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trollthumper

Celebrating Liberty Through Meat and Explosions [IC]

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July 4th, 2012
5:32 PM


Joe Macayle stepped off the bus, feeling a bit out of his element amongst the swirling labyrinth of classical mansions. He'd been here quite a few times before, but usually at night and usually with an eye towards the back entrance. But standing before the gates of the Hunter Estate, in broad daylight, he really wondered if this was his place. Usually he didn't give a crap about things like this, but somehow, the invite had stirred up some lingering traces of self-consciousness. He'd come fairly dressed down - a fairly simple tee, jeans, and Docs, even leaving the braces at home in favor of a belt - carrying a cooler full of burgers in one hand and another full of ribs in the other. And yet, somehow, he found himself standing at the gate, wondering if he should turn back, get some better clothes or something.

He shook his head. What the hell, he said. They've taken me as I am so far. With that, he rang the buzzer.

"I'm here," he said into the intercom. "Don't know if I'm early or not..."

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The gate clicked open for him immediately, swinging back to allow him down the long, long driveway to the estate. In just a moment Erin jogged up, modulating her speed so she looked like a normal runner to anyone who might be passing on the street. In blue shorts and a yellow Claremont t-shirt, she looked ready for a picnic, and a lot more relaxed than he usually saw her. "Hey Joe," she called as she approached. "Glad you could make it. Trevor's around back with the grill, so you're right on time. Mark'll probably fall out of the sky any minute. Let me help you with that." She took the cooler of burgers from him, holding it as effortlessly as if it were empty. "Did you have any trouble finding the place?"

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"Kinda hard to miss," said Joe, still getting used to seeing the mansion in the daylight. And on the outside. "Mind you, in this part of town, it's kinda like trying to pick out the right zebra at the watering hole." He walked through the gate, taking in the sheer depth of the lawn. Off in the distance he could see trailing smoke - either it was Trevor at the grill, or the start of a very small forest fire. "Glad we're doing this. I mean, not that the intelligence briefings were bad get-togethers, but it's good to do it in the light of day. And it's hard to choose a more appropriate day." He scanned the horizon. "Think we're gonna get a good look at the fireworks from here."

Just hope that's all the fireworks we get today.

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"Oh yeah, we watched them from here last year, and they're awesome," Erin replied, swinging the cooler like a lunchbox. The driveway went on and on, but finally opened onto the Manor itself, an old and stately home, well maintained, with a substantial extra helping of garage on the side. From previous visits, Joe had the idea that there was even more garage underground, the better to hold all the various Night Vehicles. "You want something to drink?" she asked. "We've got all kinds of stuff, mostly different kinds of soda and water, but there's fruit punch with vanilla ice cream and frozen blueberries that turned out pretty good too." She led him around the side of the house to the back, which was another journey in and of itself. "It's a lot hotter than last year, but the porch is air conditioned if we want to go inside."

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As if summoned, the sky overhead rippled as if the heat waves were getting especially intense. A moment later, Mark Lucas descended on a pillar of white smoke and puff of noise, a big silvery pack on his back showing how he was staying in the air. He landed, pressed a button, and the jetpack shut itself off. "You guys. You guys, I have a jetpack." He grinned. "I got it on loan for the holiday, and tried to fly here, but I got bored so I just popped in instead and-" Smiling, he took off the pack and set it down, then swept up first Erin, then Joe in a hug. "Oh man, when was the last time we all got together like this, just for fun? It's totally awesome. Is Trevor doing the meat thing?" he asked Erin.

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"Phrasing, Mark," Trevor called calmly from in front of the monstrous contraption that had originally been at least six or seven separate grills of varying size. Not surprisingly, the mechanically inclined young man in the sunglasses and apron had disassembled each in turn and built a multi-compartment beast in its stead, capable of barbequing truly impressive quantities of food while requiring significantly more involved operation. Some of its components appeared to be automotive; there was definitely at least one hubcap involved, and an awful lot of fire.

Trevor himself looked a little out of place in the direct summer sun, his pale skin liberally applied with sunscreen and his ever present fedora providing only minimal shade. Despite the beverages Erin had listed, the mug readily at hand was clearly filled with coffee, warm enough to be steaming. Some combination of those factors likely explained the trickle of inky mist rising from the back of his neck as he mopped his brow with an oven mitt. He gestured with the tongs in his other hand toward an umbrella covered patio table and several chairs, turning in the process to reveal red letters on his black apron which read 'Making A Midnight Snack'.

