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Late July 2021 

Freedom Hall 


Okay thought Ashley, looking at her helmeted face in the women's bathroom mirror. It's just a normal briefing as part of a larger team meeting. You're going to introduce yourself, say you hope we'll have a good working relationship, and tell them what happened with Revere. We're all adults here and we're not going to fight over territory.


Under normal circumstances, she'd have gone in without the mask and secret identity, but there was no reason in the world to have the Freedom League looking into the affairs or for that matter recent professional whereabouts of Secret Service Agent Ashley Tran. She took out her phone and texted a quick Going in. Talk to you later, babe. ? to an anonymous number that routed out to the depths of space before turning off her phone, putting it in her jacket pocket, and tugging it down to match the lines of her costume. No use looking like an ass. 


With that, and with a deep breath, she walked out of the bathroom, walked down the hall, and headed into the Freedom League meeting room. 

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This was still weird. Part of the Freedom League. Sure, Casper hadn't really done much official stuff or anything like that, but here he was, doing official stuff as part of the league. Going to meet the new Patriot and everything, together with everyone else.


He hadn't really met most of the other people here yet. Quick briefing, this is Ghost, the papers are usually wrong about him, and so on. The usual stuff. Maybe he'd get a chance to talk a bit after this.


Ghost was sitting in one of the chairs in the meeting room in full costume, mask pulled up over his mouth and nose so he could drink some of the coffee he had brought. Another all nighter had left him tired, and he should probably pay attention here.

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Gabriel walked into the room, carefully holding a rather large mug of coffee. He paused behind one of the empty chairs, and looked at the room and its current occupants. 


"Well this should be interesting."


With that pithy observation, he set the cup on the table before gently lowering himself into the seat. He sighed as he reached down and took up the cup again, taking a large sip.


"Sorry. Was up late dealing with a nest of demons."

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It had been a little while since Fleur de Joie had attended a Freedom League meeting in person. This wasn't too unusual, since she was a very busy person with a skillset that leaned much more towards specific interventions than general on-call crimefighting. She'd taken some time off after her brush with (or pratfall into) death in the spring, and had been spending most of her work hours directing her thriving and ever-growing refugee community on Sanctuary. Even though she was neighbors with several of her teammates, she hadn't gotten a chance to see anybody for a bit longer than she'd originally planned. It... might be a little awkward. She decided the best way to deal with it would be with a very large pastry box full of doughnuts. 


Stesha arrived just a couple minutes late but at least not last, and gave everyone a cheerful smile as she walked in. She wore her mask as a concession to the uniform, but was otherwise completely in civilian garb, stretchy black pants and a draping flowered shirt. The reason was apparent as soon as she set down the box of doughnuts: at five months pregnant she did not fit into even the loosest of her uniform outfits.


"Good morning everybody," she greeted the room cheerfully. "Ghost, it's so nice to see you've joined the team! And Gabriel, it's been a minute, hasn't it? I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to come by!" She brushed a hand over his shoulder, the touch enough to bring a little ease to a tired and sore body. "And, hmm, I'm sorry, I don't believe we've met," she admitted to the newcomer. "I'm Fleur de Joie." 

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The Gaian Knight popped both eyebrows up over the top of his goggles at Fleur's obvious...development, but had the good taste to not bring it up. Tiamat, leaning on the side of his chair, nearly did - but before she could do more than start a word she got an elbow to the hip hard enough to send her mace, hanging from her belt, tapping against the table. It was not a gesture she seemed to appreciate, but rather than completing her question she opted to lean over the table and grab a doughnut.


They were both in full costume, complete with the dragon's cape and the knight's coat - which he found doubly useful as he pulled a rock out of his pocket, spinning it out into a small plate while he grabbed a doughnut of his own. "Fleur," he greeted, nodding. "It's been a while since we had so many of us in one place - always seems like there's something somewhere. It's nice to see everyone's faces. Or, well." He chuckled, tapping his own goggles. "You know what I mean."

