Legends Of The Fourth of July

Chapter 2: A True Story Told, A Search For A Hero

"I. Don't. Gott-damn believe this!" shrilled the Asuka variant that stood before Iron Maiden, her cheeks flushed with rage. "I just don't believe it! You're telling me that the Joker R gang and Golden Four came this close to destroying and brainwashing all of Chicago all at once...!" she cried out, pinching her thumb and forefinger extremely close together, "and the only one who saw any of this coming was a Mari Makinami?!"

"Yeesh, and I thought the Shikinami versions of Asuka were supposed to have longer fuses than the Sohryus," Sid muttered in Mana's ear, making sure that no one else heard her. "I'm surprised the neighbors aren't complaining...in New Jersey!"

Too tired and strung out by what was happening to even think the AI's words were funny, Mana just looked at the Asuka before her. She was an amalgam of DC's Captain Marvel, and wore the traditional Mary Marvel outfit; golden boots and armbands, a red shirt and skirt combo with golden trim and a golden lightning bolt on her chest, and a white cape with gold trim. She was as powerful as a member of the Marvel family, and had the anger issues of an Asuka. And unfortunately for Iron Maiden, she was presently the focus of that anger.

They were presently onboard a Quinjet that Stingray Industries had purchased from Stark Industries for the Champions to use, and where Mana had recently given the Captain Marvel amalgam a full report regarding what had just happened while several other Champions and their support personnel worked to round up the defeated villains and make sure they were securely confined before any of them regained consciousness. Unfortunately for Iron Maiden, it was a report that made the Asuka variant very, very unhappy.

"And that she was not only able to piece this all together all by herself, but was even able to single-handedly take down two of Chicago's worst gangs?! All while we were standing around, twiddling our thumbs?!" Marvel Asuka demanded with even greater heat. "Are you for real?!"

Making a sound of hesitation in her throat, Mana considered what to say. "Well...not single-handedly..." she warily began. "I mean...I took down Joker R myself, and...we had to work together on Minnie May, so -"

"Is this a joke?!" Asuka shrilled furiously, stopping Mana in her tracks and very nearly knocking her faceplate back down over her exposed features. "I can't - huh?!" A beeping sound caught the fiery redhead's attention, prompting her to raise her armband, from which projected a holographic window. "Oh, Airstrike! How's the cleanup going?"

"Almost done," came the woman projected on the hologram, a woman that had the features of a Rally Vincent variant, but she was wearing the Warbird-type costume of Ms. Marvel. "The Golden Four are all contained - and believe me, I'm a lot happier knowing they're be off the streets!" Then her eyes narrowed with disgust. "Especially their Bullseye!"

"I know how you feel. I've run into my share of evil mes," Asuka replied sympathetically. "What about the Joker R gang?"

"Contained as well. For the most part, anyway," Airstrike returned with a slight frown. "There's been no sign of Nao's power ring. And while we've packed up all of the Clayface Shinji we could find, it looks like there's still some of him that isn't accounted for."

"So part of this Clayface managed to escape?! With a Sinestro Corps power ring?!" Asuka demanded irately. "Great...just great...!" Raising her eyes skyward as if to ask the heavens 'Why me?', she then returned her attention to the Rally variant. "What about the fireworks? Has the analysis team finished with them?!"

"Almost. They've been able to confirm what Iron Maiden told us," Airstrike reported. "They were all loaded with a hybrid of gammaroids and TITAN, as well as Fear Toxin...and another compound."

A beat passed in silence before Asuka prompted, "And is it...?"

"The analysis team is still working on that one. But they have confirmed that it could be used to create a consciousness control drug." Then Airstrike scowled dangerously before adding, "And given that a Goldie was in on this, I'd bet my life that that's exactly what it was for."

Wincing in almost physical pain, Asuka growled deep in her throat before continuing. "Alright. As soon as the analysis team gets done, have all the fireworks secured for disposal. And see if SHIELD can run down this company that's supposed to be owned by Goldie! If that pans out, I want a warrant to raid the place so we can check their stores of anti-TITAN!"

"Right, got it," Rally returned with a nod. "Airstrike out."

As the hologram winked out of existence, Asuka turned her furious gaze at Iron Maiden once more. "I don't believe this..." she grumbled sourly before turning to another Champion. "Yui? Any luck figuring out which Mari made this mess?"

"Some," came the synthetic voice of an amalgam of Yui Ikari and the Vision. Mana didn't know the full story about her, but she had heard of a world where, upon failing to retrieve Yui from Unit 01 after her absorption, Gendo found a way to build an android body that could house his wife's mind and soul. She looked much like a traditional Vision, save that her android body was mostly white, and with an organic looking face and a head of hair. "As it happens, there have been more than one Mari Illustrious Makinamis amalgamated with Captain America," she explained as she worked the computer console before her. "Most have taken on other identities since arriving in Coreline. Furthermore, there is only one that retains the name of Captain America and is presently on probation."

"So what can you tell me about her?" Asuka demanded as Yui brought up the image of the Mari Iron Maiden had encountered.

"She is similar to most who carry the name Captain America. However, she had been augmented by two versions of the Super Soldier Serum, both before her arrival," Yui explained as she studied the information. "She is also accomplished in some forms of magic and -"

"I meant, what can you tell me that would explain how she got into this mess?!" Asuka cut in impatiently. "And why is she on probation?!"

"There is nothing to indicate how she came to be involved with the Joker R gang or the Golden Four," Yui promptly reported. "However, I can tell you that she is on probation for causing destruction of public property, as well as aiding and abetting known super criminals."

"Great! Just perfect!" Asuka growled, throwing up her arms in disgust. "And this is the person that I'm gonna have to tell Misato and the heads of the Foundation is responsible for saving all of Chicago?! Of all the -!"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Mana protested despite everything. "Aiding and abetting known super criminals?! Are you serious?!"

A beat passed even as Yui turned and spoke in perfect android. "That is what her file indicates."

Issuing a choked laugh, Iron Maiden muttered, "Look, I'm already regretting the fact that I got involved in this mess, but...okay! I can definitely believe what you say about the property damage thing, but aiding and abetting?! This girl took down all those creeps down there, including a full-fledged gamma mutant all by herself, and you're telling me she's in league with criminals?!"

A beat passed as Asuka visibly considered this before asking, "Yui...who was the judge at this Mari's probation hearing?"

"According to this, the judge responsible for her sentencing was a variant of J. Jonah Jameson," Yui quickly reported.

Both Captain Marvel and Iron Maiden groaned at this. There were dozens of J. Jonah Jameson alternates in Coreline, and while most of them had gotten together and organized Daily Bugle Communications so they could broadcast their contempt for anyone in costume, some of them had gone into politics. "Talk about bad luck, getting one of him at her trial!" Mana groaned sympathetically. "Those guys are about the biggest hardasses in the entire multiverse! I don't even want to think about what he would have done if Mari had been a Spider!"

Glancing between Yui and Mana, Captain Marvel groaned. "Look...forget about Jameson for a moment! The fact remains that we still have no idea where this Mari ran off to or how she got her information!" she declared heatedly. "And more importantly, if she knew about what Joker R and Goldie had planned, then why the hell didn't she contact the Foundation or one of the superhero teams?! Why'd she try to handle this by herself?!"

