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Avenger Assembled

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December 1, 2015 

Riverside 

5:30 PM

 

Gina Evans wasn't driving her car - she had Emerson for that. At least until Emerson gave her the warning beep that something was happening that required her attention. They'd been stopped for several minutes now in this small Riverside sidestreet, a shortcut Gina's mapping programs had uncovered months earlier when she'd begun her psychological visits to Dr. Franklin at Freedom Hall. Today's appointment had supposed to end with coming home to a pleasant dinner with Steve, but heavy traffic and now a police barricade had obstructed her travel plans. 

 

There were three other cars on the street with her, an SUV, a taxicab, and a luxury sportscar just ahead of her. She could see the man in the sportscar, wealthy from what she could see and the vehicle itself, cursing in frustration at the police cars in front of them. There were two police cars; each one blocking one lane of traffic, both with their lights flashing. The officers were engaged in setting up a barricade with traffic cones and road flares, occasionally stopping to converse with each other, but she couldn't make out what all the fuss was about. 

 

Behind them, their little mini-traffic jam was suddenly joined by a full-sized police SWAT transport truck! The truck, coming in so fast Gina could hear the squealing of its tires, made a neat pivot as it reached their alley, swinging like a door to block them in from the rear, too. SWAT officers poured out of the SWAT truck too, fully armed and in full body armor, and began the process of setting up another barricade behind them. 

 

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Gina took a moment to take three deep breaths and remind herself that her windows were tinted to the maximum legal limit for backseats; nobody was going to see her back here. With that done, she assessed the situation more calmly. Whatever was going on, it was big, and something that was going to severely tie up the traffic. Nobody near the scene was honking yet, though there were a few annoyed blasts from further back. People in Freedom City were used to having their commutes disrupted, and everybody would just count on having a story to tell later. Resting a hand on the car's rear electric panel, Gina tapped into the radio communications to see what was going on. 

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There didn't seem to be any radio communication going on between the police officers at all, a rather ominous thing given Gina's knowledge of police procedure. In fact, as she scanned the radio signals in the area, she couldn't detect any of the usual Freedom City traffic. 

 

In front of her, the man in the black Lexus finally got out and stormed over to the police barricade blocking the front end of the street. With his slightly long, slicked-down black hair and immaculate dark suit, he looked like a high-powered attorney or other executive, probably someone who'd been passing through middle-class alternative Riverside just like her. She saw him exchange a few short, obviously angry words with one of the police officers, an square-jawed blonde man with an impressive physique even underneath his uniform - a physique that was,now that she was paying attention, matched by all the other cops.

 

Without changing expression, the police officer pulled out his baton and suddenly struck the man in the stomach, then in the back before slamming him head-first into the side of the police car. Without changing expression, he pulled out his cuffs and began securing the man's hands behind his back. 

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Gina jolted at the sudden, unexpected outbreak of violence. "Emerson, secure the car," she ordered. All the locks clicked into place, and the tinting deepened beyond what would normally be allowed on passenger vehicles. Gina activated her communicator, the one with the voice synthesizer. She contacted the police dispatch. "FCPD, this is Miss Americana. I'm looking at a situation developing in Riverside at the intersection of Redding Street and Hewling Avenue, can you tell me what's going on? I see police on scene, but the situation doesn't seem to be controlled yet." Across the city, she set the robot into warm-up mode, where it would ready itself for deployment on auto-pilot and wait for her to take control. 

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A hiss of static greeted Gina's communicator as she tried calling first the police, then ominously her own robot. In the heart of tech-laden Freedom City, she was in the middle of a technological dead zone. Looking around her, she realized the stores on this side street were all closed; one side due to construction, the other a combination of closed storefronts and others simply shuttered. There was nowhere obvious to retreat to, other than the confines of her car. 

 

The executive kept gamely putting up a fight, kicking and struggling, until a pepper spray directly to the face made him gag and vomit, twitching before, red-faced, he slumped, semi-conscious. Two of the officers, one SWAT, one police, started going through the guy's car, searching front and back with their weapons drawn. Gina's car was next. 

