for me utterly, apart from feeling better about myself.  And since you are the sole means to get here, and because this is... yours, I am more than happy to consult with you every step and give you sign off as to what comes here.  Supplies will be easiest to start, but you have roughly ten thousand people, with varying degrees of PTSD, so I think we will have to be picky and lucky for getting the right kinds of doctors and nurses and such."

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Stesha drew in a long breath and sorted out what exactly she wanted to say, tamping down frustration and focusing on points of common ground, just like she'd learned in her negotiating seminars from the League. "The end goal is certainly for them to be self-sufficient, and I welcome anything that will help with that goal. My point is, though, that at this point agriculture is under control and well-plotted, so the priority is less than some of the other needs I was mentioning to you," she told him. "Supplies are the most urgent, we've gotten through the winter but it was by the skin of our teeth at some points." She smiled a little. "I doubt any of us who divide our time between Sanctuary and Earth have more than half our original wardrobes after what we gave away. I've got a handful of kids just out of college with their teaching certificates working as primary teachers, found them through UNISON, They're great, but getting some more experienced teachers with more diverse topics would be very helpful, and of course doctors and engineers who can teach." 

 

She looked down over the little village, taking a moment to wave at a couple of people who'd spotted her on her perch. "We will be very grateful for anything you can provide," she told Asad, not looking away from her charges. "Believe me, I understand that the need is great. You're not the only person I'm going to be approaching for help. And I understand that you have far more managerial and business experience than I do. It might look to you like our organization is slapdash and that you could do a better job." She shrugged one shoulder wryly, turning to look at him. "Maybe you could. Lord knows I sort of fell into the job by accident. But Sanctuary is my baby, and I feel a great responsibility to make sure that both the world and the people and creatures I've promised to take care of are safe and secure. Before we go any further, I would like you to spell out exactly what plans you have for Sanctuary as part of your justifying the budget to your company. You talked about some kind of experimental disaster remediation earlier?" 

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"Let's call a spade a spade, you are not operating under circumstances that give you the option to have it as neatly organized as you like.  I respect what you have done and what you are doing.  Right..."  He frowned and he moved to look at her.  "I don't have a plan yet.  Realistically, I will end up labeling this as a red enterprise, and use the remediation label.  It's more for board members, and governmental agencies to nod their head when they Iook at the books, and it is close enough to the truth that it isn't a lie that can be picked apart.  But, with the guise of this being an endeavor that is not expected to turn a profit, I get more margin to play with."

 

Amir shrugged and spread his hands then, and he laughed a little, "I get that kind of question a lot, because of how I am, and what I do for a day job.  Most of the other heroes in my position generally are really smart when it comes to science, and that's what they do.  I am smart with money.  I am smarter are recognizing talent, and garnering friends.  Not that this particular situation, at the moment..."  He trailed off and looked a little chargrined, showing self-awareness for how it was going.

 

"As for what is happening on the ground here,  after distribution of supplies, and setting up medical infrastructure?  Once that is in place we can worry about other stuff.  Or more accurately for anything after the supply stage, it is going to need someone with more specialized knowledge to work out an actionable plan.  I would prefer at least three, so that there will be wriggle room, because this place is not precisely on easy mode."

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"No, we're definitely in the deep end and treading water," Stesha agreed with a rueful smile. "But when Blue Jay showed up at the other end of my portal and instead of a thousand refugees there were ten thousand, what was I going to say? First ones through can stay? Pick one in ten to live and the rest stay behind to die?" She shook her head. "It seems like a lot when I'm thinking logistics, but knowing that ten thousand is all that's left of an entire world is shocking. And they didn't have it easy even before the end. Neither did the people who are native to this world, who were trying to eke a living from the ruins before I got here. They all deserve better than what they got." 

 

She perched herself on a rock near the edge of the cliff, looking up at the pretty blue sky over Sanctuary. Over to the east, where the ruins of Freedom City still stood, the sky was darker with pollutants and smog that never quite settled down, but here she'd coaxed the trees into clearing the air quite vigorously, until she'd almost had trouble breathing herself for all the carbon dioxide they'd scrubbed out of it. "I have some lawyer friends I can talk to who can work up whatever kind of paperwork you need," she told him. "I'm trying to get Sanctuary registered as a non-profit refugee organization, but there's a lot of red tape involved, and I'm sure you can understand why. Would you like the grand tour?" 

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"I can only imagine."  Arching a brow as he looked at her, "Contrary to the fact that I seem to generate roughly 5.4 sound bites per 24 hours news cycle, I cannot really have an opinion on everything.  I would have likely done the same thing.  Some chance is better than none."

 

There was a pause, and he smirked a little bit, "Lawyers aren't a problem Stesha.  At least not for me.  I have a small army would prefer something like this, when compared to a libel charge by a supervillain because I may have started a viral and billboard campaign comparing his ferocity to that a toothless chihuahua."  The smirk changed into a smile then, and he held out a crooked arm for her, as he was standing in the air before her.  "Though I can assure you lawmakers tend to look at you very funny when you bring up alternate dimensions, even if we know they exist, still not something I generally want to throw at a governmental agency, especially since a ruling could turn badly.  But we'll cross that road when we get there.  I have a lot of nomenclature I can use for why the money and resources is being allocated.  But let's take a tour first.  Shall I fly us about or would you prefer to go your way?"

