Thor clung to the stainless steel spire as he called lightning down to his hammer and unleashed it again at the Chitauri forces pouring through the gateway above Manhattan like blood gushing from a mortal wound. His brother Loki's misshapen army seemed endless, and Asgardian though he might be, Thor still had his limits. After a minutes-long barrage of continuous lightning strikes that would have humbled a hurricane, the god of thunder was forced to pause for breath in the face of the invaders.
As he drew in deeply of the befouled air above New York City, the unending torrent of one- and two- and three-man flying sleds paused to allow a half-skeletal leviathan of metal and fire to enter the world of men. As it undulated ponderously in its headlong dive toward the city below, need forced Thor to take one more deep breath in anticipation of the demands he was about to place upon himself again. Steeling himself, he tightened his grip on the spire and raised his hammer once more...
When a feminine voice behind him shouted "Supreme! Thunder! DRAGON!" and a bolt of lighting as great as any he had ever called roared past him. As it homed in on the Chitauri leviathan it expanded and took on the form of a great wyrm of old, its jaws wide and its talon-tipped forelegs spread to rip its foe to shreds. It did not strike the leviathan so much as engulf it in a brilliant explosion that left the vehicle/creature plummeting from the sky. It seemed doomed to shatter a score of buildings, doing as much destruction in its death as it might have hoped to accomplish alive — until a pink streak of light shot up out of the city to meet it. The crippled leviathan impossibly halted in mid-air, rolled, and suddenly hurtled as if thrown toward the harbor and the open sea beyond. The pink streak reappeared, shooting upward and into the open portal.
"Go, Mirai!" shouted the female voice. "Give'em hell!"
Gripping the stainless steel so tightly it began to crumple under his fingers, Thor turned slowly to find himself facing a girl — no, a woman — floating in the air some yards away. She was tall, at least as tall as Sif, and more voluptuous. As beautiful as any Asgardian woman, she was dressed in an outfit as abbreviated as any he'd seen on a mortal woman in this age: a tight, tiny dress of white trimmed with green and a bit of incongruous pink. Her long chestnut hair was done up in a high ponytail, and a golden tiara with a brilliant emerald cabochon topped with a tiny antenna graced her brow. From her waist to the short, low-heeled boots she wore, her body was sheathed in a roiling, coruscating blue-white glow that was visible even in the bright sunlight.
And small whipping, cracking wisps of lighting streamed along the sides of her head from her glowing eyes.
"Well, hello there, handsome," she said with a flirtatious smile. "Nice hammer. What do they call you when you're at home?"
Thor blinked and shook his head for a moment. "I am Thor Odinsson of Asgard," he shouted over the wind. "Who are you?"
"Thor?" The woman's smile shifted from flirty to a full grin. "What a coincidence. I'm Jupiter — Sailor Jupiter." She inclined her head and raised an eyebrow. "Care for a little help?"
Natasha ejected the empty clips from her pistols and slammed a pair of full ones home in a single efficient motion. For all their armored appearance, the Chitauri were just as vulnerable to a well-placed bullet as the average human, and the Black Widow could place bullets very well indeed.
That her targets all seemed to be supremely overconfident just made targeting them all that much easier.
"Natasha," Barton's voice whispered in her ear. "You've got incoming."
"Tell me something I don't know," she muttered as she squeezed off another volley of shots that laid a quartet of Chitauri low.
"I don't mean the uglies. Something else is heading your way."
"Care to be a bit more specific?" she growled.
"I can't. From up here it looks like a streak of yellow light and the Tasmanian Devil," he replied, absolutely deadpan.
Natasha paused in her firing and blinked. "Like what?"
Then the wave of Chitauri in front of her erupted. There was no better word for it. Something blurring and bright yellow blew through them, throwing them high into the air even as their weapons went flying far away. As they dropped, a second blur, this one looking more like a person spinning like a top, followed at a slower but equally implacable pace; in its wake were left nothing but dismembered, dying and dead aliens.
"Like that," Barton replied smugly as the yellow streak circled her several times and the whirlwind dispatched the last of the aliens that had threatened to overrun her position.
Natasha raised an eyebrow and lowered her pistols, but did not holster them. "Bozhe moi," she murmured, "what are you?"
