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April 2018 

Bayview

Freedom City 

 

Day 15 since D-Day. 

 

In Callie Summers' office, Ashley George was adding up how long it had been since she'd had a good night's sleep in a bed and she wasn't liking the answer. Maybe she should have left the office, and the city, once the final arrangements had been made, giving her more time to wrap up the personal life that she was about to set aside for two years - God, maybe more. Maybe she shouldn't have had that third cup of coffee the night before, denying her a restful sleep in between images of the White House in flames. What could have happened, what might have happened. Ashley George, the biggest hero no one in Washington was ever going to talk about. Silence had fallen in the headmistress's office, in between the ticking of the grandfather clock she'd inherited from her father, and looking across the table at the silent visage of her former mentor, all Ashley could think about was how old she looked. 

 

"You actually kept the picture," she finally said, not asking the question of why. She knew the frame well enough, even if it was actually pointed at the headmistress rather than the agent standing on the opposite side of the desk. She wasn't sitting; she wasn't a student here, not anymore. She hadn't seen the girl in it, sixteen years old and bursting with pride, for a long time. "You should take it down while we're here," she said, keeping her voice even. "It'll compromise things." 

 

"I will take that under consideration," said Callie Summers, giving her former protege that ever-maddening imperturbable stare. "Thank you for staying for this meeting. I want to make sure you and Raven are properly introduced." 

 

"...that's what he is, huh? Just Raven?" asked Ashley, her voice sharper than she'd intended. "Must make things easier." 

 

 

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"Well, I debated throwing a color in front of it, but it seemed a bit tacky, all things considered.

 

The delivery was a deadpan most comedians would be proud of. If Ashley turned to face the source, a young man was standing just inside the closed door to the office, hands clasped behind his back, head tilted to one side. He was dressed in a dark, subdued suit that played well off of his tanned skin. His hair was longer than Ashley probably expected it to be, all things considered. His eyes were calm, evaluating her without judgement. Yet.

 

"Considering all things, I would tend to agree. And 'Junior' was just right out for multiple reasons."

 

He walked over and offered Ashley a handshake, a small smile on his face. 

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A big, muscley guy who towered well above her - and Callie to boot. Well at least she changed her sidekick preference, she thought without a trace of humor. "I see protocol's changed since the last time I was in this office," she said, keeping her voice professional. "Nice to meet you." She gripped his hand tight then released, perfectly controlled, perfectly professional. 

 

"Alek and I thought you would prefer a more personal approach," said Callie, who came around from behind her desk to touch first Alek's arm, then Ashley's. "Ashley George, this is Alexander Barbeau. Ashley operated as the heroine Copycat during her time in Freedom City." 

 

"Yes, well," said Ashley with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, "that was a long time ago." Ashley was of average height, with a rounded face that made her look younger than Alek knew she had to be from the stories he'd heard. The hair she was growing out helped with that impression; the neatly-pressed dark suit and pistol in the ankle holster did not. 

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Alek nodded at Ashley as they shook hands, his eyes barely even flitting between the not-a-teen and his "boss". He knew the difference between Callie Summers just not giving him all the details, Callie leaving stuff out to see how much he'd discover on his own, and Raven not talking about stuff. This was the latter. He was suddenly unsure he'd made the right decision coming here, but it was too late now.

 

"This was as much my idea as hers. I thought it would be good to just sit down. Besides, people's tongues would wag if Raven was casually walking around Claremont, or if two Ravens were seeing on a rooftop with a new, unknown heroine."

 

He was sitting comfortably in one of the free chairs, now, hands clasped in his lap, clearly trying to keep both Callie Summers and Ashley George in his view. Any evaluations of the escape routes in the room was purely his long-running training taking automatic effect, nothing more. 

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"Ashley, would you be so kind as to brief Alek?" came Callie, using the voice that Alek knew meant she was trying not to betray any feelings. 

