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Phoenix Rising (IC)

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Summer 2019 

Phoenix Federal Building 


As he waited for Lady Liberty to arrive, AEGIS Special Agent Jim Johnson stayed out of the sun. It was Phoenix in summertime, 85 degrees at 9 o'clock in the morning, and he was damned if he was going to let the teenage superheroine catch him sweating more than he already was. So he stood just inside the building's glassed-in door, waiting for Lady Liberty to make her appearance. With the channels the government had established in the superhuman community in the last year, it had been easy enough to send the message to Lady Liberty - please come meet with us at such and such a date at such and such a time, so we can discuss a matter of importance to you. He'd always been a fan of Lady Liberty, the kind of heroic legacy he'd hoped to embody himself as an agent of the United States government, and had made a study of the current one's predecessors before taking this particular assignment - straight from the Director, who'd gotten it straight from the President of the United States. He was sincerely looking forward to bettering the life of America's patriotic heroine - and making things run a bit more smoothly for everybody. 

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Getting a message from the government was, to put it simply, not exactly a pleasant experience for Monica and her mother. Really, if anything, Monica was surprised it had taken this long for her to attract the bureaucratic parts of the government's attention, it had now been over a year since she'd gotten her powers and everything about her had been made public. She couldn't just throw it away, as nice as that would've been. Her curiosity meant that she at least had to know what the letter was about before inevitably having to figure out how to disappear from the radar.


AEGIS. Of all the agencies, that probably was the most positive one to address her. Still not great, by any means, but it likely meant that whatever was going on, it was related to her status as Lady Liberty, and not her and her family's residence status or lack thereof. Or maybe that's what they wanted her to think.


After some quick conversation with a  few people she trusted on this matter, Monica decided to show up. Once she was anywhere close AEGIS there wasn't really anything she could do, so this wasn't exactly risk-free, but perhaps it'd lead to something positive for once. Optimism wasn't entirely dead yet.


So, Monica walked up to the Federal Building in her full costume, wearing an extra backpack to bring some additional things with her. She entered the building, glad to be out of the heat, and began to look around the room. Whoever she was meeting would hopefully recognize her…


Her phone had been set to the panic switch that certified Capeslist membership brought with it. If she didn't click a few buttons on her phone every few minutes, it'd send an alarm to people she'd picked out previously. And at that point, it'd hopefully become a conflict between The League, Claremont and the Government.

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Smart play, thought Johnson admiringly as he watched Monica arrive. If she'd landed, she'd have come down in the middle of a crowd of tourists and reporters this close to the courthouse. She must care about her privacy. Good. He could use that. He smiled at Monica as she arrived. ""Miss Gutierrez! I'm so glad you could make it. Jim Johnson, with AEGIS." He steered her around the metal detectors with a wave of his badge at the security guys. "My office is on the second floor, if you'd care to follow me?" The elevator was right over there. 

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Monica looked around the courthouse and the crowds outside for just a moment before responding to Johnson. Even if, or specifically because, he seemed quite nice about this entire thing, Monica didn't trust this situation. But she was here now, so there was only one direction she could go; ahead. She kept one of her hands in her pocket, close-by her phone.



"Pleasure to meet you … Agent, right?, Johnson. " She followed after him doing her best to look relatively confident. Once they'd gotten into the elevator, she said something again.



"So, what's all of this about? The letter wasn't very specific."


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"That was my doing," admitted Johnson as the elevator reached the second floor. "I wanted to keep your business private - unless you chose to make it otherwise." His office turned out to be the only AEGIS office on this floor, a small block of four walls with a flag on one wall, a map of the United States dotted in pins on the other, and a metal desk with a computer that looked to have been the top of the line about ten years earlier. On closer inspection, Monica noticed that the pins on the map all showed points important to her life upon coming to the United States. 


Sitting behind his desk, Johnson said, "I won't beat around the bush with you, Miss Gutierrez. The federal government is familiar with your work and your life story. We like what we see - and we're prepared to extend Section 42 protections for you and your family." Monica had learned about Section 42 at Claremont; the section of the federal immigration code that expedited the processing and citizenship of foreign-born metahumans who'd immigrated to the United States. "If all goes well, and if you avoid committing anything more serious than a traffic offense, you and your immediate family will have the full protections of American citizenship awarded to you within the next calendar year." 

