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Friday, June 29th, 2012
8:47 PM


It had been a perfectly ordinary evening for the Liberty League. Then someone had to tempt fate.

There had been the usual security briefing at the Midnight Manor, with a discussion of movements amongst noted villains, possible security risks, and other matters of importance. Someone had brought up the fact that the Super Museum was doing another wartime theater retrospective, including some of the safer treatises of Lady Celtic. And not fifteen minutes later, the silent alarm had gone off, instructing Midnight and everyone gathered around the table that four people who weren't supposed to were stomping about inside.

One teleport by Edge brought the League into the lobby of the Super Museum, the statues of Freedom's fallen looming dark in the night. They could hear traces of movement down the hall. "All right," whispered Cannonade. "What's the plan?"

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"Midnight, can you get access to the security system enough to let us know exactly where these guys are?" Wander asked, drawing her bat as she looked around the darkened building. "We don't want to risk the exhibits any more than we have to, so if we can find exactly where they are, Cannonade and I can rush them on the floor, while Midnight gets up into the catwalks to make sure no one tries flying out. Edge can pick off anyone who tries to escape. We've probably got two minutes before the police start responding, and we don't want to risk anyone getting hurt, so faster is better. Good? " She looked around to the others for assent or comment.

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"Makes sense to me," agreed Edge with a look to the others, his blue and gold costume looking muted in the darkness. "The other way is: we take the direct approach, I can let you guys get into position, then I can just pop over there and demand to know what the hell they're doing, and see if that'll spook them into bolting so you guys can pick them off. Problem is, if they are in the middle of the exhibits, that'll do a lot more damage than we want. And with our luck, they probably are." Mark wasn't really cut out for stealth, but he knew how to duck and how to keep his voice down. "Either way, we're unlikely to be thrown back to a World War II battlefield now that they've got the anti-time travel stuff up in the walls, so, point in our favor."

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"No jinxes," Midnight warned Edge from the shadows, appearing as little more than a pair of glowing embers as he retrieved a handheld tablet computer from his belt and began patching into the museum's system of security cameras. He'd never considered himself a superstitious person before meeting Mark but the gregarious legacy hero tended to tempt fate with his mere presence. The last thing they needed was to further confuse their personal timestreams.

The computer network in the building was actually well secured against most mundane intrusion, discouraging tampering with alarms systems or exhibit records. The internal monitoring devices, however, had not been warded against the possibility of someone attempting to view their findings while already physically inside. "See what we're dealing with, then plan," he advised quietly, though it wasn't hard to guess which way he was inclined to come down between the stealthy and more direct approach.

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The state of the art resolution on the screen of Midnight's device did nothing to improve the quality of the grainy, black and white footage it was displaying. It was impossible to get a positive ID on the figures he spotted, but the distinctive headgear on one of them at least let him make an educated guess. "Wildcard. Have to assume Crime League," he relayed to the others, grimacing very slightly behind his featureless black mask. That meant the remaining intruders could be any of several powerful, varied villains. "Visual on two more. Forth isn't on camera. Could be Orion." He didn't have to explicitly warn his teammates to be on guard for an ambush if that was the case; Orion wasn't the only Crime Leaguer adept at stealth or misdirection, but he was perhaps the most deadly master of surprise among them.

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"Geez, if it's the Crime League, we can't take any chances," said Mark soberly. It wasn't that he feared the most notorious supervillains of Freedom City, just the opposite, but he certainly was aware of how powerful they were. "They could wreck the place in a minute, or be setting an ambush for heroes. Yeah, let's do it the smart way," he said with a nod to Wander and Midnight: it wasn't that Joe wasn't the smart way, but the plan had originally come from his old friends. "You want me to 'port you guys in somewhere quiet, like the cafeteria or one of the janitor's closets in the Allies wing, or do you want to go in covert the whole way?"

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"I think we can do a quiet 'port," Cannonade said, thinking over the Crime League in his head. It wasn't like he had to dig deep - the big cartel of supercrime was common knowledge to everyone in Freedom City, especially given the various members' grudges against the Freedom League. Good thing there were only four members here tonight... but that left him wondering where the others were. "I'm guessing one of the guys in the picture isn't Dr. Simian. I mean, unless he managed to tuck that giant flying Barcalounger of his off-screen. Don't think they have any other psychics on the team, which means we throw up any red flags just by being there. Odds are we can stay hidden with a simple 'port without having to cover all that ground - which might leave us open if their fourth guy is hiding on top of one of the displays, standing watch."