 

Ashley blinked at that, and shot Callie a look of faint surprise before she spoke, "...all right. I'm sure the Raven is aware of the incident last month when terrorists from the Foundry deployed an EMP device against the White House before being foiled by the Secret Service." She smiled thinly at that, folding her hands in front of her as she spoke. "I heard CNN called it 'Robot Rumpus'? In any event, The general public is not aware, and Ms. Summers tells me most of Freedom's superheroes are unaware, that this was a cover story created by the White House Press Office and promoted by friends of the President in the press." She shot another look at Callie, who nodded almost imperceptibly, her fingers steepled in front of her on the desk. "The truth is that the electromagnetic event was triggered by the activation of meta-genes. Meta-genes in a member of the First Family."

 

She waited, studying Alek for his reaction. 

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Alek simply nodded when asked if he was aware of the event. He'd debating going up there but decided against it; the League as a whole wasn't going, and his own status in...really any hero team was rather nebulous right now. His mouth quirked slightly at the mention of CNN's nickname, but went back into a neutral expression as Ashley further explained things. For several moments after she finished, he said nothing, just tapping the index finger of his left hand on the back of his right. Finally he unclasped his hands, his right hand unconsciously fiddling with the old watch on his left wrist as he spoke. Callie probably would give him a dirty look for it, but it was the worst habit he had and all things considered not a bad one. He'd never gone through the motion in-costume, after all.

 

"Hm. I was not aware of that detail. That you're here, at Claremont, suggests it was neither the President nor the First Lady, which fits with a sudden, random meta-gene activation. So, one of the daughters of the President has triggered with a power centered on electromagnetic radiation? That's...problematic. Is she stable for the time being?"

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"She's no longer an immediate physical hazard," said Ashley, unconsciously flexing her hands to chase away the memory of burns. "And the First Family and her protective detail have recovered from the injuries they  sustained during her power trigger. But her powers are only barely controlled - and she's a Class F, with a recommendation against nullifiers." For a government agent, George was awfully familiar with technical terms about superheroes. "She's dependent on electromagnetic radiation for survival at this point - and there's no prospect of that changing." 

 

"After consultation with representatives from the United States government," Callie Summers broke in, "the decision has been made to enroll the young woman as a student at Claremont Academy." Now it was her turn to  pause and wait for Alek's reaction. 

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"Hm. I suppose devices to help her filter the radiation output aren't viable yet. So, yes, her learning control is the only solution. And Claremont is the most logical place; it's the best-equipped and best-staffed."

 

He regarded Ashley again with a slightly more critical eye, his gaze narrowing a bit before he nodded.

 

"Yeah, that makes sense. So, are you going to be her bodyguard, then? I'm guessing you're not just going to walk around in a suit with a gun at your hip all day."

 

He was clearly probing for an answer, but with a slight smile on his face. He presented himself as someone who had an idea of what was going on, but wanted some friendly confirmation. Which was true, he just also was carefully burying the part of him that was starting to sweat at the subtle tension between his mentor-teacher and this other former "sidekick". 

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Ashley frowned. "I am her bodyguard. I'm an agent of the United States Secret Service." Do I not look like I can do the job? her eyes seemed to demand. 

 

"This is going to change things for this institution," said Callie quietly, obviously trying to redirect her former protege. "While I've always suspected that some of our contacts in the United States government were more aware of Claremont's true nature than they realized, our secret is now officially out in Washington. The First Family and certain elements of the Executive Branch are aware of this school's purpose and location." 

 

"Well you couldn't keep it forever, could you? Fill up a high school with walking nukes and stick it in the heart of a major city, eventually the story was going to leak." It didn't seem like Ashley, or Callie, were particularly worried about the secret getting beyond the US government. 

 

"Still, you seemed to enjoy it," commented Callie, giving her former protege an unexpectedly sharp look. 

 

"Yes," said Ashley, looking like she was winding tighter and tighter. "I am a graduate of this school. But there's been an almost complete faculty turnover since then-" since your father retired - "and I...don't look like I did when I was sixteen." There had been a reason Copycat's mask had covered her face - and her eyes. "With that in mind, and given the need to provide full-time security to Jaycee Cahill-"

 

"Ashley will be enrolling here as a student until her ward has graduated from this school." 

