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Gizmo

Geiger Gal [JoaB/Fulcrum] IC

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Nestled at the end of a rundown strip mall, between a burger shop and a loan office, the Jade Dragon Theater had long been a staple of entertainment in the West End. Plaster statues and peeling gold paint adorned the only place in Freedom where a person could catch five or more classic kung-fu flicks back to back on a Friday night, and the only place maybe anywhere that popcorn was sold at cost.

Hidden in the shadows of the exit to the theater's roof, Jack of all Blades waited impatiently. A shower had done little to improve his mood after the last unfortunate minutes of the charity boxing event. He rolled his lighter around in his hand. Given the... complications his powers had developed since the demon invasion, he knew he shouldn't use it. Just as certainly, he knew he wanted to.

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Jack's energy awareness picked up a sparkle in the distance. It was unmistakably familiar now, that strange seething, but came from above instead of downtown. The shooting star descended to earth and Fulcrum quietly touched down on the roof. She was right on time.

Although her expression was neutral, she looked around as if reminiscing. She remembered sneaking on top the Dragon when the flicks started boring her. Not a bad stargazing spot, among other uses for the secluded rooftop. Plus being the tallest building in the area meant having a great view of the West End.

Old memories aside, this visit to the Jade Dragon had more serious connotations. Searching about, Fulcrum whispered loudly, "Anyone there?"

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With a flip, Jack launched himself out of the shadows to crouch gargoyle-like atop the doorway down to the theater, putting him at eye level with the statuesque heroine. "So. You showed." The swordsman's voice was flat, betraying no emotion. Tilting his head to the side he concentrated on her aura. "And you're probably only giving me long term radiation poisoning right now, not immediate, debilitating mutations, so there's that." Jack paused, regarding Fulcrum neutrally. "Dark Star told you, then."

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As Jack regarded her neutrally, so did Fulcrum regard Jack coolly. Physically she didn't tired easily, and even after quite a work out against Atlas, her recovery had been a speedy one. Mentally though she fatigued just like any other person. Whatever pain or anger or sadness that overwhelmed her had distilled down a dull numbness. A mind can only take so much in one day before shutting down, and she looked stressed and yearning for rest.

"Then what do you want?" she said, nodding, arms crossed.

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Between the dark and his mask it was hard to tell, but Jack's expression softened slightly. "Look, I'm sorry about that. I wanted to explain things to you myself; Star's good people, but he's not overflowing in the tact department." Supporting himself on his hands, the swordsman swung his legs out the sit on the edge of the brick outcropping. "Bottom line, you're dangerous to be around. Sucks, and I'm guessing it's not even your fault, but there it is. You're helping with my tan right now. Just walking around town, it's probably not a serious problem, but when you went all out..." He shook his head. "If Star hadn't had a force field up, somebody could have died. Make matters worse, it's Terminus radiation, which, trust the guy with the wacky sixth sense, is the freakiest of freaky energies." Jack crossed his arms with finality. "You mentioned coming to the West End to work out. Well, not any more, you don't. This isn't just my protectorate, it's my home, and I'm not having my people get bloody cancer because you decided to put a little too much on the free weights." He assumed that Fulcrum wouldn't be out doing what she did if she didn't care about people; he hoped he could make her understand that his convictions were no less powerful.

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"I won't be coming around here anymore," said Fulcrum with sadness and resignation, "You don't have to worry. I won't be hurting anyone in the old neighborhood." She turned and walked to the edge, leaning heavily on it and gazing across the West End. The action was a much to get away from his accusations as to protect Jack himself. Defeat seemed inevitable as her broad shoulders sagged and she exiled a long, slow breath. The wince at the mention of the Terminus had been almost imperceptible. Almost.

"The WE was my home too, Jack. I don't want to see my old teacher, Mrs. Witherspoon, and wonder if I'm the reason she is going through another round of chemo. Hell, that nagging feeling will be with me the rest of my life anyway." A loose pebble rolled between her fingers as she continued. With a light tension of the wrist, immense pressured crushed down on the pebble. When she tossed it into the other hand, the pebble was half the size and white hot.

"Hi, Mona. How are you getting along these days, sweety?" she mimicked the heavyset art teacher. She replied normally, "Great, Mrs. W! Are you keeping those doctors busy?" Mrs. Witherspoon's voiced answered, "You better believe it!"

Fulcrum stopped suddenly, trailing off into silence. After a minute or so, she added quietly, "I'm glad the neighborhood has a protector."

The pulse of alien radiation never ceased. It was in a low-energy state, but even still the Terminus was omnipresent around her. Exposure to those energies couldn't account for this much output. No, this body was a Terminus generation device, powering and thriving on freaky energies based on a wholly alien metabolism.