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Gina whimpered aloud, then immediately wished she hadn't. Superheroes weren't supposed to whimper, and doing so just reminded her of how vulnerable and squishy she was when not in her superpowered robot body. But even without a robot body, she still had her brain, didn't she? Scrambling over the seat and into the front passenger space, she enabled Emerson's holographic mode, turning him into the very model of a boring, vaguely handsome middle-aged white male, very loosely based on one of Gina's brothers. She then went to work on the radio, pulling it free from its housing with a tool from her purse, then quickly pulling off bits of the housing and beginning to interface it with her phone. It was an excellent radio, satellite everything, and also carried some of the command pathways that let her drive from home when she wanted to, so there was bandwidth to spare, normally. Today though, she was only interested in one radio wavelength, the one that would let her get in touch with Steve.

 

As she worked, she refused to look out the front windshield, for fear that her hands would start shaking and ruin the delicate work. A pocket-sized mini soldering iron was tricky enough to wield at the best of times. She opened the phone, used the radio to tune the frequency. "Steve?" she began. "It's Gina. I'm at Redding and Hewling in Riverside, and I think there's going to be trouble. Some cops or people dressed as cops are stopping traffic and dragging people out of their cars. I'm all by myself," she emphasized, after delivering all that information in a single breath. "Can you hear me?" she asked belatedly. 

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"The strike directly through the face and out the rear of the skull," Steve was demonstrating for Talya with his pike, "will kill virtually any humanoid creature. After that, the blades are extended," he demonstrated this too, ratcheting out the barbed talons of his personal weapon as it sunk its claws into the back of the now-penetrated straw dummy's head. He spoke all the time he demonstrated in a low, dull monotone the way he might have recited names from a telephone book. But Talya could see through that lie. "And pulled back through what remains of the head." He demonstrated, the straw scattering to the floor around them. "The precision of the strike, combined with the level of personal destruction it brings, is enough to-" 

 

Suddenly Steve stopped talking, stopped paying attention to Talya altogether as he cocked his head like a dog hearing an ultrasonic whistle. When he spoke, his "Yes," carried both on radio waves and sonic waves, burned with the banked heat of the man's internal fire. His armor erupted from his body - not the shining bright transformation of Caradoc that Bombshell had already seen, but the horrific transformation of an Omegadrone, steel and flesh and cables rearranging themselves in the terrible logic that turned a man into a killing machine. And then that machine was moving, black and red flames erupting from his jetpack as he left the dojo not by the door but _through_ the bulletproof glass of the window, rocketing through the skies of Freedom City with a speed like a Formula One race car, his mind focused on the exact GPS directions to the address Gina had just given him. 

 

-

 

Gina's vastly enhanced intellect told her she was going to fail even as she desperately went about her work. Emerson's holographic disguise would fool these 'cops' only for a few seconds, and then where would _she_ be? She pulled the batteries out of one of her spare laptops and began connecting them to the car's electrical system, super-charging them with its powerful onboard batteries, her fingers working desperately to unravel what little copper wire she had into a working taser unit. She could see exactly how to build a unit powerful enough to stun even a low-level enhanced human - and she knew it would take her just a little too long to do anything at all. 

 

Having finished with the sports car, the 'cops' were now turning on her vehicle. As she hid in the backseat, her all-too-human fingers working as fast as flesh allowed, she saw a group of four officers approach the front door, where they paused. She heard their too-regular, inhuman commands for everyone to step out of the car, then another pause, like watching organic machines at work, then saw their batons come up to begin beating at the glass. Once, twice, and the glass fractured, and - 

 

The screaming in the sky, like a damned soul in pain, told her who was coming - Harrier didn't so much land on the asphalt as he cracked it, landing with a force so tremendous he cratered the road bed beneath his feet. He'd landed without regard for strategy on the middle of the road, directly between Gina's vehicle and the car in front of it. As the officers turned to face him, his pike cracked open in his hands, entropic energy singing from the blade, and he slashed the air, leaving behind a black mark in the air itself. 

