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[Hells Gate] Like Magic, but Real (Closed)

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What a night.

Phoebe-as-Michelle entered Seraphim in the very early morning of an otherwise inauspicious Thursday.  Dawn had just broke and cast its yellow and orange net over the waking city of Last Chance at an hour that Phoebe was usually waking, not sleeping.  The fatigue in her green eyes was real.  The evenings festivities had spilled over - if the woman knew anything, it was that executives partied as hard as kitchen staff, just with more expensive vices.  She slipped in through the door, guiding it into silence, and sighed softly into the darkness as she recounted the night.

It had been standard fare for one of Michelle's standing- a celebratory dinner for the transition staff of the Mausoleum and St. Mercy's, now that the merger was public.  In addition, her invitation and acceptance to St. Mercy's board had been announced- the reward for which was a repetitive carousel of questions she answered both charmingly and diplomatically:

  1. Was she excited?  Yes, of course.  It's an honor to be counted among..
  2. Isn't the Healthcare Sector a departure for Argus?  Not particularly, but we are considering a refocus in consideration for what we can do for Lagrimosa.
  3. How do you find the time?  Motherhood is a calling; When you love your job..; Only with the support of my amazing team.

She could almost hear the cordial laugh bubbling up from her chest -- it was exhausting.

Even with her eyes adjusting to the darkness, Phoebe couldn't help but notice the blinking amber crystal on the far wall, which indicated she had a personal communication.  

"Seraphim, play my messages direct", she whispered, loathe to wake Aristotle as she stepped out of her silver, wide-wrap, stilettos and began discarding Michelle's baubles and trappings.  The accent earrings went first, cupped in her palm as she worked free the delicate clasp of a platinum necklace before depositing the whole affair into a small silver bowl on a polished entry table off to her right.  Aristotle's ring remained, its ruby and platinum band wrapped around her marriage finger.

<Acknowledged.  Playing first message.>  The building used their long-forged link project directly into Phoebe's thoughts. 

<Verified Caller, John Wilder...>

Hmm.

This should be fun.

----

About a week later Michelle, after a long and pedestrian private airship ride in which she picked up Adam Niall, the Founder of The Uriel Group, arrived in the Wastelands just outside of Hells Gate.  It was damn hot.  Already, the sun rose like a club and beat on the gathered souls just as hard.  Michelle chatted easily with Adam beneath a shade pavillion, still a beauty in fashion-forward tactical (as if there were such a thing), and gestured idly toward John's airship as it touched down.  The two were unmistakable, each effortless by nature, and chatting amiably.

"Are we a go with HECTOR and BARTON?" wondered the woman, idly casting a look across the wasteland toward three increasingly large armored warriors at the far edge of the research theatre.  The research theatre was one of Uriel's many test areas- a quarter mile of white 4x4 tile squares on which hundreds of thousands of sensors had been embedded, allowing Uriel's research to monitor action and response in real time.  It was pinned at its corners by large 60ft columns driven deep into the wasteland dirt and topped with several slowly rotating pieces of machinery, their purpose unable to be determined.  In addition, off to the side of Michelle and Adam was a very large screen on which the Uriel Group logo slowly spun.  Beyond that, a series of warehouses, and a landing strip, were visible in the distance.

"Of course," answered Adam, his smile effortlessly bright as he met Michelle's light gaze.  The woman was a masterpiece as far as he was concerned- an angel with money for wings and a vision of the future that made it easy to say yes to her.  Idly, he lifted one hand and stretched a buffed nail toward the second of the two armored warriors.  "BARTON, HECTOR, and.."  His finger slid back to the right, indicating the smallest.  "You remember TOTEM-ONE.  Still no code name.." remarked the man, manufacturing a teasing distress.

"How could I forget," she countered, "You really outdid yourself with that presentation."

Adam chuckled softly and slipped his hands into the pockets of his khakis, then nudged his chin toward the landed plane.  "We couldn't have done it without Argus.  Now, shall we?" he said, indicating the airship.

