Melody stepped out of her room in her new work clothes – a loose, bright pink jumpsuit Irene had bought her as a present, a few days ago – and went towards her workshop.
She’d just showered thoroughly, after having spent most of the afternoon after that mortifying scene in front of the television demonstrating her dancing skills, of all things!
It was easy to forget, since he seemed to have a say in damn near everything around here, but Patrick Patrid was not only supernaturally creepy, he was also the Public Relations manager of the American United Heroes’ divisions. All of them. Primarily New Lennston, but he really did have a say nearly everywhere in the Western hemisphere.
That was a lot of PR to work on. And they got to bear the brunt of his attention. Joy oh joy.
In this case, it had meant that he felt it his duty to make absolutely sure each junior hero was a skilled enough dancer to not embarrass themselves (and by extension, the United Heroes, as he said) during the reception.
Furthermore, it was evident that Patrick Patrid had some very high standards when it came to determining who’s skilled enough, and who isn’t.
The result was that they’d spent three hours trying to convince him that they could dance in a satisfactory fashion, and everyone other than Aimihime, of all people, had failed to do so (apparently, she had learned how to dance from a friend and his older sister). Melody had, once upon a time, taken dance lessons (her mother had argued that, if she could not carry a tune in a bucket, she could at least dance to one), but that had been a long time ago, and she had not practiced since getting her new and improved (and far, far more top-heavy) body.
In the end, he’d stuck the lot of them with dancing lessons. Every morning and evening for the weekend, and the morning before the gala, too, for everyone but Aimihime (who’d participate with Goudo, anyway) and Irene.
Melody shuddered. Hopefully, Patrid wouldn’t actually supervise those lessons, because God knew she’d felt dirty enough already, dancing and sweating in front of his criticising eyes. It wasn’t even like he was actually doing anything creepy, or saying anything creepy, or even looking at her in anything but a perfectly professional way, yet she’d felt like she’d been forced to dance naked in front of strangers.
And then there was that other issue – Irene. After her little explosion, she’d gone quiet, barely talked and left as soon as Patrid had announced the demonstration.
She hadn’t even talked to Melody yet, which was worrying her – awkward as it could be, she was pretty sure that she was the only real friend Irene had, the only one close to her age she really hung around with outside of the occasional group meeting. So if she didn’t come to her for comfort, as she otherwise would, then…
I hope she went to her mom and not her dad, she thought quietly to herself, passing by Spellgun’s workshop on the way to hers, walking through the bright, clean white hallways of the building they all toiled away in. Even if Lady Light is working most of the time… she’d take time off for her daughter, surely.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she finally reached her workshop – and found that someone was inside.
It took her all of a microsecond to switch from residual discomfort and worry to utter outrage, as she touched her hand to the panel next to the door, opening it up.
When she saw the guy in the grease-stained jeans overall and black shirt, looking over her work on one of her tables, she pulled out her vocaliser and typed angrily into it.
<Hey, what’s the big idea!?>, she shouted, making him flinch. <Hands off my work!>
The man turned around to look at her, cocking one eyebrow. He was an African-American of middle age, somewhere in his mid-thirties, with some impressive scars on his face, hazel-coloured eyes and not a single hair she could see anywhere.
He blinked at the sight of the curvy girl in the bright pink jumpsuit and brown hair.
“Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a jumpsuit like that, right?” he said instead of explaining himself. “Did you accidentally drop it into a vat of neon paint?”
She blushed a bit, but kept frowning at him, stopping once she was just five feet away from him. <It’s a present, it’s none of your business and what are you doing here!?>
He shrugged, averting his eyes again to look onto her workbench, picking up a piece of machinery – Melody recognised it, it was a part of the pacemaker Brennus had cobbled together for Prisca Fion during the Hemogoblin incident; they’d salvaged it and she’d requested to be allowed a look at it – not that she’d ever been any good with medical equipment, but she was curious about Brennus’ speciality and she’d hoped they’d hold some kind of clue (that had been a bust).
“Not looking at your work yet, Miss,” he replied. “Just got curious about this. Looks very familiar, right?” He lifted up one of the sketches she’d made of the gadget’s inner workings.
