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"Make it stop! Make it stop!"
Gloomweaver Cultist Reformee Number Thirteen ran screaming from the robotics lab, trying in vain to protect what little hair remained attached to his head. Hot on his heels, a tall robot with smooth features and a clock face emblazoned on its chest made grabby hands at him with arms that were considerably longer than they should have been.
"Your time is up, criminal scum!" it shouted.
"That's enough," Unity grumbled. With a flick of her wrist, Clock Bot was reduced to its component parts. Number Thirteen ran deeper into the bowels of Freedom Tower, sobbing and wailing. Unity sighed, collected the bits of scrap metal and electronics, and floated them into the lab to lay beside another robot of the same make. It was thankfully silent.
"Don't think I've ever heard a grown man cry so hard for his mommy before."
Unity turned at the sound of the voice, frowning. "Clock Bot's just not working out, Guise."
Guise shivered, patting his arms as he entered the lab, a set of icicles printed on his chest emblem.
"Let's call it a chemblem," he said helpfully. "Also, it is unseasonably cold for April, did I mention that? And yet the sun's so bright!" He walked past Unity, stopped, turned around twice, then gasped when he saw the remaining Clock Bot and the pile of scrap next to it.
"My metal boy!" he cried, rushing over and cradling the remaining robot, a baby bottle on his chemblem. "Did Mommy take your brother apart in a fit of unbridled insanity again?"
Rolling her eyes, Unity floated Clock Bot out of Guise's arms and set him back where he'd come from.
"It's got some potential as a restraint device," she said, reattaching the various monitoring wires to the robot's body, "but the personality matrix you designed is just too unstable. I can't get them to behave."
When she turned around to look at him, Guise had somehow sprouted a black trenchcoat and dark sunglasses. "I know A.I.," he stage whispered.
"I don't think you do." She pulled the glasses off his face and stared into the eyeholes of his mask. "And quit calling me their 'Mommy'. It's creepy."
Guise clasped his hands together. "Kevra, these are our robotic babies. How could you not love such a chubby-wubby face?" He poked Clock Bot's cheeks. They remained as they were.
"It's not getting any less creepy," she said, shaking her head. "You've been writing fanfiction again, haven't you?"
"You can't prove that," he said, raising a finger, a symbol on his chest made from the letters 'F', 'F' and 'N'.
"Okay, how about explaining 'Kevra'?"
Guise grew animated, and the symbol turned into a spoon. "It's a Spoonerism! My latest fun-times gag to keep the spiders at bay!"
Now wearing a mortar board, Guise pulled a roll-up screen, covered with odd names, from where there hadn't been one before.
"You just take the first sound of each name and swap them! So Devra Caspit becomes Kevra Daspit!" With a retractable pointer, he motioned to others: Fryan Rost, Steredith Minson, Dranthony Ake.
"My biggest challenge," he continued, rolling the screen back up and collapsing his pointer, "is figuring out 'Pauline Parsons'. I may be on to something with 'Blaron Bade', though."
"Speaking of..." Unity nodded to the door, where America's Newest Legacy had just arrived, along with a strange little man.
He was very round and quite short, likely due to age, if the enormous poofy white beard and ponderous mustache covering his features were any indication. He wore a military uniform, of what type Unity couldn't be sure, carried a baton and was smoking a pipe.
"Ten-hut!" he shouted once all eyes were on him. "Offisah on deck!"
Unity and Guise snapped to attention and saluted.
"You'll have to excuse him," Pauline said with a nervous smile. "Devra, Guise, this is Major Smythe. He flew in World War Two with my grandfather."
"Brigadier Major Alasdair Wasster-Smythe," said the little man in clipped tones. "Royal Air Force, Fightin' Fifty-First, don'tcha know!"
Pauline's smile relaxed. "He was interested in finding out what grandpa got up after the war, so I thought I'd show him around Freedom Tower."
"Yes, hm, hm, extraordinary man, Captain Parsons, just cracking," muttered the Major. "Truly remarkable flyer, remarkable, I say."
"Anyway, I just wanted to introduce him." Pauline scooted around the Major's side and ushered him off. "Uh, at ease?"
Unity and Guise relaxed as they left.
"Why did we salute?" she asked. "We're not soldiers."
Guise, rubbing his chin, didn't seem to have heard her.
"There's something funny about that Smajor Mythe..."
For all that Amina had turned out to be a lunatic, reality-warping supervillain, Unity had to admit she really missed her. She was, after all, the only one in this whole tower who knew where the darn paper clips were kept.
