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A Problem Like

Avenger Assembled

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September 2015

Gruen Tanzer 

Contacting the two other Terminus survivors living on Earth-Prime had been no easy task - particularly Blue Jay, who unlike Argonaut had never actually exchanged contact information with Harrier except in those days after their abduction by the Curator. But he'd gotten the job done, with a little help from Miss Americana's connections. He hadn't directly discussed with Gina what the meeting was about, but he was supremely confident his genius lover had figured it out. She was very smart, after all - and she'd heard the same things from Sharl Tulink that he had. 

So he sat alone in a private room in the German restaurant Miss Americana opened, a hot buffet on one side of the room, the seats on the opposite side of the table empty. He'd given both Yves and Tona a message they'd have to respond to - a message that asked them to come meet and talk about the Terminus. 

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Tona Baudin had spent a long time thinking about the situation. She did not trust Harrier, not entirely, despite what Wander said about him -- he was a creature of the Terminus, and would never be able to shake that association as far as Tona was concerned. If Sam was around, maybe they could have put their heads together and come up with a more elegant solution, but Sam wasn't around. The only plan Tona could come up with was, well, direct.

She walked through the front of the restaurant with quick, angry steps, tugging at the cuffs of her long shirt. It didn't exactly hide the otherworldly leather braces she wore under her clothes, but then she wasn't really trying to hide anything. She found the door and paused, taking a deep breath and mentally preparing herself. She didn't want to lash out at Harrier directly -- well, she sort of did, but it probably wouldn't be too productive.

Tona stepped through the door and immediately stepped to the side so she had a wall at her back. She gave Harrier a hard look, the silence between them stretching out until she finally broke it. "You said you wanted to talk," she reminded him. "Why?"

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0Yves had been in the parking lot for ten minutes.  Simply staring outside of the car's window.  There was no way she was going to miss a conversation related to the Terminus.  But, that was out of necessity.  It wasn't pure desire, only someone more screwed up than even her would enjoy conversations related to the Terminus.

Australia, however, reinforced the belief that ignorance truly wasn't bliss.  Accepting that no amount of time glaring at her dashboard was going to give her any answers, Yves exited her vehicle.  Quietly making her way inside.  It didn't take long to find Steve, not that he was easy to miss.  Without addressing the girl she had never met before, who seemed to have words of her own for Steve, Argonaut made her way to one of the empty seats at the table.  Having not caught even the tail end of her introduction, Yves examining both the girl at the wall and the man opposite her.

A different woman this time.  A bit young.  She doesn't have the attire of a server here.

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"Yves, this is Tona. Tona, Yves." Steve folded his hands on the table in front of him and invited Tona to take a seat, for all that he knew the presence of two Omegadrones would surely make her uncomfortable. He would thus have to move the conversation along quickly. "Please sit down." Steve's overall manner was calm enough, but gave the impression of a simmering volcano, his usual stoicism masking an internal crisis. Despite asking the others to sit down, he rose to his feet, unfolding his hands and placing them flat against the table at which he stood. With his great weight and strength, he could easily snap it in half if he chose. 

But he chose not to - because he was not a man of violence anymore.

Looking from one face to the other, he said, "I have invited you here because we are all survivors of the Terminus. And because there is an Annihilist in Freedom City." 

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"She does not look like an Omegadrone.  A prole?"  Yves asked, dismissing the possibility of Tona being a Furion with a quick glance.  The question served to act as a distraction from the much larger matter at hand. Apparently a minimal distraction as Yves could not find it upon herself to smile upon the salutation.  Her hand trembling ever so slightly with an unstated furor.

"Are you suggesting a local hero has been turned?  Perhaps Captain Thunder?  This is no small matter."  Yves' mind was already racing.  An Annihilist's appearance more than likely preceded an incursion.  Such information should be passed up her chain of command.  Not exchanged in a luncheon casualty.  After universe fell, Yves learned that the Lor's greatest military commander had turned on them all.  More than the vile existence of the lord of entropy, or the wretched physician friendly who made her what she was, it was the Annihilists she found no room in her heart for.

