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There was this girl R&B group - SWV. Cute chicks from New York, real big for a few years, broke up in ‘98, got back together about ten years ago. Their big song was Weak. You remember [RC stands up and begins to dance] “I don’t know what it is that you’ve done to me, but it’s caused me to act in such a crazy way…” [RC sits down] Nobody does. But I remember them, see, because I remember these girls with a boombox across the street from the bank, and they had it cranked up so loud I thought someone was going to call the cops on _them_! It was a slow little R&B thing, but they were listening to it like the voice of God. I remember that song, because it was the last song I heard before it all went to Hell. Those kids were so young. We all were...well, except the old people.

-Richard Cline, An Oral History of the Terminus Invasion


Summer 1993
First National Bank of Lincoln


Richard Cline stuck out in the crowd of customers waiting in line for the teller for three reasons - his tapping foot, rolling eyes, and general air of impatience marked him as someone eager to be anywhere else than waiting in line, his white skin and flashy clothes marked him as an outsider among the bank’s mostly working-class customers, and his baseball cap and sunglasses were just a little odd for this early in the morning. The other customers gave him a wide berth, when they weren’t glaring at him - just as planned.


It was hot in the bank, but not quite hot enough for them to run the air - instead the music from the lot across the street gently thrummed in through the open windows. “Cause my heart is beatin’ triple time, yeah!” He did a little dance in place, snapping his fingers to the beat, and winked at a little kid watching him from the row behind. Poor little bastard, stuck in these lines with his boring mundane ‘rents. Maybe we’ll give him something to think about. He slid back and forth on his sneakers as he stood there, brand-new rubber squeaking again and again against the green marble floor.


He and Paige hadn’t been back in Freedom City for a while, but they’d kept up their careers in New York and London, and even made the front page in the latter when they’d squared off against Britannia while making off with the Prime Minister’s watch. Maybe we should go to Canada next. Those jerks in True North could be taken down a notch or two. “What are _you_ looking at?” he sneered over his sunglasses at an older man in the business suit before he pulled the shades back up and made a rude face. Stupid old man, thinks he can start something. He yanked his fingers down his vest, snapping it tight, and thought Paige’s way.


Baby, once we pawn the jewels, let’s run up to that theater in Queens and see Jurassic Park again. He knew his girl was already in position, getting the crowd in the bank ready for the show of their boring little lives, while he kept everyone’s attention through his confident demeanor and manly swagger. He tapped his pristine white Air Jordans and thought good thoughts about showing Paige a very good time in that darkened theater. Feeling like a T-Rex today! He was thirty years old, he had the best superpowers and the best girl in the world, and they were about to do what they did best - CRIME!


Guard’s at the door...checking his watch...think he’s gonna go take a whiz. When he finally got to the front of the line, an eternally frustrating five or six minutes later, Richard pulled off his shades and smiled real big at the middle-aged clerk, flashing his pearly whites. “Honey, I got good news, and I got good news - first, you can take the day off. Even better is -” He jumped up and kicked off, speeding up the room and slowing himself as he did a totally, bodaciously badass flip that landed him on top of the counter. Enjoying the shocked faces of the crowd in that one long, frozen moment, he pulled off his magenta vest, bright red tie, black leather jacket, and white tee, and threw on the black and white jumpsuit that he’d been wearing since he was a teenager.


“Fast-Forward and Hologram are here to put a little color in your lives! Everybody get down!”

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From her concealed position in the corner of the lobby, Paige watched her boyfriend bop and jitter his way through the crowd of humanity doing their afternoon banking. It was nice to see him excited about something again after the months of irritability and depression they'd both had to live through when he'd quit using cocaine, but something about this job still seemed off. Normally Paige loved bank jobs more than almost any other kind of heist. They were classic and easy, theatrical but in a controlled space, and the FDIC insurance took the edge off any little pangs of conscience. Nobody really got hurt except the government! This one, though... 


