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September 5, 2015 

It started with a wave of car thefts from the edge of the West End, all of them parked, secured vehicles in the parking lots of the many strip malls and other commercial areas that took up space between the West End and the growing suburbs of Ashton and Grenville. Then came the dumpsters, emptying out without a trace, and then finally vanishing themselves. When store owners put out security cameras and caught glowing lights surrounding their missing property before it vanished, they called their local superheroes for help. 

This meant the Interceptors - this meant stakeout. A little investigation revealed what looked to be a regular pattern to the thefts; and suggested the next place the thieves would strike. The team was currently occupying the next location on the list; a strip mall adjoining a small stretch of scrub woods that had for the moment escaped the growth of the city all around them. This late, only the all-night liquor store anchoring one end of the complex was open; the rest of the businesses, like much of the neighborhood, were sleeping. Luckily, Steve had a face for customer service, and so behind the counter he sat in the uniform of Al's Liquor Store, his scarred face and brusque demeanor making him seem 'like the kind of person who would work at a liquor store late at night."

He wasn't entirely sure he understood what that meant; but he'd been given a mission by his team and he did his job. He knew the other Interceptors were on the case too. Of course, they weren't the only people out tonight trying to solve the mysterious disappearances...

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Dusty brown hair artfully disheveled and the collar of his coat turned up, Erik feigned interest in the liquor store's questionably stocked magazine rack on the far wall from the the till. The position afforded him a clear view of the back door and stacks of silvery cans to his left were reflective enough to give him some sense of movement by Steve's post near the front entrance. He'd exhausted the articles in the magazine he was ostensibly flipping through in the first hour they'd been waiting and quickly come to the conclusion that there was no chance anyone honestly purchased the periodical for them. Unlike the stoic cyborg impassively manning the cash register the acrobatic swordsman was beginning to get twitchy, the act of standing idle for so long starting an itch on the soles of his feet. He even began to envy the late shift his sister had pulled at the hospital, keeping her from joining in on the stakeout; at least Ellie was making herself useful and at this rate she'd get off work before anything actually happened. Whatever was behind the bizarre thefts he wished it would hurry up and make a play. It wasn't as if he had all the time in the world to waste.

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Quite independently, and entirely unaware of their presence upon the scene, of the Interceptors, Wildcat was also staking out this particular strip mall this night.  Someone had started jacking a lot of cars out of the West End, and he wasn't at all happy that some new crew had moved into his neighbourhood and thought they could just start taking whatever they wanted.  A lot of the people that lived here didn't have a whole lot to their name, and a car was not only a significant investment, it might be crucial to their livelihood.  Someone just going around and casually making off with such a critical possession didn't sit well with him at all, and he had decided to do something about it.

He'd chosen this place mostly at random, influenced by the fact that the locations of the previous rash of thefts had been sort of in this area but not right here, and with most of the place closed down this late at night, it could be a tempting target.  If nothing showed here tonight, he'd have to try staking out somewhere else tomorrow, maybe.  It was far from his preferred way of doing things, but without even a viable scent trail to work with, he was reduced to picking his spots and hoping something happened.

Tonight he was up one of the scrubby trees adjacent to the strip mall, balanced upon a branch and motionless amongst the pine needles.  Eyes and ears were both peeled for signs of anything suspicious, and he hoped he would have a chance to switch from surveillance to beating heads sometime soon....

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A wave of car thefts was noteworthy, but not particularly unusual. Trash vanishing out if dumpsters was unusual, but could possibly be attributed to some sort of extremely passionate garbageman who got tired of all the red tape and decided to take matters into his own hands. The dumpsters themselves actually disappearing was a story. One that bore investigating.

Ellie Stein sat on a bench across from Al's Liquor Store, pretending to be absorbed in her smartphone. Dressed in plain, unremarkable clothes, with her backpack resting beside to her (and her costume wadded up inside), she was the very image of a bored student out late, waiting for a ride. Or at least she hoped so. As far as she could tell from studying the pattern of thefts, this store would be the next to be cruelly de-dumpstered. As she waited, she wondered if Beth had ever staked out a strip mall for hours on end, ever vigilant for someone trying to pop up and swipe their garbage. Hero's work. Ours is indeed a heavy burden.

