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Avenger Assembled

Far Side of the Moon (IC)

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July 15, 2011

Freedom Hall

While this was Dragonfly's first visit to Freedom Hall, Miss Americana had some familiarity here thanks to her work with the League's computers, particularly early in her career with Sharl. This particular visit, in response to an urgent summons by Star Knight, was more efficient than Miss A's earliest visits: once she and Dragonfly arrived from the Lab at the front doors of the centerpiece of Freedom City's heroic legacy, they were quickly whisked away by League staff to the elevators that took them up to one of the secure briefing rooms. In there, Star Knight II, the battlesuit-wearing heroine widely believed to be the daughter of the first Star Knight back in the 1960s, was waiting for them, along with a figure familiar to Miss A if not to her young associate.

"Miss Americana. Dragonfly." Harrier was looking more relaxed than the last time Miss A had seen him, though with Harrier you never quite got completely relaxed. His grip was firm in hers and Dragonfly's as he shook his hands, his eyes steady even as his voice stayed in its usual low, nearly mechanical monotone. For Dragonfly, who hadn't seen the man before, Harrier was something of a mystery: his skin bearing a pattern of nearly organic lines over every inch of his exposed flesh, even on his bald head and one through his eyes, his grip solid and flesh a little clammy when he shook her hand. "We have not met before. I am Murdock."

"I'm glad you all could make it," said Star Knight, sounding a little fatigued. "Forgive me," she said as she began tapping at the controls of the big plasma-v screen on the wall, pulling up an image of Earth's Moon. "I've been in space most of the last 72 hours and I'm close to crashing. But the needs of the planet come first, and that's where all of you come in. Do any of you have experience operating on Earth's Moon?"

"...Yes," replied Murdock, not quite looking at any of the humans there.

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"Hello, Murdock," Miss A said, giving the quiet man a warm smile and stepping forward to take his hand. "It's nice to see you again. You're looking well! I didn't expect to see you here, but I'm sure we're all very interested to hear more about what's going on." She took a seat at the conference table, crossing her long legs gracefully as she turned her chair to the viewscreen. "I can't say I've been there personally," she allowed at the question about the moon, "but in theory I shouldn't have any trouble operating there. Should we infer from the question that this mission might involve a field trip?"

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[bg=#555555]"No,"[/bg] Dragonfly answered, claiming a chair for herself. She was taking advantage of her helmet to try to get a look at Murdock without looking like she was getting a look at Murdock; she didn't know the significance of the lines all over his body but they were new to her, and new was interesting. tattoos? - no - unlikely - scars? - odd for scar tissue - seem numerous - oddly-placed - ritualistic? - magic user - alien? - oddly humanoid - mmh [bg=#555555]"Haven't been to the moon, I mean. Or space, in general. But could operate there, in theory - full life support."[/bg]

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"A few days ago, one of our lunar tracking devices detected a metallic object in the Saha crater," said Star Knight shortly. "When further probes were sent in that direction," she went on, "they found..." She pressed a few buttons and the screen swiveled around to the far side of the Moon, an alien landscape for most humans who after all spent their lives looking at the other side of the Moon. Magnifying again and again, the crater swam into view, its small side crater and central second crater making it instantly recognizable. "evidence of metallic debris, even movement. We landed a robot probe, which is standard protocol in these, ah, situations..."

Star Knight pressed another few buttons and the image shifted to a recorded feed: a starfield overhead and glossy lunar dust beneath, the dark sky overhead a sign of just how alien a world it was there with the Earth hidden from view by the bulk of the Moon. The feed was slow, perhaps because of all the League receptors it had had to bounce off. The heroes watched as the rolling probe stopped and looked up at a suited, no, armored figure that approached it, walking along the lunar surface as if out for a stroll. The camera was able to tilt up, and so it as the figure came into focus the heroes all had a great view of the unmistakable Omegadrone as it drove its power pike into the camera, severing the feed.