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Edge went ahead and did as suggested, teleporting the group not into the janitor's closet (which after all might have a squeaky door or be occupied by stuff, and thus a difficult place in which to operate from quietly at best), but rather into the adjoining alcove that connected the Allies of Freedom exhibit to the section devoted to the Liberty League proper. That put the group out of sight of the supervillains in the adjoining wing, and gave them time to make any final plans in the low red glow of the emergency lights by the exit door there before finally moving out. Mark was learning tactical strategems, or maybe he was just familiar with the internal layout of the place because he'd spent so much time there over the years. Man, the Jimmy Lucas lamp is just a mockup, but they'd still better not mess with it.

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"Edge and Midnight, you find that fourth guy," Wander murmured, opening her bat as she prepared to move out. "If it's Orion, we can't afford to have him at large. 'Nade, if you break west, I'll go east and we'll pinch them in the middle of the room." Nudging open the door, she blinked a few times in the dim light, then ran out on soundless feet. It seemed like it was going to be a simple operation, but she had learned better than to trust in appearances. At least she had a team at her back she trusted completely when things went sour.

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"Gotcha," said Cannonade. "All right, let's take these guys out."

He and Wander took the corners, while Edge and Midnight began the sweep for the fourth man. He leaned in, trying to catch some hint of noise from the trio - and was greeted by the jingling of bells.

"I wish you'd left that thing at home," muttered a figure in black. From the metallic hint to the voice, he guessed it was Devil Ray.

"Leave the regalia behind?" chimed in Wildcard. "You might as well ask a leopard to leave its spots, or a cop to leave his donuts."

"Can it," whispered the third. The voice sounded familiar, but Cannonade couldn't place it. "Not like we've got a lot of time before --"

That sounded like a cue if he'd ever heard one. Cannonade came barreling around the corner, aiming for the source of the third voice. As Wander joined him, the figure leapt out of the way, positioning himself on a nearby glass case. Only as the third man came to rest did Cannonade get a glimpse of his muted fatigues and night vision goggles.

Orion's out in the open? Then who the hell's the fourth guy?

"Oh, good!" said Wildcard. "You have no idea how boring this was getting! This should liven it up!"

"Yeah, well..." Cannonade cracked his knuckles. "Be careful what you wish for."

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Edge's voice sounded clear as a bell over everyone's commlink, a reassuring reminder that heroes didn't abandon their own. He wasn't very good at hiding, but he could just stick around behind the door and wait to pick off any fleeing bad guys. Given who was doing the fighting, he was supremely confident the bad guys would be running. "All right, Liberty League. This is our place, and they're among the things of our people. Let's go out there and show them that when you mess with the history of heroes, heroes show up and make sure that YOU're history." Mark was pretty offended by bad guys laying their hands on his family's stuff; or even their feet.

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Wander's brow furrowed as Cannonade ran straight up to the villains and announced his intent to attack them, loud enough to raise the dead. Maybe they needed some further discussion about how to run an effective pincer tactic. It was hard to remember sometimes that he hadn't had the combat training that the Young Freedom veterans had gotten at school, which put him at something of a disadvantage. At any rate, his bold move had provided a distraction, so she moved quickly to take advantage of it.

After making sure that Orion's eyes were trained momentarily on Cannonade, Wander leapt into the air, vaulting nearly to the top of the rotunda ceiling and well over Orion's head before dropping to land behind him, three display cases away. Holding her bat like an oversized nightstick, she raced at top speed over the cases before falling off, bat-first, right on top of the unwitting Orion in a move that carried them both to the ground.

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The veteran assassin hit the ground with a satisfying thump as both Wander and he dismounted from the case, Wander more gracefully than her quarry. Devil Ray, noticing the incapacitation of their main firepower, raised his fist towards Wander. "Get off him, girl," he said, "or I'm gonna string you up and give him a real easy target."

"You? You couldn't hit a dead cow in an open field."

The voice crept out of the darkness, as Midnight quickly noticed the shape that had been hidden in the shadows before. It unfurled and stepped forward, revealing a man in black tactical gear and a helmet that looked like a cross between a motocross rider's and a fighter pilot's. He carried in his hands something like a rifle that Cannonade had sworn he'd seen the last time he'd visited an AEGIS institution. He raised the rifle, clicked off the safety, and opened fire on Devil Ray, pellets of concussive force tearing into his armor. The armored crook shuddered a little as the blasts bounced off his armor, looking down at the dents.

"Gonna take me a while to get those out, soldier boy," he said. "Who're you supposed to be? Their black bag man?"