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"I'm - " Ashley looked Stesha up and down and took time to think a few thoughts. Okay. Don't be the first person to mention a pregnancy, even if she's obviously pregnant. Don't want to step on the toes of the superpowerful plant lady or anybody else here. Did they know about this? Is it - she cranked down that piece of speculation very quickly and finished speaking "the new Patriot." She supposed someone who lived in another dimension would have missed the marketing push. And the Presidential address. "I'm here to brief the team on behalf of the US government." She went around the room shaking everyone's hand, a firm, obviously calculated grip for the blue and grey masked patriot. "Gaian Knight, Tiamat, Gabriel, Ghost, it's a pleasure to meet all of you." She was shorter in person than she generally appeared on television, but solidly built, though it was hard to tell how much beneath the jacket and armored costume.


Once she'd circled back around, she took a chocolate glazed doughnut, the least likely thing to drip on her costume or make a mess on her face. Okay. Avalanche guy, dragon lady, sound guy for the parish, plant goddess, and not-the-Raven. Everything is fine. 

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"Demons? Sheesh, trying to keep Kingston calm for a night sounds almost boring compared to that." Ghost tipped his card board coffee cup in Gabriel's direction as a salute.


He grinned back at Fleur at her greeting, quickly reaching out to snatch a donut with frosting and sprinkles. "What can I say? You inspired me and... huh." Ghost paused, the donut brought halfway to his mouth as he noticed Fleur's bump. Well, that was new, but no one else was bringing it up, so... Yeah. Better not. Maybe they all knew already? 


Besides... that wasn't why they were here, was it? No, this was the all-new Patriot's show. Ghost took a big bite of the donut as she started introducing herself. 


Once she got to him and shook his hand, Casper couldn't help himself. "So, uh, brief us about what exactly?" 

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"You get used to them. Was a big nest, but they were mostly just a bunch of screechers."


He smirked as he took another sip of coffee.


"Didn't help them much."


He seemed to not notice Fleur's healing touch; likely a combination of his exhaustion combined with the armor and coat his outfit consisted of. He blinked at the box of donuts and gave a tired smile.


"Lord and the Saints bless you, Fleur. Thought I was going to have to gnaw one of my arms off."


He grabbed a couple of larger donuts, before nabbing a thick paper plate from a stack in the table center. He took a large bite from one, and then frowned thoughtfully while looking nowhere in particular.


'I feel like I'm missing something. Hm. Probably not important.'


He finished chewing the bite, dabbed his mouth with a napkin, and offered the Patriot a smile.


"Thank you for meeting with us, ma'am. I know we all stay busy, so we appreciate your time just as much as I wager you appreciate ours. I'd like to think we've done pretty well getting along with the US Government thus far, but it never hurts to ensure we're keeping that working relationship healthy."

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Wait, wait... didn't the others know about it either? Nobody really seemed to react, and... Well, Fleur was the one here that Casper had talked most to, at least. Gabriel didn't even seem to notice anything.


"Sorry, I know I just asked you a question," he said to Patriot, before turning his attention to Fleur. "But I gotta ask: When did that happen?" Ghost held both hands out, donut with a bite taken in one of them, gesturing vaguely towards Fleur's... everything. "And congrats, of course!"

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Stesha was surprised to feel just a little disappointed at the blase way that her friends absorbed her surprising news, though obviously that was much better than anybody being hurt they hadn't known earlier or getting into awkward questions. Still, her smile for Ghost's interest was bright and genuine. "Thank you!" she replied. "I'm due at the beginning of December, but obviously I'm going to be going on the reserve list much earlier than that. It's one more thing to talk about today, actually. After Patriot's briefing, of course." She poured herself a glass of water and selected a gooey cream-filled chocolate doughnut for herself before taking a seat. 

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"It goes without saying," said the Gaian Knight, warmly, "but please let us know if there's anything you need, big or small. I'm honestly surprised nobody had noticed before now - though I guess that's a comment on how little we've been able to get together recently. We should probably fix that. But, yes," he added, wagging a finger in the air, "you're right, I'm sure we'll exhaust you with questions later. Probably better to get Patriot's briefing done first. So, ah, if you don't mind...."


He held out a hand to invite Patriot to the podium, at least metaphorically. His draconic companion was a bit more direct: "You wanted to brief. So: brief."

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Gabriel's still not saying anything. Oh God, is it his-shut up shut up shut up. 


With the little voice that liked to ruin her concentration silenced, Ashley took a seat at the table opposite the League members, having already slipped a zip drive into one of the nearby display screens. "First off, I'd also like to offer my congratulations, Fleur," she said with a small smile. She'd been in college and away from Freedom City. when Fleur's first child had been born, but like most people in the Western Hemisphere she remembered when Dark Star had announced Fleur's first child by writing it on the Moon. Of course, that wasn't going to happen this time, was it? It was best not to think about that, for multiple reasons. 


