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Avenger Assembled

(IC) Against All Of Me: Barren Immensity

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"This is it," Erin murmured to Trevor, staring around at the crowd of herself. "I always figured one day I'd just crack under the pressure,  but this isn't really how I saw it going down." Her grip on his arm was implacable as stone, just shy of painful. 

 

Most of the other Erins were obviously able to hear her, but they seemed to be a taciturn bunch overall, most of them watching at best, glaring at worst. Every defensible corner of the room had been staked out by at least one Erin, while the rest milled about more or less aimlessly. White-haired Erin stepped forward from among the throng, giving her counterpart a crooked smile. "I'm gonna guess from context clues that you're probably the Wander who actually lives here. Sorry for dropping in on you like this, but I guess that's what happens when you live on the dimensional nexus; you get all the weird relatives dropping in every time there's an emergency." 

 

"What kind of emergency are we talking about?" Erin asked, her focus sharpening. 

 

"Y'know, the thang that keeps hopping dimensions and ripping our hearts out, or tryin' to anyway," This came from a Wander who seemed to have traded the usual spandex or tac pants for riding chaps and whose reinforced vest had a silver star on it. Erin was absolutely sure she had a cowboy hat somewhere nearby. "You ain't heard anything round these parts?" 

 

White-haired Wander didn't seem surprised by Erin's obvious incomprehension. "Dragonfly, our Dragonfly, theorized that whatever it is got started away from the dimensional nexus and has been sweeping its way inward, maybe because it came from that direction, maybe because it wants to hit the nexus last. Either way, that's what got me headed in this direction." 

 

"We need to get a plan together to face this thing." Here was a Wander who looked quite similar to Erin herself, but much tireder and wearing a flash patch on her shoulder that looked like a flag with flowers, a crown and a Latin saying. Erin racked her brain and came up with "I live free and die," but suspected that was wrong. Flag-Wander had a little girl clinging to her leg, but Erin was very deliberately trying not to look at that right now lest she have that mental break for real. "Is this going to be a secure base?" 

 

"Depends on how many of you guys show up," Erin pointed out ruefully. "But yeah, I want as much info as I can get about the threat. Have you all been talking with each other?"

 

"No offense or anything," a new voice piped up, "but I still think we'll be better off at Claremont. They'll have room and enough security to back us up." Erin felt her brain briefly white out as Megan pushed her way into the conversational circle. Not just Megan, but Megan three inches taller and with fifteen extra pounds of muscle from the last time Erin had been to Seattle. A Megan wearing a Claremont uniform like it was familiar as her own skin. She just stared. 

 

A few feet away, another clot of Wanders near the control board shifted around, apparently in the service of finding some bedding upstairs. Four or five Wanders left the room, leaving the way clear for Trevor to at least see his command center. There was a Midnight there already. That would've been surprising enough, but a second look revealed that this was almost certainly another Wander, judging from height and the way the costume fit. Midnight-Wander was already facing him, motionless and silent. After a moment she reached up and pulled off her mask, revealing an Erin who was staring at him very much the way his Erin looked at Megan: like the ghost of someone lost and bitterly grieved. "Trevor?" the unmasked Midnight asked, voice thick. 

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A sharp inhalation could be heard faintly from behind Midnight's mask as a recognizable version of Erin's sister made her presence known. In the beat he waited to gauge his wife's reaction another emotional crisis presented itself. It wasn't difficult to infer why that alternate Erin was wearing his costume -- or what had been his costume, in the same way it had once belonged to his grandfather. Neither situation was going to be easy and with tremendous reluctance but no outward hesitation he prioritized and delegated.

 

Trevor placed a hand on Mark's shoulder. "Her sister. Buy a few minutes," he requested quietly, using his other hand to undo his mask so that it hung about his neck. "Don't be weird about the little girl." He took a half step closed to his Erin and still softly promised, "Will be right back."

 

Walking over to the black clad Erin he exhaled slowly. "I'm sorry, he consoled without preamble, corners of his eyes crinkling in a pained look. He took in her uniform with a small gesture. "He would have been honoured."

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Mark inhaled, then exhaled. It had been a long day already but this was his job on the League, wasn't it? "Claremont's a good fallback location," he said as if he and Megan had been friends for hours, "but it's too risky for right now. You'd be putting all the faculty and students there in harm's way, and even if they did that for us-" and Mark was reasonably sure they would, "once the precedent was set, you'd have the school crawling with outside people every time there was a major crisis." 


"Sounds like the damn Freedom League's no help in _any_ universe," said the armored Erin, wearing vaguely Arabic-body armor that it took Mark not even a second to recognize as a descendant of the armor of Typhoon's personal guard. "And I guess Socatra's out too," she confirmed a moment later. 


"Well...my wife and I aren't exactly welcome there at the moment," said Mark carefully, not exactly sure what that armor signified - but having a feeling Nina would probably want him to ask. 

