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Ace In The Hole (IC)

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8 AM

January 15, 2013

On a quiet Tuesday morning in January, Darren, Morgan, and Giang all found themselves called into the Headmaster's office. Normally that wasn't a good thing when you were in high school, but the private message sent to them from the Headmaster had stressed the urgency, and secrecy, of the situation. Summers greeted them all by the door as they came in, shaking their hands with a firm grip and guiding them to seats in front of his desk. "Thank you all for coming," said the venerable old man gravely. "I've called you here to let you know that the school, and the city, are facing a serious crisis. Some of you are some of my most experienced students," he said with a nod to Morgan, "others some of my newest," he said with a similar look at Darren, "and others of you have come to the school with experience," he added with a look at Giang. "I'm sure all of you have heard the rumors of a new plot by the Terminus against Freedom City." What hero hadn't, who had any ear to the grapevine at all?

"I'm calling you in to let you know...that there may be agents of that plot active right here in Claremont Academy. "

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Darren sat in one of the chairs and held a latte between his hands, resting on one knee. His other knee was already bouncing as his foot tapped soundlessly against the floor of the Headmaster's office. The last time he'd been sent to the principal's office, he'd gotten quite a lecture, but he'd avoided having to have a talk with Summers since his transfer. Darren didn't feel particularly better when he heard that the city was in trouble rather than himself. He took a sip of his coffee, just cool enough to drink without scalding him.

"I've heard some things, yeah, but I thought it was, like, crazy conspiracy nut stuff. Someone's always saying the Terminus is invading, again. But if you believe it, it's probably true." Darren took another drink and his restless leg eased and settled. He glanced down at the floor a moment before meeting Summers' eye. "You want us to help, right? What should we do?"

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Morgan took his seat, a face looking all kinds of flat as he dropped a ubiquitous, well-battered duffel bag beside the chair. He'd been called from a training session in the Doom Room, and still bore a few bruises from that run - infiltration mission against Foundry forces. Had to fool computers instead of tricking or knocking out soldiers, and getting spotted meant instant alarms. Not to mention state-of-the-art bleeding edge security systems everywhere including ventilation shafts.

He'd been having a whale of a good time. Though to note, with that in mind - the flat expression was not for the headmaster. Morgan just found it a bit rough getting out of Crow headspace so soon after practice.

Of course, mention of the Terminus didn't help a single bit to ease his mind on that score. He knew full well that his dad had barely squeaked out from getting killed himself during the great Invasion, and if he'd been in Freedom City instead of Boston...

Morgan bit back the urge to shiver. That place was a realm of nightmares, with nightmares for soldiers. And they'd come here. To his school. Near his friends. For more than a few moments, restrained fury mixed with an icy cold feeling in the pit of his stomach (as if someone had emptied a tub of freezing water into it) pulled his equilibrium left and right. And when he managed to get some words out, he was absolutely stunned at how calm he sounded.

"We find them, and we clear them out - fast."

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Giang had made her way to the Headmaster's office immediately after receiving the message from him. She had been attending some of the regular classes at the school, and was dressed as one would expect most any teenager at high school. Once in his office, she had regarded to two young men who had also been called for a brief moment before taking one of the seats in the office, sitting perfectly upright as she listened to the Headmaster explain why he had called them.

It had been only a little over a week since she sat in this very office and first been told by Headmaster Summers of his concerns regarding a threat from the Terminus. After returning home from the trip to the Lost World with Cerys, John and Subito shortly after that meeting, the Asian teen had spent nearly all her free time in the school's library, researching all she could find about the Terminus, determined to know as much as possible should she be called on to help deal with the threat, as had been hinted during her first meeting with Headmaster Summers.

Her fellow students both spoke up first, one seemingly a bit nervous about the idea, the other with a clear, focused determination to stop the agents of the Terminus plot. While Giang herself was nervous about the idea of facing agents of the Terminus, she kept those feeling in check, maintaining a calm and focused demeanor. For all the turmoil that surrounded her feelings regarding her true father and family, Kong Zi had at least insured that she had been well trained to attempt to deal with such a threat, or die trying.