Oh well. It wasn't as if she had anything better to do with her Saturday night. Still, if something didn't happen soon, she might have to go inside and buy a six-pack to keep her spirits up. Of course, that would be drinking on duty, she reflected soberly. Sometimes it was no fun being a superhero.

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When the trouble began, it started small enough, with a crackle of electricity in the air that pinged Erik's energy-sensing abilities, then with a faint pop outside that produced what looked like blue ball lightning to Ellie and Wildcat, hovering over the strip mall's parking lot at the height of one of the light poles in the lot - its glow no brighter than one of the faded yellow bulbs that still lit up the parking lot. 

 A series of pops produced three more blue-white balls, which after a short time began spinning around each other, first slowly, then faster. The circle expanded too, gradually taking up space just If not for the growing feeling of power that was definitely pressing on Erik's senses - and making Ellie and Wildcat's hair stand on end, the nearly silent circle of spinning light could have been a holographic display or just some piece of stagecraft. 

By the time Steve was looking outside too, things were already changing - electricity was jumping from one ball to the other, first little sparks like a plasma lamp, then continuous streams of blue-white light that turned the spinning shape into a vortex, the sky 'behind' it fading away into one steady energetic glow that cast strange shadows on the asphalt below. Meanwhile, the artificial lights outside were beginning to flicker, the growing illumination from the man-sized vortex the only source of light outside the building. 

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When the strange lightning-like energy first appeared, Ellie watched, transfixed. Either there was one hell of an unscheduled light show going in this parking lot, or there was a lot more to the string of thefts than she had first thought. She had been expecting maybe a pickup truck full of drunken frat boys who thought it would be really funny to steal a dumpster, not a...whatever the hell this was.

Something in the back of her mind was desperately trying to attract her attention. She shook herself from her reverie and focused, and suddenly she felt a strange sensation that was entirely new to her - it was almost like when she used her own time-manipulating powers, but coming from without instead of within. More than that, there was something about it that felt dangerously erratic, as if it was somehow unstable. An unstable temporal singularity that shot lightning? Her Saturday night just might turn out to be well spent after all.

This was, however, not something for Ellie Stein to deal with. With a whumph, she was gone from the bench, instead standing on a nearby rooftop, hopefully away from prying eyes. Bending time around herself for the sake of expedience, she swiftly doffed her civilian clothes and donned her Echo ensemble. She wadded her jeans and T-shirt into her backpack, which she slung over her shoulders before pulling her mask over her face, gathering her legs under her, and leaping. Her gravity-defying jump carried her from the rooftop to the lot where she started, the entire change having taken less than a second.

Now that her identity was properly safeguarded, all she had to do was carefully weigh the pros and cons of jumping headfirst into what was probably an unstable time portal. Pro: Best way to die ever. Con: Involves dying.

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At the appearance of the...lightning thingies...Wildcat's hackles rose, irrespective of the fact that he did not, indeed, actually possess hackles.  It took a few moments for him to realize that the feeling wasn't actually an atavistic response to the unknown, but a physical energy field that was tingling over his skin.  This was...big.  This was likely stupidly dangerous.  And....

And there were people down there, going about their lives, and possibly about to get squashed by...whatever this was.

Rising from his crouch upon the branch, he looked down at the girl on the bench; she would have to be first.  She--

...was gone.  Someone else was standing nearby, however, in costume of blue and silver with flowing white hair...and the same backpack that had been sitting beside the cute coed.  He might not have noticed, but when you're bored, on a stakeout, and possess binocular-grade vision, you might spend a bit of time looking over the available scenery, yes?

Okay, not particularly subtle on her part, but he wasn't about to call her on it -- he knew he tried his best to keep who he was a secret from others, so he could at least extend the same courtesy.

Having hesitated only a moment, he bounded down from the tree into the parking lot with a prodigious leap, coming in well under the...event...to avoid running into it and maybe blowing up or something.  Rolling with his landing, he came to his feet and loped to the woman's side with a few long strides.

"Warning the people inside the liquor store," he told her rapidly, not stopping but only slowing as he passed his message.  "Be careful with that thing," he urged, and crossed the distance to the store's door in a rush.

