This fills the tentacle square on my bingo card.
Challenger @rose-on-the-mountain, who is also responsible for the Tax Evaders.
I’m not sure if this will actually fit into the Happy Lights ‘verse, or if it’s just a fun sort of what-if scenario, but I hope you enjoy it!
“They call themselves The Tax Evaders for Freedom and Justice,” Steve explained. He rubbed at the center of his forehead. “They’re registered as a church.”
“That is a joke,” Tony insisted. “There’s no way that is actually not a joke.”
Steve shrugged helplessly. “That’s what the file says. They’ve recruited some B-list villains including… The Kangaroo, Asbestos Lady, and… Flag Smasher?” He was miserable just reading the names and pushed his tablet away so he could put his face in his palm.
“Wow,” Clint said, “You are a massive troll, Cap, but I don’t think even you could troll this hard. Why are we getting called for this one? Isn’t this something that the cops can handle? Or, you know… the local biker gang?”
“We don’t really have anything better to do at the moment,” Steve pointed out, “And it would be a good training exercise for our newest member.”
The colony didn’t quite understand the point of chairs, but it was trying to imitate its human colony members. Several of the larger tentacles were coiled around the empty chair at the briefing table, and the rest were spread out over and around the table to keep limbs wrapped around their humans. It was a small subcolony of only forty-seven members who had come back with ‘Steve Colony’ after their last trip to the colony homeworld, and looked intent on setting up a permanent colony presence.
“Can’t we just sic the IRS on them? I mean…The Church of the Tax Evaders for Freedom and Justice. Really,” Clint persisted.
Think of it like a team building exercise, Tony suggested, and the colony lit up gold at his mental voice. I have new arrows for you to try out.
Sold! Clint agreed.
Sold! the colony repeated, flickering through a quick rainbow of colors, and then asked, Sold?
The colony did not understand currency, and the last time Tony had tried to explain the concepts of buying and selling, they’d ended up in a circular loop of Why? for most of the night. About the only thing the colony had been attracted to during the conversation was Tony unleashing financial ‘logic’ into the colony mindspace. It was a good thing they weren’t interested in using the colony’s understanding of math to their own benefit, because they could just about take over the world with only minimal effort and the colony’s help.
Let’s not start that conversation again, Bruce pleaded. “Asbestos Lady?”
Steve checked the notes. He grimaced, but offered, “Apparently she’s fire-proof?”
“And dying of asbestos poisoning?” Sam guessed. His chair was conspicuously tentacle-free, but he had his head propped up on one fist and was casually petting the magenta tentacle that had wrapped around his water glass, the end periscoped up to eye level and nuzzling against his fingers. It flickered gold and the colony was suffused with a definite sense of smugness at the attention. “Has the colony been cleared to leave the tower?”
“Technically or theoretically?” Tony asked innocently. He was completely bound to his chair by a dozen thick loops and being towed around the table at the colony’s leisure.
Sam hastily held up a hand. “I don’t even want to know. Plausible deniability is a thing.”
This is beyond ridiculous, Natasha said, from her perch in the rafters in the main room. How did these people even organize enough to get a lease?
The Church of the Tax Evaders for Freedom and Justice was in a strip mall that had seen better days. The building was previously a Baptist church built in the 70’s, with the original pale green-gold carpet and wood paneled. The only change CTEFJ had made to the décor was to cover the cross-shaped lighter section of paint at the front of the chapel with a hand-painted sign reading, Down with the Man! Remember the Tea Party!
History was not their strongest subject, obviously, Clint said. Below them, a dozen men and women in business suits sat among the pews while their ‘pastor’ gave a rousing speech about the evils of taxes. Asbestos Lady is in the hallway.
I’ve got The Kangaroo in the back office, Tony said, Sounds like he might be talking to Flag Smasher. This guy really has a thing against flags. I’m not even sure that he’s protesting against government – I think he just genuinely hates flags.
Sitting in the back pew in a trench coat and a wide brimmed hat, Steve leaned back to see if he could get a visual check of the colony.
Now? the colony asked, bright neon excitement shivering in the colony bond. Now? Soil is cold and hard. Not pleasure, it added, just to remind Steve that it was locked up in the vents and didn’t appreciate the chilly metal. Tastes bad.
Okay, go ahead, Steve said, standing. He saw the pastor’s eyes flicker to him, and just dropped his hat onto the pew. “Sorry to interrupt,” Steve said, immediately getting the attention of the gathered congregation. “I’m here on behalf of the New York City Police Department, and I would like to ask you all to accompany me to the station. We have some questions for your… er. Congregation regarding a recent string of thefts.”
“Government dog!” the pastor yelled, pointing a finger at Steve. “Pawn of the man!”
Steve slid the trench coat off and pulled his shield off his back as hands started reaching into purses and pockets. He held out one hand forestallingly. “Please don’t,” he tried.
Outside the double doors, a great crash and a feminine shout of rage distracted the crowd long enough for Natasha to drop out of the rafters behind the pastor. She wrapped an arm around his throat, pulled his right wrist behind his back, and suggested, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
The pastor replied by shouting, “Kill the government dogs!”
Guns came out and Steve dove for the doors while Natasha dragged the spitting, screaming pastor out the side door. Sam popped in through the double doors and tossed a flash bang in before the civilians could start firing.
“So much for asking nicely,” Sam muttered. He opened the door after a moment and they watched as a dozen tentacles burst up from the floor vents to wrap around the suit-clad figures and drag them down. Two gun shots went off and the colony went red, as it yanked firearms away and shook the offenders.
Gently, Steve reminded them. The last thing they needed was the colony in the news for unnecessary force.
