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February 14, 2014


Trevor Hunter lifted his girlfriend's feet with one hand to make room for himself on the loveseat before replacing them over his lap and handing her the steaming mug of hot chocolate he'd brought over from the adjacent kitchenette. In a fit of theater that went above his usually limited talent for food preparation he'd drizzled a swirl of melted dark chocolate around the whipped cream topping, taking advantage of the prodigious amount of confection they'd gathered in preparation for the four day long weekend they'd carved out for themselves.


The room they'd settled into for the late afternoon was one of the less used in his family's manor, the short couch and the rest of the furniture looking like it had last been replaced sometime in the 1970s but it was the only room on the second floor with a fireplace, crackling away pleasantly now, and it had an extra touch of privacy compared to the larger rooms of the ground level. A cart that looked suspiciously like it might have been repurposed from carrying trays of beakers had been laden with a bountiful selection of fresh fruits and picnic foods while the side table that supported his own mug of black coffee also featured what had certainly been chemistry equipment before beginning a new career as a chocolate fondue pot.


With a silent, happy sigh, Trevor settled in and lifted his cup to take a slow sip. It was nice to just have some quiet time with Erin for once, without some impending crisis hanging over their heads.

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"Mmm, thank you." Erin sat up as she accepted the mug, settling herself comfortably across Trevor's lap. She licked most of the whipped cream off her cocoa first thing, then took a sip. "'S good. Way better than the powder stuff. And I appreciate it more because I know how much it hurts you to make a hot drink that doesn't involve coffee." Chuckling, she leaned her head on his shoulder and looked towards the broad windows. "Lots of snow, but it's not sticking much," she observed. "They say we could get a foot tomorrow night or Sunday. Perfect weather for staying in." That was as close as she dare come to saying how nice it was to have some peace and quiet for once. Saying that, of course, would be tantamount to begging for a crisis. 


"Maybe later on we can go down to the garage," she suggested idly. "I was looking at the plugs on that Morgan 4/4 coupe the other day, but I wasn't quite sure how to take them out. Spring's coming eventually, be nice to try out a convertible." 

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Making a low rumble in the back of his throat, Trevor shifted the way he was sitting until he could crane his neck to kiss Erin on the cheek. "Love it when you talk engine parts," he noted with a subtle smile, setting what was left of his coffee aside again to wrap both arms around her waist. Stocked as it was with the many, many vehicles his grandfather had considered for use in his crusade as the original Midnight while keeping up the image of an idly rich automotive enthusiast, the garage was a practically endless supply of project cars. While he'd generally stuck to tuning and modifying a mere handful one his own, restoring a car to its original state had turned out to be a lot of fun when one had someone to share the drive with afterward.

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Erin laughed, nuzzling him lightly under the ear. "The couple that tinkers together, stays together," she informed him with great pretend gravity. "And the 4/4's a great car for a two-person rebuild, very streamlined, pretty sexy. Doesn't have a backseat, but I imagine we could make do. I mean, the garage does have heated floors."


Scooting around on his lap, she settled herself comfortably with her knees on either side of his hips and her hands on his shoulders. "I should probably warn you that I'm making it my personal mission this weekend to make sure you don't get your homework done. Your grades are way too high, and it's got to stop." She leaned in and kissed him then, her lips still tasting of the very sweet cocoa. "Have to just find other stuff to do." 

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Returning the kiss with a wider smile, Trevor moved around to trail his lips down Erin's neck. "Hhn, finished everything yesterday," he revealed as his hands traveled across hips until one slipped into the back pocket of her jeans and the other found its way to the hem of her t-shirt. It had meant a report that was a little tersely worded even for him but a late night at the campus library while Erin worked a night shift at HAX and a few favours called in on group projects had successfully cleared his schedule. "Foiled again. Afraid you have my undivided attention. May have to take your revenge."