"Headmaster, do you have any clues at who these agents might be?" She asked, allowing the question itself to express her intentions.

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"I do," said Summers, his brow furrowing and storm clouds seeming to appear over his grey head. "As much as it pains me to admit it, I believe that agents of the Terminus, both from Nihilor and hired mercenaries from this dimension, have replaced some or all of the members of the current iteration of Young Freedom. I suspect that the machine intelligence known as Sharl Tulink was replaced with an Annihilist version of himself, whereas a member of a predatory alien race known as the Kinigosi is currently passing for Indira Singh." They were frightening words for any Claremont student; Sharl and Indira were both among the most powerful, well-connected students at the school, and the rest of Young Freedom was no better. "But I won't act against any of my students without proof, which is why I want you all to help me." He looked from one to the other, his usually grim face more serious than they'd ever seen it. "I want you to be down in the administration security vault, watching on the live feed in my office, when I confront their team in an hour. They're returning from a 'rescue' mission to another dimension, which I believe was a code for gathering supplies for an attack against the civilian population of the city. I know I'm taking a risk, but..." Summers looked away for a moment, his old man's voice tightening for a fraction. "They're my students, my children. Their fate is my responsibility, and if I can find out if any of them have been compromised...well, it's worth a little risk to this old man."

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Morgan sat there, just soaking it in. He didn't have words for this situation - really, really he didn't. Not a damn thing he could say could encompass the feeling that he was undergoing hearing of this level of subversion...

And the kicker is he knew more than one of them. He'd met Mali, he'd sparred with her, she was someone just like him. No powers, nothing but what she'd sweat and bled for. These were her friends, she'd aimed high and became allies with some of the greatest Claremont had to offer. Classmates - maybe he didn't know them, but he'd seen many of them in passing, heard about their actions through the grapevine. And now they were...what? Corrupted? Replaced? Intending to do what? Drag all of Claremont into the black? What if Summers was short on his intel? What if they all were replaced? Could they fight them?


He shook his head. Let out a single shiver from his head to his toes. Too little. Too little information, and too little time. Damnit. Morgan cast a glance at the two beside him, trying to get a read on what they felt, how they were reacting.

Mathair na trocaire, he was scared out of his gourd! All he could think of was the worst - all he could focus was on the chaos. A deep breath - he needed a deep breath. And let himself draw back into the Crow headspace, reaching for the cold and the calm. It took more than a few moments for it to finally settle in, focusing on what could be done. He started staring at the new problem from all angles. Dispassionate - objective. Frightening. If Young Freedom really was corrupted, then they were looking at a maximum disaster scenario. Worse than when Megastar had gone rogue the year prior; and they'd barely locked him down. Brian'd nearly been killed. Nearly.

"Bad." He murmured, closing his eyes to think. He'd need dossiers. Information on all of them - he knew the layout of the office building, but frankly that wouldn't do much knowing their respective powers. Beating them would be next to impossible. Containment was unlikely. Five individuals of varying power levels; a machine intelligence whose technical skills were likely unsurpassed, a powerful alien with skills likely far more honed than their own, a mixed martial arts specialist who had thrashed him in particular in the ring multiple times, a literal ghost...at best they were looking at delaying actions. Stonewalling them until they could get the faculty in, and Summers out of the line of fire.

...the eyes finally popped open, and Crow looked at Headmaster Summers with a an eerie demeanor. Tough, unyielding - he looked way too young for it to work, but he'd been training it since the first year. Fitting the persona he'd built.

"Headmaster. Full disclosure. Watching, possible; - but worst-case scenario...what do you want us to do?"