 

He felt a sudden weight on his leg and looked down to see the little girl tugging at his pants. "Hi Daddy," she said sleepily. Mark blinked a moment and looked up at the Erin the little girl had been attached to a moment ago, and thinking back to a visit to another world suddenly told him who this had to be. 

 

"H-hello there!" he said, keeping his eyes on the little girl and not on the other Erin. "I'm Mark. I'm not your daddy, I just look like him. You're very pretty. Do...do you want a teddy bear?" he asked, producing a brown plush one from behind his back. 

 

"I already have that bear!" she said in a small, frustrated voice. 

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"Clara, be polite," said the Wander with the flag on her arm, even as she reached down to scoop up the little girl. This Erin watched Mark with wary impassivity, an expression more carefully schooled than what he was used to seeing on Erin's face. "Remember that this isn't our home, and the people here aren't the same as the ones you know, even if they look familiar." 

 

Clara's little face (it was hard to tell her age, but she didn't look more than four or five) screwed up as she thought about that, then smoothed into a polite little pout. "No thank you, Daddy," she tried again, "but can I have a unicorn with rainbow hair instead?"  From next to them, Megan muffled a snicker. 

 

The brief moment of byplay was enough to let Erin finish staring and recover her equilibrium. She knew Megan had caught her staring, but the younger heroine seemed resigned to it by now. Erin was hardly the only one in the room doing so. Before she could say anything, though, another pair of Wanders joined the group, one a dead-ringer doppelganger except for the blue streaked hair, the other sporting a spiky auburn cap and a uniform that seemed to be about 85% pockets.

 

Pocket-Wander grinned at Erin. "Hey, long time no see! I'm Wonder," she added helpfully. "We were Disco Freedom last time you dropped in on us, but we're over that now. Remember? You helped us beat Breakdown so hard he pissed himself?" Erin nodded, she did indeed remember that. "Anyway, me and my kind-of evil doppelganger are both here. Wander here and I stashed her in your holding cell, hope that's okay?" 

 

"Ah, yeah, that's fine." Erin said, trying to make her voice strong enough to at least be audible. "Do we know if there are any other evil or evilish Wanders running around?" 

 

"I saw a Deep One Wander about ninety minutes ago," Blue Streaks volunteered, "but I couldn't catch up to her. She seemed kinda pissed. And I guess your Jessie's still in prison, or in prison again?" 

 

"Who's Jessie?" asked Cowboy Hat. 

 

On the other side of the room, Midnight Erin stared at Trevor for another few moments, then blew out a long breath. "Yeah, I hope so. It's what Travis said too." She rested her hand on the edge of the console, pressing down with her fingertips in the deliberate way Erin had of controlling her strength when she'd rather be crushing or punching or smashing some hapless inanimate object. "Feels strange to be here like this," she admitted. "Haven't seen other people in the house for awhile." 

 

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"She is Erin's sister from another place," croaked Aquaria as she hopped over to join them, fixing her goggle gaze on the Wander with the hat before she focused on the Erin who lived here. She could tell from the smell. "Jessie is in prison," she hissed throatily. "It was terrible." She peered at the Wander with the blue bat, the one she'd seen before, then turned her head to look back at Erin. "The bad one that looks like that one was doing crimes, and Jessie took the blame. So she is in Blackstone and thinks she is a robber but she is not!" She didn't yell as loud as she felt like yelling, not when there were Surfacer children about, and many Erins.   

 

"...yes, yes I can!" said Mark, snapping his fingers and summoning a giant plush unicorn with a fuzzy rainbow mane just long enough to be brushable but just short enough to be really snuggly, shrinking the thing down slightly when he mentally measured it against Clara's size. Clara smiled at the sight of the unicorn and hugged it so tight Mark was briefly worried a button eye would pop out. 

 

"Thank you, Daddy!" Her smile made him feel better; but worse at the same time. He suddenly had a painfully vivid image of Richie growing up with just one parent around, and he wondered if Nina would give him the kind of look Erin was giving him - oh no, come to think of it, if anything he'd heard about that dimension was true, Nina would kill him. He badly wanted to go see his wife and son but the mission was a little important right now. 

 

"You should call me Mark," he said with a smile for the little girl, earning him a smile in return. "Would that be okay?" 

 

"Okay, Mark," she said with a tired smile as she buried her face in her unicorn.

 

"...so all I need is to borrow one of you so that we can go show the police that there is more than one Erin, so that Jessie will be free. She will be a good help with your problem, she is very strong and tough, and I gave her a magic shield," Aquaria was finishing her story to one of the Erins. In response, the latter bobbed her head and said, "I can't believe they'd lock her up in a cage underground! But I don't really think I can help, Stretch; I'm not going to convince your cops of anything other than maybe they've taken crazy pills?" Swander shrugged her wings eloquently. 

