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Unfinished Business

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Lynn Epstein's West End apartment. Monday, April 13th, 2015. 3:05am

 

"Fuhh!" Lynn abruptly woke up in bed, her heart racing; the sheets were tightly wrapped around her and the pillow was on the floor. She sat up and blinked her eyes, the darkened bedroom as clear as day to her faerie eyes. Two of her cats were curled up on the bed, clearly upset at being disturbed by her rude outburst, so she reached out and scratched between their ears with her claws, just the lightest touch.

 

"Sorry, babies; Mommy had another nightmare." It had been one of the bad ones; she and Bill were at the ranch, celebrating the twin's birthday. Her parents were there, along with Erik and Ellie, and the kids were enjoying pony rides. Then Viktor arrived fashionably late, laughing with an armload of packages, and everyone was excited to open their presents, but only Lynn could see the long black spider legs poking through wrapping paper, and Ruthie eagerly reached out to grab her gift-

 

The ageless changeling went into the bathroom, ran the sink and splashed her face with water. She filled a cup with water and drank it, more out of habit than any real thirst. Lynn contemplated her face in the mirror, the perfect flawless mask, and sighed. "Ya need help, kid; better go get some!"

 

- - -

 

ArcheTech's Hanover facility, 9:22 am that same day

 

Lynn didn't feel like flying; at times like this, the mindless jostle of public transportation was somehow more appropriate, and she could just veg out in her seat like everybody else. It took a lot longer, but eventually she made it to Hanover and what was left of Dok's legacy; she realized belatedly that she'd never stepped in this building before, and wasn't sure what to expect.

 

She'd opted for a sort of 'office casual' look, with a tweed jacket over a simple cotton blouse, dark Capri pants and brown ankle boots. Reaching under her blouse, she found the familiar ring on its thong; she pulled it out, gave it a quick kiss, then tucked it away as she headed for the main entrance.

 

Once inside, she made a beeline for the security desk, and offered the security guard on duty a dazzling but nervous smile. "Hi! I'm not sure who I should talk to; I'm sorry, I didn't make an appointment." She leaned in closer. "My name's Lynn Epstein, and I was hoping to talk to someone about Viktor...Archeville?"

Edited by Heritage

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The receptionist nearest her, an attractive young man in his mid-twenties wearing an ArcheTech-branded dress shirt and an earpiece, gave her a quizzical smile. "I'm sorry, Ms. Epstein, but Dr. Archeville retired in 2011. If you'd like to learn more about his life and vision for ArcheTech, you can visit the Archeville Room at the end of Corridor 2. There's an interactive exhibit on the founding of ArcheTech, as well as several mementos from his superheroing career and the first video message he recorded for the ArcheTech Science Museum." He gestured helpfully to the signs directing Lynn to Corridor 2, as well as other locations on the expansive open-to-the-public first floor, then continued smiling at her, obviously expecting her to go away. 

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Lynn smiled back, though it was a bit forced; her eyes wandered around the lobby as she pondered her next move.

 

Well, what did you expect? You walk in the front door without an appointment, they think you're a tourist.

 

Clearing her throat, she stepped a bit closer to the man. "Listen-" She noted his ID badge. "Steven, I used to work with the good doctor a few years ago, and I was really hoping to speak with whomever replaced him as the head of ArcheTech. Could you tell me who that is, please?"

 

Then a thought struck her; she pulled out her wallet and slid out her old Interceptors magnetic card; it was her last connection to the Brownstone, now long gone after its destruction. The card itself was a featureless white rectangle, though she knew it was almost certainly full of intricate microcircuitry. Bill had strongly suggested she destroy it, fearing it might somehow contain some secret danger, but she'd never been able to let it go.

 

"Here, go ahead and swipe this and see what happens."

Edited by Heritage

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The receptionist's smile faltered, a single furrow marring his smooth brow as he stared at her. "Miss Americana is the CEO of ArcheTech," he told Lynn, sounding a little as though she'd gone on a White House tour and asked who the President was. "But I'm afraid she's extremely busy. I could take down your name and contact information and pass it along to her assistant..." A second brow-furrow joined the first when she proffered the magnetic card. He took it, holding it between finger and thumb and turning it over warily. "Kelsey," he called, summoning one of the other two receptionists, "have you ever seen a card like this before?" 