"Secondly, I'm here to let the League know how recent changes in Washington will be impacting the metahuman community. President O'Connor has asked me to pass on his good wishes and to say he hopes to see all of you again the next time he's in town. In the meantime - in the wake of my predecessor's decision to fully retire after the recent incident with Keres," an incomplete truth but certainly not a lie, "the United States government has decided to reactivate the Patriot legacy. What this means for you is that you'll still be working with your usual contacts with AEGIS and the federal government, but I will be your official liaison with the federal government, and I'll be working with you as a partner on missions impacting national security. This does not," she added firmly, "make me a member of the League, nor do I expect it to." In the tone of someone repeating an argument she'd had with someone else, she went on, "It would be asinine to expect you to accept a stranger onto the Freedom League just because Mike O'Connor says so."  She made a little dismissive gesture with her gauntleted hand, and asked, "Are there any questions?" 

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When Ghost had made his exclamation, Gabriel paused and lowered his mug. Slowly, he turned and looked at Fleur, and for several long seconds, just blinked. Then he turned back to his coffee mug and slugged half of it back in a few moments. A napkin was the only thing that saved his costume from errant drops. Rather than trying to fully process that bit of news, he focused on Patriot's presentation. 


"So you are, in essence, the 'ambassador' for the United States Government for the purposes of metahuman and otherwise 'super-level' activity. Well, we'll have to talk about it on our side to be sure but I'd imagine we could set up an office for you here, even if you don't use it frequently. It would only make sense."


He took a much calmer sip of his coffee.


"I do have a couple of questions. First, what do you see your purpose here being? You just gave us what your official orders and job description are, but I'd like to know how you think you should be working with us. Second, should we be anticipating an expansion of the Patriot legacy program? Or are they electing to have just you act in that capacity for the time being?"

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"I appreciate the offer," said the Patriot equitably. "I'll be primarily operating out of the AEGIS offices in Freedom City, but I'd be happy to work with you on setting up an office here in Freedom Hall." She folded her gauntleted hands on the table in front of her and went on. "I'm here to do a job. The Patriot means something to a lot of people, myself included; but it's my job, not my life." Perhaps it wasn't what one would expected a costumed patriot to say, but it was clearly from the heart.


"While I'm here, that job is to work with the members of the Freedom League, and make sure there's a government representative on scene for League activities when necessary." She smiled thinly. "Washington felt a costumed hero working for the government would promote a better working relationship with the League than a government agent, even an anonymous one." As for your second question, I can't really comment on programs I'm not involved in. I do believe there are ongoing efforts to encourage metahuman government service that the current administration plans to expand," she finished cooly. 


She had considered, briefly, mentioning that Callie Summers or the new Raven would vouch for her, but she'd rejected that idea even before walking in the room. 


"I've made a decision to wear some aspects of my identity in public, but that doesn't include who I am," she went on frankly. "I know that's going to make a working relationship more difficult, which is why I want to keep things professional at this stage." 

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"That's fine," Stesha replied equitably, "we don't need to be fully aware of your identity so long as you've been vetted. I know that there will be personal information that members of the League will likely not share, and you won't be privy to all League communications and activities until and unless you apply for full regular membership. So far that hasn't raised any obstacles to us being able to work with government liaisons, so you should share whatever you feel comfortable with." She gave the new Patriot an encouraging smile. It couldn't be easy, she figured, stepping into a legacy that had big public shoes to fill and a ...less than stellar history with costumed heroes. She wondered what Comrade Frost would say, and was a little sorry she probably wouldn't hear it in person. 


"We should probably figure out, though, how we can best work together before an emergency comes up. What are your powers?" 

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The Patriot shifted uncomfortably in her chair, and for a moment looked the most uneasy she'd been since the conversation started. "I am a metahuman, but I prefer to rely on technology and training. I've had some of the best teachers in the world, and I've been working alongside metahumans since I was sixteen." She hesitated again, very briefly, then pressed onward. "My abilities revolve around bio-energy draining and duplication. In layman's terms, I can drain and mimic the abilities of most metahumans." 