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There were some sights that Talya would be happy to never see again in her long, immortal life. It was an unfortunately ever growing list. An Omegadrone in the sky was almost definitely in her top ten. She'd been watching the demonstration with dispassionate blue eyes, having found something of a kinship with Steve in tactical matters. As far removed as she had come from her origins, some part of her would always remain a British intelligence agent. Forewarned was forearmed, which was way she was watching the demonstration in the first place. As Steve stopped sudden and robotic, Talya's muscled tensed. Many might be frozen by the sight of the armor bursting out but Talya had long ago learned how to work with her fight or flight responses rather than against them. Steve was faster than she was but he had a window to break through first. Hopefully that would give Talya a very, very small window of opportunity.

 

One shot. I have one shot.

 

She pulled out her baton from its holster on her belt, snapping her hand out and forward as her fingertips pressed the hidden trigger to fire the grapple gun concealed in the hollow steel shaft. There was no time for elation over making the difficult shot as the weighted end tangled around one of the flares of the Omegadrone armor. No, Talya only had time to get a decent grip before the entirety of her attention was on not ending up plastered against a building or sign at speeds well above the triple digits in miles per hour. Only when his course adjusted to plummet towards the earth, could Talya hit the release on the cord in the hopes of controlling her own descent. She was moving too fast for the strange magic that blurred perceptions to kick in but she tucked into a small compact ball, redirecting her momentum into a near soundless landing past Harrier and his targets, on the hood of the car that had been trapped in front of Gina's./ 

 

Erik's going to be upset about that window. If he's not more upset about Steve potentially being reactivated as 'Drone. 

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Gina's relief was mixed with renewed terror as she watched Harrier plummet from the sky, looking like the wrath of something that definitely wasn't God. He hadn't turned on his holoprojector, and he was making absolutely no effort to put the citizenry at ease. She could hear screams already from people in the cars behind her, as though they hadn't been nervous enough already. This was going to be a disaster... but at the same time she was so, so, so happy just to see him there, scary and imposing and on her side. Something else landed nearby, maybe someone else, but Gina couldn't get a good look, and she was busy anyway. Bending to her work, she finished her rudimentary taser, then stuck it through the broken front window and into the arm of the nearest thug. 

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Gina sprung into action, driving the pointed barbs of her taser directly into the flesh of the nearest 'police officer', who she realized, with a feeling of sick horror, looked exactly like all the other officers. Perhaps that was why the electricial discharge, for all that she could see it working and even feel the hum of the inner batteries charging the makeshift device, didn't seem to phase the man for a second! He didn't so much as smile in triumph as he reached for her again, an instant before glowing black Terminus energy shrieked past the man's head, the sound up close almost deafening as it blasted a hole in one of the nearby SWAT cars blocking the other side of the street. The blast had come so close that Gina could see the clone's hair had actually caught on fire! 

 

It would be the last time Harrier missed deliberately that day. "Run." he pronounced as he advanced on the clones menacing Gina, heedless of the screaming civilians elsewhere on the street. 

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Gina tried the taser once more, frowning when it again had to effect, but by then she had bigger things to worry about. Her car was still surrounded, despite the clones having bigger fish to fry right now, so escape was out. Radio frequencies were still being blocked, so she couldn't summon Miss Americana. All she could do was duck down in her backseat, watching as Harrier thudded implacably down the pavement, ready to destroy everything in his way. It was, she had to admit, just a little exciting, even as it was also terrifying on several levels. 

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It was a sign of how unsettlingly wrong the police officers were that the response of the closest to Harrier was to advance on him, hand at the sidearm at his waist. "Please step back, sir, this is-" 

 

Harrier didn't hesitate. He brought up his pike and stepped close, catching the man behind the head in an embrace that lasted just long enough for Steve to ram his spiked head directly into the man's face. There was a crunch as teeth broke, and the man dropped, bleeding heavily from a deep cut on his forehead and shallower ones on his cheeks. The hardest part had been in not crushing his skull like a grape. Walking forward with a slow, deliberate stride, Harrier swept his pike downward and caught the second clone in the groin, then smashed the man under the chin with enough force to send him cartwheeling backwards and against the pavement with a heavy thump. 