 

Kelsey, who was also wearing a blue ArcheTech dress shirt and an earpiece, but who had brilliant magenta hair to go with it, studied the card as well. "It looks like a hotel keycard," she observed, glancing over at Lynn. She leaned in and whispered to her associate, "Is she trying to pick you up, Jase?" 

 

The first receptionist, apparently Jase, colored from hairline to neck. "No!" he hissed back, just loud enough that Lynn could still hear. "I mean... I don't think so. She wanted to talk to Dr. Archeville, and then she wanted to talk to 'whoever's in charge,' and gave me this key like I'm supposed to do something with it. Do you think she's a time traveler?" 

 

This drew a frown from Kelsey as well. "I don't know, she looks kind of old-fashioned maybe?" she whispered back. "I don't know if we've even got anything that can read a card like this. Why don't you call up and see if you can get one of the staff supers to come down in case things get weird, and I'll try to run it." Jase nodded and scampered away with obvious relief, while Kelsey took up the job of smiling with great professional pleasantness at Grim. "I'm sorry, your card isn't compatible with our current security systems, but I can try to run it through the computer and see if it does anything." She moved to a POS computer down at the end of the reception desk, where they seemed set up to handle overflow from the gift shop when necessary. She swiped the keycard through the credit-card slot, looking pleased that she'd found the one computer at the desk that would read a magnetic strip. The computer beeped. Then it hummed. Then it emitted a low groaning noise and turned itself off, followed by the bank of lights above it and to judge by the muted feedback whine and Kelsey's grimace, the receptionists' cute little earpieces. More lights began flickering off, bank by bank, across the lobby. 

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At the mention of the glamorous superheroine, Lynn rolled her eyes, slapped her forehead and snorted. "Oh God, right! I knew that! Such a dimwit!" She actually did feel pretty stupid; a simple Google search on her smartphone would have told her that!

 

The whispered conversation between Jase and Kelsey was pretty hilarious; she actually arched an eyebrow at the young man just to mess with his head. And actually, she had travelled through time... But then the card swipe yielded much badness, proving once again that even in death, her husband was still smarter than she was.

 

Bill, I am so sorry! I will never question your advice again, so help me God!

 

"Oh s###, oh s###! I honestly didn't think it would do that! Here, take my wallet, take my keys and cuff me! Damn it, that was stupid!"

 

Lynn frantically emptied the contents of her pockets onto the desk and held out her hands, wrists together, grinning like a clown at his execution.

Edited by Heritage

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Kelsey wasn't even paying attention to Lynn at this point, being fully involved with squeaking in distress and batting at the computer keyboard as though it were a person who'd fallen unconscious. Within seconds, though, Lynn found herself surrounded by a pair of large security guards who looked more than able to take her into custody if necessary. "Miss, would you please come with us," one of them said, gesturing toward an unmarked door near the reception desk. Nearly all the lights in the lobby were off or flickering by now, though the exhibits themselves had not turned off, nor had the climate control or automatic doors. The second guard gathered up all the things Lynn had dropped on the counter, examining them before tucking them into a clear plastic bag. Everyone in the lobby, including a large group of elementary school students on a field trip, seemed to be staring straight at the discomfited heroine. 

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"Right, sure, of course." Lynn was nodding mechanically, keeping her head down so her hair obscured her face; she even made it subtly thicker and curlier to hide her features more effectively. As she dutifully followed along, she once again noted that she should NEVER handle tech; anything more complicated than a pencil sharpener was a dangerous weapon in her hands, but not in a good way. Bill once declared there was no technology so durable that it could survive five minutes in her presence, yet put her behind the wheel or in the cockpit, and she was a natural. Or rather, an unnatural.

 

Lynn sat in the seat she has told to sit in, folded her hands in her lap and sighed; depending on your perspective, she either looked like a little girl waiting outside the principal's office, or a little old lady who just got pulled over for running a stop sign. Both in a sense were accurate.

 

"Can I have glass of water," she asked in a small voice.

