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Avenger Assembled

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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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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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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