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September 26, 2011

9 AM

The first mission of the new Young Freedom, at least upon their return from their world tour, was to guard Freedom Hall during what just might be the end of the world. Headmaster Summers, and the older students, had reassured the new kids that this was in the finest tradition of Claremont's premiere teen hero team. Sharl had been away for the last couple of days, and so he'd missed all those reassurances about what kinds of threats Young Freedom had faced before. Of course, for those students not used to world-threatening disasters, those words were not reassuring. What had been reassuring, in a martial sort of way, was the stern speech they'd all gotten from Lady Liberty before she and the rest of the Freedom League had departed.

"Listen, all of you. I know you're teenagers, and I know you didn't sign up for this." She'd paced back and forth in front of all of them, meeting each gaze, even the ones who looked away. "But the world's in peril right now, and that means it's time for all of us who can help to do our part. The world's going to be saved, I can promise you that, but it's going to take each and every one of you to do that. The Freedom League needs to go into space to help organize our defenses on the Moon against the Gorgon. That means someone needs to watch Freedom Hall and make sure none of the artifacts here fall into the hands of supervillains. The last thing we need is a world where we've beaten the Gorgon but lost our homes to supervillains who've seized control of some of the most powerful items in the world. Are there any questions?" she asked them. "If any of you do want to back out now, now's the time." They'd have an adult chaperone for this one; Mr. Archer having left the gym behind to act as their guardian while they guarded the centerpiece of hero history in Freedom City.

Things weren't pleasant outside, not with the demonstrators protesting the League's 'inaction', nor the continuing violence in the streets that Freedom City's adult heroes were doing their best to handle. Hell, there'd been an outright battle near the Claremont campus between the Irregulars and a Claremont graduate who'd gone berserk from the stress! Inside the League's briefing room, though, all was quiet as Lady Liberty's question echoed in the room.

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With no questions to ask, Sharl concentrated on his quiet radio communication with Miss Americana, with whom he'd had to part company while he took up a position alongside his friends. She'd helped him move Tronik somewhere safer than this dimension, and it had been great working with his best friend again. But he had to worry about Claremont now, for all that his room there had hardly been used. " When that was done, he tentatively did ask Lady Liberty, "How long can you stay here?"

"I'm leaving as soon as we're done," said the all-American heroine seriously. "There are riots in Washington, especially now that the President and Congress have evacuated, and the Arsenal of Freedom has been pushed to their limit. I'm going down there to make sure we still have a government to come back to when we're done. Are there any questions?" she asked the group again.

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"Yeah, I do," Koshiro told the living icon, his chin up belligerently. He didn't even have a proper costume yet, was decked out in a stupid school uniform that make him look like an exercise instructor, and he was scared out of his mind, but he wasn't going to show anyone that. "Why are we all in Freedom City guarding this junk? Why don't you just put it on your space station and we could be out helping people? Freedom City's not the only place in the world that matters."

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Lady Liberty gave Papercut a searching look, as if trying to sort out the meaning behind the boy's question. "Because right now, every resource on the Lighthouse is being used to its utmost to try and save every city on Earth from the Gorgon. We've got half the space-scientists on Earth up there, and more equipment arriving by the day for orbital cannons, emergency transporters, and everything else our best and brightest can come up with."

She cocked her head, nodding towards the pictured manifest on the briefing room screen of all the Hall held right now. "If we had the time, we'd move all these well out of reach, if we had the people, we'd put adult heroes in here to guard this. We have weapons here that could change the balance of powers in wars; we have computers that store secret identities and classified information that could jeopardize the world if it got out. But we don't have the time to move it or destroy it, and we don't have the adults to guard. The only way we're going to marshal the resources so that everyone can help save the world this week is for all of us to work together."

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"Please understand, Lady Liberty," the acrobatic telepath replied in her French-accented soprano. "None of us are Freedom City natives and we are worried about our families, we can't help but wonder if we should be protecting them and not the shortsightedness of the Freedom League."

The last line was delivered rather harshly, and Eve's mouth snapped shut with an audible click and her face became very, very red. But she didn't apologize and her green eyes watched Lady Liberty challengingly.

