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"Mr. Black" was growing increasingly frustrated. From his hidden command center in the heart of Century City's Bayside district, he watched as his drones continued to deplete at an alarming rate. Worse yet, Vance had escaped the execution he so rightly deserved... All because of that damned Good Samaritan in the red cape. His loathing for her was beginning to rival that which he reserved for Vance alone. No matter how many drones he seemed to throw at her, she just kept coming. Eventually, something had to give -- and if the dwindling number of active drones was to be believed, it would be him.

An alarm screamed from the screen to his left. Mr. Black snapped his head around, eyes widening as he consulted the flashing red text. Proximity alert. "No, no, no, no," he repeated to himself, panicked. Turning his attention back to the main screen, he rapidly cycled through the few remaining drones' camera feeds. Their numbers had thinned enough that it didn't take long to consult them all. Hoping he had merely missed what he was looking for, he went back for a second pass. Still no luck. "Where are you?" he muttered under his breath, his tone a potent mixture of annoyance and concern.

"Here," came a voice behind him.

Mr. Black whirled to face the intruder. She stood -- no, floated -- just a few meters away, arms folded across the radioactive system emblazoned on her chest. He reached for the revolver which sat next to his keyboard, the one he had never dreamed he would have to use. With a shaky grip, he brought the gun to bear on the hero. At the same instant, her eyes glowed a bright green, and a beam of concentrated energy shot out, scalding his hand and sending the weapon to the floor with a clatter. Mr. Black clutched his fist, wincing.

Before he had time to react, she surged forward to close the gap between them. Grabbing him roughly by the collar of his shirt, she lifted him out of his chair and held him aloft. "Now," she began, voice steady yet firm, "you're going to shut it down."

-----


Space was always at a premium in Mickey Holtz's cramped office, but even more so on days like today when it was "all hands on deck" at the Chronicle. The beleaguered editor, though never renowned for being abundantly patient, did his best to remain calm though the revolving door of writers, editors, and photographers vying for his attention. Everyone implicitly understood that news days like this came around once in a decade -- maybe once in a lifetime -- and so they were all working hard to ensure that tomorrow's edition would be the best it could possibly be.

Amidst the chaos, a somewhat flush April stepped into Mickey's office, clutching an article. Looking up from a layout of photos of the destruction downtown, the editor-in-chief eyed her for a moment before turning his attention back to the copy editor standing by his side. "The first and the third one," he instructed, handing the photos back. "Thanks." There was a weariness to his voice which suggested he had been at this for hours already. Once the other editor left and they were alone, Mickey finally acknowledged her. "You've brought me something?"

"A profile of the saboteur," April explained, holding out the article to him.

Mickey raised an eyebrow. Taking the papers gingerly, almost as though he expected them to burst into flame at any moment, he donned a pair of reading glasses from his desk and began to skim the article. For a few excruciating moments, neither his expression nor the subtle "hmm"s he kept making gave any indication as to his overall impression of the piece. Upon reaching the second page, he removed his glasses and leaned against the back of his chair. Finally looking up at her, he asked, "How did you get this?"

April straightened, swallowing. "I followed your advice: I pursued the truth," she answered simply. "After the derailment, I started to believe that someone was targeting Zenith Dynamics. I couldn't rule out corporate sabotage, but the manner of the attacks made it believe it had to have come from the inside, from someone with intimate knowledge of Zenith's security protocols. So, I started looking into recent firings, looking for someone who might hold a grudge."

Mickey said nothing. He merely watched her give her pitch, his face a mask of emotion.

"That's how I found this man, Carl Stromby," April continued. "Former programmer. He was dismissed from the company in October for undisclosed reasons. I started asking around..." She paused, interrupting herself, "I know, I know. You told me to stay away from Zenith. But you also told me to be tireless in my pursuit, so that's what I did." Clearing her throat, she went on, "Anyway, it turns out that Carl was caught spying on a coworker. He had written a script which gave him access to her emails, even the texts on her work phone... She declined to press charges, but Carl was thrown out all the same. And since Zenith held all the patents to his projects, he was left with nothing."

It was true, all of it. The only embellishment April had made was to suggest that she had been investigating Stromby before his arrest. But, she supposed she could be forgiven for fudging the timeline a bit if it kept her and Jefferson's involvement in Stromby's capture out of the headlines. She had offered to acknowledge Jeff in her article, but they both agreed against it; after all, the odds were good that they'd need a man on the inside of Zenith again, if this "superhero" arrangement was to become a recurring thing.