"Never seen the guy before," said Cannonade as he moved towards the prone Orion. "But hey, if he feels like kicking your asses, don't think I'm gonna be quick to object." He brought his fist down on the staggered assassin, aiming for a solid knockout blow - but somehow, mid-air, the swing went wild, catching Orion hard in the bread basket but not enough to send him into unconsciousness. "The hell --"

"Naughty, naughty!" A brace of cards hit Cannonade right in the face. He managed to wrench his eyes shut just in time, but noticed from the feel as they slid off his toughened skin that Wildcard wasn't carrying the standard Hoyle deck - unless Hoyle has started to line their cards with razor wire. "Thought you heroes knew not to hit a guy when he was down. Why, who do you think you are? Us?"

Devil Ray didn't have much time for witticisms, as he just lashed out at the armored man with steel cables running out of his back. The man ably dodged the lashes, though, keeping his rifle trained on the exoskeleton. "No," he said. "I've got a good idea I'm not you. And the name's Vanguard, by the way."

"Good to hear. Maybe we can trade business cards after these jokers are done with."

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From the shadows, Midnight watched the newcomer carefully. Vanguard matched the description of someone who'd cropped up in a few other American cities, demonstrating military training and hardware. The AEGIS rifle put the legacy hero slightly on edge; whether he'd come by it legitimately or not, access to that tech didn't immediately recommend him. More than that, Midnight knew they themselves had responded quickly to the silent alarm, teleporting into the museum. It wasn't impossible for Vanguard to have already been there but it was certainly suspicious.

They'd have to sort that out later, however, with the current fight already underway. Without bothering with banter or threats, he appeared from nowhere to bring an escrima stick down across the back of Wildcard's head in a simple, devastating blow. He wasn't taking any chances with anyone who dealt in Edge's stock and trade.

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Suddenly, the statues of the first Bowman and Arrow directly behind Devil Ray came alive, wrapping their powerful arms around the armored supervillain and holding him fast. Edge was concentrating on the man, the air around him seeming to vibrate as the animate statues wrapped their arms around him in a mighty grip. "Listen, you need to surrender now before you actually make my friends and I mad," said Edge firmly, Mark's usually-cheery persona a little thin with his family's history so threatened. "You're what, bulletproof in that thing?" The armor creaked slightly in the grip of the heroes of the past. "If I can do that to you, what can I do to these other guys? We are mighty heroes and you are a bunch of history pirates!"

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Wander had glanced up in surprise as the mysterious character revealed himself as a potential ally, rather than a hidden threat. She didn't necessarily trust her first impressions, but the beating he was dishing out to Devil Ray did speak well for him. With Orion flattened under her feet, she allowed herself the luxury of watching the fight for a moment, satisfied that her teammates were doing their usual efficient work in smiting the villains. Mark seemed a little more, hmm, intense than usual, but some of these exhibits had probably belonged to his family.He had a personal stake in this one.

As for herself, well, she had work to do. The moment Orion started to get up, she was after him again. There was no way she was going to let him get his hands on that gun. Raising her bat, she didn't strike with it this time, but instead anchored it atop two display cases on opposite sides of the aisle, then pulled herself up on it as smoothly as a gymnast on the uneven bars. Two quick flips around the bat let her build up momentum, which she then put to use by slamming her feet, heels first, directly into Orion's chest. "Surrendering is always an option," she agreed with Edge. "Or the STAR Squad can carry you out, either way." Orion seemed to be ready to take the second choice.

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Orion tried to brace for the attack, even roll with it - but there was only so much rolling you could do when someone like Wander made contact. He slammed to the ground, hard, lying unconscious on the marble floor.

"Nooooooo!" cried Wildcard. "He was a... well, he was... well, he owed me money anyway! How could you --"

Wildcard was cut off as Vanguard opened fire, the pellets catching him upside the head and knocking a few of those damned bells off his jester's cap. "Has anyone," he said with a voice like distant thunder, "told you you're not funny?"

"Aw, c'mon!" said Cannonade. "I bet he's gotten plenty of laughs." He strode forward towards the bound Devil Ray, taking advantage of the situation and delivering a solid blow to the armored thief's side, putting another good dent in the armor. "In a police line-up, in court, when he's with that special lady --"

"Everyone's a comedian!" yelled the fiendish fool. "And you need a lesson in kicking a man when he's down! Get 'em, Ray!"

Devil Ray pushed against the arms of the statues... but they refused to budge. He seemed to get a second wind, and even a third, but Edge's power was stronger than Devil Ray's suit. He was still caught in the mess of bronze.

"Uh... Ray?"

"I was wrong. I think that was your funniest joke yet."