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To judge by the pleased humming noise she was making under his lips, it didn't seem that Erin was too upset by the ruination of her scheme. "Guess I'll just have to work ahead," she decided, "keep you from getting anything done next week." Scooting just another inch closer to him, she began to play with the buttons on his shirt, sliding them open one by one. "But so long as I have your undivided attention, I should take advantage of it. To talk about important things." She caught the tip of her tongue between her teeth for a moment as she worked out a particularly tricky button. "Like the laundry. That's pretty important. You wear way too many clothes." 

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Trevor took the appearance of Erin's tongue as an invitation to lean in for another kiss, a little slower and more heated than before, smouldering as he replaced the taste of cocoa on her lips. "Mm, sounds serious," he agreed once they parted, moving back just far enough to shrug the open shirt from his shoulders and free his arms from the sleeves. Bunching up the bottom of Erin's t-shirt in long, nimble fingers, he rocked his hands back and forth, teasing the fabric up an inch on one side then the other. "May need you to set a good example. Easily led astray," he added with a soft chuckle by her ear, breath tickling the hairs on the back of her neck as he kissed the lobe.

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"See, that's another thing I like about you," she laughed, as much from her own joke as from his fingers tickling along her sides. With an obliging wriggle, she tugged her shirt up and over her head, tossing it in the vague direction of the door. The light from the fire lent color to her always winter-pale skin as she leaned in once more, this time turning his shoulders so they both wound up half-laying on the couch. It wasn't entirely comfortable, but it was better than the garage floor, heated or not, or the cockpit of an antique flying saucer, or really any number of other places. In fact, it was really quite nice, and getting better by the moment. "We should also talk about how we haven't broken nearly enough furniture around here," she informed him, eyes locked on his face, her lips a breath away from his. "This couch is hideous." 

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"But it's seen so much history," Trevor mock protested, letting the tip on his nose tap into Erin's as he straightened his legs out until his knees bent over the opposite end of the loveseat. Looking up at her with auburn hair falling down across his cheeks the engineer briefly forgot the coy joke on the tip of his tongue and settled for reaching up to gently tuck a few locks behind her ear and kiss her once again. Collecting a few of his scattered wits, he gave her the broad, toothy smile that was only for her. "Practically an heirloom. Deserves a proper send off." In a feat of considerable dexterity and with a little help he managed to slide his belt free from around his waist and tossed it over his shoulder so that the buckle collided with the lightswitch on the far wall. Ultimately it took a few more tries with other articles of discarded clothing to achieve the desired result, the overhead light fixture winking out and leaving them to the crackle and glow of the fire.

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It was some time later that Erin looked out the window again, this time looking up from the floor and out into the darkening skies over Freedom City. "Huh, it's stopped snowing," she observed as she shoved her hair out of her face and moved to sit up. Wincing, she pulled a large splinter of couch from under one thigh  and tossed it into the fireplace to send up a shower of sparks. "I really don't know why they call them loveseats," she decided with a faint smile as she rummaged for her clothes. "They're totally unsuitable." She found her shirt and put it on, handed Trevor his jeans. "You hungry?"

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"Earned a viking funeral," Trevor decided, accepting the pants and feeling a faint urge to salute the splintered remains of the couch beneath him. Doing his best to stay on top of a surviving cushion until he could account for all of the pieces, he pulled on his jeans and stretched out a few pleasantly taxed muscles. "Mmh. Could eat." Pausing to lean over and kiss the side of Erin's chin, he turned toward the wall and began sorting out where his shirt had gotten to.

Out the window on the pristine snow of the manor's grounds a distinct flash of green light caught Erin's attention with a muffled sound like distant thunder. Another crackle of emerald light flashed then more quickly a third until the energy coalesced into a swirling sphere that disappeared almost as suddenly as it had sprung into view. In its wake it left a musclebound hulk of a man in sleeveless body armor, with a shock of hair as white as the snow under his boots and a prominent scar that started on one cheek and ran down his neck. One of his arms reflected the light of the setting sun, unmistakably cybernetic and holding in its fist a halberd that Erin recognized as of similar design if not identical to the pike Steve Murdock wielded, along with countless Omegadrones. The cyborg looked about, getting his bearings and considering the mansion in front of him.