What Mickey said next almost flattened April. "I'm impressed." She felt a surge of pride which was only slightly dampened when he added, "The writing itself could use work, of course, but that's still damn good reporting, Newton." He bellowed, "Gerri!" and another assistant came rushing into the office. He passed the article to her, saying, "Get one of the editors to look this over, punch it up a bit. I want to run it below the main story."

April could scarcely believe what she had heard. "Wait, you're actually going to print my article?"

He looked around. "You see anyone else handing me a profile on the suspect? We're here to report news, kid, and this is news." Gerri dutifully took the article and scurried off, while Mickey warned, "Before you get too excited, you're splitting the byline. Your writing's not front page ready on its own."

The revelation did little to sour her mood. Beaming with excitement, April replied, "Thank you, Mickey! This means the world to me." Without being able to stop herself, she threw her arms around the editor, squeezing perhaps a bit too tight for her newfound strength.

"Alright, okay," Mickey said somewhat uncomfortably. Though he didn't fully return the hug, he did give her a supportive pat on the back. After a moment, they separated, and Mickey seemed a lot more relaxed. "For the record, I never doubted that you had what it takes," he offered.

April furrowed her brow. "Then, why didn't you let me cover the Zenith story in the first place?"

He sighed. "Because when I hire someone, I do my research," he explained. Softening, he said, "April, I know about your father. I lost my dad when I was young, too; I know the effect that has on a person. So, yeah, I worried that you might be too close to Zenith to see things clearly. I didn't want to risk that you'd let a personal bias color your journalistic instincts."

April nodded. "I understand." Hearing that his decision hadn't been an indictment of her abilities was a bit of a relief. And truthfully, she couldn't deny that she had gone into Zenith hoping to dig up some dirt.

"Good. Now," he continued, stopping to check his watch, "it seems to me that it's almost time for the content meeting. If you're serious about this, then I guess you'd better sit in on this one."

She beamed.

-----


Mickey stood at the head of the conference table, arms folded and fiddling with a remote. Once the assembled editorial & writing staff had finished filing into the room, he cleared his throat loudly and said, "Alright, I think we all know what we're dealing with here." Clicking the remote, he turned to face the projector on the wall behind him. A picture of Century City's new superhero appeared, hovering in mid-air as she artfully fended off one of Stromby's killer drones. The composition of the piece was impeccable.

April blushed at the sight of the photograph, praying that no one would recognize her in Jeff's getup. Suddenly, being surrounded by some of Century City's brightest, most observant minds didn't feel like such a smart place to be. Fortunately, it seemed she was just as invisible now as she had been when she slinked into the conference room. To be safe, she shrank back further against the far wall.

Peyton, who had taken the picture, smiled proudly.

"Century City has never had a dedicated superhero before, so I shouldn't need to tell you that this is a big deal," Mickey announced. "I can tell you from experience that a story like this comes around once in a decade, maybe even once in a career. And what we have here--" He shook the remote at them for emphasis. "--is a chance to control the story. We were the first to report on the derailment, and we'll be the first on this. We get to stake our claim, so... what do we call her?"

April stiffened. Somehow, she liked the idea of her superhero name being decided in committee even less than just letting Jeff pick it.

"Radioactive Girl?" a junior reporter offered.

April cringed. Fortunately, Mickey was equally repulsed by the suggestion. He waved it off. "No."

"Atomica!" came an enthusiastic cry from the other side of the room.

Mickey frowned. "Better. Still don't like it," he admitted.

April could bite her tongue no longer. Stepping forward, she asked in a somewhat shaky voice, "Shouldn't we consider that maybe this person would like to have some input on her own name?"

The editor's expression told her everything she needed to know. "Well, gee, April, I hadn't thought about that," he replied, voice dripping with sarcasm, "And I trust you know how to get a hold of her before the publishing deadline, right? If she has an opinion on our decision, she's free to come down here and voice it in person... if she agrees to an exclusive, of course." He turned his attention back to the room at large. "What else ya got?"

The suggestions flowed freely now.

"Fission!"
"Radiatrix?"
"Nuclear Lass!"
"The Atomic Woman!"
"Ion?"

April could take no more. Eventually, one of these awful suggestions was going to stick. She might as well try hers. Sighing, she thought, Jeff's never gonna let me live this down. Clearing her throat, she waited until she had every eye in the room. "What about... ?"



She didn't recognize me!

April couldn't believe it. Peyton had met April Newton less than a week ago, had sat at her desk and spoke directly to her, and yet when she looked at April now, she only saw only the costume and the superpowers. For a moment, April allowed herself to consider the possibility that this double-life thing might actually work. After all, who expected to find Mickey Holtz's assistant flying around and blowing up drones? Even April could hardly believe it, and she was living it. Of course, if she intended to keep living it, she would need to put her game face on. That was just one of many drones; her work was only beginning.