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Before Wildcard could come up with a rejoinder, a gloved hand gripped his shoulder firmly enough to be painful. "Pay attention," Midnight growled in a voice like gravel being pressed into razor sharp diamond. Pulling his arm back to turn the jester about he slammed the escrima stick in the other hand across Wildcard's chin. The force was enough to knock the villain out of Midnight's grip and stumbling back several tripping steps. The calm way the black clad vigilante followed made it clear that he was not to be ignored.

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Wildcard's stumbling journey carried him straight into Wander's path, just as she was turning away from the unconscious Orion. She automatically took on this new challenge, feinting with a quick bounce off a display case before diving into him, but the tight quarters and his natural luck control put the odds in Wildcard's favor this time. He dodged at the last moment, leaving Wander to come up in a neat tumble, her bat having brushed past him close enough to ruffle his hair. "Let's wrap this up," she said in disgust, rising once again to her feet.

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"Agreed," said Vanguard, taking advantage of the gap left open by Wander. He opened fire, the suppressive rounds catching Wildcard right in the side. The impact was enough to leave the obnoxious jester at a loss for words - and consciousness. Devil Ray took one look at his unconscious teammate and struggled harder against his bonds, trying to break free from his statuary prison. Cannonade, however, stepped in and delivered a solid blow to Devil Ray's midsection, sending the crook rattling about his own battlesuit. He went limp, passing out in the immobile arms of the statues.

"Well, that's them taken care of," said Cannonade. He thought for a second, then slapped his forehead "Probably would be nice if we could ask them what the hell they were doing here."

"I have some smelling salts in my gear," said Vanguard. "Guaranteed to wake the dead. If you'd just secure them, we could get them ready for interrogation."

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That sounded a little ominous, but Edge wouldn't have fought along Midnight and Wander so long if talking threateningly about bad guys gave him ethical qualms. He was too busy summoning quick-drying emergency concrete to pin down the bad guys by the legs, taking advantage of something he usually made for civilian purposes for the United Nations. "Just don't break anything in here, you guys. Lousy thugs, putting their hands on this stuff. They've got to get better security in here." He paused for a moment, took a breath, then seemed to center himself as he looked down at the unconscious Wildcard. "Geez, I was hoping that was the imposter guy from Boston again. Wildcard must be using again."

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"Wait," Midnight demanded once Edge has made sure the unconscious villains weren't going anywhere. The black clad vigilante placed himself between them and Vanguard, narrowing his eyes behind his mask's ruby lenses. "Explanation, first." Though the phrasing was terse, it was clear that the cold, gravelly words were demanding to know what the well-equipped interloper had been doing there in the first place. The Crime League would keep until they'd dealt with that mystery.

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Vanguard pulled back from the downed members of the Crime League and locked eyes with Midnight. "All right," he said. He pulled something out of his pocket that looked like a high-tech cigarette lighter and clicked it; Cannonade noticed the light on one of the security cameras flicker for a second before coming back on in full.

"Cameras are on a replay loop for a minute," he said. "You'll excuse me for the paranoia, but security's important in this business. Least, from what I hear." He reached up and pulled off his mask; even in the dim light of the room, the members of the League could make out a man in his late twenties, with Hellenic features and close-cropped black hair. "The name is Jay Milonakis. Late of the 101st Airborne. If you want to check my record, I've got five years to my name in the field and three months to my name in New York."

Cannonade looked him up and down. "That'd explain the hardware," he said. "So why'd you come in the back way?"

"I was following them," he said. Vanguard snuck a peek at his watch, then slipped his mask back on. "Ran into Doctor Stratos up in New York City. Took him down... eventually. He'd tried raiding the back stacks of the New York Public Library, trying to raid some rare book display. He wasn't exactly willing to answer - to either me or the NYPD - so I thought I'd try to get some intel out of his buddies."

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Wander looked the newcomer up and down, listened to his story, and decided he was trustworthy enough... for now, anyway. Freedom City was crawling with heroes, so this wasn't exactly the first time she'd met a stranger who turned out to be an ally. "Do you know what they were after?" she asked Vanguard, even as she hauled Orion to his feet and checked his pupils to see if he was ready to come around any time soon. "People are always getting into the museums around here, but there doesn't seem to be anything here valuable enough for so much of the Crime League to show up and try for it."

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"Weird that they'd be around here, too. There's not a lot of powerful mystic artifacts stored here," with some exceptions, Mark thought with just a glance at the bottle that had once held his grandfather's genie. "Unless they're doing something really bad like stealing old heroic artifacts, most of the powerful stuff isn't even kept in this museum." That was something Mark certainly knew plenty about, even if he didn't know much about anything else. "This is mostly artifacts that are just about hero history and the fights the League had back in the 1940s and 1950s. Midnight, does anything ring a bell here for you?" Mark inquired of Trevor.

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