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The Young Woman and the Sea [IC]


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Huge problems can start from the tiniest of errors, like ripples spreading across a pond.  When Dr. Marco Hoffman forgot to put his thick gloves on before helping transfer his patient to her gurney for transport, he thought little of it.  He merely snatched his burned hand back from Julia Cole's arm, swore under his breath, and reached for his protective gear before finishing the job.  The custom-made handcuffs clicked securely in place.  She never appeared to stir from her drug-induced sedation; her guards experienced no trouble when they wheeled Cole back to her cell, specially designed for her unique needs.  And by the time Dr. Hoffman noticed that his keys were missing from his pocket, it was far, far too late.


About an hour later, Dr. Oliver Graves--a particularly appropriate name, given the number of innocent people he put into the ground with his highly unethical work for an organization he barely understood--reviewed the security footage under thermal and slow-motion viewpoints.  He already knew what happened; the damage to the facility spoke for itself, as did four missing patients and over two dozen dead or maimed guards.  He now wanted to know why.  


The Coles were gone--project names Absolute Zero and Heat Sink.  Holly Page--project name Copy Error--the mercenary for some international cartel or another, who paid for her augmentation through the DNAscent process and were told that their hired gun died on the operating table, was gone.  Owen Walsh--project name Temporal Displacement--was gone, but at least he wouldn't be missed; the man was insufferable even before DNAscent unhinged him, and Dr. Graves privately hoped that whichever field agents retrieved him did so with a body bag.


All failures, technically, but that hardly meant they had no value.  Jonathan Grant and Peter Hanks--only the latter of whom Dr. Graves actually knew--continued to experiment with new techniques for DNAscent; now that they could create "simple" powers with relative reliability, they branched out in hopes of securing more esoteric talents.  Why rely on blind luck?  Most patients at this particular facility just died, but these four survived with unforeseen side effects, handicaps, insanity, or some combination of the three.  Dr. Graves was under orders to study them thoroughly before they were inevitably terminated.  Omelets and eggs, after all.


He clicked through the video records until he found the problem.  There, using the slowest mode available, was a single frame of Heat Sink reaching one blurry hand into Dr. Hoffman's coat pocket.  Dr. Graves narrowed his eyes and sighed.  He made a mental note to adjust her sedatives, assuming she could be recaptured alive.


"Detain Hoffman for the next round of experiments," he told his bodyguards.  "And notify Dr. Hanks.  We have a problem."


* * *


The four story structure of glass and gleaming steel seemed to appear almost overnight, right on the bank of the North Bay district; property values here were horrendously expensive, but that wasn't a problem.  Although the owner of this facility wasn't blessed with patience, he did have more wealth than he could spend in ten lifetimes, and so, multiple construction crews worked around the clock with whatever equipment they requested.  Inspections and permits proved surprisingly cooperative when the city officials who issued them suddenly found their departments' budgets much healthier than the day before.  Besides, who wanted to stand in the way of a good cause?


Some of those bureaucrats attended today's grand opening.  Other guests included local scientists, out-of-town experts, and of course, reporters to handle the publicity.  Covers only worked when enough people knew about them.


At least it will be a proper charity, Dr. Delacroix thought in his office on the top floor.  He made his way through the adjoining lab, past equipment that was still being relocated and set up.  Most of the building was devoted to research space...and with so much gear, no one would be shocked when some of it went mysteriously missing during transit, especially when he replaced it with a wave of his checkbook.  


He took the stairs down to the lobby, where catering crews buzzed about.  Tables with finger foods sat parallel to the rows of chairs, which faced a temporary platform where he and certain guest speakers would discuss the charity's goals.  Above the platform was a long banner: Oceanographic Charity for Ecological Assistance and Nurturing.  OCEAN, or on the formal paperwork, OCEAN-Freedom; Tristan couldn't resist linking his organization to the city that birthed his love of heroes and allowed him to, more or less, be one.


The young doctor inhaled and smiled as he looked at the banner.  It wouldn't be long now.  Soon, he could delegate the day-to-day functions to his staff, narrow his personal contribution to pure research--he doubted that anyone would complain, given his skill in this area--and secretly spend most of his time more immersed in the Great Bay than anyone expected.  


He turned when he heard the front doors open, bringing in footsteps and light chatter.  The earliest guests were arriving, and so, Tristan went to shake some hands.

