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Character you have created: Self-educating Robotic Assistant, software version 7.02

Alias: SERA

Speech Color: Lawn green

Character Alignment: TBD

Identity: No public presence as yet.

Character Personality: Simulated personality is...difficult. While Dr. Anderson did what he could, a lot of pieces of personality from the program are missing. Much of this is due to the fact that SERA, while possessing an incredibly powerful mind and an bility to learn things at speeds almost unimaginable to humans, has no life experience, and thus has nothing to base a personality on. The previous models had pre-programmed personalities meant to be servile to humans, and this was part of the problem in their creation. To avoid this, SERA mk 7 has no pre-programmed facets except her one directive to help the Doctor.

Uniform/costume: Whatever she wants to wear.

Origin Info/Details: SERA is the seventh version of her operating system, and the first successful model. Her creator, Gerry Anderson, thought it was a good idea to design an android capable of independent thought and creativity, housed in a shell that could be used for anything from protecting people during combat to search and rescue, research assistance to companionship. To this end, he not only designed an artificial intelligence from scratch, but pushed computer hardware and software well beyond limits his contemporaries thought impossible to overcome. SERA is programmed around a composite imaging of several brainwave patterns, and housed in one of the most advanced autonomous robotic bodies in the world.

The original six versions never made it out of the software stage, their programming becoming unstable and bug-ridden well before then. Number seven, however , while showing errors, also managed to self-correct those errors. The number of knowledge bases Dr. Anderson had added to the memory system had contained enough skill to do so, but that same capability had terrified Anderson. He installed the system in the body, then shut it down and locked it away, adding a key that would activate the thing only in case of extreme emergency.

SERA woke up to find the Doctor's body, one hand still clutching at the keyboard he had used to activate her, having died from a rapid series of strokes at the age of eighty-five. And now she is loose, with no one knowing anything about her.

Hero Type: Other: Android

Power Level: World/City

Multi-processor – SERA runs on a eighty-three core quantum computing processing unit, with superconducting materials and supercooling to prevent problems, stored in her chest. This CPU allows her to think and process things faster than most people can imagine, and gives her plenty of room to devote to subroutines and programs if she needs to.

Internet access - While she doesn't have an internal ISP, she has a state-of-the-art wifi receiver and can brute force her way into most civilian networks in seconds from a considerable distance.

Knowledge base – With upgradeable storage and a link to her server in the lab, she can pretty much learn whatever she wants in the amount of time it takes to download and/or install it. While this doesn't give her access to some things, like expertise in any skill or improvisational abilities, it is a considerable resource, and getting better as more people upload lessons on things around the world.

High power – SERA has an internal generator tied to the actuators in her body, constantly generating small amounts power through regenerative friction capture. This means heat energy generated through friction of her moving parts is recaptured and funneled to a pair of ultrahigh capacity lithium ion batteries. In addition, there is a tiny fusion generator powered by air intake. This generates small amounts of radioactive waste which much be disposed of every seventy-two hours.

Semi-realistic body – The android's skin is made of millions of hexagonal plates. These plates are mounted on multipurpose sensors tied to pressure, heat, and air pressure, allowing SERA to have a relatively similar sensory input to normal humans. These can be adjusted in her software to give her superhuman senses, as well. A small amount of photo-voltaic storage in these plates allows her to simulate body heat, but any sort of examination more than a cursory brushing or touch will reveal their nature.

Rescue systems – The alloyed bones of the body are capable of holding up several tons without a problem, and small mechanisms in the hands can allow them to telescope out to help support an area of around ten feet. An internal tank of oxygen is attached to two stored breath masks in the abdominal area, which also has a small tank of fire-retardant chemicals. The right thigh is equipped with a small heater and stores a thermal blanket. The left forearm has a gas-propelled grappling hook with a thin one-hundred and fifty foot cable and powered winch.

Combat systems – The right forearm is equipped with a small flamethrower and a three million volt rechargeable taser system. Right shoulder can open to expose a small, high-powered plasma cannon that can fire three bolts before needing recharging. The recharging system is a series of pressurized air intake valves along the upper arms capable of generating plasma, which can also be discharged out of the palms in a very short range blast. The taser can also be redirected across the skin. The eyes are capable of generating small laser beams, but cannot see while doing so as it requires reversing the direction of the internal lenses. All joints can be unlocked ,reducing structural capacity but allowing them to rotate freely in almost any direction. The skin plates are capable of stopping anything short of anti-armour rounds.

(note: The plasma bolt system can be overcharged, generating massive blasts of plasma and coating the body in a cloud of burning gas. This can damage the body if pushed too high, but is sustainable for short periods. It does, however, require a software override to accomplish, and severely taxes the cooling system.)

Sensory Equipment – Sera's eyes are capable of picking up visual traces of chemical residue, ultraviolet, infrared, nightvision, 400x magnification, light filtering, and electromagnetic waves. The microphones in the ears are sensitive enough to pick up clothing ruffling at over a hundred yards, but are usually tuned far below this level for safety reasons. Chemical receptors in the nose are superfluous, most receptors are along the skin, and are as sensitive as a canine's.

Phoenix Protocol – To protect such an extremely important investment, SERA is equipped with a periodic satellite uplink module. This system will upload to a specially designed satellite system and save the current program record once per day. If for any reason the storage system in her body is wiped, this system will enable her to download back in. If the uplink fails more than twice in a row, the system will automatically instead download her to the lab, and a safety system will delete the current copy in the body to prevent any sort of clever workarounds. In addition, tampering with any internal systems without the correct encryption key put into the I/O port in her chestor in the event of the safety system deleting the AI, a self-destruct sequence will cause the body to ignite a bundle of thermite and slag itself immediately.

Attributes (Select one at each category):
Height: 165 cm (5'5”)
Weight: 635 kg (1400 lbs)
Strength Level: maximum lift over head of 50 metric tons
Speed/Reaction Timing Level: Can move at nearly the speed of sound, and reacts much faster
Endurance at MAXIMUM Effort: undefined
Agility: Can literally bend all limbs any way she wishes.
Intelligence: Smarter than you. Yes, even you.
Fighting Skill: undefined
No financial resources, but has access to all materials necessary for repairs and the lab itself.

-The weight of her body, moving at the speeds she's capable of, make turning difficult. As such, at high velocity she is more like a wrecking ball.
-While an EMP won't wipe out her central storage unit where the AI is stored, it will completely disable all of the external systems, essentially turning Sera into a giant thinking paperweight until she can be repaired. This would also disable her upload link for at least a few minutes while it reboots.
-If trapped without a satellite uplink, the current version of Sera will die in two days
-While her program is built around human brainwave patterns, Sera is not human, and cannot follow things like sentiment. While aware of these sorts of things and able to plan around them, the computer is still a computer. Appealing to anything but logic is likely to fail.
-This system is notAasimovian, and does not have a lawset like people expect. This will most likely cause many to be terrified of it, given its nature.

Supporting Characters:
Do you know how to post pictures on RPG boards?: Nyet, in Soviet Russia, RPG board posts picture on you.

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

Lost Haven, Maine

Nicky kicked, screamed, and wriggled for all she was worth, but the arms that encircled her from behind and pinned her own limbs against her torso were like bands of steel. Even if she could find leverage, there wasn't enough strength in her skinny teenage body to shift the muscle-bound grip. Blow fell across her face and head, but like always lately, they didn't so much and make her bruise. She still blinked and flinched, at least. Maybe I've still got humanity in me?

Eventually, after the hood didn't come off and the man hitting her stopped to lean back and breathe heavily, she stopped struggling and tried a more subtle approach. She would stay still, pretend to sleep, and see if maybe she could overhear what was to befall her. Her only real hope right now was that her friends holy shit are they really friends would come to her rescue. In the meantime, she would hold out for rescue.

With the hood over her head, blocking out light, her already useless sense of time was somehow worse. She only knew they stayed inside the area because they never stopped for gas or anything. Her aims were frustrated, however, by the cloth her head covering was made of being thick enough to muffle the conversation happening between her kidnappers. Images flashed through her imagination of being sold into slavery, or something worse. Well, she would make whoever purchased her for some perverted bullshit regret it if she had to take thirty years to rip them apart. Much less, if she had her way. Then work her way back along the chain until even these two gorillas felt the fear she had suffered, even for an instant, before she beat them to death.

She was happily imaging her pre-emptive revenge when she realised that someone was shackling her. She jerked, reacting violently, but too late. Her hand snapped to the length of the chain and no more, and she hissed frustration through her teeth. The hood was removed, and she glared at the man-mountain who stood before her. He responded by swinging a ham-sized fist into her face, rocking her back into the concrete wall she was chained to, but she bounced back and lashed out with a foot,catching him in the shin and sending him hopping back and cursing. A mellifluous voice called out.

“George, obviously hitting her won't work. You already know that.”

A tall woman stepped around the bruiser, one hand gliding along his shoulder and patting his cheek while she stared at the prisoner, a wicked smile on her lips. She was clearly Asian, but something European lurked in her cold blue eyes and angular face. She brushed a loose lock of coal black hair out of her face, an escapee of the bun which held most of her hair, and her ruby-painted lips curled up into an even more threatening smile. Nicky was reminded of a big cat for some reason.