Edited by Heritage

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Trainor Airport...

Seahawk was busy doing the maintenance on her suit's equipment, flight-pack and all, when she gets a chirp over her comlink. "Naomi, this is Jase from HQ. We got a Protocol Alpha here at the HQ and we need someone to report. You're first on the list."

 

Naomi sighed. Starting to put on her suit, it's life preserver still inflated to check for leaks, and putting on her flight pack. "Jase, sweetie, you do know I'm doing maintenance on the suit today right? Flight system too."

 

"I'm aware but this isn't a..." There is a static before the comlink cuts out.

 

"Wait... Protocol Alpha... CRAP. No time to be embarassed..." she muttered, pulling up her cowl on her suit and pulling down it's goggles before the helmet closes around her head.

 

Seahawk opens the upper shield to Archetech's test hangar and flies out, hitting trans-sonic almost immediately once she knows her sonic boom won't affect things. In moments she's at Archetech's headquarters, landing in the front foyer, she taps a button on her suit's helmet, changing her suit into the typical navy blue with white trim that is the recognized color combination for Seahawk.

 

She could see the disorganization the chaos in the museum had on the students, so she knew something was up. She closes her eyes as her fists start glowing for a moment.

 

"Can I have a glass of water..."

 

Seahawk walked over to the cooler, gets a cup filled. If this girl was a Protocol Alpha, she didn't look the part of a threat to security. She hands it to Lynn as she looks quisically. "Hey, is she causin' trouble?" She asked security, gesturing towards her. "Fill me in. Everythin's goin' wonky. Better be worth it with me lookin' all like a frigate bird."

Edited by The Osprey

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The security guard relaxed ever so slightly when Seahawk arrived on the scene, but didn't so much as twitch an eyelash away from his careful observation of the diminutive detainee. "She came in acting suspiciously approximately ten minutes ago," he reported crisply, "then approached the reception desk and was able to bamboozle them into running some sort of bogus security card. It had a virus in it that disrupted lights, computers and communications through the entire building. Miss Americana is aware of the situation, but is working to reverse the damage before she deals with the culprit." The other security guard nodded his assent to this version of events. 

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Lynn mutely accepted the cup of water, though she managed to mouth 'thank you' and give Seahawk a small smile; after she took a small sip, she closed her eyes as the security guard described his version of events. It was almost comical how effectively she'd crippled the building without even trying, without even wanting to in the first place! Clearly Dok did not trust Grim when he issued that card, or part of him didn't anyway.

 

At last, the petite brunette drew in a long breath and let it out slowly. "My name is Lynn Epstein; I'm the owner of Silberman's Books in the West End. Believe it or not, I am not a terrorist or a criminal; what I am, in fact, is an idiot who could have put everyone's life at risk by presenting that stupid card! I will happily submit to questioning, but I'd prefer to contact legal counsel before doing so." She gave the guard a sad smile. "If that's okay with you."

Edited by Heritage

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Seahawk sat on the table, crossing a leg, trying to look serious, in the state her suit was currently in, crossing her arms as best she could with a bright red air bladder puffed out... She decides to start letting air out as she quirked an eyebrow. "Lawyerin' up? Need I remind you that this isn't a jail and we're not law enforcement. You're on private property, sweetie. To be honest, how hard OUR lawyers push for charges, and how severe, will be based on how forthcomin' you're gonna be with us."

 

"Name's Seahawk. Got called over as I keep a direct line with the company. I help 'em out from time to time... and right now the only reason why I'm not taking you as some minion of a supervillain is the fact you just stumbled into this, didn't ya?"

 

She held up the card, that was on the desk, stored in the clear plastic bag once she hugged the last bit of air out of her gear. "Where'd you get the card in the first place?" she asked, as her helmet flipped open while her goggles and cowl made sure nothing of her face was visible except for her lower face. Seahawk wasn't being threatening, but her tone suggested she wasn't in a good mood over this.

