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"Good morning. Freedom City. Thank you for tuning in to WXAD Channel 5 News At Noon. I'm Charles Maxfield, filling in for Summer Gleason. Our top story today: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has yet to comment on the mysterious extraterrestrial attack on America's heartland a scant twenty-four hours ago. Sources say that no telescopes or satellites picked up any aircraft, alien or otherwise, in the vicinity, and no parties have yet come forward to claim responsibility for the energy beam which shot down from the sky and carved its way across a hundred miles of Nebraska farmland. Our- Excuse me. We have just received words of an emergency here in Freedom City..."

Whatever its origin, 24 hours later, at 12:00pm exactly, the skies darkened around Freedom City as a 600ft-diameter cylinder of white-hot fire poured down from the sky, blasting a crater in the Wharton State Forest. The beam persisted, carving a trench as it raced along the ground toward the ocean. And in its path stands Freedom City.

"Mayday, mayday, this is Captain Aaron Crichton, Flight 89 from Los Angeles to Newark! We just saw a bright flash of light, and whatever it was sheared off most of a wing! We are going down! Repeat, we are going down! And unless we get a miracle, we're going down in the middle of Freedom City!"

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Despite the deep depression he'd fallen into after his father's departure, Mark was still loyally making regular visits to the Young Freedom headquarters, and so he was down in the monitor room with the others, sitting alone in front of a computer, when the alarms went off. "Oh my God," he said, appalled, his black funk forgotten. Standing and addressing the others, he said, "We've got to do something! Phalanx, Psyche, can you catch that plane? Wander and Zephyr, maybe we can get out and do something about that beam?"

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Erin stood up instantly, looking at the beam as it sliced down from the heavens, impossibly large and deadly. "Zephyr, you need to start with the evacuation. You're the only one fast enough to get there right now, before anybody dies. Edge and I will follow with the teleporter and help when we get there. Alex, can you get us a line on exactly where that beam's going to go, so you can direct what we need to clear out?"

She knew Mike could catch the plane, that was, oddly enough, the least of her worries at this point. "Hellion, can you get up to your ship and see if you can tell what the hell it is that's up there? We don't even know what we're dealing with right now."

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James appears in a flash of light as he beamed in. He might be around much but he carried his YF beacon everywhere. "You forget about me already Edge?" He asked with a grin before realizing he had appeared right in front of the massive beam. "Whoops," he muttered though the proximity to it didn't seem to affect him any. Still just to be safe, he ported himself over to the first group being put together to make the transport beam have an easier target. "I'm working on it Wander! Zephyr, get people together in group, I'll get them out of the way!" He keyed his com. " 'Seph! Start beaming the grouped people out to a safe location! And see if you can tell me what the heck is firing on us!"

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Phalanx sped for the door calling out behind him, "I'll take care of the plane." as he did so. In a flash of Blue and Gold he sped skyward in an intercept course with the plummeting aircraft. He didn't hesitate as he flew under the enormous craft and laid his hands carefully on the hull exerting his immense strength to slow the crafts descent as he cast about for a clear space out of the path of the the deadly beam to place the damaged craft.

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Psyche's thoughts filtered into their thoughts about a second and a half after the request was asked, 'There's nothing at all up there. The beam just appears in space. There's no ship to stop or anything. It just appears and is moving along. I don't know what it is. Phalanx might be able to use his vision on it to get more information once he sets down that plane. Here's the basic pattern it looks to be heading but there's no telling without knowing what's causing it whether that's going to remain the case.'

She floated out above the woods, watching the beam for another precious few seconds and then she turned her attention, 'Trees are on fire now. Hellion, you get that shut down for us?

Psyche turned back to the beam and focused for a moment, creating one of her telekinetic disks and seeing if she could use it to break up the path of the beam at least briefly.

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"I'll take care of the plane."

Phalanx shot through the air, a blue and gold blur, and easily caught up with the plane. Actually getting grip on it was another story, as the pilot was still attempting to guide it, but with half a wing gone the jet itself wasn't cooperating. It lurched and bobbed in a seemingly random manner as it fell. After a few adjustments, Phalanx finally came up under it at just the right spot at just the right angle, and pushed. He felt the metal of the jet's hull bend and ripple and crumple as he gritted his teeth and strained and heaved at it. It still raced toward the city, but his efforts were paying off. The plane began to slow, and its path diverted away from the heart of the city.

"'Seph! Start beaming the grouped people out to a safe location! And see if you can tell me what the heck is firing on us!"

