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Skysong

The Crash

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((Note: I got a little carried away with the intro. The only required reading for players is the post after this one, which sets the scene for those not aboard the starship.))

The first thing he was aware of was the fact that he wasn't breathing. Involuntarily he inhaled through his nose; it filled with something cold and sticky. He couldn't lift his eyelids; his arms and legs were numb and immovable. Panic surged up inside him as his lungs screamed for air, but he couldn't open his mouth or expel the viscous fluid invading his nasal passages. Spots of color danced in the darkness before his shut eyes; his head began to ache with a terrible chill. Though he fought with all his might to budge a single joint, he could not, and with each passing moment his struggle seemed more distant and less important. At last, he gave in. What did anything matter? Sleep was calling, and he was so very tired...

A *whoosh!* sounded in his ears, as though from a million miles away, then a splatter and a thump. He was vaguely aware of the fact that the jolt of pain that accompanied the thump probably meant it was his own body hitting the ground. It was irrelevant, his mind insisted. It was time to come away, to dance among the stars, free of his shell. His body, programmed for survival, had other ideas; he coughed and spluttered, flinging goop from his airways and greedily gulping down mouthful after mouthful of precious air. "Another time," the little voice in his mind told him. All at once, the real world rushed back to him. His lungs burned, his body ached, and the sticky stuff that had covered him felt horrible on his hands, neck, and face, which were not covered by his jumpsuit.

He still couldn't see, and his efforts to open his eyes all failed. Was he blind? He raised his hands to his face and found that the goop has cemented his lashes together. He pulled on each of the lids of his right eye, and they separated with a jolt of pain and an unpleasant *slrrrpppp*. Bright light flooded into his dilated pupils, and he blinked rapidly as he worked to free his other eye. After a moment, the light seemed less harsh, and he could see his surroundings. He lay on his back, staring up at a metal ceiling illuminated by florescent strips. In front of him was a cylindrical container, its doorway open; he only dimly remembered entering it, though it couldn't have been more than a few minutes earlier. He lay in a puddle of a sticky black substance which was rapidly liquifying; the residue on the inside of the cylinder told him that he had probably been immersed in it moments earlier, when he had first tried to breathe.

Sensation began to return to his limbs, and soon they ached as much as his neck and torso. Still, urgency took hold at the back of his mind, even though he couldn't think of any reason for it. Gathering what energy he had, he rolled over and pushed himself slowly to his feet, one hand pressed against a wall for support. He could see that the wall to the left of his cylinder was occupied by countless other cylinders in one long hallway, all of them closed. As he began to turn away, the cylinder immediately to the left of the one he'd occupied slid open, disgorging a torrent of semisolid black goop and a body. One hand pressed to the wall, he made his way over to the body, lying on its back in a pool of the strange stuff just as he had. He knelt beside it painfully, beholding the aged, weathered face of a man he knew well, crisscrossed with wrinkles from frowns and laughter alike. It was Physicus, and he was dead.

Memories flooded back: the Broan armada raining destruction down on his home planet of Khalados; the Royal Family's shuttle incinerated, leaving him the last of their line; fleeing into the vaults beneath the ruins with all the survivors he could find; the terror of hiding from the mining machines that were finishing the defeated planet off; the return of his friend and mentor Physicus, stepping down the ramp of a great starship he'd somehow acquired; the run from shelter to ship, cradling the dying Physicus in his arms as his people were shot to pieces around him; frenziedly programming a course to the only source of safety he had ever heard of; and, at last, stepping into the Cryo-Tube to sleep until his journey was complete. Zakitaj Kelembran stood with new purpose, the confusion in his eyes replaced with determination. "If I've been ejected from the tube," he reasoned to himself in an even voice, "I must be near Earth."

Focusing his addled mind, he remembered the way to the cockpit; turning around, he slowly staggered toward the other end of the hall on rubbery legs. The metal door slid open for him, revealing a small area containing six chairs. A skeleton toppled to his feet, causing him to jump back. Who had died here? He'd put Physicus in a Cryo-Tube to preserve him, and he didn't remember anyone else being dead when the ship had departed. And yet... he did remember that one of his people had piloted the ship past the Broan garrison, and he'd never seen that woman enter Cryosleep. Dents on the inside of the door confirmed his suspicions; she'd been trapped inside, and probably died of thirst. Yet to be completely skeletonized... that took time. How long had he been in stasis? Murmuring a prayer, he gently moved what remained of her aside; he hoped she was rewarded in the Afterworld for such a noble sacrifice.

After making sure the door wouldn't trap him and subject him to the same fate, he stepped into the cockpit. Outside the large viewport that made up the opposite wall, the stars twisted and turned as the ship spun ever onward toward them. He could see a grey planetoid, no doubt small because of the distance. It was large enough that they had to be getting close, though. And yet... hadn't Physicus said that his home was blue, not grey like Khalados? And why was the planetoid getting smaller rather than larger? Spying the ladder that led to some sort of domed viewing room above, Zakitaj quickly ascended it despite the protests of his sore limbs and the dizziness that threatened to send him back down to the floor below. He stared over the back of the vessel and gasped. A huge ball of azure, white, green, and brown filled the viewports. Along with all that remained of the Khaladi people, he was sliding backwards into Earth.

The strange vessel shuddered violently as it hit the atmosphere; Zakitaj could see the flames of re-entry leaping up around the hull. He scrambled back down the ladder, missing a rung and falling the last five feet to land in a painful heap. When he'd set the course, he'd locked onto Freedom City, the place Physicus had spoken of, as his destination. Somehow, he didn't want to announce his presence by crashing a starship he knew nothing about into a densely-populated area. He wasn't sure how big the ship was, but he knew that allowing it to crash would kill not only everyone aboard, but also anyone who happened to be beneath the impact zone. Managing to pick himself up, he rushed over to the pilot's computer, trying to undo what he had done back over Khalados. For the millionth time, he wished with all his heart that Physicus was still alive.