Yes, the real tragedy of the 'Miss Information' debacle had been the loss of Freedom Tower's greatest office supply organizer. Those with the skill to take her place had deemed reorganizing the former secretary's desk 'off limits' and 'too soon' while those less close didn't really care one way or the other.
And then there was Ra, setting people on fire as usual.
Unity paused, head buried in a drawer between a box of standard-size staples and one of those rubber band balls no one ever finds a use for. "Wait, what?"
Emerging from the drawer, Unity found that her first inclination had not been incorrect. A man ran through the lobby, somewhat recognizable under his blazing cape and hood, screaming at the top of his lungs and flailing in such a way that the fire was maintained without spreading from his person. She scratched her head, unable to formulate any sort of reasonable response.
"So that's where you went..."
A few seconds later, Ra... 'stalked' was the only word that came to mind to describe his movements. He stalked into the lobby after the Gloomweaver Cultist Reformee, hands clutched at his sides and expression blank.
"Ra..." she began timidly. "Why did you set Number Thirteen on fire?"
The living avatar of the sun ceased his stalking and turned, looking at her as if he had only just then realized she were there. He blinked a few times before answering.
"It is unseasonably cold out. He seemed chilly."
Finally breaking from her stupor, Unity opened another desk drawer, grabbed a hand-held fire extinguisher and tossed it to him. She was somewhat surprised when he caught it.
"Do me a favor and put him out when you catch up to him, okay? He was doing really well in the reformation program and probably doesn't deserve to be on fire right now. Plus we don't need anything else catching."
Ra looked at the canister, then stalked off, expression blank once more.
"That was weird," said the potted plant behind her.
Unity yelped and spun around, using the desk to hold herself up. There in the pot, head covered in dirt and a ficus, was...
"Guise!" She took a second to catch her breath, hand on her heart. "You scared the crap out of me! What are you doing?"
"Gathering intel," he said unhelpfully. "Did something about ol' Wake Blawshington seem off to you?"
"He set a guy on fire," she said, calming at last. "Setting people on fire is kind of what he does."
"Yes, but did the guy deserve it, is the question." Guise rose up slightly, one finger aloft, a flaming question mark on his chest. "This is just more fuel for my theory."
"Theory?" Unity raised an eyebrow. "Do I want to know?"
Guise shook his head. "You don't knock over your thesis until all the science dominoes are in order!" He produced a small sheet of lined paper, mirrored by his chemblem. The words "SMALASDAIR AYTHE" were written on it in shaky brown crayon. Unity gave him a flat look.
"Give me some credit," he said, waving the sheet at her. "That one took a ton of brainpower to come up with! Nowhere near as easy as Kevra Daspit."
Unity threw her hands in the air, shutting all the drawers at once. "Paper clips be hanged. I don't have time for this."
As she walked out of the lobby, the ficus rustled behind her.
"Hey wait!" Guise called. "Do you know anywhere to find a good Polish kielbasa around here? I have a sudden craving!"
The nearest desk drawer opened violently, in precisely the right way to make the rubber band ball bean him in the forehead.
"Ow!" cried Guise, rubbing his head. "Well, I guess they have a use after all..."
Unity waved to her fellow mechanic as he stood in the garage doorway, not that he would have noticed. But she was always happy to see him around her workbench, especially after what happened to him at the Temple.
Slim remained impassive.
"What brings you around the shop?"
In response, he moved to a nearby tool rack, running his hand over it until he found a tire iron. Testing its weight, he turned to his right. Unity ducked as the tool whipped past her, too close for comfort, and impacted with a box of loose parts behind her.
"Mommy!" cried the box.
"Heard ya had an infestation," Slim muttered.
"Criminy, Fister Mixer!" Guise said, rising from the box, which was a good bit smaller than his entire body, and rubbing his head, a bandage on his chemblem. "Why don'tcha watch where you're... Oooh." He cringed as Slim did absolutely nothing. "Sorry, slip of the tongue."
"What is it this time, Guise?" Unity gave an exasperated huff.
"I've been working on my theory some more, and I think I've had a breakthrough!"
He showed her the small sheet of paper once again. "SMALASDAIR AYTHE" had been crossed out, as well as "WALASDAIR ASSTER" below it. Below that was "MIGADIER BRAJOR", written in blue.
Unity face-palmed. Slim did nothing.
"Now, I know what you're thinking," said Guise, holding up a finger. "All I will say is that there is a non-zero possibility the brown crayon was eaten. Not by me." His chemblem displayed a silhouette of Setback's face, mouth stuffed full of crayons.
"Has he done anything to deserve your 'investigation' other than have a weird, British name?" Unity asked, sighing.