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"If you two don't feel like staying, you can always go somewhere else. Me, I'm going to stick around here. Way I see it, it's not the League's fault the Gorgon picked Earth. Not the League's fault the world's going crazy. And frankly, it's not their fault that no storage place is completely safe from super-villains. Lady Liberty's got reason to be worried about this country. 'Sides, most of the League's in space. Fighting for everyone. Maybe we should cut them some slack?"

Cobalt Templar's voice was quiet as he leaned against the wall over to one, in full costume, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed. Were it not for him speaking up, one might be inclined to think he was napping.

"'Course, I'm a bit biased. My parents and lover are here in the city.

Then again, not like the city or country makes a difference. We got a giant Medusa head floating through space looking to gold-plate the whole planet. Instead of getting snippy about who's defending where, maybe we just do what we can where we're asked to."

He shrugs his massive armored shoulders, barely avoiding leaving scratches on the wall.

"Or, like I said, you guys can bail. Your choice."

There was a bit of an edge to his voice, but it was also clear he wasn't really being sarcastic. He meant every word.

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Wraith was in full alien mode, and she was obviously...unsettled. The individual signs were subtle, given her strange physiology and habit of standing around like a statue, but those three black eyes were just a little differently-shaped, wider maybe, and she kept shifting or turning her head (in a way that made it pretty obvious she had no spine) to glance up at the roof as if she could see through it and clear to the Gorgon above.

"....I will remain," she finally chimed in, careful and pensive. "I am honored to be chosen for the task. And...and I think it will be better than doing nothing at all."

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"You guys, this place is so big!" a chipper voice came from above as Ghost Girl slipped through the ceiling back into the room with the others, having disappeared at some point to do a little exploring. Her tattered reaper's cloak flapped silently about, lifted by an unfelt wind just as her long hair was, unsettling despite her sunny smile and disposition. "They've got a whole room just for statues of dead people! That's so thoughtful!" Finally noticing the tension in the room, she bobbed up and down in the air for a few moments before adding, "Oh, um, I'm good to stay! I don't think I'd be much help in space anyway. Although... I don't breathe, so maybe..."

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Citizen had been about to tell everyone off for fighting, particularly over their stupid political divisions, but luckily by the time anyone looked his way the incipient argument had seemed to stop before it started. After a moment's pause, he added, "I'm staying too. Quitting now would be the first step towards anarchy; towards letting her win." Now that he'd finished his conversation with Miss Americana, Sharl found himself glancing up sometimes as well, as if expecting the subject of his childhood lessons to come boiling out of space right there and devour them all. He had no idea what a nanite swarm would do to his projected consciousness, but he had a feeling it wouldn't be good. "The only way we're going to save this world is if all of us work together, and that means we do this right now. I'm sorry we've been trouble, Lady Liberty."

The patriotic heroine nodded at that, seemingly satisfied with everyone's answer, even Sage's and Papercut's. And with that, barring any further questions, she gave a quick tour of the building to Young Freedom, showing them how to activate the Hall's defenses from the security station, what areas would need special protection, and all the rest. Despite the small group of chanting protesters outside, this posting looked like it would actually be surprisingly dull. The Hall was something of an urban fortress, extending underground and above; down below were the monitoring room and other high-tech wonders like Raven's computer, above was the statuary hall Kimber had found. It certainly wasn't a bad place to spend the end of the world, if it came to that.

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Papercut curled his lip at Cobalt Templar at the latter's taunting offer. "Easy for you to say when your people are here," he sneered. "Very brave words. But we're already here." With a few deft flicks of his hands, he turned a piece of paper into a shirt, which grew in size until he could slide it on like a bulletproof vest. He put waiting to work, checking his supplies, rummaging through his box of cranes to make sure all were in fighting trim.

He'd never had to wait for a fight like this. It was nervewracking. He thought about taking another poke at the big guy just to release some adrenaline, but that didn't seem wise. Instead, he paced through the corridors of Freedom Hall, looking for trouble but at the same time drinking in the sights of a place he'd only ever seen on television and in books.

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Cobalt Templar sighed and shook his head at Papercut's response.

"That's not what I-"

He stops himself and takes a deep breath.

"I wasn't trying to mock you. I'm sorry. Let's just do what we were asked to do. Please."

He winced internally.

'Man, I don't want to make him feel unwelcome. Why am I sucking so much when dealing with him?'

