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trollthumper

Heroes of Our Past (IC)

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The Super Museum was just one of those things in Freedom. It had its own crowd of curators, historians, and fanboys, but it was mostly the kind of thing that the residents visited every now and then. There'd been a huge rush when the wing devoted to the Centurion opened, but for the most part, it was a quiet place, a place to reflect.

That was certainly what Cannonade was doing today.He walked through the front doors of the museum, trying to pass by the hushed whispers that emerged from the other customers. He'd considered going in street clothes, but decided against it. The Museum may just be one of those landmarks, but it had been attacked in the past by crooks seeking everything from magical relics to revenge against some long-dead hero. Besides, he hadn't quite mastered the art of getting into his costume in less than a minute, and the last thing he wanted to do if the villains attacked was get tripped over by his pants while trying to change in the bathroom.

Besides. This wasn't just about convenience. It was about respect. Cannonade headed to the west wing, where a banner hung over the hall:

THE DAUNTLESS DEFENDERS:

Heroes of World War II

He took a look over the faces -- Patriot, the Human Tank, Freedom Eagle, Lady Celtic... he knew them all. Mostly as pictures he'd found online and biographies in books he'd checked out of the library, but he knew them nonetheless. Finally, he stopped before a photo of a man in nylon fatigues overlaid with steel plates and a Trojan-style helmet, not unlike the one he was wearing. The caption on the photo read:

THE LEGIONNAIRE WITH ECHO COMPANY, DECEMBER 1st 1944

There'd be a plate next to the photo telling him what happened to Legionnaire, how he'd been killed by Superior in the Ardennes on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge. He didn't need to read it. He didn't want to read it. All he wanted to do right now was find out more about the man his grandfather had been.

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Cannonade soon realized he wasn't alone. A young man in a brightly-colored costume was standing on the other side of the gallery, looking up at a row of black and white images that showed the front line of the Liberty League back in the 1940s. The presence of actual costumed heroes meant they were both getting a lot of attention, but luckily the tourists seemed more interested in Cannonade.

Across the room, Mark stared up at Jimmy Lucas. His grandfather was in his trademark bowtie and checked shirt, posing proudly with cigarette holder clenched in his teeth, as the shadowy form of the prince of genies hovered in the air behind him. "Hi, Grandpa," Mark said aloud, keeping his voice quiet so that watching tourists wouldn't get the wrong idea. "Twenty-two years ago today, huh?" Jimmy Lucas had smoked those cigarettes his whole life, and the man who'd journeyed across time and space and dimension alongside the Golden Age League had died in an oxygen tent just a few years before Mark's birth. He smiled, very faintly, then felt his face crumble behind his mask as he said, "I'm...I'm sorry Dad's not here this year. He's very far away right now. This is a really nice exhibit. I like what they've done with the place."

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Cannonade looked over to the teen in the flashy costume. The guy looked to be in contemplation as well; he was speaking softly, though Cannonade couldn't make out what he was saying at this distance. He thought it'd be rude to interrupt the guy when he was probably contemplating the lost, so he waited until he was done speaking. He walked over, and noticed the kid was looking at a photo of Jimmy Lucas and his genie.

"Hell of a guy," Cannonade said. "From what I hear, he and that genie of his would've liberated Calais if Nacht-Krieger hadn't gotten involved."

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"That's right!" agreed Mark heatedly. "He only had one wish that time, and he had to choose if he was going to save those orphans Natch-Krieger was going to sacrifice to the Shadow Gods or liberate the city ahead of the Allied invasion!" He remembered that story, passed down from his grandfather to his father to him, as well as he remembered what he'd had for breakfast that morning. He remembered them all. When he thought about that monster, Mark could never understand why people thought Golden Age villains were funny: Nazis were terrible people! "The League's frontline did so much good, but people forget about the other heroes who did just as much, just...in a less glamorous way." He wasn't normally so unguarded, but it was an emotional day. "Your costume is familiar," he hazarded. "So I guess you know the story."

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"Yeah," Cannonade said, taking a seat. "Legionnaire... you gotta say this for him, he kept his men safe. Sure, he broke from 'em for Normandy, but he led 'em on most of the time. And he got 'em all out in the Ardennes." He shook his head. "They say he was the one who led the charge on the camp at Fussen, managed to tear it to the ground and lead the prisoners into the forest. Made sure no one got left behind, no matter how much they'd been worn down by the place. Hell of a guy."

He turned to Edge. "Name's Cannonade, by the way," he said. "You must be Edge. Nice to meet ya."

