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Avenger Assembled

Gorgon: Science For the World (Lab)

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Late July 2011

The Lab

As secret as the arrival of Entity 31966 had been kept, the fact that the Lab crew had made the initial discovery and that their ranks held some of the finest scientists in the world meant that they were in a position to both know what was coming and have something to do about it. Harrier felt uneasy as he sat in the big conference room with Miss Americana waiting for the others to arrive: for all that his experience with Terminus technology gave him insights unmatched even by Earthly scientists, he was no Earthly technician to know how to build a solution for this crisis: the Terminus solution, to evacuate valuable assets from the threatened world and leave poisons in their place, was hardly viable for an inhabited planet. Instead he studied the yellow legal pad before him, making tentative notes with the white blue-inked pen in his hand, and nervously awaited the others. "I am sure you will solve this," he said to Miss Americana. Fresh from his now-frequent visits to Antarctica, Murdock looked tired. "The heroes of this dimension are extremely capable."

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Dragonfly arrived, true to form, both punctually and extremely distracted - considering the stakes, if anything she was far more distracted than normal (for her, anyway; 'normal' in the true sense of the word had a bad habit of just not applying to a lot of the things she did, for better or for worse). She nodded in the direction of Murdock and Miss Americana as she entered the room, but otherwise didn't react much to her surroundings.

Instead, she took a seat near the corner and slouched a bit, pulling a fairly big design pad and pencil (literally) out of nowhere. When she wasn't glancing up to watch others arrive she was tapping a finger against the pad, and when she wasn't tapping she was sketching something. Or, rather, several somethings, as every so often she'd mutter something and move to a fresh page of paper, glimpses of designs and equations visible as the pages turned.

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Despite her initial shock at learning of the Gorgon threat, by the time the meeting rolled around, Miss Americana's composure was as perfect as the rest of her. "We'll find the answer," she assured Harrier serenely. "We've faced threats that have decimated other planets and come through unscathed many times. Science and courage will prevail. How are your charges faring at McMurdo base?" she asked him. She hadn't followed the progress of the young Omegadrones closely, too busy with preliminary studies of the worldwide threat.

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Jessica Parker breezed into the conference room, tablet under one arm and an oversized bottle of water in her other hand. The screen of the tablet was covered in flickering images, mostly of wireframe drawings and CAD models; someone with a fast enough intellect (which, truthfully, was most of her fellow Lab-mates) would notice several early, discarded architectural plans for the Lab itself. She made to flop into one of the oversized chairs surrounding the table and noticed at the last moment that they had a guest. She tried to stop her inertia and was partially successful; her rear had barely made contact with the seat when she was back on her feet, water bottle and tablet put on her place and hand extended towards Harrier. "Hello," she said, smiling at the dark-skinned man with the odd... tattoos? They looked like facial markings at first, but on a second glance they seemed to extend all the way to his hands. She put the thought firmly out of her head. "I'm Jessica Parker."

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"They recall very little of their old lives," said Murdock. "A mother's laugh, the wind in their hair...that world must have been very recently conquered." His face was tight as he spoke, but they could hear the repressed emotion in his voice. "It could be worse. If they remember so little of that place, they remember even less of its destruction. Their neural reprocessing was not complete when that drone escorting them destroyed the machines that were remaking them and took his own life." He'd analyzed that corpse well enough, and he'd figured out the forensics. A pike's discharge into the mouth, burning up through one of the few weak points in the armored skull. "I believe that within a few months, they will be able to join the human society of this world."

To Jessica, he said in a slow, dry voice, a near-monotone that sounded almost mechanical. "Hello, Jessica. I am Stephen Murdock. I am here for my expertise in this matter. What is your speciality?" he inquired, knowing that was polite to ask among scientists. His grip was cold and a little odd, as if his hands weren't shaped quite right, but he returned her handshake all the same and without hesitation.

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Jessica did her best to ignore the odd feel of Murdock's hand; given that she'd dated a squamous thing for several months, she'd had experience in filtering out some nasty physical impressions. She sat back down and cracked open the top of her water bottle, settling the cap on loosely. "I'm the in-house engineer," she said, her tone half-serious. "Everyone else flies around with their head in a cloud of nanites and quantums. I'm the gal around here who just really likes to tinker with machines." She leaned back in her seat and set her tablet in her lap; a casual swipe of one hand collected the flickering image to one side and the young genius got down to the real business of design.

