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Avenger Assembled

All the News That's Fit (IC, Open)

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The following appears in the pages of the Freedom City Ledger a week after the events of The Long Arm of the Law

Editorial- Villains and Heroes: How Close is Too Close?

It's something of an open secret in Freedom City's superhero community that sometimes superheroes and supercriminals get a little too close for comfort. Sometimes this can be a good thing. Who can forget what happened in 1993, when supervillains like the Red Devil and the Teen Terrors joined forces with friends from FORCE OPS to battle the forces of the Terminus? Or seventy years ago, when Crime League members like August Roman turned away from their criminal past to embrace American patriotism during the Second World War? This newspaper and its editorial staff endorse a balanced approach to crime-fighting, one that offers an opportunity for redemption for costumed criminals who choose to turn their fantastic powers to the cause of justice.

But there is such a thing as being too close. Intimate relationships between superheroes and their enemies are a violation of the sacred public trust our society gives to people in masks, relationships that strike at the very foundation of what it means to be a superhero. Would the Centurion have bedded Marionette, or Lady Liberty Tom Cyprus? We trust our lives, our fortunes, and our families to the costumed guardians of Freedom City. If they can't be trusted to keep something as routine as their personal relationships inside the law, how can we trust them with anything more important?

And what about our children? Consider the message it sends our young women if the hypersexualized, aggressively promiscuous lady supervillains are given the same treatment by the media or by their fellow superheroes as noble, courageous defenders of freedom like Lady Liberty or Fulcrum. Our society should reward decency and honor, not crime, corruption, and the poor impulse control that so often marks these jailbaits turned jailbirds. Our superheroes need to say no to supervillains. It's been said that true love waits. For a superhero, true love can certainly can wait until after justice has been served.

This newspaper is a long-time friend of superheroes, particularly those who've proven their value to this city and to the world time and time again. That's why today we chose to name names. If our friends, whose valor has been proven time and again, do not have the courage to defend their relationship publicly, how can they tell themselves that what they do is true and right? That's why the Freedom City Ledger's editorial staff is asking our friend the Scarab to abandon her intimate relationship with the super-criminal known as Bombshell. Do what's right. Give our people something to believe in.

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Bombshell had never been a morning person. When one spends all night out and about on the prowl, it helps to be able to sleep through the day. So she wasn't up and about to get her newspaper until almost noon. Picking it up from the stoop outside, she carried that and the mail in and set about making up some tea and toast for the morning. She might have lived in the States for near fifty years now but she'd never acquired a taste for coffee.

Sitting down, she began perusing the paper idly as she nibbled on the toast and let the tea cool to something that would be less scalding. When her gaze fell on the editorial, her eyebrows arched almost all the way into her hairline. She pursed her lips and put the toast down, reading it through a second time.

"Supervillian? Really? I rather thought you had to at least hold a hostage or two or make a bid for world domination. Either standards have seriously slipped during my absence or they've simply decided on 'artistic licence'." Bombshell neatly refolded the paper and finished her tea, continuing to muse aloud as she headed into to take a shower and change. Work clothes early today, it seemed. "Either way, rather not the point. I had best see how Elena's holding up. Her 'side' is always harder on these things, after all."

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Ace rose at his accustomed time strolling across the penthouse as he pulled tied off his robe and settled before the lite breakfast that had been laid out. He took a long sip of the hot coffee and glanced down at the editorial headline with a smirk before flipping through to the article.

He leaned back to settle into the rest of his breakfast chuckling lightly to himself, "Ah Scarab subtlety has never been your forte." he murmured to himself. He calmly finished his meal and canceled a few of his less pressing appointments for the day in case one of the pair decided something need be done and were actually willing to ask his advice. He was after all the expert in scandal management, seventy odd years of it will teach you a few tricks after all.

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Viktor Archeville did not awake that morning, for to wake he would have needed to go to sleep the night before. He'd pulled another all-nighter, working on some improvements to the translators for ArcheStern, when one of his numerous automated systems alerted him of the release of the day's newsfeeds.

"" Dozens of holographic displays appeared in the air before him, which he moved about and tossed into the voice of his computer system as he read through them. ""

""

The Doktor did a double-take.

""

HA-ha!

Ohhh my. Ohhhh... this is not good.

Oh, I wonder if we're the first to see this?

We probably are... oh I should call Elena, let her know ASAP!

Yeah, let's call and rub her nose in it!

What? No!

