Work in Progress, Untitled

Lt. Tyler Vance had been learning how to project his voice since long before he ever heard of the Bunker program; if that opportunity hadn’t come along, he’d have made a damn fine drill sergeant. Of course, his fellow Freedom Five members weren’t exactly raw cadets needing to be drummed into or out of basic training, as their temperament dictated, so he spared them the full force of his Sgt. Hartman impression, and simply spoke in a loud, clear voice that would carry throughout the Freedom Tower’s main hall, which both Paul Parsons and Maia Montgomery were currently puttering around in widely separate portions of, enjoying a moment of calm after the non-stop ordeal of missions which it had turned out one woman in particular had been putting them through. “Everyone, gather around please. Ms. Stinson has something to say, she’ll be arriving at 1400 hours and 0 seconds to enlighten us all. Mr. Parsons, if you could zip down to Mr. Frost’s room and have him suit up and join us.”

“I’ve told you before, Tyler,” Paul “Legacy” Parsons said in his warm, amiable tones as he lazily vaulted over the third-floor safety railing and descended in a gentle arc to float near Lt. Vance. “When we’re not out in the field and operating by codenames, you can just call me Paul. Mr. Parsons was my father.”

“You realize that what you just said is, in and of itself, a dad joke,” came the aristocratic voice of Maia “The Wraith” Montgomery. Tyler had just seen her a few seconds before, clear on the other side of the massive ground floor lobby, yet here she was right next to them; it was uncanny how often she was able to do that, even to a trained observer such as himself. She didn’t have the mask or the bandages or the cape on at the moment; anyone peering through the big building’s windows, had they not been mirrored on the outside, would have thought she was just the Freedom Five’s secretary or the like - assuming said observer wasn’t sufficiently versed in F5 minutia to realize that the world’s premiere super-team had only ever had one secretary. Yet, costume or no costume, the skills of the Wraith were clearly something Maia was always prepared to exercise with every spare moment.

“Yeah, I know,” Legacy shrugged as he started to fly off toward the cryo-chamber inhabited by Ryan “Absolute Zero” Frost. Though not quite as fast as the team’s fifth member, the aforementioned Dr. Stinson, Legacy could far outpace any of the remaining three with his flight abilities, yet he checked himself after just a couple of seconds, seeing the shining blue lights of a black-armored figure visible within the elevator as it descended from the eighth floor. Evidently, Frost was already on his way, so Paul turned back to his two friends, who were busy acting as though they didn’t have romantic feelings for each other. “They say we always turn into our parents, I just didn’t think it was going to happen to me quite so fast.”

“You’re in your high sixties, Paul; when exactly did you think it was going to happen?” Maia and Paul had been ribbing each other about their respective ages for as long as they’d known each other, which was a lot longer than most people realized. In a line of work where temporal anomalies were a day-to-day occurrence, various sojourns through the Realm of Discord and similarly strange dimensions had managed to age more than a few superheroes far less or more than their biology would seem to indicate. Maia had been seemingly in her late twenties for more than half her entire lifespan, while Paul had undergone less than a century of subjective time, but often carried himself as if it had been thrice that. Since nobody else could quite measure up to the amount of field time they’d logged on such missions, it formed a shared experience that nobody else could fully relate to, and making light of it was the only way for them to both retain their sanity. They knew only too well how important a task that was…

