“So, how did your conversation with the team go?” Lilith asked, adjusting the strap of her backpack. Claire knew that the other woman could return here while Claire was being changed, but it looked like Lilith wasn’t planning to do that. A part of Claire envied the easy confidence and self-control that Lilith oozed, especially since a bit over a year before, Lilith hadn’t even been conscious.
“Fortunately, it was Galvanic, and he got Spirit on the line as well pretty quickly. If it’d been someone like Crimson or Defender, it likely would’ve gone worse.” Claire explained, then hesitated before admitting. “Not that it wasn’t bad enough. They’re rather skeptical of things and would rather I take one of the slower routes. The problem is that none of those solutions are certain to even happen. That’s what brought them around in the end.”
“I suppose that’s fair. It is Amber’s technology, and with her reputation…” Lilith began, but her voice trailed off as Gina poked her head into the living room, her shirt and pants spattered with dried old paint. “Hey, Gina, we were just getting ready to go.”
“I’m glad I caught you, then. Hey, Rach! They’re getting ready to leave, so get up already.” Gina said, stepping into the room and grinning. “It isn’t going to be dangerous, is it?”
“The odds of danger are exceedingly low, but not nonexistent.” Circe Prime replied calmly, her voice causing Claire to notice that the android version of Circe was nowhere around this morning, which was rather unusual.
“You heard her. Be safe while I’m gone, would you?” Lilith asked, embracing Gina and giving her a quick kiss and smiling. “And try to keep Rachel from going crazy, hmm?”
“I’m a heroine, not a miracle worker.” Gina said, grinning. “Besides, it’s way too late for that.”
“Way too late for what?” Rachel asked, entering the room and rubbing her eyes. The other heroine was in a bathrobe, and from the way her hair was tangled, it was obvious she’d barely gotten out of bed. It still amused Claire seeing her that way, as she’d never really seen Rachel like that when they’d been on the team together. Rachel usually tried to look immaculately poised.
“Nothing!” Gina replied quickly, and Claire could see Rachel’s eyes narrow.
“Really?” Rachel asked, her eyes narrowing. “It sounded like you were saying something more than ‘nothing’ to me.”
“She was saying that she couldn’t prevent you from going crazy because it’s too late for that.” Claire said helpfully, smirking at Gina’s betrayed glance at her.
“Claire!” Gina exclaimed.
“…I probably should be offended at that. Coffee first, then I turn her into a rabbit or something.” Rachel said, rubbing her eyes. Then she looked at Lilith and asked. “You weren’t going to leave without telling me, were you?”
“Of course not. I was planning to come say goodbye in a minute, but Gina showed up first. I hope you two have a good day or two while I’m gone.” Lilith said.
“I’ll try.” Rachel said, giving Lilith a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Take care of Claire, too. After the work we put into rescuing her, I’d rather she came back in one piece.”
“You aren’t the only one.” Claire said, smiling. “Take care of yourselves, too. With any luck, when we come back I’ll be mostly back to normal.”
“Good luck, then.” Gina said, smiling as she added. “I’m going to get back to painting. Let me know if plans change?”
“Of course.” Lilith replied, glancing at Claire. “Shall we go?”
“Sure.” Claire said, firmly quashing both her anxiety and eagerness.
“Bye!” Gina said, heading out of the room again.
They headed to the teleportation chamber of the lair, and Claire couldn’t help but marvel at it again. While plenty of villains made use of similar devices, few of them made as extensive use of teleportation as Shadowmind did. What was more surprising was how reliable her network must be, since she hadn’t heard of any of them having problems before.
“How reliable is the teleportation network, Circe?” Claire asked suddenly, curious if the AI would reply.
“That information is classified. However, you may be assured that if there was any true danger of death or disfigurement, I would not allow Lilith to use it.” Circe Prime replied almost instantly.
“I suppose I should’ve expected that.” Claire said, smiling slightly.
“It’s a good question, though.” Lilith agreed, stepping up onto the platform. They could see the pylons above and below the platform due to the transparent surface. “Alright, Circe… you’re the one who knows where we’re going.”
“Yes, Mistress Lilith. Teleportation matrix charged and ready. Initiating in three, two, one, mark.” Circe’s voice was calm as she counted down, and the world flashed.
