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September 5, 2015

Fort Meade, Maryland

Supervillains were attacking Fort Meade. Well, not supervillains exactly. It had started out as a typical enough Saturday for the large military base close to Washington, DC; crowds of tourists at the National Cryptologic Museum and the Fort George Meade Museum, the Washington crowd taking advantage of Labor Day Weekend for one last hurrah. What followed next made its way onto the Internet quickly in one of those videos that goes viral the moment it hits Youtube. First, the golden gate had opened just across the street from the museum and a small group of costumed individuals had emerged - Argonaut, the armored AEGIS agent, Cannonade, the blue-collar brawler, Miss Americana, the patriotic paragon, and Vigilant, the all-American action hero. As the gate closed behind them, they ran, flew, and leaped across the street towards the museum, Cannonade casually sweeping aside a uniformed MP who (sensing trouble) had tried to block their way into the Museum. "F*cking typical!" he was heard to declare as they made their way in. "A world we didn't take over and it's already falling apart at the seams." 

Once inside, Miss Americana declared, "I'll get the missile! The rest of you get these wimpy bastards out of here and guard the perimeter. And get rid of all this trash!" The crowd, mostly civilians, didn't need any encouragement to run from the rampaging superheroes; a photographer outside caught Vigilant hurling a Mark VIII Liberty tank right through the museum wall with a tremendous crash! Whatever missile Miss Americana was after, she evidently found it - while the other 'heroes' took up position outside the museum, Miss A could be seen working on the preserved Ajax missile inside. 

It was Argonaut who dealt with the first wave of security, laughter coming from behind her armored faceplate as she cut her way through Jeeps, casually battering aside the MPS who arrived in them with cruel efficiency. "It's a bad time to be a bastard, kids! Sleeping in boxes and eating field rations for the past twelve months has built up a lot of negative energy in me, Miss A!" She called out, evidently over her suit's radio. "Treating these dirtbags to a little eye-gouging and back-breaking for a few minutes might be just the kind of cathartic exercise I was looking for!"

For his part, Vigilant lived up to his name, taking up position on the roof and keeping stern watch on the surrounding base neighborhood even as chaos ensued all around them - Argonaut and Cannonade casually rampaging in the streets, sirens and gunfire ringing out, and panicking civilians being hastily evacuated away by the troops still standing who had not tried to directly engage Argonaut or Cannonade. "Attention, everyone!" he finally declared, using a voice amplifier. "This building is now the property of the Vigilance Committee! We are the baddest of the bad on this planet and several others you've never been to. Every once in a while we have to prove that to stupid people like yourself. Once we're done with the missile, we'll leave you to rot in your petty little world! Now, leave us alone...before we stop playing NICE."

 

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Somehow, I always thought I'd meet the Nazi version of me first.

That was Joe Macayle's first thought as he watched the footage on the news. He'd come home for work, settled in for dinner, and was planning on catching up on the world before heading out on patrol - only to get hit in the face with his apparent act of treason. Which was weird, because he'd been at work all day. The fact that AEGIS hadn't been waiting for him with guns when he came home told him that somebody likely knew what was going on... but the fact that no one had seen fit to tell him didn't help. He had an idea - he'd been to the past, he'd been to the future, and he'd been to heavenly realms. He'd even met the other version of Erin, the one who was more... troubled. He knew alternate universes - and bastard versions of your self - were fully possible. This was just his first time dealing with the possibility it was him.

Or... was it him? He'd run into plenty of shapeshifters, and there'd been that time Erin had been replaced by a robot duplicate, and --

This is my life. Every so often, I have to stop and say, "This is my life."

His phone rang. His brother Andy, calling from Boston. "Hey."

"Sooo, I'm guessing you haven't gone nuts? Because, I think you'd tell me if you'd gone nuts."

"That's not me." 

"Thought so. Just, try and play it safe, okay? Think some people may have trouble telling the difference."

Andy hung up. Joe looked through his contacts - who to call, who to call... ah.

