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May 2012

Steve Murdock had never gotten a driver's license. It wasn't necessary for him; he preferred to walk and lived in a city with good public transit. So instead Roger Wheeler, the computer science teacher at the Nicholson School, was driving the minivan while Murdock himself sat in the shotgun seat. To the rear were the four children he, Miss Americana, and Dragonfly had rescued from the Moon nearly a year ago now: Pluto, who was thirteen, Mars and Venus, a boy and girl eerily alike and probably about twelve, and Demeter, the youngest of them at ten. Their long stay in Antarctica over, with the League sure they wouldn't they would all start at the Nicholson School over the summer, letting them settle in to what an Earth school was like before they would be among people who would fear and hate them for what they'd once been.

The marks of Omega were clear on all the children with just a look, their cybernetic alterations deep enough that even Miss Americana had hesitated to remove them. She'd found enough booby traps in Harrier's systems that there was no knowing what lay beneath these half-assimilated drones. Demeter's eyes glowed red like LED lights while her voice was obviously synthetic, the Mars and Venus's innate subspace link meant they often spoke in unison, while Pluto's cybernetic arm, looking precisely like an Omegadrone's, were the most obvious. They were more like regular children than the victims of horror they'd once been, looking around and peering out the windows for the man their teacher had told them to look for, but Harrier could still see the memories of pain and solitude about them. Even in a group, these children were alone. None of them had said a word since they'd gotten in the car.

Once they reached the base parking lot, Steve led the four kids, and their future teacher, through security. Roger was mostly taking the kids' measure today, supporting their usual authority figure rather than trying to replace him. "We should see Victory soon," he told them with as much warmth as his own dry voice could muster. "He will be here for us." Victory was the most cybernetically altered human being Steve had met on this Earth: the human pilot, with his popular acclaim, was the best example he could think of to show the kids that they could be successful here. However they looked, and whatever had happened to them.

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As the trip had made its way to the base, one of the children, should their eyes be quick enough, may have caught a glimpse of a blue and silver streak passing them, but the light is gone almost as quickly as it appeared. But as they approached, the windows started to rattle ever so slightly. Around them, the roar of a loud engine momentarily drowns out what sound they would have been having if they were more comfortable with each other. More likely than not, it was caused by that incredibly quick streak of light. Perhaps that was what they were told to watch out for?

As the small group passed through security, the last guard through the vehicle check spoke into his radio, letting the base know that today's guests have arrived. Almost on cue, as the kids all take a good look at the exterior of the base, a large man dressed in the standard day-to-day AEGIS uniform walks out to greet them. Although the kids may not recognize him, he seems to be familiar with them. Walking out with his right hand in his pocket, his left hand waves over to the group.

"Hey there, Murdock!"

The Major walks right up to the group with a big smile. As he got closer, however, the kids would hear the turning of gears and the impact of metal on the ground with each step he takes.

"Been awhile. It's good to see you."

Lance removes his hand from his pocket and presents it for a handshake. But if any of the kids were to glance at the large hand, they would be able to easily make out its true nature. An appendage of gears and metal, which shines a bit as it catches the sun. As he shakes his friend's hand, he looks over the group with a big, welcoming smile.

"So are these little guys the kids you were telling me about?"

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The children gave Victory looks that were a mixture of wide-eyed admiration and not a little suspicion; they were impressed by Victory, like most people were, but they had their own reasons to be uncomfortable around cyborgs. Still, they all shook hands without any signs of fear, for all that some of them (especially Pluto, the oldest boy) looked a little mutinous. Murdock introduced Roger as well, after the kids, to Victory. "I've told them about how you are a great and respected hero here," he told Victory, "but why don't you tell them more about yourself?" Harrier and Victory hadn't seen much of each other recently, but Harrier seemed to have improved. The dour ex-drone was at least more relaxed than how he typically looked, and his voice held more confidence. The kids obviously all trusted him.

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The uniform-clad Victory laughs off the compliments just a bit, patting his friend on the shoulder. "Well, I hope you didn't talk me up too much. I'd hate to disappoint!" The few times he'd gotten to have a conversation with Murdock over the last few months, he was happy to see that the Terminus refugee was making some big steps towards being able to socialize in normal human society. And he hopes he can help these kids make steps of their own, even if just by example. Standing up to his full height again after leaning down to shake the kids' hands, his eyes briefly flash in the dead center of the retina, as he did a quick temperature scan of the area.

"Tell you what. It'll be getting a big colder soon, so why don't we head inside first? We have a few rooms for having guests, and then we can tour the public areas of the base a bit? I'll tell you guys about me on the way there."

A reasonable request, and the guards who were watching seemed to be fine with giving them permission to walk around as guests. Victory stood beside the group as they were lead in, and started talking.

