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*Somewhere in the Nevada Desert*

 

A wound in space-time popped into existence with a faint cry of tortured gravimetric distortion. For a moment, nothing came of it, just another nameless miracle under the baking sun among a few sheltering lizards, towering cacti, a rusting fence, and a lone bunker. A red light blinked a few times over the bunker's solitary door, the only motion as the vertical rift stabilized. 

 

And then there was something, a blonde-haired, grey-eyed young woman appearing through the rift. 

 

Grace Williams took a moment to take stock of her fingers and toes before moving away from the quantum-distortion that had cheated her from There to Here with such haste. Not that she distrusted Sean's mastery of her own gifts, but there was a small small small sliver of herself that wanted to be sure everything was still attached to her five-foot-six frame. Hoping against certainty that her teammate's ultra accurate senses didn't pick up on that half-heartbeat of doubt, the blonde juggernaut waved back at the portal and watched it close again.

 

Well. Deezy's testing grounds certainly lived up to the insanely detailed image they'd been sent, a Perfectly Normal and Boring bunker in the middle of nowhere, the kind conspiracy theorists swore housed the remains of alien ships. *This* bunker probably did contain wonders to surpass any of their fever dreams if the tinker's workshop in Houston was any indication. Grace took a moment to check that her appearance remained imaculate business causal and walked on heeled feet to knock on the door.

 

Her lips quirked fractionally upwards at the 'Home Sweet Home' mat that greeted her, certain that her request for a 'super suit that could hold up against the things that'd try to kill her' was going to result in an interesting afternoon. Deezy had sounded as animated as ever over the call for this demonstration. 

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Grace didn't get far towards the bunker before she heard someone call out over the constant whooshing of the desert wind.

 

"Hey!"

 

A figure stepped out from behind a bit of what looked like metal siding that had been set up a little ways off...one of several that she'd taken as sort of part of the decor, or maybe pieces of some fencing that had been set aside. In her khaki shorts that were a bit too roomy for her legs, and her blousy cream-colored button up shirt, with a pair of sunglasses and dabs of sunscreen dabbed liberally over her freckled, too-fair face, she could be easily mistaken for some tourist on a 'safari expedition' or something. Her hair was a bright orange-red, tugged into a wild halo around her head by the persistent breeze of dry, dry air.

 

It was, of course, Deezy. As fashion-conscious as ever. She went over to a spot not far from where Grace had first appeared, and dug into the ground a little to uproot a small metal box. Upon stuffing that box into one of her pockets, she hurried over to Grace to greet her properly with an offered hand to shake.

 

"Nice seeing you again! What I got for you is actually out on the RANGE, but I gotta drop this off inside and maybe get some water...you can have some too!!...so c'mon and follow me!"

 

She then went to the door of the bunker and pulled the sunglasses up on her forehead as she peered closely at the little lens on the front.

 

"Deezy Klatta...and one guest," she said cheerfully, and the earth rumbled just a little as mechanical, metallic clunking and grinding noises emanated from the door and the ground around it. When the door opened, there was a puff of cold air from within. Inside was a short hallway with white walls, white floor, and harshly bright overhead light panels that covered the entirety of the ceiling. The only features were two long benches, one against each of the longer walls, and a door at the far end.

 

"So!" Deezy said as she shook her head and swatted at her hair and shoulders to brush sand away. "How you been?"

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Grace hid a little smile at Deezy's misquote of the Pixar classic behind one hand, all business by the time they were walking down the hallway. 

 

"Busy and glad I can squeeze a few more working hours out of the day after Konami's gone to bed. I'm going to have to apologize to my parents for every bad thing I thought about them growing up. Eventually," she continued warmly, "Working to make sure our team gets and stays on the good side of the Chicago public. Sean and Brigit have seen most of the 'action' lately, although I did help them with an incident involving a bank robbery and some super suits recently."

 

She held up one hand, "Which is why I'm so glad you called. I can make my clothes take what I dish out, but the same isn't true for outside force. And the last thing I want to be is known for is more mostly naked pictures on the internet. I got enough of that in Benin."

 

Grace paused as they reached the end of the hallway without visible incident, wondering how many tinker defenses were sleeping under her feet on hair trigger, "And you?" 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Oh, you know...it's not about whether or not to change the world," Deezy replied with an airy wave of her hand. "It's about how to do it without breaking everything."

 

The door at the far end swished open as the two came nearer, quickly enough that they didn't have to break stride. Beyond was...basically a locker room. Just a pair of benches, with metal storage lockers on either facing wall. Another door at the far end. That subconscious feeling of implicit threat eased though...they were through security, perhaps. Deezy went to one of the lockers and twisted the lock this way and that, humming absently. She waved at the door as well, or rather at the water cooler standing just next to it.

 

"Help yourself. In fact, here..." There were, on the bench near the cooler, a pair of thermos bottles. Those hadn't been there a second ago. "Fill those up, will ya? It's pretty darn hot out there, and we'll wanna stay hydrated."

 

As she spoke, Deezy opened the locker and started stuffing the equipment she'd taken from outside into it.

 

It was only moments later and the two were venturing back out through the security corridor, water in hand.

 

"So, I'm curious about something," the red-haired inventor said when the doors opened, and a wall of arid air slammed into them. "What are you doing up in Chicago...and more importantly, why?"

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Drinking was mostly a residual habit at this point, but the blonde juggernaut complied, filling up the miracle bottles without a word.

 

"It's not upstate New York," she stated bluntly.