Paige blew out a breath and raked her fingers through the multicolored spikes of her hair, knowing that her powers kept anyone from seeing her tension, or seeing her at all. She'd been having bad feelings all day, and that just wasn't like her. In the years since she'd run away from home, she'd learned more about her powers, including the odd little touch of clairvoyance, but that had never been like this. A quick premonition of danger, maybe a prophetic dream that was much clearer in hindsight, but never this pervasive feeling of dread, like the sky was about to fall. She'd considered calling off the job, but the last thing she wanted to do was rain on Richard's parade because she was having a case of the vapors. Nothing was going to go wrong. 


The commotion from the front counter brought her attention abruptly back to the matter at hand. The guard was gone, as predicted, and he'd have a hard time finding his way back through the fog she'd projected around the entire perimeter of the lobby. In the clear air of the lobby, pyrotechnics began to erupt, lights exploding in the ceiling, sparks flying from the floor, almost all illusion except for the handful of firecrackers Richard had planted to lend verisimilitude to the picture show. The frightened patrons began retreating from the explosions, herding themselves into a corner and getting on the floor, the better to avoid the rockets whizzing by overhead. "Just sit back and enjoy the show everyone," she added, her voice coming from everywhere at once while she herself remained concealed. "Our friends the bankers are going to open up the vault nice and easy, and everyone gets to go home today with a really exciting story."  

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The tinkle of bells announcing the opening of the bank door was almost lost amongst the din of panicked patrons but the unusually loud footfalls, slow and measured, cut through well enough. The silhouette that appeared in the fog was tall and broad-shouldered, coalescing into black man in his late thirties calmly undoing the buttons of his white blazer to let the coat hang open over a fuschia t-shirt. "Get down?" he rumbled in a resonant bass, an eyebrow lifting to occupy the space between large sunglasses and a flattop fade. "Cline, you wouldn't know how to get down if I beat you over the head with a boombox." The open thread was underscored as Keith LaMarr cracked his neck audibly and smacked one fist into the opposite palm.

A brief flash of golden light as bright as any of Hologram's pyrotechnics burst on the far end of the counter Fast-Forward was standing atop with a pitched ZAM! In its wake two more figures stood, the first grinning as he leaned nonchalantly against the second, the colours of his backwards Flags baseball cap clashing intentionally with the three neon hues of his windbreaker. "Haha, not speedy enough to avoid getting served, huh?" Javed Randeep laughed light-heartedly, plucking a potato chip from the small open bag in his hand.


The red haired woman in the high-necked black top and high-waisted jeans seemed much less enthused to be there, shielding her eyes with sunglasses and raising a hand to her forehead with a grimace. The hand caught the light, gold and metallic up past the cuff of her long sleeves. "Not so loud, Jav," Yelena Vostok demanded with a Ukrainian accent still heavy after years living in the United States. "Ugh. You could not rob this bank when I am a little less hungover...?" Her large hoop earrings jostled as she moved slowly but her outfit displayed a fit, athletic build for a woman circling the first half of her forties.


"Look on the upside, Lena," Jav suggested, still smiling as he straightened and adopted a loose but ready martial stance. "At least these jokers are good publicity! Phones aren't exactly ringing off the hook lately."

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The certain knowledge that he was going to end the day with more bruises than he'd started with by no means limited Fast-Forward's excitement. "Go back to your disco, old man," he sneered at Jav, but couldn't quite keep a real smile off his face at the prospect of a fight with superheroes like 1-800-Justice. "This is the 1990s, and it's a brand new generation of crime. And, hey!" He zipped out of the way of a kick coming at his temple, then zipped again from the follow-up that came within inches of knocking him down, a punch thrown as if the martial artist he faced had known exactly where he was going. He landed on the tiled floor and shook his finger scoldingly at the newly-arrived heroes, pouring through what he remembered about the old team at lightning speed. Wailcan'triskamissedshotbutthatteleportersgonnabeaproblem! "That is uncool, man, very uncool, I am in the middle of bantering with you!"


He was mindful of his invisible 'hole card', and stayed far away from the corner where Paige was hiding as he zipped around the room. "Three against one, c'mon, don't you think that's a little unfair to you people?" he snickered as he bobbed and weaved. "Couldn't you find anyone else at the home for yesterday's heroes? Maybe get the Black Avenger in here, at least he was on the Freedom League!" 

