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March 21st, Tuesday, 2017




With a final burst of power Citizen's android housing scattered across the floor. The unimaginable scale of the energy needed to discorporate an Archetech android originally built for super-level combat against space-borne opponents had the air tingling and crackling for a long time. The explosion's titanic BOOM faded, cushioned by the noise-cancelation field, but it rang in the ears of those watching for hours after the fact. The core was a whiff of vapor.


Behind the screens someone said "It worked."


Someone else began "Now we are all sons of b-"


"We talked about this. No."




A third "He's just going to come back."


The last "And now we know we can beat him. Again and again and again..."




Citizen woke up in the quiet peace and humming familiarity of Gina Evans' digital sanctum. To a quiet little house and a big happy dog panting lovingly on his shoulder. To the certain knowledge something very wrong had happened.


Archetech West wasn't equipped for holding copies of Citizen. Its spare android sets weren't even unsealed. So far as anyone knew, nothing in either Emerald City was actually personally dangerous to what was effectively the most powerful single entity on the Pacific Coast. 


Apparently that had changed.

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"Hey girl." Sharl petted the dog's head, running his fingers through her soft brown fur. Laira, the name he'd finally settled on for the mutt, was a good dog - and seemed to have missed him since the last time he'd been in the system. How long have I been in here, anyway? He could guess what had happened - he'd been on patrol over Emerald City, flying high and enjoying the power that came from an electromagnetic engine in his heart, now he was in a system as familiar to him as Tronik's - and he was no longer in his robotic body. There was only one reason why such a transition had happened - something had happened to his robotic body. "Hey, did you miss me?" He didn't really like dogs on the outside - but Laira was different. She was his dog. He rose out of his Terran-style bed, Laira following close behind, and walked out to the kitchen where a personal 'computer' let him interface directly with Gina's system. 


He noted the date first, and his hand went to his mouth. Whispering aloud, heedless of Laira's importunings for someone to fill her foodbowl, he said, "It's the twenty-third? But I was flying on the nineteenth-" 

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"SHARL TULINK!" A booming voice seemed to come from everywhere at once, a very familiar voice, a deeply annoyed voice. One corner of the room suddenly shimmered and resolved into Gina's digital form, one much more reminiscent of her Cyberknife identity than anything Gina actually looked like, but familiar to Sharl nonetheless. She glared at him. "What the hell did you do now? Where's my robot?" Her eyes flicked to the side suddenly, as though she were looking at something he couldn't see, the very building-blocks of data that made up this world. "FOUR DAYS?" she demanded, her voice getting a little high and piercing at the end. "You didn't back up for four days?" 

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"I don't know!" exclaimed Sharl, sounding more frustrated than frightened. "I have a lot to do. Had a lot to do. I don't even think English has the right clause for this-" He switched to Lor as easily as a computer program flipping a switch, knowing Gina would keep up with him without a problem. "The last thing I remember, I was sitting down to make sure I got my backups in before the suborbital rocket launch on the 20th and then the third grade tour on the 21st. Wait, you don't know what happened?" He knew that the redundant systems that stored his memories and personality off-site were remotely activated when his wireless connection went offline terminally - but they'd never before been activated without direct human intervention. And if Gina didn't know, that meant nobody else knew. "Did I-did the robot just disappear, or something?" 

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"How the hell should I know?" Gina demanded. "You fell off telemetry and nobody had any idea what happened to you, and then suddenly I have fifty terabytes of pain-in-my-ass initializing in protected disc space! I knew this was going to happen if you moved to Washington with nobody to keep an eye on you and make sure you didn't get into trouble or that your code didn't start self-optimizing." She glared at him as though expecting something. "Well, are you planning on staying in here all day?" she demanded. 