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Trevor said nothing, following the Midnight-Erin's gaze out into the unusually crowded cavern. He knew better than to ask what had happened to his counterpart; even ignoring how easily such knowledge could backfire he suspected this version of his wife blamed herself for his death. Instead he watched the proceedings with her in companionable silence for a minute or two before speaking up.

 

"Leave you to organize sleeping arrangements? Know the layout." It also gave her something to do other than drown in self recriminations. A transparent gesture but hopefully better than nothing. "Need to help with that." He gestured with his chin to where Mark was doing an admirable job of dancing around another thorny situation and his Erin was doing her best not to stare at a version of her sister, hale and hearty. Aquaria's situation was going to need attention soon as well but he hoped he could at least leave her for at least a little while without risking an explosive fallout.

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The Midnight Erin nodded at Trevor, angling her body so she could look at him from the corner of her eye rather than head-on. "About half of the Erins who've arrived live in the Manor on their worlds. Some of them have gone to collect bedding so we can set up a barracks in the trophy room, maybe one of the garages if people keep arriving. Maybe Mark can whip up some cots. Under control, do what you need to." She turned away and raised a hand to run it through her hair, stopping when she remembered it was covered, then headed back to the wall of security feeds. 

 

Across the room, Erin made the same gesture but managed to complete it, disordering her auburn hair with agitated fingers. "Right, yeah. We should get some kind of plan in order here, and somebody really should get Jessie out of jail." She looked to Mark. "You've probably got the best legal contacts, can you find somebody at Project Freedom or the Freedom League and tell them what's going on? We can send somebody over to pick Jessie up and get her back here, but nobody should be traveling alone if something's gunning for us." 

 

"We should mount a watch," the Erin in blue and white suggested. "The surveillance here is not bad for a private residence, but nothing beats the personal touch.  And lay in some food supplies. Do you have Big Star Pizza in this world?" she asked hopefully. "God, I miss real Freedom City pizza." 

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It was a busy night, especially for heroes who had already been busy with their own interdimensional crises. But when did crime, or even disaster, ever really take a break?

 

After first stopping to produce a room full of emergency supplies right out of a high-end camping store, Mark disappeared with Aquaria for a good long while, reappearing after a while with Aquaria and Jessie both, the latter carrying a bright metal shield on her back adorned with what looked like an off-center, five-pointed star. After that he temporarily made his goodbyes, reassuring Erin and Trevor that he'd be back after he had a chance to sleep and check in with Nina and Richie. 

 

By the time Mark disappeared, there were about thirty Erins around the mansion. And more kept arriving. An Erin with dark, kinky hair and a vaguely Egyptian costume; an Erin with truck-sized power armor that she parked on the lawn (where the two Redbirds conversed), an Erin in a translucent helmet with a large, high-tech blaster at her side that turned out to contain a blue ring of power, and even an unsettled Erin with the green skin and big staring eyes of a Deep One hybrid, who stared widely but didn't seem interested in saying much. Aquaria and Jessie were checking the defenses on the lawn, anyway. 

 

That night the house was full of people who only slept when they wanted to and who habitually drank large amounts of coffee. The house was full of wakeful, watchful people; with the little girl and the teenager upstairs one of their prime guarding targets, but by no means the only one. They collectively talked tactics; it seemed likely that there was not a power in the dimensions that could fight this many versions of Erin White at once; was this a plan to herd them all together for some terrible purpose (or even a large bomb)? But what could pass the wards of a hellqueen, a Furion machine intelligence, and more? 

 

The next morning, while many of the Wanders were at breakfast, a private signal alerted the Erin and Trevor who lived in this dimension that there was an emergency. When they reached the rear access gate they'd been looking for, they found one of Erin's counterparts with her heart torn out. 

 

With her blue-streaked hair and her nigh-familiar costume, she could nearly have been Erin's twin if you ignored the concavity in her chest that leaked bright red fluid, puddling on her costume and down onto the grass where she was sitting, leaking past where her hands were pressed together over the gaping wound in her chest. Trevor had seen these before. And so had Erin, in pictures. 

 

"Not...not what you think..." the Curator-duplicate said, haltingly. "Went looking for more..."

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Trevor stiffened with a barely audible intake of breath. On most days being reminded of the Curator's deception would have sent him reeling with lingering shame and undirected frustration but just then he'd walked among too many what-ifs to succumb to one more opportunity for second guessing himself. "Redbird, prep everything we have on Preserver tech, specifically the Curator," he called tersely, voice somehow flatter than usual. He gestured for his wife to pick up her damaged doppelgänger before jogging ahead to ready the equipment down below. Bringing an inconspicuous cufflink to his mouth he spoke over the manor's sound system. "Anyone with knowledge of robotics, technopathic, ferrokinetic or similar abilities downstairs. Now." There was a brief pause before the etiquette ingrained into him for hosting required he add, "Please."

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