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Rise of the Rookies

re-imagined hero factory

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#1 Offline Sumiki

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Posted Jan 12 2014 - 11:43 PM

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-----The alleyways of Makuhero City were perennially dark and dreary, as they rarely experienced enough sunlight to evaporate the water that accumulated from the downpours it so often received. In the city’s defense, its streets were hardly ever dry either – despite the best efforts from the Makuro Industries R&D team – so no one ever paid much attention to the drainage situation in the alleys.
 
-----A lone figure in a three-piece black suit sauntered up one of these alleys, stopping about halfway up. He could feel the eyes of a dozen criminals on his back, but he had nothing to fear. That was just the paranoia again. Besides, even if they were there, he’d probably paid them off.
 
-----Probably.
 
-----“I think you wanted to see me,” he said.
 
-----“He did,” came a slithering reply from the darkness ahead. “But as you are well aware, he does not speak directly with anyone.”
 
-----“Except you.”
 
-----“I’m in what you might call the inner circle, Mr. Caldo, and I certainly would advise that you not ask the wrong questions.”
 
-----Mr. Caldo was experienced enough to not be surprised when people knew his name. “So you’re a lackey. Fine, I can talk to lackeys. But listen here – I didn’t wanna meet with this new kid on the block. This guy’d better know that to get some respect, you gotta earn it the hard way.”
 
-----“And you’ve done that … how, exactly? By managing to be the only self-styled ‘head honcho’ that hasn’t gotten nabbed yet?”
 
-----“I prefer staying on the down-low.”
 
-----“That must be very low, then.”
 
-----“Listen. I got clients in the suburbs that I gotta make happy, so tell me what he wants before I come in there and make you.”
 
-----“Mr. Caldo, a true boss doesn’t have clients that he has to make happy. I know full well who you are. You work for the cartels, and please try not to say otherwise. You’re a hit man.”
 
-----“More or less. Best in the business.”
 
-----“He wanted to see if you’d work for him.”
 
-----“Like you said, I … I work for cartels mostly. I’m not sure –”
 
-----“If you’d survive if you quit. Well, that’s your fault. Risky business, getting involved with that lot. Most don’t make it.”
 
-----“Do you promise protection?”
 
-----“He makes no promises, save for information.”
 
-----“Information? Who on?”
 
-----“The heroes.”
 
-----“That’s impossible. Do you think I’m stupid?”
 
-----“It’d be stupid to turn it down.”
 
-----“If I turned it down, I’d at least stay alive.”
 
-----A brief chuckle emanated from the shadows. “Oh no, Mr. Caldo, you seem to have gotten it backwards. If you turn this down, you’d lose your life.”
 
-----“Can I at least see who I’m talking to?”
 
-----There was silence for a while, but not long enough to soothe Mr. Caldo’s nerves. He hadn’t remembered being this scared since he started down this path all those years ago.
 
-----Soon, an outline appeared in the shadows, and before long, a full-fledged figure emerged into the dim light. He stopped on the other side of a puddle from Mr. Caldo. Though dressed in an imposing dark trench coat, his most striking feature was not his clothing, but his face – about two thirds of it was severely deformed. He’d opted to wear an eye patch instead of showing off his grisly eye, leaving its gruesomeness up to the imagination.
 
-----“So, Mr. Caldo. Are you in?”
 
-----Both men stood there in silence as Mr. Caldo internally debated the offer. There was no guarantee of anything in this line of work, so a great offer on the surface had to be dismissed – which was good, because Mr. Caldo did not know which one was the better choice. Mainly, he just had to go with which side scared him more.
 
-----“I’m sorry. I don’t believe I can.”
 
-----“Hmm. Pity. You should have taken what I said seriously.”
 
-----“About what?”
 
-----“Losing your life.”
 
-----A shot rang out in the alley. Mr. Caldo collapsed face-first into the puddle, coughing up blood into its filthy water.
 
-----“It was a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Caldo. Have a nice night.”


 

 

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Edited by Sumiki, Jan 12 2014 - 11:44 PM.

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#2 Offline Sumiki

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Posted Jan 13 2014 - 07:15 PM

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-----Dr. Akiyama Matau Makuro eased himself back into a squeaking chair atop his penthouse abode. From this vantage point, he could look over most of the sprawling metropolis that was Makuhero City. The lights from the city drowned out all but the brightest stars above, but he really wasn’t interested in the urban scenery. He hardly much looked at the city at all these days - that was the job of others now, after all. He’d seen enough of it in his time. Some called him the grandfather of the city, but he didn’t care for that too much.
 