Swooping into action, April first intercepted a pair of drones which were busy shooting up the side of a city bus. With her fist extended in front of her as she flew, she charged up and punched straight through the first drone; bits of metal sprayed against her face and body, harmlessly deflected by the radiation shield she was generating. The second drone wheeled around on her, and April darted to the side to avoid a burst of gunfire. "My turn," she muttered under her breath before releasing a burst of her own. The green energy ripped through the drone like a piƱata, which exploded with a satisfying flash. Some heads popped up through the windows of the bus, and April gave what she hoped looked like a confident wave.

"I knew I recognized these things!" Jefferson's voice chirped through the earpiece April was wearing. As she listened in, she took off in the direction of a drone which was peppering an apartment building with small missiles. "Surprise, surprise: it's Zenith tech. They're part of a project called 'Sentinel,'" Jeff continued. The drone fired a missile at the approaching hero; she spun out of the way easily. "They were originally designed for law enforcement -- non-weaponized, strictly surveillance -- but the project was shelved due to public backlash over the 'Big Brother' of it all." The next missile sailed dangerously close to April. She fired back at the drone but scored over a glancing blow. "Eventually, someone had the bright idea to repurpose the tech for military application."

April shot a concentrated beam of energy at the drone. It sliced through the offending device like a hot knife through butter, exposing interiors which glowed orange from the heat. The bisected pieces fell to either side of April's head as she soared upwards through the spot the drone once occupied. "So, do you definitely believe my sabotage theory now?" she challenged Jefferson.

"I'd be a fool not to," he admitted over the line. "Someone's definitely controlling these things remotely. I'm on my way to Zenith now to see if I can backtrace the signal from there. If I get a location, you'll be the first to know. In the meantime--"

April charged up her fists. "Go smash some drones," she finished for him, "Got it." She zoomed down to street level, carving a path through a line of drones which had pinned down some unfortunate CCPD officers. From behind the husk of their destroyed squad car, the cops gave an appreciative -- if perplexed -- look. One of them suddenly shouted something a moment too late; a force slammed into April's back, and she went spiraling to the earth. April felt like she got run over by the Mag-Rail again. When she finally came to a stop, she was covered in shards of glass. She turned in time to see a drone bearing down through the shattered storefront window through which she had fallen.

With a burst of speed, April vacated the spot where she had landed, mere moments before a hailfire of bullets reduced the floor to a pock-marked crater. Raising a hand to blow the offending drone of the sky, April was blindsided by another explosion. A second drone had flanked her position and was preparing again to fire. April hunkered down and shielded herself, the sheath of radiation just barely holding up against the fire of the drone's minigun. One of the bullets leaked through the shield, catching April in the shoulder. She yelped and let off a flash of green light, which stunned both drones.

Taking flight once more, April circled back outside to find a firing line waiting for her. Evidently, whoever was controlling these drones did not take kindly to April's handling of them. As the drones closed in a semicircle around her, she sneered. "Alright, you wanna fight dirty?" she challenged them aloud. "Good, so do I!" Summoning as much energy as she could, she balled her fists and felt her entire body tense. Then, in a sudden release, a wave of destructive radiation erupted in a sphere all around her, blowing the drones away like so much debris. She floated there another moment after, green light pulsing until it gradually faded.

The victory was short-lived. Reinforcements swiftly arrived in the form of more drones. As they shot up at April, she twisted and rolled away from their lines of fire. The drones gave chase, their bullets nipping at the edge of April's cape. She looked back over her shoulder and fired off a series of blasts, only a few of which made any kind of solid connection. Meanwhile, a bullet whizzed frighteningly close to her face, and she jerked away out of instinct.

"April," Jeff chimed in.

"Please tell me you've got that location," April replied, stopping to turn back and square up a shot on one of the drones. As it exploded, its constituent parts showered down on nearby drones, damaging some while knocking others off-course. Still, the mob closed the gap on her. With a huff, April turned skyward with as much speed as she could muster.

Jefferson sighed. "Not yet, no. I'm close, though," he admitted. "But right now, you need to get to City Hall. Every drone which isn't busy chasing you has been redirected that way. Apparently, they've found someone they want dead even more than you..."

-----


Isaac Vance was no stranger to trouble.

Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had never qualified as "well-behaved." His father, who did not lack for love of his only child, was all too often too busy running a company to discipline his son; and all too willing to let bad behavior slide on the few occasions when he did take an interest in raising Isaac. Even sending Isaac off to the best preparatory schools money could buy did little to curtail his rebellious streak.