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Despite his foul mood, Jack couldn't help but feel for the heroine. This was devastating news for her, given her career choice, and he regretted the necessity of his ultimatum. He'd suspected her to be a native to the West End, and her familiarity with the Jade Dragon confirmed it as much her open admission. When she mentioned her real name, however, a wave of delayed recognition flowed over him.

"Wait. Mona? As in Mona Teymourian?" The fencer placed his face in his hand and grimaced. "Oh, for &^*#$ sake..."

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Mona aka Fulcrum looked at Jack through narrowed eyes. "Yeah, that's my real name," she said, a combination of curiosity and caution playing across her face. A freakishly big woman was hard to hide, although she did her best. If they both came from the West End, and managed to miss each other in the crowd, then that was a big coincidence. "It's not a big secret. I take it we've met?"

Her mind kicked into high gear. Quickly a short list of possible candidates for Jack-of-All-Blades cycled through her head. In retrospect, she was surprised she wasn't curious about his identity when he defined his home turf. Perhaps a mixture of her own distractions and a polite deference to his privacy had kept the topic out of mind. Now though who was that masked man?

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Jack hesitated. His civilian identity was his most closely guarded secret, and he'd exposed himself far more than he was comfortable with already that evening with the broadcast boxing event. It had been a decade since he'd seen Mona, and he didn't have any real reason to trust her with something like this. Still, with her recent revelations, she was at a crossroads, and as dark a path as he found himself on, the fencer wouldn't wish it on anyone else. A show of trust might go a long way. "Aw, screw it," he sighed finally. "It's not like anyone's going to beat it out of you." Reaching up he pulled off his bandanna, revealing his wavy black hair to be a wig. Beneath it was a tanned young man with dusty brown hair shorn close to his scalp. "My name's Eric Espadas," he said calmly. "You, uh, used to babysit my sister and me, when we were kids."

With a name to go with the unmasked face, Mona recognized hints of the boy she'd known in the swordsman. Eric had gone from wiry and surprisingly quick to tall and lean, with a frame layered in the lithe muscles of a gymnast. Baby fat had melted away to reveal strong cheek bones and angular features covered by a day or two of rough stubble. In the darkness of the night his deep blue eyes looked black, and the paragon couldn't help but get the sense of a man pushing himself a little too hard, getting by on too little sleep. On a less innately handsome face she might have called it haggard.

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Fulcrum was absolutely flabbergasted. She turned around and squinted at Jack, her jaw slack from the shock. Never, never in a million years, would she have suspected Eric Espadas as Jack-of-All-Blades. Okay, strike that. It was possible, but not probable in her mind, that the easy-going boy she knew could grow into the wise-cracking street hero. After all, in retrospect, they both had the same smart mouth.

Fulcrum reflexively went for an old move, one that Eric would probably remember from her babysitter days. She'd put him in a headlock and give him noogies while Ellie tickled him. She even smirked the same, but hesitated just as quickly as she started. Lunging forward could very likely be interpreted as a hostile attack, and secondly, his radiation dosing was probably high enough anyway.

Instead she crossed arms and cocked an eyebrow. "Little Eric Espadas? The same Eric that dressed up like Indiana Jones for Halloween two years in a row? The same Eric that broke his arm 'sword' fighting a tree, while in the tree?" Her face scrunched up from conflicting emotions, until finally a big, toothy smile crept up.

"Good to see you, Eric," she started before pointing at him, "What are you up to these days, other than sleep? When did this start?"

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Grunting, Eric replaced his mask and wig. "Yeah, well, first broken bone of many. Luckily Ellie's applying to pre-med when she graduates, and she can use the practice." He cracked his neck and crossed his arms. "After Mom got put in a wheelchair, that was pretty much it for college plans," he continued, his voice emotionless. "She wouldn't take a desk job, and the pension's not much, so I had to start helping out; med school's expensive." The swordsman shrugged. "Got the powers a few years ago, figured if the West End wasn't safe for a cop, somebody ought to do something about it. So I did. Started off small, but I worked out a deal recently that lets me keep at it pretty much full time and still pay the bills."

He gave Mona a look that was just shy of accusatory. "Could ask you the same thing, though. I remember thinking you were tall, but I'm pretty sure that's 'cause I was seven."

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Grunting as well, Mona walked up to Eric, cupped his face in her hands and gave him a light kiss on the forehead. "I'm proud of you."