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"No, I'll go see if I can find what happened to the main robot." He had a backup body in Emerald City that the Archetech West team would be able to put together without too much trouble - the modular unit was just a matter of plugging things together and reassembling them. Gina being Gina, she'd probably supervised that assembly on her end. He wasn't worried about finding a duplicate of himself running around - but it certainly would make his life easier if he could find that source of spare parts. Plus, Gina would be much less irritated with him. "I'll see if I can find out who blew me up, too." He summoned a bowl of wet dog food for Laira, who happily began wolfing it down. With his other hand, he gestured in the air. Sliding metal doors were more natural to him, but in Gina's system he always defaulted to the Terran model, summoning forth a wooden, brass-knobbed door that would lead him across Terra's network to Emerald City. "Thanks for putting me back together," he told her. "And say hi to Mr. Steve for me."

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"Be careful out there," she reminded him, still sounding annoyed, but a bit worried at the same time. "If something did destroy you out there, don't go hunting it down alone. You use your teammates, or you come and get me. And backups everyday, dumbass!" she added. "You're letting yourself lose bits of your life when you don't back up! You could've seen something beautiful or had great sex or had an idea for the next great Archetech invention, and you'd never know. Every night before bed, you hear?" She tapped her virtual foot, looking very motherly despite the relatively scant difference in their ages. 


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"I promise I'll use backup - all kinds of backup." agreed Sharl, smiling slightly at his pun - and in English no less! He was starting to relax, at least a little. Maybe something crazy had happened in Emerald City - but Gina was the same as she ever was (maybe even a little better, though it was hard to tell just from looking at her code), and that made things less crazy. He'd get back there, get a new body finished up, and he'd take down whoever had destroyed the first robot, and things would be good. "The next time you have me in your system, I'll be sending you pictures of whatever happened to the robot and shots of whoever did it going to jail." He opened the door, the fuzzy outlines of transmission before him, and said, "Thanks, Gina!" 

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Later, on the other coast...after activatng a new autosuit


"So, near as we can tell, you were somewhere...here?" Dr. Lo pointed at the holographic shape of Oceanside, the scything peninsula on the far western edge of the southern city, separated from its cousin of West Vallee by the sluggish Bronze River.


"We know the signal was dead when you got over this," Bak Lo circled a harsh, angular shape on the sea-facing tip of the landmass "the Ming Xi Visions complex. We haven't been able to get anything out of them. Just total silence. The police in southtown aren't any help, either. You might have more luck."


"Wish I could tell you more, Sharl, like what blocked the signal, but something pulled that data out of the system while it was happening. We've got a little gizmo that might help, but..." Lo shrugged expressively, his uncertainty mirrored on the faces of the other Archetech personnel.


"So what's the plan? Anything we can do, or is this one of those things you've got to do yourself? Not exactly a lot of other heroes out here."

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"There's no rush here," said Sharl thoughtfully, still feeling a little awkward taking a leadership role around so many older scientists. He was still glad he wasn't actually in charge of Archetech West - and not just because of all the additional work it would mean. "If there are bad guys out there, they'll probably expect me to fly out and avenge my death or something. Let's do it this way - you use your gadget to try and get at the data they hacked out of our systems while I contact Emerald Spider to see if she's heard anything about Ming Xi Visions." Of all the heroes in Emerald City, he liked her the most - maybe because she was another scientist and engineer. He nodded. "After that, I'll get into the system and probe them myself. If they're used to dealing with Terran technology, they won't be ready for me to come at them through their systems. After that, well, maybe they'll turn out to be innocent. But it won't hurt us to look. Thanks, everyone." 

Brusque though he could be, he knew better than to be disrespectful to the people who helped keep him together - and who did so much for Gina's company. While the Archetech staff got to work, he walked away to the window to call Emerald Spider, looking out over the northern "Emerald City". Using his internal radio communicator meant he didn't need to use a Terran device at all - it was a simple matter to tap into the city's communication systems.

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Emerald Spider was trying to take today off. Peri with her grandmother Myung-sook were shopping at some of Emerald Cities finest, if lower end, downtown stores. Granny Pyeng however wasn’t exactly concentrating on the shopping opportunities.


