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51.9 - Heiress Apparent

"Gurk!" The second mugger falls as one of Alycia's sticks impacts the back of his skull with a loud thud -- not nearly hard enough to crush bone and brain and kill, and probably not even hard enough to cause long-term injury or impairment, but certainly enough to render him unconscious. Alycia -- Charade, she must remind herself, when the mask is on -- strides over to the combatant, perhaps her own age, but far less disciplined or combat ready. She tucks a boot under the purse he dropped, flips it up in the air, gives it a knee bounce, then kicks it over to the woman, dropping it neatly in her outstretched arms. "Th-thank you," she stammers out. "Don't thank me," Charade comments. "Just don't take shortcuts down dark alleys any more. Not doing stupid things significantly reduces the likelihood that bottom-feeding predators like this --" She gives a short, but vicious, kick at the second mugger. "-- will have an opportunity to rob you." "Thank -- wait, are you blaming me for the mugging?" The woman's voice has gone from terrified to thankful to outraged. "Of course not. Their crimes are on their heads. And elsewhere." Another kick. "I should say so." "You're just a dolt for giving them such an easy opportunity." "What? Well, I never --" "Clearly," Charade says, pivots on her heels and heads down the alley. She ignores the sputtering from behind her. Proving once again that stupidity is not a zero-sum game, she muses. Then she smirks behind her mask, forcing down the anger. Humanity is worth it, even if its individual members are ... problematic. But it's the individuals that justify the rights of all. Despair of humanity based on drawing general conclusions from such individuals justifies just as many atrocities as (using her father as an example, as always) ignoring individuals in the name of an amorphous greater humanity.  She stays vigilant as she steps between occasional pools of light in these back streets. There are plentiful LED light stands put up by the city, but some have been vandalized or, perhaps, intentionally sabotaged. Halcyon is a well-run municipality for fundamentally being a plutocracy, but there are still "bad" areas, crime zones, and criminals. They create an ad hoc training ground for her to keep her skills honed, and to learn her new equipment better, and (not unimportantly) to prevent harm to people (even those who seem incapable of avoiding harm to themselves). It's getting late, and Parker has that analysis she keeps reminding Alycia about, and, for that matter, there's still that book report she needs to submit tomorrow (though she can crank out from memory a dozen different essays on Nineteen Eighty-Four of varying lengths without working up a sweat -- and in several languages, for that matter; table talk growing up was an advanced education challenge). Alycia works her way over three darkish streets to where she stashed her V-bike (which can conveniently both partially fold/collapse to a much more convenient size, and has a camouflage field that will avoid notice).  She's just stepped out into a small courtyard / dumpster area behind an automotive shop on one side and some shuttered shops on another when a figure steps out of the shadows ahead of her. A medium-sized man, dressed in derelict's clothes. He has his hands up and open, as if to show he's not a threat. Behind her, the two other figures who have been following her the last two blocks (as far as she's been aware) also step out of their shadows. They are doing their best as well to look innocuous and non-threatening, and would be reasonably convincing if not for their covert approach. She throws a quick glance at them to confirm their positions, then turns her gaze back to the one in front of her, a dozen feet away. This could be a simple panhandle, but she's 92.4% certain it's not. Her hands brush past her guns, her shrugged shoulders verify her batons are still there. She's not going to fire up the gloves yet, but she takes a loose stance, ready for anything, feeling the space and the known assailants in it, extending her senses to all the shadowy nooks and crannies around her to spot anyone else who might be lurking. She addresses the one before her, but loudly enough that those behind can hear. "Can I help you with something?" A hypothetical observer would be no more surprised than Alycia when the three of them drop to one knee and lower their heads in a deep bow. [to be continued] #Cutscene
This is like three of my favorite types of events that occur in comic books (and other media ) rolled into one.  Eagerly awaiting part two.