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"New generation of crime looks like manchild playing dress-up in mother's hand-me-downs," Jump opined with an annoyed harrumph that took on a different context as she reached over with her cybernetic hand and effortlessly tore loose one of the metal bars from in front of a teller's station. With another golden flash and ZAM! she was behind Fast-Forward, swinging her makeshift weapon with inhuman speed and strength.

That speed was no match for black and white clad criminal but even as he nimbly dodged the attack Cline found his sternum colliding squarely with Jive's knee traveling in the opposite direction. He may have joked about the numerical disadvantage but the semi-retired crime fighters moved with a synchronized precision of twenty years of battling side-by-side, only enhanced by Javeed's ability to precisely read every twitch, glance and tensing muscle as easily as a flashing neon sign. Nigh untouchable though Fast-Forward was, super-speed was a poor match-up against opponents who could be where you were headed before you began to move. "And you said there were no good clubs left in the city these days!" Jive quipped in the middle of a backflip that abruptly changed direction as he pivoted on a downward arm in a display of acrobatic showmanship.

Meanwhile Wail was ushering panicked civilians out through the opened front doors, his sure stance and commanding voice impossible to miss even amongst the confusion. "Name-dropping the only other black hero you can think of, you Vanilla Ice-looking fool?" he retorted with scorn the reverberated throughout the echo chamber of the bank. As the crowd thinned out, he crossed his arms and placed himself between the fighting and the only obvious way out, calling to his teammates, "He's supposed to have a partner."

"Hey, that's right, the gal pal!" Jive agreed, tossing off a flurry of rabbit punches while Jump winked back into view long enough to put another dent in the counter top. "Quick, Cline, whatever you do, don't look where she's hiding in front of the body language reader!"

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Given the feeling of approaching doom she'd had all day, Paige wasn't even particularly surprised to see the heroes come in. If something was going to go wrong, it could go a lot wronger than some illegal do-gooders dropping in to spoil the heist. 1-800-JUSTICE were pretty hip for old guys, and they didn't pull out the lethal weapons the way some vigilantes did. The job was probably ruined, but at least there'd be a good fight. 


Paige stayed back for a few moments, letting Richard glory in his favorite part of a battle, the run and pun right at the beginning before fists started flying. She grinned to see the fun he was having, but it didn't last. If the heroes were already here and the battle was joined, why was the premonition of doom stronger than ever? It didn't make any sense, and it was starting to scare her. It was time to finish this before somebody got hurt. 


"Looking for me?" she asked, dropping her invisibility at the same instant that a half-dozen illusory copies of herself appeared around the lobby. They began moving in a roughly clockwise pattern, one that brought some illusions closer to the battle, while the real Hologram edged towards the door. --Richard, we've got to get out of here,--  she sent with as much urgency as she could muster.  --The job's a wash, you can come back and play later--

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Richard took his lady's advice - not because he was afraid, and not because he wasn't looking forward to smacking 1-800-Justice around a little, but because when Paige said to run, he ran. After nearly ten years together, that was why they were so good together. He grabbed the real Hologram's hand and they ran, the heroes slowing like statues around them as local time froze, then the two of them bursting outside; Jive's ability to sense body language didn't help when that body was moving at supersonic speed. They'd made it out onto the streets, mere microseconds having ticked by, when there was a flash of light behind them. Fast-Forward turned his head to look as tremendous bolts of reddish-black lighting seemed to erupt from a clear blue sky. 


The greatest bolt, a trunk the size of a skyscraper, plunged to Earth somewhere near the center of the city, but dozens more smashed downwards into the landscape, blasting away brick and stone, causing an earthquake that made every building (in this city so far from California) shake, and some collapse altogether! Cars spun wildly out of control, drivers blinded or deafened or simply unable to drive through the shockwave, smashing into buildings and up onto the sidewalk, and people screamed in terror as windows broke! As Richard watched, briefly rooted to the spot, the Cline building, the biggest visible in Lincoln, visibly subsided, the next instant shockwaves nearly knocking him off his feet. -I can't run when the ground's like this!-


The last bolt plunged into the park across the street, a blinding, deafening eruption that knocked him down entirely - afterimages of green and white seared into his retinas! As a tremendous dust cloud arose from the crash site, the half-blind Richard shoved himself between Paige and whatever lay inside the cloud. From inside the cloud, meanwhile, came the sound of fast movement, and human screams! 