"That was the last signal we got from that area," said Star Knight simply. "Because of your respective areas of expertise, the League has turned to you for suggestions here."

Across the room, Murdock had paled beneath his brown skin at the sight of the drone, his scars flushing red simultaneously as the drone destroyed the probe. "That is a frontline unit," he finally said, his voice flat and dry as an old-style answering machine, but his hands were gripping the table tight enough to make the wood creak. "Go back." Rewinding the image feed gave them a still shot of the drone's face. "There is significant micrometeor scarring that has not been repaired. It has been active beyond an atmosphere for some time. It..." He ran his hands over his face. "Its behavior is surprising. The probes of other civilizations are investigated, not destroyed."

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Miss Americana's eyes widened. "That's... that's definitely a concern, yes," she managed. "Omegadrones on the moon is really something that should be dealt with posthaste." She looked substantially less relaxed now, sitting straight up in her chair and looking at the screen. "Might I suggest, though, that an actual landing party might be inadvisable, especially if we don't have numerical data? There are any number of weapons whose payloads couldn't be discharged on Earth that we could use against this incursion, even taking into account the presence of Farside City. They haven't taken control of that, have they?" she asked with sudden dread.

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Star Knight shook her head, her face grave. "The Saha crater area is rarely visited by Farsiders; it's too far from home, and there are few resources there that they use. However...when word of our discovery on there reached the Farside Council, a faction in their militia learned the news and decided to take matters into their own hands. Of the dozen soldiers that went into the crater in the last few days, none have been seen since. We've warned them against any further attempts, but now some in their leadership want to go rescue the ones captured. They have no experience with situations like this. As for weapons...we're planning to dispatch Dark Star, one of our more powerful space-going members, as our big gun on this mission. But he's not a roboticist or an expert on the Terminus: he won't be able to help anyone who's been partially assimilated, disable any world-threatening devices, or figure out exactly what they were doing there."

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Dragonfly's response to the proceedings was simple, precise, and nothing if not completely reasonable as a reaction to the footage. It was: omegadrone - omegadrone - nuke the moon? - could build something that destroyed it from earth - maybe not without burning some local atmosphere - spatial tear could create tidal forces to pull it apar- - wait, what [bg=#555555]"Farsiders?"[/bg] she asked, just as soon as her brain had stopped trying to design earth-to-space weapons whose use would tear local reality apart or cook everything within two miles. [bg=#555555]"...no. Nevermind. Context - city on the moon. Other side of the moon, from the name. ....going to have to ask about that later. Do you have data on where the omegadrone is now? Evidence is...interesting. In its best interests to move away, but hasn't; can't? Any recent data on what it's doing there? When not killing or capturing soldiers."[/bg]

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"What you see now is what we know," admitted Star Knight. "We have teams working on this now, but when it comes to Omegadrones or any other sign of Terminus activity, the League takes a proactive policy. That's why we've brought you all in to consult now. As far as the Farside soldiers, the city's telepaths are weak, but they have been able to make limited contact with their minds. While they are in some emotional distress, their individuality is intact and they are not suffering...well, what we would expect them to be suffering."

His hands steepled in front of his face, Murdock said, "Captured inhabitants should have had their brains probed for strategic information and tactical data by now, with those deemed fit already assimilated and unable to be reached by telepaths. Something...something is happening there I don't understand. Or, more likely, they have deployed a telepathic baffling device. There is machinery that can do so, even in the Terminus."

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There was a polite, but slightly odd sounding, knock on the door. A moment later, after enough time had passed for people to have quieted down and stop sharing sensitive material, Dark Star simply passed through the doorway. "I apologize for my delay. I was momentarily detours with some star pirates a few dozen systems over." He moved over to a particular chair and simply 'stood' behind it. He looked each of the people in the room over briefly, nodding to them all. The heroes were all unknowns to him, though given his absence of late, that wasn't entirely a surprise. "I received the briefing via League resources while en route. Have there been any updates? I admit to knowing little on Omegadrones outside of what most on the planet already know. I will, of course, do anything I can to be of assistance."

