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Avenger Assembled

The Buzz of Evil

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Barry crouched on the skyscraper rooftop, peering down at the quiet little flower shop at street level across the road. With the slow, loving care of a man donning holy garb, he carefully donned his shining gold-and-black armor, cinching up the joints and placing the helmet down across his head. As the suit whirred to life, the world around him came into focus. He could see as clearly as if he were wearing binoculars, easily peering down through the reflective glass below to make out the clerk working inside. He could feel the power of his armor around him, the mechanized strength that gave him the power of ten men (or of one mighty bee!), the gentle humming of the jets that let him fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

And humming all around him, filling the interior lining of his suit, their song filling his ears, were his glorious sisters, the tens of thousands of bees that made their home inside his armor and that answered his call thanks to his fanatical training, breeding, and sheer scientific genius. It was the Bee-Keeper who stood up on the rooftop, and the Bee-Keeper who laughed as he took to the air, his speech synthesizer turning his voice buzzing and menacing as he dove straight across the street, right for the window of Stesha's flowershop.

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Right up until that point, it had been a quiet and boring day at Flowers by Design. With the June weddings and the fourth of July picnics over with, there was a space of breathing room before the flower shows started again. Stesha hadn't minded when Paul lit out early for a dentist appointment, and was manning the counter alone, with the help of a paperback novel to combat the boredom. She looked up at the loud buzzing noise, wondering if the power was going, just in time to see some nutter in a giant black-and-yellow bee suit barreling towards the front window! She didn't know if it was accidental or on purpose, but it was sure to make a hellacious mess. Stesha dove behind the counter, punching 9-1-1 into the phone as she went. There were times for superheroics, and times when you just hoped that no one was complaining to a dispatcher about being ripped off at McDonalds.

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"911 emergency," came the operator's voice. "How may I assist you?"

The Bee-Keeper crashed through the window in a huge shower of glass, rising up in mid-air and raising his fist to the ceiling. When he spoke, the synthesizers transformed his voice into a mechanical buzz akin to an exceedingly large, talking bee. "Zzzurrender, puny mortalzzz! The Zinizter Bee-Keeper haz come to liberate zis shop on behalf of ze Apian Army, and...hey, where did everybody go?" He looked around for a moment before he spotted Stesha. "You there! Drop the phone, or suffer ze zting of the Bee-Keeper!" Even saying it was a religious experience.

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"Flowers by Design, downtown, some crazy dressed in a bee suit just crashed in the window!" Stesha rattled into the phone, then dropped it without turning it off. She raised her hands, flicking a glance from side to side. "Who are you?" she demanded. "What do you want?"

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"I. Am. The. Bee-Keeper," replied the Bee-Keeper distinctly, wondering if perhaps he hadn't said it loud enough. Well, the girl was obviously in awe of his terrifying persona. He adjusted his synthesizer a little, deciding he must have had it tuned too high. "I have come to liberate the flowerz in your zhop on behalf of my alliez in the Apian Army." He demonstrated what he meant by firing a small discharge of bees, releasing a few dozen into the air that happily swarmed around his suit as he spoke. "Now, I have a lizt of demandz. I want sunflowers, woman! And none of that big-flower hybrid foolishnezz; only the small kind will do! And alzo, California poppiez! And make it znappy!"

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Stesha took the opportunity to get up off the floor, leaving the phone where it was. "Poppies and sunflowers?" she asked cautiously. "I'm not sure we have any of those in stock, but I'd be happy to put a rush on them for you, we could have them by day after tomorrow, or you could talk to one of the shops in town that keeps more of an inventory on hand. We're more a special order shop, it really works best if you come in ahead of time... We do have several very nice clusters of bee balm for someone's garden party, would you be interested in looking at that?" She was babbling a little, trying to decide what to do. Wait for the police, or try to handle it herself?

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The Bee-Keeper scratched his chin, bees swarming all around him. "Monarda, eh? I have been wanting to attract more bumblebeez, and I could uze..." He shook his head, then said, "Yez! Fetch me the bee balm at once, woman! And zome orchidz! Ze mozt valuable flowerz in the shop! I will uze them to further build my invinzible army of the sky! The lordz and ladiez of the hive!"