"I think so.  I'm mostly here to make the connection, so I'll defer to you for the discussions..?"  It was always good to establish the hierarchy before entering into executive meetings; it just made things easier.  A consortium of equals only went so far before someone had to be acknowledged the expert.

"I appreciate it.  Ladies first?" countered the man, smiling as he gestured toward the plane.  With a similar smile and nod, Michelle cleared the ever-present sand dust from her pants with the swipe of her hand and, joined by Adam, made her way toward the airship.  As she grew closer and John emerged, she cast a broad smile his way.  The man was a legend in both her occupations, having literally built something from nothing and then nurtured it to the technological giant it would soon be.  Her research him had been exhaustive and, feeling well prepared, she extended a well-manicured hand as he grew closer.

"John, I'm so glad you made it.  This is Adam Niall, the Founder of The Uriel Group."  The woman's gesture took in the charming, shaggy-haired CEO, who offered his own hand as greetings went on.  "How was the trip?  I heard there was rough air over Ignaz..." she went on.

@danzilla3

Edited by Noko

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John Wilder loved weapons.

Not that he needed any; his raw strength, lightning speed, and incredibly potent healing factor were all he needed to win most fights. While he often carried guns, blades, and other armaments into battle; but those were more to spice things up rather than an actual need of them. His fondness for such things led him to keep himself appraised of exciting new developments in the field of weapons technology. That was how The Uriel Group and their new weapons platforms had come to his attention. He had managed to acquire videos of their initial tests, and had been quite impressed. Beyond his personal interest, such a company would be a wonderful addition to New Everrun.

So he had made a call, and quickly the arrangements had been made for a personal demonstration of the technology in the Wasteland outside Hells Gate. Now John exited his airship, and was greeted by Michelle and the man he presumed to be the CEO of Uriel Group. Michelle was the kind of woman the governor would have probably made a pass at back before he'd settled down with his fiance and her children. His smile was therefore polite instead of predatory as he shook hands.

"A pleasure to meet you Niall. The trip was actually quite relaxing; I actually got a bit of shuteye."

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I mean, who didn't.

Adam's smile was the kind of infectious that levelled cities, contagious and too natural to be as deadly as it was.  There was seemingly nothing false about the man.  Instead of saccharine sunniness, he came off as the surfer beneath it, grown to adulthood.  He was polished, but not gleaming; enthusiastic, but not fanastical; professional, but not antiquated.

As Michelle clasped John's hand with her easy, cool, smile, Adam lingered in the background to emerge as she retreated.  His grip, like hers, was strong and competent - a good battle field handshake which, come to think of it, matched him and was odd for her.  

"The trip was actually quite relaxing; I actually got a bit of shuteye," spoke John, prompting an easy nod of agreement from Adam.

"Can't be overvalued," he acknowledged.  Turning, the man set his shoulders square to the demonstration area and inhaled deeply, like a man preparing to dig into Sunday dinner.  As he looked over the distant mechs, the edge of a proud smile pulled his lips awry.  He folded his arms, for the moment just enjoying the sight.

"It's something, isn't it."  He wondered, half facetiously.  It was, though; HECTOR was enormous- not the augmented person wearing technology used by TOTEM-ONE in the World's Fair, which was astounding on its own and entirely appropriate for infantry and tactical engagements, but instead HECTOR was augmented technology wearing a person.  It stood at least 5 meters tall, with insectoid limbs designed for stability, balance, and momentum.  Its front was pure defiance - defiance of opposition, of impediment, of no, and while John couldn't see its driver, there was one - tucked in the center of all that protection, behind a wall of armor, where a driver should be.  The view for the driver was entirely arcanically driven, so there was no need to do something silly like expose the soft fleshy controller.