Summoning up his determination and shoving away his fear, Zakitaj began to press all the buttons he could find on the computer, but he found no way to remove the course he’d programmed in. All he could tell was that, on the diagram of the vessel displayed on the next screen over, one of what had to be the engines was pulsing red. That, he was certain, was very bad; it explained the spinning, and perhaps why he couldn’t stop the ship. The vessel no longer had the thrust necessary to escape the pull of the planet’s gravity. But if he could manually divert power to the engines or maneuvering thrusters, assuming the ship had any, he might be able to at least ensure that the ship’s fall didn’t kill anyone below.

They were through the atmosphere now, and Zakitaj was certain that the shape of the continent below was filling up the rear viewports. Even assuming that he could manually alter his course, where could he go that wouldn’t result in the deaths of innocents? Earth was many times as large as Khalados, but Physicus had also said that it was more densely populated. But hadn’t he mentioned a place called “Oceanâ€, where no people lived? Yes, he’d said it was a vast plain made out of water that covered most of the planet; he’d said it existed just outside of Freedom City, and that his people’s ships traveled on it. The remembrance gave Zakitaj hope. If he could move his ship just enough off-course to get it into Ocean, and not hit it too hard, there was a chance that no one would have to die.

He dimly remembered seeing something resembling an engine room on his way in; doing his best to remember what he could of the route he had taken however long ago, got up from his chair and sprinted down the hallway, heedless the stabbing pains all over his body. He ran right past the door as it slid open, but caught it to bring himself to an abrupt stop; it proved to be a mistake, sending such a tremendous jolt of pain through his arms that he yelled and let go, causing him to flip onto his back, hit the deck plating hard, and slide about a meter. Spots of light appeared in front of his vision for the second time in a half hour, and the breath had been driven from his lungs. Yet his only thought was of how stupid it would be if he allowed the deaths of countless people because he slipped and fell down. Cosmically stupid came to mind. With a grunt of exertion, he got back to his feet and did his best to limp quickly back and into the room.

A humming of terrible magnitude assailed his ears, and he shrank back before the room’s harsh light; wishing he had his battlesuit on and could just adjust the phaseweave to block it all out, he nevertheless pressed on, eyes half shut and hands pressed over his ears. He stared around at the whirring machinery, energy the dark red color of Broan skin pulsing through devices whose function he couldn’t begin to understand. He needed to find the fuel injector, he reminded himself, and lives depended on it. Locating the damaged engine, which was throwing off sparks and leaking red fumes, he followed the hoses connected to it down until his eyes settled upon a diamond-shaped device connected by no less than sixteen hoses to various parts of the ship. It wasn’t unlike the style favored in Khaladi shuttles, which were designed to allow last-ditch maneuvers just like the one he was about to attempt.

Making his way over to the injector, he reached for one of the two levers on it and paused; on Khaladi ships, there was only one lever, but he had heard Physicus talk about races he’d encountered that included devices to prevent their ships from falling into enemy hands, usually by blowing them up. Neither lever was labeled in any way he could see. If he pulled either lever, he might do what he was planning, or he might atomize the last of the Khaladi. But he didn’t hesitate long; the choice between killing many and killing few was no choice at all. Calmly he removed his right hand from his ear, grasped the closest lever firmly, and pulled it toward him. He couldn’t hear anything over the noise of the engines. A moment passed in unaltered cacophony, though his heartbeat was louder in his ears than a hundred thousand of these machines.

Then the devices got louder, and Zakitaj knew that he had succeeded. By removing the restrictions on the flow of fuel to the engines and maneuvering thrusters, he had caused them all to fire constantly, pushing back upward and slowing them down. The ship was traveling much too fast downward to stop now, and would almost certainly run out of sublight fuel before they reached the planet’s surface at this rate of constant burn, but it all went well, their fight against gravity might spare them a grisly death with their organs painting the vessel’s ceiling. He dragged himself back outside the room and sank down against a wall, exhausted. Time would tell, now, what would happen to his people. All that remained for him to do was wait.

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Captain Rodgard Wolverson didn't like Freedom City. As he stood on the deck of the cargo barge Hildegarde, staring at the vast, majestic towers of the port city he was about to enter, his grey eyes narrowed, and his weathered lips formed into a frown. He had worked at sea all sixty-five years of his life, and it showed in his lined, parchment-like face, his rough, grizzled beard, and his slight stoop, though he did his best to hide the last. He didn't like Freedom City because of the reason so many people went there; because of the Metahumans, the Superheroes. People who had never done an honest day's work in their lives, but who went around sanctimoniously telling everyone what their business was and how they ought to conduct it. They were worse than celebrities, worse than the spoiled rich, because they were actually liked. And though Wolverson would never admit it, the real reason he didn't like Metas was envy. He had done so much and come so far, but what did he have to show for it? Many of his deeds were greater than theirs, but his went unsung.