A beat passed as Mana flashed back to when she had just finished hearing Mari explain the horrible nightmare that had very nearly befallen Chicago. "Actually...Sid asked her about that, right before you showed up," Iron Maiden remarked in a solemn voice. When Asuka looked at her, gesturing for her to continue, the armor-user continued with, "And she asked...what made us think that she hadn't?"

Blinking a few times in response, Asuka scowled and placed her hands on her hips. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?!" the Captain Marvel amalgam wondered. "If we'd been told that someone was going to turn everyone in Chicago into TITAN monsters so they could brainwash them, we'd have been here and coming down on Joker R and Goldie so hard they'd have thought a planet just fell on their heads! We'd -!" A sudden beeping interrupted Asuka's tirade, prompting her to look at the android Yui. "What is it now?!"

"I'm detecting three small objects incoming," Yui announced as she worked the controls of her station. "Two are humans riding small vehicles. The third is a human flying unassisted."

"Can you identify them?!" Asuka wondered impatiently.

"Working," Yui replied even as Mana shifted about to get a better look as the Vision amalgam adjusted the cameras and zeroed in on the approaching persons. "Identities found. One of them is a variant of Maria Vincennes who wields an Asgardian hammer," she announced, focusing on one of the group. A blonde girl wearing Asgardian battle armor and was presently riding an mechanical chariot with two ram-shapes at the front. "Codename: Thunderstrike." A few seconds passed as she focused on another of the group, a man wearing a purple costume and was riding a skycycle. "The second is a variant of Clint Barton. Codename: Hawkeye."

"Wha- a canon and an amalgam together?!" Asuka demanded, genuinely surprised. Not that Mana was surprised. Canons was the term used to refer to fictions that were relatively unaltered from the source materials they came from. They often had made different choices than were seen in the animes, movies, and so on they had originated from, but were more-or-less the same exact people. Amalgams was the term used for characters that were essentially fusions of multiple types of character, such as Supergirl Misato and Shinji Ikiryo, or even Mana herself. But while the opinion canons had towards amalgams varied from person to person, it was very rare for them to spend any real amount of time together. "What about the third one?"

"The third is a Steven Rogers variant," Yui informed them. "Codename: Captain America."

As the camera zoomed in on the third, Asuka's mouth fell open. "Wha- and he's flying?!" she demanded incredulously. Sure enough, it was a Steve Rogers, wearing the traditional costume of Captain America. His shield displayed proudly on his left arm as he soared through the sky with the ease, grace, and poise of a Superman variant. "Is he wearing jet boots?!"

"Negative," Yui promptly reported. "This Captain America is flying completely unassisted." As Asuka swung her bulging eyes at Mana, who could only stare in return, the android added, "Captain Marvel, they are approaching the crime scene perimeter."

"What?!" Asuka bellowed for what felt like the umpteenth time since Mana had met her. "They - put me on external speakers!" Waiting just long enough for Yui to comply before speaking. "Attention, approaching metahumans! This is Captain Marvel of the Champions! You are approaching a secure crime scene! Please turn around, or we will be forced to take you into custody!"

Both Thunderstrike and Hawkeye paused at this, but the Captain America proceeded a moment longer before coming to hover just on the perimeter of the crime scene. "We mean no intrusion, Captain Marvel," he announced with the voice of pure dignity and honor that it seemed only someone who was a true Captain America could manage. "I am Steven Rogers, Captain America of Team 8096/422012 of Avengers Infinity. On my right is Hawkeye of that same team, and on my left is Thunderstrike, a friend and ally of ours."

"Speak for yourself, old man," Hawkeye grumbled beneath his breath.

"We've come here because we are looking for a friend, and we have information that indicated that she would be here," Captain America went on, not even bothering to acknowledge Hawkeye's caustic remark. "And judging from the fact that you're here, I think it's safe to say that she's either here, or she was here not that long ago."

Making a strange noise in her throat at this, Asuka studied the Captain America for a time before asking, "Does this friend...have a name?"

"Her name is Mari Illustrious Makinami. And like myself, she also carries the name of Captain America," the Super Soldier declared resolutely.

"You know, Cap, my head hurts every time you call her that," Hawkeye snarked.

As Captain America shot Hawkeye a dirty look, Asuka frowned in consideration. "Alright. You have permission to come aboard the Quinjet," she declared in a stern manner. "But you better have some answers for me!"

"Thank you, ma'am," Captain America returned even as Asuka pressed the control that caused the Quinjet's ramp to open and extend. "Hawkeye, Thunderstrike, land and then follow me in."

"Sure, whatever you say, old man," Hawkeye muttered even as Thunderstrike complied. "Assuming we can find someplace safe to park!"

As the archer continued to complain, Captain America effortlessly and gracefully flew into the waiting Quinjet. Easily landing on the entry ramp, he then walked up to the small crew, moving straight and tall. "Captain Marvel, I presume," he greeted Asuka, holding out his hand in greeting.

"You presume correctly," Asuka nodded, accepting his hand in her own. As the two shook hands, she frowned slightly. "Hmph...you've got a pretty good grip..."

Nodding to this, Captain America paused to study the others present. "Hmm...I didn't know that the Champions had a Vision variant," he remarked as he studied the android. "Yui Ikari, correct?"

"That is correct, Captain," Yui returned with a polite bow of her head.

Smiling cordially, Captain America looked over at Iron Maiden. "And you're Mana Kirishima," he declared without hesitation. "Tony Stark told me about you."

"Really?!" Mana bleated in clear surprise.

Nodding, Captain America then admitted, "Well, at least one of them did. We have...several of them at the Infinite Avengers Tower."

"Yeah, and they're all a bunch of headaches!" came Hawkeye as Thunderstrike carried him onboard. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be in a room with dozens of Tony Starks, each going on about how brilliant they are and how many girls they've scored?!" Visibly shuddering at this, the archer approached. "And speaking of headaches...any idea where Cap's Mari is? In jail would be my guess."

As Captain America directed a stern look at Hawkeye, Asuka replied, "We'll get to that in a moment. For now, I'd like a few answers myself." Then she directed her gaze at the Super Soldier. "Starting with you, Captain." When Captain America frowned slightly, the Captain Marvel variant stated, "I've never heard of a Captain America that could fly. And your grip was a lot stronger than that of a normal human."

"Ah. That!" Captain America nodded, a slight smile curling his lips. "Well, I'll explain. Stark Industries, Wayne Enterprises, and several other companies and superhero groups have recently been working with certain high-level martial arts masters in order to establish academies for the better training of the heroes of the world."

Blinking in clear surprise, Asuka returned, "This is the first I've heard about it!"

"He is correct, Asuka," Yui announced, much to the German's surprise. "It is a joint effort being carried out by several corporations, including Stingray Industries. It is a fairly recent endeavor, which may be why you have not heard about it."

"That's right," Captain America confirmed. "And as part of the deal, certain representatives of Avengers Infinity and the Justice League Unlimited have been chosen to train with powerful martial artists. Sort of a trial run before the academy officially opens."

Folding her arms across her chest, Asuka asked, "And I take it that you were one of the heroes selected?"

"That's correct," Captain America confirmed with a nod. "I've been receiving training on chi manipulation, unleashing the body's full potential -"

"And flying," Asuka broke in with a strange look on her face. "So I'm guessing you were trained by a DB?"

A strange frown appeared on Captain America's face. "A...DB...?"

"She means the Goku you were training with, Cap!" Hawkeye interjected before looking over at Asuka. "And I thought Thor had a rough time with slang..."