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"Hullo chaps" said Supercape, strolling in with a wave.

As normal, in these situations, his cape had transformed into his "Superlab" costume. It was identical in texture and colour, except instead of a cap, he had a pristine, sparkling lab coat of brilliant white and golden twinkles. His mask and the rest of the costume remained the same.

"Spot of bother in deep space, I understand" he said, sitting down and helping himself to tea. "Been tracking some big old rotter when I got the word. " he added, looking rather solemn.

"Only a few months ago, saved the earth from destruction from an asteroid out in space with Doctor A and some others. Now, got something even bigger on our hands, I see. And pardon me for being gloomy, but the odds look rather long..."

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"Yes," said Harrier, not sure if he should greet Supercape or not. After a moment's hesitation, he finally did so, rising from behind his seat to shake his hand. "Hello. I am Murdock. I am here as an expert," he said in his dry, nearly processed monotone. When they had all arrived and taken their seats, he began to speak: he'd been very nervous about this, but as Miss Americana had reminded him, he was the only one there with any experience with or encounters with the Gorgon herself. He stayed on his feet and began to play the information recovered from the crashed Terminus vessel, now safely in Freedom League custody.

On the screen, a grim image appeared, all the more shocking for those who hadn't seen it yet: a nest of what looked for all the world like metallic snakes began tearing into a planetary surface, the snakes themselves erupting from a gigantic metal body easily the size of the planet they were attacking. It took a few moments for the scale to become clear: those great serpents were easily the size of a small continent as they ripped the planet beneath to pieces: the planet they were ripping apart was a dark and burning Earth.

"This footage is a result of an encounter between the Entity 31966 and the Terminus-occupied Earth of another reality," he said as a blast of light from the looping playback ended the first runthrough. "It is unusual. She prefers to use nanites to absorb all organic life and technological civilization rather than destroy. The 31966 of this reality, which the Lor call the Gorgon, is believed to be heading towards this Earth. She will arrive in some months, and, if not stopped, will begin the 'preservation' of this Earth. "

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Dragonfly had, finally, looked up from her pad as the video played, frowning behind her helmet and tapping her pencil against the paper. underestimated size - construction? - hard to tell - 1220 won't work - can't make a power source big enough in that time - begin 1221 She flipped to a new page of paper without looking down, but didn't look back down. [bg=#555555]"Wish we knew more about...motivation. Methods. Exact process. Seems...unlikely that nanite absorption on that scale would fail very often. Mentioned earlier that she's been turned away before - so she's capable of choosing new targets when...phrase...'stakes are too high'. Assuming Gorgons are similar across realities - large assumption, mmh - could imply that Terminus-occupied Earth had threat too large to avoid, maybe. Or somehow considered...unpreservable?"[/bg]

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"or already preserved..." mused Supercape, aghast at what he had seen.

"fighting something planet sized... well, it seems beyond the combined capabilities of every hero on earth, even if we roped in the tyranny crime league and every super villain to help us. And with stakes this high, we may well consider that option, by the way..."

"fighting it directly anyway. Are only hope seems trickery, or sabotage. Perhaps it could try its hand at preserving a sun, or a black hole?"

"But tell me Murdock, as an, errr, expert, do you know where it comes from, or indeed why it 'preserves' as it does?"

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Jessica watched the presentation intently, absorbing every detail in silence. When the video finished she sat back and scrubbed at her face. She was surprised to find tears there, although maybe it did make some sense; she was looking at something that might, in a few short months, be her own home planet. She inhaled slowly and deeply, then addressed Murdock. "How much do we know about the Gorgon precisely? Do we have a sample of its materials? How about its propulsion system? Does it have any weapons, besides the obvious?"

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Murdock shifted uncomfortably, shooting glances at Miss Americana. She was so much smarter and articulate than he was, surely she could explain this better. But this was still knowledge he had that she didn't, or rather, knowledge that only he could explain to the others from experience. "The Gorgon is the ultimate preserver. The antithesis to the Terminus and all that is. She would never preserve a world tainted with entropy: those are what she destroys. She imagines that she is the savior of the places she transforms, both from the Terminus and the ravages of time. She is old enough that the Terminus has, as far as I know, no records of worlds where she was not encountered. Some say she is a creature of the Old Ones, the creatures that once traveled world to world, preserving and guarding life, before..." Well, they didn't need to hear about _that_. "Her power is gravitic in nature between systems. It...I do not know how she travels in interplanetary space. Her mass is akin to that of a planet the size and composition of this one. She has survived, though been wounded by, battles with multiple interstellar armadas as well as 2.5 million Omegadrones. Not at the same time," he added.