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"Of course, I'll be just a minute. You should wait out here though," she told him. "There are chemicals back in the back, for preservation and flocking and all sorts of things. I'm not sure your suit would fit, and your bees might be in danger." Stesha darted through the door to the back room and into the maze of smaller rooms that made up the prep area. She headed immediately to the flocking room and tossed on the plastic jumper they kept there to protect clothing and hair. It was, of course, covered with dried flocking itself, but that was okay. She added the goggles as well, fitting them over her eyes. It wasn't much of a costume, but it would have to do.

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"I...hey!" In a rare moment of perspicacity, the Bee-Keeper was deeply suspicious of Stesha's quick exit. Not wanting to risk scuffing his brand-new suit by flying into a blind alley, though, he landed to chase after her on foot. "You'd better not beee running out the back door! I can fly faster than you can run, which means I'll give you zzuch a ztinging!"

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There weren't a lot of plants in the flocking room right now, but Stesha's options were limited. She put her hand over the one lonely tea-rose bush waiting its turn, yelled, "Oh thank God, Fleur de Joie is coming! I'm saved!" then transmitted herself back into the showroom, popping out of a trio of stargazer lilies. "Beekeeper!" she shouted, trying to make her voice a bit deeper and more imposing than it usually was. "Your beekeeping days are numbered! Get out of this establishment, or I'll make you get out!"

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Faced with the prospect of a battle with a real superhero, the Bee-Keeper laughed and let the bystander go. Now was when the real fun began! If only he knew who Fleur de Joie was...he turned and ran back inside the shop, rising up on his jets as soon as he saw Fleur de Joie. "I don't know who you are, but you've made a bad miztake tangling with the lord of the bees!" He raised his gauntlets and fired a blast of bees directly at the interloper, sending a horde of stinging insects directly at Fleur!

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Stesha yelped as the bees started stinging her through the plastic suit, making her hands swell up. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all! She didn't like bees, even in the best of times, and showing up to work covered in bee stings... well, first things first! She ordered the pot of daisies on the shelf behind the yellow menace to shoot out, growing into dense vines. The vines wrapped around the yellow and black bee suit, even as Stesha herself ducked for cover, past the broken window and around the front wall of the building.

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Through sheer happenstance, the Bee-Keeper just barely managed to pull himself out of the entangling vines that had nearly pulled him dow. Oh, wow! She's a real super-hero! he exulted mentally. And cute, too. Maybe I can take her back to my lair, and tie her up! I'd better show her the guns! With that cheerful thought in mind, the Bee-Keeper flew out of the shop after his antagonist. "Hey! You think you're pretty tough, eh? Try this on for size!" He reached for her with his cold bee-claws, his fingers closing around her wrist.

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Stesha yelped and dove for the pot of hydrangea that was decorating the front of the shop, vanishing out of his grasp. She wasn't really thinking, so she popped right back out of the same pot of lilies she'd used just moments earlier. Where the hell were the police, anyway? Right now the idea of her stupid secret identity being exposed seemed like a small threat when compared to being killed or kidnapped by some freako in a bee costume. With no better ideas, she sent the vines after him again, wrapping him up once more.

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Pushing herself to the utmost to defend her shop and her honor, Stesha tightly wrapped a whole cluster of suddenly growing daisy flowers around the Bee-Keeper. He was well and truly bound this time, with even a few flowers creeping their way up into his intake valves. Bee-Keeper struggled mightily against the daisies holding him down, vines snapping as he pulled. He was making headway, and might be able to get out given time, but for now Stesha had him well and truly pinned! "You're really hot ztuff, aren't you? I can't believe I got an archnemeziz my firzt time out!" He sounded far more pleased about that than a sane man would.

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"I'm not your archnemesis!" Fleur told him, sending another vine snaking around the wriggling bee-man for good measure. She was a bit worried about the little bees, but they seemed far more interested in the fragrant hydrangea at the moment than in making trouble. "I'm just not going to let you go around breaking the law!" When he was wrapped up securely, she raised a hand, and one of the daisies began to rise on a stalk of its own, behind the trapped villain, growing larger and larger as it rose. In the distance, she could hear sirens. About time! "The police will take care of you!"