Alycia stands stock-still. No no no no no ... "Mistress. We have found you, at last." That's the one in front, talking to the shadowed earth at his feet, eyes downcast, his left fist pressed to his right breast. "Mistress," the other two behind echo. One is female, French African accent. The other Russian. The one before her sounds American. "Stand up," she barks, and they scramble to their feet -- and snap to attention. Nu, der'mo ... "Who are you?" "Ramirez, Gregory," says the first man. "Fourth Rank, Direct Action Unit Aleph-Qī, Arlington Cell, ma'am. " "Chernikov, Ivan," says one of the ones behind. "Sixth Rank, Research, Geneva Cell, ma'am. " "Nyobé, Joadden," says the woman. "Fifth Rank, Intelligence, Arlington Cell, ma'am. " The bows, the snap-to, the salutes, the calling me "Mistress" ... Where the hell were you when nobody would really follow my orders? "I don't know who you think I am, but I am neither mistress nor madam. So go! Get out of here!" "Ma'am," Ramirez says, apparently undaunted. "You are Mistress Alycia, the Daughter of the Master, Doctor Chin. We have been searching for you for over a year, to serve you as we served him, to be part of the Great MIssion again." "What in God's name makes you think I'm -- who did you say, this Alycia Chin?" "Ma'am," snaps Nyobe. "We realize you have been undercover. We have been running pattern recognition scans on media within the United States, your last known location, using your father's analytical tools. We became aware of your presence here in Halcyon City two months ago. Additional hits on news media and social media videos confirmed your association with the vigilante group the Menagerie as well as various civilian social and educational loci. Pertinent coverage included the unleashing of Rossum's bots, the alien attack at the hospital, and the recent social dance at the local elitist educational academy.  In addition, we used a variety of security cameras, bankomat cameras, traffic cameras ..." "After that, ma'am," says Chernikov, "It was a matter of determining how best to intercept you. Your recent activities in this area provided the pattern needed." "We -- hope we have not offended or done wrong, Mistress, or endangered your plans," Ramirez adds. "You appeared to be operating without support personnel, though we could not be sure. But -- since the fall of the Arlington cell --" "And Geneva," says Chernikov. "-- and Geneva, since all the known, truly loyal followers of the Master have gone silent, we've been without guidance. Without direction. Others claim to be the Master's heir -- but we know that you are of his blood and spirit." Alycia looks at the three of them for a long moment. "God. Dammit." She pulls off her mask. The three loyal soldiers of Achilles Chin snap back to attention, left fist once again to the chest.  [to be continued]
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"Stop that, dammit!" She pauses. "Um, at ease." The salute is dropped, the legs assume a slightly wider stance. All three are still stiffly posed.  One doesn't ever stand truly at ease around Father, I suppose. She remembers this, to some degree. Mass gatherings with clashing heels on concrete, salutes, allegiances shouted in unison. Walking with her father along ranks of soldiers. It seemed like millions to her at the time, but it couldn't have been more than a few hundred, wherever she was. Probably the Urumqi cell -- She snaps back to the present, her mind racing. "No, stand truly at ease. Casually." At their visible reluctance to commit such lèse-majesté , she says, "You attract attention, and endanger the mission." Ah. That got their attention. Now they just looked like three vagabonds or street people, more relaxed outwardly (if not inwardly), though each is smiling. My God, they expect me to lead them. Alycia's brain, on the other hand, is anything but relaxed. Processes and trains of thought are spinning out in all directions, taking advantage of the spatial map she formed when she thought she was being ambushed. She realizes her mask is off, and sets it back on again. She needs much, much more information -- who these three are in particularly (the woman's name sounds familiar), how they got here, what they've been doing ... ... Aditi on a Velocipede, if they were able to find me ... ... and, most important, what to do with them, short- and long-term. "What is your current status -- location and embed?" She feels exposed here, even though it's a pretty damned private spot. On the other hand, she can't exactly go traipsing into a diner in full costume, let alone before she determines what she has to do with them. Their departments -- Intel, Research, those are probably okay. The DAs might be a problem. Those units were sometimes rife with the most violent psychopaths her father could pull together. Ramirez having survived this long without going berserk or off-discipline is probably a good sign. "We found a spot in a warehouse near Wildey Rd. and Hamilton," Rodriguez replies. "It's presently secure, has access to power, water, and data, and is defensible. If our MIstress wishes, we can take her there." "Later. Perhaps. Continue." "I am drawing income via day labor and petty theft. We have identified several possible targets for greater profit or social disruption, but are adhering to covert protocols and not drawing excess attention." Nyobé picks up. "I have also engaged in petty theft, but have been mainly focused on maintaining our cover and finding you, Mistress." "Well, that seems to have been a productive effort. And you?" "I am working off-book at a small, independent coffee shop here in town," says Chernikov, "close enough to our base to not require public transportation." Alycia considers asking which shop, then pushes the thought aside for a much more important consideration: What am I going to do with these guys? Premise 1: She has no use for minions. She is not her father's daughter, and the last thing she wants or needs, professionally or personally, is a trio of soldier-acolytes, ready to kill (or die) on her command. Premise 2: They are her responsibility. Her duty. Yeah, I should turn them into AEGIS, for processing and rehab, at the very least. Who knows what they've done in the past in my father's name, what crimes they have committed, what lives they've taken? She knows that the Arlington cell was most focused on espionage against the US federal government, but also had a vague sense that there was some targeted theft and killings there over the years. Even if he's not a lunatic, Rodriguez could be a fanatical killer. But for her to turn them in would be -- a betrayal. Not of her father, God no, that would actually be an incentive in this case. But of these three who are expecting her to somehow ... give meaning back to their lives. Who have sought her out. She's no princess, but she feels an almost medieval sense of obligation to those who have sworn fealty toward her.  