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January 12, 2014 

Stone Stadium 

Freedom City College


It's halftime, and the Harlem Globetrotters are in fine form. They've packed Wading Way Arena to nearly two-thirds of its 10,000 seat capacity and have held the crowd's attention with their trademark brand of basketball shenanigans and good fundamentals. Freedom City appreciates people in funny costumes with fantastic abilities, and between the cartwheels that scored that last three-point shot and the backflip slamdunk, the Globetrotters have the crowd eating out of the palm of their collective hand. Will they come from behind and make up their current two-point deficit against the hated Washington Generals? The crowd certainly hopes so! But it's half-time now, time for a bathroom or stretch break, or perhaps to make your way to the famously overflowing concession stand. Freedom City College has always been particularly international in its cuisine, and whether or not it's true that the concession stand's manager Maurice is really an alien, his hotdogs really are 'out of this world'! The crowd is happy, the game is going great - It's a good day to be alive. 

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When John handed Henry the ticket, Henry was confused. He knew what basketball was, vaguely. He knew what the Harlem Globetrotters were...kind of. All in all, he would have liked to turn the ticket down, but he decided it would be rude to refuse. Being a pragmatic man, he saw no point in wasting the ticket. So with a little bit of confusion and a tiny bit of reluctance, he went.


But, as the game went on, he found himself enjoying it. The Globetrotters were skilled, entertaining, and their athletic ability was admirable. He would have to thank John next time he saw him at the station. The game was fun and he was grateful for the ticket. Certainly beat going home to a boring night alone again.

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Sam never was one for sports, but the Globetrotters? They're an institution, and she's always up for a good show.

Come halftime, she joins the crowd at the concession stands. Nimble fingers want to get back to old habits, but she stops herself. No matter how easily she could turn a tidy profit. Probably a couple hundred without pushing it, and she'd be off without a trace.

But that's not the job anymore.

Of course, being on the straight and narrow now doesn't keep her from taking advantage of her small size and today's understated outfit to slip through the crowds and ahead of unwary bystanders in line. All's fair in love, war, and hot dogs, after all.

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At that moment, a flaming woman crashed through the glass skylight with a sound like a bomb going off. Glass and burning fragments fell on the arena floor as the halftime show, a local high school marching band, fled screaming in terror from the monster that had crashed into their moment of triumph. Cameras zoomed in on her face as she landed on the hardwood floor, her fiery body igniting the wood beneath. She looked like flame made flesh, her long red hair cascading backwards into sizzling fire, flames crackling along her skin and in her eyes, her low-cut, red costume drawing the eye as much as the heat glowing from her body made her almost difficult to look at. With a cold sneer on her fiery face, she stretched back her arm and began hurling basketball-sized chunks of liquid flame that spattered and spread like napalm. 

She didn't target the stands or the crowd, instead with deliberate, targeted intent, she hurled flame against the doors and exits of the arena itself, not a spreading fire, but covering the exits with searing flame that made them impossible to approach. As she did, a new voice broke over the arena's loudspeakers, a woman's voice - rich, warm, and soothing that somehow managed to stop the fleeing, panicking crowd in its tracks. "Attention! This is Empath Psion!" There was a camera shift, and a picture on the big board cut away to reveal a smiling woman in the broadcast booth, surrounded by awestruck-looking casters. 


"My cousin Ember," and the fiery woman glanced up angrily at that, "is just sealing the doors to make sure we aren't disturbed. We don't want to hurt any of you, really." She smiled. "We want to protect you from your enemies. But we need your cooperation. Everyone just needs to sit tight for a while and not worry, and everything will be fine." 

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'Protecting.' Right. Sam whispers several particularly colorful words in a tongue not of this world.

And 'Empath Psion?' What kind of name is that. Gives the entire plan away right there. First rule of messing with someone's brain. You don't name yourself, 'Miss I Am Messing With Your Brain.' Gods below, I knew better than to be that overt when I was ten.

She buries her face in her hand and sighs, then steps out of line as she conveniently slips the notice of everyone in the area. A subtle spell. It doesn't keep her from being seen or heard, only noticed, but that's good enough as she makes her way through the crowd. Between the two targets, she opts to go for the brainbuster. The firebrand may be able to cause all the collateral damage she wants, but if some louder cape comes along for a scrap, Empath Psion might be able to get civilians to fight for her. Or worse, brainjack the cape. Hells, for all she knows, the hothead's just that.

Well, the psychic seems happy to do some grandstanding, so as long as no one comes in swinging, the situation should be stable enough for her to observe and study, for a while at least. And figure out where they keep the door to the broadcasters' booth.