""

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Elena Guerrero had once again fallen asleep deep within The Scarab's Lair, as she did with at least twice the frequency that she spent the night in her actual apartment. Rubbing the dried mucus from her eyes, she grabbed a shower and a change of clothes from the modest facilities of The Lair (which were downright Spartan compared to those available many floors above her), then made her way up through the secret entrance into the lobby of 1 Pyramid Plaza for her morning lattè at Starbase, her most treasured daily ritual. Despite the fact that she was a subscriber, and a copy was no doubt waiting for her up at her apartment, she absent-mindedly purchased a copy of the Freedom City Ledger along with her coffee. The baristas greeted her by name and put the purchases on her tab, which was settled at the beginning of every month via automated electronic transfers from one of her bank accounts. They all knew that she was the one who spearheaded the effort to get a Starbase branch installed there, and that she was the driving force behind the significantly higher wages that made it such a hotly-contested post. The $100 bills she usually dropped in the tip jar didn't exactly hurt their opinion or their memory, either.

She didn't even bother going up to her apartment, instead heading directly back down to her real headquarters. She happened to be sitting in her command center, over two dozen news broadcasts from around the world playing on the monitors above her, when her eyes happened upon the editorial and what was left of the latte slipped out of her hands and fell to the floor. She sat motionless for several minutes, reading and re-reading the article, her stare gradually hardening into a grimace. Her fingers gripped the paper so tightly her knuckles turned white as the paper shredded beneath her fingers.

When Viktor Archeville's call came up on one of the monitors, she pressed a button to ignore it. Instead, she dialed another number. The private number of Fletcher Beaumont II, the editor-in-chief of the Ledger, known by his former teammates as Bowman III. Former teammates such as Alexander Rhodes, also known as The Scarab.

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Calling Fletch Jr's cellphone meant Elena got through without having to get through a receptionist or secretary, one that would almost certainly at best be the daughter or grand-daughter of the woman Alexander had flirted with whenever he'd called the Ledger decades earlier. "Ahoy-hoi." Fletch Jr's voice was older than Elena remembered, and strained with the effects of years and the alcoholism he'd still been struggling with when Alexander Rhodes died. "...sweet Eye of Ra! Scarab!"

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"That's right, Fletch. It's me, in spirit if not in the flesh. I'm sorry I haven't made the time to come see you since my return. Although I did order a lifetime subscription (my second one of those, if I recall correctly), and being the top news man in the city, you no doubt have some idea of how busy I've been. But maybe if I had made the time to see you in person, you might have had the professional, if not personal courtesy, to at least warn me about this. And please don't insult me by pretending that you don't know what I'm talking about. I have a hundred questions brewing in my head, but the only one I can bring myself to ask at the moment is...Why?"

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There was a long pause on the other end of the line, reminiscent of an archer taking careful aim at a moving target. "It was harsh," the old man conceded, "and I can see where you'd be bothered. I guess I still think of you as being beyond the Veil, or at least immune to the slings and arrows of journalists like me. But I remember Bombshell, Scarab," said Fletch, his voice warming to the subject of the extremely attractive cat burglar he'd chased as a young man. "Sweet Christmas, do I ever. And I remember how she flirted with you, and everyone else, all the time. I know how tempting all that is, with the sexy super-dames, but you can do better than that. You've gotta do better than that, you know, for the kids, so they know you're worth looking up to. For half the kids today, you're some chick in gold and red, not the guy who saved all our butts five times over. Which is a crying shame if you ask me, but what can you do?"

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"Which is a crying shame if you ask me, but what can you do?"

"'What can you do?' What can you do?"

"You can bother to pick up a phone and get my side of the story before publishing an attack piece like this. You can at least warn me that it's going to press so I don't find out when I read it in the paper like everyone else in the city. You can refrain from presuming to know everything about a situation you are almost completely ignorant of. You can resist the urge to ham-handedly bludgeon your way into the most delicate of situations, requiring the utmost finesse on my part. I'm trying to save her, Fletcher. And this won't help draw her toward redemption. This will drive her back over the fence she's been straddling. You have no idea what you've done, because after all these years, you still haven't learned to plan properly and get all the facts before rushing off half-cocked into a warzone."

"And don't try to moralize to me. If you were really more concerned with the state of my legacy than you are with selling papers and stepping on my back to boost yourself up onto that high horse, you wouldn't have smeared me like this. Be honest, Fletcher - how much of this debacle was motivated by honest concern, and how much of it was a bitter old man's last chance to stick it to the high-&-mighty bastards who dared to judge him for being a drunk?"

"If you want to actually help now instead of just exacerbating this mess, you'll do me the professional courtesy of providing the name of the misguided crusader who supplied you with the fuel for this engine of social destruction."