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No immediate response … great.


The fact Johnson didn't respond clearly but talked his way around it wasn't exactly comforting. Keeping her business private, that Monica could appreciate. But now that it was just the two of them talking, she really wished she knew what was going on as soon as possible. Because as it stood, this situation began to look more and more like a red flag.


The room itself was quite disappointing, actually. Monica had to remind herself that despite their area of expertise, AEGIS was just a government agency and that Phoenix likely didn't require as much attention as certain other cities, but when she'd heard of the AEGIS offices, she'd expected something more … extravagant? Not just a relatively bog-standard office.  Or what she assumed was one, as truth be told, she'd not really been in a lot of offices before.


The map on the wall looked interesting at first glance, and she tried to covertly take a look at it to maybe figure out what was going on. Which she quickly did, which did not help with her anxiety about this situation at all. She put on her best non-stressed face and took some deep breaths as she sat down to listen to what the Agent had to say.


…which was not at all what she'd expected. "Uh … one moment…" She had to take some time to actually figure out what Johnson had just said. Section 42 …. It rang a bell, and when it did, it was something completely different from what she'd expected going into this. Just out of nowhere? Full citizenship, without having to jump through any additional hoops? That didn't sound right. Was this really the sort of thing she'd get just because of her powers? It was an amazing offer, and Monica couldn't believe this was happening. Which was exactly why she didn't trust this situation. She'd heard Corinne talk about the lessons that'd come next school year when it came to situations that sounded way too good to be true.


"So, where's the catch?"

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"Oh, there's no catch." said Johnson with a serious look. "The United States government is eager to make sure we have good relations with the new Lady Liberty. Did you know your immediate predecessor was a government agent during her early career? She chose to assume a role in the private sector after the Terminus Invasion of 1993, but we still consider it a vital part of our story." He grinned at Monica and added, "And no, by the way, I'm not trying to sign you up for some kind of government black ops team. That's only in the movies. We just want to make sure we have a good relationship with you moving forward, just as we did with Beth Walton-Wright. I've been authorized to tell you that President Cahill is personally interested in working with you." He leaned back in his chair. "So what do you say?" 

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Monica nodded as Johnson told her about Beth. She'd only brought it up tangentially one or two times when her and Monica had been talking, so it wasn't a complete surprise, but Monica didn't know any real details about it either. It was also, as far as Monica could tell, not really that important to the situation at hand.


So it was about the relationship between her and the government, or probably more precisely the current administration from the sound of it. That made some sense, sure. She was Lady Liberty after all, even if a lot of people refused to see her as such. That statement also brought up memories from earlier in the year, of her dimensional counterpart who became little more than a propaganda piece for the government. Or for that matter, her other counterpart, who was essentially a propaganda piece against the government.


Beth had warned Monica that this would happen at some point, and so here it was. Not that she could refuse the offer. That much was certain, and she was sure that everybody involved in this knew about it.


"The President, personally interested? That's … wow, quite something. Do you know what he's envisioning?" That didn't mean she had to go into this blind though.

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"Oh, well, I'm not on the political side of government," said Johnson, a little embarrassed. "But I'm sure he'll be interested in making sure you have a strong relationship with the administration in the years to come. Maybe some photo-ops, some White House visits, that sort of thing." He shrugged, then gave Monica a serious look. "So what do you say? Shall we start working for Section 42 for you and your family?" 

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  • 3 weeks later...

Monica nodded at Johnson’s explanation. That was about as much as she could reasonably expect to get from him, and it about added up with her hunch on what it would entail. She leaned forward again, folding her hands together and laying her elbows on the table’s edge. 


“Let’s go ahead and do that, yes. I imagine it’ll take some time, so let’s start now, I doubt any of them will complain about this.”

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Some forms were signed, both that day and the next when her mother came over, and there were some tears as the two women embraced. 


The next few weeks were busy ones for the Gutiérrez family, particularly after the national news ran with the story CITIZENSHIP FOR LADY LIBERTY on the front page of its newspapers and the headline of its websites. Though the government kept Monica's true identity off the front pages, what was obviously a massaged version of her story was soon everywhere. It was all very patriotic - the heroic mother and her daughter who had come to America seeking freedom, the former working hard for long hours to support her family, the latter finding new power and identity as Lady Liberty as a teenager. What could be more American than that? 