"Hey, Miss Americana? This is Cannonade. We had that thing with D-Gray's digital ghost - yeah, that. Listen, you been watching the news? Apparently we've turned to a life of terrorism..." 

Edited by trollthumper

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It took a lot longer to get hold of Miss Americana than Joe would've expected, seven rings on his cell phone before the phone was picked up in a very fumbly fashion. "Hello?" Miss Americana's voice, but a sleepy bedroom version of it, as though he'd hauled her out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6pm. She listened, paused a moment. "...the hell? Gimme a second." A little more fumbling, and what might have been a muffled curse, but she obviously came up to speed quickly on the situation. "Lovely. First time off I've had in four months and this happens, what are the odds?" That was definitely a rhetorical question. "I guess we'd best haul our asses to Fort Meade and sort this out. I think I can get ahold of Argonaut, but I don't know Vigilant personally. If you'd like to come to the ArcheTech test hangars, I can give you a ride out there in, mmm, fifteen minutes or so." 

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Casey was in her dorm room at Claremont, hugging her knees on her bed as she watched the coverage on her laptop in disbelief. There was no way her dad could...it just wasn't possible! In a flash, her phone was in her hand and she speed-dialed her mom.

"Hello?"

"Mom, it's Casey."

"Casey, are you alright?" There was a brief pause. "You're watching it, aren't you?"

"Yeah. It's not-"

"Of course not, hon. I just spoke with Col. Peterson, and he assured me your father is on a mission halfway across the country. That is NOT your father."

"Okay, so then who is it? Is he a Grue or a robot or something?"

"I don't know, sweetie; you and your father are part of...a strange world. It's not always clear what's happening right away. The important thing is not to jump to any conclusions."

Something about that last sentance made the hair on the back Casey's neck stand up. "What are you saying, that it could be Dad? Like...another version of him?"

"That's not what I said at all, Case; I just meant-"

"Maybe I could talk to him, reason with him."

"Casey Elizabeth Blankenship, I forbid you to go face that man! It's too dangerous!"

"Mom, I have a responsibility to keep people safe; it's part of who I am now. If I can talk to this...other version of Dad and maybe save some lives, then I have to do it. I don't have any choice."

"Sweetie, please!"

"Don't worry, Mom; I'll be careful. I love you."

There was another pause, and she could hear her mother crying. "I...I love you too, sweetheart. Be safe."

Instantly Casey was suited up, and seconds later she was streaking towards Fort Meade.

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"Ewww."  Anna squealed in disgust from across the dinner table.  The middle child taking absolute no delight as Luz regaled the family of tales from her first week as a Sophomore at FCU.  Sophia was already working on her desert and no longer paying attention to the grown folks, at least that was the image she was projecting.  But, the wide smile and eyes darting back and forth across the table told a different story.  Of someone who thought she was getting away with something by listening to her sisters bicker back and forth.  All in all it was a typical dinner at the Zermeño household.

"Luz, could you please refrain from such talk at the dinner table."  Yves called out with more indeference than authority.  Not quite sure why the location someone stabbed a drill caused such concern.  Merely following the motions she had seen her husband take whenever their daughter, used her course load as a forensic science major to gross out her siblings.  

"But that's not fair, Yves."  Luz responded.  As always not using the freed Omegadrone's name.

There was a loud knock as Carlos entered the kitchen.  Having left moments earlier stirred by the house's private satphone.  "Honey, a friend of yours is on the line."  Yves starred back at her husband in confusion.  The phone was merely an emergency line in case the Iceberg, needed to reach either of them.  That and she was drawing a blank on the word friend.

*     *      *

Argonaut was flying through the sky with a singular purpose in mind.  Getting to Fort Meade as soon as possible.  Her jet boots leaving a visible trail flaring behind.  The call was short, but to the point.  AEGIS apparently transferred Miss Americana directly over to the satline.  All it took was being told to turn on the news by the famed ceo for the freed Omegadrone's stomach to churn.  She didn't much care for a fraud sullying her good name.  But, a mere fraud wouldn't have mimicked a drone's movements with such expertise the way the pike was used to cut through those men.  It was familiar and horrifying ever the same.