The yellow blur abruptly froze in front of her, resolving with eye-watering suddenness into a young girl, barely into her teens, in a bright yellow bodysuit marked with a red lighting bolt just above her burgeoning bustline. A partial cowl enclosed her head, revealing her face and the top of her auburn hair, while two equally-auburn ponytails streamed through openings where her ears would be; her features were Japanese, though her eyes were a shade of golden brown Natasha had never before seen in an Asian face.
"Hiiiiiiiiiii!" she squealed, then launched into most rapid-fire Japanese Natasha had ever heard. "I'mthegreatKurataSanatheycallmeHikarinoHayasa Wewerejustarrivingandwesawyouwerebeingattackedsowedecidedtohelp Ihopeyoudon'tmindbutifyoudoIthinkwecanputallthealiensbackandletyoukillthem yourselvesbutifyouaskmethatwouldbesillyafterallwhowouldn'twanthelpwithan alieninvasionandsaydidyouknowyouhaveaholeinyoursky?"
"Breathe, Sana." Somewhat stunned at the verbal torrent, Natasha looked up to find that the other blur had been replaced by a tiny, slender young woman in faded jeans and a T-shirt touting a band called "Ellen Aim and the Attackers". Her delicate features were dominated by a pair of striking green eyes, and her long, dark hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. She appeared to be in her early twenties, and Natasha's eyes widened when she realized that a pair of narrow sword blades, made of a bluish-silver metal she couldn't identify and dripping with Chitauri blood, seemed to grow out of the backs of her hands.
Catching Natasha's glance at the blades, a look of ... was that embarrassment? ... flashed across the young woman's face, and then the swords retracted silently into her arms, each leaving behind only a line of drying alien blood to mark where it had been. She held out her finely boned hand, and as Natasha numbly shook it, she said, in English, "Bibi Summers. Like Sana said, we just hit town and saw you were having a little problem." She suddenly grinned. "We're good at problem-solving."
"Natasha?" Barton called into the comset as his sometime-partner found herself face to face with the two... somethings he had spotted heading for her position. "Natasha? What's going on?"
"That's a very interesting quiver you're wearing."
The last thing Barton expected was to hear a voice from over his shoulder. Not while he was perched at the very top of a building and playing both sniper and spotter during an alien invasion. Startled, he spun about, drawing his bow on an especially lethal arrow to face...
A girl sitting on a flying broom.
Automatically he memorized key details about her. British accent. Late teens. Waist-length dirty blonde hair. Grey eyes, wide, surprised-looking. Wearing a dark grey cloak over blue jeans; top not visible. Elaborately carved stick in right hand, about a foot long. The other hand was gripping the broom, which looked like a handmade antique except for the sculpted brass stirrups on which her feet rested and the inlaid silver letters reading "Nimbus 2001" just below a leather-wrapped grip.
And yes indeed, it was flying, bobbing up and down ever so slightly in the air just past the low wall ringing his nest.
"And very interesting arrows. That's not very polite," she added with faint disapproval, and gestured with the stick. Barton felt a force shove his bow to one side, away from her. "Shoot now," she added casually, and without thinking about it, he did.
The arrow whipped past her head, close enough to send the ends of her long hair swirling, and into the face of a very surprised Chitauri as it rose into the space just a few yards behind her. The arrowhead exploded, as it was supposed to; Barton had already raised an arm to shield his face but to his surprise the blast stopped cold a foot or so behind the girl.
She smiled dreamily. "I don't mind if they shoot at me from the front, because I can see them to shoot back. But shooting me from behind is terribly unsporting, don't you think? So I don't let them. Duck now."
Barton registered that last bit just in time to drop to the roof the moment she waved her stick and said, "Reducto maximus". A bolt of light erupted from its tip and passed over his head; a moment later he heard the now-familiar sound of exploding Chitauri fightercraft, several of them, followed by the also now-familiar sound of Chitauri screams fading away into the distance.
He slowly got back to his feet, eying her dubiously. "Who...?" he began.
"I'm Luna Lovegood," she said in that same dreamy tone. "We're here to help."
Steve Rogers (CPT, US Army) followed the sound of the gunshots, certain that he'd find more members of the NYPD cornered by the Chitauri when he reached their source. On the way he had to deal with another half-dozen of the alien warriors and their flying sleds.
When he finally stepped through the smoke from a nearby burning storefront, shield at the ready, he expected to find a police car or three formed into an impromptu barricade as a handful of cops made their stand against the invaders.