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The Bee-Keeper struggled again, ripping through Fleur's vines at an alarming rate of speed even as the police got closer and closer. He might have been able to escape easily on his own, but not with her dumping more and more layers of vines on top of him even as he broke more and more himself. "Oh, I'll zee you again, mizz Fleur de Joie! And we'll have zome good timez!" The police were close now, but he was even closer!

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The flower, which was now enormous, with petals nearly five feet long, suddenly dropped over The Beekeeper like a big white net. The petals folded closed, engulfing him, and then the entire blossom, Beekeeper and all, swung up into the air as the giant flower seemed to swallow him whole with an audible gulp. The vine, which had till now been quite slender, now had a very large, Beekeeper-sized bulge in it. Stesha barely waited to see it happen before racing back into the back room, pulling off the costume as she ran for the flocking room, then tossing the coverall and goggles inside. When the police arrived, she was just peeking around the edge of the door, trying her best to look like a terrified civilian. It really wasn't a difficult act.

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"Woah! Jerry, check this out!" The young officer who'd entered first nodded to his partner, the older man staring with him in shock at the sight of the flower that had obviously swallowed an entire man. "Is he alive in there?"

"I dunno, Chris" said the older cop, "but I'm gonna find out!" Pulling out a pocket knife, the officer went for the flower just as the younger officer saw Stesha.

"Hey! Are you all right, miss?"

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"Yes, sir," Stesha said, coming out of the back room fully, her stinging hands in her pockets to hide the red welts. "It was awful, he came from nowhere! But then a hero came and stopped him! I think... I think she said if you pull on the flower, it will open up," she offered helpfully. "But be careful, he's very dangerous! He has some kind of strange suit on. He was tied up, I think, but I don't know if he still is. Maybe you should get more people before you let him out?" she suggested diffidently. The last thing she needed was to fight the whole battle over again, police or no.

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"A hero, eh?" The officers changed their tune on hearing that bit of news, giving a very watchful eye to the lump inside the flower. "We'd better take this down to the station. Who was it?" The younger officer asked her, looking sympathetically at the bee-stung Stesha. "Aw man, those bees got in everywhere! Better make sure there's a paramedic in there too."

The older officer was busy radioing for backup, something which this time, at least, arrived with a pleasant bit of alacrity while the younger officer took Stesha's statement.

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"I think she said her name was Fleur de Joie," Stesha told him. "I didn't hear or see anything very well, because I was hiding. I've never seen a super-fight before. Some of the bees found me and stung me, but it's all right, I'm not allergic or anything." She laid on the helpless innocent routine, as thick as she thought she could get away with, and it seemed to work just fine. She did make sure to get some cover before the cops moved to unpack the captive villain. No sense letting him get another good look, or any ideas.

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There was some serious debate about what to do with the guy in the flower, with some of the officers opining for taking him down to the police station before they ever let him out. But thanks to Stesha's sweet talk and the lucky arrival of a STAR Squad van, the officers opted to let the Bee-Keeper out of his confinement. A burly officer in heavy armor pulled open the petal at the top of the flower, disgorging a very unhappy Bee-Keeper right at the feet of a large contingent of heavily-armed police officers. Though he'd managed to break his bonds while confined, the Bee-Keeper chose the better part of valor when surrounded by so many cops who looked like they'd be inclined to use punitive measures if he didn't get out. "Fine! Fine! I zurrender!" They pulled off his helmet and forced him out of his suit, exposing a skinny, balding man veering towards middle age. "But that's just because I'm a good sport! You can't keep the Bee-Keeper down for long!"

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Stesha watched, with more relief than satisfaction, as the crazy villain was hauled off to jail. She was just happy that things had turned out okay, in the end. She wasn't sure she was ready for actual superheroing stuff. At the very least she needed some help and some training... and a costume. Definitely a costume. But those were considerations for later. First she had to explain to her very dismayed boss why there were giant flowers and vines running amok in the shop, and why the window was broken, and what on earth had happened. Then there was the inevitable cleanup. It was going to be a long evening.

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