Normally this wasn't quite such a sore spot but she suddenly wondered what a pregnant super-mom would think of being around someone with her particular powers. Best not to get into how I can knock people out doing it. "I know that sounds dangerous," she admitted, "but my powers are fully under my control." 

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"I'd hope so," Gaian Knight chuckled - but there was no malice in it. "If you weren't in control, walking into a room full of metahumans would be a pretty risky choice for everyone involved."


He scratched his chin, turning the discussion over in his mind for a moment. "...I'll be honest," he said, "I think you're right. The legacy attached to your name has some...ah, high points and low points, but if you can do well by it I imagine you'll be better-regarded than a more traditional agent in a suit and sunglasses. At the very least you'll be better-equipped to handle a situation where you can't bring powers to bear, which is more common than I think any of us would like. I look forward to working with you, up to and including potential disagreements on weighing national security against the greater good. Though, hopefully, it never comes to that."

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Ashley didn't quite let herself believe that this was going easier than she'd thought, because she knew from bitter experience that way of thinking lay death. The League was made up of adults who had seen some stuff, so she had a feeling she wasn't going to be asked any questions about the South Vietnamese flag pin on her jacket, or the purple and blue one for that latter. They're not idiots, I didn't need to waste time with that canned response crap. Even if they do all live on the damned bee planet. Luckily nobody had extended an invitation about that, which meant she hadn't had to turn it down. 


"Thank you," she said, "I'm sure we'll have an excellent working relationship." She fell silent for a barely perceptible moment, considering, then added, "On that note, I need to switch gears to let you know about a potential national security threat relating to the Patriot legacy." She stood up and moved carefully to the room's wall-mounted smartscreen, where the press of a few buttons gave the League the picture of a very tall, very muscular blond, blue-eyed man in an brightly colored outfit that looked vaguely as if someone had tried to blend the costume of the first Patriot and the Centurion. 


"This man is Paul Revere, born July 4, 1990," she said, the tone in her voice suggesting what she thought of that particular historical circumstance. "Until earlier this year, he was an Army reservist and an agent of the United States Border Patrol active on the Canadian border. He was the federal government's initial choice to carry on the Patriot legacy until he made an attempt on the life of Vice-President Kaur." She rubbed her hands together thoughtfully, then added, "He evaded capture despite the intervention of the Secret Service and the Raven. Unfortunately, while, Mr. Revere lacks innate superpowers, he was the beneficiary of an attempt to emulate the DNAscendant program." The image cut to a shot of Revere lifting a small car over his head, then punching through a brick wall. "We believe that he is currently planning future attacks against US government targets but his whereabouts are unknown." 

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Gabriel had been content to observe the new Patriot as she discussed items with his fellows. While he'd wished she'd given a bit more insight into her perspective on the best way to work together, she also struck him as a do-er, so actions would speak louder than words. He was smiling and nodding as she spoke. Right up until she mentioned their current problem. His smile vanished, and he slowly set his mug down on the table before leaning forward, hands clasped in front of him. Stress or prayer, it could be hard to tell with him.


"So you're telling us that a man whose life has likely, up until recently, been some sort of caricature of Wholesome American Hero Man, has gone full-on rogue agent after he was given enough power to likely take on an entire army, by himself? And that he tried to kill the Vice President, evaded one of the premier trackers of the hero world, and is out there likely to try tearing down the government? Do we have some sort of understanding of why he's gone so completely off the rails?"

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"That's currently under investigation," said the Patriot, picking her words carefully. "We believe he harbored latent authoritarian tendencies that were amplified by his empowerment, either psychologically or chemically. A deep background check on his law enforcement and military background suggests that there may have been things missed by his initial background checks. Nothing illegal," she added, thinking of the people just like her who'd been given a difficult job and were now having their work thrown in their faces. "just signs of a potentially unstable personality. But we are taking no chances. While there's no evidence to suggest the DNAscendent process that was used on him directly affected his mental state, the government is suspending any use of the process until further notice." 

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Casper had held back on comparing the new Patriot's legacy with, well, his own issues with public perception. It wouldn't really help anything to add to it, anyway.


"So, bad guy Patriot, big and strong? Guess he's gonna be mighty pissed at you, huh?" 