He didn't expect to find a ring of Chitauri corpses surrounding a pair of blonde girls. One was in her late teens or maybe early twenties, wearing a leather jacket and the softly faded blue denim pants that were so much more common in this era than in his time. She stood next to a motorcycle, once gleaming black but now dust-covered, with golden back-to-back "BB" emblems emblazoning its fuel tank and fenders. In one hand she held an automatic pistol; in the other was an utterly incongruous Japanese sword. Both she and the sword were splattered with dark alien blood.
But where she was splattered, the other girl was soaked, to the point that he couldn't tell the original colors of her clothes. More blood was smeared across her face, giving her a savage look. Steve blinked at the sight of her — she was tiny and couldn't have been more than ten or eleven years old. But she was encased in a web-work of belts and bandoleers holding dozens of knives, and strapped to her back was something that looked like a cross between a trash picker and a miniature spear. She held a pair of huge combat knives expertly in her small hands, alien blood dripping off their gleaming blades.
Steve's breath caught when he saw her expression. It was one that should never have been on the face of a child that young; he had seen it far too many times on the faces of the soldiers at whose sides he'd fought in Europe. But then he spied the long, delicately-pointed tips of her ears poking through her blood- drenched hair, and he realized that whatever she was, a child probably wasn't among the possibilities. She howled a challenge to the battle-filled sky in a rough English accent and a rougher vocabulary that reminded him of more than a few long-gone comrades: "Come an' get me if you dare, you buggerin' arsewipes! I'm Chalotte of the Whitechapel Wallopers! I'm one of the Magnificent Eight, killers of the Rumble High Command! C'mere an' I'll slice you open from goolies t' goiter an' spill yer guts on the ground, see if I don't!"
By the look of the blood that soaked her clothes through and the bodies at her feet, Steve could tell that many Chitauri had taken her up on her challenge, but none had won.
Tony Stark didn't want to know how many Gs he pulled as he took a tight turn that sent most of his pursuers smashing into an office building. He'd incorporated the equivalent of a pilot's pressure suit into the lining of the armor almost from the first, and its tight grip on his body kept the blood from draining from his head. Blacking out during high-speed maneuvers was a bad thing, and he always tried to avoid bad things.
At least the ones that weren't fun.
Like the flying armored whale-craft the Chitauri were sending through the hole. One of which he'd just bounced off of — "Shit!" he swore as the impact sent him momentarily tumbling — and whose full attention he now had. "Shit!" he repeated when he realized it was following him.
Okay, okay, if the little fliers were bad at cornering, this big mother had to be worse. He just had to lead it into a situation where it wiped out, right? Right. So, pull out of the tumble. Quick jog to the left and a zig to the right to avoid a couple of armored bastards on their flying treadmills. Up, then down to break any target locks. Glance behind to make sure it was staying on his trail the way he wanted instead of doing something smart and attacking him from above.
Right. Still there. Not sure if that's bad or worse, but there you have it. Okay, tight turn onto Sixth. The whale didn't wipe out there, dammit, but that's okay, it's not where he'd planned to take it out. So power down Sixth Avenue, past the girl with the wings...
Girl with wings?
Tony blinked, braked, and spun in place.
He blinked again.
There was a girl with wings hovering a hundred feet over Sixth Avenue. Hugely-feathered pale blue wings the same color as her hair, if he wasn't mistaken, making long, slow, lazy flaps that shouldn't have kept her in the air. She wore a mix of plate armor and something white and drapey — and what a shame that was, too, because it looked like she might have a smokin' bod. In one hand she held something that was either the oddest spear he'd ever seen, or a bright red ribbon with way too much starch.
For a moment he thought to warn her about the armored whale, but from her posture and the way she'd begun to brandish her ribbon at it, he figured she probably already knew. With a deft flick of her wings, she positioned herself directly in its path, drew back the spear, then hurled it into the monster's face.
"What the hell does she think that will... Jesus!" The moment the spear touched the whale, the creature exploded — not with flame and smoke, but into liquid, transforming entirely into a thick orange goo that splattered nearby buildings and splashed viscously into the street below. Tony raised his eyes back to the winged girl just in time to see her catch the spear as it returned to her hand seemingly under its own power.
Tony mentally shrugged, then jetted back up Sixth to hover in front of her. Close up, he saw that she had Asian features, with red eyes and translucent white skin which, had she not also had hair of that most unlikely blue shade, would have said "albino" to him. He decided she looked younger than he'd initially thought; late teens, maybe. Still, it wouldn't hurt to turn on the old Stark charm. "Hey, thanks for the save. Nice spear. What's your name? Maybe we can get together after..."
