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Avenger Assembled

Coping Strategies

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It was a lazy summer Thursday, an afternoon when Quark and Wander both had very little to do. That was a fortunate thing, as both of them had been invited by Mr. Marquez to a meeting of the Interdimensional Students Support Society, a new group specially designed for students "who have come a very long way to our school, even though they may be in the same place that they left." There'd been a promise of cookies and punch afterwards, along with a chance to meet some summer students that neither of them had quite had a chance to be introduced to yet. After all, it was a big school! The meeting was scheduled for the conference room on the second floor of the Diana Falk Cafeteria, a good-sized room with a round table and big screen monitor named after someone named Travis Hunter.

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Erin arrived early for the meeting, consulting the watch on her wrist once again as she walked in the door. Getting used to schedules and timetables again wasn't easy, but it was one more necessity of fitting in and getting by. Standing at the door with notebook and pen in hand, she scanned the room, checking out who was there and where they all were, and noting the locations of doors and windows. With the initial sweep done, she was comfortable enough to move into the room and take a seat in an unoccupied section.

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High school students being what they were, early on there was only one student there besides Mr. Marquez. Erin had been introduced to the wheelchair-bound counselor during her initial consultations with the school, but the big, odd-looking kid sitting by the window was someone new. "Erin, how nice to see you," said Mr. Marquez with a friendly, professional smile on his face. He wheeled himself over to greet her, deft at manuevering his chair in the small space. "Prometheus, come say hello as well." The big boy with the short black hair and round, bland features extended a very large hand to Erin, speaking slowly and distinctly, as if remembering from a script.

"Hello, Erin. I am Prometheus. It is nice to meet you."

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Erin sized him up and returned the handshake, summoning a polite smile as she looked way, way up at her fellow student. He looked familiar somehow, but not in a way that she could place. He didn't remind her of anything dangerous, so that was something, anyway. "Nice to meet you, too," she told him. Releasing his hand, she turned to Marquez. "What are we doing in this session?" she asked him.

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"Right now we're just all getting acquainted with each other. Some of our other extra-dimensional students have been working on socialization, so this is a perfect opportunity for everyone to 'meet and greet.'" Marquez rolled his chair back to the head of the table, Prometheus weighing his options visibly before sitting back down, the small metal and plastic chair beneath him creaking slightly under his weight. He really was a big guy, easily seven feet tall and four hundred pounds. There was a moment's awkward pause as the two teenagers studied each other, just before the door opened before two more new arrivals.

"Hey, Doc! We're not late, are we?" The boy and girl in the door were a study in contrasts; a huge (though not quite as big as Prometheus) metal-skinned young man and a much smaller, daintier young woman, the two of them a voluble pair that Erin had seen from afar on campus before. Marquez confirmed that the two of them were right on time, and quick introductions were made to Erin.

"Hey there," said the girl, "Samantha Capote. This is my little brother Sam." She grinned, and so did the huge metal-skinned guy, whose handshake was slightly cold as he shook Erin's hand. Sam looked much odder than Samantha, his metal skin grey and his eyes flat, featureless black. "Nice to meet you."

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It is unfortunate that these things have to happen, Darian's thoughts speed faster and faster as he walks to the meeting, In a perfect world none of these people would be orphans, but then again, that is the problem: Some worlds are not perfect. Stopping to see the meeting area, he flinches when he sees that this many people have arrived before him. He wanted to meet them all first, but it appears he does not have the luxury. Note to self, he sighs as he thinks, be more punctual in your time management. Smiling he walks toward the table, noting each of them. He's not much of a conversation starter with this many people around, so he takes a seat with a nod and a "Hello" to the group.

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Erin gave a smile and a polite hello to Samantha, but couldn't quite muster the same for the intimidating metal man next to her. She sized him up before giving him her hand, automatically bracing in case the handshake were to become a confrontation. Of course that was very unlikely, but his dead eyes rang alarm bells in the lizard part of her brain. As soon as she could, she stepped back from him, towards her own spot in the circle of chairs. Just as she sat down, she saw the new person walk in and sit as well. She nodded in response to the greeting, and was just as happy to not do any more handshakes. "Hi," she said instead. "I'm Erin."