He had finished his coffee and pulled his mask down by this point. "Why'd he try to kill the Vice-President anyway? Not that I'm gonna applaud him in any way, but, y'know... something set him off or something?"

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"He did express a desire for revenge against me the last time we 'met', but even an armored metahuman target can prove vulnerable to the proper application of force." The Patriot gave Ghost a flat look from behind her helmet, wondering if he wanted a medal. "Vice-President Kaur did share my concerns about Revere's mental state. But more importantly, he became particularly fixated on the idea that a particular group of people in the government who did not share his political views were conspiring against him. When it was proposed he take a furlough until we could demonstrate he was psychologically stable, he became violent towards the Vice-President and several others. After being repelled by the Secret Service and the Raven, he then assisted in the escape of several fugitives being held in AEGIS custody to cover his tracks as he made his own escape." She frowned, hands folded in front of her. 

"I don't believe that Revere is individually likely to be a threat to the Freedom League at the present time. But he and others may become a potential threat in the future. There are several transnational and domestic organizations that would be happy to have the services of a disgruntled American metahuman, particularly one willing to act as a public face for their organization's agenda." 

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Gabriel blew out a breath through clenched teeth. He was getting a headache trying to figure out how to deal with the press over this. 


"So not only do we have a rogue powerhouse who's likely experiencing escalating delusions of nationalistic, pseudo-fascist grandeur, but this self-same new villain has apparently gone shopping for team-mates among the bevvy of malcontents confined by AEGIS?"


His tone is conversational. His posture is almost slumped, his head propped up by an arm resting on the table. But his eyes are sharp and alert, focused entirely on the Patriot. 


"When did this happen? How long have they been loose? And do we have a list of other potential targets besides the Vice-President, and presumably President, of the United States of America, and the new Patriot? Any names he's dropped either during your confrontation, or in some sort of internet-based spiel about The Real America and Being Free, which I am perhaps hastily assuming he has posted at least once since running off?"

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The Patriot wasn't so much begruding to speak about this but reluctant, her embarassment and anger coming through as she related the story of how a terrorist attack on an AEGIS base during a visit by the Vice-President had allowed Revere to make his attempt, and then successfully escape, back on the first of July. "I doubt very much that he's working with the group that staged the initial attack. While there are rumors of a red-brown alliance forming among American radicals, he's too much of a nationalist to follow someone like the Red Death, and I doubt she'd see him as anything more than a capitalist thug." She sneered just a little at the mention of the radical left-wing terrorist who had most recently been in the news for a failed attack on Freedom's Pride Parade. 


"It's unlikely that he'll directly target anyone in the metahuman community, at least not for their identities. After all, now he's part of the 'family' - while he has some rather retrograde social views that may become an issue with some metahumans, particularly high-profile superheroes, his most likely targets are going to be those associated with the United States government and its symbols. We'll certainly call on the League if it becomes necessary, but we feel we'll be able to handle him with in-house resources." Ashley had access to rather more than in-house resources when it came down to it, but that wasn't something she was going to get into in front of the League. 


She kept talking, meeting questions with responses, and though people's coffee was getting cold by the time she was done, she answered everything to the best of her ability. By the time she was done, she added, "On a personal note - Fleur de Joie, I am sure you didn't want a briefing about a metahuman terrorist in the midst of your big announcement. I apologize. Just one more reason to get this son of a bitch." She reached up and rubbed her forehead, where her still-healing eyebrow itched.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Think nothing of it," Stesha replied automatically. "We need to know about this sooner rather than later." She'd been paying attention to the briefing, of course, but she couldn't help being a little distracted. She was sure she'd seen the new Patriot before, something about the shape of her face, the tone of her voice... Different costume, maybe? Another heroic identity before taking on this role? There were a lot of heroes in Freedom City, but not a huge number that looked like her and even fewer with that unusual powerset. She was pretty young, young enough that she probably wasn't long out of college, which would've put her in high school back when Stesha started heroing. Wow, she would be getting old if it weren't for that weird immortality. She'd known most of the heroes in the city back then, what with her own work and Derrick's teaching and- 


"Oh!" she burst out as the face finally clicked with the powers. "You're Copycat! Or you were, obviously. I knew I remembered you from somewhere!" It felt good to get that particular mental itch scratched, even if it might have been a slight faux pas. It wasn't like she was revealing a secret identity. "You were one of Dark Star's students." 

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