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"It's too bad what happened to him. Too bad what happened to them all." Mark shook the other hero's hand with a firm, measured grip. "I'm not here on behalf of Young Freedom," he said, glancing up at the pictures again. "I have a...personal connection to the heroes of the 1940s, and this is an important day. Jimmy Lucas died twenty-two years ago, and it's important to commemorate things like that. Some heroes died in combat, as heroes for everyone. And some heroes just died forgotten." He sighed. "I'm sorry, I'm not usually so maudlin. What brings you to the museum today?"

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"To be honest?" Cannonade said. "Same thing. I got a... connection, myself. One I'm trying my best to figure out. I pretty much know as much as I'm gonna -- done my reading, done my research, heard the stories -- but it's just..." He raps his helmet. "I feel like I can't wear this without really knowing him. And I'm just trying to find the one thing that clicks."

As he finished his statement, he turned his head back towards the museum as a whole. "Hey, you hear anything weird?"

There was something weird, all right. The museum was as quiet as a tomb.

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"Having a legacy is hard," Edge agreed. "Wondering all the time if you're living up to your family's past, wondering if you're as worthy of being part of the story of Freedom's heroes as they were. The worst thing, though," he added darkly, "is when you find out that the people you've admired all your life were just as flawed as anyone else. Someone once said, I don't know who, that no man is a hero to his valet." Mark looked up, raising his head suspiciously. "No, it just seems quiet...wait, that IS suspicious, isn't it?" He jumped to his feet, looking around. "Who'd cause trouble here!?" he demanded angrily.

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"Someone who craves an educational beating," Cannonade said. He walked out into the main hall of the museum, which was filled with visitors. None of them were moving, however -- each and every one was frozen in place, some in mid-step. Cannonade stepped forward to inspect the frozen patrons.

"So... spell? Time thing? Glitch in the universe?"

The answer came with a clanking sound for the Greek Antiquities wing. Tiptoeing into the exhibit (to the best of his ability), Cannonade found a man standing hunched over an example of Archimedes' screw. He seemed to be studying it carefully and taking notes.

"Only a few months' work... no, no, he's gotta spend longer, that way, the nobles can meet during the Renaissance and Lennon discovers that one sound... gotta get it right..."

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"I know you! You're the Tick-Tock Doc!" Edge expositioned, pointing accusingly at the world's wickedest hippie. "You don't belong here! This place is for heroes, not lame pothead villains who should have retired forty years ago!" He thought of his father, and his grandfather, and for a second wanted to cry. "Go back to Haight-Ashbury, you loser!" And with that, the unusually on-edge Edge fired a blast of whirling black dots at the Doc. "Let me introduce you to some _real_ cosmicpower!"

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The swirl of black dots danced around the Tick-Tock Doc, thrashing him about the floor of the wing. By the time the blur subsided and he'd pulled himself to his feet, he looked like he'd said something about a policeman's mother outside the 1968 Democratic Convention.

"Man, that's really not what I needed," he said. "Look, I'm dealing with a matter of cosmic importance here, so --"

The Tick-Tock Doc's sentiments were interrupted by Cannonade crossing the hall and yanking him to his feet, lifting him off the ground by his shirt. "Look, I don't know what you're doing --"

"You're not supposed to! This was supposed to take place between seconds! So if you'd kindly just put me down..."

The temporal hippie's expression twisted a little. "No," he said. "Come to think of it, I got a better idea. You want to fight evil, huh? You wanna go stomp on the bad guys? I know just where you'll fit in..."

The museum darkened, as if all the lights had gone out. Cannonade felt the floor lurch beneath him, then heard a sound like the rushing of a waterfall. He hardly felt the loan of cheap hemp disappear from his hand as he struggled to regain some measure of his senses. There was a roar like the Big Bang on mute, and suddenly it was bright again.

Well, somewhat bright. Clouds were hanging in the sky. Where the museum had once stood was now a cobblestoned back alley. Rustic tenements reached up above Cannonade. Before he could put everything together, he heard someone shouting in German. Then several more someones. A man in a woolen sweater carrying a rifle barged into the alley, then startled to see Cannonade and Edge standing there.

"It's okay, it's okay, don't--?"

"Americains?"

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A normal teenage hero might have balked at this occasion, but Mark Lucas knew how to deal with insane shifts in perspective and dimension as if he'd been born to them. And if you looked at his story, maybe he had. If Mark Lucas knew anything, it was history: especially where superheroes and history came together. He's got an M3. No one's carried those since..."Nous sommes des héros américains! Nous sommes là pour vous aider!" Mark suddenly exclaimed, calling on his ancient French lessons as if he'd never forgotten any of them.