"Well, that explains a lot!" Mana remarked with a raised eyebrow. "Still...I never thought I'd meet a Captain America who could fly!"

"I'm still getting used to it myself," Captain America admitted with a smile that was somewhat more boyish than Mana would have expected. "But...it does come in handy."

"Excuse me, friends," Thunderstrike began, speaking in a tone that resembled Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe. "But are we not forgetting the reason for which we are here?"

"You're right, Thunderstrike. My apologies," Captain America replied with a bow of her head. "Captain Marvel, a short while ago, Thunderstrike arrived at the place where she and Mari live, only to find it empty, save for a message she left us. The message indicated that Chicago was in great peril, and that she had tried and failed to contact various teams of heroes to deal with the situation. So even though she was still on probation, she decided that she had no choice but to try and combat a threat to the whole of Chicago by herself. Upon finding this message, she contacted me and asked for my help in finding Mari, and if necessary, deal with the Golden Four, the Joker R gang, and their plan for this city."

"A waste of time you decided to drag me along for. Especially since it looks like whatever they were up to already went up in smoke!" Hawkeye grumbled.

"Then, Captain America, it seems that we have a lot of talking to do," Asuka declared, looking somewhat annoyed and impatient. "I have a lot of questions regarding this mess, questions that I and my superiors will want to have answered, and from what I can tell, you and your friends here have at least some of the answers." Glancing over at Iron Maiden, she went on to say, "Right now, we have no idea where your Mari is, but we do have good information that she is presently well and unhurt. And once you've answered our questions, we'll help you track her down."

A moment passed as Captain America considered this. "Very well, then," he returned in a stern manner. "Given the situation...we accept your terms."

Asuka opened her mouth to answer, but before she could say anything, Yui spoke up. "Captain Marvel, I just received word from Commander Saotome," the android announced. "She is currently with Devon Miles and Peter Thornton at the Foundation's Chicago Headquarters. She has ordered us to report to her there as soon as we have finished securing the area."

The instant these words were said, Asuka groaned heavily. "This is gonna be one hell of a lonnnnng night..."


The Foundation's Chicago Headquarters was a good-sized mansion, very much an old world design, and thus quite in keeping with the preferences of Devon Miles. At the same time, it was also clean and functional, which fitted in with the mentality of Pete Thornton. As a result, it was a fitting manifestation of the Foundation and its founders, and a fairly comfortable place to sit and wait...while Commander Misato Saotome and Captain Marvel Asuka were being roasted by said Founders.

I never thought I'd be this glad I turned down that offer of membership as I am now, Maria Vincennes thought as she relaxed in the main living room. It almost makes up...for how I scared I am...

When the Vanishing had taken place and she and Mari had been deposited in the bizarre amalgamation of worlds that was Coreline, the young woman who had taken on the mantle of Thunderstrike had been terrified. She and the girl known as Captain America were alone in a strange world, caught in utter chaos. There were none of the familiar faces they had known, none of the resources they had depended upon. They had had nothing...but each other.

Even when things settled down and the local government began aiding them, as well as helping them look for any friends or family that might have been deposited in Coreline as well, Thunderstrike had been caught between fury and despair. All the financial resources she had worked so long and hard to develop were gone, the career and reputation she had both as an Evangelion pilot and as a hero of Asgard were gone, the home she had lived in, the friends she had had...all of them lost. Possibly forever.

Through it all, no matter how bad things were, Mari had been right there at her side, refusing to give in to despair. Whatever demons and pain she had felt, she kept at bay with bad jokes and a stubborn refusal to give up, no matter what.

And now, after managing to rebuild, the two of them had started their lives once more. And Maria once again had a family, she had a boyfriend and was forging a future for herself. While the friend that had given her so much encouragement...

M&M, always together! Mari joked in Thunderstrike's mind. Even as Maria thought, What about now? Where are you, Mari?!

Shaking her head as she thought of the good and trust friend that she tended to bicker with like they were the proverbial old married couple, Thunderstrike was brought out of her thoughts by the sound of voices accompanied by footsteps. "...hope that you will be thorough in your investigation," came a stern voice with an English accent. "By all accounts, we came deadly close to absolute disaster! If that vile woman Goldie and her cohorts had actually succeeded in their scheme...!"

"I know, Mr. Miles," came a wearied, feminine voice even as the speaker and the others descended down the stairs, revealing their identities. The current speaker was Commander Misato Saotome, leader of Stingray Industries' superteam, the Champions. She was presently in her human form, and was wearing the favored work outfits Misato alternates tended to wear. And both she and Captain Marvel Asuka looked like they had been very thoroughly raked over the coals by the two men behind them. "Believe me, I fully understand just how serious this situation is."

"I'm not sure you do," came Pete Thornton. The bald, rotund little man was scowling with enough force to send a Kryptonian running. "That maniac very nearly brainwashed the entire city! Along with ourselves, the Governor of Illinois, most of the state representatives and senators, as well as who knows how many other ranking officials and business people! She would have had her hands on the Foundation's resources, countless metahumans...!"

"Indeed. It would have been nothing short of an utter disaster!" Devon Miles declared, his brows furrowed and looking every bit the picture of dignified outrage. "And even worse, we're faced with the possibility that we were warned about it in advance, and that nobody took action! It's inexcusable!"

"I agree, sir," Misato assured them both, a tiny flash of green in her eyes making it clear that her patience was nearing its own limits. "But at the moment, that's unconfirmed. And while I intend to conduct a thorough investigation, until we know exactly what did or did not happen..."

Trailing off at this, Misato sighed wearily even as Vision Yui joined them, looking as serene as only a Vision variant could. "Then I suggest we get down to finding out what happened!" Pete declared in a manner that made it clear that this was not a suggestion. "Starting with how this girl - what was her name again?"

"Mari, sir," Captain America declared, much to the stout Foundation head's surprise. Coming to stand tall on his feet, the living legend look at both Thornton and Miles. "Mari Illustrious Makinami. And like myself, she bears the name of Captain America." Pausing to study both Foundation heads, the Super Soldier went on to say, "My...apologies for the interruption. However..."

"Oh, no apologies necessary, Captain," Devon assured him, waving aside the Super Soldier's concerns as he approached, holding out his hand. "Devon Miles of the Foundation. And I'm certain you know my associate, Peter Thornton."

"Only by reputation, Mr. Miles. As I also know the good work you and this Foundation have accomplished," Captain America returned, accepting the proffered hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you both in person."

"Ah, the pleasure is all mine, Captain," Devon returned briskly even as he glanced about the others present. "I must say, I truly am grateful for all of you coming to meet with us like this. There's a great deal of confusion surrounding this mess, things we need to sort out, and as quickly as possible."

"Agreed, sir," Captain America nodded even as Thunderstrike, Hawkeye, and Iron Maiden stood as well. "However, that is not the only reason I wish to get this matter settled."

As Devon frowned slightly, Pete nodded. "Ah, yes. Your Mari," he muttered in a distracted fashion. "Captain Marvel reported that you were...acquainted."

"More than that, Mr. Thornton. Mari is a close friend of mine, and I am very concerned with her wellbeing," Captain America firmly declared. "Both in terms of physical condition, and her future." This time, both Foundation heads gave Captain America a blank look. "As I'm sure Captain Marvel also reported, Mari is presently on probation."

"Yes, yes, she did mention that," Devon nodded. "Vision reported the...incident she was involved in."

