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Kaige

Believe It Or Not (IC)

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GM

6:00 PM, August 7th.

 

The Bedlam Arms Hotel was the city's ritziest, projecting an aura of aged elegance that was particularly impressive given that the building was less than five years old.

 

It was common for fleets of limousines to arrive, slipping through the smog of the Babylon district to drop off their passengers in the enclosed entryway, away from the poor. But tonight there was a virtual traffic jam of the vehicles, their drivers jockeying frantically for position - their jobs were on the line, as their irritated tuxedoed passengers told them between bursts of swearing. For this was not just any business conference or celebrity dinner. This was the Grant Conglomerate's Miracle Gala, and everyone who was anyone would be there, watching and judging through jaded and avaricious eyes.

 

Grant's stark, efficient corporate banners clashed oddly with the gaudy, vaguely rococo decor of the hotel's interior, but no one was looking. Instead they were peering into the mass of twenty-thousand dollar suits and daring dresses, trying to pick out the power players. Short, fat Chase Pennington Sr., the sixty-five year old ruthless landlord of half the apartments in Hardwick Park, stood by the entryway, bellowing racist comments about the state of the city. His doughy son Junior, singularly unattractive but wearing diamond cufflinks and a watch worth half a million dollars, had his arm around a visiting Slovenian model, who had to bend almost in half to allow it and kept quietly redirecting his hand away from her chest.

 

Doug Nylander, tall and athletic beneath his crown of distinguished grey hair, stood by the punch bowl - and no one was drinking any, for fear of coming too close to that coiled viper. His pretty blonde wife Wisteria, already buzzed on more than alcohol, hummed quietly to herself, lost somewhere far away. His daughters, Madison and Jenny, wore dresses that would certainly not be allowed at their high school, drinking in the attention that came with being the prettiest people in the room - even though much of it came from men twice their combined age. Horatio Hoggard III gorged himself on a plate of ribs, his jowls stained with barbecue sauce, while Dr. B. Hugo Lurman talked excitedly with a Grant representative about untested medicines, stopping every few words to go through a series of half a dozen nervous tics.

 

That accounted for the old money, but many eyes were on the new. This wasn't just Vivian Howle's first appearance in Bedlam; it was her first public appearance anywhere since her son Jason, a Bedlam cop, had been killed in the line of duty. Though nearing sixty, she looked good for her age, her close-cropped hair dyed back to the light brown of her youth and the results of her daily exercise apparent. She wore a black business suit that could match any man in the room for elegance and stood with her head held high, otherwise unadorned. As CEO of Howle Chemical, half of the massive Howle-Brandt Consortium, she needed to project confidence. So when socialites approached her, smiling shark smiles with crocodile tears in their eyes, and gushed how sorry they were for her loss, she managed to thank them.

 

It was a moment for mingling before speakers, dinner, and dancing, and all eyes were alert. It was rumored that someone all the way from Freedom City would be in attendance...

Edited by Kaige

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"What a filthy city. Full of scum, lowlife, and depravity!" commented Lord Steam. 

 

"Yes M'lud" answered Blakely. 

 

"I wish I had come sooner!" quipped the Steampunk Sleuth. 

 

"Yes M'lud". 

 

Moreso, it was the sleaze and corruption of the upper classes that fascinated him most. Surely the upper classes did everything better, including sleaze and corruption. 

 

Amongst the procession of limousines, his Lordships car, named Bessie, certainly stood out. An antique, puffing, predictably, steam, full of brass and whistles and knobs and style. It hummed along at quite a pace in the open road. Driving cross country had been quite the experience for Lord Steam. 

 

"Right-ho" remarked Lord Steam, stepping out of Bessie, and flipping his cane under his arm. "Keep the seat warm for me. If its a jolly tedious party, might just slip of for a spot of cards and sherry elsewhere" he said to Blakely, who nodded with an impassive face. 

 

Lord Steam was dressed in suitably antiquated style. A penguin tuxedo, white gloves, and outrageously tall top hat. A monocle in one eye. Bar his most splendid cane, he was unarmed. 

 

One does not bring a revolver to such establishments. 

 

With a bold stride, he entered the Bedlam Arms, took a small glass of sparkling champagne (making most sure to smell and swish for taste), and took view of the scene. 