<“So what happens if the suit get damaged? Shouldn’t you have a spare suit, maybe something in a tasteful black?”>


Peri gave a little sigh, it was nice that she had Granny to talk about things but that did have it’s downside.


<“It’s not like I developed all of the systems for the Spdr Rig, besides how am I supposed to afford all the materials for the systems?”>


As always Myung-sook had an answer to that as well


<”Maybe you could ask you friend from there to help?”> she pointed to an convenient Archetech advertisement <”They must have everything you need and be more than willing to help.”>


<”You do know that something happened with the last boss, he had to quit over some happenings in Freedom City. I’m not sure I could totally trust them after that...”>


<”Well you haven’t got the best record after what happened.”>


Any witty retort from Peri was cut off by a ditty little tune from what she like to call her Spider Phone. It looked like her day off was called off, after making her excuses she quickly made for the rooftops as she answered the summons.

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"Emerald Spider - it's Citizen." There'd been no sign of Citizen in and around the city for the past several days - not unusual given his habit of disappearing off to Freedom City periodically. "I need to consult with you on an important case." There was no point in transmitting classified data over Terra's information network, not when he already suspected that his personal information was currently in the hands of who knew what around the Emeralds. At least my long-term memories would have been blanked when the robot transmitted the death signal - so nobody's going to be showing up at Gina's house or the Sanctum. Not that anything good would happen to anyone who did that, of course. "Are you free? I can pick you up, if necessary." 

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With few heroes in Emerald City it was pretty easy to keep track of the activity, the local media gave almost hourly updates in their activity being proud of it’s local heroes. Though Emerald Spider hadn’t giving Citizens inactivity much though, what with him also having links with Freedom City. But it did make some sense now that he’d mentioned it, and she was flattered that he’d asked her for help.

“Sure I’d be happy to help out.” her voice was slightly muffled by the her face covering “At least let make my own way to the dockside, you can carry me across the river, the bridge would probably add on to much time anyway.” she didn’t normally spend much time in north Emerald, this side of the river was what she considered her territory.

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Citizen greeted Emerald Spider at the docks in his usual fashion - coming in fast and high, fists pointed straight ahead as he came in on a whirl of magnetic energy that blurred the air around him for a moment before he stopped just above Emerald Spider's location. With the sun behind him and his long coat rippling in the breeze, he looked like a man from another world. "Hello, Emerald Spider. Thanks for coming out." He smiled for a moment, his usual cool confidence, but then seemed to grow more serious. "Let's go - I'm going to go pretty fast in case anyone is watching us, so hang on."


He scooped her up like the Centurion carrying a princess and took off, as usual veering up to dizzying heights above the river before swooping back towards onto the Archetech compound. They landed near where he'd left, by the roof access of the Archetech West building he'd left behind. "Sorry for the rough ride," he apologized, setting her down. "It's been an interesting week. Do you know anything about a company named Ming Xi Visions?"

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It was hard not to know at least the basics about all the major corps in the Emerald City of the Oregon bank, but this called for spexific information.


Everyone already knew about the Hermits, how they went everywhere in odd, concealing masks that disguised their real faces even while their long coats hid their bodies. How their isolation on Oceanside, in their quasi-alien fortress-like complex, helps keep their secrets even while swearing all new recruits into those same secrets. 


How their complex had sprung up soon after the last Grue invasion, their rambling tirades about the coming digital deliverance, their fascination with aliens and alien life, their enormous disinterest in actually meeting one live, how they had loudly been after a defence contract for quite some time, 


But Peri knew more, the kinds of things that were glossed over and forgotten by everyone who didn't have to work with their obscure and maddening tech every week, even a few who did. 

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Ironically Emerald Spider still couldn’t get use to flying under someone else's power, swinging miles above the sidewalk was fine when under her own power was fine however. Even she could appreciate the irony of the whole situation.


“No it’s fine, beats having to use the bridge at this time of day.”


Emerald Spider took a few moments to calm herself as she processed the information from Citizen. She’d looked into most of the tech companies when she’d left University and Ming Xi Vision was one of those. Though there focus hadn’t fitted her ideals of helping people and she’d never followed it further.