"Well, you kids may or may not have seen some of the stories about me already on television or in magazines. But to tell it right from the horse's mouth, I used to be a test pilot for this nation's Air Force. But I had an accident on a flight one day. I wouldn't have made it if it weren't for the genius engineers here at AEGIS, who put me back together with a body strong enough to help protect people the world over."

As they walk down the halls, the corridors of the Lonely Point base bustle with activity, as AEGIS agents of all ranks, departments, and uniforms go in and out of the rooms, shuffling papers, going over reports, or even just discussing what they'll do on leave. Many of them, however, are not so distracted as to keep them from saying a friendly hello to Victory's guests.

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"Do people ever stare at you?" asked Pluto of Victory as he walked alongside the big cyborg, his cybernetic arm kept close to his side as he walked. It didn't seem to bother him physically, but he was obviously sensitive to it. "There are few people in this civilization with technological augmentation." The Lonely Point staff had been briefed ahead of time, and they were all professionals. No one stared at the Omegadrone kids, not for too long, anyway.

"Of course they do," grated Demeter, her child's voice eerily flat and mechanical from her artifical voicebox. "You saw how fast he flies up there. Sometimes it's not bad to have people pay attention...right?" she asked, looking up at the pilot with those glowing red cybernetic eyes.

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Victory smiles big,holding his artificial hand up as they near the hosting room. "You're absolutely right. The reason we're so public about my identity and origin, whereas most costumed fighters stay secret, is because we want people to know what AEGIS is working on in order to help the common man."

They reach a big door, and two guards standing by it open it for them. The room itself isn't quite as large as the doors made them look. A circular meeting table sits in the center of the room, big enough to give each seat room, but not so big as to come off as impersonal. Victory walks around to the furthest seat, his back to the wall, and stands behind it.

"Cybernetic technology is still a very new thing on this planet. We're making what advances we can, with myself as a primary test bed. Although there are a number of people also undergoing their own procedures. Of course, they won't be given anything as powerful as what I have, but they will, hopefully, be able to move about and live their lives just as they did before."

Victory pulls his seat out, but motions to the others.

"Now, please have a seat. I'd be interested in hearing about you all, and what your impressions of our home are. If you're comfortable to say, of course."

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"We just got here," said Pluto, getting that look on his face that boys develop when they're about to turn thirteen. "Antarctica was okay, I guess. The people there were nice to us, even though they were scared most of the time. Everything here is so...different." Steve shot the boy a look, and Pluto in return shot a look at the younger kids, especially at the little twins, and bit his lip. It was hard to tell how much the cyberkinetic kids were taking in at any moment, but talking about how much everyone around them feared their inhuman appearance certainly wasn't kosher.

"The people at the school are nice," chimed in Demeter in her eerie voice. " They get a lot of strange children there, so they're not as scared. Mr. Forester says I'm good with computers."

"This is their world now," said Steve carefully, not wanting to dredge up any unpleasant memories for them, as always. "What came before, n the world that they lost...is almost all gone." It was, from his perspective, almost entirely a mercy.

"Do you ever fly to Antarctica?" Demeter asked Victory curiously.

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Victory sat quietly, listening to each of them speak on their first impressions of their new world. It was obvious that these kids had been through a serious ordeal before finding themselves in the care of their Earthside guardians. Their location in Antarctica was something he had found odd when first told, but the temporary isolation was probably for the best during the initial stages of converting to something closer to human. While he's worked with Harrier through his own situation, it'd be worlds different for the children, he can imagine.

Fortunately, a question managed to somewhat lighten the topic.

"As a matter of fact, I have. Sometimes they call me down there because they need some extra muscle and there aren't too many that can comfortably work in that temperature. And sometimes I have to chase villains all over the world, more than once actually hitting every single continent in pursuit of especially tricky ones."

While mentioning it, Victory chuckles momentarily to himself, remembering something.

"In fact, I've found myself all the way up to the North Pole more than once. Do you kids know about Santa Claus?"

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That got him a very skeptical eye from all the kids, for all that the nicer ones like Demeter seemed to think he was humoring them. One of the twins spoke up, his double finishing his sentence a moment later. "Santa Claus is a mythohistorical entity from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Today he is primarily used as part of commercial festivals commemorating capitalist success and birth of god-king images."

Harrier shrugged slightly, looking a little helpless, before suggesting, "But there may still be truth behind the legend. Right, Victory?" he asked hopefully. He had no knowledge of this Santa Claus fellow himself, for all that of course he was aware of the Christmas holiday and how it was celebrated on Earth-Prime. I should see when Gina is next available, he thought, briefly distracted from the conversation.

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Victory doesn't seem bothered by the skeptical looks. He expected them, in all honesty. He keeps his smile on, and just goes on speaking.

"Of course there is truth to it. I helped to save the big man once or twice. He's given me, personally, a very cool, personalized gift for it. In fact, every year we keep a close eye on his course as he goes about the world delivering his gifts. Although it's more of a formality. Even I have very little hope of catching him when he's making his rounds."