 

He had particularly low opinion of the rotund Pennington Snr. Drunk, fat, and uncouth. But most vexatiously, racist. It could, and had, been said of Lord Steam that his view of women was some antiquated (although polite). It could be said of him that he had a rather antiquated view of class. But it should never be said (for it would be most incorrect) that he was a racist. He was one quarter Indian on his mother side, and had travelled extensively in India and Japan. 

 

"I say old chap, quite the opinion you have there" he said, marching up to Pennington Snr. "Based on your considerable experience no doubt. Tell me, sir, what exactly did you make of Tokyo when you last visited?"

 

 

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It felt bizarre, wrong even, to be out at some social gathering as if his world hadn't ended.

 

But Aaron Howle had appearances to keep up, so here he was. He wore the same simple black suit he'd worn to Jason's funeral the week before, with the addition of a pair of sunglasses to disguise the puffiness of his eyes. Distantly he wondered if the paparazzi were done running articles on his family's mourning and would move on to questions about his new physique; the suit was one of the newer items of clothing he owned, tailored specifically to accommodate the increased breadth of his shoulders. Mostly he wondered how long he would have to be here, and if he could leave before he broke someone's face.

 

He'd been to a thousand gatherings like this growing up, so classist jokes and idle talk about expensive hobbies were second nature to him. Now, though, it was hard to summon the energy to keep up what had become little more than a mask he wore over the driving purpose that coiled in his heart. He longed to be out on the streets, punching gangsters, seeking answers. For the millionth time in his mind's eye he held the faceless man who'd gunned Jason down in his hands and crushed him to powder. He could be out there changing this city for the better, and instead he was stuck yakking with people who had the means to do so but no interest in it.

 

He wanted badly to confide that frustration in someone. But the only person who would have understood was Jason.

 

Aaron looked over at his mom and felt a surge of mixed emotions. He admired the strength she showed, working through her pain without a flinch or a tear while the sharks circled, but he also had to wonder: how much did she know? Her company, the one she'd spent her life building from the ground up, was elbow deep in Bedlam's misery. He was here for her, showing his support in the way that would mean the most to her, but he felt a wary resentment bubbling up inside him whenever he looked at her. How could she not know? And what kind of person was she if she did?

 

He glanced back at the entryway and swallowed hard - the retro celebrity from Freedom City was getting into it with the older Pennington. That would be trouble. Draining his glass of wine, Aaron put it down and headed for them.

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GM

Pennington turned around as Lord Steam approached, a grin of vicious glee spreading across his features. He always enjoyed it when someone contradicted him; it gave him someone to shout at and, if he was lucky, have beaten. At his elbow, a hulking Iron Talon security guard cracked his knuckles. "Why the hell would I want to go to Tokyo?" He asked with a snort. "If I want to see a Japanman, I'll buy myself a sushi chef. Good way to throw up when you've eaten too much, I bet, eating raw fish like some kind of brainless savage. They think they're so clever, stealing American tech jobs. We should take a few more a-bombs over there and finish the job."

 

He narrowed his beady little eyes. "Of course, I hear that over in Freedom City you're all ready to hand the whole country over to whatever gutter rats wash up on the coast."

 

A small crowd began to gather, watching the exchange in what they mistakenly believed to be a surreptitious way. Most looked to be hoping for blood, a petty lust for violent amusement shining in their jaded eyes. A few, though, looked uncertain; there were stories about the gentleman from Freedom City, stories which - if they were to be believed - would indicate that Pennington and his brute had probably bitten off far more than they could chew in seeking to bully him. The Iron Talon bodyguard, easily six foot four, didn't have that much insight. He loomed over Lord Steam, grinning stupidly, waiting for an excuse to pulp him.

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Big chap. Small brains. Never underestimate an opponent. Still, looks like he relies on size rather than skill. Stronger than me, probably a lot. Strength is dangerous, not to be dismissed. Stance wrong, unprepared, thinks an easy win. Could catch of guard, quick strikes to muscle groups, impair strength. Or employ lock and choke. 

 

But on the other hand, he didn't want blood on his tux. 

 

"Ah, Sir! Please forgive me. I mistook your opinion as based on experience, or, at the very least, that of a judicious mind. I do apologise. Clearly your cortex is of a different persuasion, hmmm? I dare say you consider volume of your vocal verbals a sufficient replacement for the cut and thrust of enlightened Socratic debate, hmmm? I dare say then, they I have been a fool...." he bowed, but not too low. 

 

"Allow me to apologise by buying you a drink!" he said, brightly. 

 

"Saki, please!" he asked a waiter. 

