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Content Note: Disturbing Content, Gore 


September 2016 

Freedom Hall 


The world survived the Terminus Invasion. But only a few people on it survived a Terminus invasion - from the other side. 


Neither Steve Murdock nor Tarva the Black had so much as looked at each other upon their arrival in Freedom Hall. Rather, they had taken seats on the opposite sides of the conference room's big table, each joined by their closest allies, responding to the one summon in the multiverse that could bring the two of them together under one roof. Freedom Hall and its staff seemed on edge tonight- and no wonder, with all the crises great and small that had come that summer, and with this new crisis no doubt whistling through the super community like an incoming shell. 


"As you know, the Freedom League occasionally dispatches remote multiversal probes to probe areas of Terminus activity, using Zero Zone technology originally gathered from the Centurion." Daedalus, who Steve knew was no mere man but an ageless immortal (at least in the realities he knew), looked fatigued today, and perhaps some shadow of his age. "That's the source of the data we send to Archetech and the DuTemps Building," he added, with a nod to Ghost Girl and Miss Americana. "Typically the data we recover is largely fluctuating levels of entropic radiation. A multiversal weather report," he added for the benefit of the non-cosmic scholars in the room. "Recently, one of our probes was activated by a significant surge of entropic radiation greater than what was observed during the invasion of 1993. This triggered its internal video function and autonomous exploration unit." 




It was Liberty Park. Or had been, once. The city was transformed into abomination. A red, pitiless sky lit by a too-bright, too-blue sun lit a park whose trees had burned and stones been shattered by spiked half-spheres that gleamed with an almost organic oily wetness. The doomforges lay empty now - but there were Omegadrones perched on them, the light, quickly-made ones that could nonethless slice a normal man in half or throttle him alive, like flocks of demonic birds waiting for the kill. The forges themselves were decorated with a scattering of corpses like so many mounted butterflies, the impaled, half-decayed corpses of beings who by the bright colors of their tattered costumes had once been superheroes. 


Tarva had turned paler and paler as the film played, her eyes staring and hands pressed flat against the table in front of her as if she was about to bolt, while Steve was bolt-upright in his chair and watching the film with an intensity that suggested a gathering storm. "...those drones are dead," he said, his voice a low rumble. And sure enough, one of the drones, one perched at the very edge of the doomforge that must have created it, actually tilted and toppled off as the group watched, hitting the ashy ground below with a tremendous crash. 


"Is this actually from the Terminus," asked Tarva, her voice tight and close to tears. "Can your probe peer so far?" 

"No," said Daedalus, shaking his head. "The radiation levels suggest there's been cosmic compaction on a tremendous scale - but this universe has not yet, for the moment, been pulled past the entropic threshold." 


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"So what is it that we're seeing?" Miss Americana asked, her tightly laced fingers the only outward sign of tension in her body. She'd given Tarva a long, unfathomable look upon meeting her, but had engaged in the minimal civility required under the circumstances. "I've seen reports that say Omega has used dead worlds as staging areas for attempting new attacks on our world or other worlds. A surge of entropic energy could indicate something like that is happening, but those forges don't look like they've been touched in awhile. And obviously if the drones are dead... what killed them?" 

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"I could--" Ghost Girl began before stopping short and pressing her navy blue lips together into a thin line and looked down toward the back of Tarva's head with a furrowed brow. She'd remained standing - or rather floating - and where Miss Americana's manner had been perhaps a bit icy the poltergeist had been literally so, lowering the temperature by several degrees in a wide berth around her. In one way or another no one in the room had seemed particularly bothered by it and once the footage had begun to play she'd been far more concerned with her partner's reaction than shooting guarded looks at their opposite numbers across the table.


She'd had time to come to a better understanding of the former Omegadrone's situation since their last meeting and for Sharl's sake if nothing else she wasn't planning on antagonizing the tech mogul but Kimber didn't like any aspect of the meeting. Letting out a long breath that was, strictly speaking, pure affectation on her part she placed a reassuring hand between Tarva's shoulders and continued. "I could tell you what killed them. If I were there." She gave Daedalus a cool look.  "That's where this is going, right? They didn't need to physically come down here just to consult. But if you're sending anybody, you send me. Five minutes, in and out, I'll have your answers." She assumed that reliving whatever had happened on that blighted world wasn't going to be a picnic but if it meant keeping Tarva well and away from anything Terminus related she considered it a fair deal.