It should have come as no surprise, then, that the mischief-maker grew up to become a wanton thrill-seeker as he grew older. Isaac's misadventures with alcohol, drugs, and women heaped mountains of bad publicity on the Vance family name, and he had been involved in more than one physical altercation with the paparazzi who followed in his wake, eager to report on the next great disaster. Only his father's power and influence had kept Isaac from suffering the full consequences of his actions.

Yet, in spite of all that, Isaac had never faced trouble quite like this.

Huddled behind the Mayor's desk, Isaac tried to focus on the laptop he was cradling, rather than the constant barrage of gunfire and shattering glass going on just outside. A spray of bullets punched holes through the hastily closed shutters, peppering the wall opposite Isaac with points of light. Isaac looked up briefly from what he was doing, then turned his eyes back down to the screen in his lap. "Mr. Mayor, you should've told me that your Li-Fi connection was so bad in your office," he offered, watching the browser shudder under the weight of his commands. "I would've gladly had a technician look at it for you."

Mayor Donald Gallagher, for his part, did not share Vance's apparently relaxed state. Pressed to the floor behind his large, green sofa, the older gentleman's face was red and sweaty. Each time there was a new noise from just beyond the windows, he flinched and closed his eyes, anticipating the end which never quite came. He had called Vance down to have a chat about the recent Zenith-related disasters in Century City when the world, it seemed, had gone completely mad. The drones had swarmed City Hall so quickly that there hadn't been time to evacuate, so the two men had holed up in Gallagher's office.

If Isaac noticed the Mayor's terror, he paid it no mind. The truth was that Isaac was scared, too, but fear wouldn't serve their purposes. Instead, Isaac did what he had been doing since his father passed: he threw himself into his work. Isaac wasn't a seasoned programmer or anything, but he possessed more intellect than his checkered past let on, and he had absorbed plenty through sheer osmosis throughout the years. Making use of his administrative privileges, he tried to access the network controlling the drones. His drones, he thought grimly. It was clear now that Isaac was being targeted specifically, and he wondered darkly about the implications therein.

Unfortunately, whoever was behind this plot had anticipated and prepared for possible interference. Despite the fact that Isaac's account should have had ultimate authority, he was still finding himself locked out of his own system. Of course, it didn't help that the poor connection in this office was resulting in high packet loss, putting Isaac at a severe handicap. "Dammit!" he blustered, tension finally boiling over. Slamming the laptop shut, he leaned his head back until he felt the desk's hard surface. "I need to get back to Zenith," he announced suddenly.

Mayor Gallagher looked at Vance as if he had said he needed to get to the moon. "You can't seriously be considering going out there!"

Before Isaac could reply, a missile impacted against the side of City Hall, raining bits of plaster on them both and dislodging a portrait from the wall behind the cowering Mayor. "Well, I certainly don't intend on dying in here," Isaac reasoned, tucking his laptop under his arm. He craned his neck and peered over the top of the desk. "At the rate they're going, I'd say you've got... two minutes before they breach that wall and come to kill you?" He looked back at the Mayor. "Best of luck to you, then."

Not surprisingly, Mayor Gallagher yielded to good sense and followed Vance as he crouch-ran out of the office and into the hall. The lights inside City Hall flickered as it tried to withstand the drones' constant barrage. Past each door down the hallway, Isaac could hear stifled shrieks with every new shockwave. He knew that the only way to protect these people would be to get back to Zenith, access the mainframe, and purge the cyberterrorist's account. With a renewed sense of purpose, he dashed towards the exit, hoping he could find an opening to slip out unseen.

No sooner had they reached the rotunda at City Hall's heart than Isaac was stopped dead in his tracks. The drones had just managed to break through the windows above the balcony, and they were buzzing around the circular room in search of targets -- targets which he and the Mayor had just unwittingly provided. As soon as they were spotted, the drones wasted no time assuming attack positions. Isaac lifted his arms in surrender futilely, knowing full well that this maniac had no intention of taking them alive.

Just then, something bright and green shone through the shattered windows. Isaac shielded his eyes, then watched as a figure flew -- yes, flew -- into the rotunda and began blasting at the drones. They turned their full attention and armaments against the newcomer, but she was too quick for them. Not wanting to be caught in the crossfire, Isaac ducked behind a pillar, pulling Mayor Gallagher by the elbow to get him to do the same. Still, Isaac couldn't stop himself from watching their hero tear through the drones like she was swatting flies.