The elevator doors opened and Absolute Zero stepped out, the padded soles of his metallic sabatons clicking faintly on the marble lobby floor, sounding no worse than a pair of high-heeled shoes, instead of the elephantine cacophony which a 400-pound suit of various titanium, manganese, and tungsten alloys should have produced. (The 2000-pound Bunker suit, of course, would have destroyed not only the ears of the listeners but also the aforementioned marble tiling itself; Lt. Vance knew better than to try and take the walking tank anywhere other than into the Ironclad Maintenance Bay with its reinforced concrete flooring and carefully-designed acoustics.) “I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU THOUGHT YOU HAD TO COME GET ME,” sounded the voice of the perpetually cryogenic man, through the electronic voicebox required to convey it. “YOU KNOW I HABITUALLY MONITOR THE INTERCOM SYSTEM, EVEN WHEN I’M LISTENING TO MY MUSIC OR THE LIKE. IT’S NOT LIKE I CAN COMPLAIN I WAS ON THE JOHN, AFTER ALL.” Though he’d been part of the Freedom Five for decades, Absolute Zero was the last recruit, and he was still a little defensive about implications that he was still any less serious about the world-saving business than any of the others, as he might have been for a couple years toward the beginning of his involvement. He wasn’t the type to have volunteered out of patriotism or duty, as Tyler had done, and Paul would have if he hadn’t automatically inherited the role, nor had circumstances forced him into the job in the same way as for Miss Montgomery or even Dr. Stison. It had initially taken a bribe of sorts to get him involved, but that was a long time ago, and he’d come to find the work inherently fulfilling enough that he was no less committed to it than any of them.

Vance opened his mouth to respond to Frost’s comment, but before the air could leave his lungs, a streak of red-and-white lightning entered his field of vision and immediately transformed into a particle physicist. A visibly winded Meredith “Tachyon” Stinson emitted a series of sounds, then zipped away again before these could reach the ears of her four compatriots; she was back before they finished hearing the sentence “sorryhadtohelpalittleboyfindhisparentsdidnthavetimeforasnackillbebackintwo”. There was a moment of silence while they all chewed on and digested what she had said, while she herself chewed on and digested a massive tower of provolone, pumpernickel and proscuitto straight out of the “Blondie” comic strip, where Dagwood’s diet consisted almost entirely of such bigger-than-his-head sandwiches. The eight- or ten-layer conglomeration would have been impossible for a normal human being to bite into without spraying its contents across the room, yet Tachyon could eat faster than the laws of physics ought to permit, so making short work of this epically over-the-top “ham and cheese on rye” took her significantly less time than required to describe the act.

Now that she was no longer in danger of exhausting her blood sugar supply, Tachyon slowed down to an only moderately unreasonable talking speed and explained the reason for their meeting. “Hey everyone, sorry to make you wait, but I think this is important. I’ve been going over the satellite telemetry for our big confrontation with Aminia last month; I couldn’t get clearance to access the data until General Armstrong made a phone call, and I couldn’t get in touch with him until this morning, so even though they noticed the weird readings only a week after the incident, and figured out what it meant pretty quickly after that, they had to go through like eight committees figuring out whether to even inform me about it, let alone release it to me. Gah this government work is the pits sometimes, no offense guys. Anyway, it turns out it was worth the wait.”

Tachyon paused for breath, and everyone else let what she was saying sink in for a moment. The battle with Aminia “Miss Information” Twain was still a fresh wound in the psyches of all five; Meredith’s flippant demeanor might seem insensitive to some, but she was just as broken up as the rest of the group about this horrific betrayal, she simply dealt with the trauma by denying it on the surface level, not wanting to spare any of her valuable waking hours dealing with emotions that would inevitably sort themselves out during her sleep anyway. The others had all talked about their feelings in the wake of the incident, even the normally reticent Absolute Zero, but bonding in a group was simply not Dr. Stinson’s way, and they knew her well enough to accept that.

She continued after the breath-long pause. “So the long and the short of it is, we all pretty much assumed that something just snapped in Aminia’s mind one day, and she had a total psychotic break and began having delusions, which drove her to seek revenge against us for an imaginary slight. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d seen a villain happen like that, even if this was somebody much closer to home than Jordan Frinks or ‘The Radio-Activist’. So I at least, and I assume most of you, didn’t pay much attention to exactly what her insane ramblings were saying about us ‘letting her die’ or the like. Turns out, that may have been a mistake.”

“What are you talking about, Aminia? You’re obviously not dead, so how could we have let you die?”

“I know better than to ask if you’re feeling cooperative. Fool me seventeen times, shame on me, and all that.”

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