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  1. March 20, 2021 HAX It was a quiet weekend at HAX. The boss and most of the staff were away with their families or working on projects at home, and for once the security director and her assistant had given most of the security staff the day off too. Drilling could come the next day, when they'd be simulating an attack by space pirates from the 22nd century on the building. When the door buzzer sounded in the main security office, Steve answered the message, holding the headset up to one ear and speaking into the microphone. "The building is closed." A pause. "Who may I say is here?" And then an even longer pause, with his eyes noticeably widening before he said with a tone that mixed reverence and a sudden, sharp skepticism. "...whose name shone brightly among all other in the branches of the Silver Tree?" The answer he got seemed to satisfy him, and he turned to Erin and said "There are Furions at the door. They say they have come to speak to the Dethroner."
  2. January 2019 Gina Evans' House It was a Sunday morning when Miss Americana had nothing particular to do that Gina awoke without Steve - which was not uncommon in their relationship. His cybernetically enhanced constitution meant that he slept at odd hours and his troubled dreams meant he slept erratically even then. Given how stealthy Steve could be when he wanted to be (especially since he'd figured out all the boards that creaked when he stepped on them in this house), she'd awoken with the other side of the bed empty many times. What was unusual today was there was a note on her endtable, a carefully printed bit of block penmanship inside an Archetech postcard. FRIAR TUCK. A codeword (from the ancient pre-Internet days of hacking) that everything was fine. I AM IN THE KITCHEN. I WILL MAKE FOOD. YOU SHOULD COME OUT WHEN YOU ARE READY. The last was underlined. Her bathroom was between her and the kitchen anyway. It was easy enough to call up an image from one of the robots zipping around the home to get an image of Steve working in the kitchen on the hash browns and eggs that were the best of what he cooked, and the meticulously set kitchen table with papers on one side and a small wrapped box on the other. They hadn't done much for Christmas that year outside of their home - but this was one present he'd managed to keep to himself.
  3. Fall 2018 Archetech When the self-driving car from Archetech arrived, there was an Omegadrone inside it, sitting in the rear passenger compartment. Steve looked up at Delta, his scarred face hard to read through cybernetic enhancements designed to give tactical feedback rather than the finer points of humanoid facial expression. "Delta. Miss Americana felt you would want company." It was his first chance to meet the woman who had been described as the leading expert in Terminus technology on this plane - the greatest who was not mad, anyway. The Omegadrone's voice was grave and deep; an impossible thing given the cold, emotionless horrors that were Omegadrones but one Delta had heard already. After all, the Omegadrone had been among those who'd met him in this new realm and had asked him questions about a realm both of them knew only too well - questions about dread Nihilor. "I have secured a collection of Earth-Prime music and educational recordings for the drive. It is short but you may find them productive. How are your studies progressing?"
  4. Winter 2018 It wasn't exactly the Interceptors' Christmas party - but there was a tree up and lights in it, and there were children watching Christmas movies, eating cookies, sword-fighting with boffer weapons, or truly doing all of those things at once. It was a well-spent afternoon, anyway. Steve was sitting by himself on the couch in one of the upstairs bedrooms, just having finished a discussion with Yolanda about how these movies were just for babies that had left him feeling pleased at her emotional progression, when Erik entered the room. Despite the half-dozing children on the carpet by the couch (Yolanda on her phone) and the Santa hat perched incongruously on the Omegadrone's bald head, his face was serious as he asked "Does the evening go well?"
  5. Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship! December 16, 9:07 PM "Alright, we're locked up," Erik Espadas confirmed as he rounded the gap in the wall between the dojo's entryway and the training space. With the blinds drawn over the big front windows and a few more sophisticated measures in place the small group gathered were ready for their planned after-hours class. Unlike usual the mats were littered with piled weights, cardboard boxes and anything else that had been handy and looked like it might make for an inconvenient obstacle. "Remember, we're working on mobility tonight," he reminded the deceptively lanky man and the woman with short black hair in front of him, folding his bare arms across his plain white workout shirt. They could have easily been a pair of the college students who frequented his intermediary self-defence classes. "That means something a little different for you two than the rest of us so I figured it was past time you compared notes." The fencer let a lopsided grin split his businesslike demeanour as he stepped back toward far corner where Talya and Steve were watching. "That said, loser has to mop the footprints off my ceiling." In the apartments up above Ellie Espadas held her breath as she tip-toed out of the nursery, hoping against hope that her newest niece and nephew would stay asleep at least long enough to get back to the kitchen. Either one of them crying inevitably woke the other and even with three pairs of hands helping she wasn't sure how their parents were coping. Making it down the hallway and all the way to the kitchen table the med student silently raised a pair of crossed fingers as she sat down between Min and Mara. "And I thought pulling a double at Trinity took it out of you," she drawled just barely louder than a whisper. "Please tell me there's coffee or tea or something."