(Not a single statement from the government mentioned that she hadn't always lived as a girl. Not a single statement from the government touched on all the illegal immigrants whose daughters weren't Lady Liberty, either.)


This was obviously the start of a rollout that had been planned for some time - soon there were websites offering free downloads of Lady Liberty's image, a public-domain children's book, and so much more! Her phone was ringing often now - Johnson with advice and new plans, Callie Summers with advice and hard questions about whether or not she'd signed any legal forms, and though it was clear her secret was being kept, it was clear a whole lot of things were happening at once...

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  • 3 weeks later...

Part of Monica had hoped that by the second time she got national media attention, it’d get easier. It didn’t really. Sure, this time the reporting was more positive, but just like before, the reactions from people weren’t. Last time it was about her identity. This time it was about her identity and her “selling out”. Which, she had to concede, she kind of had done. But that had been the situation she’d been forced into, and she regularly reminded herself that this was the best outcome she could realistically hope for. 


At least everything the government put out about her was technically true. After all, she’d have to work together with them from now on, at least until everything had been fully worked out. Perhaps all of this happening during summer break had been part of the government’s media strategy - Monica was on the front page for quite a while. And it meant there wasn’t much else going on in her life. She’d signed up for working at a summer camp, but with all that was going on, the camp had decided it was best if she didn’t. 


She couldn’t exactly complain about being bored as each day brought something new, and as different as each one was, at some point all of them blended into one another. Lying in bed after yet another day full of all sorts of administrative things she had at this point lost the overview over, she spent some time browsing her favourite webpages, as bad of an idea as that had turned out the past few days.


Monica opened her phone’s Notes app, and wrote down a single sentence: 


I am Monica Gutiérrez, and I am the America you refuse to see.


And then she tucked in. Tomorrow would be busy enough. 

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A few days later, the phone rang. It was Agent Johnson. 


"Monica, hello!" He chatted briefly to make sure everything was all right, then said, "I have somebody here who would like to speak with you, heh-heh!" 


A moment later, a familiar, accented voice came through on the line, laughing like your favorite uncle. "Why hello there, little lady! This is Jedidiah Cahill!

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  • 4 weeks later...

Somebody who would like to speak to her? Well, that one didn’t sound ominous at all. Monica thought about who Johnson could mean for just a moment, before she got the answer. It wasn’t who she’d expected to talk to today, but, she guessed it made sense, and part of her had expected to speak to the man himself at some point. Still didn’t mean she was prepared, though.


“Uh, …”


Wow, POTUS, right there. She was on the phone with probably the most powerful person on the planet (at least as far as politics were concerned), right now, and he’d just acknowledged that. Now, what would she do with this opportunity…


“Pleasure to meet you, sir. I can’t say I expected you to call me, truth be told. I imagine you’re calling me for a reason of some kind?”

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"As a matter of fact, Ah am!" said Cahill with a tone of voice that sounded oddly familiar. "Mah whole family and I are comin' down to Phoenix for a little meet and greet right before the end of summer and Ah wanted to extend a personal invitation for you to join us up on that stage. There's nothing quite like family to bring people together."

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  • 2 months later...

"Well, I can't really say no to that, can I?"


Yes you can. This is exactly where you say no. You're already seen as a tool. Don't become her.


It was true, this was another level. Public support by the administration or showing up at one of the president's events. A meet and greet, nothing too public from the sound of it. Not a rally. So if the information got out, it would probably look even worse. And it meant that Cahill could downplay it to the part of his base that didn’t like her.


The positive aspects of this really were limited, weren't they. And yet…


"Meeting you and your family in person will be quite the honor, I gotta say."

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Time came and went, and Lady Liberty's big news was the talk of the summer across Arizona.


And then President Cahill, the First Lady, and the three Cahill girls (as the media called them) all arrived in Phoenix for the end of summer - and the de facto beginning, the news told Monica, of the President's re-election campaign. Cahill had made enemies during his first term, as Monica knew only too well, but he had a devoted, motivated fan base that together with a stable economy made him the favorite in the 2020 campaign. Social media was buzzing with talk of the coming Cahill rally, from Young Republicans to the NRA. Nobody had said anything about Lady Liberty directly in connection with the President's arrival yet - but people were asking questions, now that she was so obviously closely-tied to the US government. 