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The ArcheTech plane was very fast, the ArcheTech pilots very discreet and conscientious, but nonetheless it was quite an uncomfortable flight for the two heroes heading down to Fort Meade. Miss Americana spent most of the flight hunched over a sophisticated ArcheTech tablet, but even though there was a nanofiber glove on her hand that should've given her 3-D screens and twitch command, she mostly stared at it without moving at all. Every so often she'd raise her head and look around, nod at Joe, then return to her work. They were circling to land when she finally spoke up. "Forty-seven injured so far, no deaths. That's not an Anti-Earth or Grue behavior pattern. Somebody's trying to get our attention. We'd better be prepared for a trap the second we step onto the scene." 

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Cannonade looked out the window, somewhat unaccustomed to traveling by private jet. Under other circumstances, he might be happy with the accommodations; right now, however, he was deeply concerned with whatever might be waiting for them on the other end. "Whatever they're doing, they've got it down to a rhythm," he said. "They kept talking about doing it across multiple worlds, so either they came here for the next step in some cosmic dick-waving contest, or... I don't really have a second theory." He shook his head. "But hey - the good news about fighting ourselves is we probably know just how to **** with ourselves, right?" For some reason, that thought wasn't as assuring as he wanted it to be. 

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As Casey was in the air, she scanned radio chatter by turning her head this way and that, trying to get any updates on the situation in Maryland; as always, her amazing eyes watched the path ahead for planes and other dangers. She managed to pick out a familiar figure.

Is that Argonaut? I think Dad mentioned her a few times; she must be headed to the same place I am!

Dropping her speed, she matched her pace to the armored heroine as she shouted across the intervening space. "Hi, you must be Argonaut! I'm Miracle Girl!" A brief pause. "Vigilant is my dad!" She looked over at the other woman's suit and cleared her throat. "Uh, do you need a lift? I can break the sound barrier if I push it!"

Edited by Heritage

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Vigilant, America's first line of defense, as the per the pr team's motto.  She hadn't personally served on the line of duty with the man.  Argonaut suspected AEGIS liked to spread its big symbols of success like Victory around for the imagery.  Still she wasn't exactly sure how to take that this girl's willingness to reveal her familial relation on an initial meeting after that televised broadcast.  The drone supposed this was what they considered perkiness.

Seeing as Miracle Girl didn't ask where Argonaut was headed, it was safe to say they were headed the same way.  "Hello Miracle Girl.  I would like to take you up on your offer.  I guess I don't have to tell you where we're heading."  Mirroring the young woman's own pause, Argonaut stopped moving and pondered.  Knowing that it would behoove her to address.the fact that there was going to be someone who looked an awful lot like the girl's father waiting for them on the other side of their voyage.

"Your...father is a good man."  

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Casey smiled grimly and nodded. "Yes he is; thanks! That's why this whole thing pisses me off so much!" She looked the armored agent over and then sighed. "Okay, I think we need to do this jetpack style; I'm going to come up behind you and loop my arms under your shoulders,  and then...'whoosh', okay?"

Miracle Girl did as she said, essentially laying on top of Argonaut and looping her arms around her; the power you could feel in those youthful limbs!

"Alright, I've got you now; I'll build up speed gradually so you won't black out!"

And then she began to accelerate; the former Omegadrone's armor creaked a little as the g-force strained against its structure, but Casey was an experienced flier and she knew not to push it. The ground rushed past at dizzying speed as the odd-looking duo winged their way to Maryland.

Edited by Heritage

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As soon as the plane touched down at the airport, Miss A was on her communicator again. "Argonaut, this is Miss Americana. We need to present a united front on this if we want to get the drop on whoever is behind this, not to mention save our public relations bacon. Can you meet us at the airport and we'll go from there? I'm getting maps and blueprints of the scene, as well as live satellite feed, so we can see exactly what's going on. So far they seem to be in a holding pattern for the most part. I assume they're waiting for us." 