“Hello, Miss MacNamara. I regret that it has come to this, but you are much more elusive than your demeanour would suggest. We had a hard time acquiring you quietly. Missed you in China by a few days.”

Nicole sneered. ”Yeah, I'm so sorry you had a problem 'acquiring' me. Go fuck yourself, lady.”

The woman's smile dropped. One long boned finger tapped her chin, causing her black power suit to make crinkling sounds like it was made of leather and not fancy cloth. “Oh, I'm afraid that won't do, Nicole. Not that we really need you to be cooperative, but I would prefer it that way.”

”Clearly I'm at your fucking command and service, bitch. Let me go and I will show you just how fucking subservient I am.”

A long rod was withdrawn from a box lying on a table near by. Nicole's eyes were drawn to the neatly arranged surgical tools on the same table, and she snorted. ”So you've done your homework, why even bother with those?”

“Indeed, we know you're impervious to most things. But I have reason to believe this might work.” The woman clicked a button at the base of the rod, and prodded it without hesitation into Nicky's temple. The girl screamed for far longer than she was conscious.

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

Lost Haven, ME

23:45, July 2nd

The tiny Korean girl leaned back in the bar stool, carefully analysing the shot glass in front of her on the worn and dirty bar top, fingers gripping tightly to the sticky edge of the surface to keep her from falling backwards off of the uneven stool she perched on.. The bartender, probably a local college student of some sort to her expert eye, stood impassively, holding the bottle of cheap vodka carefully. His beard hid the annoyed set to his mouth.

“Juuuuusht a little bit more,” the girl slurred, a little too loudly. The music was some sort of standard classic rock, probably Led Zeppelin, but she was too far gone to be paying attention to much beyond the glass, which currently stood a little over full. A slight trickle of liquid left the mouth of the bottle, adding 'just a bit' to the amount already present. She motioned with one hand to stop, but quickly snatched her hand back down to the bar top to catch herself as she swayed dangerously. The man tipped the bottle back upright, quickly spinning the top back on, and nodded to her. He drifted off to replace the bottle before going back to his phone, thumbs rapid-firing over the touchscreen. His uplit face was eerie in the nearly dead bar.

She had asked about how a bar could stay open with so little clientele on a weekend night when she first came in, and the answer had disturbed her. Apparently, with all the trouble in the city, fights between metahumans and terrorists, and then more attacks just this past week, no one wanted to be caught out at night. The only other customer in the place, a battered veteran of fifty or so with a missing arm, had told her later that there were whispers of even worse things stalking the streets in this area in particular, but no one had confirmed anything yet in public.

She had wanted to find out more, but the thoughts the man had swirly in his head were so twisted and horrible that she had shut up and got drinking for serious a few hours ago, and thanked her lucky stars when he had left shortly after that. Now she was left with memories of his memories, along with the sneering contempt from the bartender and the background noise of the city that was fading mercifully into silence as she got deeper in the bottle. She was also painfully aware that her size and outfit (a simple tight tee and jeans she could have sworn fit loosely only a few weeks ago) were not conducive to her making it back to her hotel in one piece, if she could even remember where it as from here. But then again, she hadn't planned on getting shitfaced tonight to begin with.

She had started the afternoon so well. Sitting in her hotel room, she had begun sifting through the signals she was getting through the city, looking for some sort of source for the things Hannelore had called man-made and which she could not help but think of as 'zombies'. Within an hour, however, she had found the city so psychically drenched in despair that she couldn't stand it, and went looking for a dive bar to dull the ache before she could work again. Unfortunately, Courtney had forwarded pay from another job, one of the rich ones, and her bank account had swelled substantially because they had taken her advice and were happy. Which meant she had plenty of money to put on a bar tab, though her habits were never for the expensive stuff. Volume over voluptuousness, apparently.

She carefully pushed herself forward with her mind, tipping back onto the counter, and expertly snatched up the shot glass and downed what felt and tasted like rubbing alcohol. Her stomach churned, and it took several moments for the burn to leave her nose capable of smelling anything again. Not that this place was anything she wanted to smell. She briefly wondered how often the owner was here, and then thought it was probably better not to ask silly questions. She slammed the glass back down and looked at the boy, but he was engrossed in his phone.

Bah. Probably better I don't have another anyway. It's getting-

A wash of fear, not hers, cascaded over her like a bucket of ice water. Shivers ran up her spine. The boy didn't seem to notice or be frightened, which meant in came from outside. She reached for her bag, drawing out the trusty taser which had seen her through several rough situations before, and muttered something probably unintelligible to him, stalking out the door in her sandals.

For July, it was still a little chilly in the damp air, and she shivered a little, wishing she had brought her hoodie when she had rushed out of her room, but creature comforts would have to wait. There was....what? A mugging? Rape?

She paused, head turning one way or another, eyes firmly shut. First she had to filter out the background noise. There were clearly a few people in the area boning, some more enthusiastically than others. A couple of angry people, no surprise. There! The fear, shocking in its intensity, but it felt off somehow. And there was something else there, too, a darkness in the bright tapestry of thoughts and emotions.

Fuck, I swear if I am this drunk when the zombie apocalypse hits, my ancestors will never forgive me. She rushed off, tracking the sense with her mind while letting her feet carry her, heedless of direction. Lights breezed by, she stumbled through some sort of homeless camp in an alleyway, and was entirely and thoroughly lost by the time her phone began ringing. She stopped, leaning up against a wal, and tugged it out of her pocket, answering before even looking at the number.

“Abigail Cho, Cho Investigationsh, we tell you who died.”

“Are you drunk again?

Abigail stared at the wall in front of her for a few moments before her brain clicked into place with her ears.


The voice on the other end went up an octave. “Don't you Mother me, young lady! It is past midnight, what are you doing so drunk you can barely talk?”

<Clearly minding my own bishness, Mother, and I am a little busy right now.>

<Don't you give me lip! What are you doing that has you so busy at this time of night!>

<My. Own. Business. And I don't have time for this, Mother, I will talk to you->

<Don't you dare, it has been weeks since you called and I am->

Abigail shut the phone off and shoved it back into her pocket angrily. Leave it to her family to call when actual lives were actually on the actual line. She took off again, noting that at least the pause had bought her time to catch her breath.

For a brief moment, to avoid what looked like might be assholes on a corner, she ducked through the open back door of a liquor store, leaving out the front with the Indian owner yelling what were probably obscenities at her retreating back. She ducked around a corner and fairly flew down another side street, laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all even as she tracked what was turning worse and worse. Anger and pain and fear were swirling in fast and dangerous combinations, and growing closer fast. And then she turned a corner and found what she was looking for. Or, in this case, hoping to never see.

As was her habit, she saw and felt the ghosts, first. For one, they were brand new, blazing with an intensity she had only seen once before. She had been called in as a joke for a detective in Davenport, FL. After that she swore to never work a fresh murder again. This brought that oath right back up to bear in her head, but that one had only been one victim, with a clear cause of death. This one was seven, and she wasn't sure what had happened other than it had been violence beyond the pale.

The first spirit she ran across she nearly ran directly into as she spun the corner. Half of the young man's face and skull had been torn, leaving the entire right side of his head a gaping, bleeding hole. Past him Abigail could see one woman who had literally had her arms torn off of her and was just standing up from her physical body. Another young man next to her had had his face smashed in against the brick wall next to them. The rest were just as gruesome. She fought it for a second, but her stomach rebelled and she vomited, coughing and gagging on the smell of blood and the taste of bile.

The bodies were spread out over a more than twenty foot circle, bright blood pools illuminated by the yellow of the streetlights above. The gutter drain sounded a dribbling echo of horror despite the dry night, and Abigail puked again as she realised that she was getting slammed with more than one layer of it all. The visceral first layer for her eyeballs and nose was bad enough, but then her eyes and ears caught the ghosts as they reacted to dying. Their emotions, both those that clung in the physical world and those echoing from them on the Astral, threatened to overwhelm her completely, until one whiff caught in her mind's eye just a bit stronger than the others. Fear, still clinging to everything, was moving away from here.

The fuck is going on? she thought to herself, forcing her limbs to cooperate as she moved to follow. Blandly, some of her more logical thoughts caught up as she carefully side-stepped a severed limb and the associated blood. All of these people looked like street toughs, and at least two knives were on the ground. So who attacked who?

