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Raveled

The Misery of Knowledge

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Freedom City, New Jersey, Earth
Morning


Archetech's North American headquarters saw more than the average amount of parahuman weirdness in a work week, even more than most places in Freedom City. Being the home of highly advanced sciences, the regular working space of superheroes, and the epicenter of a world-wide attack meant that a place started to attract a certain type of attention, and the security team had developed procedures for all sorts of situations. Like when a falling star landed at the top of the building.

 

Corona glowed gold and red and perpetually angry, floating half a foot above the helipad. She glared as the security guards spilled out of the rooftop access and surrounded her. No one was pointing weapons at each other yet, but if looks could kill there would murder. Corona crossed her armored arms and rotated slowly in place, finding the one guard who looked the most in charge of his emotions. He was an older gentlemen, with a bushy mustache and an Archetech cap on his head; Corona inclined her head infinitesimally towards him. "I need to speak with your genius," she said, her voice amplified through the suit's speakers. "I have a trade for her."

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The security guard nodded, studying Corona and keeping his distance. All the guards looked to be well-trained, staying back and very alert, poised for trouble without inviting it. "State your name, please, and we can convey your request to Miss Americana. You can land if you like, but please don't attempt to enter the building until you are cleared." One of the other guards was already speaking quietly into a radio, while two others on the edges of the helipad kept an eye out in case more company was forthcoming. 

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Corona touched her feet onto the helipad, the glow around her fading as she released more and more of her power. She reached up and unsealed the clamshell of her helmet, popping it off and running a hand through her faux-hawk. "You can call me Aya K'zan," she told the security guard. "Citizen and officer of the Lor Republic." She paused and after a moment added, "Visiting here for a personal matter."

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The guard had a radio conversation on his headset, then said, "All right, you're cleared - with escort."

 

He ushered Corona inside the building, escorting her himself to a meeting room on the upper floors of the building where she'd first arrived. He closed the door, but she had the feeling she was under surveillance even though there were no more Terrans in the room with her.

 

Once inside, a holographic system flickered to life behind a wooden podium at the head of the conference room - but the figure that appeared was not who she expected. With his old-fashioned garb and archaic accent, he looked like a character from a holonovel. 

 

"Hello," said the projected Lor (because that was what he almost certainly had to be, especially with an accent no Terran would have ever heard), "I'm Sharl Tulink. I don't recognize your insignia," he commented. "Are you a civilian?" Before the galaxy had gone to the dogs, Sharl might have been suspicious at a non-military Lor showing up on Terra, but he knew just how bad things were for the Republic.  

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Corona followed the security guards down, forcing herself not to worry about the ones behind her back. Her powers and her armor should protect her from any Terran weapon, but then she wouldn’t be in this building if there wasn’t a genius here. A genius could arm her guards with any sort of devices.

She actually relaxed a touch when she was shut away in a meeting room. She only had a moment to look around and orient herself, though, when the Lor suddenly flickered into being. Aya suppressed a tic when he mentioned not recognizing the OOPS colors, carefully placing her clamshell on the table while she considered her words. “I don’t know if there are any Lor civilians anymore,†she said. “Anyone who didn’t point a rifle at an antibody worked to supply the military.†She raised her eyes and met gazes with the other Lor. “Aya K’zan, formerly of Republic Investigation Patrol, formerly Outback Overwatch & Survey Patrol, currently unattached.â€

Aya walked around the table until she could see the holoemitter this Lor was coming out of. “<I didn’t realize this building had an AI,>†she said, switching to her native language. Of course there was a chance that this was just a personality construct on a non-sentient computer system, but why would a Terran program in an alien for their helper?

Edited by Raveled

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"<I'm not part of the building's mainframe,>" said Sharl, switching back to his native tongue too - albeit with an accent Aya had never heard before. "<I'm a citizen of Tronik, an isolate that the Curator digitized over a thousand standard years ago.>" There was no point in keeping that particular secret - after all, he'd gone to Lor-Van to try and get help for his people. Help that was, most likely, not going to happen now. "<Terrans found us a few decades ago.>" He studied Aya and went on, "<I was a messenger during the war, mostly. Not much even the Communion could do to stop a multi-pentabyte data package on a tachyon frequency.>" He smiled thinly. 

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Aya relaxed marginally when Sharl revealed he was another Lor. What she was here to do wasn’t exactly sanctioned by the Republic’s ruling powers, and it made her feel better to know that there was another Lor working with this Miss Americana. Aya was going to be trusting this woman an awful lot; it was good to know that at least one other of her people also trusted this Terran.