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The large pane windows of the bank shattered inward with the deafening boom, raining shards of glass horizontally across LaMarr's back, slicing long rips in his white blazer while bouncing off of his super dense muscle tissue. The less durable citizens still in the bank shouted in pain and surprise, thrown from their feet to the floor. Spinning about and tossing his sunglasses aside, he tried to decide what he was looking at with gritted teeth. Cline and his partner were there on the street, having fled the scene in the span of an blink but having made it far. Just beyond, a cloud of debris blocked his view even as the screams reached his ears.

"Jimminy Cricket!" he exclaimed, pulling the damaged door from its metal hinges as he pushed it aside and forced his way outside. The plumes dotting the skyline proved that this was no single disaster but rather something engulfing the entire city.
"Overwatch!" Yelana announced over the cacophony of chaos, disappearing with a ZAM! and heading for the bank roof, trying to get a better view of the situation. The ex-mercenary had always been the most tactical of the trio and quickest to react to and attack with decisive action.

Hesitating for a moment over whether or not to waste time on the would-be bank robbers, Wail scowled and began heading toward what had moments before been a park. "Jav, hang back and--"

"Please, like that's going to happen," the polyglot scoffed, having already crossed the distance from the back counter to the door with typical speed and grace. "Something just picked the wrong neighbourhood to mess with, huh?"

Snorting rather than bothering to argue, LaMarr lowered his shoulder and charged into the cloud. "Damn straight!"

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Paige was thrown off her feet by the concussive forces surrounding them, with Richard's arm around her waist the only thing holding her upright. She looked around in disbelieving horror as the sky burned with lightning and the air became chokingly heavy with ozone and smoke. Her first thought, because it was always her first thought whenever something inexplicable and bad happened, was that it was her family, but they weren't anywhere near capable of this madness. This was a thousand times worse, but she had no idea who or what it was. But she knew how to find out...


It took all the courage she could muster to gather her mental energy and send it speeding out into the whirling cloud of dust that lay before her. Every instinct was screaming that she didn't want to see what was happening out there. Even worse, when she looked down ,she saw the black energy tendrils she'd spent half a lifetime suppressing, playing over her body like a cloak of spiderwebs. That occupied her attention for the split second before her Inner Eye focused and her mind was pummeled with a scene straight out of hell. Instinct kicked in then, the instincts gained from years as a Psion kid, and she was reaching out with her mind, not only to Richard, but to the heroes they'd been fighting only seconds before. 


~STOP!~ She screamed inside her mind, her inner voice panicky and high as her fingers clawed into the spandex of Richard's costume. ~Don't go in the cloud, it's death and killing and ohgodthey'rekillingthem and it's so many so manymany~ She couldn't find the words and so she pushed in a picture instead, columns of Omegadrones, walking in step, pouring from the portal the lightning had torn open, mowing down anyone in their path. ~They're coming!~

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As the smoke and dust clouds produced by the 'lightning strike' cleared, the terrible reality of the situation became apparent to the heroes. The grassy, fence-lined park had been transformed into a scene from a charnel house - pitiless mechanical humanoids were erupting from a jagged portal like a raggedy tear in the very fabric of the universe, some marching out and others flying out on jets that screamed like damned souls. The people in the park had been butchered where they'd stood or sat by the killers, torn apart by those gleaming black blades or incinerated by scorching ebon beams that matched the color of the black spiderwebs erupting over Hologram's body, an instant's slaughter worse than anything Richard had seen in decades as an active super in the worst years in Freedom City history. And the robots, the Omegadrones, he remembered, were still coming - a horde of death that grew larger and larger by the second, an army invading an already-battered city like a swarm of murderous locusts. 