The kids all continue to look at him like he's crazy, but Victory just shakes his head and leans in a little bit.

"In this world, there are people who can move faster than the eye can follow. People who can speak to plants as though they were people, and treat them like literal extensions of their own bodies. Even people who can warp the very fabric of reality. If those can all exist, why not Santa?"

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Something interrupted Victory, but it wasn't the kids: triple sonic booms sounded overhead, one after the other, so loud that windows vibrated in their frames and the kids screamed involuntarily as the sounds of explosions rocked the base! Steve was briefly torn between his charges and whatever disaster lay above their heads just before a sailor threw open the door to shout, "Sir! Three unknown metahuman hostiles have just engaged our perimeter at hypersonic speeds! Radar Towers Two and Three are down, and they're coming around for another pass!"

"Go," said Steve after a few moments, giving his friend a serious look. "I can handle the fallen structures, but I'm not fast enough to catch someone as fast as you are in the sky. We may not have much time for talk!" To his students, he said, "Stay here, and be watchful. Victory and I are old allies; we can handle this trio and return to your side safely. We've all dealt with our base coming under attack before and survived. It'll be all right."

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Victory shot out of his chair when the explosions hit, already moving his hand to his collar to get ready to undo it and switch to a combat ready mode. When the sailor came in, Victory nodded, and started to head towards the door. But before he went out, he turned back to the guests. Especially to the kids themselves.

"Whatever happens, make sure to listen to the soldiers here. They know where to go for safety. This building is very strong, and there are lots of places to take shelter. They'll lead you there, if necessary."

With his words done for the kids, Victory turns to Harrier, and nods.

"The kids will be safe. I'll see you out there."

With that, Victory rushes out the door, a series of heavy-sounding footsteps smacking down on the ground, before another engine roar is heard coming from ground level, as Victory takes to the skies, having switched over to a more fight-ready "outfit" of his remaining armor as he got outside.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Victory's cybernetically enhanced systems let him see the fliers coming long before they got there: three men in identical black uniforms that told him little about their origin, their faces covered by heavy black masks with black eyepieces that looked a little like mantis eyes. One went for him, fast, rocketing at him at a hypersonic velocity much faster than any jet could have traveled, before hurling a bolt of sizzling golden energy at him that sparked harmlessly against his armor. It was a hard hit, though; these three were certainly much faster than anything else at Lonely Point, and tougher too. Except, of course, for Victory himself. They weren't as fast as him, or as tough, but then Victory was pretty fast and tough indeed.

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Victory wasn't about to let some wanna-be's take down the base he's worked so hard to bring a reputation to. Especially with his guests there, making him all the more determined to make sure they don't cause any real damage. Even as he was shot by one of them, he kept his gaze firm and simply shrugged it off. In fact, from their eyes, it'd almost look like he didn't even notice it (although he certainly did), as he blasts right past the one that shot him. Briefly, he pauses in front of one of the others, showing his superior speed, and without so much as a quip, he brings his mighty fist down on his head, sending the villain crashing to the ground like a meteor.

With one down, Victory barks an order to the soldiers on the ground.

"Get that one secured and bring him into lockup! Now!"

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  • 2 weeks later...

Another flier went for Victory, fast, coming out of the sun as his fist smashed into Victory's armored torso faster than most men's eyes could even have processed. "Dirty cybernetic freak!" he spat at the patriotic cyborg. "You're nothing but an abomination of steel and flesh! We'll take the skies from you, just like the Maker will take all the world from your technological horrorshow!" He didn't seem concerned at the fate of his comrade, but the other flier who'd attacked Victory was: he 'turned on a dime' in the middle of the sky and zoomed out across the Atlantic faster than a man could blink.

Down below, disguised as the armored knight Caradoc, Harrier surveyed the scene: the three fliers had pushed over a radar tower onto a nearby hanger, injuries luckily were minor as the unmanned tower had hit the nearly empty hangar. Without a word save introduction, he joined in digging through the rubble to look for any further casualties, the sailors on the scene taking the arrival of another hero as a good sign.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Although most men would indeed be unable to even process that kind of speed, Victory's built-in systems were. Although the punch seemed to connect, at just the very last moment before impact, his body speed up and twisted away, spinning away from what could have been one hell of a nasty blow. While he was able to avoid that, he spots the other flier zipping away. While he can't let one of them get away, the safety of the people here is first priority. He can't leave to give chase just yet.

"The Maker? From the sound of a boss like that, I have a feeling you're not so much of a natural occurrence, yourself!"

Gotta keep them talking. Focused on him, and not the people below. He deftly dodges a few follow-up blows, but tries to also get a bead on the trajectory of the one flying away. He's got to knock this one out quick so he can pursue. Maybe if he forces the villain to unbalance himself?

"I don't take seriously the words of a hypocrite, anyway! Especially not when one of your partners is turning tail like a coward! Your cause must not make you lot as devout as you'd like to think!"

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