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Erin yelped in surprise and backed away from the window, diving for her discarded jeans. "We've got trouble," she told Trevor, jerking her head towards the window. "Someone just appeared out there in a bunch of green sparklies, somebody with what looks a lot like some Omegadrone parts stapled on. I couldn't see much, but some kind of metal arm and probably a power pike." She dragged on her pants,, but her shoes weren't even in the room, a poor tactical decision in retrospect. Her feet would survive the cold. "I guess his timing could've been worse," she allowed, sounding resigned. "There was no way we'd have four crisis-free days." 

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Trevor made a short, choked sound of consernation and quickly threw his shirt back on, only bothering with pair of buttons he could do up on his way over to one side of the window, placing his back to the outer wall and surreptitiously looking out onto the grounds. Spotting the imposing intruder for himself, he quickly took stock of their assets. He had a relatively basic multitool in his pocket but no weapons immediately on hand. "Can activate manor defenses from downstairs," he told Erin in a quick, low tone, trying to determine whether their uninvited guest had spotted them through the open window. With the lights off and the fire low there was a chance to salvage the element of surprise.

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"Sounds like a plan," Erin agreed. "Travis was saying something about spending the afternoon in the library, he can take the secret staircase to the basement from there and we can meet him." She raked her fingers through her messy hair, reached automatically for the bat she wasn't wearing, then picked up a fireplace poker instead and headed for the door. Two steps into the corridor, dim since nobody had turned on the lights yet this evening, she collided with another body


She could tell from the feel that it definitely wasn't Travis, so Wander went with her instincts and attacked, bringing up her makeshift bat with one hand on each end and shoving it lengthwise into the intruder's chest. She was surprised when her opponent was able to jerk backwards at the last minute like someone going under a limbo pole, not avoiding the blow entirely, but deflecting most of the impact. A leg shot out to trip Wander, hooking her behind the knee with one ankle in a move she herself had used many times. Countering, Wander threw herself forward onto the intruder,overbalancing them both before flipping overtop the other fighter's head, and coming down in a fighting crouch on the other side. Before she could capitalize on the maneuver, though, the intruder was already turned around and reaching for the lightswitch that was hidden in shadows behind a silk fichus. They both blinked as the lights came on. 


The intruder was a woman, Wander noted quickly, not much older than she herself, wearing a black outfit ideal for home infiltration. Her hair was black too, cut dramatically to frame a high-cheekboned face that was weirdly familiar. Really weirdly familiar. She had no obvious weapon, but the belt full of parts she was wearing was probably more than enough to produce something lethal. For a crazy moment, Erin wondered if Tricia Hunter had traveled across dimensions again, but this woman was too old. The resemblance though...  "Who the hell are you?" she demanded. 


It wasn't clear if the stranger had even heard the question. Now that the lights were on, the dark-haired woman looked stunned, as though she'd hit her head when they'd both tumbled to the floor. She stared at Wander, then through the door to the room where Trevor was. "Oh my god." 

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Trevor followed into the hallway even as the words were leaving their new intruder's mouth, two lengths of hardwood that had previously served as loveseat legs held in a ready escrima stance. If he had any of the same flickers of recognition that had given Erin pause, his unreadable stoic expression gave no indication, one bare foot sliding slowly behind the other as he moved in a cautious arc that flanked the dark haired woman. "What--"

Before he could finish the question a keening air raid style alarm blared to life, filling the entire building. "The Manor," Trevor grated with a flash of anger. Taking advantage of the unidentified woman's hesitation, he dropped into a tight somersault that took him narrowly past her and over to Erin before coming up to his feet and sprinting for the stairs.