Edited by Blarghy
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There were many reasons Casey Blankenship was excited about the opening of OCEAN-Freedom. Since first arriving in the city two years ago, she'd spent a lot of time out over her waters, especially with her friend Sakurako. She was also looking for ideas for her Gold Award project; she was torn between doing something involving the Great Bay, the Fens or the Southside (both neighborhoods had parks in sore need of a champion), and she hoped to possibly find some inspiration here. Last but not least, she was a reporter, in her heart as well as for the school blog, and when she first read about the research center, she was intrigued enough to request a pass away from school to cover it, and Headmistress Summers complied.  


Proudly displaying her USPA press pass on a lanyard around her neck (she applied for one the day after she turned eighteen), with her big hemp bag over her shoulder and her Canon digital camera in her hand, Casey entered the facility with the other journalists (the other journalists!) and began scouting for interesting shots. Her amazing eyes took in everything, of which her camera could only capture a small portion. She also had a digital recorder (only kids recorded interviews on their phones!) and spare battery packs for both devices.


"This is so cool," she muttered under her breath. She'd picked her clothes very carefully today; low-heeled suede ankle boots, a sensible knee-length skirt with matching jacket (currently over one arm), and a nice silk blouse. As usual in her civilian identity, her hair was up and her glasses perched on her nose; though still clearly young, she actually managed to look almost professional.

Edited by Heritage
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Casey's unique abilities certainly offered her the best perspective in the room.  While her fellow reporters took pictures or began circling the key scientists for early interviews like rival scavengers eyeing a carcass, she was able to stand wherever she liked and still see the smallest details, at glacier speeds if she wished.  Most of it wasn't too interesting; judging what someone had for breakfast by noting a residual crumb on their collar probably wouldn't take high priority in her report.  However, while using her infrared vision, she did see something peculiar about OCEAN's founder.  Dr. Delacroix had an unusually high core temperature.  Technical equipment might miss it, as his skin seemed to almost compensate and redirect that heat back inside, but Casey's peerless eyes could sort out the different layers.  Maybe he was only just now beginning to come down with a fever?  In that case, the politicians whose hands he currently shook probably had a rough week ahead of them.  As a physician, he should really know better. 

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Casey studied the scrawny young millionaire for several seconds, shaking her head at his core body temperature.


Poor man must work himself to death on his projects; I bet his doctor is always telling him to 'take it easy'.


But then she noticed his body in action, which made her seriously confused; the man looked like a human Q-Tip, yet inside he was built like a racecar. He burned fuel so efficiently that he-


Suddenly, out of nowhere, Casey's stomach growled loudly, like an angry jungle cat, and her cheeks went a little pink. How long ago did she eat breakfast? Did she really skip lunch? The smell of the buffet made her mouth water, and she knew if she wanted to do her job right, she couldn't afford to be distracted by an empty stomach. She quickly made her way to the back of the sevice line and  grabbed a plate and a few napkins, but then after a few thoughtful moments she added a second plate, and she began to load them up with finger sandwiches, cheese and crackers, cookies and slices of cake, chopped veggies and a large glob of spinach dip, boneless mini-Buffalo wings and those cream cheese and tortilla curls she couldn't resist...


The two plates were stacked high when her and her plastic cup of punch finally wandered back into the crowd; the servers had to get refills on several of the trays because she so depleted their stock. Her lady-like image was certainly impacted by the sight of her wolfing down finger sandwiches with a tell-tale smear of cream cheese on her lip.


The hunger pangs finally dealt with (for now), she once again quickly picked out her quarry from the crowd, the mysterious Dr. Delacroix, and she made her way in his direction as she stuffed a whole mini-Rueben in her mouth.


"Scoose me," she somehow managed to articulate around the large wad of food in her mouth. "I like talk...talk to you, if you don mide..."

Edited by Heritage
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It took a minute for the other guests and staff to notice, but by the time Casey left the buffet, a wave of incredulous silence followed her.  The other, older reporters watched as she bypassed their thus-far-patient waiting list, based in unspoken seniority and popularity ranking, and moved to the head of the line; their initial anger at this young, unproven student changed to mirthful curiosity.  Someone behind her stifled a laugh, and from the crowd came the subtle click of a camera. 


Dr. Delacroix himself couldn't help but smile faintly and tilt his head.  He left it at that.  Hands in the pockets of the tuxedo jacket that draped over his twiggy shoulders, he took a physician's perspective of Casey's behavior.  Unless she had an unfortunate eating disorder, her appetite combined with her athletic appearance suggested a highly active lifestyle.