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"I am Darian Cale," he says to her, "It is a pleasure to meet you, Erin." He looks around to the rest of the group, "And the rest of you too." Shifting in his seat a bit, he looks uneasy, "Have I missed anything?"

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"Darian, come in, come in," said Gabriel Marquez, waving at the new arrival. "I'm glad you could tear yourself away from your studies long enough to join us." From another teacher, it might have sounded rude, but Marquez was a genial, friendly teacher who everyone respected. He really was glad to see Darian there. "You haven't missed anything yet. I think we're just waiting a little longer for our last couple of arrivals, and then we can get started..."

No sooner had he spoken than the sounds of an argument came from outside, two voices raised in anger quickly hushed as the door opened to reveal the new arrivals. One was an unhappy-looking young woman in a T-shirt and jeans, her eyes flicking around the room in an assessment pattern Erin could easily recognize, her short stature and slim build belying a wirey, muscular frame. The other was a young man with slightly obscured features, bearing a resemblance to a much-shorter Prometheus.

"Ah, I'm glad you could both make it," Marquez said in a friendly, welcoming fashion to the new arrivals. "Everyone, you may not have had a chance to meet Hope Rogers and Rex Hound yet; they're new to the school and haven't had a chance to socialize with anyone yet." Rex proved to be considerably more friendly than his 'friend', giving a cheerful, sloppy wave before moving as far away from the unhappy-looking Hope Rogers as possible.

"I just think this is stupid," Hope finally said. "I'm here to study, not to make friends. I don't have time for this kind of thing!"

"Hope, you're taking nearly a collegiate-level load this summer, in addition to your unarmed combat training," replied Marquez, his tone that of a calm professional dealing with an unhappy child. "Do you think you're going to do your people any good if you burn out in high school? Socializing and meeting with people in the same situation as you is as important as expanding your powers and your abilities."

"Same situation, huh?" Hope shot Erin and Quark a look at that, but subsided.

When there were no further questions from the now-solid group of students, Marquez looked around and said, "All right, everyone, the first thing I'd like you to do is introduce yourself to your classmates. Tell us something about yourself you're comfortable revealing, and one thing about living on Freedom Earth that you're having trouble with. I'll start." He smiled thinly. "My name is Gabriel Marquez. In my spare time, my favorite hobby is collecting stamps. I worry about telling people that, because they'll think I'm boring." He grinned. "Which I might be, but that isn't such a bad thing." He coughed a little. "As for my problems living on Freedom Earth, during a recent off-campus visit I met a version of myself who survived the Terminus Invasion without becoming paraplegic. I found that this bothered me more than it should have, and meant that I wanted to help other people who were dealing with dimensional shifts deal with their problem. He nodded."Well, that's me. Who would like to go next?"

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Erin was busy enough studying the new arrivals that she didn't pay too much attention to what the therapist was saying. She looked from Rex to Prometheus, trying to decode the similarities between the two of them. Maybe they were from the same universe, or maybe they were related. It probably didn't even matter, but it made her curious. She was rather more concerned about the gun the new girl was carrying, but decided to let that go, too. From what she knew of her own power, it would take an extremely powerful gun to hurt her, and the school probably wouldnt let anyone carry something like that. Besides, she knew what it was like to always worry about an attack. Maybe the gun made her feel safer.

When Marquez asked for a volunteer, she looked around nervously, as did some of the others. No one wanted to be the first one to go and thereby draw attention to themselves.