 

"I'm sure a man of your refinement can appreciate the subtlety of the flavours, hmmm?"

 

Edited by Supercape

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This wasn't exactly the kind of fight Aaron wanted to leap into. Most likely, Pennington and his stooge were unknowingly running the risk of having the stuffing beaten out of them, for which they were long overdue.

 

But when Aaron glanced over at his mom, he wondered if she could take one more curveball. She was standing in front of all these fake smiles, holding her ground, but if her first appearance in Bedlam turned into tabloid fodder because of a brawl in the entryway... well, it wasn't a pleasant possibility. So Aaron summed up his years of experience dealing with the pompous and entitled; it hadn't been so long ago that he'd fit that category pretty well himself. "Gentlemen," he said with a brightness that sounded genuine but did not touch his soul, "the food is further in! It'd be a shame to miss dinner."

 

He shouldered past Pennington's bodyguard, breaking his looming stance over Lord Steam and creating a triangle between the three men of society. He could almost make his eyes match the disarming smile he wore.

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GM

Pennington stopped short at Lord Steam's words, appearing to ponder them behind his beady little eyes. Turning each phrase over and over in his mind, he was only able to tease out that he had more or less been offered an apology, which was extremely disappointing; it might look bad now if he had the man beaten. But maybe he could still provoke a confrontation. "Saki," he snorted. "Maybe they have whatever that is where you're from, but we have class around here. You can order me a bourbon to show how sorry you are, and don't cheap out on it. I know a cheap man when I see one. I rent to half of Hardwick Park."

 

It was at that moment that a broad-shouldered young man of modest height and dark hair stepped into the conversation. "Howle," Pennington growled. "I won't miss anything, if they know what's good for them in there and wait until I'm done sorting guests from busybodies. Go have them hold my seat; this won't take long. He was just apologizing."

 

At that moment, another person stepped through the entryway. Skinny, with a hairdo that must have cost more than most bicycles and a form-hugging backless red dress, she had eyes as small as Pennington's but twice as alert. She was quite attractive, but gave off the sense of a bird of prey. "Lord Steam," she said, sliding into the triangle of men and flashing a perfectly white smile, "Rona Romita, with the Bedlam Informer. I'd love to get your thoughts on the city. A far cry from home? Or is this what most Fredonians are expecting if they come this way?" She leaned forward, showing off generous cleavage. "It's a party, so drinks are free, if you want one."

 

Pennington, half enraged at the mere presence of a reporter and half at having been cut out of the spotlight, turned bright blotchy red in the face. "No press in here!" He bellowed, beckoning his bodyguard forward.

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Now that was enough!

 

"Hold Sir! This young lady will not be intimidated by your brutish manner, nor your brute!" he said menacingly, bringing his cane up. 

 

"You are devoid of class, devoid of wit, devoid of charm. A black hole unto which all positive qualities of man vanish without trace. I It seems to me sir, that the only virtue you can honestly claim is wealth, judging by how often you profess it. And, given your evident lack of anything approaching a talent, of any sort, given your clearly inferior intellect, that you incompetently mask with bluster, I can only conclude your wealth has come to you buy inheritance, or crime. If the former, clearly your more competent ancestors have bred with baboons, and fat ones come to that. If the latter, you are an piece of excrement on society, and one I will joyfully take down..."

 

"No doubt your pathetic ego now rails against the truth I speak. In order to satisfy your own ego you will order your even more mindless goon to give me a good beating. He is no doubt stronger than me. Yet I will soundly thrash him, and thrash him well. I have fought larger, fought stronger, and thrashed them too. And then sir, your humiliation will double..."

 

He pointed his cane and the thug. 

 

"Come on then, Sir. Give it your best shot. A pugilist are you? had much actual experience fighting someone who can fight back? Have you trained in boxing? jujitsu? savate? do you know pressure points? joint dislocations? chokeholds? Ever fought someone who knows all of those and more? Come then, this will be educational for you if you are foolish enough to follow your masters orders. And, trust me, it will hurt you. I will make very sure of it. I may even leave some of your teeth so you can at least chew soft foods..."

 

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Leaning back and quickly producing a small camera from her pursue, Rona Romita snapped a picture of Lord Steam pointing his cane at Pennington.