Of course, that didn’t mean she shouldn’t find out as much as she can. Aya inclined her head towards Sharl, speaking respectfully. “The Republic thanks you for your service,†she said formally. “You been with this Miss Americana very long, then?â€

Edited by Raveled

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"Almost five years; ever since I found my way out of our systems onto the Terran 'net." He caught the look on her face and grinned ruefully, "Yeah, that sucked about as much as you can imagine. Miss A says I was taking up most of the computing capacity of the whole area before she was able to corral my program and tighten things down." Putting his hands in his old-fashioned jacket pockets, he sat down; the magnetic enhancements in his projection letting him manipulate the matter around him. "I actually went home a couple of years ago - there isn't anyone else who has superpowers back in Tronik, nothing but the most basic psi stuff." He looked haunted for a moment as he went on, but tried to keep his tone light. "Miss A pulled me out this summer so I could go to Lor-Van and make a pitch for our city. You know, find an empty world, use matter reclamation to build a city, maybe even organic bodies for all of us. Two hours after I get there..." He sat back, the casualness fading from his tone.  

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Aya sat in one of the comfy, overstuffed leather chairs positioned around the meeting table. She raised an eyebrow at the mention of 'tightening down' Sharl’s program; changing an AI’s program was like mucking around in the brain of an organic being. Someone who would reprogram an AI casually didn’t seem like the sort of person she wanted to trust.

And then the conversation wandered to the topic of Lor-Van, and anything else was banished from her mind. She grew tense all at once, hyper-aware of every fact in the room as her mind tried to find anything to talk about besides the destruction of the capital. There wasn’t anything, though, and Aya didn’t believe in running from confrontation, either. She opened her mouth to speak and it came out as a hard croak. The Lor cleared her throat and tried again. “You were… you were on Lor-Van when it happened?â€

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"For a couple of hours. I came in on the Vox and I traveled around Ohtlav for a while." Sharl looked away, rubbing his projected hands together. "I...there wasn't anything I could do. Anything anybody could do. They sent me out on the Vox just before the second wave hit, just before they...they atomized the planet." He reached up and scrubbed his eyes, feeling the wound peel back in his mind. "It was my first time on Lor-Van. All my life, I'd heard about the beauty and majesty of the Republic, the world we lost when we went through the vortex...and it was true. It was _all true_." He looked up at Aya, unable to fight the tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly, "I'm sorry, I couldn't do anything to help. I just had to watch it all happen." 

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“No one at all could help.” Aya’s fingers curled around the arm-rests of the chair, gripping the tooled leather tightly. “I even… I heard that there were Star Knights up there. That didn’t make it.” Her jaw clenched hard and she looked straight ahead, visions of terror and desolation playing inside her head. For some reason, the fact that she hadn’t seen Lor-Van be destroyed -- that there was precious few records of the event, that most of what she had heard were the panicked stories of people who had escaped by barest measure -- made it all worse.

It took her a few minutes to realize that Sharl had finished speaking and it was her turn again. She cleared her throat, feeling acutely awkward. “The, ah, the Republic thanks you for ya service,” she said. “All the folk, every free body in space, is grateful for what ya did."

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The door opened at that moment to admit Miss Americana, looking impeccable as usual in a navy and cream skirted suit with maroon stiletto pumps. She gave Sharl a quick nod of thanks for handling the new arrival for her, then smiled at Corona. "I'm Miss Americana, I'm the CEO of ArcheTech and the head of Research and Development. We have quite a few geniuses working for the company, but I suspect that I'm the one you're wanting to talk to. You're from the Lor Republic?" She looked Corona over, took in the obviously Lor attributes. "My greatest condolences on your loss." 

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Aya’s attention snapped to the door and she stood quickly as a tall blonde in a suit entered. Perhaps she moved a bit too quickly; talking about the destruction of Lor-Var had set her on edge, and now she was too full of nervous energy to react smoothly. She took a deep breath to calm herself before answering. “Earth’s help has been noted in the fight against the Communion,” she said, “an’ it’s appreciated. If you’re the lead researcher here, then you’re the one I wan’ to talk to.”

She raised a hand, clenching it into a fist. A gold-red glow gathered around her fist, oddly reflecting the colors of the armor underneath it. “This started a few years ago.” She let the power fade and dropped her hand to the table. “I’ve had my armor for much longer, but just recently it’s been going… sideways.” She drummed her fingers heavily against the table, trying to work through how to say what she needed to in the Terran language. “The power is… comin’ through my armor. I’d like you to take a look at it. In return, I’d give you a look at a modern Lor combat spacesuit.”