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"Some or all of Young Freedom? Seriously?" Darren's face scrunched up, somewhere between disbelief and anger. He pinched the bridge of his nose and hummed low in his throat, but otherwise stayed quiet. Instead, he drained the rest of his coffee and looked from Morgan to Giang to Summers. He sighed and his face smoothed out, making room for calm to take over. "I want to say, like, that this is way out of my pay grade, 'cause it is, and I'm sure you know that, Mr. Summers. But..." another dramatic exhale, "if this is seriously a Terminus invasion, infiltration, whatever, we can't back down."

Darren folded his arms and chewed his lip. "I agree with Crow's tasteful omission, though, if something happens, we aren't going to be able to stop Young Freedom. Maybe, maybe, we can take down Sharl or Indira, one or the other." He clicked his tongue against his teeth. "So what, exactly, do you want us to do when the watching's over?"

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Giang sat stoically as Headmaster Summers explained what he believed to be the situation, and the likely opposition they might face. It was not that she was not afraid, she had heard enough in her short time at Claremont to respect the threat the members of Young Freedom represented, and the reactions of her two classmates certainly reinforced the incredibly daunting task that faced them. It was more that she knew giving in to the fear would not accomplish anything positive in this situation.

While she did not know a great deal about the capabilities of the members of Young Freedom, she did know that they outnumbered her and the others by at least two to one. Every ancient text on warfare she had studied growing up told her that was not the odds one wanted to face, at least, not without a means of weakening the opposition first and there seemed very little likelihood of that. The tactics of Genghis Khan involved mobility and maneuver, wearing an opponent down until they could be encircled and then decimated. Again, that did not seem likely in the present circumstances, if anything, the members of Young Freedom were by far the more mobile and maneuverable.

But the worst case scenario primarily existed if all the members of Young Freedom had been replaced, something the Headmaster was not entirely sure of. If the imposters could be exposed, then it was likely that others would seek to stop them as well.

Giang sat silent as she considered that possibility, and waited for Headmaster Summers to answer the similar questions posed by her two companions.

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"I'm counting on you three to be the first line of defense for the rest of the school," said Summers gravely. "Along with whatever members of Young Freedom have not already been corrupted. If the worst does happen, you will delay Young Freedom long enough for the rest of the school to rally your defense. Your defense will defend our school _and_ the world from what could potentially be the gravest threats it has ever faced. There is some risk involved, but if you think it's too dangerous..." It was the sort of implied question no teenage hero could answer any other way, and so within a few minutes Summers was leading them all downstairs to the big security vault underneath the administration building. There was plenty to do down here, even once Summers had left them: detailed diagrams of the top floors of the building, non-lethal weapons like electrified net guns, glue bombs, and other devices designed to hold supervillains or rampaging seniors alike, and lots and lots of material about their enemies. Young Freedom, or, rather, the enemies passing for them, certainly sounded grim: Kinigosi were evidently a race of predatory carnivores with an appetite for the kinds of heavy metal found in human bones, where electronic intelligences like Sharl were notorious for being among the most brutal of killers of superheroes.

Upstairs, eventually Summers gave the signal that Young Freedom was arriving and turned on the monitor inside his office. The black and white feed from behind the front door wasn't great quality, but he'd explained this way there was no way to jam it at this frequency. Young Freedom came in and took their seats, and Sharl, looking edgy and nervous, like a coke addict maybe, started explaining what had happened: how Young Freedom had crossed into another dimension and allied with the murderous cyber-intelligences there, had 'persuaded them' not to be evil anymore through some shaky-sounding mechanism, and then returned carrying their biological weapons back to Freedom City. And then the signal, despite Summers' promises of earlier, began to fuzz out...and then it all happened at once: Citizen shoved his hand through Summers' chest, causing sparks so bright they seemed to fry out the camera for a second. Just as everyone down in the Vault was on their feet, the signal cleared up again; Young Freedom was all standing over the burnt corpse of Duncan Summers while Wraith bent low over the body and began to tug and yank his flesh open...

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Crow preemptively halted anyone who even twitched with an iron-backed bark; one that resounded in the room below. "Don't move."