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There was something a little eerie about the deserted Freedom Hall, the hollow footsteps of the teenagers (well, those that took steps, anyway) echoing in the halls as they patrolled a building normally bustling full of people. Citizen spent most of his time in the League's computer, which though full of firewalls was still full of fascinating data (it also meant he could watch outside via the League's computer systems and security cameras, thus help keeping an eye outside). The large crowd that had been there in the morning, shouting their demands for the League's help, eventually died down as the work day went on and people who still believed in their old lives went to work.

Most of the doors had actually been left unlocked thanks to the emergency, and teens who wanted could walk through Captain Thunder's office, Johnny Rocket's rec room, Star Knight's weirdly spartan office (which looked more like a hockey and football devotee's space than a gadgeteer's) and all the rest. Standing in the corridor outside the League's offices on the second floor, Sage had a good view through the bay window at the end of the hall: she could see the office park across the street from the Hall readily enough. And there, just on the roof, was a black-costumed man in the process of setting up a rifle and scope...

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Sage frowned at the figure across the street; everything and everyone they loved was in grave peril and yet there were still people with less than benign motivations and intentions, it disgusted the young Martel. "On the upside," Eve cynically thought, her mind briefly drifting to the memory of the protestors, "at least the villains have faith in the heroes."

"Eyes open, Young Freedom," Sage sent across the mental link she maintained with most of the team, while speaking out loud toward a security monitor so Citizen could hear her. "I'm on the second floor, west side. There is a man here, dressed in black, setting up a rifle. Citizen, if you get a camera on him, see if you can identify him, maybe the League computer has a dossier." Sage paused a moment, then added, "The rest of you, this is a big building, if this guy has friends and you are attacked, give ground. We know what and where we have to defend, chances are they do not."

"Now to do something stupid," the psychic thought to herself. Sage concentrated on the distant rifle and as she focused her will an orange nimbus of energy gathered around the rifle. And then she crushed it.

"Rifle neutralized," the telepath announced to her team.

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The rifle crumbled to so many fragments in Sage's telekinetic grasp, the black-clad man outside vanishing behind a heating duct and out of the teen psychic's view. Safely lodged inside the building's security system, Citizen spoke over the internal speakers. "Uh, looks like that guy outside is...Orion, the Crime League member. Not very formidable himself, he's just some guy with a gun, but if he's here, there might be-what, what's-" Suddenly, many things happened at once: a great crack came from the sky as electricity rocketed through the building, the lights flickering and going dark, some exploding in showers of sparks, the computers going dead and Sharl's voice going silent.

A moment later, outside the world went black: not just dark, but black as a visible wall of black radiation came swooping down out of the sky and encased Freedom Hall inside a dome of opaque darkness. From the faint glow inside the building, looking out they could just see where the shape outside enclosed the Hall off from the rest of the world. By the glare of faint red emergency lights, the heroes realized the power was out, at least one teammate was missing, and they were sealed away alone inside the stronghold of Freedom City's heroes with no one to come to their aid. It was very dark, and it stood to reason they were not alone...

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Wraith snapped her head around up as the speakers went silent, having been rather distracted peering at the surrounding buildings for other snipers. Then she snapped her head around again, in the same direction, the twist in her neck untwisting itself as she watched the strange radioactive wall come down.

I am sorry, she thought in Sage's 'direction' (and the team's, though she had no idea whether or not they could hear her), even as her body reshaped itself into something almost quadrupedal, a thin mane of finger-sized tendrils extending out from her neck and waving in the air like cilia. A quick leap to a wall and a short climb got her into a nearby grate and she was off, half climbing and half just flowing along the hallway vents of the building. They would not close us off from themselves, she continued, in an Earthly language this time, unless they thought their enemies were still here and wished to trap them. It is possible they have agents in the building already. I am afraid I am not familiar with the 'Crime League' - I assume they are dangerous, but who are they?

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Kimber yelped loudly as the power suddenly cut out, placing her hands over her mouth in the darkness. "Oh marmalade!" It took her a moment to remember that she was able to see just fine in the abrupt shadows, and there was a brief gust of chilling wind from her direction as she lost concentration for a split second. "Okay, okay..." she muttered quietly to herself as she stubbornly reclaimed her composure, looking about the room as she floated over her teammates' heads. "Um, should I... look around? Like, scout the perimeter?"

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Corbin had mostly stayed in place while the others roamed around. He figured that way, he could always get to anyone else in about the same time as backup. Plus, it gave him time to make various light sculptures with his ring.