 

The third officer actually had time to get his gun out and fire a shot that ricocheted off Steve's armored chest. Without breaking stride, Steve pulled the gun out of the man's hand with a snap of breaking finger, then brought the gun around to smash the man across the face and smash him backwards and onto the floor. It had been fast and brutal, but he'd taken the three thugs apart without so much as slowing down. He could have killed them all if he had wanted to - and as he looked across the car at the two remaining 'policemen', his intentions seemed nakedly obviously. He distantly heard the screams of terror from the other vehicles, saw the people running _towards_ the police in the other vehicles...and hesitated. 

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There were very, very few things that could throw Bombshell off her stride. The fact that Steve had gone full Omegadrone and busted through their window, no problem. Hanging from one foot at 120 plus miles per hour through the city, just another Tuesday. The face on these officers - that terrible, familiar face - that caused the immortal heroine to freeze, balanced on the toes of her boots on the car. Likely, it went entirely unnoticed with the far more pressing chaos. By the time she'd leapt into motion again, there were bodies bleeding on the ground - but not dead. So, not activated by Omega.

 

After all, Talya had lived through the last two invasions. She knew what an actual Omegadrone battle looked like and if punches had been pulled, well, that was only for worse atrocities as a prisoner. 

 

She flipped over the hood of the car, landing on silent feet only to continue forward as she brought the back end of her baton up and into the villain's throat, it was as precise as it was efficient, with just enough strength to lay the man out without crushing his windpipe. She raised her voice then, projecting in a clear, crisp voice, with the full weight of her personality behind it, "These are not actual officers!"

 

Of course, who knew how that would be taken. Her reputation, after all, was not the most sterling of heroes. 

 

Tonight, on the news, former felon Bombshell is now working with the Terminus. I can just see it. Dammit, Steve.

 

 

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The last surviving police officer fired his weapon at Bombshell, the bullet not even coming close to the agile former cat burglar. "Strike down as many of us as you dare. We will still prevail. We are the first of many," said the clone in a flat, increasingly wavery accent, words and tonality jumping from word to word as if shifting nationality and background from moment to moment. "The time of inundation has begun!" And with that, before the heroes could react to stop him, the clone put his pistol beneath his chin and pulled the trigger! 

 

Outside, at the edges of the blockade, a new situation was growing - the civilians who had fled the oncoming Omegadrone were now in the hands of the police - an odd-looking bunch in clearly misshapen uniforms, and some of them misshapen too, human clones that would not have successfully passed the way the first had. As the echoes of the gunshot rippled through the blocked-off alley, one of the 'clones' put his hand to the side of a hostage's head, menacing the frightened-looking young mother with a hand that glowed red. 

 

"Heroes! You will fight us if you want these to live!" 

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"This is a trap," spoke Harrier aloud so that Gina and Bombshell could hear, his cybernetically altered voice sounding like the creak of metal from the grave without the Caradoc disguise active. He advanced on the clones and their hostages with slow, deliberate intent. He saw the hostages, a family with children and two young women together, cowering in terror at his approach, at the glowing tip of his pike and the cold black Terminus steel of his armored body, and as he got close he moderated his initial plan to strike the one who had spoken with an overhead strike to the exposed face - directly interposing his blade between powered hand and all-too-human flesh. 


Instead, feet away from the mixed group of clones, he drove his still-glowing pike into the ground and growled, taking a chance. 

 

"Where is your master?" 

 

"Leading his armies on the Scarab!" declared the leading clone nearest Harrier, a muscular fellow matched by several equally bulky duplicates nearby. "When Heru-Ra is destroyed, then SHADOW will blot out the very sun!" 

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"The real Kantor is a better liar," Bombshell commented laconically, and only someone who knew her very well would catch the dangerous edge behind her lazy commentary. "You haven't the faintest where he is at the moment. Unfortunate for you, I have to say. If you had knowledge, you'd be useful. Poor, lost expendable clones. Bad day for you, I'm afraid. My friend, you see, is in a just terrible mood."