Persephone chattered away in Hellion's ear. "Roger that! Will-do!" She guided the Space Palace up into orbit. "You're not gonna believe this...preliminary scans indicate that nothing is firing on us! This is definitely solar energy, and a lot of it! Infrared's like looking into the heart of the sun! It's like something's focusing all the ambient sunlight into a funnel. But I can't find a source! I'll keep looking. I've got a lot of eyes to look through."

When Psyche pushed her sight past both her physical eyes and Earth's atmosphere, her observations matched Persephone's. Although it was only noon, the entire Western hemisphere of Earth looked more like late sunset, save for the single pillar of fire now bearing directly down upon Freedom City. She could see no ships, no cannons, no obvious rifts in the fabric of space-time...nothing visible to the naked eye. It appeared as though the beam really did come out of nowhere.

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"Razor." Zephyr grabbed a commlink and took off running toward "ground zero." She stood before the massive tower of light and flame in less than a second. Her eyes bugged out and her jaw dropped open. Holy farking sprak... She raised a hand to shield her eyes from the inferno. "Guys, if you could see what I'm seeing..." She tapped on the ArcheTech PDA at her side to activate the visor display and wrist-mounted touch controls, then set her visor to cycle back and forth between different spectrums several times a second. "A ton of UV radiation...putting out more heat than a nuke...like God unzipped his fly and took a piss right on our heads. Everything in it's path is just...gone. Slag. Ashes. It's like..." No. Don't think about that right now. She closed her eyes and shook her head vigorously, then took off running again.

Zephyr ran into every building and alley that even might be in the path of the beam, warning people to flee, and picking them up and carrying them out the door if they hesitated. As soon as she gathered enough people together in one spot, she gave Persephone the order to "Beam 'em up, Scotty!" She also ran around behind the beam, to check the path for any survivors or stragglers. More than once, she found a building that'd been cloven in twain, burning and crumbling around the people trapped inside. Not bothering to navigate the interior, she merely ran up the side of the outside walls and pulled people out through the windows.

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"Thanks Seph. Do what you can!" James nodded. "She's right. Apparently 'nothing' is shooting it. More like the sun's rays are being focused somehow. Or maybe opened a hole into the sun, I don't know! Yeah, I'm on the fires." A moment later he teleported to the middle of the fires, unfazed by them. He gestured, reaching out for the flames and commanding them, pulling them in. Elsewhere the groups Zoe gathered vanished in a flash of light, being beam directly to parks and open areas far from the deadly beam of destruction.

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Erin quickly activated the base teleporter to send herself and Mark out to where the beam was about to hit. Even as she began to move, she called to Mark, "You remember that ham sandwich? Can you make something huge and really strong... can you make a mirror? If you make it, I'll try and divert the beam with it!" While she let him work on that, she began moving people out of the way with every bit of speed her superhuman abilities allowed her. There was so little time, but everyone they moved was one more who would live.

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"A mirror, a mirror, oh man..." Edge concentrated, thinking hard, squeezing his eyes shut as he summoned a mental image of a powerful, strong mirror like he'd seen on pictures of the Lighthouse or solar power arrays. But just he opened his eyes, he happened to catch sight of a lost Mylar balloon drifting by overhead, its HAPPY BIRTHDAY message just visible at extreme altitude. "No, wait!" Before Mark could stop himself, something remarkable happened. A gigantic thing began forming in the air over the city, a growing, towering cylinder as wide as the beam and more, stretching way, way up into the clouds, then past the clouds, then vanishing up into the stratosphere, a gigantic monument to Mark's magnificent powers that was larger than anything anyone had ever seen.

It was a Mylar balloon, as shiny and reflective as if it was brand-new, but bearing the bold words HAPPY BIRTHDAY! in letters big enough to be read from the Moon. A string as wide as a ship's anchor cable came tumbling down, landing next to Erin and Mark.

"That...okay, I guess that'll do it," said Mark, staring up at his creation with bafflement. "Yeah, that'll be tough enough! Use that! Quick!"

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Phalanx continued to grimace and strain against the tumbling passenger jet with all his considerable might. The metal hull buckled and shrieked and cracked and tore from the opposing forces of gravity, inertia, and a sixteen-year-old boy, but remained mostly intact throughout the ordeal. Phalanx's far-seeing gaze, half-blurred from the sweat dripping down his face, scanned the city for an open space big enough and empty enough in which to deposit his cargo. The plane had dragged him as much as he'd dragged it, and ther "combined efforts" caused them to drift southward...directly toward the Claremont Academy.