When Sage reported a gunman, he immediately snapped to attention, a frown on his face as his latest sculpture winked out of existence.

-Received and understood, Sage. I'll stay here for a moment, in case they try--

And then the lights went out, and the world outside was closed off. In an instant, Cobalt Templar was standing in the middle of the hall, eyes scanning around.

"Sharl, respond. Sharl, do you copy?"

He was perturbed by the situation. Sharl might be out of action. Even if he wasn't, it was clear the advantage of having him integrated with the building's systems was now gone. Which ruled out a blatant hacking attempt by the enemy, but still. He looked to any of his fellows who were nearby, and projected to Eve (and thus hopefully everyone else, except Sharl).

-They've already turned the lights off. Let's try to be ready for other tricks. I wouldn't put it past them to use gas or something similar.

Kimber, yes, please try to scout ahead a little bit.

Papercut, could you perhaps go back up Sage? I'd like those of us who can't walk through walls to try and work the buddy system.

Wraith, you're with me. We're going to look around, but like Sage said, we'll retreat if we have to.

Just remember. We're Young Freedom. We can take these punks.-

With that grim pronouncement, Cobalt Templar began striding forward, and as he did so, his costume shifted. Not because it had to, but because some part of his mind (and perhaps even a sliver of something in the ring?) wanted to reflect his state of readiness and resistance to certain types of attack.

With that in mind, the gap in the front of his helmet was suddenly covered with a dull gold reflective visor. Around his neck, and in all gaps of his armor, a thin, flexible material snapped into place, giving it an airtight quality. None of this was strictly necessary; he could be standing there in ragged gym shorts, breathing poison gas directly into his lungs, and the ring would simply neutralize it. But for him, it felt better to outwardly manifest that concept of protection. It scratched an itch that had been there ever since he got the ring, one only enhanced by his existing artistic talent.

His heavy steps echoed in the nearly empty hall as his cape vanished, and around his torso, a strange mechanical rig began to manifest. When a high tech energy weapon formed in his hands, the rig's purpose was clear; it supported the weapon, and helped him more easily move it around. Again, a facetious construct of his own imagination; he could simply lob indistinct balls of fire around at his enemies, but a part of him almost had to "shake it up" every time. Rather than fight the instinct, the large artist embraced it.

Anything to give him a teeny bit of amusement in a life-or-death struggle.

He cast his reflective gaze around the room, the weapon tracking with it, a red light above the barrel blinking slowly. Suddenly, he spoke up, his voice having a slightly deeper, mechanical quality to it, likely due to the closed helm.

"Here, piggy piggy piggy...."

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Koshiro tensed up immediately when the lights went off, blind for a few moments before his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He automatically reached for his mission kit, only to remember that he hadn't brought it along, because this wasn't that kind of mission. That was going to have to change in the future. Instead he reached for the LED penlight, its thin beam creating a small but comforting light in the darkness. "Yeah, okay," he called to Cobalt Templar, heading off in the direction where Sage had last been. As he walked, he clenched his penlight between his teeth and began folding paper.

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As Papercut headed for Sage's location, he heard the sound of crunching and smashing that he recognized as the sound of wood and metal breaking: he'd been around enough damaged buildings to know that sound only too well. Coming with it was the sound of heavy footsteps and stomping, as if something large and clumsy were moving about. Turning his penlight around, the teen hero read the name on the door: DAEDALUS. Whatever was making that noise was just one door away, and from the sound of the tromping, it was getting closer.

--

Meanwhile, though she was close at Cobalt Templar's hand, Wraith became conscious of a voice in her head: one that from his lack of reaction, Corbin didn't seem to be able to hear. "Set the vibrations up just right...YES. You can hear me now." It was a man's voice, deep and baritone, all the more menacing then that it seemed to come in a whisper from all around her, as if she was surrounded by the words. "Little Kinigosi. What are you doing here so far from home around these hardbodied children?"

--

Just ahead of her, as Ghost Girl led the way, a phantasmal figure drifted up out of the floor, glowing green with a sickly, malevolent light that was hard to look at for everyone but the already-dead Kimber. "Go on," hissed Hiroshima Shadow, a teasing, malevolent smirk on its half-visible face. "Give me an excuse. Any of you, Come at me, and I won't have to worry about guarding prisoners. Come on!" The radioactive spirit was blocking them from going any further, his sickly green light bright enough to cast the corridor into eerie shadows.