"I am Ayanami Rei, the Angel of Heroes," she said in unaccented English. Her voice was soft and almost uninflected, but somehow carried a disapproval that stilled his automatic banter. "You have far more important things to do at this time than flirt with me, Anthony Stark." With a disdainful sniff she spun in place, wrapping her wings around herself, and vanished.
Tony blinked at the empty space where she had been before realizing that she was correct. There were more important things for him to do.
Lt. John Callahan, NYPD, hunkered down behind the shelter of his patrol car as yet another of those flying whatsits shot past overhead. Peering over the hood, he took aim and fired. He smiled grimly when his target slumped over the controls of its flyer, which then augered in to a fiery explosion in the middle of 70th Street.
A moment later, to his surprise, a figure on a brilliant white horse burst out of the flames surrounding the wreckage — a tall, regal-looking young woman whose olive skin and long dark hair gave her a vaguely Mediterranean appearance. Despite the smoke and fire through which she had ridden, not a smudge marred the pure white tunic-and-trousers outfit which she wore, an outfit that somehow screamed "police uniform" to his instincts without looking like any uniform in his experience.
As her blue-eyed horse came to a jingling halt in front of his makeshift barricade, a second young woman dropped out of the sky to hover unsupported in the air next to her — a girl with short blonde hair and deeply-tanned skin, in a brief white-and-blue dress, blue gloves and boots, with a blue mask covering most of her face. "We've got some civilians trapped in the second floor of the building across the street," she announced without preamble as John gawked. "It's badly damaged and looks like it'll collapse any minute, so we can't just let them hide there. But we need to draw the aliens away from that side of the street before we can rescue them." Her speech was faintly accented; Japanese, maybe, John thought, thinking of the waitresses at his favorite sushi place.
"The creatures are simple-minded and vicious, from what I see," the woman in white stated flatly, and the horse gave an amused whinny, almost as though it were agreeing with her. Unlike her friend, she sounded like a native American. "They'll choose an obvious and easy target over one within hard cover."
John thought he saw where this was going. "Now wait just a damn minute, lady..." he began.
"I'll be the target," she went on without allowing him to finish his objection.
"While she does that, I'll get the civilians down to ground level," the hovering girl added. "We need you to get them to safety from there. Can you and your men do that?"
His sudden anger doused, John gave the proposal a moment's thought. "Yeah. We can get them into the subway station at the corner."
"Good," the older woman replied with a grim smile. Before she had even finished speaking, and without a touch on the reins, her horse was turning in place. She looked back over her shoulder. "It should be pretty easy to spot your cue. Just be ready."
"You got it, lady," John said as he reached for his radio, then paused. "One thing — who are you?"
The horse paused, and she called back without turning, "You can call me 'Herald'."
The flying girl snapped her hands down and to her sides, where they began to glow. "And I'm Sailor Loon!" she declared brightly before launching herself back into air above.
John allowed himself a little smile and a shake of the head as he raised his radio to his mouth and thumbed the button. "Freakin' Mondays," he muttered. "Always crazy as hell."
"...midtown area. I repeat, city authorities are urging all civilians caught in the combat zone to shelter underground and to use the subways to leave the midtown area. Do not exit on foot unless you are on the edges of the battle. Extra trains are being dispatched to help the evacuation effort."
Tom glanced at Jack, his pilot, as he continued, and received a grim nod. "We're heading back to base before we get shot down, but we'll continue to bring you up-to-the-minute information on the evacuation. This is Tom Kaminski for CBS Radio in the McDonald's Chopper 880. Now here's Bernie Weiter with the mass transit report." He cut the feed and turned back to Jack. "Let's get back to Teterboro before we..."
He never finished, as Jack suddenly swore and yanked on the control yoke, sending the helicopter into an abrupt turn-and-drop. Tom found himself slung roughly to the side, his safety harness the only thing keeping him from slamming into the thin Plexiglas door next to his seat. Before the unexpected maneuver had completely registered, a fusillade of beam shots screamed through the air where the chopper had been, followed by a pair of aliens on their flying craft. The attackers overshot them by a good quarter mile, and as Jack struggled to get the chopper under control they banked into a wide turn that promised to bring them around for a second salvo.
Only to run face-first into a wall of missiles that had appeared from somewhere behind the helicopter and raced past it to converge on their two targets.