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Cannonade was just waiting to disembark at this point, sitting by the exit to the private jet. "If I could get a look at the intel too, Miss Americana --" When he was in her personal jet, "Miss A" just felt too crude. "-- I'd appreciate it. Maybe I can help find a weak point." Everything else... no. Why did he feel like he was trying to keep up. How long had he been on the Liberty League? This was his thing. He went to exotic places, dealt with exotic assholes, and punched them right in the face. This was another fight. He'd had worse. And while there were others better suited to the particulars of the fight, he still had a role to play. And he was going to play it.

Still. It would probably be best to leave the PR stuff to Miss Americana. No need to try and butt in there. 

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"Roger that, Miss Americana."  Argonaut responded to the voice calmly as her body was being rocketed along by the force of her impromptu transportation.  Without looking up at the girl on top of her, the AEGIS agent would address their change in flight plan.  "Miss Americana wishes to coordinate our efforts.  If you wouldn't mind stopping by Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport before we arrive in Fort Meade?  She thinks they're waiting for us."  

It was hard to say whether that was a good thing or not.  The look alikes were already worrisome.  The idea that their very public actions were some sort of open invitation.  It spoke to the whole thing being some sort of elaborate trap.  However, a trap meant that they at the very least would know where to find them.  And possibly kept the body count low assuming the locals kept skirmishing.

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"Copy that." Casey began to slow down as they got closer to the Beltway; she'd made a thorough study of the flight paths approaching DC before she left, and she was careful to adjust her angle of approach, air speed and altitude accordingly. She'd also sent a text ahead to her dad's office to pass the word that she would be incoming to Fort Meade.

"So what exactly are we looking for," she asked as she scanned the airport with her amazing eyes. "Miss Americana works for ArchTech, right? I've read a few articles about her; she seems really cool. Oh, I think I see her jet!"

The teen powerhouse made a gentle landing next to the plane, dropping to the ground to self-consciously run her fingers through her hair before meeting the famous super; her hair must look insane right now! Feeling very young indeed, she floated towards the private jet, peered through one of the port holes and knocked. "Uh, hi!" She smiled and awkwardly waved as she called out to the passengers. "You don't know me, but I'm Miracle Girl! Vigilant is my dad!" Then she indicated the armored agent over her shoulder with a nod. "I gave Argonaut a lift, too!"

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"It's nice to meet you, Miracle Girl," Miss Americana said with a smile that had just a bit of strain around the edges. "Sorry it had to be under these circumstances. Argonaut, nice to see you," she told the other hero with a nod. "Now we'd best get to Fort Meade as quickly as possible, before whoever is engineering this gets tired of waiting for us and steps up the grandstanding. Under normal circumstances I'd suggest stealth to try and give us an element of surprise, but we've got other considerations in play here. For one thing, we need to make it absolutely clear that whoever they are, the people causing the mayhem are not us, and we are here to stop them. For another, we can assume that whoever we're up against is watching for us anyway, and it would be quite difficult to mount a stealth offensive given the time and resources at our command. So we may as well show the flag, as it were."

She smiled grimly. "Once we arrive, I plan to attempt to take control of the local electrical grid and computer systems, which will hopefully foil whatever my fake counterpart is doing inside the building. If things go according to the usual script for this sort of encounter, I imagine you all may wind up engaging your counterparts, or your counterfeit family member, as they attempt one on one combat. Just remember that you do not have to fight your own counterpart. You can always trade off and surprise them with an attack they may not be anticipating." 

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Being contacted by doubles of the people breaking into Fort Meade gave General Irons, the commanding officer of the facility, a bit of a turn - but he was an experienced soldier who evidently had some familiarity with the world of superheroes. From behind his desk, he addressed the heroes on Miss A's line, looking like a general from Central Casting with his three stars and his silvered hair. "I know you'll need room to operate - so I'll pull the troops back and have the civilian agencies do the same with their people. Most of the CIA staff and other personnel are sheltering in place in the underground shelters as of now, so as long as you keep the fighting clear from those regions, you should be able to avoid any collator damage. Good luck, all of you," he said, before cutting his visual connection to Miss Americana's videophone. 