“Yeah they specialise in almost unbeatable security systems. It’s been heavily implied that they get some of their research from Alien technology.” she paused as she realised that might be insulting to Citizen, definitely something she could understand unfortunately “Sorry non-Terrestrial technology.”

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Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it? Lousy- "Have you ever heard anything negative about them? Anything that might imply they're not on the up-and-up?" Citizen was cracking his knuckles as he spoke, an unconscious habit he'd picked up from Miss Americana. "I have reason to believe that one of my robotic bodies may have gone missing - and they, or someone very much like them, might have been behind the theft." It wasn't exactly a lie - but he certainly had left out quite a few details. There was no reason to burden Emerald Spider with the details of how his consciousness worked - not when that seemed to make most people from Terra uncomfortable. "I think we may need to pay them a visit. Together." 

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  • 2 weeks later...


Peri was the kind of person who always did a lot of research on anything she was going to commit to, and she’d looked into every engineering company that she’d considered applying for work. Ming Xi Vision weren’t the worst but they had a pretty sketchy reputation in certain circles.


“Nothing ever been proved by there have been rumours about some of the practices in getting there hands on certain technologies.” she replied to Citizens question about the company.


She pulled her hood back over her head in what she hoped was a suitably dramatic moment.


“Yes let’s both go and given them a look shall we!”

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Given the respective talents of Emerald Spider and Citizen, it made the most sense for the two of them to arrive at the same time but with very different purposes. After taking the time to drop Peri off on the way, Citizen made his arrival at the Ming Xi facilities. Assuming that Emerald Spider would do so in a stealthy fashion, Citizen did nothing of the sort - he flew down and landed directly at the front "door" of the Ming Xi facility, taking time to do dramatically (fast enough that he must have been visible and audible as he came down, and certainly clearly visible on any security cameras before him. He crossed his arms and magnetically hovered in front of the door, a superhero an unusual enough sight in Emerald City that he was confident he had the full attention of onlookers both outside and inside the facility. "Excuse me!" he called, taking the opportunity to scan the premises as he looked them up and down, "I need to speak to somebody in charge!" 

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Some kind of distortion field was in place, but a quick look around confirmed one thing: the Fallen Heavens Complex(as designated by a convenient sign) was damned weird.


A high wall surrounded the complex proper, a dark metal vaguely familiar to Sharl, though off the top of his head he could only recall a statue his sister had made long ago to represent antiquity and obsolescence(though it being a solid statue would have been enough). Guard towers stood, empty but for the countless cameras. Around the top was razor wire. It stretched in a circle for almost a mile in diameter, with one opaque gate opening onto the Oceanside freeway.


The buildings so defended were harsh white, angular things in total defiance of Terran norms, connected to each other by tubes and with no visible access or exits. Though there were dutifully-marked 'EXIT' fire door signs at seemingly random points. Not a soul was in sight or sound.


At the center was a jagged tower that stabbed fifty stories into the air, holding aloft the hilariously mundane Ming Xi Visions logo of an 'M' at the center of a stylized human eye. The tower was made of the same whatever as the wall.


All that was well taken in and digested during the total silence that followed Citizen's request. A silence suddenly broken when something flew out of the complex and landed in front of Sharl. 


Another Sharl. With very different eyes.


"Hey." He said, quite casually, then turned back to the walled compound, beckoning to Citizen "You coming in or what? They're waiting."

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"That's an interesting idea," said Citizen, staring at the robotic duplicate of himself as he mentally transmitted everything he was seeing and hearing back to Archetech. Just in case. "<Are you aware that's proprietary Archetech technology you're wearing?!>" he hazarded in a firm tone that would keep any watching electronic eyes on him, switching from English to his own old-fashioned Lor. He supposed it was a bit like a Terran English speaker being confronted by someone speaking the English of the 17th and 18th centuries to them - but a fluent Lor speaker would get it well enough. And someone who learned their Lor from my memory banks would understand it easily. His robotic brain had fail-safes in it to make sure it couldn't be picked apart, the same that had activated his backups back in Freedom City, but there were flaws in any system. 