When the exhaust plumes cleared, there was no sign of the aliens. "Where did those missiles come from?" Tom asked, craning his neck to look out the windows nearest him.
"If you ask me," Jack said slowly, "probably that." And he pointed to the left. Tom turned to see something that struck him as no less impossible than a hole in the sky spewing alien invaders: a huge robotic turtle, dull grey steel in construction and easily bigger than several city buses, flying with as little regard for the laws of aerodynamics as the invaders' sled-things.
It had passed them up almost as quickly as the aliens had, but then slowed to a hover and spun in place to face them. Panels were closing on its back as it did so, but not before Tom spied racks and racks of missile launchers. And riding in a saddle mounted above where its head and shell met was a brown-skinned, barefoot and bare-legged blonde girl in a short blue skirt and white crop-top blouse with a sailor collar. She smiled, the gleam of her brilliantly white teeth visible even from dozens of yards away, and waved energetically at them.
Tom and Jack waved numbly back, which seemed to amuse the girl greatly. Waving even more furiously, she turned the impossible craft back toward the battle and took off like a jet fighter.
"Jack," Tom said a few moments later. "Teterboro. And I think we'll both need a drink when we get there."
"Yeah," Jack replied. "I think you're right."
Safe inside the thick metal shell of Mecha-Rinrin, Minakami Rinrin grinned as she pummeled yet another alien. One of these days — well, once she got back home after finding Doug-aniki's Earth and helping Dee-aneki win her country's war — she'd have to tell Aniki and her sisters about the extra features that she'd built into Mecha-Rinrin. Rinrin was pretty sure she'd never gotten around to letting anyone in Welcome House know that Mecha-Rinrin wasn't just a big robot, but a suit of powered armor, too.
It was, after all, why Mecha-Rinrin was so big and still articulated to mimic its creator's every motion. If it hadn't been for the room for her to sit inside, and the armor, and the weapons, well, Mecha-Rinrin could have been as small as Mecha-Rinrin-chan. If not as cute.
Then again, something as small as Mecha-Rinrin-chan wouldn't've been able to beat the crap out of ugly alien invaders, now, would it?
No, Rinrin mused as she rather vigorously separated an alien from his very neat energy rifle-pike-thing (gotta keep one of those, see how it works, she interrupted her own thoughts absently), to hit really hard, you either had to use something really out-of-this-world like Mirai's Mol unit, or you had to be big. Like the green guy down the street.
Rinrin tossed a screaming Chitauri over her shoulder and turned back to confirm that yes, there was a big — huge — green man at the other end of the block, and he was bulldozing his way through the alien horde with a speed and ferocity she momentarily envied. Then she remembered she was an engineer, not a soldier.
Despite having volunteered to fight in a war.
Okay, maybe she was a little bit of a soldier. Kinda.
Army corps of engineers, yeah.
Anyway, green guy.
Who was now standing over her and studying Mecha-Rinrin with a puzzled look on his face as the storm of battle momentarily whirled away to another part of the city. Rinrin watched his image on her displays, and noted that even his hair and the whites of his eyes were green.
Would that make them the greens of his eyes, then? she wondered absently as she tilted her head and studied him right back. He didn't seem inclined to say anything, but then, he didn't seem inclined to smash her like he'd been smashing the aliens, so she figured everything was cool. Rinrin tucked her arms behind her back and smiled; Mecha-Rinrin matched her posture, but sadly couldn't copy the smile. Not caring, Rinrin just looked up into that green gaze and chirped, "Hi!" in English. It was, after all, New York City. "My name's Rinrin! What's yours?"
An expression of ponderous puzzlement crawled across the green giant's face. "Iron girl?" he rumbled slowly in a voice like rocks scraping together. "Like iron man?"
Iron man? Rinrin decided to figure that out later. "I'm a friend!" she declared confidently.
The green guy took a long time considering this, then nodded with a quickness and sharpness surprising for the sense of mountainous solidity that he exuded. "Iron girl friend." He thumped his chest once like a gorilla. "Hulk friend too."
"Hulk?" Rinrin asked. "Is that your name?" Hulk nodded again. Certainly is appropriate, she thought with a smile. A strange friend, but green was her favorite color.