Hauling the door open, he poked his head inside.  "Some kind of supernatural event going on out here," he barked into the quietly humming fluorescent lit store.  "Go out the back, or get into a cooler or something, but don't come out the front," he urged, before letting the door close and turning back to the phenomenon.

How in the world was he supposed to punch that?

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Geckoman abruptly appeared out of mid-air in front of the window as the young man in the homemade costume ran out, having warned what he thought were the staff and customers of a liquor store. He peered out, examining the weird light show outside. Well, that was strange. The vortex was flickering enough that the light from it was clearly reflected in his goggles.

"Well, get into the cooler is a terrible plan," he commented to his colleagues. "But Fearless Leader, try it anyway. It might chill you out. Or we can go go ask the swirling mass of light and energy if it knows anything about stealing." Geckoman checked his belt was securely fastened, before sauntering out the front door at a jaunty, yet rapid pace. 

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For his part, Steve vaulted the counter with a boom and headed straight for the cooler, glad that there were no real patrons inside the store. "I will meet you outside." He pulled the door half-closed and changed, and after a time of flashing light and the sound of clanking metal, the armored figure of the knight Caradoc strode forth! There had been some chuffing about his other secret identity from his fellow Interceptors, but in the end they all understood his motivations. Outside, the vortex was growing in both size and power, with lightning bolts dancing along its interior as it grew large enough to swallow a car. By now a wind had kicked up, nothing even the unpowered humans were threatened by, but scrap paper and empty cans were beginning to fly through the air, bouncing off slower targets, and hurling themselves into the vortex to disappear entirely. 

Outside, Caradoc hung back and let the more social of his teammates handle introductions with the other heroes on the scene; the gleaming tech-knight briefly turning his featureless head to Wildcat and Echo before turning back to the vortex. This explains the missing items. "It is not a dimensional gateway," he said aloud after a moment, his voice tinny and mechanical. "It is something...with which I am unfamiliar." Suddenly, a crack of lightning shot down from the vortex and hit the ground, scarring the asphalt and putting the scent of burning tar in the air. 

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"Remember when a bunch of missing cars just meant some punks with crowbars taking joyrides?" Erik asked the room with a world weary sigh, already tying his bandanna mask behind the longer black hair of his subtle wig by the time Wildcat burst into the building. As he turned around electricity surged through the lights overhead and leapt down to his waiting fingers, fashioning itself into an arcing line of lightning in the shape of a rapier and completing his transformation into the Jack of all Blades. "Yeah, me neither." He spared a look at the black clad young man who'd shouted a warning on his way out the door just behind Caradoc. "Heeeeey, I think mi hermanita mentioned you. The kitty cat with the anger management issues who punches people holding bomb detonators, yeah?" He offered the younger man a lopsided grin that was full of flashing teeth. "S'funny, though, she kinda said it like those were problems or something. Hold onto your whiskers, kid. Gonna be one of those days."

Outside he raised a hand over his eyes to shield them from the flashing lights. "Tch, yeah, not magic, either," he called to Steve over the noise of the whipping winds. "Smells sort of familiar, though, like... Aw, nertz. Remember that thing a couple years back, with all the time portals all over? Dynamo got stuck in the future for ages? It's like that only sharper, like papercuts on my tongue. Don't think this one's an accident." They'd been expecting thieves, with metahuman powers or some decent tech given the reports but they hadn't brought their ideal line-up for this flavour of shenanigans. He glance between Geckoman and Caradoc. "Might be time to get your better halves on the phone, guys."

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Whumph. Echo was beside them. "Jack! Wasn't expecting to run into you here! You here about the missing dumpsters too?" Without waiting for him to reply, she spun and stared at the lights contemplatively. "It's something to do with time all right, I can tell you that. I can kind of sense these things too." Apparently. "Fortunately for me though, I don't get it as papercuts all over my tongue, which sounds deeply unpleasant." She stroked her chin. "If I had to guess, and I do, I'd say we're looking at a time portal. But not a stable one. Feels..." she searched for the right word, "not stable. We should probably brace ourselves in case a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger comes blasting out of there."