-----He still liked to look out every now and then, reminiscing on his younger years out there – but as much as he would enjoy those memories, he was always one to live in the moment. He was always innovating and creating – that was his true passion, not the nightly grind.
 
-----“Dr. Makuro,” intoned a gentle robotic voice. “The heroes have returned.”
 
-----“Thank you, Zib.”
 
-----Though in his late seventies, and experiencing physical problems stemming from age, Dr. Makuro still possessed inimitable reserves of energy unmatched by most folks a third of his age. This kind of intense inner drive had enabled him to build up a technological empire and amass fortunes many times over … but nothing that he could do prevented his knees from aching. Best to put more money for medical research in the budget, he thought.
 
-----Dr. Makuro made his way into his private elevator and descended dozens of stories to the sub-basement of the Makuro Industries building. He exited there, only to be greeted by the same, slightly tinny voice: “Good to see you again, Dr. Makuro.”
 
-----Once again, Dr. Makuro thanked Zib – only this time, he could see his pet project’s physical form as opposed to its peripheral network, which extended over most of the building and monitored most of the building’s security cameras. Though few knew about Zib outside of Dr. Makuro himself, Zib’s work-in-progress, stark white, humanlike form still bore the emblem of Makuro Industries on its side, a proud exclamation of its equally proud creator.
 
-----He fiddled with a few controls on Zib’s back before descending a ramp into a lower area, where the heavy-hitting technology was stored, recharged, and repaired. Before long, three men emerged from a doorway on the far wall. Their heavy monochrome body armor was affixed to their lithe and muscular forms, and they held their distinctive helmets in their hands.
 
-----“Good to see you back, boys,” Dr. Makuro said. “I don’t suppose there’s anything interesting?”
 
-----“Nothing since that attempted murder I discovered a few days ago,” the figure in black said. “Pretty quiet, actually. Nice to have a break.”
 
-----“I got a mugger,” the figure in steely gray said. “Pretty proud of that.”
 
-----“Oh, it’s just a mugger, Duncan,” Dr. Makuro said. “I know for a fact that you’ve stopped worse.”
 
-----“True,” he said, pointing to his two compatriots. “But neither of them got anyone … unless Preston’s gonna spin some fib.”
 
-----Preston rudely objected.
 
-----“Jimmy. Any updates on that attempted murder?” Dr. Makuro asked.
 
-----Jimmy – the one in black – shook his head slowly. “Police don’t have enough to go on. Zib can’t trace the bullet since the gun isn’t on record. Police do have the victim’s name – Fred Caldo, unemployed businessman. He’s in critical condition now, but the doctors said that he’s got an outside shot.”
 
-----“Paralyzed?” Preston asked.
 
-----“Nope. Internal bleeding.”
 
-----Preston made a disgusted face.
 
-----“You say he’s an unemployed businessman?” Dr. Makuro mused. “Interesting.”
 
-----“How so?” Preston asked.
 
-----“Look at this,” Dr. Makuro said, manipulating the video from Jimmy’s helmet camera, showing footage from the body before the ambulance arrived. “You say he’s unemployed. How long has he been unemployed?”
 
-----Jimmy shrugged. “I don’t know. He really wasn’t that responsive when I saw him in the hospital.”
 
-----“Three-piece suit, recently dry cleaned. Only dirty spots are where he fell into the puddle.” Dr. Makuro magnified and enhanced the watch. “Expensive watch, and new. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this guy was involved in some black market dealings.”
 
-----“I thought the same thing, but somehow he checks out with the police,” Jimmy said. “They’ve got nothing on him. He’s made such a fortune from legitimate business that he’s got no need for crime – or that’s at least what the detective on the case told me.”
 
-----“I suppose you’re right. There’s probably no motive here,” Dr. Makuro said. “Well, it’s nearly sunrise, boys. Why don’t you get those outfits off and get some rest?”
 
-----Dr. Makuro shut down the touch screen and turned, presumably to tinker with Zib a little more. Soon enough, Preston, Duncan, and Jimmy had taken their armor off and were discarding soaked tank tops. Duncan and Jimmy, conversing about their escapades that night, soon exited to the showers, leaving Preston alone with Dr. Makuro. Preston flopped down on a couch and exhaled deeply.
 
-----Dr. Makuro glanced over. “You okay?”
 
