"Is the pose really necessary?"
Iron Lass pretended not be startled when Captain America came up beside her, and resolutely held her fabulous position instead. "Actually, yes, it is completely necessary, and if you were really dedicated to this team you'd be posing, too. How'd you get here so fast?"
Captain America continued to not pose. "I live right over there," she said, gesturing to the Avengers' Tower that overlooked their current location in Central Park. "I saw the thing fall and I figured I should check it out. How did you get here so fast? I thought you were out of the – are you seriously just going to keep standing like that?"
Like that was a pose suspiciously like fourth position, and the mask kept Cap from seeing Toni roll her eyes. "I just don't see how we're supposed to deal with shit getting real if you refuse to pose like a team. Posing like a team is literally step one in dealing with real shit, didn't you used to have a team? You should know these things. I told some observatories to let me know if they saw anything weird coming from space – because precedent – and when they said something had just shot off the moon toward Earth, I headed here. It's like the number one rule of aliens, they only ever head to about four different places. It's nowhere near Christmas so that ruled out London, Thor had New Mexico covered, I made an educated guess."
Now it was Steph's turn to roll her eyes. "I don't see what posing is meant to accomplish. Are you taking pictures? Is this a… a selfie thing? It's not like there's much of a team, anyway, there's only two of us."
"For now, yes, but the others should be here soon. The idea is that you join the pose as you assemble, it shows, you know, solidarity and teamwork and strikes fear into the hearts of our enemies, and, you know what, never mind, you ruined it. You ruined it." Iron Lass dropped her pose, slouching and sticking her hands on her hips in a deliberately nonchalant show of petulance.
"So, to be clear," Captain America said, imitating Toni's previous pose, "this is supposed to strike fear into the heart of that?" She dropped the pose to gesture toward what had brought them there, the enormous metal sphere that had fallen straight into Central Park. It was currently sitting in a crater, smoldering anticlimactically.
"Okay, first? Get your own pose. That's my pose. No one likes a copycat. Second, yes, it totally would, if we were clear on whether or not it's an enemy or just a cannonball shot at New York by gigantic moon pirates."
"You mean you haven't even analyzed it yet?" Cap emphasized the word analyze with a wiggle of her fingers next to her eyes, presumably indicating the heads-up display in Toni's visor.
"Does it look like there's room for an x-ray in this thing?"
"No, but it also doesn't look like there's a phone in my necklace." This was a bit of a sore spot, as Steph Rogers had still not managed to figure out how to tell the things that were phones from the things that weren't. Sometimes a perfectly fine timepiece would suddenly start ringing, and other times what looked like a phone would turn out to actually be full of candy.
"Those are totally different technologies. It's not that urgent anyway, I'm waiting until the team gets here to get a closer look."
"Does it really require a team to… look at it?"
"Yes. It does. It does in New York, anyway, try to do anything alone in New York and a team will happen whether you like it or not. Why do you think I called you? I show up alone and soon enough Richards shows up." Toni retracted most of her mask into her visor just to spit on the grass, which seemed like more effort than was entirely necessary for a symbolic gesture of contempt. "Until everyone gets here, we're just here to establish dibs."
"Establish what?" Captain America asked, but before Iron Lass could answer, Hulk appeared on the scene – falling from the sky to land in a crater of her own.
"Sorry I'm late," Dr. Banner said, brushing dirt from her skirt and the backs of her fists. "We were in the middle of some experiments on the Vibranium problem – which, incidentally, I need to talk to you about later."
"Hulk! Wait, get back into your landing position so we can pose like a team, okay?" For reasons Steph would never understand, esteemed scientist Blythe Banner agreed to go along with this plan, and soon she was crouched with a fist on the ground, with Iron Lass looking like a ballerina beside her.
"Oooh! Are we posing like a team?" Hawkeye came suddenly bounding up from behind where the women had been standing. "Incoming!" she said, which was what she always said before clambering onto Hulk's shoulder, where she proceeded to stand and look very dramatic. What was even more puzzling was that Brown Recluse – usually the most serious of their group – seemed to have no trouble joining into this bizarre posing activity.
"Why are you standing backwards?" Captain America asked, and Agent Romanov raised an eyebrow.
"Because this outfit makes my ass look great," he said bluntly, and Steph turned faintly pink. "Why aren't you posing?"
"Why are you posing?"