When the blasting was done, and the hero alone remained, Isaac finally stepped out from his hiding spot and greeted her readily. "Well, well," he began, "I wasn't ready for two surprises today." Now getting his first good look at the girl, he took note of her colorful though peculiar outfit.

"Yeah, well, that's why they're called surprises," the hero answered somewhat unkindly. Whoever she was, it was clear that she held no great love for the Zenith Dynamics CEO.

She'll have to get in line, Isaac mused. "Am I correct in assuming that you're also the girl who saved my train the other night?" Though she didn't answer, her expression told him everything he needed to know. "So then, that's two debts I now owe you."

Isaac sweared that he saw the girl sneer. "Trust me," she said coldly, "I didn't do it for you."

Such contempt was, unfortunately, not unfamiliar to him. He resolved not to take it personally, nevertheless. "That may be, but you have my thanks all the same," he replied. "If there's ever anything I can do for you..."

"Yeah," she said, meeting his gaze at last, "you can keep a closer eye on your company." And without a moment for a retort, she took off, doubtlessly to go save the next person in need.
Yep, I've been briefed. I'm still gonna try to squeeze in a non-event opener to get her feet under her, though.
Do we have a timeframe for season's end? I've got the last two posts of Miss Megaton's origin typed up; just want to make sure that I don't sit on them too long.

Also, I may or may not already be writing her Season 3 opener...
Alright, I've got one post typed up that just needs some editing and formatting. If I write the next one after that, Miss Megaton's origin will be done, and I can jump to next season whenever.


Jefferson sat on April's couch, legs crossed, and rapped his fingers along the underside of his shoe. Leaning back, he startled himself on a pink, sequined throw pillow. After he had readjusted said pillow, he picked up his phone and checked the clock for only about the fifteenth time. Sighing, he called out, "Come on, let's see it!" He was understandably anxious to admire his own handiwork.

April, meanwhile, was considerably less enthusiastic about the prospect of being seen in Jefferson's ensemble. Tugging at the hem of the bright red skirt, she stepped out from the bedroom and folded her arms. The costume, such as it was, was more than a little form-fitting in places that April didn't care it to be. Obviously designed by a man, she thought with some measure of resignation. Grabbing a fistful of the heavyweight fabric draped over her back, she held it out and asked, "A skirt and a cape? Really?"

"It's a classic look!" Jeff responded defensively. Leaning back, he sized her up a moment before declaring, "I think it looks great! Very retro sci-fi chic. Don't you just love the color scheme?" She didn't. The green made sense, but white and red? April wasn't entirely convinced. Not to mention that she felt the radiation symbol on her chest was just a bit on-the-nose. "The best part is that it doesn't just look good. That's state-of-the-art poly-weave fiber; it could survive a cannon blast. Plus, it's thick enough to insulate some of your ambient radiation for when you're running really hot."

April considered herself in the mirror. Stylistic differences aside, she couldn't deny the craftsmanship on display, though she did wonder where Jefferson learned to sew... or how he got her size exactly right. As she took in the moment, she removed her glasses and let her hair down. One thing was for sure: No one who knew how she normally dressed would recognize her in this thing. April swung her hips to watch the cape flutter behind her.

"Now, all we need is a name," Jefferson announced. He sat forward, tapping his chin. "Isotope? I like it, but I don't love it. Hmmm... what about Geiger Gal?" April flashed him a look, and he nodded. "You're right. I'm overthinking it." As she shook her head and went back to assessing the costume, Jeff thought a moment. Suddenly, his eyes brightened. "I've got it! Miss Megaton!" He held his hands out as if he were presenting a theater marquee.

April turned and made eye contact. With neither excitement nor inflection, she replied, "I am not calling myself 'Miss Megaton.'" She was already well past the point of foolishness and could think of no better way to ensure that she'd never take herself seriously again.

Jeff, however, was undeterred. He wagged his finger. "I don't know. You're gonna think about it later, and it'll grow on ya," he promised.

April rolled her eyes. Not likely. Brushing her bangs out of her face, she gave half a smile. It didn't look completely terrible, she supposed. "Alright, well, I think that's about enough for the test fitting. Now, let's just hope you don't have to cut me out of this thing," she said with only a modicum of genuine concern. She picked up her glasses and began making her way back to the bedroom.

"Uhhh... April? I wouldn't get undressed just yet," Jefferson shouted from the other room. As she poked her head back around the door frame, she found him staring wide-eyed at his phone. "Twitter's blowing up right now. Something about an attack going on downtown." He tapped something on the screen, and a video began to play. Although April couldn't see it from where she was standing, she heard the screams and the sound of gunfire. Jeff snapped his head around. "This might be a job for--"

April held up a single finger. "Don't say it."