Time for a walk.

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Henry watched them closely. He had no idea who they were, what they were doing, what they wanted. He guessed that they were psychic, that was the best he could think of. Still, they were dangerous, they were bad. He wished he could just slink away and get into costume, but here he was, sitting in the stands. He couldn't guarantee that they wouldn't spot him if he tried to run for it, tried to put his costume on.


So he sat, and hoped someone, somewhere, could distract these people long enough to let him get into costume and confront them.

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Ember herded the crowds off the bleachers and onto the court, where they were soon joined by the teams and their support staff. Ember Psion was a good foot shorter than the taller members of the team, much less the crowd, but nobody seemed inclined to give the fiery woman any resistance. She passed close to Henry as she moved through the crowd, a fiery red and orange outline like a marble statue set ablaze, tossing what looked like a knife cast from purest flame from hand to hand as she made everyone sit down on the floor - luckily Henry wound up near the edge of a group. Ember cleared a space at the middle of the court, where after a few moments, there was a woosh of air and she was joined by two others. One was an old, frail-looking man in a wheelchair, wearing a homburg and suit more in fashion in Henry's day, the other a youngish man in his mid-twenties with a carefully blank face. The new arrivals came with their own cargo, a baby on the old man's lap and another in a rear-facing babypack worn by the other man. Evidently it was family day. 


"Good afternoon, everyone," said the old man, his thin, reedy old man's voice hard to hear for a moment before his companion (evidently the teleporter) vanished for an instant before returning with lap mics. "Good afternoon! Yes. My name is Professor Parker Psion. Many of you have heard of me and my family." He looked up at the cameras, his face reflected now on the in-arena television. "I am here with a message for the Atom Family. If you want these people kept safe, you will all come to this arena so that we can talk. Make sure that...powerless father figure of yours comes as well. If we are not able to speak to Jack Wolf and the rest of the Atoms within one hour, then I will be forced to have my grandchildren remind you of the superiority of the meta-race. Don't let these people become a victim of your cowardice, Jack. Come to us and bring your foster children, so I may show you mine." He spoke in a cold, chiding professorial tone, as if reminding unruly students of their transgressions. 

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Oh joy. Villainous grandstanding.

She takes stock. The front door is not an option. Best to go around. But the way their actions are shaping up, this looks like a very controlled endeavor. Planned, organized, coordinated. A well oiled machine.

Well-oiled machines tend to respond poorly to having an abrupt wrench thrown in them. And now that they've broadcast their agenda for the world to hear, the young hero has a few more cards in her hand.

They want a voice. They want control. They have a goal. Time to attack all of that, and bring a little chaos to the mix.

She heads down to the basement, going off a good idea of how these places are usually put together and pokes around a bit behind a few doors that 'conveniently just came open,' after some little bits of wire asked nicely. And then, she finds what she's looking for. A lovely wall of breakers. She could try and suss out just which breaker controls what, but she hasn't studied the plans. She'd probably get it wrong and overlook something important, leave something on she didn't think would be available, and generally hamstring her own move. So, she takes the more sensible course.

She trips them all. Every last breaker. Emergency lights and a cell phone should be plenty of light for her purposes, and their sudden drop is going to scare the baddies something fierce. Cameras, microphones, broadcast equipment. All gone. A healthy dose of chaos.

Time to get to work.

She reaches into her purse and pulls out a dollar store domino mask. Her petty little concession to the notion of a costume.

One more look at her good work, and she locks back up and heads back from whence she came. Time to relearn the board.

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Henry's face was passive, but inside he was boiling with rage. Having a problem with someone, or even a group of people, that was fine. Understandable, even. Silly as it was, a grudge was a human reaction. Using bystanders as a bargaining chip was cowardice. He could see that this man was clearly willing to do what he threatened. To harm or even kill innocents in the name of an old grudge. Likely a very old grudge, by the looks of the man giving the speech.


He considered simply charging in, but that would likely be suicide. As fast and as strong as he was, he would bring the wrath of the entire family down on him before he would have time to defend himself. That wouldn't serve anyone. Sacrifice for a noble cause was one thing, but this would probably make things worse for the people stuck in this monster's presence.


So, he had to be patient. He was a man of action, so being forced to sit and endure was hard.