If I caught them robbing a bank or blowing up a government office, I'd have no hesitation taking them down, hard. But they came to me. I can't just throw them in jail. That would be wrong. But that means if they do anything else illegal, it's on her head. She can't imagine Parker would be very sympathetic over the matter. Assuming that AEGIS isn't already aware of them. Shit. Can't second, third, and fourth-guess myself here. "Mistress?" asks Nyobé. Oh for the love of -- "Stop that. No 'Mistress'ing. Got it?" Ramirez throws Nyobé a glare. "What title would you prefer, M--ma'am?" "No titles. It's --" She's about to tell them the truth, when she realizes that's a horrible idea, old saws about honesty and policy aside. "-- too dangerous to my cover. If someone should hear you ..." Ramirez nods. "Understood, ma'am." "No. Nothing like that. Just 'Understood.'" He grins, a fierce expression on his face. "Understood." She nods. Yeah, these guys are fanatics. True Believers. Whether they understand and support Father's global social agenda, or simply saw him as a messiah who gave their life meaning, the worst thing I can do is tell them that I've given up on leading the Great Mission any longer and that they should consider the Chin dynasty as ended. Well, no, the worst thing I can do is tell them what happened to Father, and my role in it. She thinks quickly. Which she can do because she does actually think quickly. "All right. Your loyalty does all of you credit, as does your resourcefulness. Now that you're here, my long-range plans will be that much easier." "Order us, M--" Chernikov cuts himself off before he can say a forbidden "M" word. "-- order us, and we will obey." I would actually feel sorry for these people, if I didn't know what they were capable of, what they've probably already done. "Here are your orders, then. I need you to --" No, I can't tell them to go to ground. They would, but that's only in the short term, and sitting together in their little warehouse bunker will only get them to speculating. Idle hands are the devil's workshop. "-- I need you to become self-sufficient. But no lawbreaking without clearing it through me, first. If the authorities were to learn of your presence here, it would cause a grave disruption in the next phase of the Great Mission." She turns to Chernikov. "You're covered -- you have a job. Ramirez, day labor is fine, but that's it, no more theft. I will be arranging papers and perhaps better cover employment for you, soon. Nyobé, I have an assignment for you until I can do that: can you go back to some of the feeds you used to track me down, some of the records, and scrub them -- subtly, not mass deletions but glitches in the imagery, things like that, sufficient to prevent someone from following the same trail?" She nods, sharply. "The equipment I have is primitive, but it will be done." I hope so. If you lot managed to find me, there may be others who want to. Speaking of which ... "Rodriguez. You mentioned others claiming to be my Father's heir. Name them." I have some clues. She had tried holding her father's empire together after his disappearance, to protect his interests and to maintain the resources needed to search for him. Some parts just melted away. In other cases, lieutenants carved out their own territories, like Alexander's generals.  Ultimately, I didn't care enough to try to stop them. I was just looking to save Father, idiot that I was. Ramirez cocks his head, clearly surprised by her question. After a few moments he starts, then smiles, more relaxed. "My loyalty is to you ..." He cuts off, unsure now now how to address her. "But if you wish to test me, I can but comply. I do not know all, but there are some whose communications came to our cell, demanding obedience and subordination. We refused, of course. Then we were attacked, and had to flee. We --" "Names." "Yang Shaoqi." Father's top lieutenant in Asia. He had always bowed and scraped to Father. He was better organized and ambitious than anyone thought. I already knew about him. "Hector Callado." Fuck. Callado was Father's bodyguard and trouble-shooter (figuratively and literally). He supposedly was sucked into the Sepiaverse. If he wasn't, or if he found his way back -- and if he was claiming Father's throne ... The man was extraordinarily dangerous when I knew him, and we'd never gotten along. "A rabble of smaller groups." That was no surprise. When I was trying to keep things together, it was like a sandcastle before the incoming tide. There were major collapses, like Yang, but much of the damage was individuals and individual cells just melting away. Ramirez draws a breath, then pauses.  "Yes?" "I -- it's --" "You've been commanded to report." He still hesitates. Nyobé pipes up. "He fears to speak to you of the third individual we know of. He has taken over the Master's operations in Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe." I raise an eyebrow to Ramirez, then turn to her. "And do you fear to say this name?" "It is intelligence, M--" She cuts off, then continues, "Intelligence should play no favorites. It is data, analysis, and interpretive presentation. You must be able to trust your intelligence to be giving you accurate information." "Then tell me the goddamned name!" "His given name is unknown. He calls himself the Son of Chin, and claims that he is the elder heir of the Master." [to be continued]
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You have a Ramirez but then you switch to a Rodriguez. Makes me fear for Nono if Aegis ever raids Blintzkrieg.