"It's a valuable teambuilding exercise!" Hawkeye explained from where she stood on Hulk's shoulder. Iron Lass' face was covered by her mask, but Cap was sure that she was looking smug.
"Fine! Fine, if it's that important to everyone, I'll… I'll find a pose." Steph threw her hands up in disgust, and did not so much walk to Toni's side as trudge. After a moment or two of trying to decide how best to stand, she finally decided on holding her shield in front of her and her fist ready by her face.
"I can help you find a better pose later, if you'd like," Hawkeye suggested with something like pity.
"She is really good at posing," Toni pointed out.
Captain America was about to defend her posing abilities where there was a crack of lightning that nearly sent the Avengers toppling over. Thor, it seemed, had arrived – and had landed naturally in a pose with Mjolnir held high, because it almost seemed as if posing was her default state.
Toni was gleefully certain that they looked like something that ought to be airbrushed on the side of a van, which was the best indicator of posing success.
Just in time for this show of teamwork, there came the screech of metal against metal, the sphere beginning to open. "Uh oh, Princess," Toni said to Thor, "I think you woke it up."
"Then I shall consider it my duty to put it back to bed," Thor said with relish, beginning to twirl Mjolnir beside her.
"We should probably figure out if it's hostile, first," Iron Lass said, as the sphere continued to unfold noisily into something with arms and legs. Toni'd had too many perfectly innocent enormous robots destroyed by well-meaning do-gooders to go assuming ill-intent.
"It has a swastika painted on it," Steph pointed out, gesturing to the symbol that had been revealed in the transformation.
The Avengers collectively paused to consider this.
"Oh my god," Toni said, eyes and mouth widening beneath her mask, "they're Moon Nazis."
"We're about to fight Moon Nazis," Hawkeye agreed, looking almost awestruck. She held out her hand, and was met with a high-five from Iron Lass. The mecha took a wobbly step, scraping and whirring, a heavy thunk and a hissing like steam.
"Why didn't anyone tell me there were Moon Nazis?" Steph asked, more than a little offended – since it really seemed like she ought to have been kept abreast of interesting Nazi-related developments since she'd last been active.
"We're as surprised as you are," Brown Recluse explained, abandoning his pose to get a better look at the ship.
"I call dibs on punching the Moon Nazi Mecha in the face," Hulk said suddenly.
"I still don't know what that means," Cap said, "but everyone seems very enthusiastic suddenly and it's kind of weird. I would understand Thor, because she's always like that – no offense."
"None is taken, Captain," Thor said graciously.
"Right, but everyone else is a little confusing."
"Look, I know this is no big deal to you, because Nazis were, like… your thing," Toni said, "but these are my first legit, non-Neo Nazis, so don't spoil it for me."
"So…" Steph began, "you're not worried that this is their second attempt at world domination, this time launched from space?" Captain America had not yet been corrected from her mindset where Nazis were a serious and dire threat to the freedom of the entire world. The rest of the Avengers, being modern and educated, knew that Nazis were the ideal enemy for a protagonist who didn't want to have to worry about who the real bad guy was. With Nazis, the bad guy was always Nazis. There weren't a lot of villains in the 21st century that allowed for that sort of moral clarity.
"Are we even looking at the same mecha?" Toni asked incredulously, focused as ever on the enemy's technology rather than ideology. "That thing is horrible. Nazi science is the worst science. Never mind us, that thing's barely winning the fight against gravity."
"As much as I'd love to stand here and take bets on how long it'll take to fall over all on its lonesome, how about we do the tipping for it?" Agent Barton suggested. "Hulk, gimme a fastball special so I can pull a Hoth maneuver."
"I have no idea what any of that means," Captain America said, even as Barton stepped onto Banner's hand to be thrown across the park. Hawkeye landed with a tumble, ended with a kneel that let her loose an arrow with a thick steel cable attached to it. It buried itself in a tree, stringing the cable up in the mecha's path.
"It's not a Hoth maneuver unless you wrap the cable," Iron Lass said into their comm system. "Right now it's more of a Home Alone."
Hawkeye responded by holding up another arrow, attached to the other end of the cable. She shot it behind the mecha, and after it had made it some distance past, the arrow began to turn. "Still think a boomerang arrow is a dumb idea?" she asked back into the comm, as she caught the arrow and shot it again, wrapping the cable around the already-awkward legs of the mecha. She finished by burying the arrow in the same tree as the previous one.