His grandfather was already in the door to the library, meeting his eyes eyes as he round the top of the staircase. "That alarm was designed by Tom Morgen," Travis noted in a grim tone, supporting himself heavily with his cane but already armed with a bladed throwing disk in his opposite hand, his grip as steady as ever despite the gauntness of his aged fingers.

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The name tugged faintly at Erin's memory, but didn't really mean anything till the woman behind her cursed softly. "Doctor Tomorrow," the woman muttered, "it must be a temporal incursion alarm. Someone's trying to stop me." 


"Trying to stop you what?" Erin demanded, whirling again to face the stranger. She motioned to Trevor and Travis to keep going. "Arm the defenses and get downstairs, I'll catch up." Turning back to the strangely familiar woman, she asked again, "And who are you? What are you doing here, and what's the deal with the half-Omegadrone outside?" She lifted the poker threateningly, and was mildly surprised when her opponent seemed... amused? 


"I'm a friend," the stranger attempted to reassure Wander. "I don't want to hurt you, or Trevor, or Gr- Travis. I'm here to save your lives, I just didn't exactly intend to meet you like this.  You can call me Sojourner." She gave Wander a half-smile, and for a second her face was so purely Trevor's that Erin's mouth dropped open. "I came here alone, I don't know anything about an Omegadrone outside, but I know something bad is going to happen today. It's better if we don't split up." 


It wasn't exactly a story to inspire great confidence, and Erin knew enough to know she ought to be skeptical, but the moment of recognition had thrown her. Abruptly she remembered the great interdimensional adventure Young Freedom had gone on in high school, and meeting Lucky Strike, her alternate dimension daughter from the future, a daughter who'd been older than Erin herself at the time. Sojourner... could it be a coincidence? She shook it off and went with her instincts for the moment. "Fine, but I'm going to need some better answers very soon. Let's get downstairs."

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Trevor gave a curt nod to Erin before racing off to the hidden entrance to the Midnight Manor that resided behind the stately grandfather clock in the corner of the first floor main room. As much as he didn't love the idea of leaving Erin to fend for herself in the meantime he also had little doubt she could more than handle their uninvited guests above ground while he handled those below.

He left the lights off as he descended the hidden stairs, allowing his ruby-on-onyx metahuman eyes to compensate for the darkness. Glancing over his shoulder he noted that Travis, not far behind him, had produced a pair of red tinted goggles from wherever he'd procured the throwing disc, hopefully placing the Hunter men on an advantage over their temporal intruders. Wooden lengths at the ready, he silently looked around the corner into the cavernous headquarters.

"Argh, where's the twipping off-switch for the alarm?!" A figure stood in front of the main computer, casting about its various keyboards and interfaces, body language perturbed behind a sleek black suit of body armor panels punctuated by luminous lines of blue. His face was completely concealed by a featureless mask that instantly reminded Trevor of the uniform he'd inherited from his grandfather, save for the eyes being the same blue rather than red. Obviously muscled beneath his high tech costume, the intruder was nearly as broad at the shoulder as the cyborg who had appeared on the lawn, albeit considerably more animated.

"Hey, the calculations were your job," he growled angrily to an unseen partner, holding his hands to his ears as the wailing alarm continued to sound. "Is this really the time for the 'impatient speech', Blackbird? Nnh... Okay, okay, I can remember this." Lowering his arms and taking a deep breath, the armored man tapped away at the keyboard in front of him and to Trevor's surprise the alarm deactivated, silence returning to the Manor. "Ha! ...yeah, good call."

Pulling down a lever with an audible thunk, Trevor brought the Manor's floodlights on and stepped into view, a spare utility belt already slipped from a workbench and fastened around his waist. "Explanations. Now." Even with his buttons mismatched and armed with broken furniture, the dark haired detective radiated palpable authority.