You look...very healthy, he thought.


"Certainly," the doctor accepted.  Noting her two recording devices, he decided to remain cautious, as one should when dealing with the press.  "...What media outlet do you represent, if you don't mind my asking?"

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The young blonde held up a finger as she swallowed the rest of her Rueben. "Excuse me! Actually, I'm a student journalist; Casey Blankenship, writing for the Claremont Clarion. It used to be a physical newspaper, but now it's the official school blog. It's a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Delacroix." She tucked her recorder under her chin to offer him a surprisingly firm handshake. Finally feeling the presence of the cream cheese on her lip, she hastily wiped her face with a napkin, then juggled her burden so that she had both near-empty plates stacked in one hand, and her recorder in the other.


"Sorry about that, Doctor! As I said, I'm a student journalist, and I think scientific matters are sadly underreported in most school papers in this country, and I'm hoping to change that." She took a deep breath, then smiled, seemingly amazed she'd gotten this far; she really was a charming young lady. "So Doctor, if you don't mind, could you explain your vision for OCEAN-Freedom, and why you chose the Great Bay for its location?"

Edited by Heritage
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The doctor's own handshake wasn't much to talk about, predictably.  His fingers were slender and soft, but at least he didn't wince from her strength.  A glance to the nearest caterer, followed by another subtle tilt of his head toward Casey, brought the white-suited man closer to take her empty plates, if she allowed.  It also gave Tristan a little time to phrase his response; even if this student only had a school blog at her disposal, internet posts had a way of taking off unexpectedly, especially if the speaker blundered.  Better connected reporters also still waited nearby, too; Casey's eating habits saw to that. 


"Your second question is easy enough.  Freedom City is my home.  I may travel with some frequency, and I have visited most of our world's oceans, but the Great Bay holds special significance for me.  I grew up here.  I swam and sailed in it as a child.  I want to help preserve and protect all of our seas, but this one is partly mine.  Who doesn't care just a little more about their own backyard than about everything beyond it?  Most people think that activism is a huge, sprawling endeavor, and it can be.  You can also start locally, doing your part in a way that contributes to the whole.  If we take better care of our personal environments while communicating and working together when possible, even if only by sharing useful techniques and encouragement, then we still benefit our neighbors and make our problems feel a little more manageable."


Which segued nicely into Casey's first question.  "And today our oceans certainly are faced with numerous problems...which means that we have dilemmas too.  Humanity is intensely dependent on healthy oceans.  They feed us, they provide at least half of our oxygen--perhaps much more, depending on which expert you believe.  About half of us also live in coastal areas.  Our oceans even connect us together, making global trade possible.  This level of reliance makes it very unwise to ignore serious issues with our aquatic systems. I have invited several guests here today to talk about these worldwide problems," and here the doctor gestured to a few other scientists in the room, who watched silently and nodded when acknowledged, "so that we can discuss them in detail.  My goal for OCEAN-Freedom is not only pure research, but also to develop efficient, effective ways to combat global obstacles here in the Great Bay, and share those methods with any other organizations that want them, before marine damages become too catastrophic to counter.  ...Well, that is perhaps misleading."  His smile turned grim.  "Nature has a way of working out its problems eventually; our seas will, in time, fix themselves if given the chance, regardless of our efforts.  We, however, are far less resilient and enduring; we cannot share nature's patience and wait for thousands or millions of years to see results.  By helping the oceans, today, we help ourselves.  The same holds true in reverse if we fail to act."

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The young journalist nodded as she relinquished her plates to the caterer, suitably impressed. "Noble goals indeed, doctor. Is there any specific area of research of greater interest to you? An endangered species perhaps, or a major topic of concern about which you're particularly passionate?"


Casey's instincts told her this young man was on the level, and she liked what she saw so far; he wasn't some yacht club playboy trying to justify all the money he spent on boats to the shareholders, but in fact a man with both a vision and a firm commitment to protecting not just the Great Bay, but all the world's waters. Perhaps he'd be willing to take on a young volunteer..?