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"That is an acceptable exchange," Miss Americana agreed with a nod, stepping forward to have a closer look at the energy bleed. For most heroes, she'd have said no exchange was necessary, she'd help regardless, but she knew a little bit about Lor customs and suspected that it was important to the woman to have something to trade. "Would you like me to have a look at it today, or would it be easier for you to set up an appointment? I will need an hour or so to adjust my schedule, but Sharl here can help you get settled in a testing room if you'd like to start in on things right away." Most of the time Miss A tried to remember that Sharl wasn't technically her assistant anymore, but sometimes he really did come in handy. Plus it seemed like they'd been talking before she walked in. 

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At Miss Americana's arrival, Sharl quieted, quickly wiping his eyes and taking out a glowing holographic codex to take notes on the conversation. It didn't look like he was intimidated by the impossibly gorgeous Terran - just respectful, the way a junior officer might be to a superior. He nodded as she spoke to Corona, not surprised in the least to her her handling the Lor officer so expertly; though he liked to think his advice on Lor culture had helped with it a little! At her suggestion, he said, "I'm arranging a room now. I'd suggest you use the polaron-sensitive equipment," he added, "a lot of the new combat suits were using electron-atomic interaction as a power source when I was there." 

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"I don't know the next time I'll be in these parts," Aya admitted. "My last postin' gave me plenty of time on your home turf, but I'm... on a bit of a vacation now. I'd appreciate if we could sort this sooner instead of later."

She stood and followed Sharl through the corridors of the building, to a room that spoke "hospital" across all language boundaries. She looked around at it and nodded curtly before turning to her guide. "Should I, ah, remove the armor? I'm not quite up on how Terrans work all this.'

She had to admit to herself that she was feeling rather nervous. Lor science mostly dismissed superpowers as an aberration limited to a single, strange planet in a distant corner of the galaxy. The initial examination she had undergone, after the accident, had been both through and perfunctory; Aya had been prodded and probed and bombarded by all sorts of robots and radiation, but she had never had the feeling that the doctors really knew what they were looking at. She should feel safer now that she was in the hands of someone experienced with superpowers, but she didn't enjoy the idea of leaving her well-being in the hands of a Terran. Having another Lor in the room helped calm her nerves greatly, but the butterflies in her stomach refused to go away.

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"Miss A has scanners that can probably penetrate the armor," Sharl offered the other Lor reassuringly. "If she wants to monitor your biofunctions without it, she'll let you know." In the hallways of the building, Sharl could almost completely pass for human, only Aya's eye familiar with the technology could see him ticcing slightly as he went from projector to projector. A Terran probably wouldn't have known the difference. "Hey," he said suddenly, "I recognize you now!" He snapped his fingers. "You did the thing with the communications relay that let us hit the main trunk in the Kestevan system! I saw your picture in the film that Wander recorded and brought back for the archives." 

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Aya put her head to one side, staring dumbly at Sharl for a long moment. “Wander brought back to…” She suddenly snapped her fingers and recognition flooded into her. “Wander! The Terran back on… back in the Garron system, yeah. Well, you know, we were all just tryin’ to do our part.” She found a stool and perched on the edge of it, the metal groaning a touch under the weight of the Lor and her armor. “You’re one of Wander’s kith, then?” she asked. “And you know Miss Americana. Are all crazy Terrans part of a club or what?”

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"Well, remember how low the population here is - there's only about a million people in this entire city!" It was a shockingly low number if you were used to Lor population densities, Freedom City had the population density of a border world, and not a heavily-populated border world, at that. "Even this whole nation-state only has about three hundred million people, and it covers most of this continent. With only a few thousand superhumans in that whole area, it's no wonder everybody knows everybody else." He cocked his head. "She says you should get in position underneath the green projector," he went on, pointing to a dull verdigris triangle marked on the ceiling. "That'll let her do a deep polaric scan. As for Wander and I, we went to the same school. They train superhumans in the area to avoid catastrophe."

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Aya moved over to the scanner, carefully positioning herself underneath it. She took a deep breath, consciously letting down her physical defenses. It wouldn't do any good, after all, if these scans were blocked by her own shield!

As she stood at parade rest under the scanner, the Lor's mind turned over what Sharl had just said. She had seen Wander's destructiveness first-hand, seen a single woman literally dismantle a horde of enemies that would swamp a conventional defense, all without slowing down. Raw power was a scarey enough proposition, but Aya had also witnessed how inquisitive and perceptive individuals like Mechanized could be. The woman had analyzed the power planet Aya's last shuttle had used and seemed ready to replicate it on a much smaller scale, all in a matter of days! Making a technological leap like that bespoke a deeper ability. The idea that they were training such individuals, giving them teamwork and combat experience was a daunting proposition. Suddenly Aya K'zan realized why there were Lor who were seriously scared of Earth.