She relaxed – a little bit. Still outraged, but at least this guy seemed to be a techie. And besides, if he was here, then he was a member of the United Heroes, or otherwise allowed to be – security was tight. <I don’t know what you mean,> she replied honestly, though she did put an edge into her voice. <Do you mean that you know Brennus’ work?>
“Brennus? The new kid in town?” he asked, surprised. “This is his work, right?”
“Interesting…” He turned away from her and studied the pieces on the table. The pacemaker. The breathing apparatus. The dialysis machine. A few other pieces. “Hmm. You have more of the boy’s work, right?”
She nodded and walked to wheel-rack holding numerous metal baskets. With the push of a button, she rotated the wheel until she could pick out one particular basket and carry it over to the workbench.
<Here, I still have this raven,> she said, lifting a tray out of the basket and laying it out in front of him. She’d disassembled the raven, having hoped to adapt the design for herself (having drones to spread her acoustics would be a huge advantage), but it had transpired that her power just didn’t want to play ball.
The man looked through the pieces with practiced motions, barely touching them as his eyes flicked back and forth quicker than any normal human’s should when taking in this kind of technology. Most of his attention went to the burned-out computer chips, too.
Is he a gadgeteer? He certainly looked like a gearhead. But who was he?
“Interesting, right?” he said, his eyes going back and forth between the raven and the medical equipment. “They have almost nothing in common.”
<I know that much,> she admitted. <I mean, I don’t know much about his other equipment, but these ravens contain completely different technology compared to the medical equipment he made. I don’t know what that means, though.>
“It means it’s not his, right?” he replied, taking a step back and crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I’ve read up on the new boy. He’s an electrical engineer, so to speak. Not a medic. Nor a medical technician.”
<Maybe he has more than one spec?> she asked, getting a little excited now. This was getting interesting, even though she was still pissed at having a stranger in her workshop without her permission! <I’ve heard of gadgeteers like that, who have two or even three completely different specialisations they work with.>
“Possible, but unlikely,” he replied, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. “It happens, but it’s so fantastically rare, pretty much every other theory is preferable, right? Besides, I recognise this work.” He pointed at the medical equipment. “To be precise, it’s based on the work of another gadgeteer.”
<How can you tell that? The design is very elegant, but it does not appear to be that exotic.>
“Ah, but the elegance in itself is a hint to the original designer,” he explained. “And I have seen medical equipment derived from this particular source before – the really interesting question, though, is where he got it from. She isn’t the kind of person who’d freely share her technology on Toybox. In fact, she’s one of the few people banned from it.”
Toybox. The big online community for gadgeteers from all over the world to talk shop, share ideas, designs, resources and more. Every gadgeteer worth their title made it a point to register with the central message board, if only so as to access their public schematics – works from gadgeteers which had been released, not into the public domain, but the Toybox domain by their originators, for every (or almost every – one could restrict their designs to verified heroes, vigilantes, villains or neutrals, or any of at least a score of other attributes) gadgeteer to use; she was pretty sure that Brennus’ ravens were largely based on designs he’d taken from Toybox, and he did have an account on it. And then there was all the other help one could get from the various threads…
To have a good reputation on Toybox was a hallmark of being a great gadgeteer. To be banned from it…
She frowned. <I only know of four gadgeteers banned from Toybox. Merkabah, Mechorror, Dusu and…>
“Atrocity,” he spat the name like a curse, and for a moment she thought he’d literally spit out. “This is based on her work, I’d bet my gearbox on it.”
How in God’s name did Brennus get his hands on Atrocity’s technology!? She remembered the hemogoblin incident, and Hemming talking about this ‘Macian’ they’d been looking for… was Brennus this person, after all? Or was he just connected to him, having gotten the technology from that mysterious stranger?
Or was it something completely different?
“Be that as it may,” the stranger continued, “I did not come here to talk conspiracy theories with you.”
She focused on him again. <Ah, may I finally know who I am talking to, then? And for what purpose?>
He smirked at her. “My name is Hotrod. You recently requested a custom vehicle, to use in conjunction with your equipment. I saw your proposal and decided it would be a waste not to actually base it on your audio-technology, so here I a-“
He was cut off when she threw her arms around him in a nearly bone-crushing hug, her worries about Brennus’ technology already forgotten.