"Just because it worked doesn't mean it isn't a dumb idea," Toni said as she took flight, looking weightless despite the fact that her dress weighed half a ton. The mecha, trying and failing to take a step despite the cable now wrapped securely around its legs, toppled almost in slow motion. It ripped the tree the cable had been attached to out of the ground as it went, and the poor tree – which had only been trying to help, insofar as a tree in Central Park can – was launched into the air. Thor was able to catch it before it hit any bystanders, hitting it back to the ground with Mjolnir with a sound and effect much like if it had been hit by lightning.
Later, pieces of the tree would be sold as souvenirs, and be purported to have magical properties. This was only true if one considered ants to be magic.
"I have found," Thor said, "that ideas which work tend to be preferable to ideas which are merely clever." Hawkeye replied to this statement of support with a thumbs-up, which Thor returned with a toothy grin.
Hulk, apparently not trusting the other Avengers to honor the sacred trust of dibs, got a running start toward the fallen mecha. Captain America ducked behind her shield as a precautionary measure, flinching on the mecha's behalf as Hulk's fist met what seemed like it ought to have been its face. It sounded a lot like a car hitting a brick wall – or a car hitting the Hulk.
"SHIELD's records of the Nazi's space program is spotty," Nat said, looking at either a phone or a tin of candy. He, of course, had never even flinched. "It was never very successful, if they managed to launch anything other than chimps, SHIELD wasn't aware of it."
"Are you saying the giant Nazi mecha we're fighting might be full of space monkeys?" Hawkeye asked, sounding entirely too excited, visions of uniformed chimps dancing through her head.
"Space apes," Agent Romanov corrected, and there was another loud crunch of metal as Banner punched it again. Suddenly the mecha, lying on the ground and crumpled, began to shake and rattle like a pot boiling over.
"Is the machine already defeated?" Thor asked, clearly wishing she'd got a better shot in before Hulk hogged all of the punching for herself. "Or are the beasts within merely escaping?" She'd been hearing a lot of comparisons of enjoyable things to a barrel of monkeys, and was pleased by the prospect of discovering what all the fuss was about. The mecha looked like it could hold a lot of chimps.
"I hope not," Steph and Nat said.
"I hope so," Toni and Clara said simultaneously.
Hulk took a few steps backward as a precautionary measure against potential ape explosions. While something did break out of the shattered mecha, it was not, in fact, chimps.
"It's a Moon Nazi matryoshka doll," Toni said with some amazement, as smaller and more humanoid mecha began to climb out of the destroyed remains of the larger one.
"Матрёшка," Agent Romanov corrected, pulling a pistol out of his jacket and firing at the knees of one of the mini-mecha. It apparently hit in just the right spot, as the leg went out from underneath it with a sort of sproing.
"Yeah, that's what I said, matryoshka," Toni said, apparently not picking up on the subtle nuance of the language. "Do you think there are chimps inside of these?" She dropped suddenly out of the air, landing on the head of a mini-mecha to knock it over before resuming flight. The mini-mecha responded to being tipped on its back by firing wildly into the air with a set of machine-gunning arms, and a few bounced harmlessly off of Iron Lass' dress. Captain America threw her shield, and it bounced off each gun in turn, stopping them from firing long enough for Hawkeye to hit them with exploding arrows.
"I really hope not," Steph said heatedly.
"It's probably just robots all the way down," Barton said, rolling out of the way before another one could shoot her.
Hulk and Thor, meanwhile, seemed to be playing baseball. Hulk caught another mini-mecha, crushing its guns in her hands even as it tried to fire on her. Then, lifting it in the air, she threw it to Thor – who would have liked to have tried for a home run, but who realized the impracticality of such things when it meant sending Nazi robots flying through New York. Instead, she knocked it to the ground much as she had the tree, striking it with lightning for good measure.
Nathaniel, having found the sweet spot for knocking out the legs, was shooting at mecha from a safe spot in a tree. Hawkeye was shooting arrows at guns from several much less safe spots in the grass, and the difficult part with her was figuring out whether she was grabbing the wrong arrows, or if she actually thought boxing gloves would be effective.
It made more sense as a tactic when the boxing gloves started to explode.
"First off," Iron Lass asked through the comm, "where were you even keeping those? Second: who gave you exploding boxing glove arrows?"
"I have a life outside the Avengers," Agent Barton said defensively.