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"We risk being an endangered species, if we are not careful," he quipped with gallows humor.  "But I think that the first issue I will look toward is plastic pollution.  The Great Bay appears clean, compared to other parts of the world, such as the huge garbage patches in all of our five main ocean gyres.  We cannot stand on the shores of Freedom City and see empty bottles, wrappers, and disposable silverware bobbing along the waves.  Large chunks of trash are a problem in themselves, of course; wildlife die in droves by eating pieces that they cannot digest, or sometimes even fully swallow.  This is easy to see, when we find the evidence rotting on our beaches.  Less visible are the plastic microfibers left behind when these items break down, yet never decompose--and this is everywhere, even in our seemingly-healthy Great Bay.  Fish all over the world consume these tiny, invisible fibers, but cannot expel them.  They are in turn eaten by larger fish, which also have no natural way of ridding themselves of these pollutants.  The process continues until, at the top of the chain..."


He spread his hands, his expression a pained, cynical smile.  "...Is us.  If you eat fish, then you probably also eat plastic.  The concentration levels may not be enough to kill most of us, yet, but I don't think that most people would feel comfortable taking a bite out of their water bottle."

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As a long-time environmentalist (it's almost impossible to not become one after ten years of Scouting), Casey was sadly familar with the issues of plastic waste in the Earth's oceans, but the microfiber threat was new to her, and she listened to Dr. Delacroix's description with morbid fascination. Clearly this was something she needed to research and act upon, for even though her own body was immune to everything from toxins and illness to radiation, the rest of the world was not so lucky.


"That is...very sobering information, Doctor," said Casey, her journalistic facade of polite interest wavering slightly as the implications of microfibers continued to bounce around her head. "Thank you for your time, Doctor; I'm sure our readers will follow your work here with great interest."


And with that, she wandered off to have a seat and pull out her phone to immediately begin researching microfibers, and figure out what she could do about them.

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Unless Casey wanted to zoom through the ocean, filtering it by the mouthful with her extraordinary biology like a real-world Pacwoman, the Internet's consensus seemed to be "not much."  The problem went even beyond what Dr. Delacroix briefly outlined: huge amounts of tiny pollution came not just from plastic products, but from washing clothes, their fibers shedding and proving too small for traditional filtering systems, even at most water treatment plants.  These found their way to freshwater sources too.  Solutions--at least what she could likely find with this early search--mostly focused on stopping these issues at their source by preventing pollution in the first place, which was par for the course.  Battling it once already in effect looked like a much more complicated process. 


During the course of her investigation, a few other reporters managed to score short interviews, but the young doctor soon made his way to the stage to start the formal presentation.  His fellow scientists took their seats around him while he stood at the podium. 


"Thank you all for coming.  In case you aren't aware, this is not a fundraising operation, although near the end I will provide a list of credible environmental charities that can use your donations.  Rather, now that we have already informally discussed OCEAN's goals--" he glanced between several of the journalists present, including Casey, "--I want to let you hear from experts in this field.  The issues facing us today affect us all, and so, even though I am not soliciting public assistance at this time, I urge you to understand the state of our oceans and do what you can to help create a better, healthier world.  We will start with Dr. Ballard from California."

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"Hmmm." In truth, there wasn't too much Casey could about microfibers, though it did occur to her that at least she could shift to using only natural fiber clothes and fabrics; including Dr. Delacroix's discussion of them in her article might increae awareness as well. She sighed in frustration; even with her superpowers, there were some problems even Miracle Girl couldn't solve.


But rather than dwell on the negative, Casey chose to focus on the positive, the way she always did; she eagerly listened to the various experts talk about their work, always careful to note anything she could use in either of her identities to help others. From time to time, she was somewhat distracted by Dr. Delacroix himself, both by the mystery of his surprising physiology and his physical appearance.


You know, he's actually...kind of cute!

Edited by Heritage
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In contrast, the stunning Casey wasn't "kind of" anything, and so it should come as no surprise that, in the process of occasionally scanning the crowd, Dr. Delacroix from time to time settled his gaze on her; he remained the calm sort, fully at home here in his element, but infravision revealed a subtle influx of blood to his hands, throat, and cheeks. 


Soon enough, however, Casey spotted something from the corner of her eye that put the young biologist to shame.  It was the sudden appearance that caught her attention.  Out through one of the lobby's many tall windows, about four hundred yards down the coastline, a man was simply there.  Roughly thirty years old, tall, leanly muscled, just the right length of stubble for his facial shape, and with clear blue eyes and much the same shade of thick, wavy hair as her own, he wore jeans and a buttoned white shirt, tucked in, beneath a leather jacket for today's chilly weather.  He smiled cheerfully--though there was something wild in it, and in his gaze. 