"Michelle passed along your voicemail, so I took the liberty of setting up a demonstration that specifically addressed what you were looking for."  His proud reverie concluded, Adam flashed an including smile at Michelle and picked up the conversation as the group strode toward the shaded viewing area set up for the executives.  Overhead, an angular triangle sun shade kept the heat from being overbearing, and a table had been setup with various fruits, meats, and an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.  There were also four chairs- comfortable, but more pragmatic than not.  Michelle settled in one, gracefully claiming a glass of sparkling something from the cloth draped table as she crossed one leg over the other and settled in.

"Shall we start at the top of your list?" inquired Adam.

Edited by Noko

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Adam was a born salesman, and John took a shine to him almost immediately; but it was the hardware he had come for. The great machine was every bit as impressive in person as it had been in the vids he had watched. His heart began to beat a bit faster; the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. It took him a moment to calm himself again; but he somehow managed it. Should things go as he hoped, today would be a memorable day indeed.

John made his way over to the table with the food and loaded up a plate with a little bit of everything. He would forgo the alcoholic beverages until after the demonstration; best to keep a clear head for that kind of thing. He sat down in one of the seats and smiled when Adam spoke to him.

"Let the games begin!"

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With a flourish, Adam lifted his hand and signaled a 'go' to the distant mech operators, then slid a few steps backward.  Unlike both Michelle and John, he remained standing- legs spread wide, shifting his weight back and forth like a child being forced to wait to open his presents.  Michelle took note, amiable amusement settling across her pretty face before she shifted to watch the mechs.  She'd seen TOTEM-ONE's demonstration at the World's Fair, of course, but the other two mechs - HECTOR and BARTON - were unknown to her.

It was HECTOR first; a bipedal, rotund, humanoid full-mech with a semi-spherical torso and four very similar limbs.  Unlike TOTEM-ONE, which was really an interlinked framework of semi-autonomous AI-driven component pieces, HECTOR was a full mech in that somewhere in the massive construct was an individual who was 'piloting' its actions through various wire and arcanic controls.  With a soft hmm and the placing of her elbow against the chair's arm, Michelle considered its suitability.  It didn't pretend to be anything other than a war machine - it had no place in civilian operations.  Her discerning eye was fixed, lain upon the mech like a the business woman she was, appraising her investment.  Cupping her chin against the pad of her thumb, her forefinger extended, lain upon a sculpted cheek as she watched the show unfold as a transparent shield slowly lowered itself from the edges of the pavilion - protecting its occupants from any stray debris as well as their hearing.

Once HECTOR had positioned itself in the center of the area, the well aforementioned mechanics atop each of the towering pillars came to life with a buzz and the flash of red.  They spun, whirled and focused, and as the reflective white tile ground shifted and lowered to create jagged topography, they shot hyper-realistic enemies down to display on its surface.  In totality, it was a marvel - while not live fire, it would seem that the Uriel Group and Argus had the ability to test any imagined scenario here, without the mess and fuss of destroying millions of dollars in equipment, and lives, for every prototype.  For this scenario, they had imagined a platoon of crimson-marked humanoid attackers in a scattered formation, in a destroyed city-scape, with no blue-marked innocents to worry about.  Additionally, there were several crimson-marked MACH-IV dragons cast into the sky, as well as a smattering of large orcs among the attackers and a few crimson-marked magic users.  Each 'type' of enemy seemed to have its own designation - a star above magic users, nothing above normal attackers, and fangs above the dragons.

As the board set itself, Adam began speaking.  "We designed this to simulate the initial invasion after an attack on a city, specifically to determine if a mech like HECTOR would have been able to impact the course of events.  This one in particular was designed to simulate.."

"The Battle for Last Chance."  Michelle interjected, her elegant countenance marred by the scene.  She looked disturbed by it, shadowed, as her eyes traced the too-familiar surroundings.  "It's very.. detailed."  Falling silent, she lifted her glass to take a sip.  A wave of her hand signaled Adam to go on.  Their eyes met for a moment before the shaggy-haired CEO exhaled, turning back to the simulation.