Tony sighed, his eyelids fluttering, when he finally released the cruise missile. It continued on toward the Chitauri mothership just as the systems in the suit finally shut down, leaving only the head-up display in staticky, flickering life. Even as oxygen deprivation began to steal consciousness from him, one corner of his mind noticed how he began to fall back toward the hole in space through which he'd flown with the nuke intended for Manhattan. Odd that Earth's gravity would extend through the dimensional warp into this... space? Place? He wasn't sure if he was actually in the same universe as Earth or not.
A brilliantly pink streak of light flashed across his blurring vision, and Tony realized he was starting to hallucinate from the O2 starvation. Strange, his molasses-thick thoughts stumbled to form a last spurt of coherence. I always thought I'd die by totaling my Maserati. Or from a heart attack in bed with a pair of blonde Swedish twins. Not by saving the world.
The pink light flashed again, brighter and closer, and suddenly the sensation of motion ceased. He forced his eyes to focus and realized that though he felt as though he weren't moving at all, he was speeding past Chitauri craft so quickly that they seemed to flicker in and out of sight. Then brilliant sunlight banished the darkness of deep space and he watched the gate irised closed around the pink trail he was leaving in the blue sky.
Pink trail? Tony was fairly sure he shouldn't be leaving a pink trail. He tried to roll forward, but discovered he was being held tightly by something. "Don't squirm," a woman's voice said in Japanese by his ear, impossibly audible and clear despite the rush of air past him. "I don't want to drop you."
Still muzzy, Tony turned his head toward the voice, and found himself looking into the eyes of a beautiful young Japanese woman — girl, practically. Half her face was covered by a bulbous blue face shield, surrounded by a shock of rich brown hair topped with a purple bow. She grinned at him saucily. "I'll have you on the ground in a moment. Relax."
He blinked several times as newly-reoxygenated blood rushed through his brain. "Angel..." he breathed.
"Nope, that's my friend Rei," she replied with a giggle. "I'm Moldiver."
In the middle of the street, with Chitauri soldiers collapsed at his feet like marionettes with their strings cut, the Thunder God whirled at the sound of a vaguely familiar voice. There — the black-haired child in the red and white armor, running toward him with a mallet in her hand. His eyes widened as he made out the familiar features, however youthened.
Over his shoulder, Sailor Jupiter hovered, chuckling as though at a private joke.
"Skuld?" he murmured, then shouted, "Skuld!"
Before he could take more than a step toward her, she skidded to a halt before him, her ankle-length raven hair swirling around her for a moment like the cloak he remembered. She stared up at him disbelievingly, then shook her mallet at him. "You... you're blond!" she cried accusingly.
He blinked. "And you're... short. Er. Shorter." Then, after a moment and a suppressed wince, he added, "And young."
This time Jupiter laughed outright. "Shut up, you," Skuld snorted at her before returning her attention back to Thor. "This is my Vessel in another universe," she announced, twirling in place to show off her youthful form as much as the red and white scale mail she wore. "You like?"
Thor considered the cheerful teen before him and compared her to the dour, cloaked seeress he had grown up in awe of. "Hm. It suits you."
This Skuld brightened at that, a brilliant smile that would have been alien to the Skuld he knew breaking out across the teen's face. "You really think so? Thanks!"
He found himself smiling in response. "You seem happier, too."
"I am!" She put the long-handled mallet behind her back where it vanished, then slid her arm through his. "Let me tell you about Nii-chan and Keiichi."
Tony was almost fully back to his senses when Moldiver set him down on the street in the midst of his... his teammates. And almost a dozen girls, most of whom were as grime-covered and sweat-soaked as he felt, and as Rogers, Barton, and Natasha obviously were.
He blinked. He thought he'd recovered from the oxygen deprivation, but one of the girls was sitting on a flying broom, and two more simply hung in the air unsupported by even that much. Oh, and the blue-haired angel was there, but she was in jeans now and her wings and the ribbon-of-orange-goop-making were both gone. Behind them was a blocky but vaguely female-looking robot and a giant steel turtle. And a god-damned bleach-white horse.
He turned and took his first good look at his rescuer. At another time, Moldiver's red pumps, thigh-high stockings, short skirt and skimpy sailor-suit-styled top might have prompted an off-color remark or twelve. Now he simply nodded his thanks to her.
Then he realized that for the first time in what seemed like hours, the city was quiet. He attempted to open his faceplate, but it took a few tries before it gave a little protesting whine and swung slowly up.
"What happened?" he asked after glancing at the empty sky.