After all, they had a choice in what they became.  Of course, her world would have fallen either way.  The metaphorical knife of omega was just as sharp regardless of whether it stabbed you in the back or the front.

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Tona glared daggers at the other woman, her ire rising at the suggestion that she was one of those sorry masses that labored under Omega's rule. Harrier's revelation was more important, though, so she put the comment aside and focused on the big man in front of them. "You should be bringing this to the Freedom League," she pointed out, "or told us to show up in battle gear. If there's an Annhilist in this universe, we need to find them and --" She paused. She immediate reaction to the presence of an Annhilist was, well, rather permanent, but she was painfully aware that most superheroes had a softer view on how to deal with even such huge evil. "They can't be allowed to threaten this dimension. We should deal with them quickly, however we have to."

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"No, no one has been turned." Harrier shook his head. "There has been a...defection. Yves, you might remember Tarva the Black, Steelgrave's..." He blinked, and memories of the raw, aching wound in the woman's soul kept him from finishing that sentence the way his mother would have. "concubine. You might not, Tona, I doubt she would have done something so beneath her as set foot on one of the Hundred Worlds. She is, or was, a creature of Nihilor - a daughter of a murdered world who chose to collaborate with its killers for another day of life. Some time ago, she defected first to the Furions - and then to Earth-Prime. Evidently she witnessed a test of...a contagious form of Omegadrone forging. You remember, Yves, the cult we broke up in Australia - that was evidently an attempted test on Earth-Prime. What she saw was sufficient to make her choose to abandon her loyalty to the Terminus. She fought alongside heroes from Earth-Prime, risked her life a dozen times...And so she came...here. To the DuTemps Building." He sounded frankly skeptical of this whole enterprise as he spoke. "Where she lives still." 

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Yves raised a fake brow finding the tale a bit incredulous.  The implication that someone like that could find an ounce of guilt in their body.  "Risked her life?  More likely an attempt to win favor with her latest protector.  Tarva's intentions must be opportunistic not altruistic."  

For however low the bar on her opinion on Tarva was.  Steelgrave was an entirely different animal.  Even if she has truly defected.  That man and any who wish to win his favor will not let his property escape without some sort of reprisal.  Her presence may in itself prove to be its own problem.

"The Special Projects Division would most likely like to start a file.  Unless, or rather until as that is no doubt an inevitability, she breaks the laws of this world my hands will be tied.  AEGIS policies would prevent me as such.  But, why DuTemps?"

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Tona crossed her arms, tapping at her bicep thoughtfully. The DuTemps Building rang a bell, but she just couldn't place it quite right... In any case, it didn't change the situation much. "If we know where the witch is, let's get her. I don't know what you can do," she said, addressing Yves directly for the moment, "but an Omegadrone through their front window should distract them long enough for me to sneak in a back way. Once I'm inside I can find the witch and deal with her. Then we all get out of there and," she narrowed her eyes at Harrier. "I can go back to trying to forget that you are in this city, too." The plan was direct, and simple, and probably overconfident, but the archer didn't feel like standing around and trying to hash out every little detail. In fact she didn't feel like standing around in the same room as the former Omegadrone for longer than strictly necessary.

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"She is guarded there by superheroes. Ghost Girl, Wraith, Blue Fox, and others all make their residence there - and all have made guarding her their task." He began to pace the room, his movements tense with the vigorously suppressed energy of a man holding back great emotion. "In return for her assistance during the doomdrone crisis, she has been granted exile status at the DuTemps Building, where she lives with protection against retaliation from the Terminus." Something like that was coming for all of them, how much worse would it be for someone like Tarva who had been so intimately close with so many of the greatest of Nihilor? He looked down at a big hand that he formed into a fist. "And this was...sufficient for me. When the Freedom League summoned me to act as consultant, I told them that Tarva was a foul thing who had been a laughing monster at Steelgrave's side - but that she did indeed face a grim fate if she was not protected for what she had done. When I thought she lived there in confinement, it was....it was irksome, but I could accept it. When I saw her, full of the weeping regret that is her just fate, I could accept that, too. But she weeps no longer."