His lips moved for a moment.  If he spoke to anyone but himself, then not even Casey's many visual modes could detect his companion.  And then, as abruptly as he arrived, he vanished.

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That's...probably not good.


Casey apologized to the reporter to her left as she got up and slipped away from the crowd, and began reflexively scanning the emergency frequencies as she made her way towards the nearest exit, though she didn't head outside yet; instead she stood there, ready to dart outside in a moment's notice to change into her costume, her gaze darting all over the room for signs of a possible intruder. For if there was one thing she knew with certainty, it was that big public displays like grand openings and galas often drew the attention of dangerous elements.


And no one was getting hurt on her watch.

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Through her built-in radio, Casey could hear the vague chatter of Freedom City; something was always going on around here.  None of it, however, seemed to immediately pertain to the OCEAN base, and North Bay as a whole sounded fairly quiet at the moment.  A few other patrons, as well as a temporary security guard by the lobby door, observed her with casual curiosity, since she didn't seem to have a clear reason for getting up from her chair.  Her physical appearance likely played some part in their interest. 


Either way, it would be a few minutes before, through the lobby's windows, she saw...


* * *


"What's it look like, Owen?" 


The strange man manifested in the posh living room of this North Bay mansion.  It showed signs of a light struggle; a lamp had been knocked over, there were a few subtle spots of blood on the hardwood floor where one of the intruders had slapped someone hard across the mouth, and from a nearby closet came an occasional shuffling sound or stifled, fearful sob.  All four members of the family sat close together there, hands tied behind their backs. 


"A fancy place of wondrous modern engineering, is what it appears," he replied in his upbeat Irish accent.  "I do wonder what the cost to our grand environment was for such a creation; hardly avoided great big machinery and such in its construction, now would they?  Do you suppose the owners saw any irony in that?"


His companion glared.  She, a woman of medium height and impressively-toned muscles, with her black hair cut short, sat on the couch with tools of combat laid out on the living room table in front of her.  Three shotguns with solid slugs--which she had only just finished cleaning and reassembling--several sharp and well-made knives, handcuffs, and tactical vests were arranged neatly for her approval.  Holly Page considered herself a professional, which made her partner on this mission all the more annoying. 


"...What does the security look like?"


"Oh, a few wimperin' badges you've taken hostage with little trouble, and one lovely little thing, young and fiery, but I don't believe she's your type."


Holly ground her teeth and decided to take that as a good sign.  Trying to make sense of Owen always gave her a headache; she knew that some of his weirdness wasn't his fault, thanks to the experiments they all underwent, but she'd never been the forgiving type.


Maybe he'll get himself killed today, she thought optimistically.  ...But I guess he'd have seen that.  Then again, maybe he can't look at his own death.  Or if he does, maybe he's too crazy to care.


"Look, this is serious," she told him.  "This is the only lead we've got.  We need this kid, or we're stuck like this, forever.  So keep it together out there; I don't want any of your crap today."


Owen held out his hands in a pacifying gesture.  "Ms. Page, I tell you true that I've already used the facilities not two hours past.  There'll be no unexpected trips to the jacks for me while we're on the job, I assure you."


...Maybe he'll get himself killed today.  Maybe I can help.  Julia won't care, and Caleb probably won't even notice.


"Let's just...let's just get this done," Holly said with undisguised disgust.  She stood up and...moved.  Her body, with a shudder, took two directions at once.  Then, for a second time, she repeated the painful process.  Honestly, she wouldn't mind keeping this power, if the glitches could be worked out.  She underwent the experiments willingly for a reason, after all. 


All three Hollys grabbed their gear and suited up.  Owen took a simple baseball bat, which he rested on his shoulder.  He whistled cheerfully as he followed the trio out to their stolen car. 


"Shotgun!" he demanded happily.  "The three o' you already have 'em, so it's only fair!"


* * *


...a blue SUV coming down the road toward the building.  Nothing about it gave the two security guards out front cause for alarm; the vehicle hadn't yet entered private property, and even if it did, today was a day for guests.  Perhaps these people were simply late for the presentation. 


Casey, of course, could see far enough to clearly recognize the man from the beach, now sitting in the front passenger seat.  He had that same wild glee in his eyes; the woman driving next to him, by contrast, looked calm but unusually alert. 

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Great, now I just look suspicious as all get out.