And then the car arrived out front of Monica's house, big and black, with a smiling Jim Johnson in the driver's seat and an unsmiling Secret Service agent riding shotgun. "Hello there, Ms. Guiterrez!" he exclaimed, pulling up his shades. "Are you ready to make history?" They paused a moment to see if Monica's mother was coming along in this particular ride. 


The inside of the car was cool and air-conditioned, the drinks inside fresh. The hotel where the President was staying was swarming with security, but the backdoor and her very own security detail got Monica up the backstairs to the penthouse suite. 

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Monica still wasn't sure about this. The sort of people who were excited about this weren't the sort of people that were excited about her. Well, apart from the government. She'd been keeping an eye on the local channels, news and social media.



Her mom was more excited about it. Sure, she too had some issues with Cahill, but after everything he'd given her family so far, she was pretty exciting to potentially meet him. Nora, Monica's sister, didn't really care much. Politics weren't that big of a deal to her yet. She'd didn't really want to come along, but did so anyways.



"Hello Johnson. Always nice to see you. As ready as I'll be…"




The way he'd phrased that question sounded exciting for all the wrong reasons. Which Monica had come to get used to by now, Johnson just seemed to always be doing that. She got into the car, and as it drove off, her mom began adjusting Monica's dress again. She wanted her daughter to look perfect for this. Which, if nothing else, was a good confidence boost for the both of them.



Getting into the hotel was certainly an experience. Not necessarily a pleasant one, but as far as dealing with the Secret Service went it probably was one of the more comfortable possibilities, Monica told herself. As she took a deep breath to calm down, her mom did her thing – "You can do this Monica."



Then, she opened the door.

Edited by olopi
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Standing by the window of the Cahill family hotel suite, the President of the United States was a beefy guy just beginning to run to fat, wearing the black suit and one of the many legions of patriotic neckties that were part of his personal style. He was surrounded by staffers but they kept their distance as he bore down on Monica and her family. "There's that little family that everyone's talkin' about!" His smile was huge as he embraced first Monica's mother, then her, in a firm grip. "It's so nice to meet y'all in person. How was the drive?" 


The door to the adjoining suite swung open, and another figure entered. Rachel Cahill was shorter than her husband, her brown skin substantially darker than her husband's, black hair behind her in a simple ponytail. The first Native American First Lady, she actually could have passed for some of the Central American women Monica had seen on the trip to the United States. "Hello," she said with a smile almost as quick as her husband's. "I'm Rachel Cahill. You'll have to forgive our lack of the usual pleasantries, but it's been a busy day." Up close she had a force of personality that matched her husband's. "Are you well?" She folded her hands behind her back. 

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Huh. He really was less threatening in person. Monica felt at ease when he talked and embraced her. That came as a bit of a surprise, considering the scenarios she had gone through while trying to fall asleep yesterday, but it was pretty nice, actually.


Monica took a few glances around the room while doing her best to keep her attention on Cahill. Being respectful was important here, but she was still curious. Fortunately her mother was quick to respond. "Quite nice, our car isn't nearly as comfortable."


"And Johnson – my handler – is, sorry mami, probably a better driver than you are."


The First Lady had a similar air about her as her husband. Less cuddly, … which was weird to think about, Monica realized, but still something that made Monica feel like she was at some of her mom's friends house, not in a hotel suite with POTUS.


"I can only imagine how busy all of this gets…"


Monica took a few steps towards the main window.


"Every time I've seen this building I've wondered what the view was like from up here. But yes, yes."


She turned around to face the First Lady properly.


"I've been enjoying my time off, school has been busy so I've been catching up whenever I've not been dealing with more … official matters. That's what a school like Claremont gets you, I suppose."


Sure, the situation was more complicated than that, but this was the time to upsell herself.

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"Ah happen to know for a fact that you're in good hands," said Cahill with an avuncular smile. "Rachel, darlin, would you mind taking Mrs. Guiterrez into your side of the suite for a moment? Ah'd like a moment or two with America's sweetheart here.


"I was thinking," said Rachel, standing up beside Monica's mother with a smile, "you and I have about the same coloring, and I have some jewelry that'll go very well with what you're wearing for the rally..." She had quite the force of personality - and what the hell, it wasn't as if anything bad could happen to Monica while standing next to the President, right? The door to the adjoining suite closed with a click and Cahill studied Monica closely. 