He shook his head, anger growing in his deep, resonant voice as his dark eyes smoldered with repressed anger. "They have...cosseted her there. Invited her onto their team, taken her on adventures that have nothing to do with the Terminus and everything to do with...adventure. They have accepted her not as a prisoner, not as a penitent, but as an equal. And this is...this is...inadequate!

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"I do what he does, only slower and less powerfully."  Yves replied to Tona without looking up from the table.  Basing her assessment on the exchange with the Omega Boss of Australia.  "I know a little something about second chances.  I don't believe Tarva is the sort willing to truly redeem herself.  But, I could see how the ill informed optimists may hold on to a measure of faith."

It upset her to no end that not only was she being protected by heroes living in a building with castle looming overhead.  But, The Freedom League itself?  "I can accept that you withheld this information until it became irksome enough to share."   Stopping to address Tona as well,  "and appreciate that your first reaction is elimination."  With a hearty sigh, Yves had to take measure her own words.  Not wishing for her emotions to run rampant.  Or else she'd find herself openly agreeing with the outright murder plot.  Even in a situation where it is worth advocating such measures, Yves knew better than to be the one to do so.  A noose that loose was bound to present the opportunity to tighten.

"Besieging a residence that the uninvolved may also inhabit is too...complicated.  Even if I didn't work for AEGIS, it would be hard to imagine the Freedom League cosigning that witch to a location so near civilians and not create a thorough measure of surveillance.  What contributions could this 'equal' possibly provide for them?  Choreography with which to dance upon the graves of the dead?"  

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"We should consider," Tons said slowly, "that they might not be themselves." She glanced at the pair in the room before continuing. "The Termnius likes to turn people against themselves, turn their mind and body to Omega's side. Are we sure these heroes are still in control of themselves? Still able to make their own decisions?"

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"It is possible," Steve conceded to Tona's words, "but I doubt it. I have watched them carefully in the months since Tarva's arrival and there has been no true change in their behavior. Those who know them well say they are the same as they have always been. It is not so simple a thing as corruption - then there would be one solution." He paused again, looking at Tona. "It angers you that Yves and I are allowed to walk free with the blood of innocents on our souls. It...surprised me as well," he conceded. "But it was done, because the people of Earth-Prime are a fundamentally forgiving people. They are uncomfortable with the idea of true evil. Of darkness without light. Of the eternal suffering that is dread Nihilor. When they look at Tarva, they see a supervillain to be redeemed. A  criminal to be reformed." With a sudden violence, he slammed his fist against the table with a crack that produced a splitting in the wood an inch deep all around the crater left by his fist. 

From what Tona and Yves had seen, he was even now holding back. "We know better. I remember the voice that laughed, the song that mocked, on the day I was taken to the doomforges!" Pacing still, he caught Yves' eye, knowing that she would know what he meant beyond all others. "Not a pet mage to cast spells as needed. Not a lover to be taken to one's bedchamber." He blinked, and for a moment looked abashed at his own words. "...but that is only a rumor. Some things are better left unsaid." 

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The archer tensed up at the Omegadrone's sudden outburst, her hand dropping to her sides and her fingers flexing slowly. She knew that she wasn't supposed to attack the drone, that he was supposedly working to protect this world, but seeing him so angry still put her nerves on edge. Every instinct she had was telling her to run away, but she had to stand her ground and see this through. An Annhilist living literally above the city was too dangerous to let stay, even if she had to ally with the drone. And... the woman.

She swiveled her hips to consider the other woman. "I know what Harrier is," she said. "I've never seen you before."

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"I am an Omegadrone.  Same as him, the hair is not real.  Or rather it's real hair, partly so, but not really mine."  Yves replied to Tona unperturbed by Steve's outburst  Aside from the minor annoyance in Steve not picking a table she was not sitting at.  Working under the assumption that the young woman was indeed one of the proles as she earlier ascertained to no answer, Yves assumed the curiosity was well placed wariness.  "Steve's right, the blood of innocents is on my hands too.  To word it any other way would be a grave injustice."