She smiled at the guard with some embarrassment as she murmured, "I'm sorry, just feeling a bit light-headed; I'll see if a little fresh air clears my head." And with that, she stepped outside and went around a corner; once she was sure she was not on any security cameras or still in sight of the SUV, she quickly flew up to the roof and looked for a spot where she could still see the incoming vehicle if she raised her head a bit. Just to be on the safe side, she changed into her costume in a quick blur of motion, then hid her bag for later retrieval.


Okay...let's see what you two are up to.

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Casey, now Miracle Girl, didn't have to wait long.  Her suspicions proved well-founded.


The SUV made its way casually down the driveway, through the parking lot, and slowed as it approached the front doors, perhaps seeking information.  The driver's window rolled down, and the woman inside gestured to the security guards.  They stepped her way...and then tried to scatter when the vehicle turned hard and lurched quickly toward them.  Both guards managed to avoid being splattered across the pavement, but their worries hadn't ended.  The SUV's rear doors opened; at first it appeared that mirror images of the driver were jumping out, armed with shotguns and bulletproof vests, but the hero on the roof could see more clearly.  In spite of their resemblances, the second and third women were unusual.  One had misplaced facial features--an off-centered nose, eyes of two different sizes, a mouth too close to her chin--and the other outright looked like melted wax, more like a bad painting than a human.


Whatever was going on there, the pair still moved with skill and purpose.  They held their firearms on the startled, confused guards, and soon the driver hurried out to join them.  She too came dangerously equipped like the others. 


The last member of the group simply sat in the car, until suddenly, he didn't.  The man from the beach popped out of the air just to the side of one of the security guards and, without warning or provocation, swung the baseball bat in his hands at the surrendering man's head. 

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In a flash, Casey was between the (teleporting?) driver and his intended target, her hand easily catching the bat in front of her face, before crushing it into splinters with her iron grip. Her golden aura flashed around her like the glare of an angry sun, and her eyes burned with a cold fury.


"Not today, I'm afraid. You have to go through me before you hurt anyone here."


She then did a quick IR scan on the two imperfect copies of the woman, to see if there were any clues as to their sudden appearance.

Edited by Heritage
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Miracle Girl's sudden (and, appropriately, miraculous) appearance shocked everyone except for the man she directly challenged.  Whereas the others leaned back, their mouths agape, he merely smiled even as she shattered his weapon.  His companion--the most normal of the three--was less casual.


"What the hell, Owen?!" she shouted.  "I specifically asked you about this!"  Her shotgun started to swing around toward Miracle Girl, but compared to this blindingly-fast hero, she was far, far too slow...


While that weapon inched toward her, and the guards' expressions shifted from fear, to surprise, to relief, to calculated thought, all clear under Casey's frame-by-frame vision, she had plenty of time to observe everyone at her leisure.  Her attention to the second two women, both of them warped to some degree, revealed unusual heat splotches.  Compared to the primary attacker that they resembled, their bodies seemed quite frail.  Those shotguns, however, all looked perfectly capable--if not a serious threat to Miracle Girl herself, then at least to the people she had chosen to defend. 

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Things just got a little too interesting right now; Casey though back to a valuable piece of advice her father, aka Vigilant, had given her when she first started training to use her powers:


When in doubt, take out the guns first.


Miracle Girl took a deep breath, and then hit the three women with a blast of supercharged air, strong enough to knock most people over. She hoped in particular that at least the frailer looking copies would be dropped by the force of her breath, which hopefully removed the threat of shotguns at close range, at least for the next few seconds. And fights like these you fought from second to second. 

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Her incredible lungs took all three women by surprise; none of them reacted quickly, although one did manage to maintain her footing.  The shooter with mildly warped features merely stumbled, while both the others went sprawling across the parking lot.  She glanced hastily to them with a grimace, but kept her weapon aimed firmly at the first security guard.


The second, meanwhile, tore his pistol from its holster on his belt and shot her in the center of her tactical vest.


Although she appeared unharmed, the shock of this attack pulled her trigger finger.  Her shotgun went off with a roar, and so quickly afterward that only Miracle Girl could see that it wasn't instantaneous, the other two firearms followed suit from the ground.  Those prone women each shot in different directions: one of them pointed at the guard who just retaliated against them, and the other appeared to be focusing on Miracle Girl herself.  She, of course, was fast enough to intercept one of these dangerous assaults...but only one. 