  6. Content Note: Disturbing Content, Gore September 2016 Freedom Hall The world survived the Terminus Invasion. But only a few people on it survived a Terminus invasion - from the other side. Neither Steve Murdock nor Tarva the Black had so much as looked at each other upon their arrival in Freedom Hall. Rather, they had taken seats on the opposite sides of the conference room's big table, each joined by their closest allies, responding to the one summon in the multiverse that could bring the two of them together under one roof. Freedom Hall and its staff seemed on edge tonight- and no wonder, with all the crises great and small that had come that summer, and with this new crisis no doubt whistling through the super community like an incoming shell. "As you know, the Freedom League occasionally dispatches remote multiversal probes to probe areas of Terminus activity, using Zero Zone technology originally gathered from the Centurion." Daedalus, who Steve knew was no mere man but an ageless immortal (at least in the realities he knew), looked fatigued today, and perhaps some shadow of his age. "That's the source of the data we send to Archetech and the DuTemps Building," he added, with a nod to Ghost Girl and Miss Americana. "Typically the data we recover is largely fluctuating levels of entropic radiation. A multiversal weather report," he added for the benefit of the non-cosmic scholars in the room. "Recently, one of our probes was activated by a significant surge of entropic radiation greater than what was observed during the invasion of 1993. This triggered its internal video function and autonomous exploration unit." - It was Liberty Park. Or had been, once. The city was transformed into abomination. A red, pitiless sky lit by a too-bright, too-blue sun lit a park whose trees had burned and stones been shattered by spiked half-spheres that gleamed with an almost organic oily wetness. The doomforges lay empty now - but there were Omegadrones perched on them, the light, quickly-made ones that could nonethless slice a normal man in half or throttle him alive, like flocks of demonic birds waiting for the kill. The forges themselves were decorated with a scattering of corpses like so many mounted butterflies, the impaled, half-decayed corpses of beings who by the bright colors of their tattered costumes had once been superheroes. Tarva had turned paler and paler as the film played, her eyes staring and hands pressed flat against the table in front of her as if she was about to bolt, while Steve was bolt-upright in his chair and watching the film with an intensity that suggested a gathering storm. "...those drones are dead," he said, his voice a low rumble. And sure enough, one of the drones, one perched at the very edge of the doomforge that must have created it, actually tilted and toppled off as the group watched, hitting the ashy ground below with a tremendous crash. "Is this actually from the Terminus," asked Tarva, her voice tight and close to tears. "Can your probe peer so far?" "No," said Daedalus, shaking his head. "The radiation levels suggest there's been cosmic compaction on a tremendous scale - but this universe has not yet, for the moment, been pulled past the entropic threshold."
  7. Content Notices: Violence, Birth Scene Location: Espadas School of Self Defense and Swordsmanship! Date: July 19, 2016 Talya was very good at suppressing the potential consequences for her actions. Leaping off buildings, after all, was much easier if one didn't think about what missing a handhold might mean. Unfortunately, ignoring the eventual ramifications of the biology of how a baby (or two. Two!) would enter the world did not actually prevent the event. The cramps and back ache had only gotten worse despite her refusal to acknowledge that it might not just be late term pregnancy aches and pains. Although, she'd not admitted (and likely never would), it was fairly clear to those closest to Talya that the ex-spy was at least unsettled by the impending birth. Perhaps even frightened. At the moment, though, she was mostly just holding up the relocation to Sanctuary as if not stepping through the portal might some how prevent the next several hours. "I've changed my mind," Talya announced mulishly, her arms crossed over her chest. "Perhaps I could just be unconscious for the entire thing, after all. They still do that, don't they? If we went to the hospital instead, could they just knock me out?" Unlikely to say the least with her magical ability to shake off most things mundane and Talya's mystical biology did not often play well with other magics. Intellectually, she knew that but at the moment, logic was not high on the spy's list. "I'd bounce right back from a c-section. Probably. Almost certainly."