Reaching into her pocket, Yves searched around for her badge.  Placing it on the table for full display.  Although she wasn't sure if she could call what was left upright a table.  It certainly wouldn't serve to hold a meal.  "Which would be a shame as on Earth-Prime I am an agent of justice.  I came during the Invasion twenty or so years ago now.  AEGIS rescued me from the wretched state of existence of a mindless drone.  As I said, I understand second chances."  

Yves folded her arms before facing Steve once more.  "I will not speak on rumors on anyone who has made the questionable choice to bed Tarva or the even more questionable one to trust her magics.  One can only hope Tarva's not trying to kill this man.  My real concerns are twofold.  Clearly, she cannot be trusted and will attempt to turn on her protectors to keep herself safe when the time comes and she attracts the attention of the Terminus.  Or worse, she has already made amends with Steelgrave if her betrayal wasn't a plot he hatched.  I wholeheartedly believe her nature to be anything shy of magnanimous.  Whatever treachery she is playing at needs to be uncovered before others pay for her transgressions."

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"I am not so sure she is his agent," admitted Steve, putting his foot up on one of the chairs and resting his chin in his hand. His outburst, and the anger behind it, had left him unsettled in his mind - his grief, his rage, had been emotions he had long since bottled away beneath the certain knowledge that neither were the provenance of one such as he. The fact that it was Tarva who could bring those emotions out was...an unpleasant thought. "My parents were intimates of Steelgrave, long ago on their lost homeworld, and I was one of his personal guard after I was broken in the forges. I was close to him for...an age." He fell silent, then spoke, putting words to difficult concepts.

"I do not think he would accept even the temporary humiliation of his concubine defecting to the Furions - not when his reputation is all that protects him from being pulled down by the other Annihilists. But Tarva has served many masters - the Tarvon whose name she bears, the Madrigal Martinet, her terrible Hounds...and she is a being defined by treachery." He looked at Tona and explained, "An Annihilist is one who betrays their world to the Terminus for power. An Omegadrone is one who is broken by the forges, and becomes their pawn. One such as Tarva is one who betrayed all that she was in order to live. A conqueror is an enemy to be destroyed. A collaborator is..." He trailed off, unable to finish the sentence without another explosion of rage. 

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"On my world the Lor Empire stretched out to the vasts corner of known space.  Earth or Terra was likely a small blip on the Lor's territory.  With such a political landscape the military's main purpose was exploration, advancement of technology, and knowledge of the space in general.  I...once wanted to be a diplomat.  Education being carried primarily through a technological upload meant a bereft of actual military experience.  It had been decades since a real engagement occurred.  Everything was peaceful until the Terminus invade."

"Captain Zril Vallen's ship was one of the first to fall.  Renowned for the lengths he went to keep his crew safe and his power as a mentat; he could control magnetism to a degree that he was the poster boy for the Lor military.  It caught everyone off guard.  Even moreso than the idea of an actual military engagement.  It came out later that Captain Vallen's entire crew was in on the invasion.  Holding together his ship with his abilities, Valen led the charge into either the Lor capital or the Lor Homeworld.  My world had already been wiped by then, and my time under the most wretched conditions begun, so I cannot tell you the specifics."

Yves stared at the mess of a table.  Suspecting she knew where that well of emotion came from.  "Tona was it?  Vallen's actions had no impact on what happened to my people.  Not really.  Omega would have conquered in the end.  That's what makes an Annihilsit's actions even more disgusting.  In return for small fortunes, perhaps a petty kingdom with their own fortress they willingly aid in the betrayal of their people.  They live in lavish conditions, while the rest of us...stop living.  They ensure this existence by loyally aiding in perpetuating the Terminus stream consumes more worlds."

 If the threat stopped and ended at Steelgrave that would be one thing.  It wouldn't be a good thing, but it would at least temper expectations.  Rival annihilists seeking to win favor with one of Omega's top lieutenant's or even usurp his position could take interest in someone who betrayed him and spent so much time near as Steve pointed out.  Them came the barbarians from the Warpworld, Yves knew little of the High-Exiles.  But, as far as she was led to believe they wished for a mutually assured destruction.  But, that could have easily been propaganda, the Terminus was hardly bereft of that.  The Overriders could see her as potential source of information for raiding parties.  Even the Shadowbane...may have their own interests.  Some people were worth fighting back such forces, but an annihilist?