The effect was enhanced as a motorcycle on the opposite side of the strange man abruptly roared to life, rolling forward without a rider atop it. "This one appeared in a flash of light and power," the vehicle spoke in a boisterous, female voice, "but I do not detect the stench of entropy upon him." Panels slid about the body of the motorcycle with impossible speed and precision, unfolding into dangerous looking cannons that hummed with energy. "Perhaps better safe than sorry, however, hm?"

"...at least they didn't use our middle names," the surrounded man muttered, raising his hands in a peaceful gesture.

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Erin could feel Sojourner at her heels as she raced down the stairs to the first floor, though the stranger's feet were as silent as her own on the steps. The alarm noise cut off abruptly, though the subtle strobing of the lights in the wall sconces indicated the house was still on full alert. She cut towards the back of the house, darting through the kitchen and into the mudroom long enough to step into her boots. If she had to hunt down the intruder or intruders outside, no telling how long she'd be out there, and just because she could walk barefoot through the snow for hours without sacrificing toes, that didn't mean she wanted to. "So what are you saving our lives from?" she asked Sojourner during the momentary pause. "If not the drone?" 


Sojourner looked almost embarrassed. "I, um, I'm hoping I'll know it when I see it," she admitted. "See, where I come from, my best friend is a telepath and a pretercognitive. Uber-useful, but she tends to be vague on a lot of the details. She told me that..." She stopped again, almost visibly editing her story in her head. "She told me that some important people who died in my world shouldn't have died when they did. Somebody went back and messed up the timeline, and it had to be fixed. She told me a day and a place, and I found a guy to open a portal, and here I am." 


"Time travel, huh?" Erin cocked her head at that. "Well, that's not something we've had to deal with much, I admit." There'd been a time in her life when she'd been very interested in time travel, but Alex had explained to her that trying to go back and change the past would only result in spinning off new alternate universes, rather than doing what she hoped it would. "Don't you worry that changing the change could erase your timeline?" 


Sojourner shrugged. "A- my friend told me that our timeline is the wrong one, and it's unbalancing the temporal sheaf we live in. If I fix what went wrong, my timeline will absorb back into the original line and everything will be the way it's supposed to be. I'm hoping that means I hook into whatever version of me is there and we just glom together, but I can deal with it if it just means that the original, good timeline is safe." 


Erin nodded at that sentiment and decided not to press further for the moment. Temporal mechanics gave her a headache at the best of times, and they sitll had intruders. She headed towards the stairs at a fast jog, only to check herself with a screech of boot rubber as a section of the hallway wall swung into her path. "What the hell?" she demanded again. 

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"Call me Hematite. I'm here to save your life," the costumed intruder in the middle of the Midnight Manor explained, still holding his hands at chest level with the palms facing Trevor. "From the future." After a brief pause, he awkwardly added, "I mean, I came from the-- Look, somebody from even further in the future is coming to take you out, I'm going to stop it so, y'know, you're welcome. Sorry for not being amazingly perfectly stealthy about it, frell."

"...future." Trevor didn't sound particularly convinced and his posture remained wary as he moved a little closer to Hematite. The other man's uniform certainly gave the impression of advanced technology as did his ability to make it all the way into the Manor before being detected but it wasn't anything the hastily dressed vigilante would have put past any number of cutting edge inventors he might name, Erin's employer among them.


Travis revealed himself from around the corner and took a few steps over to the control panels Hematite had been struggling with, leaning his cane against the counter. "Hmh. Entered correct counter-phrase." The elder Hunter turned to give their intruder a closer look, still wearing the red lensed goggles. "Dr. Tomorrow's technology knows real chronitons when it sees them. Hematite, hm? Interesting..."

"Uh, yes sir," Hematite confirmed, straightening a little when he saw Travis and toning down some of the irritation that had crept into his voice before. "I-- alright twip, keep your nodes on already. Here." The masked man turned one palm upright and a small holographic figure appeared there, a lithely athletic woman cast in deep indigo light, wearing a suit with an unusual but smart looking cut and something akin to a chauffeur's cap.