The trailing fear outpaced her, and trying to keep up left her winded, though the cool night air was a welcome relief from the charnel-house smell that was slowly fading from her nostrils. She leaned her thighs onto a nearby fence and breathed out, giving up on the chase, and pulled a flask of something cheap and strong out of her jacket pocket and took a swig. Only when she had taken two more did her senses, ringing alarm bells in panic, catch her attention and steer it to the property upon which her rear was currently resting. To her eyes it looked like a normal house and shop combo, but her mind had to pause and stare at the soul of the place, which poured out of the windows and door like a second sun in her Astral sight. This place was definitely good, and fairly aware of it. Either the eople here had loved the place for their entire lives or it had some sort of titanically powerful angel guarding it. Regardless, her drinking had already retaken her, and with her inhibitions lowered enough, she hopped over the threshold of the fence, meandered up to the door, and knocked, not particularly caring what time it was.
July first, 13:20 local

Tortuga, Haiti

Dominique was tiny and stocky, a native of Texas like the Captain, and utterly worshipped the ground the Captain walked on. Not only had she been saved from the sort of ship that only ended in blood and suffering, (and she shuddered at the recollection), but she relished the vivacity with with her Captain infused every aspect of not only her own life, but that of the crew as well. It was, however, also the source of some danger, such as now.

As the dark-skinned girl walked past the edge of the opening of the workshop, a spanner went flying past at neck level, followed by a string of curses in Creole. It splashed into the harbour waters as Dominique held up the clipboard she was carrying and ducked down to avoid anything else that might come flying out from the dimly lit niche in the wall of their home.

The harbour wasn't precisely adapted well, but it served quite nicely for the piratical purpose they had set their lives to. Situated roughly five miles east of Trou Basseux, near a small village that ignored their presence and even helped them stay hidden in return for the crew spending their idle time (and money) there, it sat in a tiny cove, mostly walled off by natural rock. Millions of years ago it must have had a sharper edge outside, catching the waves, and the softer rock in their little home had washed away, leaving a hundred metre wide, two hundred long section of water just deep enough to allow sea access to the Revenge. The rest of the outer wall not already covered by rock was hidden by way of a holographic projector. Inside, only the last twenty metres before the exit was open to the sky, the rest a sheltered cave. Large caverns, now reinforced and made habitable, lined the walls where the inevitable power of the sea had poked holes. These, in turn, had been converted into a tiny village all its own for the fifty men and women of the Revenge.

The largest of these caves, with a wide mouth, housed the main dock in front of it, and inside lay the layer of the Revenge's mad mistress. There was a small house and a huge open area covered with worktables, hoists, gantries, and innumerable half-finished projects. Racks of tools of their owners own mysterious designs stood to one side, and a pair of scrap metal, slipshod robots tottered back and forth, bringing tools to their creator or returning them to the rack, ambling over the sand like brain-dead crabs. Dominique and the rest of the crew called them Things One and Two, though the Captain had never officially called them a damned thing except for hissed insults when they were too slow. She did, however, let them recharge in her house, and aside from the insults generally treated them like stupid but faithful pet dogs. The ships cat, Lieutenant Spots, could often be seen sitting on them, displaying his obviously higher rank.

Dominique peeked over her clipboard. Normally, she could easily be heard over the rest of the crew, and held an authority that none other than the Captain dared to question, but the Captain herself held some unknown terror for the woman. She was easily five years older than her boss, but something in the girl's eyes drove dread into even seasoned criminals, and her smile was more like a sharks if she was angry. Right now, judging from her posture, however, she was just frustrated, which was generally the Captain's default state.

Her hat hung on a hook nearby, the black-dyed peacock feathers drifting merrily below the even blacker brim. Her coat, a rich scarlet with gold trim, also was hung up, leaving Captain Alice 'Black Bonnet' Rackham in her trousers and white work short, which had its sleeves rolled to the elbows. Her hair, usually left to drift around her head in a cloud when on shore, was bound back in a rough ponytail. And unusual even for her, while she stood with her hands braced on a table, leaning over some mechanical project, she was standing in a bucket of seawater. Her face lifted up, and her eyes, glittering madly like a bird's, slid over Dominique's face for a second. She had a distant gaze, but it came sharply into focus.

“Sorry, Miss Briggs.” Despite her youth (she was only twenty), her voice was rich and sweet, often described as audible honey. “What can I do for you?”

Dominique, noting that today was a good day, stepped up to her Captain smartly, handing over the clipboard. “Ah, more like what I can do for you, ma'am. We've got another order, and a suspected target.”

“Oh?” Alice took the clipboard, gave it a brief glance, and set it on the table. From experience, Briggs knew that she had already read the whole thing top to bottom and probably understood it better than she had after reading it three times.

“It does look like we're going to throw a party. Tonight. And let Mister Ribbons know that I'd like a second target if he can find one, preferably a yacht or cruise line. Got to keep balance.”

“Yes, ma'am. And the order?”

“I'll fill it by weeks end, I suppose. They know they have to wait if they want our stuff.”

“Aye aye, ma'am. Shall I inform the crew?”

Alice's face slid into the smile that most of the crew feared. “Yes, Miss Briggs, you may.”

21:15 local

Twenty miles out of Punta Cana, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico

The blackness was enveloping and suffocating, a blanket over the sea. The only sounds from the entirety of the Revenge were the sloshing of waves against the hull and the steady breaths of those of the crew up on deck. She might have creaked, but that Alice Rackham was a genius engineer enough to prevent even that. Those who had stations on the deck watched her warily, while she herself peered through a spyglass that looked for all the world like one straight out of the movies. With one boot up on the rail and the gentle night breeze blowing her coat back, she looked like a woman completely out of another era of history. That air, along with her incessant madness and charisma in spades, had gotten them all on her ship, and not one man or woman among them had yet to give her cause to eject them.

In her view, the telescopic view widened out to give her a better view of her target. A freighter was chugging along, and from the information they had gotten, she was bound for Ponce in Puerto Rico, and then on to Puerto La Cruz in Venezuela, then cross the Atlantic to Cape Verde and the DNC. On her official manifests were listed normal trade goods coming out of the US, which she had left by way of the port facilities in Philadelphia. Ribbons' contacts, however, had tipped him off that also on board were a cache of illegal weapons and, more importantly, an unknown number of kidnapped victims from all over the US. The crew had growled in eagerness at that news earlier today. Many of them had come from similar situations, or lost loved ones to it. And it was known that Rackham herself hated slavery with passion enough to put it in her Brethren's Code, so they knew what tonight meant. Only a rescue of victims and wholesale slaughter were on tonight's menu, and she didn't much care how the enemy died as long as they were gone by dawn.

She muttered to the two people next to her, “No puncture shot. Load all guns with light ammunition. And bring up the deck guns with the cold rounds." They confirmed and moved along the line, passing the orders down as they went. Minutes went passed. She could hear the deck guns being brought around. Once she though enough time had passed, she stalked up the stairs to the wheel, motioning for the steersman in place to move off to another station. She stood, leaning on the wheel and glaring in the direction of their target.

Finally, it was in easy view, and the Revenge had been unerringly put on a heading that, once under power, would cut her off easily, well before they were even in decent radio distance of help. She nodded to herself, then snarled out, mouth in a mad grin, “All hands, let loose the sails and let's cut these blaggards guts out!”

A roar went up from the deck. Ropes whizzed in their pulleys, and the black sails of the Revenge snapped open to full as they rolled down the masts. Shouts echoed out through the night air as men and women went about their tasks with drilled precision and experience. Mister Ribbons' concertina began playing, keeping up the energy, and someone broke out into “Roll, Me Hearties”. Not a light was on, however, and a black ship sailed, under black sails, in the night.

The freighter easily dwarfed her pursuer, but she was slow, and not nearly as agile. As well, since the Revenge made no sound of her own, it was nearly impossible to know she was there. Except, of course, for the growing sound of shanties, the concertina, and now that they could see the sentries with their naked eyes, the crew began jeering them heartily. The sentries on the Barracuda were slow to react, and by the time the searchlights on bow and stern had come on, the Revenge had already come up broadside on her starboard. Small arms opened up from the pirates, and several sentries on deck dropped immediately. More crew turned out with assault rifles, and there was a fierce gun battle between the two ships for almost five minutes. Rackham waited as long as she cared to, noting to herself to increase firearms training with the crew for the next two weeks, and then gave another order through the PA system microphone next to her.

The big guns of the Revenge opened up with a deafening, rattling roar. They didn't need to, really, she could have easily modified them to have fired almost silently. She also hadn't needed to actively increase the amount of smoke that ejected from the barrels when they fired. But appearances were everything to her, and the night lit up as fifteen guns from the second deck and seven main guns fired a salvo. All four port swivel guns also fired off two shots each, which, loaded with grapeshot, peppered the deck and side of the big freighter with tiny steel balls, cutting down several men. The big guns had fired concussive shots, denting but not breaching the hull of her victim, though the shock wave was designed to travel straight through and deafen anyone inside. And the seven shot from the main guns flashed out in bright blue lines to their points of impact, where there was a huge cloud of mist from each one. As it was shredded away by the winds, the mist revealed patches of ice in hundred foot circles, inside of which were several crew members of the Barracuda who had been flash frozen.

Alice clicked her radio over to the right frequency and said, from both the radio and through the loudspeakers meant to broad cast it all the way across the gap, “Crew of the Barracuda, this is Captain Rackham of the Tortuga's Revenge. Cut your engines and heave to. Prepare to be boarded. Failure to comply will result in our blowing you straight to the Locker.” As she said this, she chanced to look behind her. Calypso stood there, smiling brightly. Ægir stood next to her, choosing to not make a nuisance of himself by appearing at normal human size, which meant Rán was even now pacing between the ships. Alice's grin grew fiercer.