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"Miss George, while I would posit it's within my capabilities to determine the full guard rotations of the Secret Service for not just the President but the entire First Family, I deliberately do not seek such information, or many other pieces of information the government holds secret. It's not my place to know. I'm positing a situation based off of what I've been presented in the last few minutes."

 

He doesn't seem agitated, but he is ever so slightly tenser.

 

"As well, ma'am, I would appreciate if you choose a more tactful term than 'walking nukes' for the students who have or do attend this facility. Putting aside that that mentality may provide an extra, unnecessary layer of stress for your charge, it's an unfair simplification of the good people who are just trying to learn how to use what they've been given."

 

He processed the news about Ashley attending as a student for several moments.

 

"Is she going to be carrying?"

 

His voice is completely flat when he asks that question.

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Ashley frowned at Alek, her dark eyebrows pushing together. You are a guest in their house - but it's not _his_ house, is it? "Didn't get a lot of info on your predecessor, huh?" she asked, cocking an eyebrow at Callie as she spoke. Alek could tell he was being addressed but had that feeling he was watching old arguments play out. "You're looking at the first Delta-class metahuman in federal law enforcement," she said, her voice even in a tone Alek recognized from Callie's voice when she didn't want it to be even at all. "And since I'm going to be spending two years with my hair dyed pink pretending to be sixteen again, I'll call teenagers who can out-fight a tank as I see them." 


"Our firearms policy is going to remain the same," said Callie evenly, her eyebrows furrowing in an expression that mirrored Ashley's. "Agent George will be equipped with a suitable cover identity and cover gear, perhaps with those pulsed energy weapons the Army has been developing. It _is_ going to be a difficult task, Ashley," she said with great frankness as she looked up at her former protege. "I will _not_ let this school become a pawn in domestic politics. Our situation is already delicate enough with the Dakanan heirs arriving next year - I will not let the family of one student jeopardize the learning environment of all the students." 

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"I try not to pry into law enforcement personnel records. But congratulations, Miss George, on your status. And no, we didn't discuss your tenure with Miss Summers, and I didn't pry. It didn't seem necessary. I'm much more of a believer in moving forward than in staying in the past."

 

He shifted, his hands now in front of him, about chest-high, fingers steepled together. 

 

"As for the Headmistress's evaluation of what Claremont can't let itself become, I can't find fault with that. I might have a few pieces of gear you might find useful for operations on-campus. But my next question is, will the President's daughter's identity and status be known? Or will they both be under cover, or two layers of cover in Miss George's case?"

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"I'll be a teenage vigilante brought to ground, she'll be my sister with out-of-control powers." Ashley shrugged, keeping her face a studied blank. "We can pass for sisters easily enough; she's about my height and we have the same coloring. We'll work out the details later - the important thing is that the attention stays on me and not on her. And not on this school." Did she really not say a damn thing? 

 

"There was some debate about this, given the concerns that other parents may have about the risk." said Callie Summers, her face showing a rare trace of humor given the dangers of the situation. "But given the First Family's desire for anonymity and the school's need for privacy, a false cover identity for both bodyguard and protectee seemed the most reasonable solution." 

 

"

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"Well, I suppose if the cover is blown, you can say honestly still that every measure possible will have been taken. Hm. So is it the middle daughter, or the youngest? Their eldest is past the age of attending, and I doubt Miss George would be trying to pass as a high-schooler in that scenario. Unless someone founded a Claremont College and didn't tell us alumni?"

 

His face shows a small but genuine smile at that thought. And when he next speaks, there's even a slight twinkle of humor in his eyes.

 

"I suppose you have your own costumed identity and outfit, Miss George? We can try resizing the Nevermore costume for you but it might chafe a touch. And I'm guessing we want to stage some sort of 'bringing to ground' incident, with just the right amount of information leaking to the press to confirm what happened but not break the aura of mystery around either of these vigilante individuals?"

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"Sure, and we can dress you up as the next Lady Liberty," Ashley replied, looking away from Alek. "Not sure you have the legs for it, though..." 


"A conflict with Raven would ensure focus stayed on your 'character' rather than your protectee's," said Callie quietly, keeping her eyes focused on Ashley's as the latter leaned protectively against the nearest wall. "Even among your fellow students."