-----Preston sighed. “No.”
 
-----“Why not?”
 
-----“Because I want to have a life.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro furrowed his brow. “You have one. You have … this.” He gestured to their spacious setting. It was true. Touch screens with the latest Makuro software lined the back wall, decidedly futuristic doors led to tunnels underneath the city, and all manners of unfinished gear – all fifty-three of Dr. Makuro’s pet projects – were strewn around the split-level lab. Zib’s artificial intelligence and the series of supercomputers that Zib regularly interfaced with made the creation of a simulation room possible – though it looked something like a racquetball court, it was the most highly advanced reality simulation software in the world. The entire room was worth more than the fortunes that Makuro Industries had acquired in their decades of innovation.
 
-----“I don’t need all this. Is this really all that you think I desire from life?”
 
-----“I would think that helping others on a regular basis would be good enough for you,” Dr. Makuro shot back. “It has been, at least.”
 
-----“Of course it has. And I’ll cherish every moment that I’ve done so. But this can’t go on forever. I’m getting old, Aki. I feel it in my bones. I’ve been doing this for nearly five years now, and I certainly can’t go another five. Two, maybe, but even that’d be pushing it at this rate.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro sat down in a nearby chair. “I was expecting this. Happened to me too.”
 
-----Preston nodded, albeit imperceptibly so.
 
-----“Don’t think you’re the first to say something to me about this, either. Jimmy wants a reduced role. He’s still physically fit – arguably more so than you – but he wants more time off to focus on his musical career. I don’t want to be responsible for holding him back from something like that.”
 
-----“He mentioned that to me too.”
 
-----“Exactly. So that got me thinking … maybe, after five years, it’s time for some fresh faces. Some rookies?”
 
-----“Out of the question! You know what happened with Ralph. I … I can’t let that happen again. Imagine if it did … I’d never forgive myself.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro walked over to the couch and patted Preston on the back. “I know. But that was before Zib and his pseudo-neural algorithmic network. Anyone can be run through more precise cross-examinations than ever before. We’ll be able to bring in exactly the right rookies. Trainable, athletic, intelligent, and loyal.” He grinned impishly. “Probably better suited than you three.”
 
-----“Hey, don’t discount experience here,” Preston said. “But … I mean, you do understand if I have some serious reservations about this.”
 
-----“Naturally. But better to bring in the next generation now so you can train them in the field. And who knows? A less busy crime fighting schedule, and you might go another five. Or ten! I might even go out there again, just for old time’s sake! Imagine how low the underworld morale would sink if they realized that they got beaten up by a guy who’s five foot five and is just a few years away from octogenarianhood.” He boxed the air a few times, as if to prove his point.
 
-----Preston laughed. “Don’t get frisky,” he warned.
 
-----“In all seriousness, I suppose that you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you that I had Zib run a few searches for prime candidates.”
 
-----“I’m not surprised at all.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro clapped once. “Excellent. We’ll move forward immediately.”
 
-----“Don’t you want their approval?”
 
-----Dr. Makuro got up out of the chair and began fiddling with neural algorithm codes only he understood. “I don’t need that. Just get some rest – you’ve got a long day tomorrow.”
 
-----“Oh? What makes it a long day?”
 
-----“That’s when you’ll meet the rookies.”
 
-----Preston clenched his fists as Dr. Makuro sauntered away, muttering something about zettabytes. He didn’t like it when things went on too quickly, and he didn’t like it when things went behind his back. Put together, this was possibly the most infuriating situation he’d ever found himself in, in part because he could not refute the logic behind bringing in a new generation of heroes.
 
-----Mostly, however, he wasn’t afraid of that, despite his memories of Ralph’s death. Change was afoot, and it was change that he had no control over. They weren’t just simply going to be the Heroes of Makuhero City anymore, and role models to a generation. No, now they’d be more; it was a sea change he couldn’t stop, and deep down, he knew that he shouldn’t stop it.
 
-----Above all else, they had a shot to be mentors themselves, as Dr. Makuro had been to them.
 
-----Like it or not, Preston Makuro knew that his uncle was right.

 

 

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Edited by Sumiki, Jan 20 2014 - 05:23 PM.