"Ah wanted to say that Ah appreciated you coming out here for this meeting. As much as it pains me to admit, not everybody who supports J.T. Cahill for the Presidency has the right attitude about people like you. But Ah think you're a credit to all your people - the American people especially." 



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Cahill definitely had some ties to Claremont, that made sense. With the stories she'd heard, POTUS not being briefed on it, probably by Summers herself, would be weird. Her mother leaving the room – she was quite keen to talk one-to-one with the First Lady – was actually a positive for Monica right now. Sure, she didn't feel super confident, but without her family watching over her, she could maybe say thing she otherwise wouldn't.


The moment she realized that, she felt better. It was just Cahill and her in this room. The tension she was feeling all around her body loosened up a bit as he began speaking.


"Yeah, … yeah, I'm … quite aware of how people feel about me at this point…"  He knew about all the toxicity and threats that had come her way, right? There was no way he wouldn't have been informed of something like that, right?


"I like that assessment. I'm a credit to them. I was given these powers to do good with them. I have the ability to help them, to improve their lives, to make the world a better place for them. And I'm willing to do that, no matter the backlash. "


She could feel her confidence increase as she talked, and with it The Spirit did its thing, as by the end of it, she was no looking looking up at Cahill, she was now slightly taller than him. And looking straight into his eyes. "The question is, Mr. President, are you?"

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Cahill was briefly nonplussed at Monica's empowerment - but he wasn't as awed as the watching staffers and Secret Service agents. It seemed the President of the United States really did have "a great many powers", just as Monica's civics teacher had warned her. "Ah've had my share of enemies. Just ask those of us who were there when they tried to bring down Air Force One two years ago. As for the rest of it, well, mah Presidency is on the record," he said, that smile now more hard-edged. He turned and walked to the window, gesturing for Monica to join him. Phoenix was spread out below them in all its sun-baked glory, the rapidly-growing city's skyline very different than the smaller, taller, older Freedom. "It's a big America out there. Conservative and liberal, white and black, native-born and immigrant." He turned to Lady Liberty and said, "You come very highly recommended to me, Ms. Guiterrez, as a young lady of remarkable character and accomplishments - and now Ah see as somebody with a strong belief in family. That's why Ah want the two of us to appear together this week, as a symbol of Lady Liberty and the President of the United States standing for all American families.

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His presidency was indeed on the record. That was the issue. Sure, things could be worse, and under many other politicians they may have been. But they could be much better, too. Cahill did not stand for fast and meaningful change.


Monica knew, and Cahill knew that she knew. And in this situation, she held the power in her hands. He needed her more than she needed him. He gained something out of appearing with her – she didn't. But then again, he was quite nice about it all. And maybe that sort of stage was just what Monica needed…


"I had a hunch you would ask something along those lines. "


Why couldn't her friends be here right now? Or her teachers? She would even take her therapist. Just somebody she could talk to about this. She had to make this decision by herself, and she didn't like that.


"Standing for all American families? What are you imagining?"

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"Nothing too serious, at least not today. Ah'm not gonna try and get you to endorse me for re-election," he added, his grin broadening, "though Ah surely wouldn't say no if you did!" He sobered, stroking his chin for a moment, then said, "Hey Joshua, would you come over here?" He waved his hand and a young staffer approached, a nerdy-looking guy in a sweater vest who obviously was starstruck in the presence of Lady Liberty. 


"Lady Liberty, this is Joshua Lawrence, one of mah best young speechwriters." He made quick introductions, Josh's handshake soft in Monica's, and said, "Ah had Joshua write up a little speech for you. Nothing too fancy, and something you can feel free to tweak as suits your fancy."


Josh showed Monica the speech on a tablet he was carrying. It was short, something Monica could deliver on a platform in about ten minutes, and indeed it didn't endorse Cahill for re-election. In fact, it was a speech that had very little to say about politics at all. Oh it was a speech full of American history, even a diverse history; with the legacies of Cesar Chavez and Jim Kolbe mentioned, among other things. This was a speech that called on the triumphs of American history - to say that America was a triumph - that said all American families should be united - without saying what for. 

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