"The coloring you're seeing is an overlay meant to depict a simplified version of the combat-vision presented to the driver.  What's happening in the background as HECTOR approaches.."  And sure enough, HECTOR tucked its arms and legs inward to become a perfect sphere and rolled forward toward a protected area of the battlefield.  It moved well; one might think the rubble would cause it difficulty, but the advantage of the sphere was clear, and as it reached its destination it unfurled to its full combat height once again.  Curiously, it seemed as if it were now upside down - more curiously, it didn't seem to make a lick of difference.  "..what's happening is that the operator and the onboard AI are scanning the participants for similarities.  Known-bads are marked and the driver is given a more detailed overlay of each participant, including previous known battles, strengths, vulnerabilities, and expectations."

The first volley was launched and HECTOR went to work, starting in mech form and utilizing its spherical form to traverse the distance quickly between groups.  At varying points it was easy to see the bits of the T.O.T.E.M project which had been absorbed into HECTOR - the solar canons which slipped from a top mounted hatch to rain fire on the magic users position.  It was clear that the humanoid resistance was little to HECTOR - those it plowed through, utilizing twin ATILLA scythes for lethal close combat and the flash of RIOTS seemingly impenetrable shield as it bloomed and collapsed with uncanny timing driven by W.A.R's continuous analytics.  The machine was built to expect and adapt - even the fireballs which rained from the sky didn't drive it from its task.  Knocked over, it would utilize momentum to right itself on its closest axis, and engage its enemy again.  In short order, the solar canons had cleared the sky of the crimson dragons- one of which it was able to drop onto the magic user, then obliterate the entirety of the area with a hail of rockets thrown from rotating wrist mounts.  

The dust rose and, with no more crimson marks on the field of play, HECTOR adopted what could be now recognized as its 'rest' position as Adam slipped his hands into his pockets and turned to face John.  "Our simulations say it would have had quite an impact," he said, suddenly serious.  "Nothing would have stopped it completely, but we could have reduced the casualties.  If we put BARTON into the mix, the casualties were even less.  Of course, hind-sight.." continued the man, apologetically, an idle glance taking in Michelle's unchanging expression.

"HECTOR offers an adaptable array of weaponry for most situations- in order to keep this relatively short and reduce the likelihood of spillover damage, we didn't present the limb-mounted Gatling guns or the torso-mounted field laser.  They're both pretty self-explanatory.  Any questions so far?  Different scenarios you'd like to see?"

Edited by Noko

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The Battle for Last Chance had been a world altering event that John had only heard about some time after the fact. When it happened, he had been busy setting up his gang in the pocket dimension of Taen, where news of the outside world was slow to trickle in at times. From what he had heard, it had been an incredibly bloody fight. As the simulation played out before him, he couldn't help but feel that those descriptions had been an exercise in understatement. Given the scale of the opposition, it seemed a miracle that anyone had managed to survive. 

But seeing the demonstration, John had no problem believing Adam's claim that casualties would have been dramatically lower if the HECTOR's had taken the field. It's design was undoubtedly complex, but operated on such a simple principle. If the mech couldn't be incapacitated by being knocked over, than the only way to stop it would be to render it inoperable. 

Then again, he had a few ideas.

"I do have one request."

John rose from his seat, and took his suit jacket off; draping it over his seat as he undid his tie. Once that was gone, he carefully unbuttoned his dress shirt before discarding it too. Underneath that was what resembled a black skintight tank top; though the way it clung to him did little to hide his muscular chest and stomach. Having stripped down to the essentials, he walked to the edge of the ring.

"Give me a warm-up before I dance with the boys."

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A look passed between Adam and Michelle.

A look.

For Adam, it was sheer panic which underlined his high, blond, brows; for Michelle, it was amused indulgence and curious anticipation.  All a welcome change from the pain of watching her adopted home town burn, again.  She lifted one hand, turned it over, and discarded Adam's objections with the flash of her palm.  Lips tight, eyes alit; the beautiful socialite turned CIO barely held her interest in check as her light eyes flit from Adam to John, who had already peeled off his jacket, tie, and dress shirt, and was now halfway to a lap dance.