 

Ashley sighed. "Great. Well, not the first time Raven's kicked my ass, right? Okay, we'll talk that out." She fell silent for a moment, then said, "Yeah, it's Jaycee Cahill. Neither of her sisters tested positive." She blinked, then added, "Are you _sure_ he's trustworthy, Callie?" Callie responded with an eloquent look that made the Secret Service agent sigh. "...you understand that if it became known that a Class F metahuman was living in the White House, even for family visits home, the political consequences would be - difficult. That's one of many reasons why this has to stay secret." That got her a longer look from Callie, and Alek had the impression something was going unsaid - but Raven II opted not to push her protege further. 

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"You might be surprised."

 

He shifted a bit, but kept his gaze on Ashley, nodding as she confirmed his theory.

 

"Right, because you could have kept this hidden so well without my help? Has she explained how I got recruited? I figured out who she was, though I supposed I cheated a bit. The first time I met her is seared in my memory until the day I die, so it's not too hard to compare photographs to that."

 

He sighed.

 

"Jaycee Cahill deserves anonymity and protection. I'm all-in on this plan, Miss George, any snark aside. She didn't ask for this, didn't choose it. We did. It's up to us to help her. But I'll let you game out most of how the 'epic confrontation' goes down. Though, could you answer one question for me?"

 

He unclasped his hands and set them on his knees as he leaned forward a bit, his face intent.

 

"Do you have heart palpitations, arhythmia, or other cardiovascular conditions, or otherwise a physical condition that would react poorly to suddent electrical stimulation? Just for the record."

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Ashley gave Alek a sharp look. "I was her sidekick for two years - I did the Taser tests same as you." At a faint, almost imperceptible noise, Ashley looked over at Callie Summers, whose cheeks were coloring slightly in a way that Alek had hardly ever seen. 

 

"...given that Alek is not a metahuman as such, certain aspects of your training were not adapted to his particular regimen," said Callie, taking a barely perceptible moment to compose herself. 

 

"Well." Ashley smiled sharply. "I guess some things do change after all. Anyway, I'm up for whatever you're going to dish out. We may want to bring Geckoman on it too - we'll need a backup for this guy," she said, nodding in Alek's direction. "And the more that have to take down the big bad vigilante, the better. Hell, maybe I'll help you catch some delinquents while I'm at it." 

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"Miss Summers didn't have to educate me on the sensation of an active electroshock weapon, Miss George. I asked my question for the purposes of staging our little fight. If the idea is to firstly attract attention and secondly establish you as dangerous and skilled, I intend to deploy tools I would not use on the average gang member."

 

Alek's tone had become almost clinical for a few moments, before some of the tension that had flared in him left.

 

"As for bringing Chris in, that's a sound idea. Another way to draw attention. And I'm certainly willing to do joint patrols on occasion, after things have...settled."

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"It's better if the vigilante doesn't play well with others," said Ashley, shaking her head. "She shouldn't be anybody's sidekick." Her eyes flicked to Callie at that, just for a moment. "That way when she and her sister disappear back to wherever we decide they're from, nobody's going to come looking for them." 

 

"We'll have to be careful that she doesn't overcompensate. The key is going to be making sure Ms. Cahill has as normal a high school experience as possible - and if the vigilante's with her at all times, that's going to require a certain degree of...approachability."

 

"Yeah, I thought of that too," said Ashley, not sounding happy about it. "Frankly, Jaycee Cahill hasn't had a normal childhood since her father ran for Governor - but if she has to come to Claremont, and I agree she does, she deserves a chance to have as normal a time here as possible. I'll make it happen."

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"Yes, of course, I wasn't seriously suggesting you be my sidekick. Though...we need to strike a balance. If this vigilante sticks out too much as a 'rebel without a cause', people will ask questions when she just disappears. Too much attention would be bad for Jaycee, as well."

 

He nodded sagely at the talk of giving Jaycee a normal experience.

 

"For all the...uniqueness...the student body brings in, Claremont is refreshingly normal, warts and all. I found my time here valuable, I'm sure she will as well."

 

He began pondering what he would tell Chris when they talked next. Preferably before Callie and Ashley showed up. 

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