Chapter 3

“Night…” Chris began, a hint of exasperation rushing through him as he pulled his gaze away from Lilith. The woman was utterly mesmerizing in person, yet he didn’t find it too difficult to look away from her bright green eyes. Janice’s glower shut him up though.

“No, Whisper. You’ve worked too hard to build a decent reputation for me to let her ruin it if she’s got something untoward planned.” Janice said flatly. “No, I don’t think she’d be this forward about it if that was what she had planned, but I’m also not going to pretend I’m not concerned.”

Chris considered for a couple of seconds, then inclined his head, conceding the point for the moment. There were some fights he wasn’t going to win, and he’d always been good at picking his battles.

“You’re right, but that’s part of why we’re having this meeting to begin with. Lilith will make her proposal, and if we decide to go through with it, I intend to include a clause that allows either of us to pull the plug on the deal in the contract.” Chris said, giving Lilith a sidelong look as he asked. “Does that seem fair to you?”

“Of course. I intended to ask about such a clause to begin with, though I’m sure there are other things that would need to be worked out as well.” Lilith said, inclining her head slightly as she smiled, though Chris saw there was a bit of uncertainty in the woman’s gaze. No, not just her gaze, Chris realized. She was somewhat skilled at hiding her feelings, but not that skilled, and she continued after a few seconds. “During my brief time owning a company of my own, I realized that the cost of equipment to start a new production line adds up incredibly quickly, so your side of things holds significantly more risks than mine. Negotiating a fair deal will be difficult.”

Chris couldn’t help a smile at that, and he chuckled, gesturing at the seat on the other side of the desk. He didn’t think of it as his desk, really, since he only really used it for meeting with outsiders, but it was technically his. “Why don’t you take a seat? Fortunately, if it comes to that I won’t have quite as great of an expense as you’re expecting. I build my own equipment, so it’s mostly paying for the man-hours and raw materials. It’s still not cheap, but better than spending millions on a new line.”

Lilith nodded and smiled in return, taking a seat carefully as she looked between Chris and Janice, pursing her lips, then asked. “So… should I assume that you’ve told Nightsinger everything? Or should I give an overview of what I have in mind first?”

“I told her as much as I could, but I’m sure that I might have left something out. I’m perfectly fine with her listening to the entire pitch, though.” Chris said, sliding back his chair to take a seat, while Nightsinger hesitated before grudgingly taking a seat as well.

“Yes, please do. I’d rather hear it from you instead of second-hand.” Janice said, not sounding quite as unwelcoming this time, which helped Chris relax somewhat. He didn’t like the idea of the two women sniping at each other.

Lilith nodded, reaching into her purse to pull out a phone and a small, circular device the size of her palm. When she turned it over, he realized it was a compact holographic projector, which definitely intrigued Chris. The ones he could build were at least three times that size, at least assuming you wanted a decent-sized projection. Lilith slipped it onto the desk and fiddled with her phone, which didn’t look like a standard design to Chris, and an instant later the holographic projector activated.

A two-foot-tall image of a suit of basic power armor appeared above the projector, the lines crisp but slightly blue-hued, much like many of the science fiction movies he’d seen, but it was far better than he’d been afraid it might be. He could clearly make out the details of the helmet, even if he couldn’t see internals, and while he saw a couple of weak points almost immediately, the joints of a suit were almost impossible to armor appropriately.

“This is the power armor suit I’ve designed. This is the… eighth iteration I came up with, and at present it contains no components you could consider supertech.” Lilith said calmly, gesturing at the hologram. “I focused on designing it with relatively common, affordable parts and materials so that it hopefully would be able to be easily repaired. The most difficult parts to replace are the battery, which I based on schematics acquired from Doctor Johnson, and the control system, which I designed myself based on what I could figure out of my personal power armor suit, and which allows the suit to be controlled with virtually no latency. My current goal is to created a comparatively affordable suit of light power armor that could be sold to law enforcement and maintained without the difficulty of other suits of power armor. I believe that such would be quite useful to allow them to confront some villains when heroes are not available, and the project would likely help both Whispering Darkness and I improve our reputation at large.”

While Lilith spoke, the hologram changed, and Chris’s eyebrows rose as it turned into an exploded diagram of sorts, showing the internals of how the joints moved, where the pilot would occupy, and more. He could pick up a few clues of the design based on that, but quite quickly he realized there really wasn’t anything revolutionary about the components. He could see dozens of types of mass-produced components of the sort, and even if he would upgrade them, that didn’t mean they were bad. Lilith wasn’t giving much away by sharing it with him.

“Interesting. What sort of capabilities does it have? Flight, weapons, shielding… for that matter, what sort of operating life does it have? I know some of the suits I’ve heard of LANCE using can only operate for an hour or two.” Janice asked, glancing at Chris curiously, and he waved her on, sitting back in his chair to let the heroine speak. He didn’t want to interfere with her growing more comfortable.

“No flight, weapons, or shields are included. This is a bare-bones, basic suit of power armor.” Lilith said, shaking her head firmly. “Depending on the alloy used in the armor, it should deflect even most armor-piercing bullets, but military munitions would quickly take it apart. Similarly, the lack of flight systems, shields, and weapons increase its operating life. I estimate it would be able to run for between five and eight hours, depending on how much the pilot is trying to do.”

Chris perked up at that, as the battery life had been one of the subjects he’d been wondering about the most, but Lilith wasn’t finished, continuing just as he opened his mouth. “I haven’t managed to come up with a flight system without supertech anyway, but that’s why I’m including modular mounting points for attachments on the back, arms, and legs. It might be possible to modify it for water use as well, as at the moment it’s only amphibious for short periods. Weapons… those are something I shy away from anyway. I think using some of Whispering Darkness’s non-lethal weapons is a better idea, while shields could be added as part of back-mounted unit with its own power supply.”

“Hmm… interesting. Chris, what do you think? How’s that sort of power supply?” Janice asked, tilting her head as she looked at him curiously. “I don’t have enough of a background to know. Not having more defensive systems concerns me.”

“I couldn’t say for sure without examining her designs and seeing what the power draw of the suit is like, but I can compare it to my suit.” Chris replied, settling back as he thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Without most of the systems online, putting it on the same level as hers… I’d guess my power system would keep my suit running for four hours, and that’s with super-tech I’ve built, and a heavily optimized power system. Oh, I’ve already seen a few things in the hologram that I’d want to change, but it’s a solid starting point.”

“Not to mention that the prototyping phase would doubtlessly find numerous problems that need to be fixed.” Lilith added, a wry smile playing across her lips. “I’m not going to claim my design is perfect. Comparatively speaking, I’m a beginner when compared to you.”

“Maybe, but a beginner with a solid background and plenty of resources.” Chris countered, pushing back his eagerness to tear into the design more thoroughly. He focused on Janice as he asked. “What do you think? Is it worth looking at her designs and exploring the possibilities?”

Janice considered him, then Lilith for a few seconds, before finally nodding. “I think so. I don’t know how much something like this would run, but if it reduced the casualties I’ve seen when villains hit a city, I’m all for it.”

“Great!” Chris said, grinning as he fished a few sheets out of his desk. “In that case, I have a few NDAs for each of us while we’re looking over the designs, to protect both of us. Is that acceptable, Lilith?”

“It’s and excellent idea, thank you.” Lilith said, killing the holographic projector and putting it back in her purse as she added. “I just have to read it over first.” Chris chuckled, and slid a copy across to her, resisting the urge to encourage her to hurry. As much as he wanted to look over her designs, he didn’t want to come across as too eager, so he forced himself to wait. He could wait a few minutes at a minimum.

Chapter 2Chapter 4