 

Aaron swallowed hard. This was getting out of control very, very quickly, and he wasn't entirely sure what to do. Pennington knew that no one in Bedlam would dare speak to him that way, no matter what hateful drivel he shouted at them - no one except its Mafia overlords, and even he had the sense not to insult them. But Lord Steam was from out of town, from a place where the aristocracy could be openly questioned without the fear of horrible retaliation in the night. He couldn't know the consequences - or else he was truly fearless. Aaron admired everything the man had said and done, but getting into a brawl at the entrance to the Gala wasn't going to look good for anyone.

 

"O-kay," he said, his voice low and calm as he stepped between the bodyguard and Lord Steam's accusing cane. "I think that's enough time in the headlines for all of us. Ambulances at the gala don't look good for anyone." He glanced up at the stage at the end of the hall, over to the banquet table, then back to Rona, desperately formulating a way for both men to save face. Pennington didn't deserve one, but the consequences would be dire if he didn't get it. "Lord Steam, I'm sure it would be a real coup for the Informer if you'd oblige Ms. Romita with an interview. Mr. Pennington, I think the bourbon is free tonight."

Edited by Kaige

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GM

The bodyguard shoved Aaron away, growling "don't need you" in a thick Chechen accent. For a moment, Pennington just looked stunned by the verbal barrage, his tiny eyes squinched up as if he might cry - or bore a hole right into someone's immortal soul. But finally he smiled, a nasty but pearly gash in his fat face. "You talk a big fancy talk, Steam, whatever kind of name that is," he said, one sausage-like finger mimicking the accusatory stab of Lord Steam's cane. "But if you think you're some kind of crusader, that you've won some kind of prize with your high and mighty act, you've got another thing coming."

 

He turned around and held out his arms, prompting his bodyguard to slip on his drab grey overcoat. "You've put me in a bad mood. And when I'm in a bad mood, see, I run out of pity for worthless layabouts. So I'll evict... let's say thirty of the filthy illegals that infest my apartments tonight. I'll pick families; they spend more on food, school supplies, whatever, and it makes it harder for scum sucking the welfare teat to pay me what they owe me. I'll be sure to give them your name when they ask why." Turning back toward Lord Steam, he looked past him as if he weren't there. "Come on," he told his bodyguard. "No reason to stay. They've let the rabble in."

 

As he turned to go, Rona Romita stepped up beside Lord Steam, holding out an arm for him to take. "My," she said, offering a winning smile. "They do make men differently in Freedom City."

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"I'm not from Freedom City, m'dear" said Lord Steam with a little bow, making sure it was not too deep a bow. "I'm not even from this world. I do apologise if I sometimes fumble the etiquette. And yet, I do fancy that man is a brute" he said, firmly. 

 

"I appreciate your stepping in, young man" he told Aaron. "I'm not from round here, very much not from round here, and I don't wish to pour water on the party, so to speak. Churlish it may be, but I should point out that he started it!" he said, with a wink. "I dare say not many tears will be wept by his absence"

 

"I would be more than happy to have your company for the evening, Madam" he said to Rona. "Ask me anything, as long as its interesting, and as long as we have fine wine and excellent food" he aired, lazily. 

 

"And if you could both tell me a little about that brute, then I would be all ears. He has neither wit not charm, and I doubt even that he has inherited wealth. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I can only conclude that his money comes from ignoble means at best, and quite probably criminal ones..."

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Aaron breathed a heavy sigh as Pennington turned to go. On the one hand, he was relieved to see that the gala was not about to descend into a brawl that would accomplish nothing - and probably get Lord Steam arrested, given that men like Pennington ran "justice" in Bedlam City. On the other, he believed what Pennington had said; he probably would kick out thirty of his tenants that night. He resolved to follow up. He had the money to find those families a new place to live if the threat was realized, and he felt partially responsible; he'd failed to fully defuse the mess of a conversation before it had turned ugly, and perhaps had made it worse.

 

"I think we can manage without Mr. Pennington Sr. tonight," Aaron agreed, "but if you plan to stay here long, you've made a powerful enemy." He was reluctant to go on; Rona Romita was staring intently at him, no doubt mentally recording everything he'd said. The Bedlam Inquirer would love to hear him say something negative about the Penningtons, and he had already come perilously close. He could already see the headlines: "Old vs. New: The Pennington-Howle Feud". The last thing he and his mother needed was more time in the tabloids. "Mr. Howle," the journalist began, "I was so sorry to hear about your bro-"

 

In a low but firm voice, Aaron cut her off. "No comment. It was good to meet you, Lord Steam. I hope you have a pleasant stay in Bedlam. Good evening." He turned to go.