"Hello. I am Blackbird, a Furion autonomic machine intelligence," she introduced herself in a prim, professional tone, bowing slightly. Perhaps seven or eight inches tall, her hologram remained in the air once her partner lowered his arm. "Please excuse Hematite's manners, our arrival is the culmination of extremely trying circumstances."


"...what," Redbird interjected flatly from the still weaponized motorcycle.

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With nearly-identical instincts, Wander and Sojourner swung clear of the misplaced wall section, coming around it to see the cyborg from the lawn barreling out of what had to be a secret passageway. I didn't know there was a passageway there, Erin thought, feeling oddly miffed that this stranger knew more about her home than she did. From behind her, she heard the unmistakable click of a weapon being cocked, and looked back to see Sojourner with a silver blade in her left hand and a raised pistol in her right, pointed unwaveringly at the newer new arrival I also didn't notice the gun. Brain must still be in vacation mode. 


"Hands up!" Sojourner snapped at the cyborg. "If that arm so much as flashes, there won't be enough of your brain to collect in a specimen jar." Wander brandished her poker helpfully, but felt almost superfluous at the moment. Up close she could get a better look at the cyborg, a male in maybe his thirties, maybe older given the pure white hair. It was hard to get much of a read on his face, thanks to the giant scar that bisected his cheek and ran down the side of his face. He looked oddly familiar anyway, enough to weird Erin out all over again. 


He put his hand and arm-gun-thing up nonthreateningly at Sojourner's prompting, but his eyes were locked on Wander. "You have to listen to me," he told her urgently. "You and your husband are in terrible danger. I'm here to help you!" He finally gave Sojourner a suspicious look. "Who are you?" 


"My husband?" Erin repeated. 


"Sojourner," the well-armed woman snapped, giving the cyborg the stink-eye. "And why should she trust you? Who are you anyway?" 


The cyborg grinned suddenly. "I'm Tensile," he said with surprising affability. "And you look real familiar. I think we just might be related." 

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"There, see? Furion AMI, which makes us the good guys," Hematite reasoned impatiently, crossing his arms across his chest. "Can't let somebody ice the Silver Tree's favourite power couple before their time and I pull the short straw because my-- because I'm partially immune to time... stuff." It was fairly clear the masked man struggling both to avoid revealing anything about the future he shouldn't and with his own lack of technical knowledge.

His holographic companion supplied, "Hematite possesses a form of partial temporal inertia thanks to his parentage. This grants him resistance to wide spectrum reality alterations and within small windows of opportunity theoretically repair temporal anomalies without--"

"They get the idea," Hematite snapped, pinching his nose through his featureless mask. "If I do this quick and clean I should be able to get back to my present except you and m-- Wander will still be alive."

"Theoretically," Trevor noted, circling around far enough to reach an equipment rack and discard his pieces of broken furniture for an actual pair of escrima sticks. He still wasn't entirely buying the intruder's story but he clipped the weapons into his belt rather than keep them in his hands as a show of good faith.

Hematite's shoulders bunched slightly at the implied question and he rolled them stiffly in a way that struck Trevor as vaguely familiar. "Yeah, well. Worth it either way. Gotta do the right thing even if it's hard, yeah?"

"I know of every autonomic machine intelligence born in the Terminus," Redbird interjected, retracting the cannons she'd produced back into the once again sleek body of the motor cycle while a projector unfolded from the front fender to produce a hologram of her humanoid avatar. The statuesque redheaded Furion planted her hands on her hips and glared accusingly at her smaller counterpart. "I do not know any Blackbird."

"I was not born in the Terminus but on Earth," Blackbird clarified, turning around while walking on empty air around Hematite's shoulder. "Nor have I been born yet, in this time frame."