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The tiny detainee held up her hands and laughed with little mirth. "You're right, you're right; the law is on your side. God, I'm such an idiot!" She ran both hands through her curly hair, careful not to expose her pointed ears...at least not yet. "Up until 2011, I used to work for Viktor Archeville, in an unofficial capacity." She pointed at the white rectangle. "That keycard was used to access the facility; only myself and the other members of the team were issued cards, though I assume Dok had one as well, or some kind of skeleton key. I thought if you swiped it, it would confirm my identity; I didn't think it was full of virus."

 

Lynn sort of sagged in her seat. "And that's the God's honest truth." Then she started sniffing the air, and looked in Seahawk's direction. "You're a pilot, aren't you? Based at Trainor Airport?" Then she noticed her unusual gear. "My God, did you actually fly over here? I'm so sorry to pull you away from your work!" She indicated her flight pack with a wave of her hand. "That's pretty cool, though."

Edited by Heritage

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She knew I came from trainor... there's something about her indeed... and what's her deal with Dr. Archeville?

 

She sighed, starting stow away her embarrassment. "Hmm... So I wager you've got powers, eh?"

 

She smiled, finally getting herself looking like a proper, high-tech pilot. "Yeah, I flew over here. Their technicians know how to keep my kit in order. I was in the middle of maintaining my kit when I got the call to come over and check things out." She said, pointing to the flight pack. "Gets me around when I don't got access to a VTOL."

 

She smiled. "Is this a thing of interest for you, pilot stuff, or you just know things?"

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"I imagine she knows quite a bit," came a new voice from the door. "About powers, anyway, and perhaps about Archetech as well." Miss A walked into the room as though she owned it, which was probably fair, giving the security guards a nod of dismissal. She looked ever-so-slightly less put together than usual, wearing a white blouse and burgundy skirt without the necessary blazer to complete the look, and with her golden hair up in a quick ponytail rather than its usual neat bun or loose waves. "Grimalkin, it's quite a surprise to see you here," she told Lynn, her smile beautiful and edged as a snowflake. "Conventional wisdom has it that you left the city years ago. Mind telling me how you got my receptionist to nearly FUBAR the entire mainframe? And perhaps why, as well?" 

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At the first use of the word 'powers', Lynn hunched forward and spoke through her teeth. "Dude, not in front of the Muggles!" She jerked her head towards the security guards, then sighed, rolled her eyes and addressed Seahawk's second question. "Yeah, I've done a little flying, just...not around here." She shrugged. "Well, not in a plane at least; if you count..."

 

But then her voice died in her throat as the head of ArcheTech strode in, like a statue of the Greek goddess of stern disapproval; she found herself staring down at her cute ankle boots, intensely studying the laces. At last, she managed to lift her eyes up and smile ruefully. "It's, ah...it's very nice to meet you, Miss Americana, though obviously..." She gestured weakly, then threw up her hands. "Look, as I was just telling the very nice pilot lady, I did not think this was going to happen; I didn't think at all, apparently. She leaned forward to sharply tap the magnetic card. "That is my old keycard to the late lamented Brownstone, issued to me by my employer, Dr. Viktor Archeville, back when I was an Interceptor; it was never acknowledged in the press, but he bankrolled the whole operation."

 

Then she looked uncertainly between the two heroines. "Whiiiiich you knew because you're CEO, right? Right?"

Edited by Heritage

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Seahawk looked like she got smacked in her face with a halibut. A big one.

 

She starts cracking up as she falls to the floor laughing. "Miss A... this kid's no threat. She stumbled into it." She said, after about a minute of awkward laughing. She chortles as she sits up, covering her mouth. "So why were you using a card that has no meaning now here? And for that fact... Miss A, have you checked out the entirety of the facilities here? Is everything accounted for?"

 

She catches her breath as she gets back to her knees. "Maybe we got a mystery here to solve. Something of Doctor A's legacy."

 

"Maybe something we have to remove... Violently" She said. Looking to Lynn. "I don't know about you guys, but I think this Miss Epstein is okay by me."

 

She pulls back her cowl but only after hiding her face for a moment, keeping the goggles in place after taking them off for a moment. Her blonde hair was out as well as her ears, but the goggles made sure her eyes were hidden. She smirked. "I mean... is she?"