"And as a consequence of this, Mari was forbidden from leaving her home unless she was accompanied by either myself or another licensed superhero," Captain America continued, still speaking with the voice of dignity. "And I am certain that you are all aware of the penalty of violating probation."

"Penalty?!" Iron Maiden piped up, sounding quite surprised.

"Violation of parole carries with it a minimum sentence of five years' incarceration without parole," Vision explained, glancing over at Mana. "As well as an indefinite suspension of hero's license, as well as confiscation of all equipment and -"

"What?!" Mana cried out in horrified astonishment. "But - she just saved all of Chicago! You can't possibly -!"

"Young lady, I understand what you're saying. And you're right; from all accounts, this Mari saved both ourselves, and the entire state from falling right into Goldie's hands," Pete promptly assured her. "But the fact remains that we still don't know how she came to learn of Goldie's plans! Or why she didn't warn anyone else about it!"

Frowning at this point, Thunderstrike chimed in with, "The message left Mari for me indicated that she did attempt to warn other heroes of the impending threat, as well as the Foundation itself. But that none would listen to her."

"And if that is indeed the case, then we will see that she is given proper restitution for her actions," Devon assured the lady thunderer. "However - and you must excuse my skepticism - I fail to see how she could have given us such a warning, only for it to be so completely disregarded. For certainly, a threat of this magnitude would certainly warrant an investigation."

"I would certainly hope so!" Iron Maiden declared.

"I don't know how such a warning could have been disregarded, sirs. But I trust in Mari, and her message made it clear that she tried to warn others of what was about to happen. And that's good enough for me," Captain America declared. "As such, I would recommend conducting an investigation. To either confirm or deny what she said."

"We're already working on that," Misato announced, glancing over at their Vision. "Yui's already tapped into the phone records and computer communications for the Champions, Avengers Infinity, the Foundation, as well as all phones and email accounts registered in either Mari's or Thunderstrike's name. If there's anything to indicate that she tried to warn us, we'll find it."

"And while we're waiting...this message you spoke of," Devon began, looking intently at Captain America. "Could you show it to us?"

"Of course," Thunderstrike nodded before picking up a small AI module that she had brought in from her War Chariot. "I...had just returned from an extended vacation with my boyfriend when I found a note on Mari's personal computer, indicating that there was a message for me." Pressing a few of the controls, she paused and frowned before admitting, "However...I feel I should mention that I did not watch the entirety of the message."

"Why not?" Mana wondered with a look of surprise.

"Because you saw the part about Goldie's plan," Misato intuited. "And I'm guessing that, by the time you got home -"

"The time for Goldie's and Joker R's fireworks launch had already come and passed," Thunderstrike confirmed. "When I realized that, the only thing I could think of was alerting someone who I knew would listen to me." Indicating Captain America with her head, she added, "Namely, Steve."

"I see," Pete frowned unhappily. "Then perhaps it's time we found out what exactly this girl left for you to hear."

Nodding to this, Thunderstrike pressed a few controls on the AI module. A moment later, a holographic display appeared above the small computer. In it was captured Mari in her battle suit, seated in her bedroom. "Maria...I know this isn't the kind of welcome you were expecting when you got back from vacation, but...I...the city of Chicago, the Foundation...they're all in danger! And if I don't do something, the Golden Four and Joker R gang will destroy the whole city, brainwash everyone there...!"

The Mari in the holographic display shuddered somewhat, as if barely reining herself in. "I know it might seem crazy, but you have to believe me! No one else will!" she pleaded. "I've tried calling everyone I can think of! The Foundation, the Champions, the Avengers, JLU...everyone! But they won't listen to me!" Pausing to heave a deep breath, the girl before her shook her head slowly. "Look...the Golden Four and Joker R gang has a plan to use the Chicago fireworks show to infect everyone there with gamma-enhanced TITAN! It's all part of her plan to brainwash the people there with one of her mind control drugs, and...I don't know when you're getting back! I hope it's soon! But the fireworks show starts at 9 PM sharp! And as soon as that happens, they'll launch the rockets, and...that'll be it! It's all over! So I have to get over there and try and stop them! No one else will!" Swallowing loudly, Mari hesitated before adding, "I hope you get back soon, partner. Because you're the only one I can count on now! No one else will help...not even Uncle Steve..."

A couple questioning glances at Captain America prompted him to explain, "She calls me that sometimes."

"This as far as I watched it before I went to get Steve," Thunderstrike murmured as the video continued.

"...so I'm betting you won't be back in time. And if that's the case, then...I guess I should explain what's going on. So even if you can't stop it, you might be able to help stop Goldie from getting her hooks into the Foundation and everything else," the Mari in the hologram continued. "It all started almost two weeks ago, just after you left. Uncle Steve and I were on our back home after some time training together when we spotted the Nerima Wreckers going after a shipping truck loaded with medicine."

Thunderstrike winced at this, for the Nerima Wreckers were amalgams of the ladies of the infamous Nerima Wrecking Crew, and the Wrecking Crew from one of the Marvel worlds, and were composed of Wrecker Akane and her magical mallet, Thunderball Shampoo, Piledriver Ukyo, and Bulldozer Kodachi. A group of troublemakers that went out of their way to destroy whatever they could, whether they made a buck out of it or not.

"Uncle Steve and I...well, he had to do most of the work," Mari admitted, fingering the collar that had in recent times become the bane of her existence. "But we...he...was able to take them all down. And once he was done...well, the truck had gotten damaged, but most of the containers came through intact. But...not all of them." A beat passed as Mari frowned sadly. "After I'd gotten home, I noticed some stuff on my suit. I wasn't sure what it was, so I had Tai analyze it."

"Tai is the AI of her ship, the American Dream," Thunderstrike said by way of explanation.

"It turned out to be antidote for TITAN, the super drug based on Venom," Mari continued slowly. "But Tai found something else in it, a chemical compound that didn't seem to do anything. But I had him analyze it, and..." At this point, the girl heaved a long, deep breath. "He found out that it could have been part of a binary chemical. One half of a consciousness control drug."

"I did some more digging. Checked out the truck that was shipping the anti-TITAN, where it was going," Mari continued. "After a while, I managed to track down the company that owned it, and...I didn't find anything at first. But...well, Tai couldn't do it alone, so I had him hook into JARVIS at the Infinite Avengers Tower. The two of them did some digging, and...the company is owned by Goldie Musou of the Golden Four!"

"So that's how she learned about this," Captain America declared, his eyes lighting with comprehension. "But...if she found out about this back then...then why didn't she come to me about this?! Why didn't she -?"

"As soon as I found out about this, I tried to call Uncle Steve, tell him what was going on," Mari intoned, much to everyone's surprise. "But - it turned out that Tony - or a Tony - had found out about me hooking into JARVIS, and...well, he was really mad about it. Wouldn't even listen to me when I tried to explain what I was doing! And all he did was go on and on about how I shouldn't mess with his tech, and if I kept fooling around, he'd call the judge and that I was lucky he wasn't going to tell Uncle Steve about it, and..."

A groan escaped from both Avengers, with Captain America muttering, "Tony...well, that explains a lot."

"I was going to try and explain what I'd found to the Foundation or someone else after that, but...I realized that I'd have to explain about me using JARVIS to get the information. And as soon as I did that, then they wouldn't listen or they'd put me in jail, or - or something," Mari continued, her frustration all but palpable. "I realized that - I had to get more evidence. Prove to everyone what Goldie was up to!" Giving this a moment to sink in, the young Super Soldier hesitated before continuing. "So...after that...I spent the next few days...sneaking out of town. Going to Chicago."