[Heh. Sorry -- my error, not helped by a few margaritas at the restaurant tonight. Corrected. Because I'm absolutely, 100%, dead-set certain that it is not at all likely that Nono's related to a loyal soldier of Dr. Chin's. Nope, no way, no thought of that ever being the case, most probably.]
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Leaving this here with no further comment, enjoying this story so far and now very curious who the Double Chin (sorry) turns out to be.
Alycia feels a chill run down her back. Her brain checks her first reaction, rejecting the assertion outright, to consider it rationally (but quickly, as the others are looking at her, waiting for her reaction). Initial analysis: First, it is not impossible that Achilles Chin had another child. The circumstances of her own conception were never described or explained except, by her father, as something he regretted deeply. (In this rare instance, she had not interpreted that as an attack on herself, but something about whatever relationship he had with her mother.) Second, and alternately, her father never hinted at another child. It seems just the sort of thing he might have done to goad her to greater achievement. Though, there was a time, the very first day she met him . After he had set a spider-bot on her, as a test ... "I needed to see if you were worthy of being my daughter." "And if I wasn't?" "Then I would have had to find another. Which would have been ... inconvenient." She had always thought of that as his having to start over. But what if it implied he already had another child, but one whom it would be inconvenient to ... drag into his orbit? Might I have a brother? An older brother? Jesus fuck , that would be annoying. Especially if he's setting himself up as heir to the throne. She's read her Shakespeare. Other, presumptive, heirs, don't fare well when royal precedence started being debated with knives and blood. She laughs, with a calculated lightness to her tone. "Someone dares claim to be another child of my father? How pathetic." The others relax slightly. "We will," she continues, "drive these charlatans and usurpers into the dust. And advance the Great Mission to its fruition in the process." "Yes!" Chernikov says, softly. "Yes!" Nyobé says, more loudly. "Hell, yeah!" shouts Ramirez -- louder than she is comfortable with, but she welcomes the enthusiasm. I don't seek their fanatical support for myself, but if I can avoid their fanatical rejection, that's all good. "You have your orders." She gives them her phone number, and gathers up those of their burners. "SMS is insecure -- if you need to make contact, use standard codewords to set a meet, using utmost discretion. I reiterate, no further lawbreaking. I will get back to you within a week with additional directives and support." "Thank you," Ramirez says, his face openly grateful. He gives a half-bow, pushing her injunction slightly, but unable to suppress his gratitude. "Many thanks," Nyobé echoes. "May this be the next step in fulfilling the Great Mission." "The Great Mission," continues Chernikov. "in the hands of the true heir of the Master. Spasibo ." Alycia nods. "Go, then. Take my thanks with you, and my expectations for the future." They scatter, as they should, and in a minute, she stands alone in the courtyard. She sags, slightly. Lānata hai. I really did not need this. But she's already figuring out what to do about her trio of new dependents, about the possibility that others might learn where she is, and what she's learned of the people who have taken over for her father, including the deadliest man she's ever known and a man who claims (however improbably) to be her elder sibling.  And she still has a book report and an AEGIS analysis memo to craft tonight. She uncloaks and unfolds her v-cycle, and hops on, hurtling into the darkness of night. -fin-
[So this was intended to start roiling the waters around some of Alycia's Scion issues. Lacking her father as a foil in her various separation/redemption arcs, pulling in some other potential threats from that direction that force her to establish the difference between her chosen course of life and that of her father's seemed the right thing to do. Of course, she may not be making the right decisions there at the get-go, but, hey, story arc! I have some thoughts as to what Alycia will choose to do with Ramirez, Nyobé, and Chernikov, who may or may not show up on-screen again. I'd love to get to know know them a bit better as individuals, rather than saluting soldiers. Maybe we will. More pertinent is the return of Hector Callado , who sadly never got any screen time against Jason, but may very well cause Alycia (et al.) some grief. There's also the mysterious Son of Chin -- my personal opinion is that he's a fake, someone grabbing onto the title to nab followers and power through the mystique of the Chin name, but my opinion has turned out to be wrong in such things before, and it's always fun to give Alycia a kick in the emotions. Hope you enjoyed.]