-----


Peyton was no stranger to warzones.

Prior to becoming a photographer, she had enlisted and served two tours of duty -- first in Iraq, then Afghanistan. The suffering she had witnessed firsthand had been the catalyst to trade her rifle for a camera. For years thereafter, she travelled to areas of great unrest, shining a light on the injustices of the world. She had witnessed disasters of all kinds: war, genocide, earthquakes, monsoons... Yet, in all that time, she never imagined she would experience a similar scene back home.

Century City was under attack. Death and destruction rained from the skies as an army of flying drones descended on the downtown area. Each of the drones -- which were about three times as large as their recreational counterparts -- were equipped with an array of weaponry, and someone had released them on the city to attack seemingly without discretion. The Century City Police Department scrambled to respond to the attack, but they were clearly outmatched and were already in the process of calling in the California National Guard. Citizens were advised to take shelter and stay off the streets.

Peyton had never been much good at listening, anyway. Heedless of the danger, she set out with her camera to document what was happening. That meant running into the hot zone. She had had to duck a police blockade at the perimeter, which proved little challenge with how distracted Century City's finest were at the moment. From the reports which had flooded the Chronicle, the attack was loosely centered on the City Hall area. Peyton knew of a high-rise development project which would give her a bird's eye view of the action. To get there would involve a little trespassing, but she somehow sensed that would be the least of anyone's concerns.

As expected, Peyton encountered no resistance at the construction site. If there had been any security, they had long since turned tail once the shooting began. Removing her jacket, she laid it over the barbed wire at the top of the fence and went up and over. Hustling inside the half-finished building, she called the elevator and rode to one of the higher floors. When the doors opened, she stepped out into the open air and crossed the bare concrete floor to the edge where a window would one day be. Kneeling down, she looked down her camera's sights at the mayhem below. Jesus, she thought, watching the drones circle like an agitated beehive.

She snapped a few quick pictures, then reached into her bag for a larger zoom lens. The drones moved so quickly that they were hard to track, but Peyton had a trained eye. She picked a spot and waited for one to drift into view. "Gotcha," she muttered to herself, taking the shot. As soon as the shutter clicked, the drone suddenly turned to face her. Peyton's eyes went wide. "Oh, fuck."

The drone made a beeline for her current position, so Peyton grabbed her things and scrambled to her feet. No sooner had she made it halfway to the elevator before she heard the familiar whirr of a minigun spinning up. Instincts took over, and she dove behind a pillar moments before a line of bullets lit up the spot where she once stood. They perforated the elevator doors, showering the room in sparks. Peyton ducked and covered her head.

In an attempt to figure out the drone's positioning, Peyton peeked her head around the pillar. The drone snapped around, opening fire again, as Peyton rolled out of the way. Bits of concrete and plaster rained down on her head. That machine would never let her get to the elevator, so she would have to chance the stairs. Sprinting, she neared her destination when something whistled past, and the stairwell erupted into a fireball. Peyton was thrown back by the force of the blast, landing near a workbench.

She had landed on her camera, cracking the lens. Yet, that was the very least of her concerns. Peyton lifted her head to see the drone bearing down on her. With a sigh, she reached for a wrench that the construction workers had had the good sense to leave behind. The drone circled, almost taunting her. Peyton resigned herself to her fate. Climbing to her feet, she gripped the wrench and prepared for her last stand. The minigun at the drone's center began to spin. "Come on, then," she spat.

There was a flash, and Peyton jerked her head, wincing. She was sure she was dead, but she had been expecting some pain first. Chancing a look, she opened her eyes to find the drone smoking. A hole had been blown straight through it, exposing all its inner bits. The drone shuddered, trying to bring its weapons to bear, but it had been irreparably damaged. As it shone a targeting laser on Peyton's chest, two hands took hold of it from behind and tore the metal monster asunder. Peyton shielded her face from the shrapnel, then looked up at her savior.



"Are you alright?"

"I am now," Peyton answered, letting the wrench fall from her grasp with a clatter. "Thanks to you." She considered the newcomer a moment. Although neither of them acknowledged it, Peyton knew this must be the same girl from the Mag-Rail disaster. Century City's own guardian angel. Peyton smirked. Well, she certainly looked the part, at least. After another beat, she said, "Nice skirt."