"Well, he's kind of being led all throughout our secret base that's inside a giant skyscraper shaped like a capital F." Guise scratched his head, his chemblem a perfect replica of Freedom Tower. "Wow, now that I think about it, that's a really dumb way to hide your secret heroic headquarters!"
Slim grunted, strode forward, and lifted Guise bodily above his head.
"It's the perfect ploy for anyone who wants to learn the layout of the Tower!" Guise shouted, struggling to no avail as he was carried bodily from the garage. "I just need more proof! Hey, where are you taking me? That looks like a balcony above a five story drop!"
"You'll bounce," muttered Slim.
Unity watched them leave, making no attempt to stop them. Sometimes, gentle violence was the only way to deal with Guise when he got on an extra-crazy tear.
Once everything had gone quiet, she stomped her foot and let out a scream. She'd completely forgotten why she'd come here in the first place. Now she was going to have to spend the next hour or two checking her supplies for spatial anomalies.
The rest of Unity's day was blessedly Guise-free. By the time she got around to her containment duties, she was almost looking forward to them. Until she saw who was guarding the entry door to the jail cells, that was.
Expatriette glared at her with the look of a woman still angry about the time her favorite shotgun got turned into an automated defense turret.
"Uh, h-hey, Amanda," Unity said, trying not to let the food tray shudder too much in her grasp. The other twelve that floated behind her more than made up for it. "Love the eyepatch today." She held up her tray. "Feeding time?"
Expatriette's eye narrowed. Then she stepped to the side and unlocked the door with her passcard. As Unity moved into the containment area, a plastic smile on her face, the other woman pointed at her eye, then at Unity. She picked up her pace.
"Dinner's here!" she called out, distributing trays to Gloomweaver Cultist Reformees Fourteen through Twenty-Five. Numbers were so much easier to remember than names.
Most the former cultists stared sourly at their grilled cheese and tomato soup as she passed them out. A few were starting to come around, at least, and she made sure to give a big smile to those who seemed somewhat more depressed. She wasn't sure how well this regimen was going to work, but they didn't pay her to psychoanalyze the Freedom Five's enemies, just fix stuff and build robots.
"I guess Thirteen never made it back," she remarked as she came to the final cell in the row. Then she screamed as its occupant lunged at the bars.
"Devra!" said Guise, grinning through his mask at her.
"Guise, you scared the crap out of me!" she yelled, hyperventilating. "Again! How'd you get in there?"
"A better question," he said, trying and failing to rattle the bars, "is how will I get out?"
With a growl, she bent the bars so that his head popped through, then immediately straightened them so it was trapped outside the cell.
"Are you still stalking Major Smythe?"
"Yes! Ow!" Guise winced, trying to pull his head back through the bars. "You'll be happy to hear I've made an actual breakthrough this time!"
He reached into his... Well, Unity wasn't sure he had pockets in his costume. Suddenly, she didn't want to know where he kept his paper and crayons.
The page he showed her this time was clean, save for two words which had been circled: "MAJOR WASSTER".
"See?" he said hopefully.
"That's it!" She snatched the paper from his hands and crushed it. "I have had it, Guise! I am one hundred percent done with you today!"
"You'll note I didn't Spoonerize his name," Guise said, eyes closed and finger raised.
"Why should I care if you..."
She stopped as a terrible thought struck her. Very slowly, Unity uncrumpled the paper.
"W... Wager Master?" she breathed.
"Ding ding ding!" Guise tossed two handfuls of confetti into the air. "Johnny, tell 'er what she's won!"
The paper slipped from Unity's grasp.
"See," Guise continued, "my first clue was looking at him. I mean, have you ever seen anyone who looks like that? He's like a cartoon, get real." He scoffed, shaking his head. "Then I noticed him hypnotizing Young Legs so she'd take him through the whole base. Plus Ra and Fixer were acting weird, and I thought all that was kind of suspicious."
Unity gawked at him. "Why didn't you lead with 'Hey, our teammates are getting brainwashed' instead of paper and crayons?"
Guise shrugged. "Coulda just been my imagination. Needed to be sure. Hey, speaking of which, what'd you just serve those guys for meal time?"
"Grilled cheese and soup," Unity answered automatically, then shook herself. "Nevermind that, I need to sound the alarm so we can..."
Turning back down the hallway, she trailed off. All twelve cell doors hung open.
"I think you'll find those trays now contain grilled keys." Guise banged his head against the bars again. "Ow."
"This system doesn't even use keys!" Unity sputtered. "Nevermind. I have to get some help to stop Wager Master!" She took off down the hall.