 

With little warning, the blond thief moved fluidly, shifting from her relaxed stance into sudden movement as she leapt through the area with an acrobat's expertise to land lightly in the midst of the hostages. Her baton snapped out to crack the leader in the back of the skull with vicious precision as she added, very softly, "And so am I."

 

 

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The clones went into action at that juncture, minus the big ones that Harrier had knocked off-balance at the beginning of the fight. As promised, they ignored the hostages (who were now climbing over the trucks and cars to try and escape the blocked-off alley) and went straight for the superheroes, their strange powers tearing away their copied police uniforms and SWAT armor to reveal the twisted clone physiologies within. A group went for Harrier with fire, dodging and weaving around him in the air as they hurled bolts of flame at his armored body, setting up another one to hurl a mighty gout of flame at his torso. But the Omegadrone, big and bulky though he was, proved faster - he whipped his pike around and caught the flame with the glowing tip, smashing the fire into the asphalt and leaving a bubbling crater behind. 


Bombshell was less lucky, the third group, oddly tall and skinny, hurled a pepper of blasts around her that knocked her off her feet, the pitted asphalt around her a sign that she'd gotten lucky even so from the near-miss. These clones were not holding back - and they were in great numbers!

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Gina crouched lower inside her woefully-underarmored sedan and peered over the dashboard, part of her mind already occupied with plans for much more combat-suitable transportation for the future. Up until now, it had never seemed necessary, but she severely regretted the lack. "Go cause a distraction," she told Emerson, who obediently exited the car and began trundling down the street on its sturdy tracked wheels, blasting John Phillips Sousa from its speakers at full volume. 

 

"Well, it'll do," she muttered, then scrunched her eyes shut, searching with her mind for the source of the radio disturbance. One of the SWAT trucks, she discerned, empty now but still running, just waiting for instructions. She could provide that. Reaching her mental senses across the intervening distance, no radio signal required when she was so close, she hooked into the network of electronics that made up the brain of the vehicle and began making helpful suggestions. Within moments, the radio signal blanket was dissipating, and the truck was careening towards the fighting! 

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Harrier waded into the fray against the strongmen, lashing out with his pike and grabbing the leader, then spinning on his heel and smashing the big clone face-first into the concrete with great force. It was a flashy move, designed to quickly incapacitate the genetically-engineered super-soldier and intimidate his rivals. Unfortunately, perhaps because these were fresh-decanted clones and not real men, Harrier's efforts there failed. The remaining clones surrounded him and began throwing punches, augmented muscles bruising even flesh protected by Terminus steel, actually driving the Omegadrone to one knee through the sheer force of his blows. 

 

At least until a new player entered the scene - as the SWAT van rolled up on the combat, there was the terrible sound of grinding and clanking from within it, until a golem (there was no other word for it) erupted right through the windows. All sparking cables and flashing lights, it was the dashboard, the police radio, the SWAT teams' walkie-talkies, and a dozen other bits of random electronics in the general size and shape of a man. The golem entered the fray by smashing its iron fists against the back of a clone's head, sending the latter sprawling to the ground, then tripping another with a dangling cable and bouncing its head off the van's bumper. 

 

Whoever it was seemed to be on the side of the heroes. 

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As the attention turned to the most obvious threats, any eyes still on the limber thief would see her fade from view only to reappear behind the clone that Harrier had failed to drop. Her baton twirled in one bare hand and snapped forward, punching the unsuspecting clone in the back of the cranium still standing over the Omega Drone. Sucker punch? Absolutely, but Bombshell had long ago learned that fair fights were really nothing of the sort. 

 

If you told me this morning, I'd be clobbering a Kantor-lookalike from wailing on an Omega Drone in armor.... Well, I suppose there have been stranger mornings. "Well, if the nuts-and-bolts monstrosity isn't actually on our side, it's clearly your duty to wrestle him - her - it. I didn't have time to grab the anti-tank arsenal."