-

The heroes had a welcoming committee waiting for them when they reached the torn-up street in front of the museum. "Well well well!" declared Cannonade, standing on the broken pieces of American tanks, glaring at them as they arrived. "So they pulled you out of whatever hippie-dippie commune we live on in this dimension to try and talk some sense into us, huh?" Cannonade put his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket and declared, "Well let me tell you something, that's not gonna work! We make the hard decisions for AMERICA, not like you liberal sissycrats! We're just gonna take what we need," he yelled, nodding to the museum behind him, "and then we'll leave you to your pot-smoking orgyfests!" 

"That's right!" added Vigilant, who was on the other side of the trio waiting out in front of the museum, Argonaut a silent presence between them. "Just be thankful we let you keep your President and don't put someone like Constantine Urallos in charge before we leave! Now there's a man who knows how to make America great!" 

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Cannonade studied his alternate self carefully. The leather jacket was a bit different, and the language was a lot different. God, do I ever sound like this when dealing with assholes? he thought. Do I ever just keep going off on boneheads like I'm the Rainbow Coalition's knee-breaker? May need to tone that down. For now, though, it was probably best to meet bluster with bluster. If this asshole was going to go full bore...

"You're right," he said, cracking his knuckles. "I'm a tree-hugging, labor-advocating, multiculturalism-loving red diaper baby... and I'm gonna look forward to making you eat your teeth one by one. But, before we get to that, I got a big question - what the **** were you hoping to do with just one missile?" 

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Argonaut mirrored her double remaining silent.  Rather than studying the trio in front of her, she was pondering as to the location of their fourth.  She knew very little of Miss Americana.  Steve had revealed a connection to her in Australia.  But, that only hinted as to who now owned the sword they recovered.  Yves knew enough, though, that she wasn't comfortable with the idea of the Miss Americana doppelganger being the one near the actual missile.

Which also meant the other Argonaut might view an ambush a valid opening.  If it were here, Yves would cloak herself and come from behind.  Either attempting to stab to Miss Americana directly in the abdomen or blasting from a distance.  But, their version of Argonaut was clearly out in the open.  If thinking optimistically it was because this Argonaut did not lean on use the same sort of cutthroat Omegadrone tactics that Argonaut would expect.  Pessimistically, it was due to either a lack of ignorance on Miss Americana's own capabilities or assuredness in some sort of teamwork with this seemingly makeshift team. 

"..."

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Overall Casey felt kind of weird; on the one hand, all of this was obviously very bad, and she might have to fight a real jerkwad version of her own father. But on the other hand....Argonaut! Cannonade! MISS frickin' AMERICANA! It was a a struggle to keep the fangirl giddiness out of her voice as she nodded firmly at Miss A and said merely, "Yes, ma'am."

When they got to Ft Meade, the young heroine felt sick to her stomach to see her 'dad' clearly enjoying being a real jackass. In fact, it was hard to even look at him. She really wasn't too good at scary bad guys, so for know, she decided to land next to Cannonade and stay close by without getting in his way. Meanwhile, she decided to have a look around with her incredible eyes; first just a basic scan, then an IR to check for any mysterious hot spots.

 

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Miss Americana flew down right through the roof of the museum, catching her counterpart off-guard. Looking up from what had been obviously meaningless 'work' on the dummied-out missile hanging in the museum, the other Miss Americana started, then rose to her feet, dusting herself off. The smile on her face looked nothing like the one Gina saw every day when she was testing Miss Americana's smile architecture. "Well! I had a feeling you'd come find me first. Do you like what I've done with the place?" she asked Miss Americana cheerfully, spreading her arms wide to embrace the museum, the fort, and all around them. "We haven't seen much of each other lately, my beauty, and I wanted to make sure I gave you something worthy of your talents." 