A tiny, blood-covered blonde girl with pointed ears (Tony did a double-take — yes, pointed ears) spat on the ground. "We fookin' kicked their ugly arses," she declared in a British accent the likes of which he hadn't heard since his last London pub crawl.
Steve Rogers, his helmet hanging from his right hand, winced then nodded as a slow smile spread across his face. "She's right. We won."
Tony took a long deep breath. "Good." Forgetting that he had almost no power, he tried to move and would have fallen over had Moldiver not gripped his upper arm with a delicate hand that hid a substantial strength. "I say we all take tomorrow off. Just don't come in. Everyone okay with that?"
A ripple of laughter passed through the group, and Tony felt much better. He turned to Moldiver. "You ever have shawarma?" Without waiting for her reply, he glanced around at the others and went on. "There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is but I want to try it." He tried to take a step forward and nearly pitched onto his face. "Once I can move, that is."
The girl with ankle-length black hair and red-and-white armor laughed. "Girls? That's our cue." And before he knew what was going on, Tony found himself caught up in a whirlwind of color and sound. He barely had time to blink, then the girls stepped back away from him and the suit booted back up.
The local copy of JARVIS whispered in his ear that all systems were at a hundred percent — or higher. Experimentally he raised his arms; the servo systems soundlessly responded and they flexed perfectly. He glanced down at his gauntlets. They were spotless, gleaming red-and-gold without a single scratch or ding to mar them — as was the rest of the suit he could see.
He looked up again and stared at the three teen-aged girls who had just... swarmed him, for lack of a better term. "...the hell just happened?" he demanded.
"We fixed your armor," the black-haired teen in red and white said, with an unspoken "duh!" punctuating the end.
"That fast? I can't fix it that fast. JARVIS can't even get it off me that fast." Tony narrowed his eyes at her. "Just who are you?"
From somewhere the girl drew a croquet mallet in the same red and white color pattern as her armor, and swung it to point the head at him. "I am Skuld Ravenhair, called the Tomorrow-Maker, daughter of Odin, Norn of the Future, Goddess of Technology," she announced, and her voice seemed to reverberate with power, echoing from Manhattan's concrete canyon walls more loudly than seemed reasonable. She tapped the chest of his armor with the head of her mallet, ever so gently. "And you, Anthony Stark, are one of mine."
Tony blinked. The girl was serious, and more, he could feel, somewhere deep in his bones, that it meant something real. Too real, too serious, so he tried to brush it off. "Sorry, kid, but you're too young for me. Look me up in a couple years, okay?"
She scowled cutely at him as she swung the mallet around behind her — where it vanished and failed to reappear when she brought her hand back. Nice trick, one part of his mind noted before one of the other girls with her — the one with sun-browned skin, blonde hair, bare feet and a bindi on her forehead — suddenly thrust her face into his.
"What is shawarma?" she demanded. "Is it good to eat?"
He smirked. "That, kiddo, is what I intend to find out."
"We're not finished yet," Thor pointed out soberly.
"No, we are not, Thunderer," the angel girl said quietly. "Your brother has much to answer for. But first..." She turned to face Steve. "Captain Steven Rogers, United States Army, called 'Captain America'." As Steve's eyebrows crawled up his forehead, she held her right hand out to her side. The red band she wore around that wrist suddenly uncoiled like a living thing, and became a ten-foot, two-pronged spear-like weapon. Before he could even react, Steve found its double tip touching the star in the center of his chest.
The girl's red eyes seemed to glow with light. "I am Ayanami Rei, the Angel of Heroes," she declared, and despite its whispery softness her voice, too, echoed from the buildings around them like a lion's roar. "And you are one of mine."
With a sudden flick, the strange spear swept away from his chest before writhing and twisting back into a wristband as she stood there, watching him impassively.
"You're an angel?" Steve asked. She nodded.
He gestured at Skuld. "And she's a goddess?" Another nod.
He shook his head. "I can't accept that. What gives?"
The so-called "Angel of Heroes" looked into his eyes, and for a moment, Steve felt... Something. Something greater than himself, something powerful. Something strict and unyielding, but benevolent.
Then she closed her eyes, and he was released. When she opened them again, she said, "Know this, Captain Steven Rogers: Every god ever worshiped devoutly in the hearts of men is the One True God." And then she turned away from him, and toward the Stark Building.