"Oh, boy," Hawkeye grimaced at this point. "Judge JJ is gonna love that!"

"I spent a lot of time, checking out known Joker R hangouts, places owned by Goldie...anything I could think of! But it wasn't until yesterday that I finally figured out what they were up to!" Mari announced. "They've created a new, airborne version of TITAN. Gamma-enhanced, and it transforms people on contact! But even worse, it has the other half of Goldie's mind control formula! So when they try to use the anti-TITAN to cure people, they'll be creating the formula inside of them! And as soon as that happens...that's it. Goldie's won."

"Oh, my..." Devon breathed even as Pete shook his head in disbelief.

"I was able to get evidence of what happened, but...when I tried to contact the Foundation, they wouldn't listen! Nobody would!" Mari continued on, sounding almost desperate for someone to listen to her. "Turned out my probation officer had found out about me sneaking out to Chicago! She spent all her time, telling all the superteams I was a crackpot and that no one should listen to me before showing up at our place to try and arrest me!"

"Oh, great!" Misato grimaced with a roll of her eyes. "Just who's her probation officer, anyway?!"

"A variant of Naru Narusegawa," Thunderstrike promptly replied.

"That explains a lot," Pete muttered with a roll of his eyes.

"So...that's it. No one else can help me. No one will help me," Mari continued, sounding almost hollowed out. "It's all on me, now. So...Maria, I really do hope you get back in time. And if not..." A beat passed as the girl looked out at them before shrugging and giving a pitiful attempt at a smile. "Wish me luck."

An instant later, the hologram dissolved into static before winking out of existence. Frowning somberly, Captain America drew forth his Avengers ID Card. "JARVIS, come in, please."

"Greetings, Captain America," JARVIS replied in a brisk, polite manner. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

"I need to know if Mari contacted you at some time in the last two weeks," Captain America intoned. "It would have happened after our last training session together."

"Yes, sir. Her AI Tai contacted me, and asked for my help in an investigation he and Mari were conducting," JARVIS promptly answered.

A bit of a scowl curled Captain America's brow at this. "So you didn't mention the results of this investigation to anyone else?"

"Negative," JARVIS promptly answered. "Mr. Stark - well, a Mr. Stark - was extremely upset that - how'd he put it? - some delusional little tramp was having her way with his property. So he told me not to bother reporting it to anyone."

Frowning somewhat, Captain America intoned, "That doesn't sound like our Tony..."

"It wasn't," JARVIS promptly reported. "It was the Mr. Stark from Team TRN123/7122013."

As Captain America scowled, Hawkeye muttered, "Just one of the reasons I hate living in a tower filled with Tony Starks. All those brains, and they keep coming up with more and more screwups for the rest of us to clean up."

Shaking his head disgustedly, Devon muttered, "Well, we'll still have to do some investigating, but...well, from what we've heard so far, it sounds like your Mari did what she could."

"Yes, but we should still wait until we've conducted a more thorough investigation," Pete pointed out. "At the very least, we need to see what Vision comes up with."

"Agreed," Devon nodded before glancing about at the others. "Would, uh...any of you like some refreshments? I suspect that this will be a long night..."


Worst. Fourth of July. Ever, Mana thought as she continued to sit around the Foundation headquarters, nursing what felt like her hundredth cup of coffee to keep from passing out. Just how much longer are we gonna be stuck here, anyway?!

Resisting the temptation to lower her faceplate and allow Sid to take over the armor so she could grab a nap, Mana looked at the rest of the people there. Devon and Pete were maintaining exteriors of cool control, but it was clear that they were rapidly losing patience as they worked to unravel this fiasco. Misato and Asuka were even crankier, and everyone was keeping their distance from the purple-haired woman, lest they provoke her into hulking out and smashing everything sight. Thunderstrike was clearly anxious, Hawkeye bored, and Captain America a picture of quiet concern. Only Vision was completely calm and collected as she finished her part of their investigative efforts.

"Commander Saotome," the android Yui announced, catching the gamma mutant's attention. "I've just completed my analysis of the phone and internet records you requested."

Focusing on Yui, Misato glared at her for a moment, as if waiting for her to continue before saying, "And...what did you find?!"

"I've confirmed that their Mari made numerous calls yesterday to various superteams, corporations, and the Foundation," Yui reported, her eyes narrowing ever-so-slightly. "I have not been able to determine the exact nature of their conversations. However, I have been able to determine that the actions taken by those she attempted to contact consisted of investigating her background or contacting her probation officer."

"And let me guess," Hawkeye grumbled, looking like he wanted to punch something. "The instant they found she was on probation or got a mouthful of Naru's badmouthing, they forgot all about her and moved on to dealing with any other crackpots or loons they had bothering them."

"That would seem to be the case," Yui confirmed. "I have also confirmed that Probation Officer Naru Narusegawa had a warrant made out for Mari's arrest, and for the confiscation of her suit and equipment. Records indicate that the warrant was finalized earlier this evening. However, they have not been heard from since."

"Most likely, Mari fought back when they tried to arrest her," Captain America noted with a hint of pride. "And won."

Nodding to this, Thunderstrike looked imploringly at Vision. "What about Mari? Has there been any sign of her?"

"Negative," Vision reported, much to Thunderstrike's clear dismay. "There have been no sightings of her since earlier this evening."

Grunting in frustration and concern, Thunderstrike paced about a bit, tightening her grip about her hammer. "Mr. Miles, Mr. Thornton," Captain America spoke, his voice still clear and controlled. "I realize that there is still a great deal that needs to be taken care of. But given what we've been able to confirm thus far, I must ask if you are satisfied that Mari is not at fault in this situation?"

"Well, I'm satisfied," Pete muttered, glancing over at his contemporary.

"As I am," Devon concurred with a nod. "All the evidence currently available confirms that she did what she could to prevent this, even before taking matters into her own hands. I certainly can find no fault in this."

"In that case, sirs, I must ask you both a favor," Captain America went on, catching the Foundation heads by surprise. "As you are well aware, Mari remains on probation, and if she were to be arrested, not only would it do more damage to her reputation, but I fear that there may be other, more dire consequences."

"What do you mean?" Devon wondered with a raised eyebrow.

"I mean that its easier for many people to place the blame on others than to admit fault in themselves. And that there is a tendency in those in power to create a scapegoat in situations where this no one at fault, in order to create the illusion of control," Captain America explained. "Especially in situations such as this. The people of Chicago will not be happy when they find out how close Goldie and the Joker R gang came to succeeding in their scheme. They will most likely be afraid, and demand answers."

"As well as accountability," Devon intuited with a slight frown.

"Are you suggesting that we would try and throw Mari under a bus in order to protect our own reputations?!" Pete demanded with a note of outrage.

"Perhaps not yourselves, but there is the possibility that someone might try to do just that," Captain America declared in a no-nonsense voice. "Now, I realize that, in an ideal situation, Mari would not only go unpunished for doing what she did, she would be thanked, possibly even rewarded for her actions." Then the Super Soldier narrowed his eyes and added, "But we all know the world of politics is hardly an ideal one. And from the perspective of those more concerned with safeguarding their own careers and image, a girl who's already on probation would make for a convenient scapegoat."