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GM

Rona shrugged as Aaron also turned away; she was still literally hanging on the arm of a good story. "Mr. Pennington," she told Lord Steam in a low, conspiratorial tone, "comes from one of Bedlam's six founding families. Well, seven, but the Scarletts didn't make it past the founding. They used to be the Starks, who gave their name to Stark Hill. They've always been landlords; Mr. Pennington owns most of Hardwick Park's apartments, like he said, and no small number of the skyscrapers downtown. As for criminal connections," she said, her eyes dancing and her smile sultry, "well, we can only speculate. But this is Bedlam City."

 

One arm hooked through Lord Steam's, she raised the other to gesture over a red-uniformed waiter bearing a tray of champagne glasses. She took two between her slender fingers, passing one to Lord Steam before taking a dainty sip from the other. "I would love to hear about where you really come from," she said over the rim of her glass. Her small diamond stud earrings twinkled beneath the light of the chandeliers as her dark hair shifted over her ears. "We have the wine, and the food is on the way." Another waiter was coming around bearing a cheese platter, and people were starting to move toward the long banquet tables.

 

Beyond the tables, on a raised podium at the far end of the room, Vivian Howle stepped up to speak. Her steely, commanding voice came through the speakers set along the edges of the ballroom. "Ladies and gentlemen," she began, "good evening." Despite her funeral clothes and the whispers that filled the room as she began, she was the very model of composure. "It is my very great pleasure to introduce the Grant Conglomerate's new director in Bedlam City, Mr..."

 

At that moment, everything went wild. The microphone exploded, throwing Vivian from the podium to land heavily on her back. All along the hall, the lights flickered wildly. Chandeliers began to burst, raining shards of glass down on screaming guests. The heavy security doors swung shut with an ominous click. White noise came through the speakers, loud and disorienting. High rollers dived beneath the tables or pressed themselves against the edges of the room. All was chaos. And the three huge chandeliers, half ruined, were threatening to fall entirely from the ceiling, crushing the tables and the guests beneath.

 

A chilling voice cut through the white noise. "Thieves," it accused. "Kidnappers. Liars. Murderers."

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Lord Steam paid close attention, filing away all the information. In retrospect, he should have studied Bedlam more closely. He had heard snippets, here and there, but the detail was not something he had paid attention to. Now, he was paying attention. 

 

"A family of crooks then. Stretching back many generations" he concluded. A goodly number of "families" were crooks. He should now, he was in such a family himself, and he certainly appreciated that not all of the Lockwood name had been the epitome of gentlemanly (or indeed ladylike) behaviour. But he could not recall one so cruel as Pennington. 

 

He was pondering the matter as the lights failed and the glass rained. 

 

Thieves. Kidnappers. Liars. Murderers. Certainly all true, very perceptive. But chilling all the same. 

 

"Get down!" he hissed at Roma. "Mouth shut, ears open!" he added. If she was a reporter she would be good at the latter, but a little less good (too put it mildly) at the latter. He had met his manservant's semi estranged Son, Maurice Blakely, on a few occasions, and he was not on the whole best impressed with the profession. 

 

Just his cane and his mind to hand. Not the best of circumstances, but one must make do with what one had rather than rail against it. Too many unknowns, and not enough light. 

 

He took Roma by the elbow, and guided her (in a manner balancing gentlemanly manners and need for expediency as best he could manage - which in his dimension would be quite the most correct thing, but in this was perhaps less accurate given its more enlightened view on gender) away from the light, away from the falling glass, and away from the chandeliers. They needed darkness and cover, and his brain ticked away with perfect memory. He might not be able to see every nook and cranny, but he remembered exactly where they were...

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Mom flew back from the podium in slow motion, arms splayed, and hit the ground hard. Aaron found himself yelling without realizing it. He ran toward her, the distance seeming impossibly long as he crossed the hall in great leaping strides. He could feel his jacket and suit pants strain and begin to rip as his movements passed the limits of the fabric, but he hardly noticed. She had to be okay. She had to be.

 

Then he looked up. At the center of the hall, where people were taking refuge from the broken glass beneath the tables, the massive chandelier was tearing free of its moorings. If it came down from that height with its full weight, it would crush the tables with ease - and pancake anyone who happened to be beneath them. Aaron looked over at mom, and then back at the chandelier. He knew what he had to do; he just prayed that mom could hold on, and that no one would be looking too closely. Grabbing one of the smaller serving tables from beneath, he lifted it easily over his head, positioning his hands to brace it.