Flag Smasher and Kangaroo are tied up in the office, Tony announced. Isn’t this bouncy guy is on a kid’s TV show?
He played Captain Kangaroo back in the 90’s, Clint said. Asbestos Lady probably needs a medic. She’s not looking too good. Obviously doesn’t watch late night TV.
“I’m guessing by that look on your face, all is going well with the B-Listers?” Sam said, leaning a hip on the doorframe and watching the CTEFJ congregation struggle against a pile of very curious tentacles.
Steve quirked an eyebrow at his friend. After Sam’s initial vehement insistence that he didn’t want to be involved with the colony, Steve hadn’t brought it up. “You know you don’t have to be involved with the colony to get the telepathy, right?”
“I thought it was a telepathy-STD,” Sam said, but he didn’t step away when one of the tentacles slid out from the mass of the colony and slid between their feet to curl up Steve’s leg. “I’m claustrophobic,” he blurted out unexpectedly.
“That explains a lot of things,” Tony announced from behind them before Steve could respond. He twisted his hands so the gauntlets peeled back and he poked Sam in the ribs. “Cuddling not necessary, Wilson.”
Sam rolled his eyes, but gestured at the writhing mass of tentacles curiously passing CTEFJ members from one tentacle to the other while the humans struggled against their hold. “That looks like a nightmare, not gonna lie.”
Not Steve Colony, the colony decided quite firmly, dumping a pile of firearms at Steve feet, and then nudging them away distastefully. The limbs that had gathered up the guns were a splotchy combination of sickly green and bright red.
They stepped out of the way so the colony could start to pass CTEFJ members through the door, where Clint was waiting with a box of handcuffs and an NYPD officer who looked a little pale in the cheeks as she read Miranda rights. The pastor was already sulking against the wall next to Kangaroo and an unmasked Flag Smasher.
Maybe let SWAT handle this type of thing next time? Tony suggested. I’m almost embarrassed to be here in the armor. Or! he put in excitedly, We could have alternate cheesy identity for these kinds of engagements. I have one in the wings.
Spare Parts Man will never be a reality, Bruce interrupted, and a round of laughter went around the colony, tentacles flickering gold and pink at the sound. The tentacle around Steve’s waist practically vibrated in excitement and joy.
The colony had fun at least, Natasha pointed out, helping the officer get one screaming woman out of the coils of a limb and into handcuffs. The colony flashed bright gold and diverted to wrap around her waist. The police officer lost another two shades and Steve worried for a moment that she was going to pass out.
“Ok!” Sam said, his jaw so tight that he could have been chiseled out of stone. He made an impatient gesture with his fingers. “Give it to me. Without the…” he gestured vaguely to where the colony was still wrapped tightly around three CTEFJ members.
“You sure?” Steve asked, more than a little stunned. Sam had persisted on staying out of the colony through an invasion and two trips to the colony homeworld, and despite relaxing the three-foot distance and even going far enough to pet limbs when they presented themselves, Steve hadn’t thought he would change his mind.
Sam nodded shortly. “Do it before I change my mind.”
Steve pulled one glove off and reached out to touch Sam’s bare arm. For a moment, he saw Sam as a kaleidoscope of colors. His aura was shot through with fright, nervousness and a curling thread of excitement. It was nothing more complicated than locating the bright blaze of color that was Sam’s brilliant mind and tying the golden thread that he’d come to think of as Steve colony to it.
Hi, he greeted softly. The colony bond sang with Sam’s presence, sky blue, and steady as a metronome.
Sam’s expression went slack and he stared at Steve in shock, his aura flared greenpinkGOLD, and then Steve drew his hand away and the colors faded.
SAM! The colony howled, making Sam jump.
All around them, the tentacles blazed golden-white and surged toward him. Sam threw himself back against the doorframe, scrabbling for the walls as the tentacles closed in on him.
No grabbing, Steve hurried to say, and they reluctantly stopped a respectfully three feet away, though they piled up in a wall two-feet around his feet and arched up to wave at him.
Um, Sam said, and then glared as he demanded, That was it?
Samuel! Thor boomed into the colony bond – he was a universe away back on Asgard, but his voice was as bright and electric-blue as always. Welcome, my friend!
Steve stood back and watched as the rest of his colony greeted their newest member. He felt the warm-metal press of Tony’s presence in the bond and tapped the thread.
You look pleased with yourself, Tony murmured into the private connection between them. Conscious of their audience, Tony didn’t reach out to him physically, but Steve could feel the solid warmth of him nonetheless.
I am pleased with myself, Steve said, turning to give Tony a smile. In the back of his head, he could hear Darcy enthusiastically greeting Sam from Asgard and telling him all about the pterodactyls and her plan to smuggle one home.
Not going to happen, Lewis, Phil said calmly.
Keep thinking that if it makes you happy, Darcy replied blithely.
Pterodactyl, the colony thrummed.
I guess not too bad for a training run, Tony admitted after watching the last of the CTEFJ congregation being led out to waiting NYPD cars, and the B-Listers to SHIELD containment vans. Asbestos Lady went out on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over her face, craning her neck so she could glare at Clint all the way out the door. Think I can make a costume for the colony?
Forty-seven tentacles in a trench coat? Steve suggested as his earlier trench coat passed through the door straining at the seams with tentacles stuffed through the sleeves, the tails trailing behind.
Tony laughed, and the colony scooped Steve up and pointedly re-wrapped him in his ‘fake skin.’
Colony can nest? the colony asked hopefully.
Yes, Steve said, holding a hand out toward the door. Let’s go home.