  8. Sunday April 24, 2016 Nuevo Laredo, Mexico There have been some interesting reports from Freedom City for the last few days - but honestly the news from Freedom City is usually full of something interesting or another. Nuevo Laredo was a dangerous city - its status as the busiest inland port in Mexico made it a hotbed of cartel activity, crime and violence such serious problems that even families separated by the border only met on the American side to avoid the risk of street violence. And yet even so, the people that lived there lived better than any prole in the Terminus - better than those people could have dreamed. In the trainyards, as the local security monitored the loading of Dragonfly's new electronic decompilers into the cars of the Southern Pacific, Steve Murdock brooded on these thoughts, and more besides, his dark mood a strange contrast to the "Pixar-blue" sky overhead complete with perfect white puffy clouds dotted here and there. "Thank you for coming, Echo," he said in a moment when his speedy teammate joined him on top of the train where he crouched, watching the work. Of all the Interceptors, Echo was the one with the simplest passport card - no wonder, for a woman who could cross borders when it suited her fancy. "The men appreciate seeing an American superhero - and I appreciate a comrade here. I apologize I am not a better companion." And with that, as he had been doing so often since they arrived, he fell silent. - Getting assigned as a superhero 'ridealong' to the famous Asad had proven to be a real coup for Sparkler and El Huracan - the wealthy playboy had had no real superbattles to fight during a week when business had taken him down to south Texas to supervise the acquisition of Multimedios Radio, one of the largest Norteño stations in the region, a gateway towards making a real financial push into the relatively untapped media market that was northern Mexico. Now he'd crossed the border to actually sign the papers that would make this territory part of his business empire, bringing with him his business staff and the two teenage heroes who hadn't had very much to do this week. The Crowne Plaza Hotel might not have been very big at 12 stories high - but it was the largest building in Nuevo Laredo. From the penthouse suite that Asad's party had rented for the occasion, the group could see out over the struggling city. From this high up, and behind glass, it was impossible to see the city's troubles, or hear them; just to see a nice, sunny day and a thriving commercial metropolis below them. The streets all around here were crowded with semitrucks, thicker than any the teens had seen even back in major cities in the States, making things far easier for those who could fly.
  9. December 1, 2015 Riverside 5:30 PM Gina Evans wasn't driving her car - she had Emerson for that. At least until Emerson gave her the warning beep that something was happening that required her attention. They'd been stopped for several minutes now in this small Riverside sidestreet, a shortcut Gina's mapping programs had uncovered months earlier when she'd begun her psychological visits to Dr. Franklin at Freedom Hall. Today's appointment had supposed to end with coming home to a pleasant dinner with Steve, but heavy traffic and now a police barricade had obstructed her travel plans. There were three other cars on the street with her, an SUV, a taxicab, and a luxury sportscar just ahead of her. She could see the man in the sportscar, wealthy from what she could see and the vehicle itself, cursing in frustration at the police cars in front of them. There were two police cars; each one blocking one lane of traffic, both with their lights flashing. The officers were engaged in setting up a barricade with traffic cones and road flares, occasionally stopping to converse with each other, but she couldn't make out what all the fuss was about. Behind them, their little mini-traffic jam was suddenly joined by a full-sized police SWAT transport truck! The truck, coming in so fast Gina could hear the squealing of its tires, made a neat pivot as it reached their alley, swinging like a door to block them in from the rear, too. SWAT officers poured out of the SWAT truck too, fully armed and in full body armor, and began the process of setting up another barricade behind them.
  10. Bombshell - These 'police officers' look exactly like Wilhelm Kantor. Fortitude save vs 15: (I don't think it's unreasonable to have Gina have an Equipment Taser, especially since she could just stunt something much more effective in combat!) http://orokos.com/roll/349106 = 20! He makes the Fort save, ooh noo! Okay, initiative time http://orokos.com/roll/349107 = 25 for Harrier http://orokos.com/roll/349108 = the baddies! CharacterUmbral GuardsCampaignNationality or ReligionDescriptionInitResults1d20+2: 12 [1d20=10]1d20+2: 4 [1d20=2]1d20+2: 13 [1d20=11]1d20+2: 18 [1d20=16]1d20+2: 15 [1d20=13]1d20+2: 5 [1d20=3]
  11. Williams Street Friday, July 10th, 2015 9:32 PM Friday nights were far from quiet in Freedom City, but this one was at least the kind of buzz that many were used to. The streets below were bustling, and while Liberty Park itself was fairly empty, there were still the occasional couples strolling across the lamplit paths, as well as those who'd decided to seek some shelter from the summer humidity by the cool of the lake. Cannonade was happy to take to the rooftops tonight. Things were going well at work, classes at night school were going okay, and he hadn't had anything horrible to deal with on the streets lately. There'd been the occasional bit of street crime, but things had mostly been on the level. In all honesty, he was starting to feel a little bit restless. He was waiting for something to happen - either to break the boredom, or to thrust him back into potential unpleasantness. When it came, it came fast. For Harrier, it was a burst over his in-suit radio - discordant, shrieking static that almost sounded like screams. For Oracle, it was a sharp sensation of the darker side of human thought, black as night and curdled as old milk. And for Cannonade, it came when he saw a young woman open a fifth-story window, step out onto the sill, and prepare to jump...