The hero made an odd face, answering uncertainly, "Thanks." A distant explosion drew both their attentions, and Peyton saw the other girl tense. Peyton began switching out her broken lens for a fresh one, as the girl turned back and said, "I've got to--"

"Yeah, definitely," the photographer immediately interjected. "Go do your thing." She gave a little smile to show that she was okay. The hero began to glow faintly and lifted off the ground. "Good luck out there," Peyton added by way of encouragement. The hero gave an appreciative nod before blasting off to go save someone else. Already, Peyton knew that the images she risked her life to get were worthless. By the end of the day, the drones would be backdrop to a much larger story.

Still time to get the shot, she thought encouragingly, making her way to the elevator once more.
I'm not dead! Just swamped between the holidays and now the busy season at work. Things will calm down soon, so I expect to get back to it shortly.


In big, bold font the headline read, "Century's Own Super?" Beneath, Peyton's expertly framed shot showed a glowing, green figure hefting the Mag-Rail above her head. Fortunately, the shot had been taken at such a distance -- and the glow had obscured any specific details -- so that even April didn't recognize herself in it. She had been understandably worried that she'd be waking up to uncomfortable questions, but no one had put two and two together yet. That was good. Putting herself out there had been a risk, and not a particularly calculated one at that. Have to be smarter next time.

The very possibility of there being a "next time" still gave April pause. She had seemingly dodged a bullet this time; why risk exposing herself again? After all, hadn't she just told Jefferson not that long ago that she didn't want to be a hero? April couldn't fully explain her change of heart. Maybe she had taken some inspiration from her father, who gave his own life in pursuit of a better future for the world. Maybe she just saw people in need and couldn't turn her back. All she understood is how saving those people had made her feel in the moment, and how that feeling had lingered in the hours since.

"So, wait," Jefferson began, drawing April out of her thoughts. She set the newspaper aside and looked across the booth at him. "You think the reactor explosion and the Mag-Rail accident are somehow related? Based on what?"

April gave a noncommittal shrug. "I don't know. Just a feeling, I guess." She couldn't stop thinking back to when Mickey asked her why the reactor had exploded; obviously, he didn't know anything she didn't -- not unless he moonlit as a corporate saboteur -- but the implication was clear. Never take the facts for granted. It would be easy enough to write the explosion off as an accident, but... April shifted in her seat, continuing, "You don't think it's odd that the Mag-Rail's emergency brakes failed at the exact time that a delivery truck -- designed and controlled by Zenith -- took out a section of the track?"

Jeff didn't have a quick retort. Frowning, he considered her supposition. "I guess it's a little suspicious, but accidents happen," he suggested meekly. "Besides, that's an isolated incident. What's the connection to the reactor meltdown?"

"Zenith!" April answered quickly, perhaps letting her bias bleed into her response. Before she could explain further, she caught sight of Luke approaching out of the corner of her eye. Biting her tongue, she offered the bartender a pleasant smile as he sat down two fresh pints for them. Once he was back out of earshot, April leaned forward and said, "Think about it. Two PR disasters in the same week? And that's only because no one got seriously hurt; it could've been a lot worse. Someone's gunning for your company."

Jeff's frown deepened. "Well, I suppose someone with the technical know-how could have remotely controlled the delivery truck and disabled the Mag-Rail's brakes..." He shook his head. "But that still doesn't make sense of the reactor explosion. We know what caused it; there was a malfunction in one of the runoff valves. It was so small that it would've taken a miracle to detect."

"Which covers the saboteur's tracks perfectly, doesn't it?" April argued. She could see by Jefferson's shifting reaction that she had struck a chord. "Besides, didn't I read something about the failure being due to a faulty control chip? If hacking is this guy's M.O., then maybe he found a way to access it externally."

Jefferson offered no rebuttal. Instead, he simply picked up his beer and downed a third of it in a single draft. Wiping the foam from his lips, he asked, "Okay, so what do we do about it?"

April raised an eyebrow. "We?"

Jeff nodded. Tapping the picture on the newspaper, he explained, "You've got skin in the game now, and you're gonna need someone to help you." He wasn't half-wrong. Jefferson had been there every step of the way already, and without his help April, might've never thought to test her limits the night before. As he detected her hesitation, his smile grew. "Come on... You know we need each other, so just say it." He raised his glass. "Partners?"

April couldn't hold her poker face for long. Finally smirking back at him, she faked a sigh and conceded, "Okay, fine. Partners." Jefferson wiggled his outstretched glass expectantly, and April toasted it with her own, chuckling.

"Excellent! So, I already have some ideas for the costume."

April choked on her beer, rasping, "... Costume?"

