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Avenger Assembled

(IC) Marsha's

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September 2017

Riverside 

Marsha's

 

In a perfect world, the experience of one sort of discrimination would prevent other forms of discrimination. But then a perfect world wouldn't need superheroes. Of the bars, bookstores, and cafes of Freedom City's gayborhood in Riverside, Marsha's was one of the few that catered particularly to LGBT people of color. From Sylvia Rivera on one wall to Bayard Rustin on the other, with shelves of LGBT books on one side and a coffee bar with nearby stage on the other, it had the homey atmosphere of a long-attended, long-populated neighborhood establishment. There was a smooth jazz quartet on stage this afternoon as a growing crowd filled in. It was Poetry Night and the coffee was hot, the biscuits were warm, and it was going to be one hell of a night. 

 

Riley Quinn-Smith shifted uncomfortably in his seat, fighting the urge to adjust the black fedora he wore on his carefully-shaved head. His years on Earth-Prime had gotten him used to crowds of strangers, and he had to admit he liked seeing the faces of so many people who, like him, were a little less than whitebread when it came to who they dated. It was what was on the agenda for later that made him uneasy. "This is stupid," he finally whispered to the other boy across the table from him. To the other Riley. The other Riley was skinnier and softer at the same moment, in a black suit and tie that made him contrast slightly with Riley's own purple-plaid shirt and jacket. His goatee was a little thicker and he had a mustache, but the resemblance was striking enough to instantly peg them as brothers. Of course the reality was, they were more than brothers. Duplicates across dimensions, who'd worked out at least some of their differences in the last two years. 

 

"This is stupid," hissed the Riley who was uneasy in his seat. "Nobody's gonna give a damn." 

 

"It's not stupid," said the other Riley, a look of confidence on a dark face that was rounder than his counterpart's but whose eyes were no less intelligent. The noise of the crowd and the music was already such that nobody was giving them a second look. "We wait till it's darker and everybody's watching the show, you swing in and do your thing. Show 'em the T in LGBT." 

 

"Nobody's gonna give a damn," Riley muttered, staring into his coffee. "Shoulda gone out with Robin tonight..."

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Ash had been scoping out Freedom City for about a month now. Getting to know the hero community from the bystander side. Not that s/he was any bystander, A bystander who could take care of their own! Still, Ash Parker wanted to blend into the hero side and normal side seemlessly. S/He had even taken a shine to a heroic name, The Ride, and got a fancy black leather costume and domino mask. Not that The Ride had superspeed, but they could run faster than a normal human, almost as fast as a car. S/He thought the name was appropriate!

 

Riverside district was a lovely art community that Ash fell in love with the first time s/he heard about it. Sometime s/he would visit it even if s/he wasn't scoping out the territory for heroic reasons. And s/he was here this evening for a purely selfish reason. Just to hang out with the community. Marsha's was one of the many places in Riverside s/he enjoyed. S/He never read much with their reader app on their phone, but the information in these books was priceless. So s/he would buy a few and sit them on the coffee table at home and promise to read them one day. To be fair s/he had cracked open a two or three of the ten so far. And here s/he was buying two more.

 

Tonight was different though. There was an event going on at Marsha's. Poetry night. Ash was no creative mastermind, but s/he enjoyed listening to the people who could put righteous thunder or tears into words. S/He was wearing something casual, but presentable, better than the jeans and tshirt s/he wore daily. A black lace dress, sleeveless and ankle length. A violet silk waistband. Their hair down and curled. Dark violet lipstick to match the waistband. But opposed to all this finery, s/he carried a large black knapsack, in one compartment was their normal things. But in the other was what s/he brought every time s/he came to Freedom City. Their costume. Ash never really wanted to use it out of the blue. S/He could take care of their own without it, such was the life of a person open with their powers, even if they wanted to have two identities.

 

Over to the coffee bar s/he went to get a dose of bean for the night and then to find a table. It was hard to find one with everyone finding a seat. But s/he found an empty one next two a pair of twin persons. S/He wouldn't be rude and interrupt their conversation, but s/he was always intrigued by twins. How they had an almost psychic connection. This was not the case for Riley and Riley, but she was unawares.

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It was a nice evening, albeit one that was more sedate than Riley's favorite forms of entertainment. The smooth jazz was the sort of thing that Peyton typically put on when she was trying to get to sleep - and though Community Poetry Night was full of heartfelt local artists eager to share their thoughts about the world in verse, he didn't think many of them were very good. But there was a lot to like anyhow. The coffee was good and so was the chocolate biscotti that came with it, and nobody looked funny at him for adding cream and sugar to his brew. Nobody looked funny at him at all, for that matter, not when he went to the boy's bathroom, not when two different guys came along to ask for his and the other Riley's number (other men weren't either of their thing, but it was nice to get asked), and not when he wandered around the racks of LGBT books unescorted before picking up an Audre Lorde anthology for Robin in between poems. This was the sort of place he'd never gotten to visit in the old world, and between one thing and another, the sort of place he usually didn't feel comfortable in this world either. It was a good night. 

 

Maybe I'll take Robin back here next time. 