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When the lights flickered off, Ember Psion swore explosively, the fiery aura surrounding her blazing to brilliant, blue-white incandescent fury. Having been up close and personal with stars, Henry could easily feel the heat that made the trapped bystanders and sports teams shy away from the infuriated pyrokinetic. Even her light wasn't sufficient to really illuminate the room, and the gym was cast into deep, confused shadows. "We've got some sneaky little wischer screwing with the lights! Let me light up a few of these nothings and we'll see if we can flush him out!" she demanded, pointing menacingly at the cowering crowd. 


"Patience, child," said the Professor firmly. "The Atoms are not subtle enough for these tricks. We must have an interloper. Perhaps an unfortunate janitor." As he spoke, the teleporter disappeared with a woof of displaced air. "Dial down your flame so you can guard your cousin," he said, nodding to Ember, "and I will send Jump below to find what has set the machinery awry." 

"What? Why do have to watch his brat?" sneered Ember, a walking feminine outline of flame as she paced around the hostages, the gym floor smoldering and melting wherever she stepped. "I'm the only one of us who can actually fight worth a goddamn!" 

"_He_ has done his duty by his family, Ember," replied Psion with a sneer to match, and even cow, his granddaughter's. "While _you_ have done nothing but hold back the future with your-!" he started coughing, a dry, raspy sound that made both Ember and the returning Jump wince. Her face screwed up with involuntary sympathy, Ember did indeed dial back the fire - as Jump lit several lanterns that cast the space around the Psions and their hostages into a glow, she took the child from Jump's back and strapped it to her own, just before Jump himself disappeared below. 

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Henry considered his options. he could not let this stand, yet he could not simply stand up. That would certainly get him beaten, and would do nothing but anger them. So, the riddle was simple, if difficult; How do you leave a crowded room and have no one see you?


Henry was not a man of science. He did not know how fast a bullet was in open air. He did not know how fast an object could move before the human eye could perceive it. He did know two things; that the human eye cannot see a bullet in motion, and that he was faster than a bullet.


So how do you leave a crowded room and have no one see you? You disappear. Henry vaulted upward as fast as he could and curved in midair once he had adequate clearance. He vanished from all visibility to a safe location, where he took his outerwear off and put on his mask. Solar Sentinel was on the job.


With that done, he decided to investigate where the lights had been killed. Whoever did that was likely in danger, and if he had a chance to jump one of the Psions while they were separate, all the better.

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"Hey! Hey, can you hear me?" Whoever it was by the door had betrayed himself when he'd called out to Kit; he'd somehow arrived there completely silently. "Listen, I know you're not one of the Atoms! I want..." He stepped forward, exposing his face and jumpsuit beneath the grilled light overhead. "I want to change sides. Me, my son, I want out of this life. If you're a superhero, come out so we can talk. Please, my son's just a little boy, he shouldn't have to grow up in a warcamp." He swallowed hard. "If you're not a superhero, if you can't help me, just stay down here and I'll tell my grandfather I couldn't find you, and then tell the Freedom League when all this is done. Don't tell the Atoms," he added, contempt suddenly sharp in his voice. "Flatscans have no idea what they're really like, but they can't be trusted." 

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Where did he come from? Invisibility? Just that good?

Sam knows what she should do. Keep moving. See if she can find an opportunity while they're separated.

But, then he starts talking, and she stops in her tracks. If he wants out, and she helps him, that's one down, and some extra chaos.

She makes her way around the corner, allowing herself to be heard but not dropping her veil. "I can get you away from here. Far away, across the border. I'll let the league know where I took you. If you're still there when they show, that's your call."

It's not her business to beat down folks who don't want to stir up trouble, after all.

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Solar Sentinel flew to the door and landed quietly as he could. He thought of the situation. He knew of the Atoms, though vaguely. He found the very idea of holding civilians hostage was detestable. With that in mind, he wasn't prepared to deal fairly or evenly with Jump, though he wouldn't throw the first punch.


He hoped, perhaps, to extract a bit of information before attacking him. After all, learning about the situation at hand could help save lives. That always took priority over fights. He was prepared to fight, though. Always need to be prepared for a fight.


He opened the door and looked inside. He didn't see whoever messed with the lights, but he did spot Jump.


"Hey, where's the person who turned out the lights?" He said, firmly. If this Psion kid hurt them already, Henry was ready to attack.