She seemed to remember something and spun back to them. "Don't suppose you all know anything that could enlighten me a bit? 'Someone's stealing stuff' is about all I've managed to put together, and alliteration drives me insane."

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Caradoc stepped away from the time portal and called up Miss Americana, using the internal transmitter she'd planted along his jawline for just such an emergency. "Yes, we've found the car-stealing cloud," the armored figure appeared to be murmuring to thin air in a mechanical, sonorous voice. "It is an unstable temporal vortex in the strip mall parking lot. We're trying to...hello?" His signal, and the cell and radio connections of the other heroes, vanished in a wash of static. It was easy to guess why, even for the people there who were not technically savvy. The vortex had begun emitting fat blue and white ropes of energy, crackling and dancing on the asphalt like snakes, putting out an electrical charge strong enough that it was interfering with everyone's electronics. 

Suddenly, one of the great snaky tendrils of temporal energy lashed out and struck Caradoc! Steve didn't cry out but he was driven to his knees by the sudden rush of energy that crackled over his armored body, driving his blade into the ground to stay upright as searing ropes of blue-white light wrapped themselves around him and squeezed him with terrific crackling force! He managed to grate out "Defense...system..." between clenched teeth before suddenly the lighting that had enveloped him lashed out to grab the others! 

For the unarmored heroes there, there was no pain. There was nothing at all. And then - 

The sun was beating down on them. Hot, merciless, and relentless - the overhead glare a pitiless glow in a dry blue sky that spoke of desert days and parched nights. They were in the middle of a desert surrounded by a rocky 'bowl'  of red and orange fingers of sandstone that reached up towards those heavens above. Rocky walls of various shapes and sizes surrounded them on almost all sides; as did a tremendous pile of garbage. It was instantly obvious where the trash and other lost items from Freedom City had gone; dumpsters scattered open for the scavengers all around, cars scattered like toys, and heroes equally dispersed among the debris. 

There was no sign of Caradoc at all. 

Edited by Avenger Assembled

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Jack didn't seem particularly surprised to have someone suddenly appear beside him but he was startled to find it was someone he recognized. "Escher? What, you do time stuff, too, kid? That seems more--" He was saved from an embarrassing mispronunciation of a surrealist painter's name the sudden activity from the vortex. Without a word he was already mid-stride, sprinting toward Steve with his sword drawn back to slash at the ropes of light when he was snared himself. The fencer had enough time to shout, or at least try to shout, before everything went blindingly white.

Gloved fingers slipped in loose dust as he came too, reflexively struggling to push himself to his feet even before he could take in their new surroundings. Cursing colourfully in alternating Spanish and English he squinted at the too-bright sun that had no place in the night sky of Freedom City. Casting about he spotted Geckoman strewn across a battered dumpster and hurried over to haul the younger man upright, ignoring the pain in his knees. "We got grabbed," he all-but growled, more in objection than in explanation of the obvious. "See if you can call the Pitchoo to pick us up, alright?" Echo and Wildcat he located easily enough but someone was clearly missing. "Caradoc? CARADOC! Dammit! You two, get yourselves together and help me look for the armored guy! He did not live through all of his @#$% to die because I wasn't fast enough!" The last part was a muttered aside but probably louder than he'd meant it to be, his head still swimming.

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Something was pressing hard against the side of Echo's face. After a moment's silent analysis, she determined it to be the ground, from which she deduced that she was lying on her side. This was, most likely, a result of her trying to dodge the coil of lightning as it lashed out towards her. She opened her eyes. A scorpion looked sullenly at her from it's bed of red-scorched sand and loose pebbles. She closed her eyes. This doesn't look like the parking lot. The asphalt in FC was kept in better repair than this.

She somersaulted to her feet with the grace of a gymnast. The sun beat down on her, making her shield her eyes against the harsh glare. "Where...the hell..." she craned her head back to stare up at the buzzards that were circling hopefully overhead, "are we?" She turned her gaze to the towering formations of sandstone that surrounded them. "Tatooine?"