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"I'd tell you what you can do with your smart mouth, but it doesn't sound like that's your bag these days," said Fletch sharply. Come to think of it, maybe there was a reason the League had looked the other way about his alcoholism for so long. "You want to pump me for information, you buy a paper like anyone else." There was a pause, then another one, before he said, "But you know what? You're the Scarab, and I sure as hell haven't forgotten that. And because I remember '79, not to mention '73 and '65, I'm going to talk to my reporter. If he wants to meet with you, I'll set something up. I'm not going to give up someone in the craft without their say so. But I _am_ going to help you, because of who you are and what you mean." Another pause. "As for my personal legacy, Scarab, it's history. Just don't let yours go the same way."

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Elena's voice turned cold, polite but distant. "Well, then, thank you for at least meeting me halfway. Give my regards to the family." She slammed the button on the keyboard that ended the call. Rarely had she been so tempted to just use her powers to kick down the doors of a person's mind and make them tell her what she wanted to know.

She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples as a pair of gleaming golden robots, shaped like scarab beetles, scuttled across the faux-stone floor and began cleaning up the spilled coffee. They really are the most significant improvement I've made to this place in this lifetime. And now to "call back" the man responsible for installing them.

An elastic headband, lined by several items of plastic and metal, with a cord trailing back to the computer, rested on a featureless felt mannequin head to Elena's side. She typed a few more commands into her keyboard, then slid the headband around her forehead. She pushed her eyes, ears, and mind out past the limits of her physical body. The electronic device created a connection between her psychic powers and the computers, allowing their processing power to shoulder much of the burden, freeing up her concentration. The result was an effective range boost for her clairvoyance, while allowing her to dedicate less of her own mental resources to maintaining it. Another innovation I have to thank him for.

She reached out with her mind to touch that of Viktor Archeville. Her "voice" whispered into his "ears." You rang? A spectral image of her head slowly faded into view in front of Viktor, but it was for his eyes only.

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I did indeed, he thought back, unsurprised that she would respond telepathically. I-

WIIITCH!!!

Must you do that every time?

YEEES!

-wanted to bring to your attention an article in today's Freedom Ledger. Have you already seen it? If not, feel free to scan my mind-

NO!!!

Settle down, she is not an enemy!

-for it.

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Elena's ghostly face scowled. I have read...the article. And yes, it got my attention. Her fists clenched around the edge of her desk until long after the flesh over her knuckles faded to white. She let go and took a deep breath when she noticed that she had drawn blood on her palms. She leaned back into her chair. Not much in this world surprises me. Fletcher Beaumont the second has earned a rare distinction, if at the cost of another piece of his integrity. Which was in short supply to begin with.

Did you call simply to inform me of the article's existence? Did you seek to inquire about the details? Or did you have your own opinion to offer, which I am sure would be the first (well, second) of many?

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John Fraser crawled out of bed, massaging his leg as he did so. This is getting worse, I swear. Suppose it's another thing to deal with. Pulling on a pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt, he picked up the cane he now used, mostly as an identity aid, but party to ease off his leg, although he'd never admit so.

Shuffling down to catch the end of breakfast, he habitually picked up the Freedom Ledger and read the cover story on Scarab's "activities". Then started roaring with laughter until tears were rolling down his cheeks. While his lodgings were quite rough, it was tantamount to John's presence and build that none dared scorn or question the hysterically laughing man crowing at the front page of a newspaper. Scarab is gonna be so pissed off!

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Primarily to call it to your attention as soon as possible, he nodded, and also-

To laugh at you! Ha-HA!

No! Cut that out! I am sure she is in for a lot of that from others, she does not need you adding to it!

She may not, but I do!

-also to let you know that I wish to offer my ear, and my shoulder, should you require someone to talk to. I know our experiences are vastly different, you have had far more than most, and I have had far fewer than most-

Because they are a waste of time and energy!

Oh, come now -- I thought you were finally warming to Mona?

-but perhaps an outsider's perspective, from one who knows full well he has no room to judge such things, could be of use.

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Rare indeed is the problem that one of the world's greatest scientific minds cannot solve. But unless your formidable intellect can recall some obscure principles of abnormal psychology which proves that my current course is folly, I don't know what advice you would be able to offer. Unless you have some experience in..."interlegal" romances.

The article is a slander piece, but with a kernel of truth at the core. Bombshell and I are indeed "involved," in this life as we were in the last. But while I may have failed in my duty to detain her, I have yet to act as accessory to any of her crimes. I see within her the potential for redemption, and while I admit some of my reasons are intensely personal, I feel a greater duty to do everything in my power to cultivate that potential. She was once a great hero, Viktor, and I know she can be again. I highly suspect at least part of her wants to be. She lacks only the light, to show her the way. For the first time in two lifetimes, her soul teeters on the razor's edge. And the last thing I need is for something like this to push her back the other way. Especially not from someone I used to call a friend.

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The only firsthand experience I have in romance was far form illegal, though some consider it... His brow furrowed a bit, unwise. Though I will be happy to check through my psychology database for anything that might be applicable to the situation, he added with a slight smirk.