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Darian meekly raises his hand, "As I have said, my name is Darian Cale. For your first question, I would say that I am comfortable to reveal that I am a builder and inventor of objects both magical and scientific." Darian looked around at the unamused students, "Maybe a demonstration is in order?" Darian takes a long purple crystal shard and a few wires from his messenger bag. With lightning speed he begins to assemble the new device, explaining quantum physics in mind boggling detail. After almost two minutes of rhetoric, the technomagical machine floated above the table. "And that ladies and gentlemen," Darian takes a bow, "is how we are all connected." He clears his throat, "As for what I am having trouble with. Well, it is hard to find someone to connect with." He meekly sits down

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Everyone was quiet after that, taking in the highly complicated story of science Darian had just told them. After a moment's pause, Prometheus stood up. "I am Prometheus. I am studying with summer classes so that I may join the rest of my class in moving on next year. I have trouble with school, and with...learning things." He made a small, odd noise, then said, "I have trouble with things in school because I am not very smart and because I did not go to school like the other students did. It is hard, also, when my image inducer breaks and people are afraid of me." He suddenly shot an uncomfortable look at Marquez. "That is two things; is that all right?"

"That's all right, Prometheus," said Marquez gently. "You said what you felt, and that's all right."

Rex spoke next, the big, floppy-haired young man seeming much more at ease than the others. "Well, er, my name is Rex Hound, and my hobbies include chasing Feline around and fighting crime!" He laughed wolfishly, then went on, scratching behind his ear. "Yeah, I'm like Prommie here, I have trouble using my inducer too sometimes. Normal people are scared of me, or think I look funny. But my biggest problem with this world is all the violence here," he admitted, sobering a little. "Hurting people on this world is different than hurting people where I'm from. Even bad guys. It makes crime-fighting a lot harder."

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Erin, who had been properly intimidated by the incomprehensible stylings of the megaintelligent builder, decided to chime in before she had to risk going last. Last was almost as bad as first. "I'm Erin," she said, speaking just loud enough that everyone could hear her. "I'm from Seattle, and I like taking walks. I'm having a hard time getting used to all the people who live in this world, and how noisy it always is." She subsided then, looking to the psychologist to make sure that was enough.

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Samantha spoke next, after a quick glance at her brother to decide who'd be speaking first. "Like I said, I'm Samantha Cole. I like running fast, and I like being able to do it where everyone can see, and not having to be afraid of my powers." She looked around the table, then went on. "I feel like I don't belong here," she admitted. "I have my brother, so I have a piece of the world I left behind. But my world was enough like this one that sometimes...sometimes I feel angry at the people here. When they're complaining about their lives or how much the economy sucks, or whatever, I just...I just want to shake them and tell them that they should be grateful for what they have. My world died," she added unexpectedly, "because people were afraid of accepting the good things in life."

Her brother echoed her words, adding on his own, "It's hard for me to accept, sometimes, that everything's as nice as it looks around here. I mean, don't get me wrong, you people are great and I know how lucky Sammy and I are to be somewhere that's a million times better than where we were. But sometimes I expect to wake up and find both of us back there, with the government coming for us and everyone else dying of the plague. But I'll get over that," he added, "it just needs some time."

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The room fell silent at that grim bit of business before finally Agent H spoke up. She looked deeply unhappy about finding common ground with any of these people, but the tiny resistance fighter wasn't about to back down from the truth either. "I'm Hope Rogers. My world isn't dead. I could go back to it anytime I want," she added with a sniff. "At least once I turn eighteen and can make my own choices." She bit her lip, looking very much like a young girl for once. "My parents are dead. My whole family is dead. The Nazis murdered them...and did other things, while I was just a couple of feet away and unable to do anything about it. I joined the Resistance to fight back. The Resistance sent me here. That's why I'm at Claremont, so that when I go back I can use my powers to kill every Nazi soldier on the face of Erde. And the hardest part I have is that no one else understands that but me."

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Erin startled visibly while Samantha and Sam described what had happened to their world. For a strange moment she thought that perhaps she wasn't the only survivor from her world after all, but it became obvious that things weren't actually quite the same. The government had still failed to cope with the plague on their world, but they hadn't patently made it worse, anyway. Still, she was torn between wanting to learn more and never wanting to speak with them about the past, because who wanted to remember that sort of thing? She had little difficulty understanding Hope's desire for vengeance, even if the angry girl would be well-served to learn a more diplomatic way to talk about killing all the Nazis. If there's been someone responsible on her world, someone to focus on, she likely would've done the same thing.