Jack's voice shook her from her reverie, and with a glance she realized that he was right - Caradoc was gone. "Okay, okay, nobody panic. He's a six-foot demonic-looking metal guy, he doesn't exactly blend into the surroundings. He probably just got dumped a little farther away than us." She spoke with a confidence she didn't feel. "Hang tight - I'll find him."

With that, her figure seemed to stretch and distort into a blur that raced over the entire landscape, her afterimage lingering behind her for several seconds, patterning the red sands with blue-and-silver streaks as she searched for any sign of the armored hero. Over a minute passed by the estimation of the others, when suddenly the blur sped back to them and stilled, resolving back into the form of Echo. "I couldn't find him anywhere," she panted. "Just a lot of junk - it looks like a scrapyard threw up all over this place. Most I found was a trail leading off," she pointed, "that way. I'm no tracker, but it looks walked on to me."

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Chris groaned. He didn't know where he was, and Erik was shouting. He thought something might be bleeding. Well, those seemed familiar enough circumstances at least. He woozily looked down at a tear on his midsection, and wiped away some blood. Couldn't have been a bad cut. It wasn't even there any more.

He accepted Erik's help getting to his feet, squinting slightly under the blazing sun even through his goggles. "Ugh. Where even are we?" Man, it was warm. His costume wasn't really designed for this level of heat. Geckoman pulled a slightly battered old remote from his belt, and started fiddling with some dials and levers. In response, he only got angry bleeping. "Um. Jack, bit of bad news. We're a lot further than signal range. I'm not even getting a faint response from it.

He put a hand on Erik's shoulder. "But don't beat yourself up. I wasn't fast enough either, and apparently neither was she." He inclined his head at the recently returned speedster. "You're not all that fast next to us, man." He lifted his hand, clenched it, and gave Erik a quick punch on the arm before turning to the other two. "You see anything else on the trail, Ferrari Girl? Road signs, houses, cell towers? People?"

Edited by Ecalsneerg

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Wildcat twitched, grunted, and then scrambled to his feet without any sign of the grace that he was capable of.  Apparently, he'd managed to survive some sort of lightning...thingy...and he had to conclude that survival fell into the 'win' category.

A change in time of day, being stuck out in the wilderness who knows where, debris everywhere and someone missing were all, of course, not in the 'win' category, but something was better than nothing.

He was still trying to get his wits together when silver-and-blue went streaking around the landscape, and he turned to face...Jack Of All Blades?  He wasn't sure if 'wow' or 'yikes' was in order, not in the least because the man was clearly angry.

"Uh, Caradoc?"  Six foot metal monster-looking guy, right.  He'd gotten a whiff of the suit before they'd been blown to wherever the hell they were, and if the hero was around anywhere, he should be able to sniff him out eventually.

"I don't smell him nearby," he admitted reluctantly, tugging at his wildcat mask to ensure it was still in place.  "Uh, if you don't mind me asking, what just happened there?" he asked, also reluctantly.  Admitting he had no idea whatsoever what was going on wasn't a good way to establish a positive place in the pecking order.

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Erik didn't do much more than grunt in response to Chris' reassurances, his expression clouded as he rolled his shoulders once to work out some of the kinks left by their inhospitable arrival. "Just keep trying the radio, alright? We got our butts handed to us by a lightshow, is what," he told Wildcat sourly before looking off in the direction Echo had pointed. "Alright. If somebody's scrounging around for parts in this garbage then Caradoc's the prime rib." Having seen Steve's armored transformation without the benefit of his holographic disguise, that was a little less metaphorical than the swordsman would have liked.

Turning to the feline-themed vigilante and the white haired reality manipulator he squared his shoulders. "Alright kids, consider yourselves deputized," he told them, their arid surroundings making him think of Bill and bringing up another wave of determination not to lose another friend. "Escher, do another pass and see what you can find in the way of supplies; water, food, whatever. Meow Mix, find something to carry it in then saddle up. We're heading down the yellow dirt road to save the Tin Man."

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Despite himself, Wildcat felt a snarl bubbling up in his throat as he stared at Jack.