"...oh no, go ahead," she nearly purred.  Shifting her hips, she nestled back into her chair cushion and rested her chin in one manicured hand, now much more comfortable and ready for the show.  "It will be a much better show than the last.."  Her eyes flit sharply to Adam's, sour, before finding John's soothing silhouette once again.  "..and I'm sure that Argus' insurance fully extends to personal injuries incurred through individualized quality control testing, so, feel free."

In the control booth nearby, the operators sent out a sharp squawk into the small communicator stuffed in Adam's back pocket.

<What is going on down there?  You can't expect-- >

"--Oh, I can."  Michelle shifted her gaze, instantly finding the comm unit as if it was a dog off-leash.  She was quick with an answer, quick with the presumption that her words would be heard and instantly obeyed, and quick to cut Adam off before his nerves could interfere with what was turning out to be an entirely enjoyable afternoon.  It was, for a moment, a throw back to what must have been her wildly extravagant upbringing; one envisioned butlers, and servants, and all manner of workman existing simply to cater to her needs.  In truth, it couldn't have been further from her childhood- but it was wildly close to her present.  

Adam's sunny disposition found a shadow as it became clear he had no ally in Michelle - but it would be her insurance stretching to cover the Governor of New Everrun, so he took what solace he could and exhaled his frustration, then wrenched the communicator out of his pocket and held it up to better capture Michelle's words.

"This is Michelle Beauregard."

Silence answered Michelle- not the silence of the ignored, but the silence of the paralyzed, and the woman went on as if the operators were hanging on her every syllable.

"Set up six H-configured, class 5, humanoid targets with gradiated aggression and capabilities."

Even Adam checked the socialite at that- his head canted at an angle, as if confused.  To be honest, he didn't think she read all the reports he sent over but apparently, he was wrong.

"...and prep HECTOR'S operator for a series 1 engagement at escalating severity from low to high.  Automated responses should be set off.  Interface communications and automated aid-requests between TOTEM and BARTON should be off."  Michelle never shouted; she didn't even seem to project her voice forward, she just expected Adam to make the appropriate adjustments so the operators on the other end of the line would be able to understand her.  After setting the basic parameters, the CIO let a pause grow as she thoughtfully tapped the front of her well-formed lips and looked John over quite deliberately, considering.

"Set BARTON to emergency response mode- target Mr. Wilder, but hold for my authorization before engaging."

With that, Michelle was done- maintaining eye contact with the Governor, she smiled lightly and shifted backward in her seat before recrossing her legs.  There was a long silence from the communicator, interspersed with the sound of interface response and recognition beeps, before a voice echoed back to them.

"Wilco."

"Oh, good."  The acknowledgment drew a smile across Michelle's face- a glimpse of pleasantry amidst what had been an edged and exclusionary focus.  "Now, John."  Apparently, the impending battle (or John's disrobing) had re-drawn their relationship into one where first names were common-place.  "Let's stop short of injuries- I don't want Adam to have to rebuild HECTOR any more than I want to rebuild you.  Deal?"  Her dark brow arched high, like a waiting handshake.

Meanwhile, across the theatre the holo-soldiers had begun to manifest.  True to the request, they were gradiated- the first average-sized and assumedly average strength, but the last two were simply nonsensical.  It was as if all the realities of this world suddenly had no meaning.  The soldiers were humanoid, but each at least twelve feet tall and with builds that suggested each had been rugby players in a past holo-life.  Their armor looked sturdy and flexible, as if each were generalist infantry, but their weapons ranged from forearm mounted blades to multi-muzzled environmental repeaters. 

They would wait for Michelle to signal go, and Michelle would wait for John's agreement, but after that it would, apparently, be a fight.

Edited by Noko

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John offered a wink and a devilish smile, "Oh, I promise to behave... though you don't have to worry about me. My repair protocols are strong!"