  12. September 5, 2015 It started with a wave of car thefts from the edge of the West End, all of them parked, secured vehicles in the parking lots of the many strip malls and other commercial areas that took up space between the West End and the growing suburbs of Ashton and Grenville. Then came the dumpsters, emptying out without a trace, and then finally vanishing themselves. When store owners put out security cameras and caught glowing lights surrounding their missing property before it vanished, they called their local superheroes for help. This meant the Interceptors - this meant stakeout. A little investigation revealed what looked to be a regular pattern to the thefts; and suggested the next place the thieves would strike. The team was currently occupying the next location on the list; a strip mall adjoining a small stretch of scrub woods that had for the moment escaped the growth of the city all around them. This late, only the all-night liquor store anchoring one end of the complex was open; the rest of the businesses, like much of the neighborhood, were sleeping. Luckily, Steve had a face for customer service, and so behind the counter he sat in the uniform of Al's Liquor Store, his scarred face and brusque demeanor making him seem 'like the kind of person who would work at a liquor store late at night." He wasn't entirely sure he understood what that meant; but he'd been given a mission by his team and he did his job. He knew the other Interceptors were on the case too. Of course, they weren't the only people out tonight trying to solve the mysterious disappearances...
  13. August 15, 2015 Hanover Steve had slept poorly that night, a victim of bad dreams and worse memories - but this was not uncommon. Luckily, sleep was something he rarely needed. He was up much earlier than Gina and in the kitchen, cooking shirtless since he didn't worry about the spatter from the electric stove. Particularly not with what Gina preferred to eat - which usually didn't require the use of the nearly spotless stove at all. Toaster strudel went in the toaster and Fountain Mist from the soda machine, and within a few minutes he had Gina's favored breakfast. After some consideration, he took the eggs and potatoes from the previous night and reheated them in the microwave. When it was done, he had breakfast all ready for her - and for himself as well. With his limited sense of taste, he usually ate whatever she was eating, albeit in considerably larger quantities. While he waited for her to wake up, he took a seat at the table and began paging through the phone that was a present from her, digging out that day's weather report. It would be cool, for Freedom City in August, beginning the day at seventy degrees and not rising much above eighty even at the day's height. With clear, dry skies forecast and a breeze coming in off the ocean, it was by all accounts a good day to go outside. With things having settled down recently, and Steve himself having returned from his exile in 19th century Utah, it was a good time, he had decided the night before, to change things for the better.
  14. October 2015 Steve rarely exercised at the dojo. He was far more powerful than the school's equipment could handle - necessitating a special set built for him at Gina's house. Gina liked to watch him work, whether it was lifting weights, testing the strength of his weapon, or running on the armored treadmill. Initially, he had thought it was just a crafter's eagerness to see her new creation - but he now understood that she found it aesthetically pleasing as well. But Gina was busy with a 'raid' with some of her online fellows tonight so he had gone out to roam the city - and found himself at the Espadas School. Having arrived after classes were over, he took a moment to listen for the noise of the family upstairs before he headed for the weights. He couldn't use his armor here - not without having Caradoc appear in the dojo with its unlocked front door, and he would never use his unmasked armor in a place where the Espadas children might see. After a moment's consideration, he settled for the closest approximation. Ignoring the martial equipment on the walls, he headed for the weight-training table. Setting aside the weights, he picked up the heavy steel bar at the center of the weight bench. It weighed 44 pounds. It would do. Holding it as lightly as a normal man would a rattan stick, he began working through a series of katas with the pole; the mixed murder arts of the Terminus in which he had been so thoroughly programmed in ages gone past. The strike at the knees, vulnerable on so many creatures. The blow to the midsection to steal the wind - the bar horizontally across the face to break the teeth and finally the signature devastating move of an Omegadrone, the forward stroke at shoulder height that would tear through a man's face and out the back of his head. It didn't just kill the man. As spikes dug into the back of the skull like fish hooks, increasing the damage as the blade was pulled free, it killed the souls of any who watched. Steve dropped the pole to a rest position and stared at his own haunted face. The other advantage of Gina's basement for exercise was the lack of mirrors.