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Pulling himself back to his feet, Harrier took a few measured steps towards the last remaining group of villains, the clones whose warped bodies were covered in sheathes of flame. With an Omegadrone on one side, an animate golem on the other, and Bombshell in front of them - the remaining Flames-in-Shadow took to the sky, rising high and fast on columns of fire. Harrier seriously considered following them - but then decided their work at ground level wasn't finished. And that he could hardly leave Gina back there. Reaching over, he put a hand on the robotic creature's arm and spoke in a metallic voice. "Thank you." 

 

With a wail of sirens coming now, real sirens, Harrier turned away, waiting a bare moment before the explosion he'd fully expected to happen never materialize. "I must go," he spoke to Bombshell, some unknown emotion burning in his metallic voice. "You must speak to them." Without another word, he turned and strode to one car in particular. The golem had told him that Gina was all right - but he had to see it for himself. 

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"Seriously?" Talya wanted to know, as she twisted from where she'd been watching the clones fly off - but Steve was already striding away. "Seriously!?" The thief wanted to know as she looked down at the half the costume she'd been wearing to work out in and then around at the carnage. "If I get arrested, you're the one that gets to explain why I'm late to dinner!"

 

Talya called after the Omega Drone, throwing her hands up in the air as she scowled at the scene. Historically, her silver tongue only went so far with Freedom's Finest. As she tried to find a politic way to explain why a former felon just had to help an OmegaDrone beat up some police officers, she sent another mystified frown in Steve's direction adding in what was distinctly an aggravated grumble, "At least bloody well de-armor before someone thinks there's another invasion."

 

She turned towards the first responders with her most polished and charming smile, "Everything's well in hand, gentlemen - ladies - if you'll just allow me to explain..."

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The doors of the car at the center of all the fighting were locked, but that was no barrier at all to six hundred pounds of deeply concerned Omegadrone. With a moment's effort, one of those locked doors was ripped clear of its moorings, just in time for Gina to tumble into Harrier's arms, insensate but otherwise unharmed. She opened her eyes after just a second, reorienting herself to her surroundings. "You didn't activate your holoprojector," she murmured affectionately, raising one hand to trace the smooth face of his mask. "Dumbass." 

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Steve's armor retracted at her touch - an all-too-familiar gory transformation that in a moment resolved itself into the face and body of her lover. "I never considered it. When they chose to put you in danger, I chose to teach them fear." And with that, he bent down. He was substantially taller and broader than Gina, but his great strength made that no obstacle. He picked her up by the waist, supported her with his hand on her buttocks, and kissed her passionately on the lips - the kind of fiery embrace that for all their time together had been reserved for the most private of moments. 

 

-

 

The police officers, luckily, couldn't quite make out the moment with Bombshell obscuring the way. "We had a call about men impersonating police officers attempting multiple kidnappings - and then an Omegadrone and Bombshell fighting the police?" inquired one officer, looking at Talya over his sunglasses. He didn't sound suspicious so much as...fatigued. "Mind telling us what happened?" he asked over the sound of sirens, as other emergency personnel went to tend the injured and uninjured hostages, including the unfortunate, bloodied lawyer whose beating had motivated Gina's original call. 

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Talya smoothly shifted to sympathy mode, "Illusionist," she provided without missing a beat as Steve was too busy to offer things like honesty. "Bending perceptions and terrifying people with some hired thugs. Fortunately Caradoc and I were able to deal with the rabble - he's gone to chase after the mastermind but I'm happy to answer whatever questions you might have," Talya added, with just the right touch of nuanced concern. She kept eye contact, only glancing to make certain that Steve had dropped his armor when the movement looked natural. 

 

She blinked once and then shifted to further obscure whatever-the-hell was going on behind her. Spreading her hands artlessly wide in a way that would catch more eyes, Talya added glibly, "Although there isn't much that I can tell you. I'm certain my teammate is already relaying the details to the rest of the Interceptors. Is there anything more I can do to help, officer?"

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