As he fell to the battlefield, the Governor of New Everrun took the time to assess the holographic challengers. The first was little more than a normal soldier; equipped with basic body armor and a standard assault rifle and sidearm. After him was a muscular specimen whose herculean physique was barely contained by his armor. He was in possession of a light machine gun with plenty of ammo wrapped around his body. Third was a hologram that looked like something out of a poorly drawn comic book; muscles bulging out from between armor plating, a chaingun that looked like it would require multiple normal men to operate. Finally, the last two were practically giants; twelve feet of muscle, armor, and weaponry. 

It was perfect.

Once the fight began, the squad fanned out; the two largest staying in the back, the two smaller ones moving to flank, and the average one taking point. The formation was a rough triangle, meant to allow the three smaller holographs hit pepper him with automatic fire while the big ones shelled him with their repeaters. It was a well executed maneuver, but one that failed to fully take into account the strength and speed of their opponent. They wouldn't be the first to make the mistake of underestimating John Wilder.

Pushing off hard enough to buckle the ground at his feet, John moved like a blur towards the point man. Dodging his fire would have slowed him down enough for the others to dial in on him, so he didn't bother. The vest he wore caught a number of the rounds, but more then a few ripped through his arms and legs; however he was healing too fast for it to matter. In seconds, he reached the point man and shattered his skull with a single punch. But he wasn't done with the man yet.

Pulling a grenade from the dead man's belt, he pulled the pin, and threw the explosive like a fastball at the soldier with the LMG. Meanwhile, he picked up the body of the point man, and held him in front of him like a shield as he pushed toward chaingun man. He didn't bother to watch as the grenade hit the LMG man square in the chest with bone cracking force before blowing him to bits in the subsequent blast. By now the two largest ones had realized their mistake and begun blasting, but he was quick enough to dodge with minimal damage. Chaingun opened up on John as he neared, and the Governor held up the body of the first man like a shield. It only bought him a few moments of time, the corpse being shredded within seconds, but it was enough. As the stream of fire tore off his vest, and began to hit his body, he clotheslined the goon to the ground before finishing him with a brutal stomp to the head.

Now the two big ones were the only ones left, and they were opening up on him with everything they had. Unfortunately for them, it was easy for John to calculate the path of their projectiles, and he was able to avoid being caught directly in a blast. Once he was close enough, he launched himself off the ground and hit the first giant feet first in the chest. From there, he pushed off to slide between the adjacent mans legs, reorienting behind the giant and striking the sides of his knees. The second giant collapsed, and John grabbed it's gun arm and aimed it at the first soldier who was still stumbling. Forcing the prone beast to fire, the first giant was blown to pieces. Now John wrenched the repeater from the downed giants hands, and put a few rounds into its head to finish things.

As the holographs began to disappear, he looked up at the stands and gave a thumbs up.

"Ready for the main event!"

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"..any reason we don't just steal some of his DNA and clone him instead of making dozens of these multi-million dollar machines?  I mean, it has to be cheaper."

This, an idle aside tossed lazily from Michelle to Adam, as the socialite-turned-business-magnate watched John tear through the combat scenario like a boy through his birthday gifts.

"Ethics?"  Adam remarked in a distracted murmur, exhaling as he shifted his weight and folded both arms across his chest.

Oh.

Michelle's dark lashes fluttered as she rolled them skyward.  Behind Adam, the expression went unnoticed, and she painted her coming explanation in patronizing amusement.  "Obviously.  You take me so seriously, Adam," she said.  "All I mean is that if the good Governor tears through your machines like he's tearing through these holograms, we're going to have a hell of a time trying to sell them to anyone.

How enhanced is he?" she wondered, even as her thoughts flipped through the pages of information the Dead had obtained on John Wilder.  So far, he was as advertised - inhumanly strong, with physical dynamics and tactical grace that allowed him to slip through the battlefield, dismantling his opposition with childish ease.

"Have you looked into developing that technology for mass production?"