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#3 Offline Sumiki

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Posted Jan 15 2014 - 08:49 PM

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-----Preston, Duncan, and Jimmy had awoken in the late afternoon. Clothed in sweatpants and t-shirts, they assembled in the lab, awaiting Dr. Makuro’s arrival. In the meantime, Duncan engaged in games of chess with Zib. While there was something to be said for a lifelike, quasi-intelligent robot being able to move physical chess pieces around without assistance, Preston and Jimmy both worried that Zib would achieve sentience in order to feel frustrated at Duncan, who was clearly unaware of the rules of the game.
 
-----“Sorry I’m late, boys,” Dr. Makuro said, carrying in an odd contraption that looked like a fusion of a food processor and a coat hanger. He placed it down on a desk already overpopulated with all manner of tools and spare parts. “Let me get the rookies.” He shuffled back to his elevator.
 
-----Duncan – unaware that Dr. Makuro had even entered the room – swore as Zib reset the pawns and pieces on the board.
 
-----“What happened?” Preston asked.
 
-----“Fool’s mate,” Jimmy said.
 
-----“… again?”
 
-----Jimmy nodded.
 


 

-----It took longer than the trio expected, but soon enough, Dr. Makuro re-entered the lab with the three rookies behind him.
 
-----“Gentleman,” he said, “I would like to introduce our three candidates, as vetted by Zib. They have been selected by Makuro Industries to be the highest qualified candidates for the toughest job in Makuhero City. Without further ado: Natalie, William, and Jessica.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro stepped away briefly so as not to impede introductions. “Now, I understand that even though a person may check out on paper, that is not indicative of their performances in the field. This is why, as the second order of business, we will dress you three up in prototype suits and see how you fare instinctively in our simulator.”
 
-----“That thing over there?” William asked. Dr. Makuro nodded. “Looks like a racquetball court to me.”
 
-----“I’m quite aware, but I think you’ll soon see that it is the world’s foremost artificial reality simulator.”
 
-----William grinned. “Lot to live up to.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro smiled back, albeit not as impishly. “Tell me something, William. Do you go by Bill?”
 
-----William’s face contorted itself into a disheveled grimace. “Not particularly.”
 
-----“Well, Bill, I think you ought to be the first one in the sim. Agreed?”
 
-----Despite William’s objection to both the idea and the nickname, he was dressed up in crude electronic armor and launched into the simulator. Immediately, Zib’s programming sprang to life, creating a real-time environment through an undulating, moving floor and in-helmet projectors. It generated a back alley, not unlike the location of the shooting a few days ago.
 
-----“Whoa … hey, this is pretty cool.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro half-grinned. “I thought you might enjoy it.” Using a small handheld device, he began the simulation in earnest. Clearing his throat, he spoke into a small microphone that led directly into William’s helmet. “First things first – you have no weapons. This is a test of your intuition in a worst-case scenario.”
 
-----Bring it on.
 
-----William turned around in the simulator, trying to watch all sides at once. There, on the corner, was something suspicious … a mugging. Nothing too hard to handle, he thought as he sprinted over there. With an acrobatic kick, he knocked the mugger into the street, where a passing car swerved to avoid running over him and collided with an unsuspecting fire hydrant. Outside the simulator, everyone winced as they saw what happened real-time over the helmet cam.
 
-----“And that, ladies, is why you avoid theatricality,” Duncan said.
 
-----“You want another shot, Billy?” Dr. Makuro asked.
 
-----“Don’t worry, old man. I got it this time.”
 
-----“And you said that he was trainable?” Preston asked.
 
-----“He is. His attitude has nothing to do with his abilities. He’s a martial arts expert.”
 
-----“Doesn’t make me feel too much better.”
 
-----“Sounds like you have more reservations than you’re letting on. Don’t worry. Let Zib grade them objectively.”

 

 

 
-----“Now that you’re all done in the simulator by yourselves, I’ll give you three a chance to cool off while I show you around the lab,” Dr. Makuro said. The three rookies looked relieved to no longer be in the grueling sim environment.
 
-----“Up there is my little area,” Dr. Makuro said. “You can tell by the ramps and the tech.” He walked up one of the curved ramps, the rookies following behind. “And this is my biggest project. He’s technically the Zettabyte Information Bot, but we all call him ‘Zib.’”
 
-----“I’m surprised that the robot here has a gender,” Jessica said.
 
-----“Well … he … it … doesn’t really. But wouldn’t you say that ‘it’ is a little impersonal?”
 
-----“No. I mean, it’s not even a biological organism, I don’t see how it’d be offended.”
 