Loki Laufey's Son slowly returned to consciousness, and with consciousness came a powerful headache. Without opening his eyes he tried to remember where he was. It wasn't his bed — it was too hard and uncomfortable. But he didn't remember any drinking or feasting that might have led him — again — to someplace odd or embarrassing, probably at the instigation of his oaf of a brother. In fact, the last thing he could remember was...
He slowly opened his eyes to see not just his brother and his motley band of mortal allies, but a dozen others as well surrounding him. Some of them had wings, and one seemed to be holding a lightning bolt in her hands. His eyes widened when he realized that one of the numerous weapons currently pointed at him was the Lance of Longinus. And another was a red and white mallet that reeked of the power of the gods. His eyes traveled up its length to find a strangely familiar black-haired teenager holding it.
Loki squinted and tilted his head until he worked out who she had to be. "Skuld?" he croaked, not quite believing his own deduction.
The teen-aged girl's face bore the nasty smile that he had seen worn so many times by her older doppelganger in Asgard. "Hello, Loki," she said with a false sweetness that made him cringe inside. "You've been a bad boy again, haven't you? You've made Belldandy terribly upset, you know. She's very fond of Earth." She grinned nastily. "I wouldn't be surprised if she wanted to talk to you about it."
Loki's eyes widened in alarm and fear. "Oh, crap," he rasped. "Kill me now."
The archer, Barton — such a useful follower he had been! — flicked his eyes over at the impossibly-young Norn. His weapon never wavered from its target. "What's she going to do, torture him?"
"Worse," his brother said with a certain smugness that Loki longed to wipe from his brutish face. "Verdandi will tell Loki how he has disappointed her, which will make him feel guilty and ashamed."
The do-gooder in red, white and blue nodded with grim satisfaction. "Good."
Arms folded behind his back as he stood at something approximating parade rest, Nick Fury studied what he personally considered the single most dangerous collection of high-school- and college-aged girls he had ever had the opportunity to encounter. "You will excuse me," he declared, "if I hope that you ladies continue on your journey as quickly as possible. While I am grateful for your help with our... little problem," and here he allowed himself the tiniest of smiles, "I can't help but worry what repercussions your presence in my world may have."
He turned and began to pace in front of the group. "You are perhaps the largest accumulation of destabilizing elements I have ever seen gathered together in one place. If the details of your origins and experiences were to become public knowledge, the results would be potentially catastrophic. Miss Ayanami and Miss Ravenhair alone would be enough to incite religious violence the world over."
Skuld glanced at Rei, who (true to form) had not reacted at all to Fury's comment.
"And not just religious extremists," Fury continued. "My people are still analyzing the orange substance left in the wake of your attacks, Miss Ayanami, and are telling me in no uncertain terms that what they are finding disturbs them greatly."
"Good," Rei said, fixing him with a rock-steady, unblinking gaze. Fury matched it for a few moments before shaking his head and returning his attention to the group as a whole.
"I harbor no illusions that I have any right or ability to command you," he said, "and attacking you would be very much a mistake. All I can do is offer you a place to stay well out of the public eye until you continue on your way."
Lisa glanced at Delandra and raised an eyebrow. A murmur rose as the other girls discussed this among themselves.
"Let me add that you are not and will not be prisoners in any way," Fury noted. "You'll be free to come and go at will, and to depart en masse if you so wish. I suspect," he added without a trace of humor or irony, "that any attempt to compel any of you would go very badly for SHIELD. So we won't try."
"Will we be able to visit with Stark-san and Banner-san?" Rinrin asked from the middle of the band.
Fury shook his head. "I'm afraid most of the Avengers have gone their separate ways after we confirmed that the Chitauri threat was over."
"Darn," Rinrin pouted, and the Girls laughed.
"Someone's got a crush," Mirai sing-songed sotto voce, and Rinrin blushed as the laughter continued.
As the good-natured ribbing faded away, Lisa and Dee traded a look. Then the Herald stepped forward. "On behalf of my friends and myself, we accept your kind offer, Colonel Fury."
"You know," Bibi said conversationally, "when we catch up with him, we'll have to tell Doug about this world. Before he left my Earth, he mentioned how few timelines he'd been to that had metahumans. One where they're just starting to appear? I bet he'd be very interested." She smiled at the colonel. "Don't be surprised if you get another batch of super-powered visitors — friendly ones! — in a few weeks or months."
Fury did not look amused. "Don't go out of your way, Miss Summers. Please."
The Girls laughed again.
This work of fiction is copyright ę 2012-2013, 2015, by Robert M. Schroeck, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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