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Bombshell might have seemed an odd presence at Steve's side, immaculate in the silver and grey that she'd taken to wearing since joining the Interceptors; her jacket casually slung over the back of the chair. With her long legs crossed and her casual posture, she might as well have been utterly oblivious to the razor wire tight tensions in the room. As her blue eyed gaze flicked to the screen, her expression remained undisturbed although she watched carefully. Talya had fought in both of the invasions that had occurred in this dimension; she'd lost friends and colleagues in both. 


"No one's going in alone to a dimension teetering on the brink of oblivion," she said, the words dry. "I rather suspect that the first step here is to garner information to see if an expedition is even necessary. They didn't summon any of the dimensional experts. They summoned the two people in Freedom City who understand the Terminus from a point of view that no one else shares."


The ex-spy turned her attention, pointedly, to Daedelus then,"I mean, I'm all for theatrics, of course, but what information is that you hope to glean?"

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Daphne wasn't quite sure why she had been invited along to Freedom Hall but she had been excited to have been asked along nevertheless, feeling all grown up and important sitting there being briefed by Daedelus himself. Or at least until the briefing starting proper.


Despite what some "experts" would tell you being raised, as Daphne was, by television didn't desensitize you, quite the opposite in Daphne's case. The images made her sad, but it also made her determined to go and help anyone that she could. Not feeling quite as confident as she did before she cautiously raised one of her hands.


"Erm... I'm not sure if I'm of any use but if I can help I'd like to do what I can."


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Steve's lined eyes flicked from Tarva to Daphne and back again, putting together the naive young woman's reaction with what he knew of the people who lived in the DuTemps Building. Silent though he was, the look on his dark face was as if lightning had flashed in the stormclouds brewing over his head. 


"You are, uh, here because the League suggested I bring associates..." said the shadow-witch shakily, looking briefly at Daphne and then at Daedalus again. She didn't look at Kimber at first - but the ghost could feel the tension in her lover's body, and knew how grateful she was for the touch. Tarva had been a bundle of nerves, shaky and tense, since the news of their summoning had arrived. "Y-you should-" She did look over at Kimber now. "The city would swim in death - and that world. You should not go alone.


"Yes, well," said Daedalus. "Murdock and Tarva represent two very different perspectives on the Terminus - both are valuable. Before we debate the point of dimensional travel, there is another matter. Before our probe went into automatic shutdown, it intercepted a SOS signal, one with enough signal variation that we're confident it came from a live sender. Not powerful enough for direction-finding, not with the equipment we use, but enough to tell us that it was coming from somewhere in that version of Freedom City." 


"It...is likely it is a trap," said Steve reluctantly, his voice a low, unhappy rumble. "Such things are not uncommon. An entropic fission device would be within the reach of almost any Annilihist - and it would create an opportunity for further destruction. A detonation would obliterate an investigating party - and any survivors could be tracked easily to their home. I advise caution." 

"How-how can you be so cold?" hissed Tarva at the former drone. "Survivors on that world could be hunted by drones even now.


Steve shifted in his seat, the slight creak of leather a sign of his great weight. "Yes. And their master would think nothing of destroying those drones if it meant luring enemies to their doom." He locked eyes with the shadow-witch - who Kimber felt wilt. 


"I...yes. M-maybe caution is the best idea..." 

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"I agree that the possibility of a trap is very high," Miss A said evenly, "but if there are survivors on that world, it would be merciful for us to intervene now that we've heard their SOS." She carefully did not frame the question in terms of duty or obligation; taking on moral obligation for atrocities committed outside one's own reality was tricky business in a multiverse where everything that could happen theoretically did happen. "I suggest we send a semi-autonomous robot or robots mounted with cameras and communications equipment. I have several heavy-duty Emerson units on treads that should be able to traverse that kind of ground. We don't need to put anybody at risk." 