For an instant the world vanished, and Claire felt her stomach lurch as she caught a glimpse of a strange landscape of mist and violet light. The instant passed, though, and Claire blinked as she found herself in a new room that was almost identical to the previous one, though it felt slightly cooler.
“Circe, that teleportation felt strange. Did something happen?” Lilith asked, her voice slightly unsteady.
“This location is under higher security, Mistress Lilith, and the system deliberately delays incoming teleportation to ensure that it’s safe. Your experience was normal.” Circe explained. “Welcome to your destination. I apologize for not giving you the facility designation, but you do not have authorization to know it.”
“I have to ask, who does have authorization? Isn’t Amber dead?” Claire asked, her stomach churning slightly.
“Only Mistress Amber. Should she vanish for more than ten years, I will acknowledge her apparent death and Mistress Lilith’s authority will be over the full system.” Circe explained. “Previous events where villains have been declared dead preemptively mean that considering her gone is contraindicated.”
“I think that’s fair.” Lilith said, looking around speculatively. “Circe, the temperature feels slightly cool.”
“Acknowledged. Thermostat appears to have lost a degree of calibration, deploying repair drone.” Circe replied instantly.
“So, where do we go?” Claire asked nervously.
“Follow the blinking line on the floor outside this room. Do not attempt to open any doors which do not open at your approach.” The AI said firmly. “I would rather not have to activate security subroutines.”
“Okay.” Claire said, swallowing hard.
Lilith headed for the door casually, and after a moment Claire followed it. The door opened into a hallway much like the ones in the other lair, though this time there was a glowing line on the floor giving them directions. There was an odd sensation as she walked, but Claire couldn’t quite place what it was.
“You know, this feels a lot like the first time I woke. Circe hadn’t provided me a robe, so it was a bit cold, and I followed a line like this through the base.” Lilith said suddenly, her tone musing. “It’s kind of interesting, looking at it like that.”
“I suppose it would, at that.” Claire replied, relaxing a little. “I imagine that being the case, you must be a bit frustrated to be stuck in the lair.”
“Pretty much. And with everything going on, my business hasn’t been in the best of shape… I lost almost a quarter of the staff, and I’m seriously considering taking one of the offers to purchase the company.” Lilith replied, hesitating before she added. “Mind, it’d be at a profit.”
“At least there’s that. Do you think the people bidding on it think you have some of Shadowmind’s tech in the company?” Claire asked curiously.
“Probably so… which is just too bad. Most of what I’ve been doing isn’t directly based on her advancements. I didn’t want to draw that much attention.” Lilith explained, then paused as they came to a doorway and it slid open. “And… this is almost eerier in some ways.”
“Oh? Why’s that?” Claire asked, looking into the room and feeling her stomach knot up slightly more.
It didn’t look too bad, honestly, with a large number of consoles and equipment slotted into a wall, with a large, empty tube socketed into the wall. The sides of the tube were transparent, and the side had slid open, while medical gear dangled inside it, including heartrate monitors and a breathing tube.
“I woke up inside one of those.” Lilith explained, gesturing at the tube. “Mind, the medical equipment had been removed… but it’s slightly strange to see.”
“Ahh. Well, what now?” Claire asked, looking at the room nervously.
“Circe? You said something about a template?” Lilith asked.
“Yes.” The AI replied, and a holographic projection sprang to life above one of the consoles, one of Claire in her old appearance, though this one was naked. Claire blushed as the AI continued, other monitors showing text and charts at the same time. “This is the current appearance and settings which I’ve programmed for Blooming Orchid’s restoration. These settings can be adjusted to some degree, however, though I’m uncertain if such is wise.”
“Really? What sort of changes could I make?” Claire asked, following Lilith across the room.
“There’s a limit to how much of additional mass can be added in the time frame given, but virtually anything that doesn’t increase or decrease your mass by more than fifty percent.” Circe said simply.
“Interesting.” Lilith said, looking the monitors over, where an enormous variety of options were shown as slider bars, and then she looked at Claire and smiled, gesturing at them. “Go ahead, Claire. It’s your body.”
“Well…” Claire hesitated for a long moment, looking at the console, and her trepidation turned to curiosity. If she had to go through all this, she supposed she could get a bit of a benefit out of it. “In that case… I suppose I’ll look things over. Thank you, Lilith.”
With that, she began looking over the options more carefully, and as she did, she smiled. Some of them would be fun.