-

The area was full of strange IR readings; no surprise, given all the secret bunkers and compounds at this heavily-protected site so close to NSA headquarters. But Miracle Girl soon made the baffling discovery that their counterparts had no IR signature at all - whatever they were, their heat signatures were nothing human. Maybe artificial? VIgilant showed no sign of recognizing his daughter; instead sizing up Cannonade before drawing back for a punch. "All right, you hippie peacenik. We're going to give you a beating all-American style!" 

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Miss Americana drew herself up to face her double, ready to fire her lasers, but stopped short by something ridiculously familiar... well, other than the obvious, in the way the other Miss Americana addressed her. "My beauty?" she repeated incredulously. "Oh my god, is that you, Freebooter? I am going to kick every single inch of your ass, I swear it. What the hell are you even playing at? What's this all about?" She waved her arms. "I thought you were into piratey things!" 

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Argonaut whipped her body around as the Vigilant double moved in to attack Cannonade.  Firing a red and black bolt of entropic energy she intended to cut off the overly nationalistic version of her coworker.  Instead, through poor footing due to the rapid motion, Argonaut hit Cannonade square in the back.  An act that probably didn't endear her to the rest of the makeshift team.  Setting a poor tone for their potential teamwork.

The freed drone stood held her firing pose.  Taking an awkward few seconds to consider before finally sending out message using her radio frequency.  "If that's what I'm willing to do to my ally.  Think of what I'm willing to do to you."  If the other Argonaut was anything like her, she'd be unperturbed by the declaration.  But, Argonaut also realized that shooting Cannonade and not saying anything at all would have probably looked even worse.

Of course she could have just apologized. 

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Of all the dirty tricks Cannonade had been expecting from this team, he hadn't been expecting one from his side of the field. He'd managed to absorb the blast fairly well, and it hadn't even scuffed his costume - the wonders of trading his usual gear out for Atomweave replicas where applicable. He thought for half a second about turning around to give Argonaut a "The hell?" glance... but realized that wouldn't really do well to sell the bit. Instead, he let out the biggest, blood-thirstiest roar he could think of and charged forward towards his duplicate. Years of fighting had taught him to understand his own weaknesses, and he realized that a clinch around the waist might be just as troublesome for his other self as it was for him. 

"See, here's the part you didn't get," he said. "You thought you were coming to the planet of the soft, cotton candy hippie-dippies. Well guess what. We're assholes, too. We just know when to be assholes, and who deserves to get kicked in the teeth. And man, you've been begging for it."

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Casey shook her head and called out to her impromptu teammates. "Um, I don't think these jerks are human, or maybe even alive; they don't have any heat signitures!"

Robots? Aliens? Illusions?  Who knew? The important thing was the earnest young super didn't have to feel too bad about whipping their butts! And it was pretty apparent the joker in Vigilant's costume was not her dad, which made her deeply annoyed. In seconds, she was in the air and leaping/flying in the phoney's direction to deliver a flying kick to his face.

"Shut your stupid mouth, you jerk!"

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"Oh, I'm still the world's greatest pirate," said Freebooter in Miss Americana's body with a very self-satisfied smirk, running his hands down the sides of the well-tailored substitute costume. "I just borrowed your image for a while to send a very timely message about superheroes and the military-industrial complex. Did you know there's an Omegadrone working for AEGIS?" he demanded seriously. "What the hell, am I right?" He didn't stay serious long, though - not that he ever did. "Don't worry, nothing will stick to your reputation for long." He laughed. "The real prize is already in my hands." And then the top of the robot's head snapped open like a hatch and - 

-

The same thing was opening outside. As the heroes' blows all struck home, suddenly the heads of their robot targets snapped open like Christmas toys. Miracle Girl's shouted warning about a sudden IR spike was enough to let all the heroes get out of the way as suddenly flashes of light and eruptions of noise came from the opened heads of their robot selves, flashes of light and noise that erupted into the sky (with some visible as coming from the museum) that even against the clear blue sky were clearly visible as a pattern of red, white, and blue fireworks! As the fireworks erupted in the air, hidden speakers on the robots began playing The Stars and Stripes Forever at a deafening volume in a patriotic salute to...something? 

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