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"Hey, hey, you didn't say there was anybody else!" Jump looked panicked for a moment, and if not for Kit's promising words to him he might have vanished entirely. "I...all right, I'm in," he said to Kit, or rather directed his words to the darkness of the room. "Help me get my kid, and Empath's kids, and anybody else who wants to leave, and I'll help you with the rest of the family." He licked his lips. "Empath's a true believer, she won't leave unless you make her. Aura and Argent don't talk much anymore, but I know they're tired of being experimented on. Ember will do anything my grandfather says as long as he tells her to burn things," he added seriously. "Since that thing with Gamma, and when she told him she wouldn't have any kids, she's...anyway, you'll have to fight her. Do either of you have psion powers?" he asked seriously. "My grandfather's body may be failing, but he's more powerful than ever. I...oh, crap, the Atoms are here!" His face turned white. "Gotta go! Remember, I'll help you if you help me save my family!" And with that, he vanished into thin air - just as a faint rumble came through the building, as if a large flying craft had settled on the roof. 

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Sam tenses up as some cape walks through the door. Small miracle it didn't come to punching then and there.

"You almost ruined that one." Her veil drops, revealing some ginger kid in street clothes and a cheap black mask. "This is some delicate work. Take a bit of care."

She walks up to the older man and gives him the once-over, not that it's particularly useful. "Doubt I can talk you into sitting this one out, so here's the score. Lot of the psions are being pushed into this. If I can talk some of them down, I can get them out of the country. Especially the kids; that'll take it down to a couple who actually wanna fight. See if you can't run interference on the Atoms; most they can do until I pare things down is put 'em on edge and make things worse."

Bossy little thing levels a look at the newcomer that not only expects but dares him to disagree in favor of the usual cape standard of punching his problems until they stop looking like problems.

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"Alright." He said. "You can take the lead on this. You're trying to end it without bloodshed, and you have a plan. I have nothing but respect for that." He had to admire her dedication to solving the situation without a fight. That, and her bold approach with him. Took a lot of guts to stand up to someone a full foot taller than you and about a hundred and fifty pounds heavier.


"That Psion fella sounds like he's got a huge grudge with the Atoms, and it probably runs both ways. Now I can certainly try to help with what you're trying to do, but there's no guarantees in this business. With the bad blood between those folks and the Atoms, I doubt we can prevent a fight from happening altogether. But if we can weaken the opposition, that's a good thing. You want me to run interference with the Atoms. I can certainly try, but there's no way of knowing if that'll work."


He turned and searched for a way out so he could go talk to the Atoms. If nothing else, he could give them information on the situation.

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At that, Sam nods. Good. He's not insisting on the usual.

"No guarantees, but I'm gonna stack the deck as best I can." She starts making her way back to the exit to head up. "Do what you can. I'll get to work."

And with that, she's gone. Oh, she can be seen just fine; it's just that the mind refuses to actually notice her.

How to handle this? The adults, she can get to just fine, for the most part. Talk to, too, whether it works or not. But the kids? There's gonna be a challenge. But first thing's first.

She heads back up to the announcers' booth. Two psions away from the main group, neither of them Ember. Seems a place to start. Watch first, then act. Patience and information are the greatest tools of the thief.

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Up on the roof, Solar Sentinel flew into an argument - and nearly into a radioactive blast. "Dammit, Max, you have a wife and son, I'm not letting you walk into that spider's nest with-down!" Luckily, Tesla Atom was too much the trained professional to blast a fellow superhero despite the stress of the moment. "...Solar Sentinel, isn't it? Were you down there?" she asked. "What did you see?" The brilliant young radiation controller was part of a trio on the roof; the big, burly Maximus Atom and their gruffy, grey-bearded former guardian, Jack Wolf. Tesla and Maximus were in their Atom Family jumpsuits, while Jack wore an armored bodysuit that reminded Henry of costumes he'd seen older space marines wear when they were expecting a fight. 


While Henry gave his report, the male Atoms continued to argue, standing alongside the white, semi-circular hovercraft they've arrived in. "Jack, you're over sixty years old. You're not in any shape to go in and fight the full Psion family! You should go home and try and reach Chase and Victoria on the moon, they'll-" 

"That is horse manure, boy," said Jack, pacing with an angry energy that belied his years. "I'm in a hell of a lot better shape than that creepy old bastard Psion. Max, that thing you had with that Juliana girl, and when you used to scrap with the Psions down there? This isn't like that. The Psions down there are grown men and women, and they're slavishly devoted to one of the outright sickest bastards I have ever met. I am not letting...letting my kids fight him without being there with you, especially not when you're understrength. Now this'll be tough, but we can hold them long enough for Tessie to take out Ember and for the auto-teleport to grab the hostages. After that, you can shrink down and Tessie can grab me, too." 