He took in the scene on the monitor with a dispassionate eye. If he did more than that, he might break down and fall apart right there on the cold steel floor. Summers was an inspiration to him - an old friend of his father's, a tough as nails, cold operator whose example he had strove to live up to every damn time he pulled that cowl over his head. He was part of the influences on his best glare, the voice he used to intimidate, his posture, his demeanor - ye gods and little fishes, even the gadgets he used.

And now he was dead.

It wasn't that Morgan wasn't affected by it; he'd never seen death before - least of all a violent one. Hell, he took pride in making sure even the Fomorians he caught weren't killed, but sent back. Granted, with more than a few broken bones and bruises, but alive. But he couldn't afford to be affected now. Not with this. Not with two lives depending on his plan; both Darren and Giang - good people, solid people - folks he'd call friends if he knew them better...and far more lives than that if all the work they did before going down to that vault was bollixed. Electrical nets down the corridors - funnel them into areas stuffed to the gills with glue bombs, sonic emitters, concussive explosives. Warded, slap-dash reinforced walls to hold them back. All non-lethal, but extremely effective. Damn straight Crow wasn't affected, because he knew one cold, hard, undeniable fact.

It was down to them now.

"Keep Wraith off-balance, and draw her to the sonic disruptors. Make sure Citizen's kept close to the electrical nets; shock and awe, or he'll fry you hard. Koshiro can manipulate paper into a staggering assortment of lethal weapons - and he's in an office building. Keep him, Glow, and Crimson Tiger near the glue bombs - lock down limbs ASAP. And watch for Ghost Girl - if she moves into play, get the hell out of Dodge as fast as possible."

Gods, he wished Vicky was here. He felt the ring under his glove and clenched his fist; there was a moment like the room was holding it's breath, perhaps...then the same fist lashed out, slamming hard into the screen and cracking the glass. And his next words were flat and cold as the grave - not looking in any direction but at that broken screen.

"We stick to the plan. No deviations. No restraint. Hold them here, and make damn sure they pay for every inch of ground."

Another breath. And he finally put that damn iron mask back over his face. "Now cut power. Gear up. And pray. We're going to work."

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Darren didn't move, except to roll his eyes just slightly at Crow's tone. He had changed out of his civilian clothes into a spare costume he kept on campus precisely in case of these inevitable disasters. His skin was transformed into cloudy blue crystal, which cast the lights of the Vault into a pool around his fuzzy shadow. Darren held his jaw set and his arms crossed even as he watched the camera feed. Summers was dead, probably, and it was up to him and two strangers to take down Young Freedom.

"This is going to suck. Like, a lot." Darren snapped his fingers and a white crystal grew in the open air. It stayed low and flat, extended out to roughly the size of a snowboard, and then floated towards the ground, where it stayed two inches off the floor. He stepped onto the board and rubbed the back of his neck. Darren put his hand on the breaker and flipped it, cutting power to the building. "Time to knock out Young Freedom."

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As Giang had watched the scene unfolding on the monitor she took measured, slow breaths, trying to keep herself from tensing and remain calm. She had not bothered to change and was still wearing what she had on when she had first reported to Summers' office. When the image when fuzzy, she took a deep breath, her jaw clenching slightly as she tried to retain her composure. When the scene came back, the worst scenario appeared to have unfolded. As Crow barked out his order to remain in place, the Asian teen glanced over with a slightly cross look. But it quickly passed, and she said nothing, understanding it would not do to have any of them rush heedlessly into things and throw off Crow's carefully planned trap.

While she had not known Headmaster Summers for any real length of time, the likelihood that he was dead still affected her. But for now, she could not afford to allow emotions to cloud her thinking, they faced long enough odds as it was.

Nodding slightly as Crow reiterated the plan to try to keep the members of Young Freedom off balance, the Asian teen drew on her powers and a shimmering sheen of water began swirling around her body.

"I am ready." She stated as she moved over towards the door.

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