As they continued to plummet downward, Phalanx threw all of his strength into one last heave, just barely clearing the main building before descending to the middle of the quad. His feet blew a crater three times his own size into the sod when he landed, but he was able to lay the main fuselage of the plane far more gently upon the ground. Once the dust had settled, students and faculty poured out of the surrounding buildings, as the flight staff popped open the emergency exits and deployed the slides. Phalanx could see Old Man Summers hastily limping out the front doors. Passengers and students alike erupted into furious applause. Summers leaned on his cane, smirked a half-smile out of the corner of his mouth, and gave Phalanx a simple nod of acknowledgement.

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While Phalanx struggled to avert catastrophe with the runaway passenger jet, Psyche channeled all of her psionic power into creating a gargantuan disk of pure telekinetic force to block the path of the massive column of light and fire which scoured a canyon through the middle of Freedom City. Her efforts succeeded, at least momentarily. The beam was burning through, but slowly. At least for the moment, the devastation was averted. She flew frantically in front of the disk, just barely managing to keep pace with the beam as it sped along through Freedom. Zephyr and Wander took advantage of the momentary respite to expand their evacuation efforts under the beam's path as well as in front of it, and the lives of several men, women, children, and even pets were salvaged as a result.

At the eastern end of the Wharton, Hellion was surrounded by a raging inferno. The beam had blasted a crater several hundred feet wide and deep. Some trees had been incinerated outright, while others merely broke into splinters or were uprooted and flung in all directions. With all the dry, dead foilage typical of the summer months, the fire had plenty of fuel, and now it threatened to consume the entire forest.

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Edge's colossal balloon completely encased the beam. For a split second, the blinding glow could be seen faintly beneath the surface, but then it quickly faded to darkness. The sky around Freedom City, and indeed the entire Western hemisphere of Earth, suddenly brightened from late-sunset to high noon once more, as though the Sun suddenly emerged from behind the thick cloud-cover of a hurricane.

Persephone's high-pitched voice once more rang through the ears of the assembled heroes commlinks. "AND MANY MOOORRRE!!!"

"OK, whatever you did there, however you did it, it's working, at least for now. But there's something inside the balloon, at the top, that just started glowing again, and the top of the balloon's already starting to smolder. So you're still working on a time limit, people! Not out of the woods yet-wait, what? Stand by..."

"Guys, something just launched from somewhere in the South Pacific region, up into orbit, and exploded before I could do much investigating. I'll try to sift through the debris while I collate my readings from the beam."

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Phalanx breathed a sigh of relief as his struggle against the careening aircraft came to an end and he was able to safely lay it down in the quad. He knew that the teachers and students would be able to handle the evacuation of the plane and with a snappy if inexpert salute to the headmaster he rocketed skyward once more.

Catching sight of the colossal balloon now that he was no longer distracted by the falling plane he shook his head and headed toward the evacuation path thumbing his communicator as he did so, "Plane's safe, where you need me?" he asked the others.

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James ignored the flames on the heat, not that it bothered him much anyway. He focused and gestured, swirling the flames up and into a fiery vortex. The pillars of fire arched up and around before slamming to lakes and rivers with a loud hiss, killing the flames. As he cleared out one area, he hopped over to another, trying to create a fire break and contain the flames that would take slightly long to get to. He smiles at 'Seph relaying the information. "I'm almost done here guys! What's next?"

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After Edge's balloon contained, then seemingly nullified the beam, Zephyr ran up to meet him and Wander, a blue and orange streak across the city. "Whoa...Hey, guys!" She glanced at Edge, then up at the balloon again, then at the string in Wander's hand. "Lemme know where you're taking that thing. I'll clear a path for you, make sure no one's under it, just in case it pops open and starts up again."

"Um, Alex?" Persephone asked uneasily. "I just intercepted a phonecall at the mansion. Now I've got a Colonel Nathan Reynolds on the line. He says he's with U.S. Strategic Air Command, he's been made aware that the 'the C.E.O. of AEON Enterprises' is on the scene, and he'd like to speak with her if she's available. Should I put him through to your comm?"

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Psyche relaxed as she allowed her shield to disintegrate, her shoulders slumping. She hovered where she was in the air and sighed, "Oh, for... Technically I'm just the majority share holder. Yes, go ahead and put him through to my com-link. That way everyone can hear."