A moment of heavy silence passed as both Foundation heads processed these words. "Very true, Captain," Devon finally nodded. "And so I assume you would like our assistance in heading off such efforts."

"Yes, I would," Captain America nodded. "Mari doesn't deserve to be punished for what happened. And I want make certain that she isn't."

Pete glanced over at Devon, who returned his look. "Alright. We'll see about making sure that it doesn't come to that," the portly Foundation head assured Captain America. "We'll have a press release issued, absolving Mari of all blame, and making sure that everyone knows that she's responsible for stopping Goldie's plan."

Bowing his head slightly, Captain America replied, "Thank you, sirs." Heaving a deep breath, the living legend went on to say, "If there is nothing else, then, I and my friends wish to be excused. There's still one more piece of business that we need to attend to."

"Finding your Mari," Devon intuited, to which Captain America nodded. "Of course. But keep in touch; we may need to contact you for additional information."

"Of course," Captain America replied, bringing up his Avengers ID Card once more. "I understand that all Foundation-operated buildings are fitted with their own AI systems. I'll have JARVIS relay my ID Card code to it, if you'll tell me the name."

"KAT-1, Captain," Pete reported. "She's a bit of a nitpick, but she makes an excellent secretary."

Nodding, Captain America set about relaying the pertinent information between the two AIs. "Alright, then. Thunderstrike, Hawkeye, let's get moving," he declared with a voice of authority. "Chicago's a big city, and we need to find Mari before anyone else does."

"Aw, c'mon, old man!" Hawkeye promptly complained. "We've already cleared things up with the Foundation! Why the big rush?! The little nutball can take care of herself!"

"Mari's still wearing a suppressor collar, Clint. And she's recently been through a heavy battle, so it's unlikely she's ready for another fight," Captain America reminded his teammate. "More to the point, she's still technically on probation. And even with the Foundation working to head off any potential problems, I'd like to make sure that she doesn't get in any trouble. And the best way of doing that -"

"Is to find her before the police or any other heroes do," Thundestrike broke in with a determined look.

As both Thunderstrike and Captain America turned their gazes towards him, Hawkeye groaned in defeat. "Okay, fine. Whatever," he irritably muttered. "It's not like I actually need dinner. Or sleep. Or -"

"Hold on. Maybe we can help you on that count, and finding your friend," Misato broke in, drawing everybody's gaze. "As Captain America said, Chicago's a big city. And given her situation, it's likely that your Mari doesn't want to be found right now."

"And there is also the possibility that she is no longer within Chicago," Vision tossed in. "She would have required transportation to get here in time to stop Goldie's plan. As such, she could already be in some other city."

Wincing at this, Thunderstrike hesitantly admitted, "She has a point. Mari took the Crimson Flare from the American Dream; she could be miles away from here by now."

"The Champions and Stingray Industries have plenty of resources, including access to anti-stealth tracking satellites. And if I make a few calls, I can get several more Champions and even SHIELD helping us out," Misato informed them. "That should improve our chances of finding your friend quickly."

"And if the dummkopf in the ugly purple mask is wondering, we can even order takeout while we're looking," Captain Marvel Asuka declared.

"Hey, that's great! I -!" Hawkeye started, all smiles, before he registered on the more derogatory elements of Asuka's words. "Wait a second...what'd you say about my mask?!"

"Clint, stand down," Captain America intoned, holding his hand out to his friend. Pausing just long enough to make sure that he wasn't about to open his mouth again, the living legend looked over at Misato. "Very well then, Commander Saotome, we'll be glad to have your help."

Nodding, Misato glanced over at the Foundation heads. "We better get moving, then. If there's any more trouble, sirs, just let us know."

Smiling, Devon opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off when an electronic voice was heard. "Excuse me, Mr. Miles?" came the female voice. "The governor of Michigan is on the line. He wishes to speak with you and Mr. Thornton."

"The governor of...?" Devon got out, sounding somewhat surprised. "Well, this is certainly turning into an eventful night."

"Yes, and it's getting more eventful by the second," Pete muttered with a roll of his eyes. "Uh, Commander Saotome, Captain America, if you'll excuse us..."

"Of course. We have our own business to attend to," Captain America nodded as he started towards the door.

"Be sure to give the governor my regards!" Misato said, giving the Foundation heads a pleasant smile as the metahumans filtered out of the office.

"I'll be sure to do that, my dear," Devon nodded.


As the last of the heroes departed their office, Pete let out a low sigh. "Well, this has been a long night."

"And it's bound to get even longer, very soon," Devon intoned. "KAT, please put the governor through."

"Right away, Mr. Miles," KAT returned. An instant later, a holographic display capturing the governor's image appeared before the Foundation's heads.

"Devon Miles, Peter Thornton," the governor intoned, surveying the two of them.

"Optimus Prime! Always a pleasure to see you!" Devon smiled warmly as he studied the Autobot that had come to be so beloved by the people of Michigan, and had worked so hard in rebuilding the state after the chaos that had followed the Vanishing. "Tell me, how goes the upgrade of the RoboCops? Still coming along smoothly?"

"Very. In fact, the project is nearly complete," Optimus Prime confirmed with a subdued note of pride. "Pretender technology has proven to be a great blessing for all of the cyborgs brought into being via the various RoboCop programs, allowing them to reclaim aspects of their human existences. I understand that they are planning a mass celebration as soon as the upgrade process is complete."

"Can't say I blame them," Pete noted, knowing full well how poorly each variant of OCP had treated all of the RoboCops before they had appeared in Coreline, and how badly they had taken the loss of so much of their human lives and bodies. "Still, I have to admit to being a bit surprised to hear from you, given that you're not one for casual calls." The portly man narrowed his eyes somewhat before adding, "And given the timing of this..."

"Peter..." Devon frowned, giving his friend a scolding look.

"No, that is quite alright, Devon," Optimus assured him. "As Peter already suspects, I have heard word of what happened in Chicago with the Golden Four and Joker R gang...as well as what almost happened."

Wincing as he was reminded of just how quickly word could spread in this era of the internet, Devon sighed. "I suppose it would get out, sooner or later. But I was hoping to have a little more time to calm things down before the press got wind of this."

"I did not learn of this situation through the media; I learned of what happened through my own resources," Optimus Prime informed them. "Given the situation in Michigan and the surrounding states, I find it prudent to monitor all activities being undertaken by various metahuman groups, mega corporations, and other such organizations."

Can't say I blame him for that, Devon thought, knowing full well how hard he and his compatriots had worked to keep their ears to the ground, on the alert for trouble, both before and after his arrival in Coreline. And considering that Optimus has to juggle Sumdac Systems, OCP, and all of the other mega corporations, not to mention the mecha manufacturers, the city Transformers, and all of the rest of it...!

Shuddering at the thought of having to deal with such an outlandish situation and once more deciding he knew precisely why Optimus Prime's election to governor of Michigan had prompted its citizens to remove the limit on the number of terms a person could serve as governor, Devon frowned and replied, "Still, you better tell us precisely what you've heard. Because I think it would be foolish of us to assume that you are the only one to have gotten wind of it."

"Agreed," Optimus solemnly agreed, and then he gave a terse summary of the information he had learned. And to Devon's dismay, it was frighteningly complete, with only the piece of information the Autobot lacked being the name and nature of the person responsible for defeating the guilty parties. "I'm glad to hear that their plans were thwarted. However, I am experienced enough with the way of politics and how people perceive such threats to know that the damage caused by such efforts extends beyond the initial threat, whether or not it was successful. And I so I wish to ask if the people of Chicago require any assistance."