Still, runs to Freedom paid well, and with economies worldwide going to hell and his gun-running days long over, Wolverson took the good jobs as soon as he spotted them. With any luck, he wouldn't even have to deal with any Metas. Turning from his position in the stern, he surveyed the Hildegarde, laden with boxy cargo crates of scientific equipment from Europe; the super-smart types loved this stuff, he knew, but it didn't matter to him as long as they were paying. His crew scampered about, making ready to hit the docks; about a hundred strong, most of them were just random toughs he'd picked up on his last run. Some, however, he trusted with his life. Adam Tyler, a tall Jamaican man with a booming voice, was one of these people; Tyler had sailed with him for nearly a decade, and was always alert and prepared to react to any situation. It was Tyler who first heard the noise. He looked up, one hand shielding his eyes from the sun, a look of confusion on his face. Confusion turned to horror, and Wolverson followed his gaze. Up in the sky, and headed straight for the ship, was a giant needle.

There was no time to act. Wolverson stood, paralyzed, as the needle smashed into the Hildegarde, plowing through three of the crates and sending two more overboard before lodging itself in the hull. The ship swayed violently, threatening to capsize; water rushed up over the starboard rail, and Wolverson was thrown down seven stairs to the deck, landing face first in a badly-placed deck mop. His face covered in filth but his nose mercifully unbroken, the Captain managed to get back to his feet. The needle, built out of a dark green metal, had begun to leak red fumes, leaving his crew coughing and wheezing. It was about twenty feet wide by thirty feet tall, but a good hundred feet long. Whatever it was built out of, it was much stronger than steel; it had punched a hole through the upper deck and out the starboard side, only a little above the water line, and there were almost no dents or scratches. Wolverson scowled; this was Meta work. He knew he should never have come to Freedom City again.

Tyler, always the man with a plan, had already run up to the bridge and activated the emergency radio. Hopefully the damn "heroes" would clean up their mess before they sank his boat and drowned everyone on it.

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Radio receivers in the port crackled to life, bearing a desperate plea for assistance across the city, a call put out to emergency services and Metahumans alike.

"This is the H.M.S. Hildegarde. We have been struck by an unidentified object within sight of the city. The ship is listing heavily, and we cannot get the engines working. We are taking on water very rapidly. It's too far to swim, and our lifeboats were destroyed in the crash. There are nearly a hundred people aboard, and we're all going to drown if you don't do something soon! Please, send assistance! In ten minutes, we'll all be drinking seawater."

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Dark Star, as he often did, cruised around the planet and the solar system now and again. It only took a few minutes if he really wanted to cover everything. Sometimes he was patrolling but sometimes he flew just for the fun of it. Of course, when his senses detected something amis, the time for fun was over.

It took only a moment to circle back around the Earth and zero in on the disturbance. Another alien vessel obviously. One that was damaged as well, and not from it's recent impact. Even as he pondered its origins, he was acting. First, they needed to get that ship out of the hole. The hole couldn't be sealed until then. And while he might be able to hold the entire cargo ship up (he'd done it before), he wouldn't be able to do anything else.

So, patching first. He concentrated, altering the gravity around the alien vessel, allowing it to slowly slide up and out of the hole. "Captain, if you could be so kind as to gather everyone together over there and safely out of the way? It will also make transporting and rescuing significantly quicker. Thank you," he said with a polite nod, never looking away from his work.

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"You lot! Get to the bilge pumps! You there! Power up the distress lights!" Wolverson strode the damaged deck of his ship, shouting orders at anyone he laid eyes on. The crew scampered to obey their captain, fear in their eyes; they knew how bad the situation was, and their imaginations were making it even worse. That was about when space-thing showed up, looking like some monster out of a low-budget science fiction movie. Wolverson was sorely tempted to make some snide remark about it, but it probably wasn't a good idea given that his survival might depend on this... man? Woman? he couldn't tell. As soon as the Meta's voice rang out, though, he was pretty sure it was a man. He was also sure that what he was doing wasn't the best idea.

"Scuse the interruption, but won't taking that... thing, out of our hull just sink us? We're listing, and if we unplug the hole, the water will come in twice as fast."

Regardless, he quickly commanded his crew to do as the Meta said, gathering them on the far side of the ship. He wouldn't have to pay them if they got killed, but competent help was hard to come by, and he still had to get the ship into port if at all possible. Red smoke continued to belch from a gash at the back of the needle-thing; Wolverson really hoped it wasn't going to explode, or something.

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Zakitaj awoke with a start, foul fumes filling his nose and making his reopened eyes water. He choked as he crawled away, unable to see more than a few feet in front of him. The ship had stopped; its engines were spent, and it looked like the excess fuel had added to the damage incurred during the flight from the Broan. He would have to hope that the engine room was relatively stable; there was no way for him to enter it safely in his present state. Which brought him to thinking of his battlesuit, which could enable him to safely assess the damage. He wouldn't have left it far from his cryostasis pod... but where had he put it? And for that matter, why hadn't the rest of his people awoken yet? He and Physicus had been dumped out, but the other chambers were still sealed, unless they'd released while he was unconscious. Had something gone wrong?

He emerged from the smoke in the cryo hallway and stared around; no, the chambers were still shut for some reason he couldn't understand. Maybe he would have to release them manually, if that was even safe. He remembered suddenly that he had left poor Physicus lying in the hallway in his haste, and made his way over to his friend's body, which he scooped up in his arms and placed back inside his open chamber. Until he found a safe place for the ritual cremation his people practiced, he would just have to be respectful and keep the corpse out of the way. Reaching into his own chamber, he discovered what he was looking for: a pair of gloves and a chestplate anchored in a recessed alcove he'd missed during his unpleasant release.