Behind Keith and Jav, Yelena briefly left her scouting position to give a short tactical report that said it all. "They're everywhere." The crowd screamed in terror and ran as the Omegadrones swarmed overhead, screams echoed across the city as a quiet summer's day transformed itself into the apocalypse. With the earthquakes gone and monsters overrunning the city, Richard let honest fear and his fears for Paige take over. He grabbed her hand and, without a look back at the heroes, Fast-Forward and Hologram ran. 

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Wail found he couldn't even form a curse to shout as the scene became clear, the part of him that took note and formed opinions temporarily retreating violently to the back of his mind. Instead it was an inarticulate roar of shock and rage and terror that spilled from his lips, generating a wave of force the swept over the charred and tortured remnants of the park. He wasn't sure if it was the powerful attack that made his lungs and throat burn or if it was the ash and smell of burnt flesh in the air. One Omegadrone's armor collapsed inward from the blast while another was sent toppling backward to fall on its pike but there were two more to fill each empty place in the ranks as they continued to pour forth.

Jav stood shellshocked for a beat as they came upon the massacre, his sharp gasp silent next to Keith's bellow. It wasn't until a drone had fought its way through the sonic screamer's wake of fury that muscle memory took over and he darted forward to rain a flurry of precise blows on themonster's exposed joints. The Omegadrone wavered as one leg gave out from beneath it but it still had ample strength to levels its weapon at the martial artist before with a ZAM! Yelena appeared to tear the arm holding the pike clean off of the drone's shoulder with her own cybernetic limb.
"The whole city is under attack!" she cried over the chaos, disappearing again and reappearing near another drone, which received a fist of metallic knuckles to its inner elbow before she was gone again. "Dead, everywhere!"

Jive ducked under a blast of screeching energy to fire off another batch of rabbit punches as Wail took another deep breath. "How can there be this many?!" he managed, eyes darting about as he tried to take in every little movement and step, staying only just ahead of the onslaught.

"Can't let up!" Wail insisted, letting out a series of shorter, sledgehammer-like shouts at individual Omegadrones. "Can't lose momentum!" Already sweat was beading across his forehead, his shoulders rising and falling with his exertions.

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Pitiless as the ravening locusts they were, the Omegadrones kept coming - but at least now they were targeting the heroes and not simply murdering the civilians, a deed they did with the casual brutality of cats picking apart a mouse or pigeons tearing apart a crust of bread on a sunny Lincoln day. A group of forty turned as a massed unit in the air and opened fire on Wail, their pikes shrieking with energy as they bombarded the sonic champion with cold black fire that seemed to scorch the soul like nothing Wail had felt before, near-misses cratering the pavement all around him. The city was exploding into battle around them, sirens interspersed with the echoing sound of explosions and gunfire, with Omegadrones in the sky overhead like flocks of Satan's own birds, but here in Lincoln there was only one great battle going on and 1-800-Justice was right in the heart of it!

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The Omegadrone's blasts incinerated LaMarr's blazer and the shirt beneath it, leaving smouldering tatters hanging from his broad chest as they hammered into the man himself. It didn't feel like burning, some distant part of him noted over his own pained shouts, it just felt like dying.
"Keith!" Jav was by his side immediately, helping his stay steady even though they both knew perfectly well the taller man weighed too much for anyone else to really support his weight.

"Nnh. M'alright. I'm alright," Wail assured him, squaring his stance and waiting for his vision to stop swimming. "Get behind me." Taking a deep breath, he bellowed at his attackers, "That all YOU'VE GOT?!" The shout crashed into the flying formation like a bowling ball into pins but the drones were righted and firing again almost immediately.


Almost as frequent as the sound of entropic lances blasting, Yelena's signature ZAM! sounded again and again as she jumped from drone to drone, in the thick of their ranks. Each teleportation was followed by her cybernetic fist hitting armor like a bell tolling, disappearing again a split instant before they could reciprocate. Trailing behind was a stream of angry Ukrainian curses, fading into the din of the larger battle.