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"So far nothing we know has changed," Star Knight explained to Dark Star as he approached. "The mission profile is the same: Miss Americana and Dragonfly are our technical consultants, while Murdock is our expert on the Terminus and Omegadrone technology. You all also have the advantage of being able to operate in lunar space without the necessity of artificial life support systems. If whatever Omegadrone, or drones, there do need to be destroyed after investigation, Dark Star, you're the League member the best suited for the job."

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[bg=#555555]"Assuming you have a plan to get us to the moon? Spacecraft, teleporter, convenient superhuman?"[/bg] Dragonfly asked, tapping a finger on the table in thought. [bg=#555555]"Can fly, but would take -"[/bg] Tx = T0 + [ DEtM / Vmax ]; T0 = 0 (neglect) DEtM ~= 384,403km (approx) Vmax ~= 100mph (approx; *= 1.609344 to kph) Tx ~= 2387.6 / 24 / 30 ~= [bg=#555555]"- over three months, approximately. Could build a craft - less time - but would prefer to be in a hurry, if people are at risk. Don't want to let another 'few days' of people get caught or worse."[/bg]

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"I believe Dark Star should have no trouble getting us out to the moon, from what I've read of him," Miss A told Dragonfly, giving Dark Star a look that was a combination of scientific interest and scientific glee. "I know we haven't met," she told the glowing black figure, "but I've followed some of your work. I'm fascinated to see some of it in person, even under the current grave circumstances. Do we have a containment plan in place for the partially assimilated?" she asked Star Knight. "I know the prognosis is grim, but there's always hope, if we're in time."

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"I recommend placing any partially assimilated drones somewhere where they can be medically examined away from your civilization. Is it true there is a League facility in Antarctica?" Star Knight nodded at that. Having mentioned those partially assimilated, Harrier finally spoke more. "Before we go into this situation together, I feel I should share why I am here." He shot a look at Star Knight as if to confirm that he already suspected, then nodded. "I am an expert on the Terminus because I was completely assimilated." His voice was even and his eyes steady, but his hands shook slightly on the table from repressed tension. He was acutely conscious that Miss Americana was his only friend there. "If they have been completely assimilated, you should not take my example as a sign they should not be dealt with as you would any other drone. I and one other are the only two cases of...freed drones with which I am familiar."

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Dragonfly's eyes narrowed, and her suit...well, it couldn't narrow its eyes, exactly, but linked to her as it was it had a habit of responding to her gut emotions sometimes. This was one of those times: the eyes seemed just a little brighter, something on her back made a small mechanical flexing sound, the plates here and there on her gauntlets or shoulders or boots flexed almost imperceptibly. A dozen little, barely-noticeable things...but all together they painted a pretty clear picture of surprise and sudden, defensive caution.

[bg=#555555]"Explains your expertise,"[/bg] she said, her voice a bit more businesslike but not actually hostile. [bg=#555555]"Useful knowledge. Still. Probably means there's some hope for them. Better than none."[/bg]

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Dark Star tilted his head at the armored heroine a moment before nodding to the woman. "Pleasure to meet you. And yes, I can handle safe transport to pretty much anywhere we need to go whether it is in this system or any other," he confirmed. "If containment is a problem and a safety concern, perhaps off-world would be best?"

He looked at the revealed drone curiously, not with suspicion or fear. Those things didn't really occur to him very often. "If you are a freed individual and bear no malice or ill intent, then you have nothing to fear from me. Quite the contrary really. You have overcome an impressive bit of trouble it seems. Such stoicism and bravery, and to become a hero as well, is something deserving of great respect. Might I inquire how you were freed? Can such events be replicated? If it is possible, as you've shown us, should we not try to free them from their slavery? This certainly seems like an opportunity for such. How often will a drone be by themselves? I certainly do not wish to endanger anyone of course but freedom is a right deserved by all. Especially ones who have suffered as you have," he said honestly.