Oh, I see what this is -- she thinks she can win Bombshell over with 'the power of love.'

Well? Why not? I am sure Elena would not enter into such a relationship in the first place if she did not sense that it could work, and I am sure that there is some good in her tha-

Yeah, or maybe Scarab's just got an itch she needs scratched!

... I am sure that, with her lifetimes of experience, she would have grown out of the temptation to be swayed by a pretty face.

Way I hear it, there's more to Bombshell than just a pretty face. And that sort of appeal, you don't 'grow out of,' at least not without transferring your mind to a hormone-free synthetic body.

I am certain that if anyone can help a soul on the edge, it is you. And if there is anything I can do to help her gain a place in respectable society -- a job, an education, a- well, okay, you can set all those up, if need be... but the offer of help stands. I make it a point of pride that ArcheTech provides not only advanced technology to the world but also the means to improve society so that no one feels they must turn to crime or violence, so this is not only something I would want to do for you, it is... in my job description.

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Viktor, please remind your id that the most powerful telepath on the planet is fully capable of getting that "itch" scratched anytime she damn well pleases. And then, before he leaps upon the chance to compare me to himself, reassure him that I am not suggesting any form of assault, but rather, merely stating the fact that "scratching that itch" requires nothing more than telling someone what they want to hear, and that I know everything any given person wants to hear. Thus, it takes more than that "itch" to motivate me.

While you're at it, feel free to also explain to him that, over five-thousand years worth of accumulated life-experience, I have encountered legions of pretty faces and well-toned bodies, and that he would be surprised at just how often the criteria for them changes from one culture and time period to the next.

I've already offered to set her up with a new identity. She refused. It's been two steps forward, one step back with her the entire time. Which, I guess, is a significant improvement over the one-step-forward/one-step-back dynamic of our previous relationship...Oh gods, NO! Fletcher, you bastard! I can't believe it hadn't occurred to me until now!

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As if I would bother to compare myself to her, or need lecturing on how mutable human wants can be. I know full well how drastically tastes can change in as little as, say, 70 years...

... did you just 'Godwin' this conversation? Okay, you really need to be quiet now.

Or what? She'll bl- wait, what?

What?

Elena, what is it?! What?!

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Bombshell! Being outed is an inconvenience for me, but for her, it could mean death! Fellow heroes will think I'm slumming. Her fellow villains will consider her a traitor. They'll assume she was collaborating with me the entire time. She'll be hunted by both sides of the law. And since she's immune to my powers, I can't find her! I can't warn her! This article has been public knowledge for hours already! She could already be dead.

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"" Archeville exclaimed as zipped off to the massive monitor-studded pillar that dominated the center of his laboratory.

Of course I can do things she cannot -- I'm a Doktor!

Yeah? Prove it!

"" he explained as his fingers flew over kayboards and holographic interfaces, ""

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After a minute or two of Archeville's powerful supercomputer's searching, images started to pop up on the monitor of a leggy blonde walking across her lawn in a black silky robe that came down to roughly mid thigh. Even freshly scrubbed and woken up, she was a knock-out, all feline grace as she prowled out to collect her mail and newspaper. Not five minutes later, the same woman was slipping up onto her roof in a black leather catsuit and striking out across the city's skyline.

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The images flicked by, slowly at first, until Archeville withdrew his Electromagnetic Screwdriver and bellowed "MEHR ENERGIE!"* as he slammed it into the pillar.

A few feet away, a Jacob's Ladder sparked to life.

The images flashed by, faster and faster, gobbling up every stray bit of data it could in its search.

"Zeigen Sie sich! Sie können meinem Anblick nicht entgehen!"**

Muah hah hah hah hah!!!

Well, at least you will be quiescent for a while after this.

""

* "MORE POWER!"

** "Show yourself! You cannot escape my sight!"

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Give me the longitude and latitude of that spot! Elena released her mental grip on Viktor's location, letting her senses snap back into her own head like a psychic rubber-band. She frantically typed the commands to slave the teleporter junction room controls to the main command center computer, then punched in the coordinates for Bombshell's location and opened a portal a few dozen feet above it. Her morphic-molecule armor had stretched and melted to cover her as she leapt from her seat, emerging from the other side fully clad in the vestments of The Scarab. The portal snapped shut behind her with the push of a button on the beacon in her epaulet. Than you, Viktor. You're a true friend.

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Scarab's sudden entrance startled the blond bombshell as she released her line to flip catlike through the air and perch warily on the cornerstone of a rooftop. When her mind caught up to her reflexes, she relaxed her stance but her expression shuttered for a moment as she tried to gauge her lover's mood, "So, I take it you've seen the news... I was just on my way to see what the damage was. Are you terribly cross?"

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