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The shock of her visions had stunned Paige sufficiently that by the time her head cleared and she realized what was happening, she and Richard were a half-mile out to sea and heading towards Ireland at a good clip. She knew from experience that letting go of his hand at this point would result in a quick dunking, so instead she began hitting his shoulder with her free hand. "Hey! Hey! What the hell are we doing? Where are we going?" Even the sea was choppy here, but it was nothing compared to the devastation being wreaked on the land. Paige wasn't a brave woman, but she already knew the images she'd seen in the smoke were not ones she would forget. "We can't just leave!" 

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When LaMarr let up his sonic assault to take another breath, Jav was immediately sprinting forward. A few of the Omegadrones had managed to weather the force of Wail's shout and were marching toward the pair with pikes forward. Jive slipped through their ranks simply by being exactly where they didn't expect him every time, brutally exploiting the momentary weaknesses revealed to him by his superhuman powers of observation. "Ha! Kya!" Bare fists and booted feet struck with decades of trained precision, cracking damaged armor, sending imperfectly brandished weapons toppling away and using the drones' number against them with perfectly timed trip and shoves. By the time Wail had had time to line up another attack Jive had already doubled back and gotten clear of the line of fire, having successfully bought those crucial few seconds.

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"What?!" demanded Richard, turning back to look at Paige (and by extension, the city), as the two of them ran for their lives. "Are you crazy? It's not our job to deal with that!" There was another explosion, a big one, from City Center, and Richard was nearly knocked off his feet and into the water. They stopped on a shoreline in Bayview and looked, wide-eyed, as a fireball rose from the heart of Freedom City. Streaks of purple lightning were still in the sky and Omegadrones were swarming like black, murderous locusts in the air - sirens rising to match the screams of a terrified city. The earthquake that had accompanied the invasion, which had bent the nearest bridge to the point of unusability, would have been a disaster enough, but this..."That was Freedom Hall," he said quietly, "it must have been." The Hall had long since stood empty; the Centurion having relocated to his secret fortress somewhere in Canada, the Freedom League having dissolved nearly ten years earlier. 

Richard held Paige's hand and looked at his girl and thought There's nobody else, is there? 


When he was done thinking about it, he turned and _ran_ - as fast as he'd come before, still holding Paige's hand, but this time back to the battle from which they'd so hastily exited! The city was a blur of carnage around them, but Lincoln seemed to pop with crystal clarity They arrived just as another punishing bombardment of Omega blast tore into Wail, and immediately lept into the action! He left Hologram where she could do her thing, instead targeting an already-damaged group with a super-sonic attack - suddenly the drones Wail had been blasting erupted as one in a mass explosion of sparks and metal, collapsing to the ground after being torn apart at super-speed!

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A sledgehammer of sonic force lanced directly into the center of the beleaguered formation of Omegadrones, taking them from sparking and failing to a mismatched pile of smouldering parts. The twisted combination of metal and flesh revealed by the attack threatened to make LaMarr physically ill but he pushed the reaction to a tiny corner of his mind, bottled away with everything that wasn't fighting for one more breath than another. "Cline?! The hell...?!"
"Need all the -- ZAM! -- help we can get, Keith," Yelena called from overhead, letting the momentum of a brief free fall add momentum to a punch to a drone's helmet. Jump showed no sign of slowing down but as more and more drones poured forth it was clear she was accomplishing little more than giving the invaders one more thing to split their attention. "Focus!"

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Even though coming back had been her idea, Paige didn't think she'd ever been more scared in her entire life. And she'd been in some frightening situations. Almost without conscious effort, the energy she normally shut away as too disturbing to use began to pour forth, surrounding her body with crackling black tendrils of energy. She suspected that if her hair weren't already spiked, it would be standing on end. but at least in the midst of so much Terminus-based destruction, one more manifestation was a little less obvious. And it was power she desperately needed right now. 


Closing her eyes, she let the energy seep into her pores and into her mind, insinuating itself into the center of her psychic abilities like pollution spilling into clear water. As soon as the reservoir was full, she released it in one great rush, attacking the minds of the drones with no finesse or subtlety, just raw and destructive power. The psychic attack ignored armor and power pikes, arrowing into what remained of the sentient beings inside the drones and shattering them from the brainstem out. In seconds an entire company of drones had stopped moving, some of them buckling and falling where they stood, while others merely halted and swayed in place, black energy beginning to play over their bodies as well, trickling out of the faceplates of their uniforms. Paige took the opportunity to scamper behind a tipped-over car, scant cover but better than nothing. 