"Of course we have," countered Adam.  His frustration fell plain as he swiveled, his feet still in place as he turned to look at Michelle.  "It would take the resources of a small country, and the failure rate is astronomical."

"How astronomical?"

"Upwards of 90%."

Shifting her shoulders, Michelle shrugged lightly, delicately lifting the wine glass toward her lips and sipping the delicate wine.  None of this was unknown to her; John Wilder was a legend for many reasons - the most interesting to her, though, was that he survived to even become John Fucking Wilder.  The Lagrimosan military experiments he lived through killed hundreds; in their quest for a super soldier, the military threw piles of bodies at unproven theories of genetic manipulation and endoskeleton enhancement in their blind fear of an intercontinental conflict.  In the end, they got John and, if rumors were to be believed, maybe one or two more - while the intercontinental feud evaporated alongside the ashes of all their failed experiments.

It just went to show, you could do anything under the spreading cloak of authority.

The repeater's sharp crack blew the last hologram into crystal fragments that evaporated and rose upward, then disappeared into the machinery above John.  Michelle lifted her gaze, smiling as she unabashedly looked the Governor over, then tilted her glass toward him in a mock toast.

"Nicely done, John.  You make a girl want to tango.  Now remember - insurance doesn't cover rebuilding fees," she teased as HECTOR smoothly whirred into motion; first walking, then tumbling, alternating between which set of legs it 'ran' on and varying its speed to dissuade timed attacks.  In range, it loosed a cluster of strikes from its solar cannon, designed to bring John in line for the rockets which flew from its wrist mounts.

Edited by Noko

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"I'll be sure to leave a spot on my dance card just for you!"

Flirting completed, John turned his attention back to the mech that flipped and tumbled toward him; switching between running and rolling and alternating which set of legs it was running on. Predicting it's movements would be difficult; and John would have to study the machine carefully for a pattern. Not that HECTOR planned on making it easy for him as it opened up with the solar cannons on its top hatch. The governor dodged the searing blasts of light before discerning a narrow window through which he could slip to advance towards the robot. It was only as the mech took aim with its wrist mounted rockets that he realized he'd been lured into a trap.

"Clever little bot, aren't you!"

Lowering himself into a crouch, he dug into the rocky ground with both hands before flinging twin handfuls of rock and dirt at the oncoming explosives. The cloud of debris collided with about half of the rockets; leaving the rest to slam into the ground around John. If he hadn't already been jumping, he probably would have lost at least one of his limbs. As it was, he emerged from the veil of dust and smoke. His right torso, face, and neck had been badly burned, and he was bleeding from numerous small wounds all over his body; but he didn't seem to care as he fell toward HECTOR's position. The mech rolled to the side as he landed where it had previously sat, and then turned to charge at it.

HECTOR was ready as it deployed its twin ATILLA scythes from it's hands and moved to meet the governor head on. John was suddenly on the backfoot; dodging the whirling blades as they came closer and closer. Then he had a thought, and let the mech come closer. Letting the scythes begin to dig into his shoulders, he caught the weapons as before they could cut him into three pieces. With the blades immobilized, he lashed out with a kick toward the robots semi-spherical torso. The RIOTS shield flashed to life between them; preventing the kick from hitting home, but still flinging the mech away; the ATILLA scythes being torn away as it went.

Wrenching the scythes from his body, John tossed them to the side and looked up at Michelle to see if he should continue.

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The faintest of arches pulled at Michelle's dark brow as she watched John's tactical response to HECTOR- he really was a marvel, the good Governor, but in her assessment, there was something very technical, almost computational, about his response.  None of the paperwork she'd read suggested that he had an AI embedded in his medulla oblongata, but given his reflexes she wouldn't be surprised.

"That's quite a machine, Adam," commented Michelle as she watched, continuing to sip delicately from the glass that dangled from her fingertips.  Adam just nodded; his eyes were fixed on the tablet in his palm, where he rapidly jotted down notes provoked by John's engagement with HECTOR.  An eyeroll met his indifference and Michelle curled her light eyes back to the action, following John's body with cool, empirical consideration, and something else entirely. 