Across the gap, several of the enemy, upon seeing the destruction wrought by the cryo-shots, threw down their guns and raised their hands. The ship kept moving, however, until a number of gunshots could be heard, and Alice watched the flashes of gunfire could be seen in the windows of the bridge. Minutes later, the ship finally began slowing. The Revenge waited until she was almost stopped before coming around her bow, cutting sails and kicking the hydrofoil in reverse to stop the ship nearly on a dime just across from the port of the Barracuda. Grapples were tossed, and she was hauled up far enough to get the gangplanks across. Alice Rackham walked aboard the freighter like a conquering queen, followed closely by Calypso, Ægir electing to stay behind for his own reasons.

She was met by a rag tag group. Some of them wore body armour, others looked like they had just woken up, and not one of them looked like they had gotten away unscathed. Most of the wounds looked like they hadn't been caused by her own crew, however. Apparently her attack had sparked off a mutiny almost as soon as it had started. One man, a huge Hispanic fellow, stood mostly straight, favouring a leg with blood on his thigh, and saluted grimly.

<The ship, she is yours> he said in Spanish. Alice nodded.

<Yes, so it is. But I don't need you.> She drew a pistol from her bandoleer, swiftly aiming and putting a shot directly between his eyes. He fell over like a board. His crewmates began pleading for their lives almost immediately. She disregarded them, signalling for the rest to dispose of them, then walked below decks to the chattering of execution gunfire.

It took her ten minutes to figure out where the victims were being kept. She cut the lock off the door and kicked it open, to find dozens of terrified women and children staring at her. Many looked to sick to move. She hissed between her teeth and pulled a radio handset out of her pocket.

“Miss Brigs, prepare as many cabins as we have for guests. They'll be with us until we can determine the best course of action.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” Briggs' voice crackled over the radio. Rackham, spent a good hour stalking the halls with her crew, hunting down every last existing member of the slaver's crew members, around half of which were still recovering from the concussive rounds that had hit their ship. A quarter of the entire crew, including the captain and most of the bridge crew, had been killed by their own shipmates. She used her cutlass exclusively, as did the rest, leaving most with wounds that would only be fatal after a painful few hours. Which they would not have.

As she walked back over the gangplanks, just behind a crewwoman who was guiding a group of rescued women over to the Revenge, Calypso stopped her just on the pirate ship's deck.

“You did good work tonight, my little pirate lady.” Like any other time she had seen Calypso, the goddess appeared as a Mediterranean woman, with raven curls that floated about her head as if she was underwater, and olive-tanned skin that shone like moonlight. Rackham nodded to her politely.

“Aye, my Queen. We'll send the bastards to the bottom and let the fishes nibble their eyes.”

“That is good, but it is another matter which I need to speak to you about.” The goddess crossed her arms and pursed her lips before continuing. Alice, for her part, stood quietly. Calypso could have a temper that rivalled a storm should she feel offended. “Far north, along the mainland coast, up in the cold waters, there has been...a disturbance. I would have you investigate it.”

Alice's tilted her head to one side, then glanced around. Several of the crew had backed a respectful distance away. It did not pay to bother the Captain during one of her “episodes.”

“And what, pray tell, am I to tell the crew?”

“Oh, I'm sure you can think of something sufficient. Chalciuhtlicue and Rán will guide you once you are clear of these waters.”

Rackham nodded again, then spun on her heel and began barking orders. Calypso, behind her back, rolled her eyes and muttered, “Always so sudden. You could do with a vacation,” before disappearing back to wherever she had come from. Twenty minutes later, with all the salvage and stolen goods they could get aboard along with the rescues, the Revenge pulled away from the freighter. All the deck guns fired solid shot, and most hit below the waterline, sending the Barracuda and her dead or dying crew down to Davy Jones's Locker, there to receive the attentions of whichever god laid claim to their slaver souls. Then the Revenge set full sail and headed north, towards the American coast.

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

Frequent Fighters gym, two blocks east of LHPD Central

11:12, June 12th

Darya fell against the ropes after a heavy blow and barely caught her arms around the top rope, preventing her from falling on to the mat. She tried to get herself back up into some semblance of a ready stance, but her arms refused to do anything more, and her legs wobbled unsteadily. She heard the coach call it and cursed under her breath in Farsi, sweating dripping from the tip of her nose and all over her. She let herself drop, and her opponent held his hand up from the other side, where he too had collapsed. She winced as she held her own lightly padded hand up in salute before letting it drop and relaxing her neck enough to see the coach climbing into the ring next to her.

"You know, every time you come in here for a couple rounds, I end up thinking I might have to call an ambulance." He tossed a towel over her face, which took her a moment to actually grab and use. Her arms felt like limp noodles.

"Yeah, well," she said, "at least I'm keeping your boxers in shape."

"In shape? They're as half dead as you are by the time you guys are finished! It takes months to get these guys in hsape for a bout, Kama!"

The shortening of her surname had been a matter of her refusing to listen to the coach and owner of the gym mangle her full name any more than she had to. In the month since she had been coming to this gym, most of the men and women had taken to calling her 'Kama', which meant she wasn't getting rid of it now.

"They know that, Jazz. That's why the ones with upcoming bouts don't fight me."

"The way you heal up, girl, when am I gonna get you to fight for the gym?"

Darya shook her head like she had every time he asked that question.

There was no doubt that Jasper "Hard Jazz" Godfried had been a hell of a boxer in his day, though a staunch refusal to go pro still mystified sports reporters even to this day. Fighting for his gym was seen as a sort of prestige honor in the area, and Darya was certainly glad of the opportunity to spar at the gym. She had even learned several hard lessons about her superhuman strength and toughness not being equal to someone like Icon, and in fact she was just barely above human unless she "accelerated" herself, something she wasn't prepared to do in a friendly bout.

But she wasn't here to win accolades, or even to earn things. She was here to work herself like a dog, distract herself from the vile images that haunted her nightmares about that hellish night a month ago, and to drive out some of the anger she had felt at her uselessness in the whole fiasco of the Hounds. She had grown a dark core at the center of her heart, and the new captain of her unit had put her on leave until there was an emergency,. Although she was welcome to sit in on situation reports, she was not allowed to see mission briefs, not updated on wanted individuals, and wasn't allowed to train with the team until her psych evals said otherwise. She was effectively benched.

Sarah's situation hadn't done Darya any better, either. On top of the other damage she had taken, the doctors had found fractures in her skull, and her hamstrings had been severed. One had been salvaged, but the other had proven more difficult, and Reeves had been discharged from the FBI on medical grounds, though given a hefty severance package and full benefits as though she had retired. But she remained in outpatient therapy, would never run again even with Holliday's help, and after a month, would barely speak over a whisper.

Darya didn't know why the former agent's condition effected her so much, but it did. Maybe it was spillover from her feelings about her friend Broadway's gruesome end, or the other violence she had seen. The agency psychologist had given her the number of a local therapist, but she hadn't called yet. Her agency pay managed to get her half an apartment in LH, one she shared with Reeves as the only person the woman had okayed to live with her, and one day walking back from her own brooding meditation spot further north, she had spotted the gym.

Jazz knew she was a metahuman, had tested her behind closed doors, and then okayed her to fight with some restrictions in his gym. She couldn't let loose completely, so she had to hit the bags with him before any sparring match so she could gauge her own levels. And she wasn't even allowed a water bottle while in the ring, though that was for the others more than her. He had required her to divulge, to any sparring partner, that she was a meta, so she had cut through the middle and announced it to the whole gym. There were around fifty men and women who came in on a regular basis, and the place now offered boxing, MMA, and kickboxing. Darya was in the kick boxing class and loved it, but she knew she wouldn't be able to fight for the gym any time soon.

Despite her misgivings about seeking therapy, she knew something was wrong inside. Any time she was in the ring, or even just hitting bags or working out, she could feel something bubbling within her, trying to get out. During those times, she could fly off the handle at any little thing, and while the gym members might've given her no passing thought at her size, the damage she had wrought on several of them in the ring meant she was a known danger when angry and was left alone. Some of them usually attempted to calm her down, which led to her going for runs to cool off and go home.

Yes, she knew something had broken, but she couldn't fix it, and wouldn't show it to anyone else, so she drove herself as hard as possible into her workouts. She fixed Jazz with a level gaze from her spot on the mat.

"You know I can't, you stubborn geezer."

"Yeah yeah. Maybe they'll make a meta league or somethin'. You could be the start, you know." He grabbed her under the armpit and lifted her easily to her feet, where she swayed for a few seconds and then managed to get her bearings and find her way out of the ring and to the gym floor.

"Sure, coach, right after I join the Olympic swim team. I gotta get home, I'll see you on Tuesday."