-----“You’d be surprised how easily Zib passes the Turing test. You see, he’s – it’s – hooked up to the entire building’s network. Essentially, it has access to all idle computers in this building plus the extensive private network of terminals and databases down here, which is a massive amount of computing power in and of itself. But it’s not a linear hookup – it’s more of a neural network with the way the systems interact with each other. The end result: an advanced artificial intelligence. Still not humanlike … but I’m working on it.”
 
-----“So are you going to market this thing?” William asked. “You could make a killing.”
 
-----“Zib’s primary function is to help prevent killings. And anyway, I’ve made many fortunes in my time. If the technology behind Zib were to fall into the proverbial wrong hands, the technology could easily be extrapolated to create a worldwide AI network.”
 
-----Awesome.
 
-----“No, it wouldn’t. Let’s see what Zib has for us …”
 
-----Zib’s body whirred to life and faced the rookies. “Good evening. I don’t believe that we’ve met. My name is Zib.”
 
-----“I’ve already introduced you,” Dr. Makuro said.
 
-----“My apologies,” Zib said after a slight pause. “I have noticed that he tends to tell people things while my interaction module is inactive.”
 
-----“Yeah, I should probably fix that. Remind me to do that sometime. Anyway, Zib, do you have the analysis of the rookies’ results?”
 
-----Zib whirred and clicked. “The results are now being displayed on the nearest touch screen. Would you like a physical copy as well?”
 
-----“No thank you, Zib. No reason to waste paper.” Dr. Makuro turned to the rookies and gestured towards the touch screen. “Zib grades impartially on agility, speed, reflexes, and other important factors, all derived from measurement of your respective performances in the sim. As you can see, all of your marks are exceptionally high.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro led the rookies down the ramp towards the central area, which was bedecked in all manner of gear and technology. Duncan warned the rookies not to ask Dr. Makuro about what all of these things did, as they were likely to be annoyed and would get distracted by the inevitable tinkering that would ensue.
 
-----“Now, for your weaponry! I think you’re going to enjoy what I’ve come up with.” He removed a cloth from a table, revealing large gauntlets. “Jessica?”
 
-----“Yes?”
 
-----“These our yours. If I may demonstrate?”
 
-----Without waiting for a response, part of the wall opened to reveal a crash test dummy. Dr. Makuro put the gauntlets on and punched the dummy with both hands. The dummy sizzled and snapped as blue sparks danced across the surface of its smooth chest.
 
“As you can see, they’re entirely electrified. They’re like tasers, really, except much more versatile. Variable intensity ranges from a brief static shock, for when you really want to annoy somebody, to a disabling taser blast, for when somebody really annoys you. But I’m not done yet – hang on a moment!”
 
-----Dr. Makuro walked around the table and replaced the battery cells on the gauntlets. Placing the two together, he shot blue bolt across the room into another creepy hidden dummy. “Unfortunately you can only do that once,” he said. “But I’m working on that.”
 
-----He tossed them to Jessica, who put her hands in and flexed them. “I think I could get used to this,” she said.
 
-----“Now for Natalie. These may look like harpoons, but they’re actually … well, they’re harpoons. But they do some interesting things. Take a look at the side here. See this knob? This sets the distance. If the harpoons don’t hit something within that distance, their tips will go blunt and they’ll curve right back to you.”
 
-----“Boomerang technology,” Natalie said. “You know, I studied abroad in Australia for a semester and saw some boomerangs in action. Only got to throw one once, though.”
 
-----“That’s why I designed them.”
 
-----A vague look of concern washed over Natalie’s face. “How much do you know about me?”
 
-----Preston nervously stepped in. “Believe me, the databases are extensive,” he said. “More importantly, how long were you working on their weapons?”
 
-----“You think I can remember amidst all this?” Dr. Makuro gestured to the scrap around him. “A few months at the most, but I couldn’t tell you exact dates. At any rate, it’s unimportant. Now for Bill’s.”
 
-----“A joy buzzer and a boomerang,” William said. “Hope mine’s a little more impressive.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro heaved an odd-looking gun up. “How does a plasma pistol sound?”
 
-----"… those exist?
 
-----“Of course.” Dr. Makuro whipped around and fired at the dummy, knocking it back and slightly melting it. “Again, you’ve got a variable knob here, so you can change the intensity of the heat. They can attach to the underside of either arm so you can cut through things while leaving your hands free.”
 