*** Dave H. said: There's also the mysterious Son of Chin -- my personal opinion is that he's a fake, someone grabbing onto the title to nab followers and power through the mystique of the Chin name, but my opinion has turned out to be wrong in such things before, and it's always fun to give Alycia a kick in the emotions.
Great work as always, Dave.  Interested to see this particular story play out.  Though this line... *** Dave H. said: The circumstances of her own conception were never described or explained except, by her father, as something he regretted deeply. (In this rare instance, she had not interpreted that as an attack on herself, but something about whatever relationship he had with her mother.) Having recently watched Kill Bill with a friend who had never saw it, I shudder that the thought of the backstory playing out similar to that with Achilles as Bill, Alycia as B.B., and Alycia's mother as a less capable of toppling the empire Bride.
He actually phrased it in an odd fashion that I wasn't able to find in the materials I have access to on the road (I don't think it came up in the forums, only in notes I wrote about her in forming her character). It certainly wasn't meant as a call-out to Kill Bill,  as I've never gotten around to watching the second installment of the duology. (Vague headcanon, since I never even went beyond that phrase, as that's all that Alycia knew: her mother was someone Chin actually fell in love with (his failing), and then had to turn away from in order to complete his Great Mission; it's equally probable that she was inadvertently killed, intentionally killed, or committed suicide, though it's also possible that he simply took the child away from her. That a child resulted was not intended, but certainly something Chin chose to take advantage of when the time was right. There's certainly fodder there for future melodrama. :-) )
As to the "Son of Chin," I'm definitely leaving things completely open for Doyce to blindside me at the worst possible moment with the "actual" truth. Any of the possibilities I gave for how Dr. Chin might reinsert himself into the campaign could apply to that character, though one would expect him to be more effective than SoC has been to date. My assumption is that, whatever the various fragments of the Chin Empire have managed to do thus far, it's been pretty small potatoes vs what the Master did and was planning. That might be a sign that none of his de facto heirs have the genius or resources that he did, or that one or more or them are biding their time to build up their forces or lay the groundwork for their master plans.  It's also probable that AEGIS, et al., rolled up a goodly amount of the Chin Empire at the same time as others were trying to rescue fragments of it.
They're finally all back in their little hidey-hole. Ramirez was the last of the three through the back door; he usually is, as he waits outside to see if the others make it, or were followed. None of them quite know why this warehouse is closed down, locked up, out of business, nor even who the owners were. There are odd-shaped racks against the walls, with serious power feeds, squares where heavy machinery once was bolted down. but nothing that indicates whose warehouse it was, only, from age, dust, and vermin the indication that it's been empty a few years, at least. Nor why it has a small barracks tucked in one corner of main floor, with mouldering bedding but an (otherwise empty) kitchen with power and running water and cable feeds that can be tapped for digital data.  Perhaps some other group used it for a base (it can sleep close to twenty at a time); maybe it was even an unknown cell location of the Master's, though there are no signs, no symbols to indicate such. The location had no supplies, but those had been obtained. And it's a perfect place to rest. And brood. They keep the lights low, to reduce the likelihood of detection. The air is, as always, faintly redolent of mustiness, dirt and mildew and animal waste. There are signs the quarters' air supply could once have been sealed, places where air tanks and filters once stood. They are long gone. Chernikov, sitting in a faded plastic-and-steel chair at the common table, breaks the silence, even though he is of the lowest rank. "I -- do not think the Mistress was pleased to see us." "We interrupted her activities," Nyobé says. "The Master did not care for such a thing, either." "Joa," Ramirez says, addressing her by first name (their internal discipline has worn down some over the last year), "she didn't want to see us." He's clearly back in one of his funks, forehead all a-glower. "Of course not. She's the Mistress. She has everything planned to a fare-thee-well, like her father before her. Three fugitive grunts showing up, unbidden, begging for her help --" "We were not begging!" Ramirez snaps. "To find the Mistress, to be guided by her, used by her, yeah, that's what we've dedicated our lives to." He looks around at their trio. "Anyone less dedicated is gone, right?" Duval and Jameson had deserted together two months ago. Martinez was killed