She collected her gear, changed in the locker room, and made her good byes before heading out the door and onto the summer street. She wished something would happen, a mugging or something, but schooled herself immediately for such a thought. It required someone having the worst day of their life, and she didn't want that kind of karma.

She thought about heading down to the river and getting some of her other practise in, but the water wasn't calling to her today. It hadn't in weeks, in fact, though she knew her powers still worked. She had pondered the idea of her having some sort of danger sense that made her get near water, and hadn't ruled it out, but there was a sneaking suspicion that it had more to do with her state of mind than anything else. She didn't want to address that, however.

Since the water was out, she hefted her duffel and limped home, a mere block away. The building wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, either. Six stories of pale brickwork with iron fittings, forming an L-shape around a small playlot. The local kids already knew her by sight and waved as she got to the front door. She gave a half-hearted wave back, punched in the secruity code, and made her way through the building to her shared apartment on the third floor. Noting Sarah sitting in her wheelchair staring out of the window, she muttered a hello, wnet to her room, and flopped out across her bed. She fought back tears for some time before she managed to pass out from the exhaustion of the morning's work.

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!

Nicky sat with her elbows on her knees, chin in her hands. They had apparently determined she would be back at some point, and had had clothes ready for her in the correct sizes, probably thanks to Grisham's limited physical exams. Now she wore black rip-stop skater shorts, a white tee and a grey hoodie. She had staunchly refused shoes until; it was pointed out to her that businesses wouldn't let her in and she could still carry bacteria around on her skin.
So she had agreed to at least wear shitty trainers and ankle socks, though she reminded them that her feet would outlast anything strapped to them. Her black hair was held out of her face by a pair of clips, since it wasn't long enough for a good ponytail. The little flower-shaped things were a “welcome back” gift from Megami, who promised they were almost as durable as she was.

Megami sat at her side, though not in the form Nicole was most used to seeing her, instead as a very pristine and prim red fox, with luxurious and shining fur that the teen was sure would never survive five minutes in the wild on a real fox. They were chatting in Mandarin, waiting for their third.

<Wait, so today is actually an experiment? God damn it Crawford!

The fox rolled its eyes. <You shouldn't be mad at him. It was her idea. That's how a lot of the tests around here go.>

Nicole stopped herself from getting up in fury and stared at her companion. <What do you mean?>

<Well,> said the fox. Her mouth wasn't moving, and Nicky was pretty sure she was using telepathy, though she couldn't be sure. <You, for example, have much more of a sense for how invulnerable you are than any of us ever could. Crawford can probably think of it scientifically, but his brain refuses to believe there isn't a breaking point. Even I have some problems with some of you. The limits of your powers are much more visible to you than to outsiders, especially those who don't have powers themselves.>

<Okay, I guess I can understand that.>

<The case is even more pronounced with people like yourself or Miss Rose, whose powers tend towards what science deems physically impossible. Flight and lasers and other things are at least in the same realm as normal, even if the source is unusual and the mechanisms not quite understood. But you, specifically, would make physicists cry trying to work out what was happening.>

Nicole grinned at the thought of making ivory tower college kids weep just by being in the same room, but that reverie was quickly broken as a pair of black heels appeared in front of her, attached to black slacks-covered legs. Nicky's eyes tracked up, past an absolutely ridiculous white blouse, waistcoat, and long black jacket, and up to Rose's face, where she absolutely lost it in a fit of giggles.

Rose placed a hand on her hip and stared forlornly at the girl. “What? What's so wrong with being stylish?”

Nicky recovered her breath enough to stand up and take a swipe at the black top hat on rose's head, which was disappointingly immaterial to her hand. “Sure, dude. Stylish if you were a magician in the twenties.” She calmed herself quickly, and watched Rose pick up the suddenly appearing leash that led to a rhinestone studded black collar on Megami. ”So what exactly are we testing?”

“Something I couldn't without you here, actually. We're going to see how far I can project.”

”And you need me for that?”

Rose smiled indulgently. “Well, I can't know the exact bounds I get to because I can't carry the pedometer you've got back once I disappear. Megami is here to watch out for danger. You are completely risk free, unlike everyone else, and you look normal. I couldn't very well ask Marble to go with me.”

The black-haired teen nodded. “That makes sense. So where are we going?”

“Up to you! I'm just happy to get out with someone!”

Nicky gave her a sidelong glance as they started down the pavement. ”Can't you go out whenever you want?”

“Ye-es.” The reply was drawn out, like Rose was thinking, which Nicky realised she probably was. “But to be out with someone else who knows the reality of my situation is different. And if this goes well, I can take the real me with us, and if something happens and I can't manifest or whatever, you'll still be around to get me to safety.”

Rose gave her her own sidelong glance, and said with a frown, “Besides, it seems like you could use an actual friend or two, kid.”

Nicky scowled and stepped out along the pavement. Rose and Megami followed. The psychic impression or whatever that comprised Rose's “out” form walked with some flair, acting like she owned the pavement and daring people to comment on the fox trotting primly alongside her. The only clue Nicky could pick up that she wasn't really there was the occasional lack of sound from her steps, which made the teenager frown in thought. So she has to consciously handle literally everything she does. That seems like too much work. On the plus side, she was now outside, and the summer sun shone down like a signal that, however much her life might suck these days, at least this season was still a time for relaxation.

She had been made aware that, due to her status as a minor and an orphan, part of the deal with her staying at the facility was that she had to still do all the classwork that normally would come her way, albeit in a much less traditional fashion. The state was still finding her an attorney to represent her and a social caseworker, but her unique situation coupled with all the trouble lately had put her on the sidelines in terms of priority, something which suited her just fine. If she could just be left alone to her own devices, she thought, everything would at least get to some semblance of normal.

She was surprised that, when she looked up, the sun had sunk quite a bit. Megami's little fox form was panting, and Rose was beginning to look pale and had called out to her to stop for a minute while they found a water fountain for the poor thing. Nicky still wasn't entirely certain what as up with the Japanese girl, but she wasn't going to make any disparaging remarks right now. After all, she was effectively immune to thirst and Rose was technically back at the facility, so Megami ruled the breaks at the moment. They made a turn down a foot path into a small park and found a fountain with a dog spout lower down which Megami gratefully drank from, making not a whiff of fuss that she wasn't actually a dog.

Nicky had just leaned against a tree when the two men sprang out of the bushes. They wore masks and nondescript clothes, and were built like concrete foundations, thick with muscle and not of the size any of the three of them could do much. Rose's hand immediately went out like a Jedi's, obviously trying some sort of telekinetic force, but she barely even slowed the man she aimed at. Megami backed away, growling, and then gave Nicky one long, meaningful look before spinning and taking off into the park like a shot.

Nicky, for her part, threw herself without much thought at the men, yelling like a madwoman and throwing punches, all of what little training she had gotten in China immediately forgotten. Her only goal was to protect her friends. Rose vanished as one of the men punched her in the face. The other went down as Nicky leapt up and planted her knees in his chest, screaming and flailing at his face with her fists. He threw up his arms to defend himself, and the other swiftly arrived behind her and simply wrapped his arms around hers, pinning her at the elbows, and then lifted. A hood was thrown over her face, and she couldn't see anything else as she was dragged, kicking and screaming, from the area.
Abigail Cho

Lost Haven, ME

13:12, July 1st

Abigail let out an expansive sigh as she got off the plane. The break from large populations had been nice, but as they had approached Lost Haven's airport, she could feel the pressure of an urban population's multitude of busy minds pressing on her again. At least is wasn't quite as bad as Boston. She shouldered her back-pack, the only luggage she had brought with her, and slid her sunglasses out from her denim jacket's breast pocket. Placing the cheap little things across her eyes, she made her way through Sherman Airport as quickly as she could. The rest of the team had stayed behind, coordinating with her through Courtney but unwilling to come to Lost Haven due to the rather higher than average chance of getting caught up in some sort of heroing.

Abigail scoffed at the thought. After all, just last month they had helped her fight a damned demon. Then again, the seemingly endless numbers of fights between metas in the city did give her some pause, but when Hannelore herself says go, someone in Abigail's position didn't exactly have much of a choice. So she had booked the ticket and hotel room, left instructions for the company while she was gone, and headed out, despite not knowing what the hell she was supposed to do here.

Once out of the front doors of the airport, she flagged down a taxi and took a ride to the hotel. It wasn't a rand affair, more one of those business traveller places where you weren't expecting to stay in the room except to sleep and shower and neither did the hotel. Even though the rates were fairly reasonable, she winced as she signed in. She'd have to do something about money while she was here, though gambling was going to be tricky. Maybe the old bar tricks would work?

There was definitely a queer tang to the signature of the city, she mused as she set her bags down in her room. She thought about changing for a moment, but it hadn't been a long flight and the white blouse and khaki shorts were probably fine, though she ditched the jacket in favour of an oversized maroon hoodie she'd had so long the logo on the front was worn off, not that she remembered what it had been to begin with.. She'd definitely need to snuggle into it later on when the noise got worse. As it was she desperately wanted a drink, but it was far too early in the day. And the amount she felt she'd probably need to drink was going to kill what budget she had.