-----William walked over to the table and lifted up two identical weapons. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
 
-----Dr. Makuro quickly took one of the identical weapons out of his hands. “I’m working on those as backups, but I do hope you’ll take good care of the one you’ve got.” He covered up the table again. “Training will begin tomorrow night. We’ll start getting you three on third shift and train hard in the sim for a week in all circumstances, individually and as a team. After a week, we’ll re-evaluate, and if you’re ready by that point then we’ll get you some field experience.”
 
-----The three rookies thanked Dr. Makuro in turn, and conversed a little more as he led them to the elevator.
 
-----“I don’t like this,” Preston said. “They’re not ready.”
 
-----“They’re not ready now,” Dr. Makuro said. “They will be ready, I assure you.”
 
-----“Screw what Zib printed out,” Preston spat. “Human intuition. There’s something to be said for the old eyeball test, and I don’t like the looks of these three.”
 
-----“I knew you wouldn’t.”
 
-----“And you were going through with this anyway?
 
-----“Preston, they’re entirely viable candidates and they’re not going in the field until they’ve gotten many more hours in the sim. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly more than you got, and you turned out to be better than I was.”
 
-----“The women can’t handle the physical stress.”
 
-----“Says who? You saw them in the sim, and I’d bet you’d be more impressed if you saw those two hit the weights.” Dr. Makuro looked suspiciously at Preston. “Gender doesn’t define strength. It’s about getting the job done, and those three are the three highest qualified in all fields.”
 
-----“But –”
 
-----“End of discussion. It’s time for you to get ready in case you’re needed tonight.”
 

 

-----“I don’t get it. It’s like he’s doing this just to spite me,” Preston grumbled to Duncan as they attached their body armor. “I mean, you can just tell that William isn’t qualified just by talking to him. He’s a –”
 
-----“Dude. I get it. You’re unhappy with it – but you went in like that.”
 
-----“Have you forgotten Ralph?”
 
-----“Of course I haven’t. But times have changed, man! We’re not the first generation and we won’t be the last. But you didn’t even talk to them all that much. Admit it – you went in with some crazy idea of what they were going to be like, they were different, and … you didn’t change your attitude.”
 
-----Preston mulled over what Duncan told him. He knew that he went into the process with a preconceived notion of the kinds of rookies his uncle would bring in, but the experience had only assured him that it was a bad idea. Nevertheless, he couldn’t keep up the pace he was going, and the inevitability of the end of this career, although still somewhat far away at this point, still loomed no matter how little Preston chose to acknowledge it.
 
-----“I guess what you were looking for were clones of us,” Duncan said after a while. “If that’s what you’re looking for, I think Dr. Strega in R&D is working on that.”
 
-----Preston raised an eyebrow. “I thought ol’ Aldous was working on some kind of genetic modification?”
 
-----Duncan nodded. “He is, but I kid him about cloning every time I see him.”
 
-----Preston chuckled. He’d been a hero alongside Duncan for the entire time, as Duncan – then a security guard with a passion for bodybuilding – accidentally hit the wrong combination of buttons in the wrong elevator and stumbled on the still-unfinished lab. Instead of trying to wipe his memories, Dr. Makuro decided to recruit him to fight alongside Preston. As a tribute to his size and his occasional mental lapses, Duncan had chosen to use the name “Bulk” in the field and soon proved a capable fighter.
 
-----“You think they’ll be alright, then, I suppose?” Preston asked.
 
-----Duncan waited for a second before replying. “Yeah. And you know how I know that?”
 
-----“No. Tell me.”
 
-----“Remember how bad we were when we started?”
 
-----“I wouldn’t say that we were bad, per se …”
 
-----“Oh, come on, man! We got the living snot kicked out of us a couple of times. We just didn’t have the advantage of having someone physically out there coaching us up in the field – all we had were your uncle’s dusty old recollections. Better than nothing, but not hands-on.”
 
-----Preston finished attaching his leg armor and donned his helmet. Its technology sprang to life around his face, running diagnostics, checking vision filters, and testing audio connections. “It’s not that, really.”
 
-----“Oh?” Duncan asked while affixing his own helmet.
 
-----“I guess I’m just afraid of the future.”
 
-----Duncan laughed. “Everyone is, dude. Everyone is.”

 

 

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Edited by Sumiki, Jan 15 2014 - 11:49 PM.

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#4 Offline Sumiki

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Posted Apr 06 2014 - 11:07 PM

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-----A week removed from the introduction of the rookies, Dr. Makuro descended to the lab in the late afternoon to check with Zib on their progress.
 
-----“Zib. Tell me about the rookies.”
 