  15. Between working at the dojo and... other things, Talya was clocking an awful lot of hours at the Espadas School of Self Defense and Swordsmanship(!). Today was no different, except that the dojo was currently empty of students - and most other bodies - save for the blonde currently standing in the main work out area with a decent size ring in hand as she examined the ceiling. Talya was almost always in the 'do what you want, beg forgiveness after the fact' mindset so this indecision was new. New and unpleasant! It was a good idea, Talya told herself firmly. One couldn't have students practice hanging upside down and doing things without having something sturdy to hang FROM. If Erik had only been her employer, Talya would already have had this installed in a joist and been ready to smile prettily when asked about the new addition to the workspace. It was even designed to fold up when not in use. It was a good plan. Muttering under herb breath, Talya resolutely turned towards the wall and within a few seconds had scaled the wall to balance with one foot on top of the stand of practice swords and her palm flat against the ceiling as she began running the stud finder over the ceiling. She was going to be perfectly normal, darnit!
  16. September 2015 Gruen Tanzer Contacting the two other Terminus survivors living on Earth-Prime had been no easy task - particularly Blue Jay, who unlike Argonaut had never actually exchanged contact information with Harrier except in those days after their abduction by the Curator. But he'd gotten the job done, with a little help from Miss Americana's connections. He hadn't directly discussed with Gina what the meeting was about, but he was supremely confident his genius lover had figured it out. She was very smart, after all - and she'd heard the same things from Sharl Tulink that he had. So he sat alone in a private room in the German restaurant Miss Americana opened, a hot buffet on one side of the room, the seats on the opposite side of the table empty. He'd given both Yves and Tona a message they'd have to respond to - a message that asked them to come meet and talk about the Terminus.
  17. March 20, 2015 It wasn't that Erik Espadas was expecting trouble, not really, but he subscribed to the idea that it paid to be the one carrying the biggest stick. Or to be friends with the people carrying the biggest sticks, anyway. When they'd worked out the rough schedule for Min's pregnancy nobody had been particularly surprised to find her due date landed on the vernal equinox. After the unexpected 'visit' by his extended family in the House of Swords for the birth of his first daughter, though, a whole different sort of planning had seemed in order this time around, just to be safe. Stesha had offered to host them on Sanctuary, of course, but even with one or two super-powered healers on hand the idea of being in a whole different reality from the closest modern hospital made Erik a little nervous. If he were being completely honest with himself there was also the fact that he wanted his second child to be born in Freedom City's West End just as he had. If was their home and he wasn't about to let anyone chase them out. That said, even if they weren't going to an earth goddess, the earth goddess could still come to them. A good section of the first floor of the Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship (!) was covered in toys where Stesha was keeping watch over Eden and Amaryllis laughing and playing, chatting amiably with Gina. Nearby Mara and Liz were engaged in an animated discussion of tweaks and improvements to the building's security over a folding table covered in computer equipment including a laptop displaying Vince's neon-green suit wearing avatar. They'd sent Chris out to get food mostly because it seemed like the only way to keep him from standing watch on the top of the building in full costume while Steve had insisted on standing guard, gargoyle like, outside of the second floor apartment where Ellie was making her sister-in-law comfortable. Yolanda had taken up a position across from Steve, solemnly following the taciturn bald man's example. It was, all told, a small army of love and support. Not that that stopped Erik himself from pacing back and forth with nervous energy, his gaze jumping back and forth between the stairs, the clock and Eden, hands clasped behind his back.