Deftly he pulled on the gloves and maneuvered the chestplate into place, then waited a second. The three components hummed, and then silver and purple material pushed outward from all of them, rapidly building itself over his body. The suit hissed as it pressurized, and he felt the heat of its decontamination ray burning away the unpleasant stickiness that lingered from his cryosleep. He was neither too hot nor too cold; the air he breathed was fresh and clear. The phaseweave that protected him didn't impair his senses despite covering him fully. It was feeling that never got any less wonderful; the feeling of being part of the perfect union of man and suit, each giving to the other and neither taking away. He didn't feel so tired or sore any longer. Flexing and leaping experimentally, he reveled a moment in the simple joy of his complete mobility.

And then the ship lurched. He easily caught himself on a nearby wall, retaining his feet, but that wasn't what worried him. They'd been still for some time, and new movement meant that some outside force had begun to act on them. What was going on? Making haste, he headed back through the ship toward the airlock. He had come so very far and survived, and that had filled him with new determination. He wasn't going to let anything happen to his people now.

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Before Wolverson's eyes, a section of hull began to pulse and release more smoke; it looked like the needle-thing was preparing to open. Drawing forth his sidearm, he pointed the trusty pistol at the door; he'd been through enough for one day, and was going to give hell to any whacked aliens that thought they were going to mess with him.

"Hey! Look out, they're opening up!"

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One of the advantages of having contacts in the super hero community was unusual commodities. More specifically, modifications well beyond those available on the market could be found. Which was why Fulcrum really enjoyed some her new scanner. The old one worked just fine, but the new one had "bonuses" and connected to her iPhone to boot. Good times.

She heard the call over the emergency channels and zipped right out there. Free of the confines of skyscrapers, some real speed splashed up the waves. Still a certain comic being was ever faster. A good thing too, considering a great, green needle-shaped craft was the unidentified object. Another interesting day in Freedom City.

"Hey Dark Star, I didn't know you liked darts!" quipped Fulcrum as she circled the ship, "Keep her steady, its opening up!"

Touching down, she looked around at the armed man and the sad condition of boat, "Easy there, Captain," she addressed calmly, the man looking like an old salt, "This could be an interstellar taxi for all we know." Cracked her knuckles just in case.

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"Yeah, here comes the water

It comes to wash away the sins of you and I

This time you see"

Breakdown's music echoed over the deck of the ship as he materialized. Having just teleported in, he glanced around to get his bearings.

"Easy there, Captain," she addressed calmly, the man looking like an old salt, "This could be an interstellar taxi for all we know." Cracked her knuckles just in case.

"I'm with Fulcrum on this one, buddy. Breakdown called to the captain. I'm not sure if shooting an interstellar taxi driver would qualify as a hate crime or not, but I don't want to find out." Breakdown sauntered over to the assembled heroes and glanced expectantly at the presently opening spaceship. "Now let's see what we've got here." He said, rubbing his hands together excitedly.

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Dark Star shook his head. "This is causing your ship to list so badly. Plus removing the added weight will bring the puncture in your hull above the waterline. Once that's done I can see about sealing it." He slid the ship gently out of the hole. He held the ship level once it was out. The arrival of Fulcrum and Breakdown made things significantly easier. "Fulcrum, glad to see you; I could use the help!" He nodded at the captain before returning to his fellow hero. "Captain, please put your weapon away. We'll handle this nonviolently. Fulcrum, I need you to find something to fit over that hole. We can patch it once your set but there's no where for me to put this thing down so it'll be up to you to hold the patch there. When you're ready, we'll have to be fast. Afterwards we can great our visitor," he said confidently. He was rather certain it was no taxi, but time was rather pressing at the moment.

He just had to hope their otherworldly visitor would be polite until they were done. Over the radio he knew Breakdown could hear, he sent the next message. Breakdown, please be sure the Captain does nothing untoward with that firearm. Hopefully our visitor will be peaceful, but if not protect the civilians first. Given that Dark Star and Fulcrum were likely to be busy trying to keep the ship from sinking, the young hero was the first line of defense if something went wrong, from either side of things.

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High above planet Earth, another starship was approaching. Small and sleek but covered in cruel barbs, it sliced through space like a serrated blade, ready to rip and tear and bathe its hull in blood. Aboard the vessel, the Broan commander known as Tysu growled with impatience. He was shorter than most of his race, and less powerfully built; the tusks that should have adorned his face had been brutally snapped, and he was covered in scars. But his mind was everywhere at once. He felt the fear of his subordinates, a fear of him that was well justified. He also felt the roiling mass of Humanity on the planet below. He never would have thought that the Khaladi civilization was so great, given the ease with which their pathetic little planet had been overpowered. Perhaps Khalados had just been a minor colony. Regardless, he wasn't here for the planet's normal inhabitants.

He could still see, in his mind's eye, his glowing report to his superiors of the barren world's conquest, the devastation he had wreaked upon its cities as he vaporized everything its people had built over thousands of years. He had been promoted for his swift conquest, sent onward toward greater worlds with an expanded fleet while the spoils of battle were gathered up by the lesser Broan who had been left behind. And he could still see the report giving irrefutable evidence of his failure, and the wrath in the eyes of those who had praised him as they watched the last refugees escape Khalados. They had beaten and maimed him, stripped him of command, and cast him out into exile. Conquest no longer mattered to him. This planet was only relevant because he had spent eight years tracking down the people who had caused him to lose everything, and this was where they had come.

Now, he was going to finish them.

"Launch two fighter-bombers. Reduce the craft to dust, or suffer my wrath. No survivors this time."