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"I think I'll take a soda for now," Joe said, "though I might try some of that punch later." He was soon distracted by the array of wonders that should've been somewhat familiar by now. Trevor's organ-like monstrosity of a grill drew his attention first; while he hadn't handled anything much larger than the small, circular thing on his family's balcony and hadn't had much cause to cook more than burgers, he felt a distinct desire to get behind that thing and immolate some meat. At least, until he saw Mark's toy.

"Any chance I could borrow that?" It temporarily escaped Joe's mind that he was perfectly capable of clearing great distances unaided. "I mean, if I can. Not sure what kinda rental agreement comes with that thing."

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Erin carried the coolers of meat over to the grill for Trevor, then poured herself a glass of punch and sat down on the edge of the picnic table. "Careful," she advised Joe, "there are some things that only work safely because Mark is driving them, not because they're safe." She watched Trevor grilling for a minute, feeling no desire to stand in front of the hot grill herself, but enjoying the show. Her skin was as pale as his, but her superhuman durability meant she didn't need to bother with sunscreen even in a heat waye.

"Is Travis going to come out and eat with us?" she asked Trevor. "We could move it up to the porch with the shade and air conditioning for him." Months of exposure had tempered the initially awkward relationship there, and though Erin still held the first Midnight in a bit of awe, she had a great deal of affection for him as well. He was, after all, the only parental figure Erin and Trevor had between the both of them.

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"I didn't bring the manual," said Mark as he handed the jetpack over to Joe, "but you're basically bulletproof so it should be fine, right? Just try and use it somewhere far away from anything, so you don't crash into houses or into people if you have an accident. That's no way to spend the holiday!" He cracked open an ice-cold canned lemonade, so cold the condensation was still on it, and admired Trevor's impressive barbecue gear. "That is totally an awesome grillset, Trevor," he said with real respect, "You could feed half the neighborhood on that thing! Oh man, is that a Wagner?" He said, bending down to admire one of the base grill units. If Mark knew anything, it was summertime gear. "That is sweet." He pulled on a Freedom City Rocks baseball cap against the heat and stretched.

"Man, it's hot," he said, shielding his eyes as he looked up at the sun. "Are we sure there's not a giant magnifying glass up there, trying to melt the city?"

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"Wasn't sure what everyone would want," Trevor admitted fiddled with dials with one hand and checked to make sure the gears weren't catching anymore on the device rotating several long skewers. He wasn't really used to entertaining company and had defaulted to his policy of all-encompassing preparation and redundant back-ups. Now that he was actually looking at all of the food in front of him it was clearly excessive but he was stubbornly determined to cook it all to the best of his ability. "Hmm. Probably a good idea," he nodded to Erin, looking over his shoulder toward the house for a moment before quickly turning back as a sudden burst of flame belched from one of the grill's segments.

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"Don't think it's a supervillain thing," said Joe, "unless Stratos got a hell of a lot more subtle. Just another hot and hazy summer day." He studied the jetpack a bit more while reaching for a can of lemonade, starting to regret the idea of wearing jeans out on a day like this. While the breeze from the Great Bay was certainly helping, Summer was certainly coming in with a vengeance. "Not really worried about myself," he said, feeling the make and material of the jetpack, "but like you said, everyone else is a bit of a risk. And the pack, I guess. I mean, what sorta material is this? I'm guessing it'd hold up in an accident, but I don't wanna leave you having to pay for it if something goes bad."

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"Probably more comfortable for all of us on the porch," Erin decided, "it's only going to get hotter." She stood and tossed Trevor the squirt bottle of water on the table next to her, trusting that he would easily field the improvised fire extinguisher even when he was looking elsewhere. Keeping her cup in one hand, she lifted the entire picnic table and its contents of drinks, fruit and various deli salads with the other hand and began carrying it towards the house. "Try not to set the yard on fire," she called over her shoulder, but whether she was referring to the grillmaster or the jetpack duo was not immediately obvious.