"My name...is not...'Meow Mix'," he stated bluntly, his voice all concealed claws...for now.  "Don't get all pushy, we're in this together until we figure out what happened."  He may have been even a little more on edge than he could have been, given the situation; he was a city boy, and all this wilderness was...disconcerting.  He was used to hearing a lot of background noise that most people weren't even aware of -- motion detectors, electronics, all sorts of ultra-high pitched byproduct sounds -- and there just wasn't any of that out here.  He hadn't really been aware how much of it he had been hearing until it was suddenly gone.

"...It's Wildcat," he introduced himself grudgingly, conceding the point that if he didn't provide anything better to use, he'd likely continue to be saddled with 'Meow Mix'.  "I'll see if I can sniff out any supplies as well, and maybe something to carry them in."  They might not need anything after all, but who knows where they ended up -- it could be hours before they ran across civilization.  The scattered cars was likely a good place to start, certainly preferable to the garbage dumpsters, anyhow....

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Echo was glad of fact that her mask hid her expression upon hearing the name "Meow Mix." He really does like giving nicknames, doesn't he? I think I got off easy with Escher Girl. "I didn't see any real signs of civilization out there," she said to the green-clad hero, who she was pretty sure she recognized as Geckoman. "No towers, no houses...not so much as a moisture vaporator. I didn't really look outside of this canyon, though, so who knows. Could be something out there. As to supplies..." she blurred once more, and when her image stilled she held in her hand a dusty, grease-soaked hamburger wrapper. She dropped it on the ground, where it spilled open and a few rotting chunks of bread and meat rolled out. "Bon appetit to whoever's hungry, 'cause there's plenty more where that came from." She wiped her hand absentmindedly on her thigh. "Not much except garbage here, wherever 'here' is. I suppose we might have better luck in those cars - some of them might have bottled water in them. Or gasoline, delicious, refreshing gasoline." She looked up at the sky. "Or we could eat some buzzards. They've been giving me funny looks since we got here. We're headed for a Hitchcock situation - pretty soon it's going to be us or them."

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Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. 

It started with a series of low vibrations; at first it sounded like a car passing by a distant road, or perhaps thunder from a storm somewhere on the other side of the canyon. But a car seemed unlikely, not with civilization very, very far away, and the sky overhead was that same brilliant shade of blue. 

Then the creature stepped over the side of the cliff; a creature cut from legend - and horror! Towering some twenty feet high and stretching some forty feet long, it looked for all the world like a tyrannosaurus rex cut straight from Hollywood legend, right down to missing the feathers that should surely have been part of a real version of the Cretaceous animal. But this was no Cretaceous animal; not anymore. The T-Rex was covered in iron plates that ran down its back and up its neck, stretching down to its legs and its tail. The grey iron was spiked and looked tarnished, by what appeared to be the creature's blood. 

This was not a happy dinosaur. The eyes were bloodshot and the greenish skin, where it could be seen, was mottled and discolored. And when it roared, and such a roar it was, it was as much a scream of pain as a roar of triumph. The man on the metal saddle at the creature's shoulders called to them through a mechanical bullhorn, hanging on with his other hand, his black ten-gallon hat and darkly-colored cowboy duds making him look like a figure from Western legend himself. "Hey! You Saints better get back to yer pens before I set Iron Dragon on ya! Now git!" he declared, pointing back up the trail Echo had uncovered. 

-

Not far away, Steve was pinned to a stone wall amid a scene from one of Earth-Prime's Hells. The iron chains had been contemptibly easy and the human thugs had been unable to stop him - even their projectile weapons had barely penetrated his armored body. But their master, oh, their _master_ - the human was tall and muscular, his dark beard impeccably groomed and tan skin without blemish. He looked a god among mortals, especially when compared to the men who served him. 

"Fascinating!" he declared, stroking his beard as with a wave of his hand he pinned Steve against the rough stone wall behind him via the expedient of glowing manacles he had produced from nothing. "_You_, my fine fellow, have managed to puzzle the most masterful mind of this age; you should be proud of yourself. Your...name is one I have never heard before, one that frightens even my late lamented patrons." He drifted closer as Steve struggled, watching him with the avid fascination of a collector with a new specimen. "Tell me. What is an...Omegadrone?" 