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Slowly but surely the section of hull that doubled as a loading ramp slid open. Zakitaj stepped out, ready to take his first steps on a new world, and only barely caught himself with one arm. He took in the scene swiftly. The whole starship was suspended in the air, evidently held up by a being created out of the void of space itself. Below him was a damaged construction of inferior materials, a vast hole located on the top and a vast number of people scampering about on it. All at once, he realized what had happened; he'd made it to Ocean, but fate had been capricious and cruel. He had no idea what the probability of his hitting an Earthling vessel in such a vast body of water was, but it was low enough that he was simply angry at the universe. This wasn't how it was supposed to have played out; he was supposed to have arrived on his feet and willing to help, not creating greater problems. He could see the tension in the eyes of every Human present, and knew that he might well be perceived as malevolent and threatening.

Stepping off of the ramp, he dropped lightly to the deck, hands raised in a gesture of nonviolence. Dressed as he was in his battlesuit of what appeared to be liquid silver and purple metal, they probably couldn't even tell he was one of them. He easily caused the helmet portion of the suit to allow light to pass evenly through it, turning it transparent and revealing a strong face surrounded by a mane of straight chestnut-brown hair. There was an undisguised expression of sorrow on his face as he surveyed the others before him. He took three of them to be superheroes, like Physicus had been: the man made out of void, the unusually tall one with the cape, and the person with bits of plastic in his ears, though the last was only a guess because he looked less concerned than the others, as though he knew how to deal with such things as this. They were fast to arrive when trouble occurred, or else he had been unconscious for longer than he had thought.

It was time for him to state his intentions; it wasn't the first contact he had been imagining, but that chance was now lost to him. He would have to salvage the situation however he could. "I come in peace," he said in flawless English, his deep, rich voice washing out over the deck, "And I am deeply ashamed that my arrival has been anything but peaceful. Who is in command of this vessel?" An elderly man grunted, his lips pulled back in anger and what Zakitaj took to be a weapon only barely lowered from pointing directly at him. "I owe you much, sir; your ship became our landing cushion, and you have suffered for it. I swear to you that my first act on this planet will be to pay for any damages to..." But he was cut off by a sinister humming. Zakitaj recognized the sound; it was the sound of Broan engines. All eyes turned back to the sky as starships broke Earth's atmosphere for the second time that day.

"No," he whispered. "No, no. They can't have found us. Why do they even care anymore? This isn't how it's supposed to be!"

If there was any doubt as to the intent of the two craft, each about the size of a car and jet black in color, it was quickly dissolved when they launched a pair of large metallic projectiles toward the damaged boat, screaming like banshees in flight as air ran through aerodynamic holes in their chassises. Zakitaj remembered that sound, too; he had heard it constantly on the day his homeworld was destroyed, only a thousand times louder as countless bombs fell at once. He wasted no more time bemoaning the turn of events; the Broan weren't planning an invasion with only two fighter-bombers, so perhaps they were just trying to finish what they had started. Either way, he wasn't going to let them. Charging forward, he thrust outward with one hand, the kinetic projectors in his fingertips stirring noiselessly and invisibly to life. The only sound came from the *clank* of a kinetic bolt striking the metal of the rightmost bomb, driving it backward to explode in midair some distance from the ship.

There wasn't time for him to intercept the other bomb. He could only hope that one of the heroes would catch on in time.

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A Coast Guard Jayhawk came racing across the water, the wash from the props kicking up spray. The flight crew helped Gossamer into a harness and prepared to lower her to the beleaguered vessel below; she'd offered to lower herself via her hair, but the crew politely pointed out that more than likely the wash would suck her hair into one or both props, killing them all.

Adjusting the harness and her headset, she gave the crew a thumbs up. "Thanks for the lift, boys! I'll send it right back up so you can get to work yourselves!"

The lovely scientist was rapidly lowered to the deck, her metalic blue and silver jumpsuit glittering with spray; as soon as she was down, she unhooked the harness (while being carefully to keep the life vest) and gave it three quick tugs, the signal she was down safe. The harness rapidly rose back up, and the Coast Guard, their special guest deployed, turned to their own rescue efforts, a welcome sight for the sailors.

Gossamer stode across the deck, her hair grasping first one anchorpoint and then another as she made her way to the alien vessel, the reason ASTRO was contacted and her help requested. She saw a few other heroes as well, and called out to them over the noise of the copter and the general bedlam.

"Hello there! I'm Dr Estelle de Havilland from ASTRO Labs! I've been sent here to help!"

But then she heard the humming, and looked up to see the bombs bearing down on them...:o

"Take cover!"

Without even thinking, she sent tentacles lashing across the deck, grabbing several sailors and pulling them clear of the point of impact.

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Over the radio he knew Breakdown could hear, he sent the next message. Breakdown, please be sure the Captain does nothing untoward with that firearm. Hopefully our visitor will be peaceful, but if not protect the civilians first.

"You got it, DS!" Breakdown called back over the air waves.

"Greetings, stranger!" Breakdown began greeting the newcomer, raising a hand in a friendly wave. "We mean you no harm, we-" He was cut off when the two bomber ships screamed overhead. Dropping into a fighting stance, he called to the captain of the ship, "Captain! May I advise you to find some cover?" When the man didn't move, Breakdown shot him a venomous look. "NOW, Captain!" and finally the man seemed to get the message, reacting with a nod.

When the missiles began screaming towards the ship, he had to think fast. He noticed the newcomer batting one of them away with some sort of power and decided he should follow suit.

Breakdown slapped one of the buttons on his jacket.

"So here I am

doing everything I can

holding on to what I am

pretending I'm a superman..."

He threw his arm up into the air towards the missile that was still careening towards their ship. A visible trail of sound waves blasted through the air to knock the missile off course.

"YEA! Got'em!"