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"Oh, I didn't bring the manual," said Edge, "is that bad? Ah, I'm sure you can handle it," he said, confidently handing it over to his ally. After all he'd seen Joe handle, he was sure the patriotic powerhouse could handle a jetpack. "My, uh, mom says hello, everybody," he added to the others as he started the walk back towards the comforting shade of the porch: Mark tanned handsomely and readily, but it was just so darn hot. "and that she'd have been happy to come if she wasn't occupied with her date." His face clouded for a moment at that thought, then went on, "but that's just for today. The, uh, guy seems nice; it's actually one of the guys from the Andi collecting community."

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"All right," said Joe. "I promise not to start any wildfires - and if I do, I'll make sure to put 'em out." As Mark talked about his mother, he started to realize that the matter was a delicate one. The sheer fact that Mark started to hesitate when speaking threw up a red flag the size of a big top tent. The bit about the guy being into Andi - what, that stuff my mom used to read? - only helped to color the impression. But Joe could tell it was a sensitive subject, so he decided discretion was the better part of valor.

Instead, he strapped into the jetpack and rested his hands on the controls. "Here goes nothing." White smoke and force trailed out of the end as Joe was lifted aloft, screaming merrily.

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Travis appeared in the doorway to the porch, leaning heavily on his cane and looking a little frailer in the white cotton shirt and tan shorts necessitated by the heat than his preferred darker, longer clothing. Age had evidently tempered the original Midnight's resolve with a measure of practicality that his protege had not yet embraced. When Mark mentioned his mother dating, Travis' mouth compressed to a thin line framed by his immaculate goatee. With a soft sigh, he turned about and headed back inside. "I'll mix you some sedative tea to take home with you," he called over his shoulder without further comment.

Catching the tossed bottle, Trevor only exchanged a look with Erin and cleared his throat uncomfortably as he turned down the heat on most of the grilling surfaces, covering them while he piled what was ready to eat of a generously sized plate. It wasn't that he wasn't glad to hear that Mark's mother was doing well; she'd certainly had a rough few years in the time he'd known her. Dating an enthusiastic fan just seemed a little unhealthy for a woman who wasn't a paragon of stability to begin with. He tried not to judge but the part of him that actively anticipated problems and prevented them cringed inwardly. "Who's having what?" he asked.

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Erin blinked at the news about Mark's mom, and even opened her mouth to comment before she realized she had nothing productive to say about the matter. Losing his dad had been very difficult for Mark, but by all accounts it had driven Martha around the bend. It was hard to tell to what extent, since Mark was very protective of his mother, but Erin suspected that there was a reason Mark didn't invite his friends over anymore, or bring his mom to any get-togethers. When Erin thought about it, she wasn't sure she'd seen Martha Lucas since graduation. Judging by what Erin had seen of her before that, Travis probably had the right idea.

She set down the table in the shade of the screened-in porch, which was itself large enough to hold an open-air restaurant. "I'll have a..." she called, only to be interrupted when Joe went caroming into the sky with a delighted yell. She shaded her hand to watch him, but for the moment he seemed to be in no real danger. "A cheeseburger," she finished. "Mark, where did you get that thing anyway?"

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"I got it from work. They were talking about making a whole team of jetpack commandos for UNISON, but the budget fell through so it didn't happen." Mark wasn't one to complain, but he'd mentioned how the United Nations agency was always chronically underfunded next to AEGIS, its American counterpart. "There was some idea I'd take that thing home and figure out how to make more, but-" He shrugged, putting his hand over his eyes to watch the soaring Joe. "I'm sure he'll be fine, I made sure to fuel that thing up before I left." He coughed a little at the brief interlude about his mom, nodding a wordless thanks Travis' way. "Oh, man, I haven't had a good American cheeseburger in forever. It's been a rough summer a lot of places."

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Joe soared through the sky like an eagle wearing lead boots. The jetpack handled just fine, bending easily to the slightest touch without going all-out into a dive bomb. The problem was handling the thrust; at one point, Joe was afraid he was going to plunge into the Great Bay until he managed to cut the throttle and pull up. That, in turn, sent him into a loop-de-loop that sheer inertia made it hard to break from. Finally, he managed to regain his bearings and aimed for a running landing. His feet bent and stretched forward, he took to the lawn, managing to slowly cut the push from the pack as he came to a gradual halt.

"Man, that thing's got some kick," he said as he waited for the pack to cool down. "May need some more lessons later. For now, think I'm gonna take a cheeseburger."