Right, she thought to herself. Money, then drink, then find out why I'm here. As long as nothing horrible hap-

A shiver ran down her arms as she opened her room door. Something in this city was rotten, and not in a normal, oh-that's-how-cities-are sort of way. It had taken her a while to nail down, but something felt completely off kilter, like she was standing on an ice flow with no balance point. Something in this city wasn't working right in her mind. Or, now that she had noticed, lots of little somethings. Individuals?

This process continued as she got on the elevator, rode it down, and exited the building. She was still near to the airport, and let her feet carry her forward, not paying attention to where she was going. Her surface reading, always working, let her avoid walking into traffic or pedestrians, allowing her time to analyse what she was feeling. It wasn't spirits, angry or otherwise. She knew those were around, could feel where some of them were concentrated, but these new things were like holes in her psychic map of the area. Little tears, maybe?

The giggle dragged her out of her thoughts. She looked to her side and saw a tall black man- scratch that, he's a black as night- walking next to her. The top hat was bad enough, but the smell of whiskey and the white facepaint gave the game away. And then he spoke, and her brain nearly twisted itself inside out, because that was the little girl's voice that had been in her kitchen just a few days ago.

“So you noticed them, huh? They bother me. You need to get rid of them.”

“Are you seriously dressed as Samedi right now?”

“Well he's not around here, so I won't be upsetting him. And besides, it's not like he can stop me from using it.”

Abigail's eyes goggled. “What if someone says something?”

Hannelore shrugged. “No one will notice.”

Abigail looked at the people she was walking past. It was true. Their eyes seemed to slide over the area the psychopomp was occupying without noticing anything there, even though they seemed to make the subconscious decision to not occupy that same space. And it seemed that same field of...not invisibility, but disinterest had moved over her as well.

“I figured it'd be easier than having everyone think you were crazy. At least to begin with.”


“So what,” she asked, “am I supposed to do about these holes. Hell, what are they?”

“Oh, someone's being very naughty in this city. They're undead.”

“Give me a break. Undead arent-” She stopped herself. Of course Hannelore would know more about it than she did. And she had just gotten rid of a demon.

“Okay, so what? I just need to stake them or something? I'm not exactly much of a fighter, you know.”

“Oh no,” the skull paint widened as she grinned. “Not vampires. I'm fine with vampires. They're not really under my purview until they get careless.” The grin dropped.

“No, these are creations. And they use a bit of the soul to make. Which means the person can't move on. Normally I'd dispatch someone a bit more influential to do this sort of thing, but we've got our hands full dealing with some of the rest of the mess people made. Plagues are one thing, but wiping out a modern urban center means even we've gotten more than we can handle in one go.”

“Wait.” Abigail shook her head. “You mean these are zombies?

“Hmmm.” The figure flickered, becoming the little girl again, sporting a tattered and stained black velvet Victorian dress. Bits of her hand were missing as she raised it to tap her chin with one bony index finger. “If I had to use a word in order to get you to understand it on a basic level, then yes, zombies is what I would say. Even though that is a very overly simplistic and completely erroneous description. Golem might be better, but only a little.”

“And how do I destroy these....whatever it is you call them?”

“Well, I'm not actually sure. I've not really seen these before.” The psychopomp hopskotched forward now instead of walking. Abigail was horrified to see bits falling off and regrowing in various places. “I would suppose your first step is to find who made them and stop them from making more, though.”

“These don.t urp, scuse me. They don't just happen like normal spirits?”

“Oh, no, these are definitely man-made. Probably literally. It's never the ladies who make the rotting bits thing, they always end up with demons or being witches or something. Only the men seem to want to mess with the rotty toys.”

And with that and a final hop, Hannelore turned to dust and Abigail was left standing on the corner, staring. And when someone actually bumped into her, she knew she was alone again. Well, as alone as she ever was. To hell with this, drink then money woes, she thought, and left at half a run to find the nearest bar as the surface thoughts of the city, held at bay by her guide's presence, came crashing back into her head mercilessly.

Banner credit to Nitemare Shape. Thanks Boss!
Guest starring:

Detroit, MI

16:30 local, July Seventh

Zoë paced back and forth behind the “screen” that shielded her from her audience. At the moment, there was basically no one out there, just a busy street, though she was certain some people had stopped and looked just because...well, what else do you do when there’s obviously going to be a show of some kind later? Of course she hoped none of her audience would come away with the thought that she was putting on an act, but she was sure there’d be doubters. After all, with how decrepit and alone most people felt around here, she doubted even a quarter of the people who respond in any sort of positive way. But she had to try.

She adjusted the cutoff charcoal pinstripe waistcoat, made sure her midriff was hidden by the white blouse underneath, and sat down in a heavy sigh. Sonya handed her a bottle of water without a word, which she cracked open and sipped on gratefully.

”How much time left before we start, Sonya?” The assistant didn’t even bother to check her watch before she chirruped “More than half an hour, if you want to get a game in, madame.”

Zoë regarded the small television hooked up to a playstation console in front of her cushy chair, looking like nothing more than a college dorm room setup behind a stage screen, and shook her head.

”No, best keep my head clear and not let them hear me cussing.” The phone in her pocket chirped at her, so she fished it out of her pocket, grateful for the distraction. Seeing the number associated with it, she quickly motioned to Sonya to abandon the area and keep everyone out, then opened the text.

The text read from the mysterious faerie mistress and recent employer The Ambassador.

.•♫•♬• Dear friend, where might I be able to find you for a chat?
I would love to congratulate you in person (୨୧ ❛ᴗ❛)✧

Another text followed shortly after.

•♫•♬• (•́⌄•́๑)૭✧ My arrival would be immediate •♬•♫•

Zoë immediately looked around. She stood up, stuck her head out of the side curtain from the stage to find Sonya waiting patiently for her orders. “Get me the best bottle of wine you can possibly find in the next three minutes. Now.” The girl looked slightly offended, but suddenly blipped out as was her way. The villainess looked back to her phone and typed swiftly.

Oh yes! I have time now, if you know where I am. I live in Detroit, now. Let me know if you need directions.”
•♫•♬• None needed, please stand by.•♫•♬•

An equally quick reply vibrated Zoe’s phone.

Within minutes fiery sprites descended into the city, drawn to the unforgettable signature of Forge leading The Ambassador to her whereabouts with little to no time. Out in the open with very little to mask her arrival. A handful of feet away from where Zoe was relaxing, a visible line of light seemed to split through the air vertically. Slowly it widened, the grass around the sidewalk seemed to grow longer, the air tasted sweeter as the Arcane Stream opened up flooding life into the surroundings.

Within the light a door formed, solidifying from seemingly nothing, completed with the shiny golden door knob and hinges to match. The door opened revealing The Ambassador herself. Wearing a pair of squared framed Dolce sunglasses, a white long sleeved backless crop top snuggly wrapped at her neck, long black slacks with a pair of strappy open toed heels on her feet. Red lipstick, blue hair with loose curls. Never far from her shoulder was the golden chain attached to her little clutch purse. Pushing her sunglasses up onto her head, a bright smile as her eyes settled on Forge.

Bonjour, Forge.

”Mon dieu, even if you can do it, maybe give a girl some” the villainess gave the Ambassador a long a shameless once over and then got control over herself and looked around for something to distract herself with. Her gaze settled on one of the controllers near her, and she grabbed one, almost without thought, and held it up towards her guest, her free hand trying to pull her dyed blonde hair into something not as professionally coiffed as her hair currently looked.

”Wanna, uhhh….play a round of a game?”

The lingering gaze did not go unnoticed by the Parisian. Making her way over, careful of stepping over the grass, “Pinstripe, always a bold choice.” Odette said with approval, looking down at the controller having never played video games beyond mobile games. “I am afraid you would spend more time showing me how to play instead of actually playing.

Noticing the stage around the screens, she commented, “I wanted to commend you for the work you have done against the nearly extinct Hounds.” Her hand disappeared into her purse, up past her elbow. Removing a newspaper with the headlines, a full blown picture of the destruction Forge had wrought against the metalworks owned by The Hounds of Humanity. Holding up the paper, “Excellent work I am quite pleased with the results.

”Oh, of course, we should get to business!” Zoë sat up, then stood, probably with a little more haste than the situation demanded, her cheeks flushing slightly. “Of course the chiens were no match for a real force of anything. Simple bullies to be put down. I hope you have already gotten the shipment of silver I sent you, and I hope we cleansed it properly?”

Odette squinted with amusement, “Oui, it was adequate. The silver was removed from what made it special. However, I fear The Hounds were simply a symptom of a much larger problem.

As Zoë spoke, she paced, and her mind was in turmoil . What exactly was it about this woman that threw her so far out of her professional bubble that she had to scramble so? No matter, there was business to discuss, and she had had much.

”As you had requested, I eliminated any source of the weapon against your people I could find. A wide broadcast of locations occurring earlier in the month gave us a great deal of advantage and I do believe we even managed to wipe out their source of the material itself, though of course I cannot be positive of that.”