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Jessica very carefully noted that Murdock has avoided answering her questions on the Gorgon's other weapons. She hoped it was because the man didn't know, and not because the answer would depress them all. "If the Gorgon uses a gravity drive, we might be able to use that to delay her. Project an artificial gravity field in her path, turn it on and off maybe -- it'll be a space hazard. At the very least she'll have to route around it. We might get a couple more months to prepare.

"As an alternative." She waved a hand and the air above the table misted, then resolved into a holographic map of the solar system. "A gravity cannon could act like a kind of tractor beam. We could either slingshot her around and out of the system," As she spoke, a white line entered from off-projection, slipped around the central point, and moved back out of the projection, "or just drop her into the sun." This time were were no gentle curves, just a straight line ending in the central star. "That's assuming the Gorgon would notice a dip into a yellow dwarf."

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"She has been known to use stars as recuperative places," replied Harrier uneasily under the stress of Jessica's regard. "Primarily red giants, however. They offer her a chance to absorb energy from the surrounding material while offering protection for both her and her inhabitants; they..." He hesitated, realized he'd left that part out, and went on. "The Gorgon is inhabited by an unknown number of organisms, likely descended from populations she has obliterated. They seem to provide...companionship to one another. They are not in control of the Gorgon herself, as she was able to destroy the entirety of the First Republican Lor fleet off Lalande even after their mentants disabled all organic life aboard."

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"Well, one possibility presents itself then. Not an easy one, I appreciate. Perhaps not even possible. But then, we are in the realm of the impossible. "

"Suppose we evacuate the entire biosphere from Earth? temporarily, at least. If the Gorgon comes to Earth under those circumstances, it would have nothing to preserve and, move on?"

"Not that I am entirely sure how we would do that, but then, it seems slightly more plausible than fighting a planet sized super weapon that has defeated entire space fleets. It needn't be technical evacuation of course, just some way of tricking the Gorgon into thinking there is no life to be preserved. Mass biostasis, temporal freezing, something of that ilk. "

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"The Gorgon's modus operandi is somewhat similar to the Curator," Miss Americana observed, "in the sense that both entities seek to preserve what they consider valuable about planets and cultures. Unfortunately for us, organic life processes are not something they seem to value particularly highly. They are not hostile, but they are so extremely alien that attempts to negotiate are fruitless."

She folded her hands together and looked around the table. "Given the caliber of scientific minds we have available to us, I believe that a solution will be found that does not require a military strategy. If we cannot come to terms with the Gorgon, then we must outsmart her. These nanites are machines, at their core. We can work with that. What we need to do, though, is to acquire a sample of the nanites before they arrive on Earth. We need to go to the Gorgon ourselves."

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"The Gorgon's modus operandi is somewhat similar to the Curator," Miss Americana observed, "in the sense that both entities seek to preserve what they consider valuable about planets and cultures. Unfortunately for us, organic life processes are not something they seem to value particularly highly. They are not hostile, but they are so extremely alien that attempts to negotiate are fruitless."

She folded her hands together and looked around the table. "Given the caliber of scientific minds we have available to us, I believe that a solution will be found that does not require a military strategy. If we cannot come to terms with the Gorgon, then we must outsmart her. These nanites are machines, at their core. We can work with that. What we need to do, though, is to acquire a sample of the nanites before they arrive on Earth. We need to go to the Gorgon ourselves."