"Hey wait!" Guise shouted after her. "You're gonna let me out, right?"
She didn't have time to respond as Expatriette stepped around the corner, shotgun ready. Unity whipped one of the cell doors off its hinges, wrapping it around the gun barrel. She pulled two of the key card readers from the wall, and the combined mass deformed, reconfiguring into Guise's likeness. The newly formed Clock Bot reached out and entangled Expatriette in its ridiculous, stretchable arms.
"Your time is up, criminal scum!" it shouted.
Struggle though she might, Expatriette could not free herself. Unity carefully picked her way past the pair, cringing as Amanda snarled wordlessly at her. Chalk up another possible brainwashing victim. Then she took off into the heart of Freedom Tower, ignoring the pleas of the captive behind her.
"Don't abandon me, Dev! Is this about the kielbasa or the fanfiction? At least leave me some grilled keys, I'm still hungry!"
Unity had to hand one thing to Guise: Clock Bot really was perfect for restraining escaped cultists. Most of her other robots were designed with an eye toward grievous bodily harm: not a preferred reformation tactic. Yes, Clock Bot liked beating on its captives, but it wasn't too hard to simply knot the long arms around a cultist and leave them there. She had taken care of three of them herself before reaching her lab.
Now, she had a full phalanx of her robot friends behind her, all of them marching toward the main lobby. Sounds of fighting greeted them as they came within sight of it.
Everything was chaos. Pauline was trying to use Setback and Captain Cosmic as bludgeons while Fanatic tried to harry her. Nightmist and the Argent Adept were slinging spells at one another from across the room. Mr. Fixer had Haka in a headlock, the two of them crashing into everything in sight. Tempest and Ra were at each other's throats, and all around was the rush of Tachyon moving at supersonic speeds.
As the 'bots moved off to help, Dr. Stinson herself stopped in front of Unity.
"Glad you could finally make it I have no idea what's going on and I can't do a darn thing to help so I'm up for ideas oh crap low-flying Setbacks move!"
Unity didn't struggle as Tachyon bullrushed her to the side. Setback crashed into Amina's desk, overturning it. Tachyon rushed over and righted him, and he staggered on his feet.
"Why does everything taste like crayons?" he moaned.
"Just leave him," Unity said. "Go let Guise out of the cells, Doctor. I'd explain, but there's no time. I'll see if I can find a way to slow things down."
Tachyon was gone in a heartbeat, leaving Unity to get a handle on what was happening. She had given her bots orders before they arrived, and they were carrying them out admirably. Champion Bot assisted Fanatic in fending off Legacy. Stealth Bot covered the spellcasters while Swift Bot was trying to distract Mr. Fixer. She looked up.
Freedom Tower's lobby ceiling was multiple floors high, with balconies overlooking the fight along the back wall. It was on the third of these, watching the goings-on impassively, that the source of all the chaos sat: Brigadier-Major Alasdair Wasster-Smythe.
Unity could almost hear him chuckle to himself. She leapt into action, condensing the ruined desk into a mishmash of metals and integrating it with her cell phone -- she kept burners on hand for emergencies -- until the hulking form of Turret Bot loomed beside her. She pointed up at Wager Master.
The hall was rent by the screech of hot lead pouring out of the robot's chest. Wager Master never knew what hit him.
He came screeching down from the balcony, holding onto his smoking rear end while the layers of his disguise peeled away. By the time he hit the ground, he had been revealed for who he truly was. Even the formerly hypnotized heroes stopped their fighting to gawk at the fallen villain. For a moment, at least. Then they went back to fighting each other.
"Owie owie owie!" Wager Master cried, rising to his pudgy legs while holding a hand to his head. "They should really have handrails up there!"
"Wager Master!" Unity shouted from behind Turret Bot. "Let my friends go, or there's plenty more where that came from!" The robot's turbines whirred threateningly.
"And what if I did?" Wager Master sniffed, dusting himself off and readjusting his antennae before floating upward. "It's not like they could stop me. I'm a cosmic constant! I am far above you mortals and your--" he snorted, gesturing at Turret Bot-- "toys. I have an army! H'attack!"
Shouting and chanting, all twenty-five Gloomweaver Cultist Reformees, now Gloomweaver Cultist Recidivists, charged into the lobby. Sprouting various ritual items -- robes, tomes, daggers, you name it -- they began beating, hacking and biting at the heroes, who were generally happy to return the favor.
Wager Master doubled over laughing. "You see?" he chortled at Unity. "I didn't even have to brainwash those guys. I've always got an ace up my sleeve!"
"Then it's a good thing I brought my trump card!" shouted someone from above.