Quirking the corner of his lip into a tiny smile, Devon thought, All of the problems he already has to deal with, and he still doesn't hesitate to help others. No doubt KITT would point this out as being further proof of the fallibility of humanity.

"We appreciate the offer, Optimus. However, for the moment, we seem to have the situation in hand," Pete replied. "Still, if you wish, we could keep you up to date on -"

"Ah, hold on moment, Peter," Devon broke in, holding up his hand to his friend as an idea came to him. "Actually, Optimus, if you do not object...there is something we could use some assistance with."

"What is it?" Optimus wondered, his electric blue eyes focusing with concern.

"It pertains to the person responsible for stopping this horrible tragedy before it could begin," Devon began, his idea taking on greater shape and definition even as he explained the situation...


A short while after Thunderstrike and the others left the Foundation Headquarters, they were later flying through the air within the Champions Quinjet. They had just enjoyed a meal of some decent takeout food, with this meal being the finishing blow for Mana. Less than a minute after she had finished her last bite, Iron Maiden let out a deep yawn, slumped back in her chair, and was soon dead to the world.

I know how that feels, Thunderstrike thought even as Captain America gently placed a blanket upon Mana's armored form. Usually, a good meal is all it takes to put me to bed as well. But as the young thunderer glanced down at the remnants of her own meal, she frowned in worry. But I don't see how I could ever sleep now. Not until we find Mari...

Think warm thoughts of the girl she had once hated passionately, a girl who had since become one of the few anchors to sanity she had been able to hold onto after the Vanishing, Thunderstrike watched as Steve asked Misato, "How are things going, ma'am?"

"Slowly," Misato promptly admitted. "Captain Marvel and Airstrike are already searching the area, but a lot of the Champions are either on leave for the Fourth or are busy with some other crisis. It's going to take a while before we can get a sizeable force out here." Then she turned towards the Avenger and added, "But you don't have to worry. Yui's already tapping into SHIELD surveillance feeds, security cameras, you name it. We'll have eyes all over the state, the whole country if we have to! We'll find her."

"It might not be that easy," Steve informed the Champions' Commander. "I trained Mari on how to avoid detection systems like that, and how to evade capture. We won't find her with electronic observation alone, not if she doesn't want to be found."

Frowning somewhat at this, Misato looked hard at Steve. "You know, I've been wondering this for a little while, but...how did you meet Mari in the first place?" the gamma mutant inquired. "Canons and non-canons don't usually mingle, and especially canons and amalgams! So how'd you...?"

A beat passed before Steve nodded his understanding. "I suppose that's a fair question," he admitted. "It started almost six months ago. Mari and Thunderstrike had been spending some time, touring various hot zones. Places like Nerima, Gotham City, Detroit, and were on their way to New York."

"Why were they doing that?!" Misato demanded, glancing over at Thunderstrike.

"It was Mari's idea. She has the ability to analyze a person's physical skills and replicate them, just by seeing them once," Thunderstrike explained. "After we arrived here, she decided we needed to be able to improve our skills and abilities if we were going to make it in this world. And so, after we settled and established a place to live, she decided...and I agreed...that we should broaden our capabilities."

Giving Thunderstrike a look, Misato frowned and asked, "I guess I can see how that makes sense. But...even with a power like that, Mari wouldn't get very far, just by watching people."

"We were aware of that," Thunderstrike admitted. "Fortunately, we were able to do more than that. We trained, developed our strengths, and even met with other people who had come to this world, and we shared our skills and knowledge. We even encountered a Ryoga Hibiki alternate who was willing to share his own knowledge and skills, and gave us training in the arts he knew."

"Ryoga Hi- Wait a second!" Misato gaped in clear realization. "You mean you two went through the Bakusai Tenketsu training?!"

"You're familiar with that technique?" Steve inquired, giving Misato a look.

"Familiar with it?! I went through it! My husband trained me on that!" Misato declared with a shudder. "And while I can't deny that I liked the results...that's something I never want to go through again!"

"Agreed. Being smashed with a boulder isn't an enjoyable experience," Steve admitted. As Misato's eyes bulged in shock at this, the Super Soldier admitted, "I trained Mari in things I had learned, and she helped me with my training in return."

As Misato continued to stare in astonishment at Steve, Thunderstrike cleared her throat. "Excuse me, but...if I may continue...?" As both Captain and Commander again looked at her, they nodded. "As I was explaining, we had just spent some time Gotham City so that Mari could observe the techniques employed by the various Bats, and were heading towards New York in the American Dream when we picked up an alert. Several high-powered canons and amalgams were engaged in a free-for-all fight against each other; canonical versions of the Wrecking Crew, the Juggernaut, the Absorbing Man, among others, who were fighting amalgams such as a Juggernaut Asuka, an Abomination Naru, a Deadpool Mari, and -"

"Wait a second," Misato broke in, holding out her hand to the Thunderer. "Did you just say...a Deadpool Mari?"

"That is correct," Thunderstrike confirmed with a nod.

Her eyes rounding with astonished horror, Misato looked at the young thunderer. "You mean to tell me that, somewhere out there, there is an amalgam of Mari Illustrious Makinami, a girl who usually has questionable stability at best - I said usually!" she interrupted herself, noting Steve about to protest. "An amalgam of Mari...and Deadpool, the absolute most batshit insane person of all time?!"

Realizing where this was going, Thunderstrike hesitated before replying, "Umm...yes."

Letting out a miserable groan, Misato shook her head miserably. "Thank you so much for putting that in my mind..."

Wincing with understanding, Thunderstrike was forced to admit, "She was quite...extreme." Heaving a deep sigh, the thunderer continued. "As I was saying, there was a massive battle going on between the two groups. I do not know the cause; all I know is that they were causing massive amounts of destruction, and many innocents were in danger. Even worse, there was no sign of any other heroes at the time. So when we saw this, Mari and I decided to intervene."

"What they didn't know was that Avengers Infinity had already been alerted, and my team had been dispatched to deal with the rampant villains," Steve interjected. "Iron Man, Spider-Man, and She-Hulk had just picked me up after my training with Goku, and were bringing me back home when we got the alert, so we diverted to rendezvous with the rest of the team and deal with the situation."

"So that's how you all met," Misato gathered, nodding her understanding. "So what happened then?"

"What else happens when good guys and bad guys bump into each other?" Hawkeye demanded. "A big mess turned into an even bigger mess!"

"True," Captain America admitted. "Thunderstrike and Mari had already engaged the groups of villains, who decided to put aside their differences long enough to deal with them, and were leading them to a less populated area."

"And that's when we showed up to clean up their mess," Hawkeye snarked, glancing over at Thunderstrike, who glowered at him. "And then Cap decides to show off some of his new tricks and goes swooping down on Absorbing Man from above! Then he powers up his shield with some kind of crazy chi-trick, sliced Absorbing Man to pieces, and then blasted the pieces with a Kamehameha!"

Nodding at this memory, Thunderstrike admitted, "The villains were most certainly surprised, and impressed, as was Mari. As soon as she saw Steve in action, her mouth fell open...and she was struck silent by his feats."

"And it sure says a lot when a Mari is at a loss for words," Hawkeye chimed in.