  18. From the album: Alder's Artistry

    Harrier & Cyberknife

    © K Keppeler

  19. Some time ago. Steve spread the graph paper flat with his fingers, then took a sharpened #2 pencil to hand. "This is your universe." He made a dot at the center. "The dimension that you call Earth-Prime." He drew a line from the dot to one end of the paper vertically, then back the other way. At each place where horizontal lines crossed vertical, he made another dot. "This is its associated universes. You know some of them; the morally-inverted universe, the National Socialist universe, the gender-inverted universe..." He marked several others as he went. "There are an infinite number of universes along that line. Some are more important to the line than others," he said, pointing to the junctures, "and each has its close neighbors." He thought for a moment, looking down at the page, then picked one of the dots. "Here, the gender-inverted universe." He drew another line, this one horizontal, across the page, with the gender-inverted universe as its center. "And here are _its_ associated universes - the gender-inverted National Socialist universe, the gender-inverted morally-inverted universe, and the like. There are an infinite number of universes along this line as well - each with its close neighbors, some more important than the others, and so on." He drew more lines, back and forth, slowly and methodically, until he had covered the entire page. "Now, we come to the question of traveling." He put the pencil to paper again, directly over the now-overdrawn dot of Earth-Prime. "A traveler can go only a few steps away, to a closely associated universe, easily enough..." He began drawing the line. "Or he or she may go further, all the way to another point." He reached the morally-inverted universe. "This universe is among the closest to you, so it is one of the easiest to find. Hence Johnny Rocket's discovery some years ago." He lifted his pencil from the page, and plunked it down at a seemingly random point. "Large trips, one that leave a world-line behind completely, can take the traveler to a radically divergent world - but these require far more energy, and the return is far more difficult." He raised the pencil in the air, directly over one of the dots "The Zero Zone, as you call it, is the space outside of worlds - easy enough to visit from each world, and a potential gateway from one to the other for knowledgeable enough to use it. I believe Wander's Raptor Empire uses the Zero Zone to maintain its holdings. A wise policy. Most multiversal empires destroy themselves, because it is far easier to do this -" He pressed down with the pencil, hard, and tore a hole in the page near its top, showing the desktop beneath. "and open a hole that leads to what lies beneath the multiverse. The Terminus - the entropic sewer of creation." He set down the pencil and took up an X-Acto Knife, setting the blade down in the hole he had made. "An invasion is done in this fashion. Once a universe has been destroyed, it is used as base for further conquest." He drew the knife across the page, following one of the lines, back and forth. "Until that universe and all its associated universes are gone. From there, the attack begins on all the universes associated with _those_ universes..." He cut off the top section of the page, then cut that section in half. "Until at last all things related to that world are gone; save the fragments left in the Terminus." He scattered the paper pieces across the desk. "Omega hungers for Earth-Prime, and other key universes, so that he may divide up the multiverse - and devour it at his leisure."
  20. Steve carefully replaced the tea cup on its saucer, lest he hurl it to the ground. “...why do you come to me with this?” he asked the projected machine intelligence, his voice a low rumble of suppressed anger. “A Furion machine intelligence should be loyal to her mistresses above all else.” “I am loyal to my mistresses above all thinking things,” said Bluebird sharply. “They are not puling cowards, to hide their deeds in darkness - and I am not betraying them by telling you these things.” She set her own simulated teacup down. “But there are other loyalties, to things greater than things that think.” “The destruction of Nihilor,” they finished together. He stared at her, understanding what she had left unspoken. His hand flat on the table, Steve was heedless of the nearly empty outdoor cafe, the weather having taken a turn for the hot that had driven all but the hardiest patrons inside to air conditioning. “Her repentance. I have seen it. You have seen it too. Is it sincere?” Bluebird looked uncertain for a moment, a strange look on a warrior AI’s face, before speaking, “As sincere as her nature allows.” “Good,” said Steve flatly, shooting a look at the distant towers of the DuTemps Building. “If it were not, I would tear