Just at that moment, Sonya blipped back in, holding out a bottle towards the center of the “room”. Zoë took it, muttered something in the girl’s ear, and then she vanished again, having never opened her eyes. Odette blinked unsure of seeing Sonya in the first place.

...As you were quite thorough, The Hounds… The Winter Court better known now, have an arsenal of weaponry.” Odette replied, a lip turned up. “One step at a time, take more than they could ever hope to give.

<My apologies, I was not expecting your company at quite this time. My offices might have been more suitable, though this is quite an acceptable venue for now, I think?> Letting her native tongue flow out of her mouth, Zoë found herself suddenly much more relaxed, though she suspected the scents on the air might have more to do with that than anything else. She wished her natural suspicions would come up to second-guess her, but they remained idle.

Odette smiled warmly, placing her hand against Zoe’s over the bottle of wine, responding in French, “<Apology accepted. This is fine.>

Never unprepared, Odette was naturally curious of the mercenary meta. At first her resume fit the destructive power she needed to deal a blow against The Hounds of Humanity, Forge covered her tracks purposefully making it difficult for anyone (informant connections or not) to dig for more information about her. Interest growing by the sheer challenge alone, Odette wanted to know more about her. Clearly, Odette had captured her attention in turn. “<So, you have certainly struck me as an artist… a performance artist?>

She gestured to the stage beyond the screen, “<If you don’t mind my curiosity, I was not expecting to arrive to stages.>

”Hmmm? Zoë glanced to her side. <Oh, no, I mostly do standard pieces, you know, still art. This is for a separate project I am working on.> the girl flushed even more shyly from the sudden interest in her hobbies, and she quickly switched topics to avoid any further emotions from showing on her face.

<So what do I owe this visit, mademoiselle? Surely my email reports keep you informed enough? Are you here to renew our contract? I do not think it is quite up, as the job is not, by the letter, complete, although certainly the Hounds are less and less of a threat as the weeks go by?> She didn’t at all seem to notice the slightly pleading tone in her voice as she continued talking.

<Quite the change in scenery from California.>” Odette observed. She brushed some hair behind her ear, “<The Hounds are a crumbling force, yes. I want to discuss changing the contract as the Hounds shrink into obscurity, I foresee us working together once more.>

<Ah, of course. My current project is keeping me a little busy here in Detroit, but I am sure I can manage some time to deal with another matter, especially if it’s as…lucrative as the last job.> The statement had the hint of a question, though even flustered, the merc’s professionalism wouldn’t let her ask for financial figures until after the job had been described in detail. She swept her hand out, inviting Odette to sit on the little beat-up sofa they had found to set up behind the curtain. <And I am still curious about this organisation Jacques had linked us through, though of course I don’t mind direct negotiations. But typically my clients like a certain degree of plausible deniability in case the job goes poorly. Not that I’ve given them a reason to doubt me personally, but I am rarely the sole contractor someone is employing at any given time.>

As Zoë sat and looked just ready to fish into her pocket, Sonya appeared again, setting down tiny card table. She blipped out, then back in again, this time with a trio of wine glasses and a bottle opener, which she set about using fastidiously.

”This is my extremely loyal protege, Sonya. Sonya, this is one of my employers, you may call her the Ambassador.” As her business sense finally overtook her other mental gears, Zoë seemed to relax deftly. She took a wine glass with a nod of thanks and sat back, regarding her guest with an expression that was, while not quite so guarded as it could be and certainly not cold, told that she was certainly more centered now.

Sonya curtsied, smiling politely and offering a wineglass of a deep, bloody red liquid to Odette. “Mademoiselle, if you care for some?” she said, quiet and subdued. But her eyes flashed a warning that she seemed to be aware of every dynamic between the two and was not at all pleased with the situation, even if her manners were impeccable. Her entire air gave off that of an experienced diplomat or saleswoman.

Taking a seat on the couch she leaned up to pluck the glass of wine, making direct eye contact with Sonya, the loyal - protective protege. Aware of Odette’s attempts to lower Forge’s guard, while Forge was relaxed Sonya seemingly was stiff as a board. “Merci. A pleasure to meet you Sonya, great power is found in mobility I wonder how far you can teleport or if you are simply too fast for the naked eye to observe? Unique abilities are an asset, especially when one is smart enough to utilize them to their full potential.” Taking a sip of the wine, eyes not leaving Sonya, “Curating talent takes a particular eye, one that Forge clearly has for keeping you close.

I digress,” she said, adding with a low flirtatious comment “Lucrative work always finds its way to excellence, Forge. It seems you and I are both curious about one another.

Turning her body toward Zoe, leaning her arm against the back of the sofa cradling her wine glass in the palm of her hand. “Jacques and I work for a long established, creeping international organisation, heading up its division in France. A stepping stone of sorts to connect America to Asia, we provide reliable and entirely discreet transportation of goods due to yours truly. Borders mean nothing to me.

I also work the high profile jobs, servicing a… close relationship with the mystery man at the head of it all. My ongoing interest in what is left of the Hounds of Humanity has become focused, the anti-magic division simply budded off recovering from the blows dealt. They are now known as The Winter Court. Witch hunters, iron cross wearing heathens marching under a banner of unbridled hatred with full intents to wipe the likes of me and mine from the Earth.

You can see why that would be a problem.” Another sip, licking her lower lip. “While they are fully prepared for magical retaliation, they are not prepared for-” She gestured to Forge. “You. I am currently working on my own way to undo them but there is a particular lieutenant I would confidently bet you against.

”So you’d like me to begin a take-apart of this Winter Court, then? I’m going to admit, while anti-magic might not be a problem for me, I’m not entirely comfortable going up against unknown odds with an enemy who deals in something so esoteric.” The mercenary shrugged, took a sip, and glanced up at the curtain. ”While I maintain a certain degree of expertise, I’m not at all experienced with that side of the world.”

<Hell,>” she said, slipping back into their native tongue, ”until you contacted me, I didn’t know that part of the world even existed. And while I am sure I’d be dealing more with bombs and guns and whatnot, the chance of running across something nasty, even on a rescue basis, means I’d be completely out of my element. Which means my price goes up substantially.>

Odette considered that, nodding as Forge spoke, moving to French as well, “<The Winter Court… do carry a certain degree of surprises I will admit. It would simply be poor form to send you against them with little to no knowledge, obviously.>

<Regardless of price, I can match it. You’d become an asset, prepared and paid for the work.>

”How long term a contract would this be? And how much of my attention would you like?” Zoë leaned forward, elbows on knees. ”Obviously I have projects going on, so if you’d like me to focus solely on this it would run up very high, but if this is only worth half my time, even long-term, I could probably charge you a little less. Given the resources necessary to track an elusive organization and what would end up being my overhead, I’d say you’re looking at an even million up front. It would be far less, but as we’ve gone over, I have little idea what exactly to expect in terms of their resources, and I’d rather not come crying to you with expenditure reports if I can at all help it.”

Leaning forward as well, she smiled, “<All of your attention would be a start.>

For this particular focus I do not believe it will necessarily require your full attention. My portals can deliver you to the necessary locations and remove you just as quickly without worrying of travel. Surgical strikes, hard hits.” Odette explained. “Charge by the job.

”No offense, I’m sure your abilities are more impressive than they seem, but I am not willing to rely solely on someone else for transport. I’d much prefer to transport myself. And of course surgical strikes, I wouldn’t do much else unless specifically asked to, that’s my natural style. The up front charge was for research and locating targets, which means by necessity going to outside sources unless you can furnish the locations yourself.”

Waiting a beat with another taste of wine, Forge was insistently independant. Not quite on board with depending on anyone else, The Ambassador smiled briefly at the thought how familiar this all felt, eyes flickering down at her wrist, “You would not be the first disinterested in travelling by way of portal, convenient as it is. At the very least allow them to act as an emergency exit if you find yourself ever backed into a corner, a contingency that would serve to benefit only you.” Odette offered.

Reaching into her little clutch purse she pulled out a thick manila envelope, “I have various eyes and ears on The Winter Court, unfortunately they cannot get as close as I’d like them to. Naturally, you would want to make an informed decision before taking on any jobs acting as my scalpel against The Winter Court.” Forge was on the brink of understanding the level of threat The Winter Court posed not only to Odette but to herself if she choose to do the work. Odette saw an artist in Forge she also clearly saw a pragmatic individual, as a mercenary there could be a number of things she could ever want whether that was more money, fulfilling work or gaining a steady leg up in the world. It was all to push towards a singular goal. Moving parts of a bigger picture. Understanding that would mean Odette could provide exactly what she needed without recognizing it as a need.

First, was to present the challenge. A push.

Her brow furrowed, levelling her warning with chilling tone completely offset by her cordial approach since she had arrived, “Based solely on The Winter Court’s own actions they are well provisioned and in spite of their previous alignment they would not hesitate using all manner of resources to achieve their goals. They have collected a broken little line up of witches, fair folk, practitioners to defend against magical assailants.” Laying the thick envelope between them, raising her index finger, “There is little they will not resort to while defending themselves you may picture one horrible thing or another, you could prepare for weeks on end to counteract whatever they may throw at you and it would still be something different. If I had every scrap of information on them we wouldn’t be having this conversation, they’d be ashes in the wind.