"When she recovered, Mari took note of her counterpart fleeing the battlefield, and decided to pursue," Thunderstrike continued despite the interruption. "Though...I suspect that part of the reason for her decision was to distance herself from Steve."

"Can't say I'm surprised," Misato noted. "Some canons don't take kindly to amalgams of themselves."

"Aye, and Mari has always taken the mantle she bears very seriously," Thunderstrike nodded. "I myself have to admit to have been anxious when I was properly introduced to Thor. For although we are very different people, I was concerned that he would resent one wielding his power."

"And now, you two get along quite well," Captain America noted with a tiny smile. "Unfortunately, while we were busy securing the rest of the villains, our Mari and the Deadpool Mari were still fighting. And during the course of their battle, the Deadpool Mari led the battle to a series of buildings that were being demolished. There she found a shipping vehicle just arriving, loaded with explosives."

"Uh-oh!" Misato broke in with a grimace. "A Deadpool and explosives?! Bad mix!"

"It certainly was in this case," Steve confirmed with a nod. "Deadpool Mari took off in the truck, and started onto the freeway...driving in the wrong direction." Misato groaned in dismay at this image. "Our Mari pursued, and with some effort, was able to eventually overtake Deadpool. But not before she reached a massive new shopping complex."

"Oh, no...!" Misato groaned, bringing her hand to her forehead. "Do I even need to guess what happened next?!"

"Not really, but we'll tell you anyway," Hawkeye declared with a smirk. "Our little nutjob broke into the van and ripped off the other Mari's head, figuring that would keep her down for a while. But while she was trying to get the van away from the bright, shiny, and really expensive mega mall...she found out the hard way that this Deadpool could control her body, even when her head wasn't attached to it!"

"Deadpool Mari triggered the explosives before our Mari could get clear of the shopping complex," Steve grimly explained. "Between her battle suit and the Bakusai Tenketsu training, our Mari was unhurt. As for the Deadpool Mari...it took us a few days to track down every piece of her and put them back together."

"Unfortunately, that still left the little matter of the blown up mega mall," Hawkeye noted. "Three guesses who they pinned the blame on for that one."

"I don't even need one," Misato grumbled sourly. "Asuka told me about how a J Jonah Jameson threw the book at her."

Nodding, Steve elaborated by saying, "Jameson condemned Mari, saying that she had been in league with the other Mari and the rest of the villains, despite not having any evidence proving it. He had her placed on a six-month probation period, had her fitted with the suppressor collar and placed restraining bolts on her battle suit, locking down much of its higher functions. Then he arranged for a variant of Naru Narusegawa to be made her probation officer."

"Yeah, and he also declared that he wished that he could throw her in jail and take away all her toys," Hawkeye tossed in. "And that if Naru caught her screwing up, he would!"

"And...that's how you got to know her, huh?" Misato inquired.

"That's right. What Jameson did was wrong, pure and simple. He was condemning Mari for no other reason than that he could, to satisfy his hatred for all costumed heroes," Captain America declared. "And while I couldn't do anything to reverse his judgment, I decided that I could at least help Mari."

"Okay. So you decided to help train her," Misato gathered.

"That's right. I caught some of her moves before we reached the site of the battle, and I was able to see that Mari already had some good moves of her own," Steve explained. "But I could tell that some of them were unrefined. Also, Mari admitted to me that she was never able to figure out how to throw her shield properly. So I decided to help her. Give her the training she needed."

"And they all happily lived ever after. Until tonight, of course," Hawkeye declared in a snide manner.

"You two sound pretty close," Misato noted with a tiny smile. "She even calls you Uncle."

"Yes. Yes, we are," Captain America noted. "I guess...it's not surprising, in a way. Mari lost her father and most of her loved ones in the Vanishing, and me...well, I never had any family of my own, but...in a strange way, she...reminds me of someone I once knew. A long time ago." Pausing to heave a deep sigh, the Super Soldier intoned, "We may not be related biologically, but as far as I'm concerned...she is family. And I'm not going to stop until I find her, and bring her back home."

Nodding to this, Misato looked like she was about to say something more when a familiar beeping was heard. "Commander," Yui began, "we're getting a signal from the Foundation. It's Devon Miles."

"Devon?" Misato repeated with a slight frown. "Alright, put him through." A beat passed before the Foundation head's image appeared before her. "Hello, Devon. Something up?"

"Oh, my!" the older man chuckled. "I must say, this does bring back memories!" Devon issued a few more titters before sobering. "Uh, yes, something is up. I've been in contact with a good friend and associate of the Foundation, and not only do we believe we have a way of rectifying any damage to our Mari's reputation, but it looks like we have a lead on where she might be!"

"Wha-?! How did -?!" Misato sputtered out in obvious shock, not that Thunderstrike could blame her.

As the purple-haired woman opened and closed her mouth repeated, Captain America asked, "What kind of lead, Devon?"

"Sensory readings on an atmospheric disturbance with a faint ionic wake. Extremely hard to detect, unless you happen to know what you're looking for," Devon reported. "The ionic pattern is comparable to the energy signature of an arc reactor."

"The Crimson Flare," Thunderstrike breathed in realization. "It's powered by an arc reactor."

"So are quite a few other things in this crazy world," Misato pointed out. "That particular genie's long since been out of the bottle."

"I agree that crude imitations of Stark's arc reactor are fairly commonplace, Commander Saotome," Devon promptly concurred, "but they all employ substances such as palladium or other elements which are not only unstable, but leave a highly distinct energy signature. They're essentially worthless in small stealth vehicles such as this. This could only have been a true arc reactor, such as the ones registered as being in use in the American Dream and its support vehicles." Smiling in a bit of triumph, the older man went on to add, "Also, my associate was able to detect two trails left by this particular craft. One leading to Chicago, having come from Mari and Thunderstrike's place of residence, and a second one...which leads to Washington, D.C."

"Washington?" Captain America frowned perplexedly even as Thunderstrike's eyes went wide with surprise. "But...why would Mari go there?"

"I know," Thunderstrike declared, rising to her feet. As all eyes fell upon her, she explained, "Shortly after we were given our new home, we were scanning the internet, trying to find out as much about Coreline as we could, when Mari found out about the Smithsonian Complex in Washington, D.C.. Specifically, the Captain America museum there!"

"But why would she decide to go there, especially right now?" Misato wondered.

"I don't know why, but it's the only thing that makes sense!" Thunderstrike insisted. "When we first went there, Mari spent almost the entire day there! All she wanted to do was look at the various exhibits, look at the recordings, all of it! If she really has gone to Washington, then she has to have gone there!"

As the rest of the people there looked about at each other, Captain America frowned, his expression hardening. "There's only one way to know for sure," he finally declared. "Thank you for the information, Mr. Miles. We'll investigate. And please, thank your associate on our behalf."

"Certainly, Captain," Devon nodded pleasantly. "Best of luck to you all."

With that, Devon's image disappeared, leaving Captain America to do what he did best. "Thunderstrike, open a portal. We're going to Washington." Then he seemed to catch himself, looking almost embarrassed as he looked over at Misato. "That is...with your permission, Commander."

"That's quite alright, Captain," Misato assured him. "And consider permission granted. Next stop; Washington D.C.!"


Author's Note: Well, as per usual with me, a chapter just kept getting longer and longer. So this story will take longer to wrap up then I had intended. Still, I hope that you will all read and review! And maybe check out my other stories while you're at it.