down the walls of that place around her head.” “And war against me?” inquired Bluebird seriously. “And the Fleet, and a mighty spectre, and a warrior from beyond the stars?” There was a tone of frank disbelief in her question. “Not to mention Tarva herself.” “I would not come alone.” Privately, Steve wondered who among his new-found allies would stand with him against their own flesh and blood - fellow heroes of Earth-Prime. “But if she has sincerely abandoned her old ways, that thought is of no matter.” Steve put his hands together before him, steepling his fingers in almost an attitude of prayer. “And this offer to walk the streets, what has she said?” “She refused it,” said Bluebird, sounding a little surprised at the memory. “She refused it and said she would learn human ways inside the building. She fears to go outside. She fears you, the other drone, the city…” “She is correct to do so,” replied Steve, feeling the anger surging that he had first felt upon learning Tarva the Black was in Freedom City. He had silenced it once, but now - “When I thought she was in...in confinement there, I could understand that. Outside of the direct protection of superhumans, she would certainly be killed, and she was essential in defeating the nanite drones.” He rose to his feet, hands at his sides now and balled into fists, still staring at that distant building. “I swore that I was not her enemy - and I meant it. But what you describe is inadequate. That is...that is more freedom than she deserves.” “There were people on this planet who think the same of you,” said Bluebird frankly. “Just as there were Furions who wanted you confined, or destroyed, to prevent the spread of entropy. How is this situation different?” They were biting words, enough to make Steve sit down and consider his case carefully, the metal chair creaking beneath his weight. “If they had done so, I would not have argued with them. There was a time when I would have gladly courted death." He closed his eyes, focusing on his own inner dilemma. "She killed. She...defiled. All these things I did in Nihilor, and more." He opened his eyes. "But she did them of her own will. It was within her power to stop." "She would have been devoured alive if she had no longer made use of proles in that way." It was not hyperbole. "It was within her power to stop. She could have left the service of the Annihilists and gone into the Ghetto, as my parents did." His eyes flashed. "The palaces of the Annihilists are built on the bones and suffering of the proles of Nihilor. She slept in a bed, she ate when she pleased. She had garments when she wanted, and if she had spawned, her children would have lived in luxury beyond the kings of this world. She lived well - on the suffering of others." He looked up at the DuTemps Building. "She lives well still." "She weeps in the night - for loves lost, and worlds abandoned, and the name of her dead gods." They were interrupted by a waiter at that point, and Steve took the opportunity to pay the bill. When they were alone again, he spoke of his own accord, his voice all cold, unforgiving anger that he kept to a rumble instead of a shout. "To weep in the night is her fate. That she regrets what has happened is a sign she is worthy to...to be, at all. But no more than that." "So what will you do?" asked the Furion curiously. "Will you summon your battle-woman and your handfast allies and make war against the castle that holds Tarva?" It was a measure of the seriousness of the moment that the war machine spoke of a potential conflict with no anticipation in her voice. "No," said Steve without hesitation. "No, I will not be the cause of conflict in this world. I am troubled by what you have said - but no more than that." He fell silent himself and studied Bluebird, meeting the AI's projected blue eyes with his own. "You are watching Tarva. And you are watching me. If I had told you I would slay Tarva out of hand, whatever the consequences to Freedom City...?" "There are those beneath the Silver Tree who want you destroyed - and that other drone, too, the better to prevent the spread of entropy. I am not their creature," said Bluebird dismissively at the question in his lined eyes, the two rising now and walking down the street together lest they attract more attention at the cafe. "It is not proper for a Furion to plan a killing without carrying it out with their own hands - not suitable for an honorable warrior. It pleases me that you deserve to...be." "Hmm." Steve folded his hands behind his back, considering those words carefully. "You are indeed a trueborn Furion, Bluebird." He watched as the drone she'd used, an Archetech telepresence drone disguised as a small rolling electronic toy, turned and headed into a nearby alleyway before vanishing from his unenhanced sight altogether - back to the Dutemps Building, and its mistresses. And back to Tarva.