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Miss A narrowed her eyes upon seeing that Lynn had somehow regained possession of the card that had already caused so much trouble, but other than a brief baleful glance towards the door the security guards had gone through, she did not comment on it. Instead she put on some sort of lightweight metallic-mesh glove and picked up the card, turning it over in her hands and studying it. "Dr. Archeville gave you this?" she asked thoughtfully. "Well, that would explain a lot, actually. It was obviously a trap. Nothing that happened just now was coincidental or accidental, it was all programmed specifically. If you ever came to ArcheTech and used that card, it would cause a lot of suspicious noise and fuss, shut down a number of nonessential systems for no reason, and alert whoever was in the top office that Grimalkin was attempting to access the building." 

 

She looked again to Grimalkin. "As for him bankrolling the Interceptors, this is the first I've heard of it. The Compensatory Fund laid out money to them in 2011 in compensation for lost property and personal effects due to the destruction of their headquarters, but they never mentioned being ArcheTech employees or contractors." The look she gave Grim suggested she found the story about as plausible as if she'd said she'd found Santa Claus fighting aliens on her front lawn: not outside the realm of possibility, but requiring a lot more evidence to take seriously. 

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It always bothered Lynn when someone called her 'kid', but when you're tiny and ageless, you kind of have to grit your teeth and let it go; plus Seahawk seemed to be on her side, or at least more so than the clearly irritated Miss A, so she had to cut her some slack.

 

"Well of course Jack didn't tell you anything; the guy's Captain Compartmentalization! If he played his cards any closer to his chest, they'd have to be surgically removed." The changeling drummed her fingers on the armrest of her chair. "Look, I'm sure everything you said about the card was true; it was booby-trapped in case I ever tried to enter the building with it, presumably to prevent me from stealing Dok A's secrets." Then she held up her finger. "Ah, but I was right about exactly one thing: it did verify my identity, and was clearly designed to interact with the building's systems. So if-"

 

Suddenly she stopped as something finally registered. "Wait, did you say 'Compensatory Fund'? When did that pay out?" Then she started to do the math. "It must have been after me and Colt disappeared! Colt didn't have any next of kin here, and my mom probably refused it and called it 'Nazi blood money'." Lynn looked apologetic and shrugged. "No offense." She scooted forward in her seat and tried to play it cool. "So how...how much was that? Per person?"

Edited by Heritage

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Miss Americana just stared at Lynn for a moment, looking dumbfounded behind her veneer of calm composure. She shook it off quickly. "The amount varied greatly because it was based on the damages and injuries suffered during Dr. Archeville's unfortunate possession and the fallout resulting from it. The unexhausted portion of the fund is managed by our legal division now, so you'd have to speak with them if you'd like to file a claim for your losses. I can give you a number to call." She turned away for a moment, facing the large abstract painting that took up much of one wall, took a deep breath and cracked her knuckles once. "But it doesn't sound like that's what you came here looking for," she finally pointed out, looking back to Lynn with her polite blandness firmly in place. "I assume there was something you wanted, to make you come try out your keycard after all these years?" 

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Seahawk heard the story. And whistled.

 

"2011 huh? 4 years of letting this grow mold." Seahawk said, noticing her boss crack her knuckles. She knew she had to at least move the two here in a direction where some superbrawl wouldn't happen. "You not knowin' that there was some sort of compensation means it's somethin' else that drew you here. I'm wagerin' that since this is with Doc A... it's closure you're lookin' for, eh? Ya wanna bury the hatchet? Or perhaps just bury the past and give it a proper funeral?"

 

Seahawk sighed, looking at the two. "Look... I got a feelin' here that Grimalkin here and her past have some pretty deep scars that ain't fadin'. Trust me, I know that feelin' and it's not comfy."

 

"So, Lynn... what's up? We're stuck in now with the past and the now occupyin' the same space and from what the labcoats here keep sayin' that isn't a good thing."

Edited by The Osprey

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Lynn looked between the two women, shook her head and laughed. "I'm, I'm sorry; for a second there I had dollar signs for eyes." She ran a hand through her curly hair. "The fact of the matter is, Bill and I had already moved out of the Brownstone weeks before; all the really valuable stuff was long gone. Heck, the only reason we were even in the building was to pick up a few odds and ends." She sighed and looked down at her hands. "I don't need your money, and Bill's gone, so he certainly doesn't need it...though if you made a donation to the Nature Conservancy in his name, that would be nice. He'd have liked that."