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Luckily for Peri the defenses were designed for someone trying to break in from the ground, and whilst she might not be able to fly she was still fairly capable in the air. So well above the camera’s she sat on the M and watched and listened to the Sharl’s meet. Luckily between them, they’d managed to work up some communications so they could keep in touch.


“You’ll let me know if this is turning bad I’m afraid I don’t speak oegug-in iyagi.” a private joke but it made


She then looked around for some way to get into the building without tripping off any of their security, this was their specialty after all!

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OtherSharl's eyes twinkled. A sign they weren't seated properly.


<"Don't worry, they just put me back together. Still me...well, still us, in here. Probably installed something to make me go crazy and attack my friends, but that's why I shut down my physical defences. Hopefully they do something stupid and I can't be reconstituted, <LOVED ONE> doesn't need the headache of two Sharls.">


"Come on in, they want to apologize and shut off all their defences."


Approaching the gate, OtherSharl opened a door that was definitely not there, ushering Citizen inside and leading the way through an invisible maze that didn't follow the visible buildings at all.


"They cut me from their surveillance, so you can say what you like. I told them if you were watched like last time you wouldn't listen, that on the homeworld it was taboo to look at or listen to other people talking. The trick is to get them thinking you're this weird alien guy who doesn't get humanity, then they drop their guard. Undignified, but useful." OtherSharl picked at a loose armor plate jutting from his wrist "Didn't make them better engineers, though."


To E-Spider's eyes, the two Citizens shimmered in and out of view as they weaved deeper into the complex, no rhyme or reason immeditately obvious to where or when.


But she didn't have much time to ponder that, due to the sharp, imperious voice that rasped into her thoughts.


~'Identify yourself! I cannot see you, but I know you are there! By Cortex's command, tell me who you are! They won't release the Skeyes while the blasted aliens are ouside, but in moments I can find you and teach you more of pain than you ever wished to know!'


To her left, just below her, a hatch opened to let out a blast of stale air and let in a great gulp of fresh. It was easily big enough for her to crawl in. If she didn't mind going into strange holes with no easy way out that led Myung-sook-knew where.


The real front door was opened before either Sharl reached it, admitting a short woman in a featureless, blank opaque veil of orange silk and an expensive-looking suit. She bowed formally, saying in passable Modern Lor <"Welcome. I am Hermit Ochre. Our house is yours. Will you come in, Citizen? We would make amends, if we can."


The mask was impervious to even Sharl's expansive suite of optical sensors. Like a blank void around her head. But she still looked expectant. OtherSharl rolled his eyes.

Edited by Ari
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Citizen stepped into the building, trusting his colleague's stealth and his own connections to Archetech West, and keeping his eyes open wide. He remembered fighting the Nazis, the Curator, the Communion - he could handle this. He wasn't afraid. Keep telling yourself that and you might believe it. He had no immediate words for his counterpart, not when he was still processing the reality of what had happened. The internal kill switches in the robot's brain that kept it from being usable if captured and dismantled had kept personal information from being found - but much of the personality seemed to have survived. Or is pretending to. He kept his back flat against the door once he stepped inside, ready to exit at Mach 1 if he saw the first sign of trouble. He didn't talk - instead he stared at the mysterious woman before him, reaching out with his internal transmitters to reach whatever systems were in the interior of the building. For his counterpart, he had no immediate words. 

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Whilst this might be old hat to Citizen this was all still new to Emerald Spider and voices in her head, those from outside at least, very the latest surprise for her to add to the list.


"I'll skip on the horrible threats of torture, for now, how about a nice coffee and a chat instead?”


She wasn't waiting around however as she talked she made her way to the vent she'd spotted, working out in her head the perfect moment to dart inside and enter the corporate building. Now they'd find out if their impromptu comms would work inside the building.

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