-----“What about them?” Zib replied.
 
-----“How many hours did they put in, and how are those numbers looking in comparison to their initial runs?”
 
-----Zib calculated the results and displayed them. Dr. Makuro pored over them for a little while before nodding in approval. “I like what I see,” he said at last. “Though I’m surprised that William has not spent more time in there … he’s arguably the most promising of the three but he’s hardly put in the same hours the other two have.”
 
-----“Dr. Makuro, I’m afraid that you’re looking for an answer that cannot be derived from my statistics.”
 
-----“Oh, I know that, Zib. It’s just good to have somebody to talk to sometimes, even if they’re not human.”
 
-----“I see. I’ll file that away for future reference.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro mused over the results when Natalie and Jessica walked into the lab. “Good afternoon, ladies. Surprised to see you up and about so early.”
 
-----“We wanted to get some extra time in the sim before the re-evaluation,” Jessica said, expertly assembling the sim armor around her Amazonian frame. “That is still on for tonight, right?”
 
-----“Most certainly,” Dr. Makuro said. “You two are the first ones here.”
 
-----“By the way,” Jessica said, turning around before fully entering the sim. “We’ve run into Preston down here a few times and he’s … well, he just hasn’t been real friendly.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro nodded grimly. “He’s a bit nervous about all this, and slow to warm up to newcomers. He’ll come around eventually, I believe.”
 
-----“But you don’t know?”
 
-----“He’s a perfectionist, and holds everyone to pretty high standards. Trust me, you’ll be fine.”
 
-----Jessica nodded, donned a helmet, and entered into the sim. Her entire life depended on her performance. Realistically or not, she felt as if this was her last chance at leading a meaningful life. Unemployed and without enough money to sue for unlawful termination, Dr. Makuro’s proposal had turned her focus around. Although she was promised a position somewhere in the Makuro Industries offices if she didn’t make the cut as a rookie, she didn’t want a desk job somewhere – she wanted a job where beating the snot out of creeps and lowlifes wouldn’t decrease her chances of remaining employed.
 



 
-----Within short order, the veteran heroes showed up, ready to begin their work night. Dr. Makuro called everyone to attention.
 
-----“I think we all know why we’re here today,” Dr. Makuro began. “Your respective numbers in the simulator show me that you are as prepared as possible for your debut in the field. However, I’d like to have you all run through some final runs in the sim to show us all what you’ve got.”
 
-----“This had better be good,” Preston muttered.
 
-----“Relax, dude,” Duncan said. “What’d I tell you? They’ll be fine.”
 
-----“Could you two put away your ideas of what’s going to happen?” Jimmy said. “I’m trying to go in open-minded over here, and you two aren’t making it easy.”
 
-----The trio watched as William entered the sim.
 
-----“Alright, let’s get the party started,” he said, charging up the sim version of his plasma rifle.
 
-----He turned left and right, trying to observe every detail of the virtual reality. Sounds came from all around, and he jumped at very nearly all of them.
 
-----“Stay calm, Billy,” Dr. Makuro said. “You’ll tire yourself out.”
 
-----“If I stand too still, pigeons will land on me,” William retorted.
 
-----That’s a mental image I wasn’t expecting,” Preston said.
 
-----“You think you’ve seen this environment before, don’t you?” Dr. Makuro said.
 
-----“It’s like the first time. Gotta say, you guys made some sweet graphics, but you need to vary your lev—WHOA”
 
-----William collapsed clumsily and fired a few errant plasma bolts into the air as six masked bandits surrounded him. The screen soon went black before the program cut off, leaving him in a white room once again.
 
-----“Oh, come on! I could have taken ‘em. What’s the deal with cutting it off?”
 
-----“Because next comes a twenty-minute cut scene where you’re taken to a jungle in Central America and beheaded,” Dr. Makuro said. “We don’t have time for that right now.”
 
-----More dejected than he let on, William exited the sim.
 
-----“I knew he wasn’t ready,” Preston said.
 
-----“He’s not going to be sent out alone on the first mission,” Dr. Makuro said. “That level is the hardest one – just coded it yesterday.”
 
-----“Is it beatable?” Duncan asked.
 
-----Dr. Makuro shrugged. “I don’t know. I just wanted something to take his attitude down a few notches.”
 
-----Dr. Makuro turned again towards the sim, which Natalie was now inside. “Our next contestant enjoys wearing teal armor,” he said in his best game-show-host voice, wondering all the while if letting the rookies choose their armor color was a good idea or not.
 