She shifted, sudden uneasy that she was going to give them even more technology. "Is... Does Miss Americana teach at this school, then? Is that why you went there?"

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"Terran superhumans control Tronik's future," said Sharl evenly. "And with the Republic how it is, they probably will for the forseeable future. Even if we move to some compu-storage facility on a Lor world, we wouldn't be any safer than we are on Terra. Miss A thought it'd be a good idea for me to learn how to deal with them. Besides," he went on, a smile creeping onto his face. "Citizen is Tronik's only native superhero. If I don't learn how to do the job, I might screw it up. 'Scuse me, magnetics and my projection don't mix." He stepped out of the room and right through the energy-transparent door at that, letting the magno-polaric scans from the overhead machine painlessly pass through Corona's body. It felt a little bit like having goosebumps start at the top of her head, pass down to her feet, and then finally fade away. 

When it was done, Sharl stepped back in. "I could probably have done okay just as Miss A's sidekick, but I wanted to try living like a Terran for a few years. It's...catching," he admitted. "They may live like savages half the time, but the other time they're your best friend. I even have a Terran girlfriend," he remarked. 

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Just then, Miss Americana knocked lightly and entered the room, a tablet that looked like a sheet of glass in her hands and a robot whirring at her heels. "All right, that's a couple of preliminary scans done, just to give us your baseline physiology," she explained to Aya. "Can you tell me a little bit more about the energy field you've been manifesting? When did you first notice it, and was it after a notable injury or period of trauma? What sorts of effects have you observed with it? Do you have any physiological reactions to using it, increased fatigue, hunger, shortness of breath, altered states of consciousness?" Her voice was friendly and encouraging but totally even, this was the sort of thing she obviously dealt with frequently on a planet full of metahumans. 

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Aya stood at parade rest, glancing down and purposefully putting her feet outside the green triangle. “Exactly what happened t’ me is…” Ignored. Not official. Slander. An embarrassment to everyone involved. “Classified,” she lied. “What I can say is that it was a’ energy beam from some kind’a experimental weapon. Ever since then I can sort’a…” Her mouth moved as she groped for the right words. Finally, she simply unhooked her gauntlet and pulled it off, then peeled back the pressure suit to reveal her bare, brown hand. Then she reached out to a bare patch of wall and focused. A diffuse glow connected her palm and the wall, a superheated beam of radiation hitting the metal and making it shimmer. After a few moments she lowered her hand; the metal glowed sullen red for a minute more, shedding enough heat to be felt across the room.

Aya refastened her glove and gauntlet, letting Miss Americana take what measurements she needed to. “So yeah. I can do that. An’ I can push it out behind myself and fly, or sort of… anchor myself.” Aya hadn’t brought any of the Lor analyses on her powers; she didn’t want to prejudice any of the Terran’s conclusions.

Edited by Raveled

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"Wow, I didn't detect any psionic activity at all," commented Sharl to Miss A as he looked over the readouts on a nearby monitor. He was more than familiar with superpowers on Earth, but there was nothing here he recognized. The lack of psionic output was, he knew she knew, a sign of something peculiar - almost all Lor 'superpowers' were some outgrowth or other of the frequent Lor genotypical ability to manipulate the 'fifth force', psionic energy. "Is your energy output any particular kind of radiation?" he asked of Corona. "That was a lot of IR output, but we can handle anything short of magnetics with the systems here. And even that's more a me problem than the equipment," he added with a wry smile. He knew better than to criticize Terran technology where Gina could hear; having earned some rather tart lectures on that subject from his erstwhile mentor. 

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“They tell me that th’ radiation walks up and down th’ EM spectrum,” Aya said. “I’ve never had any kind’a psionic potential,” she added, addressing Sharl more directly. “My family’s genetics’ve fixed for a long time. In fact my family were --” She choked off suddenly as a wave of emotion rolled over her, imagining her family covered in a rolling wave of hostile, shining metal, her planet being burned out of space by a hostile force.”

When she came back to herself she was leaning on the wall, a thin sheen of sweat on her face. The Lor swallowed hard, forcing her breathing to come back under control and composing herself, before she turned back to face Sharl and Miss A. “I’m sorry, that was…” She trailed off, running a hand through her suddenly-damp hair. “What was th’ question?”

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