by that thing that had attacked them in Portsmouth. Billingsley was executed by Ramirez for treason. "Ernesto," Chernikov notes, softly, "died so that the rest of us could get away." "He was weak," Ramirez grates. "A true soldier of the Master would triumph over any odds." Chernikov only nods, throwing a half-glance to Nyobé. "Regardless," she picks up on the cue, "we have our assignments." "Lay low," Ramirez mocks, and gets to his feet to begin pacing, the chair legs squealing on the concrete floor. "Get an honest job. Perhaps next she will have us paying income taxes to the corporatist state, giving charity to organized sham religions, sitting in city council meetings -- dammit, we should be acting . That is why the Master recruited us. For the Great Mission! "Greg," Chernikov reminds him, "there is a Russian saying, that a soldier's life is nine-nine percent sheer boredom, punctuated by one percent sheer terror. You know this to be true." "Next you're going to be telling me that 'we also serve who stand and wait.'" "Yes, the thought had occurred to me." "An English churchman wrote that, Ivan -- a blind man, desperately trying to make sense his affliction at the hands of his false god. What part of that tale resembles me, Ivan? Do tell." "I only mean --" "Patience! I know!" He throws his hands up. "You and Joa. 'Be patient, Greg. We'll find her soon, Greg. Readiness is all, Greg. She's near, Greg.'" He slams his hand on a metal table. "Well, we found her. And she just wants us to -- sit -- more -- in here. Rotting away." Chernikov shrugs. Nyobé begins, "Greg, we must --" Ramirez draws the pistol from under his coat in one, smooth motion, pointing it directly at her face. "Tell me we must be patient, Joa. Tell me again." Her gaze back at him is steady. "We must be patient. For a little while longer." "That's your analysis." "That is my analysis." He stares down the barrel of the pistol at her, then flips it up, toggles the safety back on, and slips it back to its hiding place. "Your analyses have served us well, Fifth Rank Nyobé." His use of her rank tells her that discipline is back in place. "We will be patient. For now." "Greg," Chernikov says, "we cannot disobey the Mistress." "But she doesn't want to be called that, Sixth Rank Chernikov," Ramirez says, a crooked smile on his face. "Perhaps she is abdicating." His eyebrows rise. "Or perhaps …" He trails off. Nyobé and Chernikov exchange glances more openly this time. "Yes?" Nyobé finally asks. "Perhaps it is a test . Of our initiative. Our courage. Our dedication to the Great Mission. Her resources must be lean, at best, right. She cannot take on any liabilities, any dead weight, only those who bring strength, and will. In which case …" His smile is broad again, the smile of a predator. "Nyobé, you have your orders. Start to work on the scrubbing the Mistress' path." There's just the slightest pause -- perhaps he imagines it -- before, "I comply, sir." "Chernikov, I want to go over with you some of the direct action plans we were preparing for the Mistress, once we found her. We may still have need of them." "What are we going to do?" Chernikov asks. "For the moment -- for this moment -- nothing. We comply. We wait. We have ... patience . But if the interval seems too long, if our value to our Mistress seems … underappreciated, if it seems she is waiting for us to prove ourselves … well, then, perhaps we shall seize an opportunity to act, after all." [The End ... for now.]
[This came to me in the wee hours of the morning as a logical extension of the earlier stuff. It ups the stakes a little bit, and gives us a bit more insight into our faithful trio. Whether the results of this comes up in-game or in future cutscenes, only the Story Gods know ...]
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This whole thing was a good and necessary departure from just having Summer love-bomb Alycia into better shape, and gives her plenty to do (or react to). There's also tense stuff, like these guys taking direct action and Alycia having to make a hard choice about dealing with someone she feels responsible for - or AEGIS using this as a loyalty test, to gauge how much further freedom they'll give her (or how much to take away). There's also the comedy option where these three wombats decide to "remove the distractions facing the Mistress", and kidnap... Summer and Daph.
I'd not thought of that final option or its related material, but ... yeah, there could be some comedy gold there. (Or, y'know, some other drama, esp. if they hurt someone in the process.)
*** Dave H. said: He actually phrased it in an odd fashion that I wasn't able to find in the materials I have access to on the road (I don't think it came up in the forums, only in notes I wrote about her in forming her character). Here's what I had written at one point. Interpret as you will (Alycia certainly has, in a dozen different directions): -- my father has not only been unwilling to tell me [about my mother], he has made it quite clear that he will never tell me. "It is my shame, my weakness, and mine alone. You belong only to me."