Travis gave the sort of weighty harumph that could only be produced through a combination of age and experience. "Sound like Tom, anyway. Walking on eggshells, keeping things cryptic. Who do you look like under that mask, hmm?" The elderly chemist certainly seemed to have a theory even if he was keeping it to himself for the time being.

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"Wow, everyone is suddenly so interested in saving my life all of a sudden," Erin noted, unable to keep a thread of sarcasm from her voice. "Weird how you all show up on the first day of my first vacation in six months, instead of like, say, when we were fighting off Omega three years ago." 


"Well yeah, you didn't need any help to fight Omega!" Tensile protested, his face and voice full of hero worship that made Erin feel vaguely uncomfortable. "You kicked his ass! Every time Uncle M-"


"That was an entirely different situation," Sojourner interrupted, neatly cutting off whatever Tensile had been about to say even as she looked at him with an air of dawning understanding (and still suspicion). "Your ability to win a physical fight is certainly not in doubt. The threat you face today is invisible, intangible, and won't manifest itself for decades. No one will even notice till it's too late." Tensile looked surprised, but nodded in agreement with that assessment. 


Erin gave them both a narrow-eyed look. "This is starting to sound like some kind of really over-elaborate and super-complicated cover story, and given the way things around here work, that may well mean it's totally true. Now we're going to go downstairs and sort this all out, and nobody is going to be shooting anybody with anything or I will kick both your asses, understand?" She brandished the poker again. 


"Yes ma'am," Sojourner glared at Tensile, but tucked away her weapons in her belt. 


"Yes'm." Tensile grinned at both women and concentrated on his arm, which folded up like a weird origami sculpture, the gun turning into a metal hand with fingers that flexed and stretched. 


"Well... good." Erin was surprised and a little suspicious of the easy acquiescence, but she was also in a hurry. She herded the intruder-visitors into the living room and keyed open the clock, then nudged them down the stairs, Tensile first, then Sojourner, then brought up the rear herself. "Coming down!" she called down the stairs. "Got two... well, probably non-hostiles with me." Hopefully nobody would be shooting anyone today. 

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Travis consulted the monitor next to him as Erin rounded the corner with her two quests. "Mmh, chronitons again. Not the same chronitons, though." He looked from Tensile to Sojourner then back over to Hematite, a faint twitch of something that might have been amusement pulling at the corner of his mouth, mostly obscured by his well trimmed goatee. "Beginning to make sense."

"They're not with us," Hematite insisted, dropping into a defensive stance and raising two clenched fists, immediately spoiling for a fight. "Frell, they're probably the ones I'm here to stop!"

"Stand down," Trevor ordered, a clipped demand without raising his voice. The costumed time-traveler jumped to attention without question, looking a bit awkward the moment after as he realized what he'd done. Looking at the pair Erin had brought down side by side, pieces slowly started to slide into place in Trevor's mind. "Mask off. Now."

Hematite looked like he was about to protest but thought better of it, reaching under his chin to pull back a cowl that hung behind his neck like a wetsuit's hood, revealing the fuming visage of a man in his early twenties, jaw stubbornly set and dark auburn hair disheveled from his mask. The third face filled in some gaps left by the other two, a similarity between Hematite and Tensile's noses, the way the former and Sojourner set their shoulders while sizing each other up. All three could have easily been siblings, Trevor realized.

"...your parents. Who exactly?"

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Tensile broke into a wide grin, his cheerfulness oddly disarming even under the circumstances. "Wow Dad, what happened to you? In my day, you're the master of deduction, and here you are asking the obvious questions." 


Sojourner smacked Tensile on the fleshy arm, a sisterly kind of gesture that seemed to surprise even her. "Didn't anyone ever warn you about risking disruption to the timestream? Foreknowledge of the future-" 


"Timeline's already disrupted, 'sis,'" Tensile pointed out affably. "Or at the very least we're in a disrupted period prior to a major divergence point, cause I sure as hell don't remember being related to either of you." He looked from Sojourner to Hematite. "Course, I've got five big brothers and sisters, so it's easy to lose track some days..." 