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Kimber rubbed the hand on Tarva's back in slow, reassuring circles. "Wasn't planning to vacation there," she promised with a weak smile. She noticed the look 'Murdock' gave Daphne but addressed Daedalus instead. "You wanted perspectives and I'm sure we all already have... feelings about the Terminus. Miss Grue is as far outside the box as you're going to get, I think we'll all be glad she came along." It was partly in defence of Tarva's choice and partly to reassure the hesitant alien girl but it was tough to miss the implied message that the former Omegadrone needed to cool his jets a little. Maybe literally, she didn't really know any specifics about the cyborg's physiology.


She closed her eyes briefly and reminded herself not to get snappish. "Robots make a lot of sense," she agreed more evenly with Miss Americana after a moment, "but I still think I should go with them. The Terminus has... resources for affecting ghosts but they're a lot less likely to have those immediately on-hand if it is a trap. I ought to be able to get back well before they can bring anything to bear that I need to worry about." She looked to the other blonde woman beside Murdock with as much amusement as she could muster, the ice crystal patterns on the shoulders of her coat glittering preternaturally along with the light in her eyes. Bombshell had to be Dimitri's favourite non-volcanic person so the poltergeist assumed she could appreciate a little icy undead dramatics. Under better circumstances she would have been excited to finally meet the Englishwoman in person. "If we're being theatrical, 'brink of oblivion' is just about my natural state, eh? Robots in first, though, by all means. Don't have a second death wish!"

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Bombshell sighed and it wasn't an affectation. "If we're going to trickle in one at a time, then I should go first, really." She pointed out without preamble. "That said, I think if we are to go in at all, it's best done swiftly and as a coordinated group from the start. Time seems to be of the essence as who knows how long the world will remain remotely stable. That said, there's got to be something more than a survivor's distress at stake." 


Behind her mask, Talya was regal and coolly composed and although her relaxed posture didn't betray it, bleakness flickered through her blue eyed gaze briefly as she fixed the look on the man who'd gathered them here today. "You wouldn't be willing to risk two of the only people with an insider's knowledge of the Terminus for an act of mercy. There's information that's wanted, information that could point to either the salvation or the damnation of this world. There's nothing else that would warrant punching holes from this dimension to one already falling fast." Bombshell was briefly grateful that it was she who Steve had brought from the team; it could have been Erik, after all. He was a good man, someone who'd struggle with walking away from any potential innocent. Oh, let's be honest, he'd have leapt in, sword blazing. 


Talya, however, was not that sort of hero. "So what do you need and who has to go, really, is the question?"

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Daphne whilst upset at the revelation wasn’t about to mope around about such things, beside she was  bolstered about the kind words Kimber had said. People were in trouble and she was determined to help save them if they could, things were dark but they weren’t completely hopeless. And thinking about it she had one or two tricks that might help in this situation, smiling she reached down to her Marvin the Martian backpack and pulled out a matt black cube about the size of an old Rubix cube, as she placed it on the desk in front of her the cube didn’t seem to reflect any of the lights in the room.


“This is Mother Unit she’s the one that raised me on my journey to Earth, she’s also a highly advanced computer able to interact with almost any other computer device.”


It’s a pleasure to meet you all. I’m afraid my database about the Terminus has been corrupted, but I’d be happy to help in any way I can strangely her mental voice had a clipped British accent, sounding not unlike Mary Poppins


“I also have a stealth ship that invisible to the naked eye, I’m no expert but it shouldn’t be difficult to convert the ship's warp drive to travel between dimensions.”


She was excited about being able to help, but she tried not to let it show too much in her voice she’d had learned quite a bit of restraint in her time on Earth.

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Daedalus studied Miss Grue, giving her a level, albeit not unfriendly stare, before speaking again. "Miss Grue, you should be aware that the signal we detected across the dimensional barrier was a standard Grue miitary distress signal. We don't know what that means at this point - but your familiarity with Grue culture and technology is one of the major reasons why the League assented to Tarva's request to include you as an observer. I should have told you this beforehand," he admitted, "but we needed to know your character."  


"Fate brought you here," Tarva told Daphne reassuringly, "and fate will guide you to success." 