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The man adjusted his rifle. <"Thank God,"> he said. The German barking grew louder. <"They're coming. Hurry!"> The man rushed down the alley, with Cannonade and Edge soon following behind. The man drew up short of a brick wall and twisted a brass knob, the kind of thing someone might have hitched a cattle to centuries before. A section of the wall folded away, revealing a secret entrance. <"In, in!>"

Cannonade, not one to question folding walls at a time like this, went with it. He slipped through the door, with Edge quickly behind. The wall closed soon after. The shouting, now faint as a whisper, stopped right outside the wall, then faded to nothingness. <"They're gone,"> he said. <"Come with me.">

The two heroes followed the Frenchman down the dark tunnel. "Your clothes... I've not seen them," he said in halting English. "Are you new?"

"We dropped in a few weeks back," Cannonade said. "Night flight from Surrey. We've been on the roads for four nights now, after that thing in Calais."

"I take it you have seen the metal men, then?"

Cannonade stopped. "Metal men?"

"Yes. Giants, made of steel. The Nazis have them stationed like scarecrows."

"Let me guess... we're in Rouen."

"You did not see the signs?"

"We... kinda came in the back road."

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"" said Mark without hesitation, spinning a story he'd told in his mind a thousand times already. "" Would he have picked his name if some hero of World War II had fought under it? He remembered his grandfather's favorite brand of cigarette, the same brand his father had smoked before quitting after his grandfather's death. "<...lucky strike. i gone to war.>" He added without humor, looking around. He remembered Erde, and a world overrun with German machinery. "" he added, giving a significant nod to Cannonade. "" Getting home would just come naturally as part of that process, he was sure.

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"That is good," said the Frenchman. He looked over to Cannonade, who seemed a bit confused. "Your friend does not...?"

"No French," he said. "Didn't have the field hours for it. Hey, didn't get your name..."

"Pierre DuMonde," said the Frenchman. "With the resistance. We've gathered what we can on the metal men. They came here four days ago, by boat from Paris. The Nazis make a steel drape for the Allies -- they want to keep something near Normandy."

So we're here after D-Day, Cannonade thought. Should've known.

Pierre stopped, and knocked on a plank of the ceiling. "

"

The ceiling peeled away, and a short ladder was ushered down. Pierre quickly scaled the ladder, and Cannonade followed after. He found himself in a dusty, closed down bar. Pierre was trading a hug with the woman who dropped the ladder, who looked like she'd probably tended the place before the war began. Her eyes fell on Cannonade soon after. <"They are here already?">

<"The first wave. The others will no doubt follow.">

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But they never had come, not in any real numbers. Mark knew that from his family history well enough. Memories of the loss of the Freedom Brigade had kept the Liberty League stateside for most of the war, leaving the fighting to be done by the undermanned, underpowered Allies of Freedom. And they'd died of it, most of them, fighting to liberate this land from the evil Nazis. Jimmy Lucas had always regretted that, but he was a loyal Leaguer and never complained. Temporal logic said get out of here; hide out till it was done, so history wasn't altered. But Mark was never one for logic. These people needed saving. "" he said, following Cannonade up the ladder.

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Cannonade shifted aside from the ladder, letting Edge make his way up. "Okay, so we're in Rouen post D-Day," he whispered to Edge. "I don't exactly remember when they started setting up robots around the city, but I know the Allies retook it in early August. It was a free-for-all -- the Allies of Freedom, Patriot, nearly everyone who was involved in the European Theater ended up here."

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"They thought about calling in the Centurion, but Superior staged a raid on the Atlantic shipping channels, so they were stuck with the people on the ground..." He climbed up after Cannonade, and as they stood together he put his hand on the other man's arm. "Whatever happens, we can't worry about altering history here. We're heroes, we're in a very dark place in a very dark time. Are you with me, Cannonade?"

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"Damn right I am," Cannonade said. "First thing we need to do is get a look at the robots, of course. We need to figure out what we're--"

Cannonade was cut off when the radio burst to life, joined shortly thereafter by the sound of shelling in the distance. A voice streamed over the transmission, barking panicked orders in German. Pierre and his wife streamed for the radio, listening intently to the signal.

"Swear to God, I'm taking a language course when I get back," Cannonade muttered to himself. During a lull in the signal, he asked Pierre, "What's it saying?"

"The artillery came under attack," said Pierre. "They say the Allies are here. Small, but with... 'ubersoldaten.' One pounded a cannon flat. They say he's... clad in steel..."

Cannonade's brow furrowed. The Human Tank? History put him up at Normandy around this time, trying to fight off attempts to retake the beaches by the Nazis. Then another possibility presented itself...

"It can't be..."

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'Lucky Strike' took a moment to let his ally take stock of the situation before he put his hand on Cannonade's arm. He'd fought Nazis before, and he knew exactly what you had to do. "I can't hit them if I can't see them, and my swingline's no good to me with a smashed skyline. If you've got his powers, pick me up and jump us towards the battlefield. We can make them proud, and we can clean this place up. Do it for family, man." Visions of his own ancestors swum in the back of his mind. "This isn't the time for thinking. This is the time for _doing_."