As he threw the scythes free and turned back to look at her, he would find her already watching.

"You should duck."

Her warning to John was accompanied by a beautiful smile- one that lit Michelle's face, lifting her brows and wiping a handful of years from her face as it cast in her youth.  A man could get lost there, but it wouldn't be smart.

The scythes were already airborne- attached to HECTOR with invisible, braided psionic leashes, the mech had snapped them back as soon as they'd reached their ends.  John had fractions of pieces of moments to make a hasty exit- to duck, or dodge, or to see if his enhanced healing was capable of sorting his brain bits from the dust on the ground, but ..  alas, someone's confidence flagged.  As the blades carved through the air on their inevitable path through John, they hit something- some invisible resistance which sharply and completely arrested their momentum, causing the hooked knives to bang around the barrier and clatter end over end before audibly cutting through the air and snapping back into place on the mech.

"That's enough."  Michelle's lifted her light eyes toward the distant control booth and brought her hand up, miming a delicate throat slash with the flare of her fingertips across her neck.  After a moment, a slump signaled the mech's power down and it began to wheel slowly back toward its cousins.

"What was that?" Confusion painted a sloppy frown across Adam's face as he looked backward at Michelle, for some reason thinking that she had the answer.

"Your emergency protocols, I assume?"  Michelle answered, unconcerned as she tilted her chin toward several dark, oblong devices that lined the battle area.  "Good job on those, by the way - both the reaction time and anticipation algorithms are a real coup.  It should allow you to expand training into more real-world scenarios without such a heavy loss of equipment.  Make sure to give my congratulations to the team."

Adam just stared, frozen between correcting the mistake and basking his benefactor's appreciation.  In the end, self-indulgent basking won out and he found the strength to smile- first a crack, then a grin, before his expression lit with the shine of a new conqueror, and Michelle shifted her attention back to the dust still settling around John Wilder.

"John, you really put those machines through their paces," she said as she stood, gracefully lifting to her feet with a gentile fluidity that echoed the expectation of royalty.  "I apologize for an early stoppage, but it's for the best - don't you think?  I already signed one check this month." She walked toward him, delicately extending a hand and setting it on his bicep.  Her momentum took her, and him by association, toward the distant transport; it seemed natural to follow along.

"Do you need any medical attention?" Michelle smiled, the question seemed required by politeness, not driven by need or concern.  This was John Wilder, after all, but manners shouldn't be left at any door.  "If not, I know Adam would love to talk to you about what he can provide New Everrun.  The mechs have really come along- I'm so pleased at what Uriel has accomplished.  I know the lease is up soon on their headquarters...

Adam, are you coming?"

Edited by Noko

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"What a pretty smi-"

Movement from the edges of his peripheral vision sent John ducking out of reflex; though it soon turned out that he needn't have bothered, as the scythes he had torn off HECTOR hit some invisible obstacle as they flew toward him. If the had continued their lethal trajectory they would have taken his scalp off at the very least; maybe even biting into his skull. It was a clever feature that the governor could honestly say he hadn't seen coming. Though his love of battle would never diminish, it was undeniable that when a man had experienced as much combat as he, surprises were few and far between; and so he relished when an opponent managed to catch him off-guard. It was the cherry on top of what had been an excellent day out.

Even as Michelle spoke, John moved back toward the viewing area and jumped back up to join her and Adam. He did not fail to notice the way her hand every-so-gently squeezed his well-muscled arm as she guided him towards the transports. When she was finished, he laughed.

"No medical attention required. It was a magnificent bout; I haven't had that much fun in quite some time."

Turning to Adam, he clapped the man on the shoulder, "You've built a fearsome machine my friend. I would love to hear what you can do for my city."

As John boarded the transport, he spared one last glance to the battlefield. With a wide grin, he boarded the transport and listened to Adam talk about a marvelous future.

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