 

Then he leapt atop the banquet table, his shoes skidding over plates, and closed his eyes, bracing himself with every bit of his considerable strength.

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GM

Lord Steam's perfect memory served him well. Guiding Rona through the half-darkness of shattered lights and flickering wires, he found a sheltered alcove along the room's west wall, where a now-fallen speaker had once rested. There was room for two; it would have been a good makeout spot for Walgrove Prep's infamously lavish prom, away from the watchful eyes of what few chaperones cared. As it was, it provided a refuge from the small electrical explosions still peppering the hall. Lord Steam looked up just in time to watch as the central chandelier fell - onto someone holding a small table atop the banquet table.

 

The chandelier shattered, sending out a spray of glass in every direction, but at about twelve feet in the air; by the time it came down to the level of the guests still scrambling for cover, it no longer flew at lethal speed. Aaron was smashed sideways by the impact, the table he held sliding behind him and striking him in the small of the back. He tumbled from the table onto the broken glass littering the floor, shredding the sleeves of his suit and drawing bloody lines along his arms. And then suddenly it was over. Except for the occasional flicker from a broken wire and the cries of terrified and wounded guests, all was silent and still.

 

At the back of the hall, behind the podium, a large projection screen slowly descended, then flickered to life. The image that appeared on it sent a collective gasp running through the room. A man in dark clothes and a ski mask stood in what looked like a utility closet. Beside him, hung upside down by ankles wrapped in electrical cords, was a terrified Pennington Sr. His hands seemed to be bound behind him, and he had been gagged with duct tape. "Think on your sins," the man in black said, his voice a strange buzz. "Pray for absolution. You will meet your maker tonight, so you should consider how to explain yourself to Him."

 

He ripped off the ski mask, eliciting another gasp - his face was a mess of blue and green circuitry beneath the skin, his eyes full of drifting binary code. "This is the true legacy of your Grant Conglomerate!"

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Lord steam had little or no sympathy for Pennington Sr. The man could fry and the world would be both happier and safer. His only resistance was the fact that it was, technically, a crime, and Lord Steam did not do crime. On the other hand, plenty of people were in danger right now, and Pennington Sr was not top of his list when it came to crime prevention. 

 

"By Vishnu! Who the blazes is that?" he said softly to Roma. Maybe she knew. She seemed local, and seemed smart. And, he conceded, seemed beautiful too, despite her profession. 

 

It seemed to him that half light and electrical explosions were actually not to their advantage; not his, and not the brave young man dancing around with prostigious strength. If anything, the electronic man might be feeding off the electricity around him. Speculation, of course. 

 

Still, it would be good to have the power grid under his control...

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GM

"I have no idea," Rona whispered back. She did not seem afraid in the least, though she did look grateful for Lord Steam's help. She watched the situation unfold with an analytical eye, piecing together whatever information came her way with practiced ease. "Though his features... under all that, he looks a little bit like someone I saw in a missing persons report." She shrugged nonchalantly. "I go through them when big stories are slow."

 

On the big screen, Pennington writhed in panic, shaking back and forth in the air like a cocooned insect as the spider crawls toward it. The machine-man paid him no mind. "Once, I was like you," he said, his voice rising and falling oddly in pitch as if it had been put through autotune. "I had friends. A family. And I was also different, because I worked hard for what little I had, and I treated those close to me with genuine love." A shock ran through the wires holding Pennington, who let out a muffled scream and stopped struggling. He swung lightly side to side, moaning through his gag. "Maybe that was what you could not abide."

 

"So you took me away. Poked and prodded me. Made it so that I could never return to the life I lived. Your little miracle corporation was my nightmare factory." He paused - holding back tears? "And I was lucky. I survived. So many..."

 

He regained control of himself quickly. "One of you will survive, too, to carry the news of what has happened here - and why. Hidden under one of the chairs is a letter of free passage. Whoever holds it, and that person alone, walks out alive." Hardly had the words fallen from his lips when the room erupted into pandemonium. Trophy wives clawed past spoiled teenagers and aged degenerates, fighting through the mess of broken glass to overturn the chairs. Scratching, clawing, biting, the crowd began to turn on one another, reduced in an instant to an animalistic mob. Rona gasped - then held up her camera to start snapping photos.

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