With everyone having gone, and Darian's machine still floating around, heads turned towards the psychologist to see what was next.

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Darian soaks in all of the information with a bit of bleakness. All his dimension had was people who wanted to attain knowledge. Sure there were a few mad geniuses there, but everyone kept everyone in check. The 'bad incidents' were all planned to begin and end at a certain time. The world was almost too perfect. Thinking if he shared this knowledge they would surely dismiss him from the meeting, Darian looks sympathetic for his comrades.

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"All right," said Dr. Marquez, "now that we've all had a chance to talk, I'd like us to do a team-building exercise." He gave everyone a firm, convincing smile. "I'm going to divide you up into three teams. Samuel, Erin, you'll be Team A; Darian, Hope, and Samantha, you'll be Team B, whereas Rex and Prometheus will be Team C. We're going to play a round of multi-player Tug-of-War." He showed them one played the game, with very strong ropes all tied together around a central point.

"Uh, excuse me, sir," said Rex, cocking his head and sniffing. "But aren't those guys really really strong? Not that I don't like being with my man Prommie and all," he added, gently tapping Prometheus with a noise that was distinctly metallic, "but I know Sam there can lift me and the whole darn dorm over his head and not worry about it, and I hear Erin's pretty strong too."

"That's right, Rex," Dr. Marquez agreed. "This will be a game about putting our mutual skills and abilities together to come up with something useful. You all have one day to come up with a strategy for beating the other teams."

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Erin gave the psychologist a flatly disbelieving look. "I don't want to do that," she told him. "Somebody's going to get hurt. Why would you make Sam and I be everybody's enemy, and us have to try and do something that, if we succeed, could easily send someone to the hospital? I thought we were supposed to be learning to use our powers responsibly."

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Dr. Marquez looked at Erin, seemingly unruffled by her defiance. "So that's your strategy?" he asked her curiously. "To pit your strength against the other teams? You and Samuel are very strong," he agreed professionally. "If I remember correctly, the two of you working together could probably lift a minimum upwards of fifty or sixty tons. That is quite a lot of strength, so that's potentially a very good strategy for you. Do you think that's going to be enough to overcome the other teams?"

Across from Erin, Samuel coughed a little. "Hey, uh, Erin, that's my sister over there," he said with a nod to Samantha. "So I know she can handle herself, and I'm not gonna do anything that's gonna hurt her. And me and Rex are buds, so I know he can handle it. Don't count out the weaker kids just 'cause they can't press a schoolbus. And hey, Quark over there's got like, I dunno, a brain made of light or something, so he can do crazy stuff too."

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"How is this supposed to help us cope?" Erin demanded, her cheeks reddening. "I can't even participate in team sports, and you want me to do this? I'm sorry, Doctor, but you're just... you're just totally wrong. I'm not stupid because I'm strong, and they're not invulnerable because they have superpowers, and this hasn't got a goddamned thing to do with... with anything! It's just a stupid game to make us play because you can't fix what went wrong in our worlds." She stood up and grabbed her notebook, heading for the door.

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Dr. Marquez didn't do anything to stop Erin from leaving, indeed, he discouraged any of the students there from intervening as she went out the door. No sooner had she disappeared then Hope Rogers rose to her feet and announced, "It's not fair for us to be one short, anyway. If I go, we'll balance out again." With that, the angry teenager from Erde stormed out the door too, to considerably more eye-rolls than had been seen when Erin left. Maybe it was just because they'd all been around Hope enough to get a little tired of all her troubles. To the others, as the door closed behind the two girls, Dr. Marquez was seen to sigh just a little before he assigned the new team structure. Angsty superpowered teenagers who didn't want to play by the rules were just part of life for the Claremont psychologist.

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