Even across the city and in her cradle, Gina could feel the tension in Steve as he pushed himself to his feet with a sudden burst of energy that sent his chair sliding backwards with a notable squeak against the shiny marbled floor beneath them. "If - if the probes find survivors, I recommend a small party," he said. "With expertise in both science and mysticism - and training in stealth." The tactical report seemed to bring him peace - or at least give him something to focus on. He looked up from the table where he'd been staring. "I concur with Miss Americana. This must be investigated without destroying what lies beyond - but the risk of what lies beyond that portal is greater than your deaths." 


Daedalus spoke again. "The general consensus, based on what we've learned from accounts of Terminus invasions in other worlds, is that we were fortunate to escape as lightly as we did in 1993." They all knew what it meant to call the Invasion of '93 light - its memorials were everywhere in the city, including a memorial to the greatest loss of all. "If the people on the other side of that portal found a way, even in their last extremity, to stop an invasion cold, we owe it to them to find out what happened - and make sure what they found is not lost to the forces of entropy." 

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"It's a Grue distress call?" Miss Americana asked incredulously. "Daedelus, with the notable exception of present company and less than a handful of others, Grue are at the very best moderately hostile to humanity, and incredibly aggressive at worst. Mounting a rescue effort could see us attacked by the very beings we're purporting to try and save. And you of all people would understand that without us having to spell it out." She narrowed her eyes at him. "It sounds a lot like you want this to be a fact-finding mission about what killed those drones, and if we should happen to run into any sentients who don't try and kill us, maybe we can bring them home with us.


"But either way," she continued, "I still maintain that a robot advance guard is the way to go, followed by a very small party of sturdy individuals. There's no indication that anybody is watching the portal at all, but if they are, any trap may as well be sprung by something that can't get hurt and is totally expendable. I can have three Emerson units retrofitted in the next two hours, they'll be capable of establishing a perimeter and getting toxicity and radiation readings as well. I'm not a portal traveler myself, and I believe Caradoc shouldn't go through either until we understand what killed those drones and whether it might still be active. The rest of you can work it out amongst yourselves." 

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"Hooray team," Kimber drawled just loudly enough to be clearly heard across the table. It made sense not to walk Harrier into whatever had killed all of the drones on that world, not without knowing more but it was another thing for Americana to say that she 'wasn't a portal traveler' as if that explained everything. Sharl was a proudly soulless computer program who didn't believe in magic but he was still willing to hop through a tear in the fabric of reality if it meant helping out. The same couldn't be said for his mentor evidently. There was probably a good reason for it, the poltergeist tried to remind herself but she couldn't help remembering the phone conversation she'd had with the futurist after the original Sharl's fight with the Curator.


"Anyway. Two hours gives the rest of us time to get ready," she added more loudly, turning her attention over to Daphne. "Wraith and I worked with free Grue during the Communion incursion. Saving the galaxy." She didn't expand on that but the emphasis she put on those last few words made her point clear enough. 

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Bombshell lifted a negligent shoulder, expressing no outward concern about being the only member of her 'side' still volunteered for crossing the gate. Kimber, she well knew, was dear to Dimitri and that alone would have been enough to get her reluctant assent to this particular fools errand. Silently, she briefly remembered why she'd once walked on the other side in the first place. Suicidal heroics lost their luster after the first couple of years and after that, it was only grim reluctance and the vague guilt for those left worried at home. 


"I have no particular allergen to dimensional travel and far more years of espionage experience than any person has a right to. I'll plan to go through the portal with those sentient creatures deciding to venture along this particular foolish endeavor." She drawled, making no bones about her opinion on the necessity of this trip. Brushing her gloved hands together, she went to stand up slowly and gave Kimber a small eye roll at her emphasis.


"Enough," she chided gently, and her comments seemed addressed to everyone, "If we're all going to do something fool hardy and stupid together, like brave a lost world, no one ought waste time or energy scoring points. It is very likely that our lives - or at least - our safety will be in each other's hands. If you don't feel you can trust each other enough for that, then its best to stay on this side of the portal. Now, I believe that someone promised me that there would be refreshments?"

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Though she was excited that her own kind were mentioned she was a little embarrassed by the fact that she knew fairly little about the Grue. Even though she should have perfect control of her looks, she actually managed to blush a little at the fact.