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Cannonade nodded, then turned to Pierre. "They're down by the Port, right?"

"Yes," Pierre said. "How did you--?"

"I'll explain later." Cannonade grabbed Edge in a fireman's carry, ran out of the ruined tavern, and leapt to the nearest roof. After a quick scan of the city, he easily found the Port. The giant robots helped.

As Cannonade crossed the rooftops, he got a better look at the Port. The banks of the Seine were lined with artillery, put in a position to shell either oncoming ships in the river or incoming troops on land. The cannons were steered away from the river and towards the distance. Even from here, Cannonade could see a tiny figure leaping up, taking on some gigantic robot that looked like a cross between a Panzer Tank and a Teutonic Knight, with a dark red swastika painted on its chest.

"We gotta get closer..."

"Das Amerikaner!"

Cannonade realized that shouting was coming from below. He looked down... and saw a German soldier at the edge of the dock, looking up at the roofs with a set of binoculars. He heard the click of rifles soon after.

"Aw, crap."

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"Hey, you! Fritz!" Fearlessly, Edge walked to the edge of the roof, turning so he could take in all the Nazis nearby, and all the ones as far away as the river. "I want you guys to all hear something! My name is Lucky Strike, and I'm an American superhero. I've always wondered what I could do if I was some place where I didn't need to hold back, against people where it doesn't matter what happens to them. My name is Lucky Strike, and you're about to GO TO WAR!" And with that, there was an explosion everywhere as the world seemed to go mad: Nazi guns jamming and exploding, tanks backfiring and colliding, and at least one giant robot actually punched itself in the face as an explosion of pure controlled chaos erupted again and again from Mark Lucas.

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All across Rouen, the sound of gunfire erupted -- not from combat, but from bullets cooking off on their own. Explosions followed soon after, as shells jammed in the turrets of tanks backfired, causing their cannons to rupture as smoke erupted into the main chambers. Transports came to an utter halt as their engines gave out, and the artillery nearest the edge of the river bank fell silent. Cannonade looked out over the carnage.

"Edge," he said, "remind me never to tick you off."

He picked up Edge once more and leapt down to the edge of the pier, using it as a stepping stone to leap across the Seine. He landed beside one of the jammed artillery, and looked out on the scene before him. Far in the distance, he could see men in US Army uniforms firing from behind an embankment at the giant robots. The bullets deflected off the steel, and even the occasional lobbed grenade didn't seem to do much. But it served as a distraction -- and that was enough.

As the giant robot turned its gaze towards the embankment, a blur of drab olive and steel gray burst up from the ground and came to rest on the robot's head. There was the sound of tearing metal, and the metal monstrosity began to list where it stood, trying to regain its balance. It raised an arm to its head, trying to swat the man on top away -- but the man effortlessly dismounted from the head, landing on the battlefield in a crouch. Cannonade finally got a clear look at the man. The Legionnaire. Even over the din of the robot's movement, he could hear his grandfather shout a challenge to the behemoth.

"Another perfect Nazi! A lumbering, mindless weapon!"

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Edge put his hand on Cannonade's arm, thinking how he'd feel about the situation were their places reversed. "Go fight with him," he encouraged the patriotic hero. "I'll handle things down here. Show the Ratzis how American heroes fight." To the German tanks scattered around the robot's feet like toys, Mark gave a truly evil laugh as he prepared for another wave of destruction. "Hey, you Nazi so-and-sos!" he called triumphantly. "I've got a present here from Uncle Sam for you. I think you'll like it: it's a real DOOZY! Ha-ha!"

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Cannonade nodded, then ran as fast as he could. He burst past artillery cannons, ruined tanks, and the occasional confused SS man. He soon found himself in the shadow of the giant robot, which loomed like a colossus and moved like the tectonic plates. He heard the sound of something huge rotating on its axis -- with his luck, the robot had spotted him. It didn't matter -- Cannonade wasn't focused on its head. He was focused on its foot.

With the force of a runaway train, Cannonade plowed into the robot's heel. He bounced roughly away from the heel with the impact, but the robot had taken it a lot worse than he had -- there was a solid dent in the thing's foot, and he could see wires poking through.

"Good God!" Cannonade turned around to see the Legionnaire looking at him. "Wasn't expecting backup this soon." The soldier took a look at Cannonade's helmet. "Guessing you're from the program, too? Looks like the helmet's coming standard these days... didn't expect 'em to get another one out the door so soon..."

"...yeah," Cannonade said, trying very hard not to let his face betray him. "Something like that." There was a clank like the world reorienting on its axis. Cannonade looked up to see the robot gazing right down at the two heroes. Its metal face hadn't moved, but he could feel that it was none too pleased with the duo.

"We can talk about it after we turn this thing into shrapnel. Sound like a plan?"

"Works for me."

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