"So ... we're going to be working ... at a FedEx?" I meet his gaze as impassively as I can manage. "Was I unclear, Fourth Rank Ramirez?" "No, Ma'am." "What is our task there, Ma'am?" Nyobé chimes in. Here we go. "Threefold. First, establishing deep cover -- identities that will, with time, begin to hold up on their own, which can then be leveraged into more important positions." I pause. Nyobé and Chernikov both nod, as does Ramirez after a few moments. "Second, economic self-sufficiency. As you are well aware, our resources are limited. Earning money from the very system we will one day replace is both fitting and effective." "Ma'am," Chernikov says, his Russian accent think. "As we noted before --" He glances at Ramirez. "-- we have developed series of actions to obtain more substantial resources. We believe these opportunities remain low risk, and --" I hold up my hand. "I appreciate your zeal, Sixth Chernikov. But now is not the time for any level of risk, or the drawing of attention from the local police or metahuman community. The cost of losing any of you would be difficult to recover from, even with additional funds. Even with the other small cells I have in the city, you three represent a valuable resource." I force a smile. "But hold onto those plans. We will someday use them, when the moment is right." "As you say, Ma'am." "When do you think that will be, Ma'am?" Is that challenge in Ramirez' voice? There is surely a reason he was on a Direct Action team -- a bias toward doing , not sitting around or gleaning intelligence. He probably doesn't even do ambushes well. I wish I had his file: I suspect -- "When the myriad factors you are not privy to have aligned to my liking, Fourth." He looks like he might protest, but bows his head. "I understand, Ma'am." I still don't like all the 'ma'am's, but they beat the 'miladies' all to hell. And on reflection, the reinforcement of authority is probably not a bad thing. "And, on the brighter side, income will allow you to move out of this --" She waves her head around at the abandoned barracks. "-- and into civilian quarters. That will help your camouflage: you won't be hiding at the outer levels, only those within. That will also help you more easily gather intelligence, tie into civilian rumor networks, etc." "I can't speak for the others, ma'am," Nyobé says, a broad grin on her face, "but someplace with a bath tub and where I can do some actual cooking -- that'd be nice." Chernikov grunts in agreement, with a nod. Ramirez nods, too. "Your comfort is not my highest priority, Sixth Nyobé, but if it improves moral and effectiveness, it's a worthy side effect." I give her a slight smile, then continue. "The third factor is why I chose this particular organization in which to embed you." Chose from a list of one, of course, but ... "As you well know, logistics and communication are vital for successful revolution." "The Master spoke of it, in almost those words," Nyobé chimes in again, her voice soft. Mercifully, Father never published a little book like Mao, but I knew some of his followers kept recordings of his speeches, shared them with one another and new recruits. Some of the material still shows up on YouTube, though as it comes from a terrorist they usually try to take it down as fast as its put up as one would expect from a global tech oligarch like Google. "So --" I turn to Chernikov. "Analysis?" "The Federal Express, it handles package and document shipment." He nods. "Covering both logistics and communication, yes." "But hardly a key target!" Ramirez protests. "A small FedEx in a strip mall in Bunton? We should infiltrate a major hub, one of their distribution centers. Greensboro -- the Piedmont Triad hub, it's being expanded to full capacity this fall. That would --" "Do you truly believe," I comment, "that the American security services do not monitor such core shipping hubs carefully, looking for people they consider, oh, I don't know, terrorists? Whereas there are nearly two thousand FedEx stores in the US alone, most of them in 'small strip malls.' Yet each represents an entrée into the entire network. Each has computers that can be used to track shipments through the entire network -- or to mask shipments through the entire network." Ramirez looks at me, then finally nods. "Okay, that makes sense --" "Do NOT,  " I shout, standing, slapping my hand down on the metal table, leaning over toward him, "mistake my briefing you on elements of your mission for my seeking your APPROVAL . I direct , you comply, regardless of whether it 'makes sense' to you -- do you understand, Fourth Ramirez?" Nyobé and Chernikov are staring at me, stock still, wide-eyed, taking in my furious expression. Ramirez is startled, perhaps even shaken. He stares for a moment as well. "DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!" He surges to his feet, and, for a moment, I think he's about to attack, and there I am with only a hold-out baton on my thigh under my dress. Instead, he snaps to attention, throwing a sharp-edged US Navy salute. "YES, MA'AM." I continue to glower. His dark face reddens. He shifts to his right fist over his heart, head and torso slightly bowed, left arm slightly back. "I comply. Milady." I don't correct him this time. My anger is only ninety percent feigned. After a moment, I say, "Very well, you may be seated, Fourth. Now, according to my agent who is securing these positions for you, all three are a mixture of counter and back office work, sorting and arranging packages dropped off or being picked up by customers.  "In addition to those cover activities, I have the following assignments, tracking shipments and deliveries to certain addresses in the city. These are --" -- mostly randomly selected -- "-- sites and individuals of interest, including monitoring all packages and documents going to or from the Quill Foundation." I curl my lip at that one, in what I hope is a convincing fashion. I've also thrown in the HHL HQ, just for giggles. "I'll need analyses of traffic patterns -- sources of incoming, targets of outcoming, contents if that can be gleaned, etc. Other teams --" -- who don't exist -- "-- are monitoring other carriers. This is the final piece." "Are you looking for something in particular, ma'am?" Nyobé asks. She seems always eager to please. Well, they all do, in their own way, even Ramirez -- his frustration appears to be in not being able to "please" in the methods he is used to. "I do, of course," I lie, with a sly smile. "But I'll not prejudice the analysis by providing further focus." She nods, vigorously. "Of course. Detection of patterns, first, before diving into them." "Correct." "Do not, however," I add to the three of them, meeting each of their gazes, "actually interfere with any of these shipments and deliveries. There must be no sign that we are aware of their activities. Determine how this could be done in the future, but carefully, quietly. Readiness is all." I got a chorus of "Yes, ma'am"s for that. "Ma'am," Ramirez says, before I can continue. "I mean no disrespect." Never good words, but his tone seems sincere, more calm than earlier. "I don't feel this is the best use of my talents. I am sworn to your father's service -- and to yours -- but I --" He pauses, clenching his fists. "I'm not an investigator, not an intelligence analyst, like these two." He glances at them. "No offense." "None taken," Chernikov grunts, though he's frowning. Brawn vs Boffins. A conflict as old as the military.   I eye Ramirez. He's not wrong, given his disposition. But -- I really, really want to render these folk inert, harmless, perhaps even productive. Nonsense assignments will work for the other two -- intel and research are always used to being given tasks that make no sense and never seem to produce a meaningful result. But Ramirez -- it's remarkable he's stayed on-task for as long as he did in seeking me out. The last thing I want is for him to snap. Aside from the innocents he's liable to hurt, I still feel obliged to -- do something for him, for all of them.  My father was brutal in use of his minions. I cannot be.  But how can I use him effectively. He's a weapon. Take him on patrol? No, that sounds like an awful idea -- kneecapping drug dealers is one thing; double-tapping them in the skull is quite another. Even if I order him not to kill, I don't trust his reflexes, or his temper. I can hear my father. "The surest path to disobedience, disrespect, and rebellion is to give an order you know will not be obeyed." I can't take that chance, either. "In many ways, Fourth, your task for the moment is the most difficult. To wait. To stand by. To guard these two and keep them and the mission safe. I have something else in mind for you, soon enough, but for now -- consider yourself a guard, a sentry. Keep the perimeter secure, not just here, but wherever you go. Can you do that, Fourth? Are you willing to make that sacrifice for the Great Mission?" Good. Phrase it as a challenge. Phrase it as a call to duty. After a moment, he nods and takes a salute position. "I comply, ma'am," "Good man." I look at the three of them and smile. "Very good. The Great Mission endures. Your actions are a part of that, and will be." That seems to make them happy. Which makes me happy. I can't quite sign in relief and slump into my chair -- not yet -- but things are progressing as well as I can hope for. "Now -- my contact has identified these positions, but we need to go through the motions of actually getting you hired into them. So let's talk about job interviews ...
[I have imaginative thoughts of one or more of these people sitting next to some of our HS cast at the movies, or in line at Target, or stuck in an elevator, or stopping at the comic book store, or visiting Blintzkrieg ... Anyone should feel free to use them as they are useful.]
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It's not an exact match, but this comic might be relevant:  https://mangarock.com/manga/mrs-serie-100195048 A former legendary mobster becomes a house husband, but still does his ordinary life stuff in the gangster style. I can imagine these three coming off the same way: too weird to blend in fully, but stuck doing the mundane. We need to introduce them to the Concordance agents...
 I can imagine these three coming off the same way: too weird to blend in fully, but stuck doing the mundane. Sort of like Alycia, only without the social graces. :-)
Bill G. said: It's not an exact match, but this comic might be relevant:  https://mangarock.com/manga/mrs-serie-100195048 Oh, dear Lord, that was hilarious."That ... SMILE!"