“Well I don’t know much about the Grue Unity in this universe, let alone another Earth. But I do speak the language and Mother Unit should be able to interface with any technology they have, so I should be able to help.”


She pulled herself up to her full height.


“I’d like to go help as much as I can. I’d also like some refreshment as well please.”

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With the need to modify the heavy Emerson units to pass through the portal without being affected by the fluctuating entropic energies from a universe near the point of collapse, it made sense to do the work in Freedom Hall with real-time access to the sensor information from the other world. Daedalus volunteered himself as a partner for Miss Americana - and as usual she found him an almost preternaturally good lab colleague, anticipating her technical needs almost the moment she had them. It wasn't that he was any smarter than she was, just that he seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing what tools were necessary for what job. 


"My concern about missions to the fringes of the Terminus, beyond capture, is the risk of defection - your thoughts?" When talking to Miss America, Daedalus tended to describe social situations like they were scientific problems to be overcome, something Miss A was fairly sure he didn't do with other people. 


Steve went looking for no weak emotional comfort when Gina was occupied with the work that would rescue, or doom, the inhabitants of that lost world. He made his excuses to seperate himself from Bombshell as well, not wanting to burden his ally with his thoughts. Instead he went to the roof of Freedom Hall and knelt by its edge, staring out at the green, grassy places on the lawn of the substantial complex. He stared out at the grass and saw it burning tried to enjoy the scenery and the promise of life but _saw the bodies piled writhing and heard the orders of the Annihilists_. He wondered if the world on the other side of the portal looked so familiar to Tarva the Black. Perhaps not. The games she had played once, on the other side of their lives, had been at the heart of the Terminus itself.  


"It's not Nihilor," Tarva was telling Kimber briskly as they borrowed one of Seven's empty meditation rooms so the former could gather her dark spectral energies. "so we can walk its streets and live. But you must not tarry and you must not hesitate, boon," said Tarva, putting her hand on Kimber's and looking into her eyes. "Places touched by the Terminus are traps for the better-minded. Whatever you see there, whoever _is_ there, you must let those things slide from your mind. I may have learned damnation but I learned survival in the same token.


There were a variety of light refreshments, both liquid and solid, for Daphne and Talya, the latter further served (or at least catered to) by what looked like a recently-added lactating room down the hall. Come to think of it, there had been quite a few new super-families added to the League's roster in the last few years, even if those children were of course not typically underfoot in Freedom Hall proper. 


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"Defection?" Miss Americana asked, not raising her head from the tetchy, exacting work she was doing in the guts of one of her robots. "The robots certainly aren't about to switch sides, they're nowhere near self-aware enough for that. I have remote self destruct switches on all of them in case they're taken, they'll melt to slag. As for the people... I don't know any of them very well," she admitted. "But the only one I can even imagine flipping would be the Annihilist. It would, in fact, be pretty true to form if she found a situation she thought would be more conducive to her own safety and comfort. If she were to defect, she might take Ghost Girl with her, but I honestly don't think so. Like I said, I don't know her well, but I know of her. She wouldn't turn." 

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"We're all agreed that this pretty much for sure a trap, eh?" Legs folded under her where she floated in the air next to the shadow witch Kimber let out a soft huff. "Could have sworn I used to be an optimist. Don't worry, Tarva, I left the wide-eyes routine in Jotunheim. Might even get to break out a trick I worked out while I was trying to see things from Sharl's perspective. I bet Miss Natural Blonde would love that."


She turned her hand around under her partner's to squeeze deceptively strong fingers with her own. "But listen, no 'lesser of two necessary evils' talk, okay? No matter what happens I'm not leaving you, so it's like New Coke survival. Same great survival taste, none of the damnation." She drummed up a smile to go along with the pithy words but her grip was tight and her gaze unblinking.

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"People often assume that scientists and engineers don't know anything about their fellow human beings - but in my experience, the best scientists and engineers know human beings very well indeed." Daedalus didn't talk for a while after that, instead waiting until there was a moment's break in between refittings. "If you think they can be trusted together, I'll sign off on a live mission. I'd say that I hope the Fates would keep us from such a thing - but then they never do." His smile had very little humor in it. 