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Dragonfly tilted her head as Miss Americana talked, chewing on her lower lip as she turned the idea over in her head. [bg=#555555]"....reasonable,"[/bg] she admitted. [bg=#555555]"Would give us better idea of what we're up against. Would prefer to stop it, but prevention is good, and buys time."[/bg]

She paused for a moment, tapping a finger against her pad as she turned the idea over. [bg=#555555]"Might take...caution. More than is obvious, I mean - don't know what Gorgon would consider large enough to be important. Possible that small team is too small to pay attention to, but can't depend on that. Can't depend on reactions from inhabitants, either, or how well-defended or controlled nanite samples might be."[/bg]

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Dragonfly tilted her head as Miss Americana talked, chewing on her lower lip as she turned the idea over in her head. [bg=#555555]"....reasonable,"[/bg] she admitted. [bg=#555555]"Would give us better idea of what we're up against. Would prefer to stop it, but prevention is good, and buys time."[/bg]

She paused for a moment, tapping a finger against her pad as she turned the idea over. [bg=#555555]"Might take...caution. More than is obvious, I mean - don't know what Gorgon would consider large enough to be important. Possible that small team is too small to pay attention to, but can't depend on that. Can't depend on reactions from inhabitants, either, or how well-defended or controlled nanite samples might be."[/bg]

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"The nanite packages are stored in the 'serpents', here and here," said Murdock, pointing to the various snakes: the heads of which had cross-sections that could have covered all of Freedom City and more. "I don't know how populated the serpents are," he confessed. "It seems likely the population of the Gorgon would prefer to remain in the safety of the interior. It may be possible to enter those, take samples of the nanite package, and return safely to Earth without triggering her defenses or encountering irresistible force." He chewed his lip and confessed "I don't know how powerful her detectors for Terminus radiation are. Bringing me along may be inadvisable."

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"The nanite packages are stored in the 'serpents', here and here," said Murdock, pointing to the various snakes: the heads of which had cross-sections that could have covered all of Freedom City and more. "I don't know how populated the serpents are," he confessed. "It seems likely the population of the Gorgon would prefer to remain in the safety of the interior. It may be possible to enter those, take samples of the nanite package, and return safely to Earth without triggering her defenses or encountering irresistible force." He chewed his lip and confessed "I don't know how powerful her detectors for Terminus radiation are. Bringing me along may be inadvisable."

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"Well, I could provide transport, if we were to try and sample the entity" said Supercape, not without trepidation.

He cracked his knuckles. "Its relatively simple. Quantum entanglement of two points in 11 dimensional M-brane geometry. I could take four, or five along. DIstance is not an issue - with entanglement, it can be anywhere in space, or time, or indeed in the omniverse. This is of course, providing the Gorgon does not have precautions against such entanglement. I have certainly come across natural phenomena that can interfere with the process".

"But there is of course the more serious process of actually surviving when we arrive. Aside from what exactly the environment is, and I presume the minimum we can expect is something akin to the unpleasantness of deep space, we will have the Gorgon;s local defence systems to contend with. "

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"A small team would be better," Miss A opined, after nodding along with what the others had said. "Faster, lighter, and less likely to be noticed. Two teleporters would be ideal, for backup in case something does happen. I myself can't make the trip. I'd recommend Supercape, Dragonfly, and Dark Star, if we can recruit him for the trip, and perhaps one more scientist or technician. The sooner the trip is made, the longer we'll have to formulate a counter for the nanites, and it doesn't seem as though we have much chance of gathering intel beyond what we have without a visit."

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"If we're worried about detection," Jessica said, "why not whip up a cloaking device? Even taking into account that it has to work for the entire group, I think we should, working together, be able to fix something up for the trip.

"I think a bigger problem will be handling the nanites themselves. Obviously we don't know how they work, but it sounds a lot like a classic Von Neumann machine. In any case I doubt dipping a ladle in it would be healthy or safe. If we get Dark Star to go along, he can probably scoop some out using his gravity manipulating abilities, but we need some way to bring them back safely, and to work with them while they're here. I'd suggest a magnetic or null-grav bottle for the former," she said, looking around at her fellow Lab-mates, "but I have no idea on the latter."

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Tap-tap-tap went the finger. Designing, at least, was both in her area and good for keeping her mind off things. [bg=#555555]"Similar methods for safety while experimenting,"[/bg] she suggested, tilting her head. [bg=#555555]"Layers of security to keep nanites from touching anything but themselves. Several layers,"[/bg] she emphasized, [bg=#555555]"in case of failure. Redundancies. Don't need to start preserving planet for Gorgon. Remote access - personal or computer - would provide some information. Careful experimentation might provide more. Hard to plan too much past containment until we know more."[/bg]

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