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Stesha heard about the accident along with everyone else in Freedom City, when the breaking news bulletin cut into the Nonstop Nineties block on her radio station at work. She was up to her elbows in ivy trellis runners, but she disentangled herself long enough to get to her phone and head for the employee bathroom. As she went, she projected her senses through the ground, through roots and leaves and vines, all the way out to the trees that lined the waterfront. They couldn't see very well, but what they saw didn't look good. Stesha speed-dialed Derrick. "Did you hear about the accident in the harbor?" she asked him. "Do you know if they need more help out there?"

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Fulcrum turned to the noise of the chopper, knowing full well that Breakdown would handle himself at first contact. The golden-haired woman was someone new. She waved to the scientist and pointed at the space man, but the greetings were halted as the whole scene descended into chaos.

Calmly surveying the problem, Fulcrum smiled as Breakdown started up his colorful antics, "Lets try a one-two combo," she said before kicking up a chunk of metal debris and hurling it discus-style at the wobbling missile.

Between his shock wave and her frisbee, she didn't wait to see what happened. A metal lid in hand, down to the water line she went. As she passed, she yelled, "Star, I'm patching now!" Lacking energy powers, Fulcrum pounded the bent hull closed and "stapled" the patch over it by pinching the lid's edges into the hull. The process wasn't perfect, steel wasn't quite like clay to her yet, but she managed to plug the worst of the gap.

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Dark Star didn't know who the new arrival was with all the hair, but she seemed to be on their side at least. But he recognized the two incoming craft. "Those are Broan short range fighters!" That meant there was a ship nearby. The Broan weren't stupid enough to attack/invade Earth, this had to be a singular incident.

He first thought was to simply drop the ship he was holding aloft into the ocean...but he caught the extraterrestrial visitor's words. 'Us' implied there were others on board. If there were other people in there, he couldn't risk dropping it. Thankfully, Fulcrum sealed the hole up for the most part. He gently set the spaceship down on the ship, this time evenly balanced. Fulcrum's patch would buy them plenty of time to get around to sealing the ship up completely. Thankfully the others managed to destroy the missile while he lowered the ship.

He heard Stesha's voice as she dialed the number and called. "I'm in the harbor now. We're currently under attack by a rather small force of significantly unfriendly extraterrestrials. They seem to be after this crashed vessel and it's occupant."

"Try to incapacitate the ships; not destroy them. They are almost certainly piloted by live crew! We'll handle the mother ship afterwards!" He didn't care how vile they were, he had no intentional of killing anything. He threw one hand forward, aiming for the engine of the little fighter and sent forth a blast of energy to attempt to disable engines.

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Zakitaj's battlesuit disabled his helmet's transparency just in time to protect his eyes from the flash of both missiles exploding violently; a rain of shrapnel flew out over the water, but the barge was too far away to be damaged, though it did rock slightly as shockwaves traveled across Ocean's surface. Turning back around from his position in the prow just as the two Broan craft flew over his head, he surveyed the scene on the deck, curious to know who had managed to destroy the other projectile. It was then that he noticed the noisy rotor-craft; its approach had been hidden from him by the hum of enemy engines and his own emotional distraction. Evidently it was there for evacuation purposes, though he knew it wouldn't be nearly enough given the sheer number of people on the two entangled vessels. The grizzled captain was ordering his crew not to depart, too; evidently he still hoped to move the ship into Freedom City.

He spotted the caped woman in the middle of her dive over the side, and wondered what she could be doing; but he had no right to question those who freely offered help when he had just caused a disaster. The boy with the plastic in his ears, who had briefly greeted him, was celebrating, so it was a good bet that he had been responsible for the other missile's destruction. Zakitaj nodded at the void-man's words; the Broan ships probably were crewed, and it would reflect badly on him to sink to their level by killing his foes. It was a shame the blast had missed; it positively roiled with power. He turned and ran toward the port side of the vessel, hoping to intercept any further attacks, and chanced to look to his right. His jaw dropped, and he nearly tripped as he traveled; immensely grateful that no one could see the expression on his face, he tried to tear his eyes away from the beautiful woman who seemed to be encased in a cascade of hair the color of a warm sun. He had seen prettier, but not many so; this certainly gave him hope for his future on planet Earth.

But he was thinking like his father would have, putting pleasure before duty, and he had since been taught better than that. He managed to gracefully arrest his run just short of the port railing just as the Broan ships came around for a second pass. Determining that the people onboard the vessel, which now bore their true target evenly balanced upon it, had caused their initial attack to fail, they let loose with shotgun-like flak canisters, evidently trying to rip the troublesome soft targets to shreds before finishing their mission. "Everyone down!" His shout was motivated by a simple decision; he wasn't going to use his kinetic projectors defensively this time around. If they didn't deal with the fighters, which carried huge stockpiles of ammunition, it could result in a stalemate lasting hours. Besides, he had an advantage they could not have forseen.

Zakitaj stepped forward directly into the path of one of the flak canisters just as it burst; fifty serrated pellets struck him full in the chest, ready to rip and tear through unprotected flesh. And yet they bounced easily off of his phaseweave armor, which briefly flared as it absorbed the kinetic energy of the attack and prevented the impact from even slightly affecting his balance. He quickly raised one hand and fired off another bolt of force, aiming for the rear engines of one of the retreating Broan ships. Fate was with him for the second time in a row, perhaps making up for his catastrophic failure of a landing. Fighter-Bombers were not generally all that heavily armored, relying on speed and maneuverability to save them. That had run out for the ship he hit, and it spiraled away as the pilot attempted to regain control. He hadn't taken it down, but he had delayed another pass, at least. He could only hope that the other heroes were so lucky; he doubted they were as weapon-proof as he was.