 

The changeling looked wistful for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and slapped her thighs. "So, why the hell am I here? Good question! I've been out of town for several years, and by 'out of town', I mean a parallel dimension, and by 'years', I mean decades. Bill and I left this world in 2011 and I just got back last summer; not only did I miss out on countless birthdays and family events, but I missed the chance to see Frozen in the theater, which still pisses me off."

 

She took a sip of water, then continued. "Look, the point is, I have no idea what happened with Dok and everyone else after we left; if you Google it, all you get is he retired and the company rebuilt, yadda yadda yadda. But we all know that the really important stuff never ends up on the Internet, or at least not any of the sites that I go on." She leaned forward, a pained expression on her face. "So what the hell really happened?"

Edited by Heritage

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Miss A let out her breath in a sigh and sat down in one of the conference table's plushy chairs. "Decades, then? It has been theorized that time moves differently in certain alternate dimensions, but I've never spoken to anyone who chose to homestead in one. I assume one of your powers is at least limited immortality, then." This was obviously a rhetorical question, not needing an answer. "Here it's been four years, which is a very long time as one counts news cycles and averted apocalypses, but not that long in terms of gathering a historical perspective on events." She steepled her fingers, touching the ends of her impeccable french-tipped nails together. "What do you know about what happened to Dr. Archeville?" 

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Lynn frowned, and looked down at her hands, her fingers twisting into knots. "I know he mind controlled us;  the docs on Otherworld said...the nanites must have been in our system for at least six months, which means the food  he brought over at Christmas was probably tainted..." She stopped and looked from one woman to the other. "He was our friend...our benfactor...and he did that to us."

Then for a few seconds, she couldn't speak as she tried to find the strength to continue. "I was ready...to kill a child; I was looking forward  to it! Do you have any idea what that feels like? To remember that feeling inside you? It feels like...death; like you'd rather be dead."

 

The changeling pulled a handkerchief out of thin air to wipe the tears away, which were flowing in earnest now. "So we beat him; I was knocked out by the end, but Bill told me we won. He picked me up, with a banged-up leg mind you, and took me back to my parents' place, where I was...curled up in a ball for three days. After that, I couldn't leave this world fast enough."

Edited by Heritage

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"The public story is that Dr. Archeville was possessed by a malign external agent, some kind of demon or extradimensional entity." Miss A watched Grim with some sympathy as she explained. "The possessing creature was able to subdue his consciousness but draw on enough of his memory and personality to imitate him for months while it waited to set its plan into action. Once it had summoned a new and monstrous form for itself, it deserted Archeville's body, and was destroyed when the creature was defeated. Dr. Archeville was left with very little memory of what had happened to him, but was so traumatized by the events that he retired and gave up control of his company. He's now living in seclusion at an undisclosed location in North America." 

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Lynn stroked her lower lip thoughtfully. "And how close to the truth is the 'public story'? Is that what really went down?" She furrowed her brow in thought. "I remember...there was a moment when we were fighting the Beast, when like a little- well, actually he was full-sized, but compared to that thing he was little, but some version of Dok was sort of...squirted out of that whole necrotic mass." She shook her head and grimaced in disgust. "So disgusting! But I guess if that was the real Dok, the old one...yeah."

 

She said nothing for a few seconds as she digested this information, slowly rubbing her jaw as she stared off into space. "God, he must be...so f###ed up now; probably on meds 24/7. I'm guessing it's impossible to see the man himself?" Finally the  changeling vigorously rubbed her fingers through her curly hair and sighed; for a brief moment, her pointed ears were visible. "Man, alright, now we come to damage control." She bit her lip as she looked between the two women.

 

"Look, I'm sure I've cost your company a lot of money and man-hours; I have some money, but you're probably less interested in that. If I could volunteer my services in any way to help work off the debt in trade, I'd be more than happy to help." She shrugged. "I don't know how much use a scientific research firm has for 'elfin magic', but I am at your disposal."

Edited by Heritage

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