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Miss Americana didn't turn a hair at the admission, and indeed didn't even seem surprised. She'd heard it all before, and seen the show besides. "Murdock's escape from Omega's grip is an inspiring story," she told Dark Star, "but probably one that should wait for another time. If there are Omegadrones on the moon, there may be an invasion fleet not far behind. We can't afford to waste even a minute more. Is there anything else we need to know?" she asked Star Knight, rising from her seat.

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"No, I think we've covered everything," said Star Knight, looking at first Harrier, then the others. "If you can take them to the central depression of the Saha Crater on the far side, we can begin our plans on Earth. If you can't figure out what's going on in the crater, or if we lose contact with you for more than a few hours, we will start moving towards using high-energy weapons on the craterbed, whatever the consequences with the Farsiders. If there is a war with the Terminus coming again, we're not going to fight it in Freedom City." She stepped back to let Dark Star grab everyone for the teleport out, but before she could there was one member of the team who had to guard himself against the lunar conditions first.

"Please don't be alarmed." said Murdock, a moment before he seemed to explode. For just an instant, metal erupted all over his body, those lines on his face and hands splitting open to reveal the cold steel within as the fleshly disguise was sucked away and metal plates chunk-chunk-chunked out to transform the man into the hulking, armored form of an Omegadrone. The rod he'd worn at his belt snapped outward to turn out to be a powerpike, just like those the heroes had seen wielded against so many of their number in 1993. "Drones are programmed to destroy unattached drones beyond any other target. If they see me, and attack...we shall have a better understanding of their situation."

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"I don't like the idea of using you as bait, Murdock," Miss A said with a frown. The transformation hadn't seemed to faze her, but the rationale behind it did. "I made you a perfectly good disguise for a reason, and it wasn't so you could go wandering into a nest of rattlesnakes to see if one bites you. We've got several world-class intellects right here all ready to figure out what's going on with those drones. I'm sure we can do it without you risking yourself to do it. If they are connected to the Terminus still, anything they learn about you will get shunted back to Omega, isn't that right?" The beautiful paragon put her hands on her hips. "The last thing any of us need is for an expedition to come along and try to pick you up."

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Dark Star nodded thoughtfully. "Very well. Time will tell." He waited patiently and murmured his agreements. Murdock's transformation was interesting to note as well as Miss Americana effectively vouching for him. "It would be best if we stepped outside first. In theory I might be able to change your forms to match my own, but that would be a significant waste of effort when an easier solutions is available." He nodded to the Star Knight and bid her farewell before heading outside himself. Once everyone was ready, he summoned up his own energies and solidified it around them. After that, it was quite easy to tow the little bubble up into space. He looked to Murdock a moment as they flew at a leisurely pace to make sure everyone was adjusting. They could be there within moments once everyone was ready, and he said as much. "If drones would target you first, perhaps you should not be the first seen or to approach? I might be able to conceal us all though as I do not know a drone's sensor capability that is somewhat risky. Or I could approach it first to see if it is hostile. If it attacks me immediately or if it lets me approach without threat, either way tells us something rather than risking an automatic response to your arrival," he said with a little shrug. He would much rather endanger himself than someone else.

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Dragonfly looked around them, trying to temper her thrill at being in space with the urgency of their mission. She had somewhat limited success. [bg=#555555]"Probably best if the 'big gun' draws fire. Am assuming he's capable of handling...mmh. Omega drones. So not worst case, maybe, but bad cases. Or he wouldn't have been sent."[/bg]

She tilted her head, tapping a finger on her leg as the moon grew ever larger. [bg=#555555]"Not sure that's really an 'or'. Don't know what you're capable of, but concealed observation would be useful before we act. Time to plan, in case we need it. Then approach. But only assuming concealment is possible in the first place."[/bg]