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"Nice shot, alien dude!" Breakdown called out as he hit one of the buttons on his sleeve. "Let's take these guys out!" Breakdown took a skip to put some momentum behind his attack. He thrust out the palm of his hand and suddenly, music blasted into the air. The lack of lyrics didn't dampen the relaxing jazz music of Coltrane.

Breakdown looked like he was about ready to simply float away lifted on the wings of the Jazz he was playing. He stayed grounded for the time being, choosing to remain closer to the action.

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On one side of the ship's deck, inconsequential amongst the commotion of everything else that was happening, a strand of live kelp suddenly poked up over the edge of the ship. It appeared to almost look around for a second, then wrapped itself around a rail and continued climbing. At the top of the rail it stopped, and bizarrely enough, a daisy sprouted. It grew huge in a matter of seconds, then yawned wide to disgorge Fleur de Joie. Stesha had taken just enough time to put on her costume, something she was getting faster and faster at these days.

Given Dark Star's warning about the attack, she kept her head down and an eye on the sky as she scuttled across the deck to where he was. "Do they need help with evacuation?" she asked, both to him and to anyone else who might know. "I can start moving people to shore."

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Dark Star floated above the commotion, unmoving and apparently unconcerned about the attack fighters. But Stesha's arrival got him smiling on the inside. "The passengers and crew are gathering there. Getting them out would certainly help a great deal, We can always return them when this is resolved." Getting those people out of there would make him feel a good deal better about the whole situation.

"Now let's try that again..." He gestured, sending another energy beam out to disable the fighter.

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Fulcrum sighed in relief when the patch held. That trick was a new one for her, and one she came up with on the fly to boot. Now that the barge would survive, the next issue was the incoming fighters.

She stuck her head up in time to witness the battle in progress, but more importantly, see both Dark Star and the newcomer hit the enemy ships. One spiraling out of control, Fulcrum zoomed up from the water line and kicked the other engine, her intent to disable it. The impact resounded with a metallic clang!, and hopefully meant it would spin out the other direction for easy capture.

This pilot and the mothership crew were going to get a stern dressing down for these shenanigans.

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Zakitaj grimaced as the words "alien dude" were uttered by one of the Metas; he was going to give them his name soon, or that was all anyone would call him. Still, everything else about the situation was cause for feelings of triumph. The fighter-bomber he had damaged was struck full-on by the void-man's second blast of energy, and it spiraled downward into the sea with a great splash, throwing off sparks and smoke. As it began to sink, the second craft was suddenly struck by another superhuman, the unusually tall woman; one of its engines was very nearly ripped off, and it pulled up from its attack run. Sensing defeat, it turned toward the skies and attempted to limp away, its escape hindered by the damaged propulsion system. By time time Zakitaj turned from his observations, yet another strangely-garbed meta had arrived, a woman who had made her way over to the void-man to have some discussion Zakitaj couldn't hear.

It became evident that the battle was won, with the remaining enemy in full retreat. A cheer went up from the crew; their ship was saved, with no sign of reinforcements on the horizon. Zakitaj breathed a sigh of relief; his people had also been saved, and he'd made up for at least some of his mistakes. All that remained was to deal with the Broan pilot who had been shot down, and perhaps send his wingmate to join him. Deciding not to strain his kinetic projectors by taking potshots at the retreating ship, the human alien made his way over to the railing to look as the spot where the other Broan ship had crashed. It had long since vanished beneath the waves, and though he could breathe underwater, the Broan pilot could not; capturing him by simply pulling him out would drown him. Suddenly, a different sound caught Zakitaj's attention; it was the sound of his own language.

The Khaladi survivors had at last awoken from their long cryosleep, and were slowly leaving the damaged starship to stand upon the deck of the barge, looking confused and filled with awe. Though they looked like average human men and women wearing padded jumpsuits of blue and purple, it was obvious that they weren't from Earth simply from the way they marveled at Ocean and the skyscrapers of Freedom City in the distance. Ending his role in the battle, Zakitaj walked over to join them, standing at the front of the crowd. "The people of Khalados thank you for your assistance, as do I. We likely would not have survived if it had not been for your intervention, and we do not even know your names. The legends we had been told of Superheroes must indeed be true, and that gives us all hope for this planet. Please, tell us who you are, that we may record your names in our history books."

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High above Earth, Commander Tysu snarled with pure, unbridled rage. He tore two of his subordinates from their chairs without even touching them, sending them flying across the bridge to land against the far wall with somewhat satisfying *splat* sounds. He had seen the video transmission, and now he knew exactly who was responsible for every failure he'd had concerning the Khaladi; he'd watched the power-armored one, aided by the other Metas native to the planet, easily defeat his attack ships. He hated waiting, hated the whole idea of patience, but he couldn't have his revenge if he failed too soon. With no regard to his pilots, or to the remaining fighter-bomber, he gave the order to retreat. He would bide his time and gather the weapons he needed to rip that armored Khaladi, and all of the people he protected, into little, bloody pieces. The barbed vessel shimmered once, then vanished from the system as it traveled deeper into the void of space.

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Stesha approached the man in the powered suit, the one who seemed to be the captain of the strange craft. "It's very good to meet you," she told him pleasantly, giving him a warm smile, "and we'll be sure to introduce ourselves in just a few minutes, but right now we need to get these ships apart and fixed up before one or both of them sinks. Do you mind if I move you and your people to shore?" She pointed to the land in the distance, even as she scattered a few seeds across the deck. They sprang up into vines sporting large, multi-colored flowers. "It won't hurt and it's not dangerous," she assured him, "just have everyone hold hands so I can move them at once."