"Phalanx, swing by me for a pick-up, please." She paused where she was and touched the comlink in her belt, her high and clear voice came across, "General, this is Alexandra Albright of AEON Enterprises, code name Psyche. You are clear to go on a secure channel.

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"It's Colonel, actually." The gravelly voice, tinged with a slight Southern accent, chuckled into the mic. "High up enough on the pole that I sit behind a desk, but low enough that the desk is at the battlefield instead of Washington."

"We've been informed that you and your team are on the scene in F.C. National Guard's incoming, by the way. With that, and the Freedom League otherwise occupied, I've been authorized by the President to brief you in full on what little we know."

"You may or not be aware of the object or objects that just got launched into orbit, right around the time that giant laser came down on your heads. Well, there was another unidentified launch yesterday, around the same time, right before the incident in Nebraska. Doesn't take a mutant genius to figure out there might be some relation. First launch came from somewhere in the Atlantic, off the coast of Argentina. Today's was somewhere in the middle of the South Pacific ocean. We've scrambled drone aircraft and retasked nearby ships to investigate, but we didn't find anything in the water yesterday, and I got a feeling that ain't about to change. Maybe your team'll have more luck."

"We've compiled every single satellite and telescope surveillance image of the area above both incidents that we could scrounge up, and we've got our top people going over 'em with a fine-toothed comb trying to figure out what there is to see. I've taken the liberty of transferring that same data to the AEON corporate servers. Maybe you'll see something we don't."

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Erin braced herself and hung onto the string of the gigantically massive balloon, looking around for the best way to run if it became necessary. She wasn't sure that holding onto the string would do a doggone thing for a balloon this size, but the string was taut, so she figured it was a bad idea to let go. "Phalanx, can you get your X-Ray eyes up high enough to see if you can get a look at what we're dealing with?" she asked over her comm. "If Hellion goes with you, he might be able to get a handle on whatever it is, if it uses anything like normal fire."

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Phalanx made a slight adjustment to his course and scooped Alex into his arms before looping around to drop her off clear of the blast zone but near the others. He clicked over his com quickly, "I'll see if I can make out anything but I don't think I'll see anything Psyche and Hellion didn't." he replied to Wander as he shot upwards to see if he could make out anything of use. As he sped through the atmosphere he added, "Hellion Port up to meet me and we'll see what we can do about this thing."

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James extinguished the last of the flames into the water. Standing amidst the burned out area, dead trees and ash everywhere, was rather disturbing in a too familiar kind of way. "I hear you. Ok, I'm 'porting. Let's hope to something that stays solid," he muttered. He concentrated, using a little bit of focus and vanish only to reappear far, far above...

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As Phalanx traveled up the length of the impossibly gargantuan balloon, piercing the surface with his X-ray vision, he saw...nothing. Empty space. The inside of the balloon itself.

Until he reached the top, that is. There, inside the balloon, he could see light. For now, it was a relatively dull glow, like the glare from a nearby window on a hot summer day. Nothing to compare with the beam, which was like staring into the heart of the sun itself. The light was gradually glowing brighter, but light was all Phalanx could see. No physical objects, no rift in the space-time continuum. Just...light.

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"Uhm, that's not going to hold. We're gonna have to move it but moving its also likely to make it likely to rip. We might be able to do something to help keep it from ripping itself apart. Its magnifying solar energy would be my best guess. Harnessing it somehow into a giant beam like a kid with a magnifying glass on much, much bigger scale. What defuses a beam of light... think, Psyche!" That was shared with all the team-mates although the last part was directed to herself more than anything else.

She touched the com-link again, " Apologies, Colonel. We have our hands a bit full and I'm afraid I was a bit distracted. Thank you for that data, we'll work on processing this and ending this problem."

Psyche pressed a few more buttons on her com-link, "Persephone, I'm giving you access to the AEON computers, please pull that information and give it to me as you correllate it, please. In the meanwhile, that balloon is going to pop soon. Let's get it out where it'll do less damage while we come up with a way to diffuse that beam. It might be a chemical reaction of some kind, Phalanx, can you see down on the microscopic level and see if there's anything strange. In the meanwhile, lets move this balloon."

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Erin stared dubiously up at the balloon, still hanging onto the string. It seemed entirely impossible that anything any of them could do would move the balloon, but then again, Mark had created it, and he had really weird ideas about what was and wasn't possible. And the thing of it was, the universe tended to agree with him. If she tried to move it like a normal balloon, it seemed likely it would move. "All right, I can take it up to roof level and start moving with it. Where should I go?"

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