Sitting down on a nearby air conditioner, she filled him in, "What can I say? About four years ago this cape drifted into my apartment. Its like the thing triggered a latent talent. Really started about the time Ellie was born. I don't know if your mom ever said anything, but I had leukemia. Terminal. Sat in the cancer ward waiting to die. I was less than a hundred feet away when Omega and Centurion duked it out. I got blasted with cosmic energy from both of them. Hit me hard too. Didn't keep me from flat lining. Three doctors pronounced me." She snorted at the memory.

"No voices, no tunnels of light, a strange sense of euphoria...than darkness," Looking up at the clouds, she continued, "I came back. Mom and the doctors decided it was for the best if no one knew. So by the time I started babysitting you two, I was already Zombie Mona. Anyway, I experimented with my powers for a few months before venturing out. So I followed jobs from city-to-city and learned as I went. Thankfully I was already out of art school and working. When a possible gig opened at Castle Comics, I just had to come home to roost. The rest, as they say, is history."

She started to say something, but stopped and waited for Jack to respond.

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Eric laughed harshly, the sound grating in the still night air. "Yeah, dying and coming back with messed up powers is a real kick in the head, huh? There should be a club." The fencer self consciously rubbed the spot on his bandanna the paragon had kissed. "And I'm pretty sure the window for doing that closed about the time they started letting me into bars with my real ID," he admonished, though his smirk shifted to become a touch toward a genuine smile.

He tilted his head and considered Mona's story. "The big guy and Omega, huh? Yeah, that would probably explain a lot. In a 'just raises more questions' kinda way, but we take what we can get." Eric paused. "You really think it's his cape, then?" Mona couldn't help but notice the younger man avoid saying the Centurion's name. Eric had been prone to hero worship as a child, and to any Freedom citizen the fallen hero was a revered subject.

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"I do. His cape was never recovered. Plus look at this," Fulcrum said, pulling the cape off and pointing at new threads, "This seam is a repair from a fight he had in '90 against genetically-altered dinosaurs. One of the little ones clawed its way up his back." Moving on, she held up the tail and the parallel stripes, "Notice anything strange about these blue lines?" After giving him a moment to examine and answer, she put a finger on a small smudge, "Its a printing error. Its so tiny only a handful of people know about it. Replicas based on the original template don't have this mistake. So yeah, intuitively and by evidence, I think its his cape."

She offered the cape to him. "What's bothering you, Eric? You say you died and came back too? Is that what is eating you up?" She pointed at him, cocking an eye brow, "Something is wrong. The Eric I know doesn't get all dark-and-serious unless something is really bothering him. So what's up?"

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Eric's expression hardened again as he rose to his feet. "Are you serious? Man, what is with you people? Do super-strength and flight combine to create a chemical imbalance in the brain or what?" The swordsman's greatcoat flapped about his ankles as he moved, exaggerating his tight body language. "The 'Eric you know' hasn't been around for over a decade. I grew up. Things happen, I deal with them, and I sure as hell don't need to be patronized by Miss Meltdown. You weren't here."

Reaching into his pocket, the acrobat withdrew a card and flicked it at Mona. One side featured a bold capital letter 'I', bisected by a thin, triangular cutout, while the other was printed with a phone number. "Look, I know a guy who might be able to help with your Terminus problem. I'll track you down if it pans out. In the meantime, if you run into trouble, call that number. None of us can afford for you do be duking it out with a giant freaking robot or whatever right now. My team, we'll pick up the slack. That's how I deal." With that, Eric leaped from the entrance to the stair case, somersaulting through the air past the edge of the Jade Dragon Theater's roof and disappearing into the shadows below.

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Fulcrum sat there impassively, listening to Eric and watching his movements. As far as she was concerned, he had serious anger management problems. Oh yes, his retorts stung, but she kept her face carefully neutral. Somehow sympathy or any other response wouldn't go over well with his current mood. The only movement she made was to catch and examine the card. The movement felt faster than normal, but she filed that oddity way for later review.

Hovering over to the ledge, Fulcrum looked down into the shadows, "I'll be there if you need me," she said simply. Looking at the card, she added, "Thanks, Jack."

She turned from the ledge and stalked around the roof, mumbling to herself, "Well, that went well." When no 'ginormous' ideas came to her, she decided a flight was the best way to proceed and took up vertically. Within a second or two the clouds engulfed her and the roof was quiet. The malevolent hum of Terminus energy receded into the background.

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Below, in the shadows, Jack of all Blades sat of the ground, his back against a dumpster and his hands lying over his knees. Had anyone been around to see him, his expression still would have been hidden, his face tilted downward. He stayed there, silent and unmoving, for a very long time indeed.

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