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"Boy, super-villains sure are angry..." Ghost Girl muttered largely to herself as she floated back a few paces worth of air as the Hiroshima Shadow appeared and baited the dwindling group. "I guess that sorta makes sense, though. Still!" Gliding forward again, she planted her ethereal fist on her hips, tattered reaper fluttering about her feet as she gave the radioactive apparition a stern look. "Now look, this isn't a good time for this, and you know it! I'm sure we can talk this out, ghost to ghost, right?"

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"It's the perfect time for this," corrected the Shadow, malevolence yet in that voice that crackled like a Geiger counter. Though Ghost Girl had kept the Shadow from attacking them straight away, it was still obviously keen on making sure they didn't go far. "What better time to loot this place and burn it down? If the heroes win, we get their house and their secret identities, so we can go to where they live and burn them down. If they lose, we get Daedalus' dimensional transporter and go find a world with no costumed FOOLS to stand in our way." It turned a speculative eye on Ghost Girl, adding in that same cold, leering crackle, "As for you, little yūrei, you're not like me. But I can make you that way. You'd be amazed what a few million rads embedded in your corpus do for your outlook on death. Ditch your solid friends and we can talk."

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Wraith's already not-inconsiderable eyes widened, her head rearing up on her neck as she peered around herself, alert. Those short, cilia-like tendrils around her neck and shoulders waved in the air, trying to catch a taste of something - anything - that would tell her who or what was talking...in her head? "Who is there? Where are you?" she asked, though she didn't really expect an answer to that last one. "It is not important why I am here. These...'hardbodied' ones are my friends, and please do not use that term to describe them. It is not their fault their bodies are poorly-designed."

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"I?" The voice in her head laughed, a deep, booming laugh that was menacing all the same. "I am the greatest of the Star Knights; the greatest that ever was and ever shall be. Your people did me a boon once in my youth, little Kinigosi, so I offer you a boon as well. Leave behind these human treasures for these human pirates and come away from this place. I have a warp-capable ship that could take you as far as the Freehold station around Barnard's Star..." Indira had heard of those places well enough; orbiting space stations where the only law was strength and the main trade was vice!

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Koshiro stopped in his tracks and listened to the stomping, and for a moment felt the intense urge to just run the hell away. What was he doing here, anyway? He was supposed to be getting training in powers he hardly knew how to use, not fighting villains and saving the Freedom League. What would his mom do if the world survived but she lost her other son? He took a deep breath and clenched his jaw, then reached into his pocket. He was already here, and he'd just have to make sure not to die. From his pocket, he pulled a tiny paper frog, no more than a half-inch long or tall, and set it on the floor. The moment he pressed down on its butt, it began hopping, its tiny movements taking it soundlessly under the crack in the door. With the paper in his hands he folded a square with a frame around it, rolled a tiny set of rabbit ear antennae with his fingers, and waited.

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As soon as it was clear it was Hiroshima Shadow standing ahead of them, Cobalt Templar froze almost instantly. One foot was lifted slightly, as if mid-step, but he might as well have been a wide-eyed statue, staring at the spectre of nuclear destruction. For half a minute, he couldn't even think straight.

'Not Hiroshima Shadow. No. Not it. Anything but the one that-No. Damn it Corbin, that was a parallel reality, and it was the future. You're not dying here. Not today. Not here.'

His face morphed from fear to grim determination; the weapon in his hands went from the flickering shade it was just a moment ago, to a solid thing once more. Before he let any sound escape his mouth, he reported in to Sage.

-Hiroshima Shadow is on site. Repeat, Hiroshima Shadow is on site. I'm betting we've got half the Crime League here at least. Stay frosty.-

He glanced at Wraith. All things considered, he wasn't going to interrupt, and he figured it was a League member offering her something or trying to distract her. His attention returned to the Shadow.

"Please don't do this. It isn't worth it either way. Honestly, if you guys leave, I don't feel like telling anyone. No harm, no foul. I'd rather not get in a fight right now. But if you keep pressing it, we won't back down. We won't let you put the Freedom League, and any family they may have, at risk."

The large weapon in his hands was trained squarely on the irradiated villain, though he made no move to attack this very moment.

"Your call."

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