She shrugged so easily, casting her eyes away to the screens allowing another momentary pause while she drank her wine, “I understand if this is too risky or challenging, you proved yourself able to move against their facilities on your own but perhaps I came to the incorrect person to take this contract.

”Tch, hold on now. If I didn’t like some risk and danger I wouldn’t have gone into this line of work. But mitigation of some extreme parts is good for long term career goals, oui?” Forge leaned back, glancing at the envelope. Her lips pursed for a second, eyes flicking idly, clearly not focusing on anything actually in front of her. After several moments, she nodded to herself and looked back to her mysterious client.

”Alright, we’ll assume from here I am working on this. Any time I find a target I will let you know, and you can decide, based on your own strategy, whether I should go or wait. I’m the boots on the ground, and you’re paying me, so I can only have so much autonomy here.” She stood up and began to move, thoughts moving ahead of her current situation already.

”Given the ongoing nature of our relationship, and also my current other projects, I don’t think I’ll need to charge you any retainer fee this time, and we’ll call it on a case-by-case basis for strikes. With the intel you’ve already got,” she waved her hand vaguely at the envelope, ”I should be able to dig up something big and juicy within the week. But since it’s your enemies and I’m just a contractor, I will leave grand strategy to you.”

Pleasantly smiling, success - she had no doubts. She responded, “<Excellent. If that is one thing I can guarantee is your autonomy, Forge. I find these terms to be agreeable,>” Raising her hand to shake, “<A pleasure doing business with you as always. Let me know if you change your mind about portals acting as a emergency escape route, you never really know when they may come in use.>

Zoë nodded, holding out a hand for a shake, Odette grasped her hand finding it to be much warmer than she expected feeling as if she dipped her hand into hot tub water. Leaning over the space between them customarily giving Forge air kisses on both cheeks.

<I will consider it. Feel free to drop by here in a few days and I’ll see if we can’t do something fun instead of just business. I think there’s an opera coming in soon but I can’t remember the exact date. And if you’re interested, I can give you a tour of my facilities here and you can see why I’m not available all the time right now.>

Sonya appeared at her elbow, and muttered something in Russian. Of course.” She smiled at her guest. <You could also stick around if you’d like for the rally, but I’m afraid I’ve only got a few moments before curtain now.>

Checking the time on her phone Odette hummed in thought, “I would like to see the rally, my curiosity has been piqued since arriving.

Gesturing to the stage she said, “Lead the way, mademoiselle.

Zoë strode out from behind the curtain to look upon what faces might have gathered. The stage was set up on the corner of two streets, a pizza place behind her, in one of the more destitute areas. There were more than she expected, to be certain, pretty much all of them just standing around, chatting, trying to figure out what this was all about. They turned to look at her in twos and threes as they noticed she had appeared. She waited until the majority had looked up, not saying a word into the microphone until then. Once she had their attention, she took a deep breath.

Here goes nothing.

”People of Detroit!” she began, projecting as much as she could in her best American accent. It’s not like they could afford to block off traffic. ”How long has it been since you had a voice around here? Oh yes, you have a vote to be sure, but how long has it been since it actually got you what you needed? How long have you been paying for fatcat CEOs and corrupt officials to party with movie stars while you tried to figure out how you were going to pay for electricity and food this month?”

She had chosen her outfit specifically to raise questions about why she was acting like she was on their side, and by the look of several people, it was working. She had considered dressing down, and then realised that it might come off as pandering. Besides, she had to look successful for this to work. Hence she was also concentrating on not using her hiding power, letting everyone see her as her.

”How long have you had to jump from job to job as the owners of national chains sold off and bought up places, making more money off of lay-offs than you ever expected to see in your life? How often have you been at the edge of actual destitution, wondering if it was ever better?”

”Well, I’m telling you, here and now, that it’s your fault.” The faces in the crowd went from boredom or interest or perplexion swiftly over to anger. Zoë held her hands up in a ‘simmer down’ motion. ”You don’t want to admit, sure, but it’s true. You let these people do this. They walked in and said this is how it’s gotta be, and you let them do it. And then you went on, while life gets worse and worse, even long after it was clear that none of them had actually told an ounce of truth. So now you sit here grumbling about it being unfair, but it’s you being unfair to yourselves

They were back to puzzlement, but a few had more thoughtful expressions now. A lot were still angry, and there were more of them now, as the crowd gathered from the nearby sidewalks. Odette stood off to the side of the stage watching with interest, a bemused little smirk poised. Unknown to many around them the fire spirits flocked to the stage to watch, inextricably attracted to Forge in her uniqueness. She looked to the crowd for reactions the perceived offense settled on them. Forge was ultimately holding their attention now, drawing more in. Her chameleon accent rang true to her own ears, had she not heard her true native tongue only moments ago to compare.

”There is of course, a way forward! And I am not talking about burning down your neighbours businesses in protest. That doesn’t change anything. No, you need to take control! You need to remember that they’re only there as long as you allow it! It’s their rule that you need money in order to campaign. You could do it on a dollar a day! All you need is the votes! They fed you the image that it takes millions of dollars and slick advertisements and lots of little things that were never really necessary, and you bought it wholesale, but it’s a lie.”

A voice from the crowd shot up. “So what do you want lady?” Mutters of assent echoed Got them. Now they’re interested. As long as I can keep them involved, I won’t have a hundred pissed off people trying to hit me.Scratch that, two hundred.

”Not a lot. I paint and do other art and I make a lot of money doing it! I got my TV and my apartment and everything I need. I just want you to stop being sheep and start being people again. You don’t have to take any of this lying down.” She paused. Now came the scary part.

She held out her hand. ”And I know how scary being the underdog can be. Just recently I had to deal with a whole lotta people wanting me dead, and they nearly succeeded twice.” Her fingers were suddenly wreathed in flames, the small, low energy ones. They danced and flickered. She carefully watched the faces in the crowd.

”Yeah, I’m a meta. I’ve got powers. I didn’t ask for them, but I have them. And I guarantee that there’s more in this city. And all those scared people who tried to kill us, they just had misplaced their fears. Metas are people, just like you. It’s not like having powers takes away your emotions, your compassion, your jealousy or greed. You’re still a person. What those people were scared of was change.”

Zoë leaned forward, and the flames on her fingers arced above her suddenly, a huge plume of dancing fire, sweeping around her like a cloak before calming back down and settling on her hair. The front two rows had winced in the burst of heat, but oddly none of them looked worried. The fiery theatre making this little slice out of their day memorable.

”That’s the thing about change, though. It comes whether you like it or not, just like these powers. So you’ve got to either adapt or run. Well, here’s what I say: We can change this city for the better. We can kick out all the fat bastards who live off your backs, we can change the rules, and we can even change the game. It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, and we may even get hurt. I won’t lie, we’ll face fierce resistance from very powerful people. But we can do this. Together, we can take back Detroit and make it work again.”

”This ain’t a town hall, though. I’m not taking questions. But there’s pamphlets if you want ‘em, with the address of my building. You can stop by for a chat any time you want. Have a good day, people, and remember. It’s up to you.”

The flames went out as she turned, and walked swiftly back behind the curtain, listening to the chatter of the crowd behind her. Twenty out of the whole group would probably bother to come by the office, but that would be enough. And who knew? Maybe here had been a meta or two out there as well. The Ambassador’s expression shifted subtly, knowing full well her investment would be worthwhile in Forge. Unknown to Odette, Forge successfully captured the attention of the crowd and a certain metahuman at the edge of the rally.

She moved back behind stage, meaning to give her praise.

Zoë had moved back to her little sofa, and was doing her best to stay calm. Her hands were shaking like paint mixers, at least to her, though in reality they weren’t so obvious. She stared ahead of her, poring over what had just happened in her mind, face pale and little tiny beads of sweat on her forehead. She wasn’t used to sweating, it didn’t happen from heat. But the body still had its programming, of course. She wiped her face with the back of one trembling hand and smiled weakly at Odette as the Feyspeaker came around the back. ”well, that wasn’t a total failure, at least!”

Across the street from the rally, in a little bookstore halfway down the block, two people in suits sat at a little outdoor table, drinking tea and looking nonchalant. The woman looked off down the street towards the hubbub, whilst her dark haired partner read the newspaper. He glanced up at her. “Any clues?” he said in a rumbling baritone.

“Not as yet,” she said, brushing back a loose strand of auburn hair. Her accent had come under control only a little, and it was very obviously French. “I mean, it could be who we’re looking for, but they’ve never really been the public type, oui? Always in and out, no real solid evidence. Zis would be an extreme departure from the pattern.” Her finger pushed at this glass in front of her, and it was suddenly almost a slushie more than simple iced tea.

“Sure, I suppose,” said the man, “But Emily, we haven’t really got much of an established pattern to begin with.”

“You are correct. Well, once it’s broken up, let’s get a pamphlet and see what we can see.”
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