-----In the sim, Natalie was gyrating madly, expertly using her harpoons to thump, trip, and propel herself into gangsters. Despite her valiant efforts, the endless stream of computer-generated felons eventually overcame her – but not before she had singlehandedly downed no less than thirty of them.
 
-----“Excellent work, Natalie,” Dr. Makuro said as she exited the sim, took off her helmet, and wiped her glistening brow. “Jessica?”
 
-----Jessica exhaled deeply before donning her helmet. She stretched while entering the sim, giving Zib ample time to load the simulation.
 
-----“Any doubts, Preston?” Dr. Makuro asked, grinning slyly.
 
-----Preston could only shake his head, grudgingly impressed.
 
-----Jessica had a tough act to follow, but she was able to fend off her artificial attackers with equal economy of motion. She had clearly grown accustomed to her gauntlets and wielded them with debilitating precision.
 
-----Upon her exit from the sim, Zib showed the overall statistics. Dr. Makuro mused over these for a little while as Jessica got something to drink. “Do you want another run, Bill?” he asked.
 
-----William cracked his knuckles. “Oh yeah.”
 
-----He went into the sim once again, this time with advance knowledge of what was coming. He did a little better job with fending off the thugs this time, but his actions degenerated into flailing by the end of the exercise.
 
-----“I think you may need a little more time in the oven, as it were,” Dr. Makuro said as William huffed out of the sim. “Considering that you’ve not spent as much time in there as Natalie and Jessica have, that’s a reasonable expectation.”
 
-----William, mired in a pit of general disgust, growled.
 
-----“Not to worry, though. I’ll give you two more days to prepare. If you can’t commit the time that’s necessary to prepare yourself, you will be dismissed. All clear?”
 
-----William nodded.
 
-----“Now. Natalie and Jessica, you two can suit up. This will be your first time out in the field, so you’ll be teamed up. Natalie, you’re with Duncan, and Jessica, you’ll with Jimmy. They’ll accompany you at all times in the field to get you accustomed. Preston has the night off.”
 
-----While he didn’t like being left out of a night’s worth of festivities, he hadn’t had a night off in a long while. Perhaps it would be for the best, especially since his knees were acting up again …
 

 

-----Preston stared at the ceiling of his apartment. He’d intended to get a nap, but his nocturnal schedule meant that the idea of doing more or less shot itself in the foot.
 
-----He looked over at his clock. 3:34, he thought. Normal people are probably dreaming right now.
 
-----The bed creaked as he eased himself off. He put on some shoes and walked towards the elevator.
 



 

-----William ducked and whacked at simulated enemies, adeptly adopting his new gear into his fighting style.
 
-----Let’s see the old man try to bring me down now, he thought.
 
-----“Impressive,” said a voice behind him.
 
-----William jumped slightly before putting his weapon down, thereby shutting off the sim. “What do you want?” he asked.
 
-----Preston chuckled slightly. “Of all people, I didn’t expect to see you down here.”
 
-----“Yeah, well …” William’s voice trailed off. “You know how it goes.”
 
-----Preston smiled. “Yeah, you kinda sucked earlier. Looks like you’re making some progress, though.”
 
-----“I’d like to see you take on that level,” William said as stepped out of the sim. He sipped on some water and then took a deep breath. “You don’t think I know what I’m doing, do you?”
 
-----Preston, although taken aback, decided to be honest. “I wasn’t sure that you knew what you were doing.”
 
-----William chuckled. “Of course. Your uncle doesn’t seem to appreciate my style, and neither do you.”
 
-----“Being part of the Hero program means exercising good judgment and humility. I learned that the hard way. If you hope to survive, let alone make friends, I suggest you listen to the guys that know what to do out there. You’ve only been in the sim – which is good, I’ll grant you, but it’s hard for me to take a place that looks like a gutted Star Trek set seriously.”
 
-----William nodded slowly, and Preston stared at him.
 
-----“I thought you’d object,” Preston said, but only after a long and somewhat awkward pause.
 
-----“Nope. Gonna get back to the Star Trek set here in a minute.” He did the Vulcan hand salute. “Live long and pulverize, am I right?”
 
-----Preston chuckled in agreement.
 
-----Maybe the kid’s not so bad after all, he thought as he entered the elevator. Not sure I’d want him in the field … but still. Maybe he’s not so bad.
 
-----Maybe.
 

 

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