The lights went out. Granted, it was the middle of the day, so the lobby was still decently illuminated thanks to the windows and skylights, but it was enough to pause the fighting once more. A trio of spotlights -- which Unity was not sure had actually been located in the lobby previously -- converged to light the fourth-floor balcony
Standing with one leg up on the railing, leaning over it, was Guise. He wore a cape and a ridiculously tall pompadour, and his chemblem was a royal flush.
"Hey, Wagey, remember me?" He produced a sheaf of papers, tossing them downward. "Catch!"
To Unity, he mouthed I'm sorry. This had no effect, since he was fairly high up and his lips weren't really visible under his costume anyway.
Wager Master zipped up to the papers and caught them. All eyes turned to him, waiting to see what he would do.
"'Ravished by Robots'?" he read from the title page.
Guise clicked his tongue. "Betcha a grilled cheese you can't read that in under five minutes!"
"Oh-ho-ho!" Wager Master snickered. "You do not wager with the Wager Master! You're on! I am a considerably fast read, after all, and when I win, you'll be the Brigadier-Major of my brainwashed army, Guisey-poo!"
With that, he whipped out a pair of spectacles, placed them on his nose, and began to read, muttering to himself every now and then.
"Unity and Sky-Scraper, eh? Hmm, I didn't know you could do that with an egg beater... It was Citizen Dawn? I like where this is going." His face began to redden. "Oh, but that's illegal in five different... And with a chicken?" The red turned from steamy to sweaty. "Wait, no, agh, no, eww, you can't..."
Wager Master's eyes bugged from his head, literally gluing themselves to the page.
"This is horrible! It's awful! It's immoral, irresponsible, and I can't look away!" Wager Master began spinning like a top, scattering pages around the room. "What has been seen cannot be unseen!"
Guise sighed. "Why do they always say that?" Shrugging, he cupped his hands over his mouth. "Oh, Juuunioooor!"
From behind Unity came the sound of robotic feet on the floor. The last Clock Bot, the one she'd left deactivated in her lab, ran full-tilt at Wager Master, its impossibly long arms waving over its head.
"Time for a butt kicking!" it screeched.
"Help!" cried Wager Master, still spinning. "Help, somebody! Anybody! I need braaaaiiiiin bleeeeeaaaaa--"
Guise, now wearing flippers and an inflatable, Wager Master-shaped inner tube, swan-dove from the balcony, grabbing Clock Bot's hands on the way down. He landed with a tremendous crash, his momentum pulling Clock Bot off its feet. It swung in an arc over Guise's head, straight into Wager Master. The pudgy alien caromed off the floor before bouncing up and crashing through a skylight, screeching all the way, at last disappearing with a twinkle into the stratosphere.
"He shoots," cried Guise, catching Clock Bot safely. "He scores! It's a wild drive to left field!"
Everything calmed down after that. The Prime Wardens worked on rounding up the Cultists while the others who had been brainwashed mostly stood around, shaking their heads.
"I have to hand it to you, Guise," said Unity, returning her robots to their component pieces, "you were right all along, and you even ended up saving the day."
"Thanks to Clock Bot," he said, patting the robot's chest. "And you said he was unstable!"
Pauline alighted next to them. "What happened? I feel so... weird."
"Major Smythe was Wager Master all along," Unity said. "I guess he was trying to use you to infiltrate the Tower and brainwash everyone into fighting each other."
"Worked like a charm!" said Guise, throwing his arms around the two women. Unity gagged.
"What did you do to him?" Pauline asked.
"Showed him one of my fanfictions." In a stage whisper, Guise added, "I don't think he liked it very much!"
Unity rolled her eyes and sent a spark at Clock Bot. It unleashed its arms, coiling them around Guise and lifting him into the air.
"Unhand Miss Caspit," it said, "and Miss Par... Pall... Per..."
Unity shook her head and sighed. "Voice synth's glitchy again."
"Parline Paulsons!" Guise cried as Clock Bot carried him off. "All this time, it was so simple! Clock Bot, you're a genius! Obviously, you get that from me..." His voice trailed off as he was dragged in the direction of the Cultists' containment cells.
Unity snorted. "At least I figured out how to get one of them to behave."
Thanks for reading my first Sentinels fic, written in commemoration of Mini-Pack 3's digital release. Hopefully my weird sense of humor is something that'll go around here. I just can't get over GTG having a legit fanfic section on their forums. I had to write something! I'm sure it demonstrates a gross lack of knowledge of the lore, characters, timeframe, etc., but I had fun writing it and hopefully you had fun reading it. There will likely be more later!