 

By late evening, things were looking up. The proprietor, a bearded gentleman in his late fifties named Leo, had taken the stage to read a poem about the namesake of the cafe - Marsha P. Johnson, a Freedom City girl who'd gone to New York and been in the front lines at Stonewall. Riley liked the guy's fire and his curly, old-fashioned mustache and goatee, and he was actually starting to relax despite the occasional look he was getting from his twin. Maybe he would take to the stage...later. 

 

As Leo was wrapping up, Riley heard a tingle-tingle, and looked over (along with many of the patrons) to see four uniformed police officers entering the cafe. Riley frowned, catching a look from his double. "You see that?" 

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Ash had a thing for jazz, the soft smooth sound to the lively type that got them dancing. No dancing here though! S/He tapped along with the beat as s/he sipped their espresso with a bear face. S/He chatted up the barista, but it was getting far too busy. Maybe afterwards they would talk? S/He sat sat with bated - coffee smell - breath for the poetry to begin. And at first, s/he was content to here the stories. The trials and tribulations of life. The heartfelt pain and joy. It was delightful and thought provoking. S/He felt some of their feeling in their lives.

 

One of the twins got up, Ash though s/he would chat one of them up. S/He didn't want to bother the one enjoying the entertainment, so s/he would go mingle with the other. Not that s/he would stalk them. Look at book in the same area. Make eye contact. See if they are interested in talking in the first place with an opening line. Take a breath and go! S/He took a step forward. But they were gone before s/he could even do that. Oh well, maybe later?

 

The poetry started back up again. More lovely and unlovely words flowed. But what really caught Ash's eye was the 'police' entering the place. Sloppy. S/He wasn't a cop aficionado but s/he knew what a real one looked like. Getting up from her seat again, s/he made their way back to the book area, making with the cordial wordless nods to the 'cops'. If anything were to go down it would be on Ash's watch.

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With authority and purpose, the leader of the police quartet strode towards the assembled guests. Holding up a shiny metal badge, he declared, "Excuse me, excuse me, quiet down, everyone!" One of his partners was following him, the other two in the quartet hanging out by the main front entrance and the main register, respectively. "This gathering has exceeded this building's capacity under Freedom City's firecode. We need to shut it down and send you people back where you came from." The officer was on-stage with Leo now, the older man on his feet with a dawning, angered suspicion. 

 

"You know this kind of building has a firecode capacity of 300, and we're barely over 150 tickets sold," said Leo, glaring as he stared down the younger officer. The cops seemed cut from Central Casting, two white, one black, and one Asian, all of them the sort of short-haired, military-tattooed, thick-necked young recruits that departments like Freedom City's had been attracting for years. "This isn't 1970, you can't just come in here and shut us down! What's your name? What's your badge number?" 

 

"Didn't y'hear?" The officer on-stage suddenly whipped out his baton, fast like a snake, and struck Leo on the side of the head, knocking him to the floor. The others went for their guns too, his partner pulling a shotgun, the two further back, those closest to Ash, drawing pistols. "Y'all are just too flaming for Freedom City!" he declared as the crowd screamed in terror, pulling his pistol with his other hand. "We're Law and Order, you goddamned degenerates. I want wallets, and phones, and all your damned jewelry now! Your choice if we get them nice, or if we have to make you squeal first!"

 

Eyes briefly glued to the melee on stage, Ash noticed the doors to the nearby men's bathroom swinging back and forth, as if someone had just ducked inside without anyone else noticing. 

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Freedom City. This stuff must go on every day. Ash thought normal villains in costumes, but this? This was a travesty. S/He balked at the attack from the pretend cop. Despite this being impersonating an officer, they could tack on assault and maybe disruption of an event. Ash was no lawyer, but s/he watched enough courtroom television.

 

Whatever, it was over for words. Time for actions. People were ducking and hiding in the bathroom. That would have been Ash's excuse if s/he had time for the costume. This time though, s/he would have to deal with these bad actors personally. "I didn't assume you keystones would be dumb enough to do that," with a quick leap, s/he got right in front of the attacker, "fake **** aside, you couldn't rob a bank or something? I'm sure the hero would have been easier on you than I will."

Edited by Little Jo

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Inside the bathroom, Woodsman pulled his green poncho down until the shadows of the hood obscured his face, hefting his crossbow in his free hand. All right. Okay. His eyes were clear, his pupils undilated and his heart rate steady, but the rage he felt was boiling hot. He walked up to the bathroom door and suddenly slapped off the light switch, kicking open the door with his right foot as he brought up his crossbow and fired. The bolt shot across the room and buried itself up to its head in the body armor of the 'policeman' by the front door,  the man automatically firing a shot back from an itchy trigger finger - that wouldn't save him! The hissing, smoking bolt suddenly exploded, blasting the gunman through the glass doors of the cafe with a tremendous bang! Now there was no one guarding the primary exit, and one of the thugs was already down.  Woodsman jumped back into darkness a second later, flipping the lights back on to keep his eyes from adjusting. 

 

On the stage, the leader of Law and Order took cool aim at the Rush. "You don't scare me, pervert. We're going to bring law and order to this city whatever freaks like you think." He aimed and fired and Ash felt the heavy slug smash directly into a torso that had taken direct gunfire before without pain. This time though the bullet dug deep, striking hard like a hammer blow that might have cracked ribs that were any weaker. Whatever that old "Police Special" was, it wasn't no ordinary gun! 

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