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A lightning quick snap kick took the head clean from the shoulders of an Omegadrone as Jive hit the exposed neck rotted most of the way through by Hologram's necrotic tendrils. Regrouping with his teammates and the newly rejoined bank robbers, the martial artist scanned the charred battlefield, struggling not to retch at the smell as he caught his breath. Taking the moment's pause to toss his garish windbreaker to the ground in favour of the more utilitarian tank top beneath it, Jav managed a weak smile. "Wearing 'em down now, yeah?" Clenching and unclenching fingers throbbing from striking unyielding metal, he dropped into a ready stance once again. "I think we can do this. How many more could there be?"

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A moment later, with a great audible rip, the sky gave way another few inches - and a group of a hundred poured out of the Lincoln rift. Fast-Forward lost track of time in the subsequent melee; a rare feat for the super-speedster. His powers meant that he tended to see the world, or at least the world in a crisis, in flashes of stopped time, something amplified forever in his memory by the stress and carnage of the battle itself.

His own fighting was all collisions with fast-moving objects, smashing the drones apart with super-fast punches that came so fast the robots themselves were standing still; blows he threw again and again until his knuckles bled beneath the stress of breaking through cold black steel again and again and again. He'd never been in a fight like this before; and knew he never would be again.


In retrospect, he remembered moments of the battle, like freeze-frames on a VCR's playback. Wail turning his head and bellowing as he shattered a horde of descending drones. Jump alternating between punching through drones and rescuing civilians from the horde, vanishing again and again as she pulled people towards a safe zone, and Jive fighting a horde of killer robots with no powers besides his fists, his feet, and his mind.

And Hologram, his darling Paige, at the center of it all (at least in his mind), surrounded by a black, spidery filament of her power unleashed as she helped tear apart the drones surrounding her like a living lightning storm; if a storm was black, and cold, and terrifying in its own right. He could never be scared of Paige, but he could be scared _for_ her - the drones seeming to pay her extra-special attention.


And then, all of a sudden, after what turned out to be hours of fighting instead of minutes, they were alone on the Lincoln street - alone but for the sounds of battle elsewhere in the city and the shriek of Omegadrones in the sky, the citizens having either taken cover, fled, or holed up behind them in the very bank that Paige and Richard had come to rob that morning! Windows smashed and buildings smoldering around them, this was no super-crime scene - this was a quiet instant in a war zone. Richard didn't hesitate to make a beeline for Paige, who'd sheltered behind another car, and put his arms around her wordlessly. 


Out loud, he called, "We...they're mostly in the center of the city. Where Freedom Hall used to be," he went on, speaking of a building that had been there that morning. "Those...holes are all over the place!" 

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Paige had spent most of the battle hidden behind cars or bus shelters or 1-800-JUSTICE, anywhere to try and stay out of the line of fire, and still the fight was exhausting. Wielding the energy of the Terminus against its own denizens was effective, and even somewhat satisfying, but it really didn't feel good. The moment Richard put his arms around her, she folded bonelessly into his embrace, the black web of energy melting away to reveal a completely white face. "What are we going to do?" she asked, her head on Richard's shoulder but her eyes on the veteran heroes. The fact that hours ago they'd been enemies seemed completely immaterial now; Paige just wanted somebody to know what was going to happen next. "We can't keep fighting like that." 

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"Speak for yourself," Wail coughed with some difficulty but the bravado was undercut by the bloody mess of his left shoulder and the plodding difficulty with which he was moving. Superdense muscle tissue or not, the big man wasn't unbreakable and the weapons of the invading horde seemed uniquely suited to prove it. His shirt had been reduced to tatters and the exposed mishmash of bruises and gashes were testament to just how many hits he'd taken for the less durable defenders of the city.