Erin's mouth had fallen open around the time that Trevor had demanded to know their guests' parentage, but if it hadn't, it would've fallen open now. "Five brothers and- six children?" she sputtered incoherently. She had the growing sense that the conversation was definitely outpacing her, but it was a lot to take in! 


"Some of them are adopted," Tensile told her comfortingly. "Not me, though! I was a late surprise!" he added with apparent pride. Erin blanched. 


"It's true that the three of us obviously come from divergent timelines," Sojourner put in, quelling the burgeoning madness. "The fact that we're all here for the same reason suggests that this point in history is sometime before Trevor and Erin Hunter-" 


"We're not even married yet!" Erin objected, sounding like a drowning woman. 


"-conceived their first child, or began the chain of events that would lead to them having a family. So it does seem that knowing there are several possibilities in play should be harmless enough," Sojourner conceded. 


"Not too far before," Tensile noted, giving Midnight and Wander an assessing look. "How old are you right now?" Erin gave him a look that promised great pain and he immediately took a step back. "But, you know, nothing's set in stone. We're here to help!" 


Erin rubbed her temples. "Right now the most helpful thing is going to be everybody sitting down and somebody finally explaining exactly what the threat is that you're all here to help us with. Because right now nothing makes any sense at all!" No sooner had she said that than the temporal alarm began whooping again, announcing another chroniton burst. 

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At Tensile's glib response, Trevor began massaging his temples with a silent sigh. Somehow, invariably, every alternate dimension and divergent timeline they encountered found a new and unsettling way to make his love life a topic of discussion. Between the unexpected visitors' statements and what the Manor's sensors could tell them things at least seemed to be adding up but facts aside he was having some difficulty wrapping his mind around the idea of being married with children. Not sure if this is more or less awkward than meeting Lucky Strike and her team...

Catching his would-be father's exasperated look, Hematite defensively spoke up, "Hey, it's not my fault this got all weird! This was supposed to be in and out, thank you mysterious stranger whose identity we may never know." Raking a gloved hand through his hair he regarded the two time travelers standing next to Erin. "Man, I don't even look like that guy anyway."

"In fact," Blackbird corrected, apparently handling the unexpected turn of events in stride, "cursory facial analysis of bone markers and core hereditary features suggests a ninety-seven point--"


"Machine intelligences do not... procreate as do organics," Redbird interrupted, her holographic avatar communicating how unsettled she was by the notion. "You have not explained your existence, 'Blackbird'."

"Ah," the smaller hologram intoned looking suddenly at a loss for immediate words. "That may be best left unsaid, Grandmother."

Travis' soft chuckle at Redbird's sputtering reaction to that was cut short by the alarm wailing back to life. The elder Hunter silenced it again with a few swift if somewhat stiff keystrokes and regarded the display for a moment. "Incoming," he called, leaning heavily against the control board and pointing his cane at the space between Trevor and Erin.

Where Tensile had appeared in a sphere of crackling neon light, the point Travis had indicated started as a single point of cool, white energy that rapidly extended into a spiraling line that in turn formed a flat disk floating parallel seven feet above the floor. From it fell two figures as if jumping through a porthole, each of them nimbly landing in perfect sync as the disc vanished above them.

"No cause for alarm!" the first of the pair assured the room as he straightened. A strapping young man in perhaps his late teens, he wore a sleeveless burnt gold uniform accented in black that exposed well toned muscles that hefted the gleaming sledgehammer-like weapon balanced on his shoulder. A matching domino mask sat between a flashing grin and short auburn hair. The young woman beside him, by contrast, wore a long black coat over purple, the shadows of its raised hood concealing most of her features apart from a pale chin and long hair in the same auburn shade spilling over her shoulders. "We're here to-- wait. Who're all of you supposed to be?"

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