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Estelle cheered when she saw the combined efforts of the newcomer and the city's heroes in routing their mysterious foes; the threat gone (for now), she turned her analytical eyes to the reminaing craft and its people, who looked human on the surface.

"The people of Khalados thank you for your assistance, as do I. We likely would not have survived if it had not been for your intervention, and we do not even know your names. The legends we had been told of Superheroes must indeed be true, and that gives us all hope for this planet. Please, tell us who you are, that we may record your names in our history books."

"It's very good to meet you," she told him pleasantly, giving him a warm smile, "and we'll be sure to introduce ourselves in just a few minutes, but right now we need to get these ships apart and fixed up before one or both of them sinks. Do you mind if I move you and your people to shore?" She pointed to the land in the distance, even as she scattered a few seeds across the deck. They sprang up into vines sporting large, multi-colored flowers. "It won't hurt and it's not dangerous," she assured him, "just have everyone hold hands so I can move them at once."

It appeared the young woman with plant powers had access to some form of miraculous transport, so it seemed the safety of the newcomers was not so much of an issue. Gossamer cautiously approached the craft, smiling warmly with her hands clearly visible, as her hair, sopping wet from the spray, stretched out to gently probe the hull.

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Dark Star nodded to the others. "Be back in a moment," he said to everyone. He turned and flew down into the depths. A few moments later, he passed through the surface of the water, damaged fighter in tow. He brought it down to rest by the other craft. "I'm called Dark Star. Welcome to Earth. Proper introductions should wait for the moment however. Breakdown, the pilot of that fighter is likely stunned. Please make sure he doesn't attempt to leave his vessel until I finish." He turned to the others. "I'll return this craft and it's pilot to Broan outpost after we're done here. Along with a strong reminder to leave this planet be." He drifted over to the patch Fulcrum made and concentrated, rearranging the molecules to make it a seamless hull once more. He'd never tried this particular trick before, but now was a good a time as any.

Finally, he turned back to the group. And he paused as he realized where he'd seen that style vessel before. He sighed and turned to the newcomers. He nodded at them. "If you could do as the lady suggests, it would likely make this a good deal easier. We need to talk." He looked at the green haired beauty. "Where are you taking everyone? I'll pick up both vessels and meet you there," he said. To those who might not know him well, he likely sounded as he always did. But to her, it wouldn't be hard to tell there was sadness in his voice. Dark Star had some bad new for the new arrivals. And he really hated giving bad news.

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"I'm called Dark Star. Welcome to Earth. Proper introductions should wait for the moment however. Breakdown, the pilot of that fighter is likely stunned. Please make sure he doesn't attempt to leave his vessel until I finish."

Breakdown saluted the other hero. "Right-o, DS!" Floating up to rest on the nose of the ship, Breakdown dropped to sit Indian style. He could see the fighter pilot trying to shake the cobwebs from his head through the glass. "What up?" Breakdown smiled and waved at him. "Welcome to Air Freedom. We would like to request that you stay seated with your seatbelt fastened until you're visit to our planet has come to a complete end. For your safety of course." He added the last part with what might have been a wink. Though it was impossible to see through his visor.

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Chastened by the plant woman's reminder that all was not ended, Zakitaj nodded his armored head. His actions had only prevented one of the dangers he had created, and people were still threatened by his other failures. Turning back to his people, he spoke in the soft, rumbling tones of the Khaladi language, a sound Physicus had once compared to the shifting of pebbles across soft soil. Understanding the urgency of the situation, they moved immediately to join hands and approach the flowers, just as he had instructed. He didn't understand exactly what was going to happen, but he trusted these people; they had helped him without reservation in a problem that had very little to do with them. Besides, the plant woman had gotten aboard the ship somehow, and she neither flew nor had a vehicle. The void-man traveled down to complete repairs on the barge; Dark Star was his name, which Zakitaj committed to memory. It was clear that he and the plant woman were used to working together; they spoke casually of resolving the situation.

Dark Star's mention of a talk, however, struck fear into Zakitaj's heart. He knew nothing of this new planet's policy. Was there a restriction on interplanetary immigration? Did these people fear, perhaps rightly, that his presence would turn the eyes of the Broan toward their home? He had come so far; would he simply be put back on the ship and told to go somewhere else? But even if that happened, he had one duty on Earth which he could not ignore. "Just a moment," he said, and stepped back aboard the starship that lay upon the deck. He made his way back to the cryostasis hallway and over to the chamber in which he had left Physicus. It was unlikely that any of these heroes would recognize the old man; he had been one of them, but never a famed one, and probably long before their time. Dressed as he was in his simple grey clothing, the wound that had broken his spine still painfully obvious, they might never know he had been one of their own.

But he had been a good friend and mentor to Zakitaj, and for that, he deserved to be buried at home. The alien refugee scooped him up and headed back outside the ship to join his people. He made his way over to the plants and took a deep, steadying breath. "I'm ready. Unless my help is required, let's go."

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Fulcrum watched the fighter speed off and frowned. That was not a good sign, but thankfully the other fighter was down. Maybe they could get some information from the pilot. Landing brought her back into the action. Frankly though between the other heroes, the remaining tasks were well in hand. So instead of getting in the way, she simply patted Breakdown on the shoulder and watched the preparations. Made her proud not only to be a hero but to know such good people.

At the glances received from the newcomers, she put on her best friendly smile and waved to them. For being alien they appeared very much human. She made a mental note to ask Dark Star about the prevalence of the humanoid body plan. Now that pilot though could be something else in entirely, and out of curiosity, she rejoined Breakdown.

"How goes the safety demonstration?"

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