If there were ever a person the AEGIS code was meant to exempt from not judging in protection.  Yves suspected their name started with the letter T.  "Why did the Furions bring her to this world?  Much less entrust her to those within the gaudy castle in the sky?  Even Steelgrave has proven himself incapable of seizing the Silverworld."  Floating over Nihilor soured her on such buildings like the DuTemps building and the Pyramid plaza.  As if the inhabitants looked down on the common man.  

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"If it was even the Furions," Tona said. "I'm not saying that the Terminus has subverted some, but would the Freedom League know the difference if someone showed in shining armor and said they were from the Silver Tree? If we're dealing with one of Steelgrave's chosen," she pointed out, "then we can't assume she's telling the truth. About anything." She shook her head sharply. "She could be feeding Steelgrave information on every single one of the city's heroes, prepping the Terminus for a successful invasion -- and the longer we stay here talking about it, the more time she has to do it."

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Before Yves' revelation, Steve had only one answer - his own story. "I had no murdered home. No lost world. I was born beneath the palaces of the Annihilists, in the Black Ghetto of dread Nihilor, among the proles that are the last remnants of their murdered worlds. But my parents had lived through the rise of what is today Steelgrave. They had seen how he had united his own world as its sole champion and righteous leader - and, then, how he became Steelgrave upon the arrival of Omega." 

He did his best to stay calm as they stayed on the subject of Tarva, reminding himself that having raised the subject with these other two that it was his responsibility to see it through. "From what I have been told, they chose to give her to Earth-Prime rather than leave her beneath the Silver Tree. She would have...polluted it, as I did in my time there, and Furion lives would have been spent defending her from the forces of the Terminus. It was the Swift and her companions who brought her from the Terminus, Tona - which is why I have not spoken before now." 

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Yves dared not speak while Steve recounted his tale.  Taking into account the fact that Steve had a first hand account of life within the reach of the Silver Tree, apparently, meant his word was worth taking there.    Her magics could have subverted the effects of the Doom Coil.  Making her loyalty to the Omega questionable.  But, no amount of good could overwrite the debt in such a ledger.  But, in the end that may be the only thing in the world she shared with Tarva.  Aside from a desire to wish the Black her last breath.

At least they knew where they could find Tarva.  Perhaps actually speak to the heroes giving her way more freedom than she deserved.  Officially requisition government surveillance.  "This contagious forging that she risked her life to stop.  Her atrocities and betrayals are numerous.  I wish to investigate this forge...even if it means."  She dared not speak the idea of visiting Nihilor.  Instead she played the sentiment off as asking Tona not to not act on her desire to eliminate Tarva.  "I i would ask that you stay your hand.  Might as I want to see Tarva the Black choke on her own blood.  It would not do if such a moment only served to fracture potential alliances for the day the Terminus really does return."

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Tona crossed her arms and tucked her chin into her chest, adopting a petulant tone. "I wasn't planning on killing her," she said. "We should be prepared for anything, though. If these heroes are under Tarva's control, then we have to be prepared for them to try to protect her." She frowned, thinking hard. "It might be a bad idea to confront them at all. If we can draw them off the building somehow, we might be able to take Tarva with much less danger to anyone else." She eyed Steve's road form and Yves's slim one. If they wanted to cause a ruckus but not a big one, who would be better at it?

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"I think breaching the defenses of the castle, even by stealth, is a mistake at this juncture," replied Steve, who had spent days puzzling through the tactics of the situation. "At this point the League is aware that she is in the custody of the Swift and the other heroes who dwell within the DuTemps Building. If we play the aggressor, then we make her the innocent victim of prejudice. Heroes do love an innocent to protect against the wicked." Anger boiled at the back of his voice at the very thought that Tarva could fall into that category. "So we plan, and we reconnoiter - but we do not act until we can all agree something has gone more wrong than it has already." 

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