 

"Sorry. My parents are... very controlling. Exacting. There was 'The Plan': go to college, find a 'fine young man to marry', settle into the business, don't become the kind of celebrity that shows up in tabloids. Be a Proper Williams," she continued after a heartbeat, glancing sidelong in apology, "Rich kid problems. My Peace Corps tour in Benin was going to be my time to get away from them and figure out another option, best advice a friend ever gave me. Even with the Storm and Enchidna and everything horrible that happened after."

 

"Me becoming Apex has smashed The Plan into a million pieces, my parents know that even if they won't say it out loud, and Chicago's a chance for me to turn that into something good I can live with. Find out what being a Proper Willams means now that I can curl a tank."     

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Deezy's looking over at Grace all through her talk, and an expression of mild confusion gradually builds up. By the time Grace is done, Deezy looks away for a second, murmuring, "...doing in Chicago...ohh...OH!"

 

She breaks into a sunny smile, relieved, and says, "Sorry, I get it. That was...what I meant is actually what are you doing, right now, in Chicago. Like doing doing. What activities are you doing...in Chicago. I mean, we talked a little before, but I was hoping for some more detail, and maybe to pry a little into your motives? Because I'm not a hundred percent sure what being a 'superhero' means in Chicago. Like, are you sort of adjuncts to the local police? Handling normal crime? Or are there enough rogue Stomers that they're your main trouble? Or...you know, or what?"

 

"And," Deezy holds up a finger, "again...why do you decide to do all that? Sorry about the confusion, I wasn't thinking there's another way to hear 'what are you doing in Chicago.'" She laughs. "That's very me. IQ off the charts, but communication...not my strong suit, you know?"

 

After a pause she quickly adds, "I did like your story though! You're...relatable! Parent issues, insecurity, feelings of having failed your family legacy and a desire to make up for that, maybe... I get all of that."

 

 

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"I haven't told many people that," Grace responded after a pause, "And thank you. I'm sorry if I can't be more helpful. 'Super heroing in Chicago'..."

 

She buried a chuckle behind layers of self-control, keeping up her pace, "There isn't a whole lot of structure regarding Stormers and the law, so what we're doing up in Chicago is have a list of points of contacts in all the agencies that might have a problem with what we do. When something happens, we reach out to them to reduce those problems. I *personally* haven't done much 'super heroing', mainly business planning and charity work and adjusting to becoming an adoptive parent myself. Bridget, and Sean to a lesser extent, have been looking for disasters and crimes to stop in the city. If it looks like they need me to step in, I'm a leap and a crater away. Mundane problems so far, barring two incidents I know about with, one, some bank robbers in black hole powered super suits some Stormer built and, two, a pyrokinetic having a gang fight in a warehouse."

 

The hint of a smile dance on her lips at the second mention, pride at having deescalated the situation and amusement at what followed flitting through her thought.

 

It took a little effort for her to refocus, "As to why I'm doing what I'm doing... My empowering in Benin during the Storm planted me in the middle of a war against something utterly inhuman. It was chaos and violence and death for three weeks until Contessa, Legend and I put Enkidna down after forcing her into the open. The world knows what it looks like when I go all out, giving me the fame, the reputation, the everything that comes with my being a Stormer. Honestly? Still makes me feel weird to be more famous for that than being a Willams. So I let my parents hide me and trawled the Stormwatch forums until I couldn't stand it any more and had to get out and *do something again.* Maybe I could be doing more.  But until we find a Stormer who needs that kind of beatdown, I'm happy to not have to 'world of cardboard' someone."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Deezy looks blank at the reference for a second, then brightens and nods. "Right, right...Justice League speech. Cute scene, even if it really happened in the real world Darkseid flying around like that would have done like...millions in damage and probably killed people going through buildings like that."

 

"The reason I'm asking is that the situation you're describing is pretty typical. No one really knows how to work with Stormers who are trying to help out. Different cities, different counties, different states...they all have wildly different reactions. And of course, every Stormer has their own take too. Some go underground, technically just as much criminals as the ones they're going up against. Others go public, and trust community goodwill to carry them."

 

The pair of them walked back out of the fenced area to another spot a little ways off, where a couple of jeeps were parked on a patch of concrete. Deezy got in and waited for Grace to follow suit.

 

"It sounds like you and your team in Chicago are doing some good work. That corroborates other information I've been getting. I wanted to talk to you about generalizing your model, and expanding it to other locations. Giving people like you, and me, an alternative to just...going it alone. If they want it. There's strength in organization, you know? Sooner or later governments are going to stop fumbling around and get their acts together. If Stormers aren't organized by then, somehow, some way, then they won't have much of a seat at the table."

 

The jeep pulled off the tiny 'parking lot' and started driving across the desert. Grace could already see the likely destination though. In the distance was a small grey pillbox type structure, and some poles sticking out of the ground.

 

"I don't see anything good happening to anyone if that happens."

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  • 3 months later...

Grace leaned against the side of her seat, thinking, "There are two problems with that. One, most of us are going to trust those human ties. Superhuman powers don't mean superhuman minds and the old carrot and stick are just going to keep working. Two, I suspect Stormers with emotional powers are going to pull us in as many directions as they have agendas. It takes a lot to say no to someone like that. My parents deal with those types in their business dealings, and believe me, people who have gotten rich off of charisma don't always have the foresight or intelligence to help anyone."

 

The blonde juggernaut looked away and chuckled, reflecting on some of the 'uppercrust' she'd met growing up in New York State. Charming as everything, but with a little reflection... "Anyway," she continued, "These Utopians down in Africa have put us all on a clock. Nothing like conquering the heart of a continent without firing a shot to wake people up."  

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