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"A rattlesnake bite would not hurt me, Miss Americana." It was hard to tell, particularly through the impenetrable armor, whether or not Harrier was joking. "The connection between drones is deeper than most sciences can understand. Only dimensional barriers have proven sufficient to block it." He worked his pike even so, and as they swung around the Moon's surface the drone's body changed, armor shimmering like stone dropped in water, before he transformed himself into a gleaming, shining knight like something from a techno-fairy tale. "But if they are not fooled, they will attack even so, and if they are...well, all the better. In this armor, I am known as Caradoc." He didn't sound confident in his ability to lie, but with the others along, he felt more sure.

Eventually they landed, the impossibly dry and scratchy lunar dust under their feet as they touched down in the central depression of the crater, the double-walled depression giving them an unobstructed view of the rich, dappled black starfield overhead. There was no Earthshine here on farside to block the Milky Way and all the other galaxies, and the sight was more glorious than anyone but Dark Star had seen in their lifetimes. For his part, Caradoc was silenced for a moment by the sheer impossible beauty of the stars overhead. Oh, he'd seen this kind of space before, but never where he could stand and stare at it without fear of attack, or without the stars themselves going out. Space really was beautiful when it wasn't dying.

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Dark Star floats there, with everyone in tow. "Hmm, that seems to be a good deal larger than a drone, wouldn't you say?" He concentrated, letting his senses extend outward, trying to get a better feel for what was out there. "I do not suppose any of you have seen something like that before? Would you like to wait here while I take a closer look or shall we all proceed?" He was definitely curious but also a bit concerned for the other's safety.

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"We should all go together," Miss A said firmly, her attention focused on the unusual objects in the crater. "That large metal object may be the ship they arrived in, or some sort of survival dome they're staying in. Either way, it needs to be dealt with, and quickly. We have to get a closer look,though, to see exactly what we're dealing with." Miss A had been a bit nervy on the trip out, though only Dragonfly, who worked with her often, would probably have noticed. The radio connection that anchored her to Earth was holding so far, but if it went, reestablishing it would be problematic, perhaps impossible. That was a problem she didn't need.

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Dragonfly did notice, but filed Miss Americana's unease away as reasonable and something that didn't need watching - she was a capable woman (capable something - still not sure - AI? - male? - just going to assume she's a 'her' - less creepy), and Dragonfly was busy wishing she'd gotten around to putting image magnification on her helmet. [bg=#555555]"Agreed,"[/bg] she...well, agreed, bringing her force field up as a twisted line around her profile. [bg=#555555]"And contrary to my original suggestion, yes. But a single drone is one thing. A large structure is another - strength in numbers applies to enemies, too."[/bg]

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As the heroes approached the fallen object, it didn't take them long to realize what they were looking at: half-buried in the crater wall of the Saha crater was a Terminus spacecraft. Those cold, grim lines that formed into something like a flying space-spider were unmistakable, the red trim on black steel the tell-tale colors of the Lord of the Terminus. It bore no ship name or insignia, of course: Terminus vessels generally did not need to distinguish one from the other, and those who did not recognize a Terminus vessel soon learned their mistake. Caradoc didn't breathe inside his armor, but Murdock felt his blood run cold all the same. Fighting for control at the sight of the craft, its exposed metallic stern gleaming wickedly, he said, "This...this is a troop transport. Short-range, used for interplanetary travel at the most. I don't understand," he confessed, curiosity overpowering fear for a moment. The mystery was greater than the terror. "I see no serious damage. The drones aboard should have been able to repair the ship, or else the internal destruct systems should have..."

Suddenly, a flash of energy erupted from the rear of the craft, a blast of sizzling plasma that Harrier cut in half with a sudden swipe from his shining blade; secretly disguised power pike. Before he could speak, a message sounded from below in the eerie, mechanistic tones of a Terminus speaker:

"Embrace the glory of Omega. Surrender to the Terminus." The message repeated itself again, then cut off without another word.

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