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In another time and place Jack might have continued to rib Wildcat with even more obnoxious nicknames or might have even exercised the patience he showed his students at the dojo but not there and not with Steve missing. Objectively the younger man wasn't being unreasonable but the growl in his voice was getting on the swordsman's last nerve. "Kid, you're going to listen to me because I've been doing this since before your hairballs dropped and I've fought my way off more backwoods rocks, dimensions and fairy tales than you've got lives, comprende?" he retorted in a tone so carefully modulated and calm that it carried a poorly veiled threat of its own. "You want a big boy name, Meow Mix? Start proving you deserve one."

Any further argument was interrupted by the cybernetic dinosaur and its rider. Jack wasn't entirely clear what the black hatted rider was trying to call them but he recognized the tone of a slur well enough. "Seems like that kind of day, sure," he sighed to himself as he took a few steps forward to position himself between the other heroes and the beast. "Hey Gecks, if I beat up the loudmouth, think you can figure out how to drive a dinosaur?"

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Geckoman shook his head ruefully. Man, he'd forgotten how cranky Erik could come across as until you got used to him. This dustbowl wasn't really helping that. He opened his mouth to maybe reassure the kids that papa was just being grumpy today when boom. Boom. Their ticket out of the ass end of nowhere appeared, looking over them. The most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. A giant semi-robotic dinosaur.

"Jack," he said in a tone of awed reverence. "I will drive that dinosaur. I will drive it all the way back home if I have to." He pulled his staff from his belt, twirling the handle absently in his fingertips before squeezing it, the two halves of the staff shooting out, electricity crackling between taser prongs at either end.

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"And people complain about my planning skills," Jack scoffed, a predatory grin spreading across his face as he cracked his neck to one side then the other. By the time an arc of electricity had jumped from the end of Geckoman's staff to his outstretched hand the swordsman was already sprinting with startling speed toward the cybernetic dinosaur. By the time the energy had solidified into a finely honed rapier complete with crackling hand guard he had already bounded into the air and hooked a boot on the towering saurian's scales. In a series of acrobatic flips and swashbuckling twists he carried himself up and over its metal prosthesis, long coat flaring out dramatically behind him as he landed behind the surprised rider. "Nice hat." The electric hand guard caught the blustering man in the face hard enough to knock him clean from his perch, tumbling off the dinosaur to land in an unconscious heap on the dusty ground while his ten gallon floated back and forth as it gently descended. Snapping it out of the air and placing it on his own head, Jack rolled his knees to stay upright as the tyrannosaurus bucked violently. "Alright, Gecks, step two! Any time you're ready!"

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Geckoman shot up the side of the dinosaur after Jack, leaping and spinning, hands and feet briefly gaining purchase on any available surface as he arrived seconds after the original pilot's speedy departure from his post. He looked down upon the mix of mechanical and organic arrayed around the saddle. "Huh. Well, this isn't what I usually drive. They didn't have dinosaurs down at the DMV."

He settled himself down on the dinosaur, hands rummaging and wrestling with the saddle and the accoutrements around it, trying to get the dinosaur under control. It was like riding a horse, right? A big, angry, scaly death horse which a madman had put half a Prius into. Piece of cake. "C'mon, big guy, c'mon, you can do this, we don't want anyone eating anyone, right?" It was vague whether he was speaking to the dinosaur or to himself. Or both.

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Having been just provided with a gut-burning reason to be pissed off and motivated in the manner of a scathing talking-down by Jack, Wildcat was more than ready to react with extreme prejudice when something showed up to be the target of his ire.

He...just wasn't quite expecting it to be in the form of a cyborg dinosaur being piloted by a mouthy cowboy.  That threw him off his game for only a moment, but that moment was enough for everyone else to explode into action and have the entire situation in hand by the time the adrenaline dump hit his system.

That...wasn't exactly the best way to prove that he 'deserved' a respectful name in the eyes of Jack of Running-at-the-mouth.

With an angry snarl, he gave the dinosaur and the heroes dangling from it a wide berth as he bounded around them, heading up toward the ridge.

"How exactly did you miss seeing that coming?" he asked scornfully of Escher Girl in passing -- she'd done a perimeter sweep just a minute ago, after all.  He himself was off to see if there were any more of these impossibilities coming.

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