-----


Sinclair Davis sat behind her black marble desk, fingers steepled beneath her chin. The Zenith executive watched with an exacting gaze as her colleagues across the desk etched their signatures to the contract. Today's signing marked the end to a lengthy merger negotiation, but Sinclair had personally seen to it that Zenith Dynamics' interests were secured. The absorption of Simonis Pharmaceuticals represented a huge leap forward in an area where Zenith had lagged behind its peers. Once the ink dried on the final signature, Sinclair's assistant, Kyra, scooped up the contracts.

Standing, Sinclair offered a hand across the desk. "Gentlemen, we look forward to bringing you into the fold," she said, offering a cool smile which never truly reached her eyes. The two Simonis executives shaked her hand in turn, then buttoned their jackets and saw themselves out. Sinclair waited until she was sure they were out of earshot before muttering, "All too easy." She had seen the reports; the Simonis R&D techs were on the verge of a breakthrough which would skyrocket the company's valuation. They never should've settled for Zenith's price. Then again, Sinclair's talent for manipulation often yielded great dividends in her company's favor.

The holographic computer screen at Sinclair's desk blinked an alert. Recognizing it, she turned to Kyra and said, "Get those contracts down to legal, and tell marcomm that I want a press release drawn up before the end of the day." She had put in the work; it was time for a victory lap. Dismissing the assistant, Sinclair took her seat and reached for the remote at the edge of her desk. At the press of a button, the semicircular windows which ringed her office began to darken. Once her privacy had been assured, she tapped her screen and brought up the new message.

MR. BLACK has joined the chat.

MR. BLACK: I'm ready for a new target.


Sinclair watched the blinking cursor. Pursing her lips, she tapped in her response.

ENCRYPTED USER: Why should I trust you again after last night's debacle?

MR. BLACK: That was an unexpected complication.

MR. BLACK: I'll be ready for her next time.


Sinclair's eyes drifted to her second screen, where the Chronicle's article about the Mag-Rail accident was still displayed. When she handed over the files exposing the vulnerability in the Mag-Rail's security protocols, she had expected a firework show. After all, the entire impetus for getting involved in this sordid affair was the expectation that these accidents would sour public perception on Zenith's top brass. So long as everyone involved kept walking away scot-free, Sinclair's vision would never truly be fulfilled.

To understand Sinclair's motivation for working against her own company, one had to understand her history. Sinclair had joined Zenith Dynamics straight out of school. For a time, she worked as a recruiter, bringing in top talent and overseeing their projects. Her unique combination of skills earned her successive promotions until finally she was working directly under the CEO, Malcolm Vance. At that time, Malcolm's son, Isaac, was more concerned with drinking and philandering than getting involved in the family business. In his absence, Sinclair was groomed as the heir apparent to the whole Zenith empire. And then, Malcolm grew ill.

Like the proverbial prodigal son, Isaac came running home and made amends with his father. Despite his complete lack of experience, he was handed the keys to the kingdom. Sinclair was livid. Her only solace was the expectation that the younger Vance's true colors would eventually prevail, but he had managed to avoid a meltdown so far. That was why she had decided to manufacture one. All she had needed was the proper stooge, and as it happened, one had fallen directly into her lap. Sinclair had been the saboteur's inside contact -- anonymously, of course; she wasn't foolish enough to expose herself.

ENCRYPTED USER: Perhaps it's time to up the collateral damage.

ENCRYPTED USER: This should help.


Sinclair began transmitting files for a project codenamed "Sentinel."

MR. BLACK: I like the way you think.

MR. BLACK: Nothing will stop me this time. Not even the girl.

MR. BLACK has disconnected.


Sinclair closed the chat. In its place, she opened the folder containing all the files related to the cold fusion reactor experiment. Clicking through a few subfolders, she finally came upon a set of MP4 files from the day of the explosion. As she opened one, she was greeted with security camera footage from the reactor room. In the moments before the meltdown, the crowd began to scatter... but a single figure emerged. Tapping the screen, Sinclair slowed the playback. She cycled through the camera angles until finally landing on the one which granted the clearest view of the errant reporter. With the hair and glasses in her face, she was almost impossible to identify.

A flash of brilliant green light illuminated the girl. Sinclair paused the video there. She compared the image side-by-side with the photograph from the Chronicle. It's her, Sinclair thought with certainty. She leaned forward, studying every available pixel. Whoever this girl was... Sinclair sensed that there was much to learn from her.
Returning home from the holidays tonight, so I'll be able to get on my home computer and format my next post shortly. Bright side: the wait has allowed me to write a second post, so I'm ahead of my posting schedule again for the first time since I started.
Heh. Well, I'm glad the finished product is palatable, because it certainly feels like a battle on my end.
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