"I understand," said Tarva, leaning her head against Kimber's. "I would ask nothing different of you, my own. It is our fate to be who we are." 


Caradoc was out late that night, returning to the house that he and Gina shared only long after her repairs were finished and she'd left Miss Americana's body behind. He'd called only once, to speak over the radio about the modifications to the Emerson units she was building, and as usual had been satisfied with the quality of her workmanship. He could hardly be anything else. Neither of them were ready for the conversation that they'd have to have if the probes failed - so they didn't say much that night.

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Gina was still awake well into the night, sitting at the kitchen table and animating a set of servos to do near-microscopic work on tiny bits of circuitry for her next robot. The dark circles under her eyes spoke of exhaustion, but the twitchiness of her muscles said she was overstimulated and overcaffeinated, not ready for sleep. She glanced at him when he came in, then jerked her head towards the refrigerator. "Leftovers on the second shelf, and there's sandwich stuff." She was quiet for a few minutes more, concentrating on her work. "You can't go," she finally said. "You shouldn't." 

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With Erin Hunter-White, or one of his other friends, Steve would have talked tactics. He would not go to a Terminus world unprepared, he would have reassured them, and he certainly would not venture to such a place without proof that he would not fall victim to the same effect that had destroyed those other Omegadrones. But he knew Gina knew those things already - as she did much else. So instead he sat across from her at the table, sandwich and chicken before him and hands folded above it in almost an attitude of prayer. Steve preferred extremely spicy food, often to the limits of Gina's tolerance, and there had been plenty of the spicy wings left. 


"I was a coward" he said, his voice quiet and reflective. "I invited Talya because I thought it would be easier to bear Tarva's company with more allies. She nurses yet - and to think of her contemplating the Pit..." He was unable to finish the sentence. "I am glad that you will not go. Do not be tempted."

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The delicate servos stopped moving as Gina raised her eyes to look at him. "No," she repeated. "I don't care about anything you did in the past. I don't care that you did bad things once upon a time. You have nothing left to repent for, Steve, and I'm not letting you throw yourself into the mouth of danger because of some misguided notion that you can never make up for your past!" The servo mechanisms clamped up suddenly like skeletal fists, obviously well beyond their tolerances judging by the soft mechanical squeals and burning smells.


"I can't stop those others if they feel compelled to go on a stupid, stupid suicide mission for enemies of ours who are probably dead, in search of tech we can get by without, but you can't go." Her real hand shot out, smacking the servo array and sending it flying off the table. "What the hell am I supposed to do if you don't come back?" 

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"I will not go if there is another choice." The regret in Steve's low, rumbling voice was palpable. "But I cannot let others go to that place unprotected. Not when I know what they will face better than anyone. If it were Nihilor, I would destroy the machine myself and let them damn me for it. But if they touch the edge of the place, they may yet live - and I cannot let them go into danger when I might save their lives from the Terminus." His voice hardened. "You know that they will take the Annihilist with them - and you know that they will be unwilling to strike her down if it must be done."


He looked at her, and when he met her eyes, his tone softened. "And for us...I would live for you. I wish I could be the man you deserve." 

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"And you think I deserve somebody who's going to throw his life away?" Gina spat. "Those women, one of them is already dead, one might as well be, and one is functionally immortal! They aren't playing the same odds that you are!" She stood and walked around the table so she could put her hands on his shoulders and look him in the eye. "I'm not saying there's nothing in the world that's worth dying for. You know I understand better than that. We've gone into fights like that together before. This, this mission, this objective, whatever it is they're trying to accomplish, this is not worth your life. I won't watch you throw yourself away!" Her fingers tightened on his shoulders painlessly; there was nothing she could do in this body to hurt him physically if she'd wanted to. "Tell me you aren't going to go." 

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To be immortal in the Terminus, Steve knew, was more curse than blessing - but of course GIna knew that too. "I pledge that I will do everything in my power to return to you," said Steve, his voice tight. He knew this wasn't what Gina wanted, even when he laid his hand on hers. "It is here with you that I do not exist, or survive, or continue - here with you is where I live. There is nothing more precious to me - and I will not throw it away. But I cannot let them walk into the Pit alone."  

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