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Up inside, the shadow watching the broadcast booth's door had moved on. Peering inside the arena itself, Kit could see the little family group at work. Jump had taken over watching the kids in what had to be a fortuitous bit of strategy, while Ember was entertaining herself (and terrifying the all-too-human spectators-turned-hostages she was deliberately circling as she walked) by setting fire to bits of scenery. "London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair LADY!" With one last blast, she actually set part of the overhead scaffolding aflame, then sneered at Jump (who she'd evidently been arguing with) "There! You see how good I am with the kids!?!" She took off and hovered overhead, a smoldering cauldron of barely suppressed resentment, as well as being so flaming hot like molten plasma it was almost difficult to look at her. 

"Patience, my children, patience," came the reassuring voice of Professor Psion, now coming from both the old man in the wheelchair and by speaker, aided by Empath's manipulation of the crowd. "The Atoms are here, and they will come to us. Perhaps Jump failed to catch the rat he sought to flush out, but today we will finally end fifty years of endless warfare. Today, we will show the Atoms what we have built...and if they are wise, they will join us. Ember, remember," he chided, "make sure you leave the hostages unhurt - we need teach them fear only if they...forget." And as the crowd flinched at his words, he nodded in grim satisfaction.

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"Folks, this ain't my business." Solar Sentinel said. "I know that. You folks and the Psions have some bad blood, and it seems like they deserve it. I wasn't the only one in there though. There's a young lady in there that's doing what she can to help. She asked me to talk to you folks and let you know what was going on, see if we could end this with as little bloodshed as we can."


He sighed. "There's a lot of bad folks in there, a lot of innocents, and one plucky young lady. I heard a conversation about how some of the Psions are a lot less eager to fight than the others. Like maybe they're going to try and run before the fight starts. That'll mean at least one less of those folks to fight when it comes time to fight. And you folks don't have to fight this alone. That old man looks to be one of the most twisted, evil people I've ever had the displeasure to see, and I'll do what I can to help if you'll have me."

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"We can use your help," said Tessa seriously, giving a sharp look to her quarreling brother and uncle to remind them of the gravity of their situation. "We're understrength right now and we don't have time to wait for the rest of the family. The Professor doesn't go out of his way to kill, but they won't hesitate to hurt those people below if they think we're delaying them. The Psions are the toughest enemies we've ever faced, and they've only gotten worse over the years. I still can't believe they brought their kids, even the second generation didn't do that..." She shook her head. "Who do you think is defecting?" 


When Josh was named, Jack Wolf looked suspicious. "That kid's been talking about defecting for what, seven years now? Eight? He's the weak link in the chain, I'll give you that, but his grandfather wouldn't bring him on the scene if he didn't think he'd fall in line." He scowled, his stubbled face looking even older than his years. "Don't trust him." 


"In any event, Solar Sentinel, you've been on the scene, we've got to trust your read," said Max. "What's your game plan?" 

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Sam tallies the score. That's Ember on the court, with the mad scientist and Wannaditch Psion. And the kids. Ember's night light gig is messing up some perfectly good dark, so getting the kids out just got harder, but the kids can't go until they're ready for the final fight. Kids suddenly vanishing is sure to panic 'em. Empath's right there, alone but if she's the zealot Wannaditch makes her out to be, she may need some firepower to force the matter. Not about to go brain-to-brain against a professional psychic. Still, gonna want to jump her before the showdown.

That leaves Aura and Argent. And she's only seen one of them. And she's not sure what they can do. Crap.

Well. Time for a walk, as she looks for Trench Coat Psion.

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A few colorful words dance through Sam's head as she wastes her time wandering around. You'd think she would stick out like a sore thumb.

Well. Time to try somewhere else. Not a whole lot she can do that they'd care about right now. There's the kids, the Atoms, and themselves. The Atom card will have to wait, and anything on the court is suicide. Time to go back to the booth.

Her veil back in place, she unscrews the cover to the air ducts and makes her way through, nudging the cover back roughly into place with her foot as she starts her crawl and looks for a vantage down on Empath Psion from the entirely navigable mess of metalwork.

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"Seems as though the most dangerous ones are the old professor, Ember and Empath." Henry said. "The rest seem to have been dragged along." He hoped that the bad blood between the Atoms and the Psions wouldn't cost them. "There are hostages at risk in there. Lots of them. We need to figure out the best way to draw them into a fight away from the stands."


"Ember does not look stable. I've seen people who love to fight, and I've seen people who fight because they have to. That woman revels in her power. Whatever happens, we have to hit them hard and fast. We can't let them fight back if we can help it. Ember looks like she's liable to roast some bystanders for fun."

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