With a now familiar ZAM! Jump appeared next to Hologram in a crouch. Her bun had come loose some hours earlier and her shoulder length red hair was caked with black soot and the oil that passed for blood in their enemies. "She is not wrong," the teleporter admitted, leaning against the car for support. "Holding out until help could come was one thing but we cannot win a war of attrition on our own."


"Normally I'd say we've been in worse spots but that seems a little disingenuous, huh?" Jive put in as he jogged out of the bank where he'd been taking stock of the sheltered civilians and using his abilities as a translator to help organize those of them with medical and other emergency skills. His attempted levity was even more forced than LaMarr's boast, his hands hastily bandaged all the way up the elbow and his walk noticeably favoring his right leg.

Tossing a small first aid kit salvaged from someone's glove box to Fast-Forward, he sat down on the curb. "They're scared out of their minds," he said more quietly. "Obviously. They'd have to be idiots not to be. Which doesn't say much about us, does it, hah."

Wail made it the rest of the way over the group and stood behind Jav, worried that if he sat down he wouldn't be able to stand back up. "Special kind of stupid." Looking over at the would-be bank robbers he nodded his head. "Wouldn't have lasted this long without you two. You did good, coming back and all. So..."

"He's working up to a 'thank you' somewhere in there," the polyglot supplied, leaning back lightly to rest his head against Keith's shin.

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"Yeah, well, we're a couple of badass criminals, we can't let some two-bit robot punks chase us off. We..." Bravado in the words or not, Richard didn't sound like he really believed them, like the heroes, he just looked tired. "Thanks," he went on, taking the first aid kit and dabbing at his knuckles. "As for allies, you'd better hope we aren't the only ones who switch sides, because we...Archer!" Fast-Forward's eyes widened in shock, images of his erstwhile friend-nemesis flashing through his mind at super-speed. He was suddenly, acutely aware of that negligently-concealed urban fortress in Greenbank - the first target of anyone familiar with the superheroic defenders of Freedom City.


"Baby, I'll be right back," he promised Paige, kissing her pale cheek and giving her the first aid kit before he disappeared in a zip. Greenbank was just across the river from Lincoln; twenty minutes by car even on a congested day, less than a second for Richard to run at full speed. Seconds ticked by, then nearly a minute, his growing alarm pouring across the link to Paige - and then suddenly Fast-Forward was back, the tall, skinny Richard cradling in his arms an unconscious figure in black and red. Ethan Keller, aka Archer, was battered and bloody, a bow still clutched in his muscular hands. Richard himself was uncharacteristically silent before he looked down at his own bloody, dusty hands. 

"The wall fell on him, I think, the wall fell on him and so they couldn't see him. I had to dig him out. The others, they were just...they were just..." He shot a look at Paige and said, "FORCE OPS is dead. And those damned things are all over Greenbank." 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"What, all of them?" LaMarr blurted incredulously, struggling to process what he hearing. He hadn't been any great fan of FORCE Ops brutal style of vigilantism, egging on the arms race with the criminals in the city but with the masked heroes of his generation forced into retirement they'd been the only organized group actively trying to stem the crime wave washing over the city. With Freedom now transformed into in a desolate battleground it was hard to accept that the paramilitary extremists were simply gone. "I mean... damn."
"Here, bring him into the bank," Yelena instructed, motioning Richard over to the doors. "No telling if any of the hospitals are still running."

Javeed placed a hand over his eye and visibly forced his breathing into a steady rhythm. "Can we... can we try to evacuate people somewhere? The vault is fortified but we can't hold out there."

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Paige had slumped to sit on the curb when Richard let her go, exhausted and dazed from the expenditure of mental energy and the sheer horror of what they'd seen. When he returned with Archer she just blinked stupidly for a moment, unable to process what she was seeing and hearing. It was only when the others began to speak as well that she started to make sense of the bloody mess. She twisted around to look at Jav. "There's nowhere to go," she told him, her voice small, "and no way to get there if we had a place. We could run away," and her eyes flicked to Richard for a moment, "but not for very long. The other heroes are gone. Force OPS is dead. Nobody's coming to save us," she concluded, her voice very small. 

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