Next to her, the man apparently called Owen watched it all with his crazed grin. 

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Casey cursed inside when she saw she'd failed to topple all three women, but her eyes went wide when she realized she'd failed to stop them from shooting.


No! This cannot end this way!


The next several seconds moved with agonizing slowness as she watched the slugs (slugs!) tumble free from all three shotgun barrels; she could stop some of them, but sadly not all. She was able to take two in the chest, and witness them flatten as her bioenergy field flared at the points of impact, but she could only watch helplessly as the third slug slipped past her on its way to its intended target.

Edited by Heritage
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That slug hit the security guard with much the same accuracy as he fired his own bullet, but he wasn't so lucky as the woman had been.  He flew back and hit the ground, with no signs of getting up again.  Fortunately, Miracle Girl saw no blood, and his vitals looked reasonable to her infrared vision.  His vest seemed to have saved his life, if not his consciousness. 


"I tried to prevent that," the teleporter said with mock-sadness.  Now that he spoke in her presence, Miracle Girl could be sure of his Irish accent.  "But noooo, nobody lets poor Owen hit people anymore.  Just gone out of fashion."


The other security guard, she saved by her intervention.  He cringed back, and when he opened his eyes again, marveled at his guardian.  Neither heavy shot managed to phase Miracle Girl, to the chagrin of her attackers.  What the gunfire did do was alert and alarm the people inside the facility behind them.  Screams and a whirlwind of movement rose up like a wave.  The third and last security guard ran for the door, drawing his pistol as he hurried to intervene. 


Both of the fallen women climbed back to their feet, while the one who managed to withstand Miracle Girl's breath quickly moved sideways so that her prisoner stood between herself and the hero.  "Owen, just go!" the primary shooter commanded.  "Get Delacroix.  I can handle this!" 


"I can't find tha' boy," her companion said regretfully, though he remained upbeat in spite of his claims of failure.  "Seems tha' guard gets in m' way, an' by tha' time I go about m' business, tha' good doctor has made himself scarce."


"Ok, fine, whatever.  Then just--"


But before she could finish, he vanished.




Although lost on the woman and her imperfect duplicates, Miracle Girl's extensive senses caught something very odd just inside the building.  The last security guard went from running to her aid (or more likely, to further complicate her job), to suddenly groaning on the ground.  His pistol now looked hot to her special eyes, as though it had just been fired, and he had a rough bruise across his eye.  He appeared just as confused by this transition as it deserved.  Meanwhile, the even more fragile civilians in the audience tried to identify secondary exits; in their panic, they already came very close to being a directionless mob. 

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Nothing made Casey guts churn more than seeing a large group of people start to panic, because it was so easy for innocent people to do harm to each other when the turned into a mob, and there wasn't too much she could do to stop them, even with all her powers- Wait! She thought back to the crowd of tourists in harm's way back when she helped with that exploding cargo container back in August; maybe she could use the same trick? Pitching her voice at the proper radio frequency, she once again projected her voice over a PA system, doing her best to sound calm and reassuring; no sound came out of her own mouth, but it was very clear coming out of the speakers. Of course, the whole time she was glaring at the three women with death in her eyes as she stalked right up to the 'original' gunwoman.


"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. We are experiencing an emergency situation, but it is currently being addressed. Please move in an orderly fashion to the emergency exits, and then gather on the north side of the building to receive further instructions. Please assist any elderly or disabled patrons outside the building, and thank you for visiting OCEAN-Freedom."

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Wild screams softened, at first only so that they could hear the strange announcement, but they then soothed even lower.  The clamor diminished to a dull murmur; it even had a somewhat positive tone to it. 


"Oh, what a lovely thing to say," a wrinkled old scientist in a wheelchair told the fleeing man next to her, who stopped as instructed and took the handles of her chair to push her along gently.  "That's respect.  You don't see much of it these days."  Together, they moved toward the nearest EXIT plaque on the wall, indicating a door through the nearby hallway.  While other guests followed them, half the crowd went for the opposite side of the room to the other secondary doors. 


"...Who are you?" the leader of the villains demanded.  She shook her head, coming to her senses, and shouted, "Not that it matters!  We've come too far to fail!"  Then she and the duplicate, the one that wasn't preoccupied with their hostage, fired again.  This time, at such close range, the primary attacker was able to send a well-aimed blast right at Miracle Girl's nose.

Edited by Blarghy
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