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Supposing the selection was appropriate for the date, Trevor nodded faintly and opened the door on a small refrigerated unit covered in solar panels that both redirected the scorching rays from its contents and fed its self-contained powercell. Within was a staggering selection of condiments including a number of different cheeses. "Cheddar, gruyere, bleu, mysost, limburger...?" he further questioned without turning back around, his crisp enunciation and usual gravitas carrying the words easily to the others. With his other hand, the young man lifted one of the monstrous grill's coverings, revealing a selection of buns already toasting. "White bun? Whole wheat? Sesame, poppy, herbs? Toasted rye bread, too, if you like." Typically, he had planned for every contingency.

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Erin wandered back to the grill, resting her chin on Trevor's shoulder as she looked at the selection of food. "We're gonna be eating leftover burgers for a week," she observed, not sounding particularly concerned about the possibility. "If you've got some Swiss, I'll take that." Moving to the other side of the grilling apparatus, she took out the wire cage full of grilled vegetables, ladling them into a serving bowl. "I heard they're going to be doing something special with the fireworks tonight," she commented. "Since last year everyone was cleaning up after the thing with Dr. Archeville and there wasn't much of a celebration. I wonder if the Freedom League will turn out for it."

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"I know Lady Liberty almost always comes out for the Fourth of July, so we'll probably see her this year. Captain Thunder and Bolt are dealing with the fires in Arizona so that'll probably take up most of their time." Mark said that without a trace of resentment, his old anger at the Thunder Family long since gone for more important things. He listened intently as Trevor laid out the feast, summer meals being something he regarded as important indeed. "I...I have no idea what mysost is, so let's go for it! And maybe with poppy seeds, I don't think I have to worry about a drug test." He looked up at the clear blue sky again and commented, "First Fourth of July for the new Liberty League. You know, I heard back in '42 for the old League, the ghost of Uncle Sam sent everyone into different eras of American history. My grandpa went to the Salem Witch Trials and almost got burned as a witch! Which is weird because they didn't burn any witches in colonial Salem, but there was something about a really pretty girl and her father taking exception to it, so I dunno."

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"What the hell, I'll give the mysost a try," said Joe. "And, uh... sesame... some of those grilled onions there, those look pretty good... maybe some mayo..."

He dug deep into the burger. The cheese bit deep into his tongue, and Trevor had managed to get the burger perfectly medium rare. "Huh," he said, "I'll have to get some of that mysost." He hoisted a soda high. "Here's to many more Fourths with the Liberty League. Just kinda hoping we keep the adventures to a minimum today. Much as I'm sure it'd be interesting to go back to the signing of the Constitution, or the Gettysburg Address, or the 'I Have a Dream' speech - hell, just back to when CBGB was still open - I'm kinda happy to just relax."

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"Gruyere is Swiss with more vitamins," Trevor informed Erin as he assembled burgers based on the specifications given out. The mysost was a little sweet and buttery for his taste but he suspected it was an excellent choice for Mark and Joe seemed pleased enough with it himself. None of that was anything the young detective could have attested to before preparing for the barbeque but he did like to do his research before tackling any new task. For all that, he was content to stick with a particularly sharp cheddar for himself, garnished with a traditional if not terribly inspired combination of fresh, locally grown lettuce and tomato. Producing a pad of paper from his back pocket with one hand while eating with the other, he jotted down the grocer he'd gotten the mysost from, tore off the page neatly and handed it to Joe. "Don't tempt it."

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Erin was a bit skeptical of the Gruyere suggestion, but Trevor had gone to a lot of work researching breads and cheeses for this party, so she took his word for it. It wasn't bad, she decided after sampling a bite while she walked over to the table, especially when it was loaded with condiments and veggies. Travis was still standing in the shade of the porch, watching the gathering in his usual inscrutable way. "Let me grab a plate for you," she offered, setting her own meal down next to her drink. "What do you want on your burger? The Gruyere cheese is good."

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"Yeah, time travel's not really as cool as it sounds," Mark frowned, took a few bites of his burger, and felt better. "Dimensional stuff is a lot more fun, when you're not being chased down by the embodiment of cosmic entropy, I guess." I wonder how Marcie's doing these days? His Claremont therapist, way back when, had recommended he not pursue further contact with Earth-XX, but he still could wonder. He shot a glance over at Erin and Travis and asked Trevor, sotto voice, "How's your grandpa holding up these days?" Intimidating though he was, Mark had nothing but respect and admiration for the original Midnight.

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