  21. April 15, 2015 Liberty Park After over a year in captivity, Tarva had quietly gone into action. She'd taken advantage of a driving rainstorm, one of the heaviest to hit this city in the year she'd lived there, and a rare mystical confluence produced by Seven's battle with Malador in order to slip away from the Dutemps Building's both physical and spiritual security. With a heavy rain jacket on and her face down, she had gone unnoticed by the many proles who walked the wide, nearly empty streets of this city, long enough for her to carefully make her way to her intended destination. She'd seen Liberty Park on a map of Freedom City and decided to make it her own - and as she approached, thanks to the lateness of the hour and the recent driving rains, she was delighted to find the park almost entirely empty. She stripped off her shoes and left them heedlessly by a walking path near the entrance, staring in wide-eyed fascination at the green beauty of the place. There was no smell of poison in the air, no whisper of monsters in the trees - and when she stepped into the grass, the soft blades were damp and cool against her bare feet. It was exactly what she'd wanted. A cool breeze came up, blowing softly against her skin, and in her soul she wanted to weep for the sheer beauty of the park by night. Keeping her hood up against the rain, she walked towards a nearby pond, staring into the water and thinking with fascination about the creatures who must live there! Settling down by the water, she turned and stared east, knowing the sun would be rising in just another hour or so. Plenty of time for her to see the new dawn, the first she had seen in...in an age, and then flee back to the tower like the rat she had become, away from the awesome beauty of this world's star. It was all perfect - except for one thing. She shot a glare up at the artificial lights scattered through the park and muttered a quick spell as the rain continued to die down, smiling as black globes appeared to cover all the lights she could see. Now the park was in the darkness it deserved, despite the glow of the city all around it, and from the curses and exclamations her sensitive hearing could just pick up from around the park, she would not be molested while she waited. She was alone; as she deserved. Taking out her diary, she began to write, letting her sensitive soul spring to glorious umbral life in the words of darkness and regret that lay beneath her skin like her black-tainted blood. The words flowed from her pen like lightning from a bottle - until suddenly she heard the too-heavy footfalls behind her. She leaped to her feet and screamed in horror at the sight of the oncoming Omegadrone, her fear dimmed not at all by the fact that it was not yet wearing its armor. "F-freedrone!" she exclaimed as she shoved her diary behind her back, terror at the fire burning in those cold eyes. "W-what do you want?" Steve's cold voice curdled into a growl as he stared at the Annihilist witch. "I wanted to be free of you, Tarva the Black, but look at you now! Wandering the streets of this city outside of your cage? Casting your spells? Writing who knows what horrible plans?" He turned anger into purpose, turned the urge to grab her by the neck into a surge forward that caught her by the wrist. "Be grateful that it is an ally who holds you captive, woman, or I would surely call the Freedom League and make some suggestions to your confinement." He pulled, and she pulled back, but his strength was far greater than hers. "Mercy! Please, mercy!" Tarva called, "Please, I only wanted to-" Steve came within an inch, a bare inch, of driving his fist against her face - and the thought must have shown on his, because she fell instantly silent. "You beg me for mercy. You beg me. For mercy." Armor erupted across his skin as holo-emitters came to life, transforming him into the armored figure of Caradoc, Tarva briefly crying out in alarm as armor shifted against her skin where his hand gripped her wrist. He didn't speak; instead he began picking her up so that he could fly her directly to the Dutemps Building. The sooner this was done, the better.
  22. December 25, 2014 South Pole Basin Lunar Farside It is not true that Farsiders never leave their city, merely that such events are rare and usually for a purpose. The construction of the South Pole station by Farsiders had been one such purposeful occasion, one launched over a Terran century ago by a Farsider monarch concerned about a recent Terran visit to the Moon. (Some Terran visitors to Farside City have pointed out that the Apollo missions took place over six decades later, but the Farsiders have the records of earlier 'interlopers' to show skeptical visitors of today.) With its neutrino detectors and concealed telescopes, the South Pole station is well-placed to directly monitor doings on Earth. Or for that matter, as Lady Lunar proved in the early 1980s, to strike at it. A collection of intellects vast and furious on Earth had realized the station's potential not long after the Communion crisis began - concealed as the station was, it was the perfect place to strike at an enemy in Earth orbit by surprise. What had been a location for observation could become a location for misdirection; a notion that appealed to the ruling government of Farside City, which liked the idea of saving the world they orbit without their true role ever being known. (Farsiders do love their secrets!) And so, for much of the last two months, the greatest minds of Earth have come to its only natural satellite with a singular purpose. To build a machine to protect the planet from the Communion! Steve Murdock had offered what advice he could during its construction, but his experience with dimensional technology was all practical. It had come down to Dragonfly's specific genius and Miss Americana's vast storehouse of general knowledge to put the great work into practice. Caradoc, and the other non-scientists in the party of heroes guarding the weapon (as Steve was not allowed to call it around his employer) had rapidly found another role in the small lunar colony. Lunar soil ashy beneath his feet, Caradoc raised his gleaming blade to the sky, the shining tip above the heads even of the tallest Farsiders in their environmental suits. A new group of Farsider militiamen had been deployed that week - and their usual trainers were busy with an Earth-Prime holiday, an important one, but one that he could miss while Gina Evans was safely ensconced in the tiny pre-fab quarters that she had occupied for the last month. There would be time enough for celebration when the work was done. He spoke over the radio. "Your enemy will target your environmental suits first! They are not pirates, or conquerors, or enslavers. Your dead flesh will feed their ever-growing armies." He lowered his blade as the group shifted uneasily, and for a moment there was dead silence on the lunar plain besides the domed Farsider military base even on the radio frequencies they used to speak with each other outside the dome.
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