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"We can fly if you like," Stesha told him, "it'll let you get the bird's eye view. Just let me call around so everyone knows we'll be out and about. We don't have any birds right now, so some people get pretty nervous about things in the sky that aren't bees or dragons." She opened a flower nearby and took out a portable radio, activated it and spoke into it for a minute or two. "All right," she told him when she was done, "everything is taken care of." She stepped to the edge of the cliff. "We're in the southeastern corner of Sanctuary right now, it pretty much goes in a big circle and you can go wherever you like. If you see any giant fuzzy shapes, it's just the bees and they're friendly." 

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"I understand that statement is comforting to you, but it moderately terrifies me."  Another flash of a smile, somewhere between that winning Amir smile, and one that was self-deprecating.  "Don't mind the forwardness, then."  And he slipped his arm around her, she could feel the containment suit under his normal clothes, as he moved from the cliff and rose to a couple hundred feet above the ground, and he moved at a comfortable pace, in a counter clockwise fashion.

 

There was no real sense of inertia, as he was pretty much absorbing that like it was extra energy.  

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Stesha was perfectly relaxed in his grip, obviously used to flying this way with other heroes and unconcerned that he would drop her. Or at least secure in the knowledge that even if she should fall, she would be unlikely to hurt herself, given her own powers. "You saw Mayberry already, that's what we're going over now. Over there are the barns and pens for the animals, Mayberry has most of those because it's been around the longest, but we're planning to move some more around soon. Sanctuary has almost no native fauna," she explained, raising her voice slightly over the wind. "I had a research team from FCU come in over the summer and do a study on what sorts of animals and insects we should be reintroducing first, their first suggestion was bees, which was of course very popular. We've got goats and donkeys now too, sheep, chickens and cows and I think the monastery has a couple of new alpacas for the wool. We've also got a dozen dogs now, mostly collie mixes, hugely popular in all the villages. I wanted cats too, but they said it wasn't a good idea, so no cats on Sanctuary." 

 

The village was easier to see from this angle, a collection of a dozen wood or pre-fab buildings and perhaps four times that many sod homes around them, laid out with paths like the spokes of a wheel. The animal barns were on one edge of the circle, while two-thirds of the rest of the village were surrounded by gardens and row crop fields that stretched for acres. The last bit of land outside the village appeared to be nothing but open, grassy meadow, dotted here and there with low-slung, broad-trunked deciduous trees. It looked like a park, mostly. Down in the village center several people looked up and waved at the fliers overhead. 

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Amir nodded a little bit.  "I can't help buy ask... Mayberry?"  He grinned a little bit as he asked that.  While there was no sense of inertia, the wind thing still happened, though no friction from the movement.  If she had been flown by someone else, it was a curious sensation, but not disorientating or anything else.  "Makes sense, though if you get rodents, you will probably add cats then?  I am not much up to date on agricultural stuff, apart from what crosses my desk."

Amir was nothing if not willing to point out the gaps in his knowledge, especially in a situation like this, where he had to disarm Stesha, because some of what he was asking was a bit of a big pill for her to take.  It was why he was leaving as much as possible in her say.  "So were you wanting clinics in each village, and they are connected to the school?  What I know I can do is get a steady stream of interns to help with building and maintaining that stuff, and you might some of them to stay."

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Stesha chuckled. "Well I had to call them something, and Mayberry seemed nice and wholesome. I suspect that at some point they'll want to rename it something more meaningful to them, or maybe branch out into new villages they name themselves, but I didn't just want to call them Villages One, Two and Three. Homewood didn't have a name until the other two came along, it was just "the village," but that obviously wasn't going to work anymore." She leaned forward in his grip to point out some of their crop fields, wheat and quinoa and barley and corn, all growing next to each other with no concern for how strange it was. "I was told in the strongest possible terms that we should not introduce cats if we could help it," she told Asad as they swooped over the forest that stood between the villages. "Cats are highly invasive, highly efficient predators, and they wipe out pretty much all the bird and mammal species they can find. If we want birds to rebound, we need to avoid the cats. Which is too bad, because I like cats, but they suggested all kinds of other rodent-control measures if it starts to be a problem." 

She looked back at him when he asked about the clinics. "Not connected to the schools, not really. We don't have any kind of higher education around here, aside from some informal apprenticeship deals," she explained, "once kids get past high school age or so, they start working with the adults. I want some of them to be able to go to college eventually, that's the best way to learn the kind of engineering and medicine and history and political science that will make society here robust, but first things have got to come first. Any doctors or nurses who come here have plenty of willing students, and I've got some training with the doctor at the monastery. They're already learning a lot. When I'm on the planet it's one thing, if somebody gets hurt I can heal them. But I'm not always here, and they need to be able to at least stabilize people and keep them alive long enough for me to get home or for someone to teleport the injured person to a hospital. So something, at least, in every village. 

As they went over a small rise, she abruptly brightened, pointing to a meadow full of flowers that, on closer inspection, ranged from the size of spread tarpaulins to the size of football fields. "Oh here, see, this is the Bee Meadow!" 

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