"A life that involves exploding boxing gloves?" Cap asked, stopping another mecha's slow escape with a throw of her shield.
"That doesn't answer my first question," Toni pointed out.
"Hey, I don't ask what you all get up to on weekends," Hawkeye said, another boxing glove exploding in a mecha's face.
"I hope that didn't answer my first question," Toni said, as she flew high to survey the scene. What few mini-mecha that had not completely collapsed into broken heaps were no longer standing, pumping legs uselessly in the air and attempting to fire broken guns. One had fallen on its face, and was using its bullets to aerate the soil. "Hulkamina," she said more seriously, "crack one of those things open, see if we've got space apes."
"Technically speaking," Brown Recluse said, ever the pedant, "humans are also apes. So as long as they aren't automated, they're probably space apes. In a way, we're all space apes."
"Maybe Midgardians," Thor said with a palpable air of distaste, and once again Toni found herself with a passing curiosity about Asgardian biology. Somehow, she didn't think Dr. Foster would appreciate the inquiry – even if it was for science.
"People don't count as space apes," Hawkeye said authoritatively. "Personally, I'm hoping for gorillas in bubble helmets."
"I'm not," Cap admitted. "Gorillas are really strong. Chimps aren't much better, but I do not want to fight another Nazi gorilla."
This gave pause to the other Avengers.
"You've fought a Nazi gorilla?" Dr. Banner asked finally, peeling layers of metal off the mecha on which she stood. She yanked off what looked like a camera, and peered into the lens before tossing it aside.
"I don't think I've heard that story," Toni said slowly, having heard her fair share of Captain America stories over the years.
"It... wasn't my proudest moment. I normally try not to punch animals." Steph scratched at the back of her head, looking thoughtful. "In my defense, I thought the gorilla was Hitler – and I was only kind of wrong, when you–"
"Okay, you know what?" Toni said. "Let's… let's put a pin in this, I feel like this is the kind of story that takes a lot of time and alcohol and maybe pizza. Blythe, care to share your findings with the class?"
"Got one," Dr. Banner said, having punched into the cockpit and now rooting around trying to grab the pilot. She finally got a decent grip on its leg, and yanked it out, revealing–
"Aw, man," Hawkeye said dejectedly, lowering her bow.
"They're morlocks," Toni said with disgust, dropping to the ground and lowering her repulsors.
"I got that reference!" Cap said, excited for the first time since the fight had begun. "That was a Time Machine reference, right? There aren't… different morlocks?"
"You got the reference," Hulk assured her, holding the pale and flailing man at arm's length. "I would have gone with Gollum, personally."
"… I don't get that one," Steph said sullenly.
"The secret, friend America," Thor said with a not-terribly-helpful slap on the back, "is to bare your teeth and nod in all situations." She leaned closer for a conspiratorial whisper. "It is an advanced technique, taught to me by Science Apprentice Darcy."
"What, exactly, are we supposed to do with an army of Nazi morlocks?" Nat asked, bringing the conversation back to the issue at hand.
"I vote we give them to Mole Man and let Richards deal with it," Toni said, possibly joking.
"Seconded," said Hulk, raising the hand not full of hissing albino Nazi.
"That is in violation of so many SHIELD protocols I don't even know where to begin," Brown Recluse said with a roll of his eyes. "You do remember that we still work for SHIELD, right?"
"So you're saying we should leave them in Fury's office?" Iron Lass asked hopefully.
"Yes," Hawkeye said, before Nat leveled her with a withering glare.
"I've already sent a message to headquarters – they have agents en route to do cleanup." Nat surveyed the park, littered with twitching metal. "In the meantime, let's make things easy and get things organized."
"… organized?" Cap asked, imagining carefully labeled bins full of Nazis.
"He means mecha in one pile and Nazis in another," Hawkeye explained with a sigh, putting her bow away.
"Such busywork hardly befits a warrior," Thor pouted, kicking at a stray mecha arm.
"This is my pile," Toni announced from atop one of the mini-mecha. "Biggest pile when the agents get here gets to pick dinner."
"So be it, Iron Valkyrie," Thor intoned, pointing Mjolnir for the most dramatic possible acceptance of the challenge. "Tonight, we shall dine at the House of the Scarlet Songbird!"
"Oh, no, absolutely not," Hulk said, wrapping the Nazi she'd been holding in metal and setting him into what was presumably her pile. "You are not dragging us to Red Robin again, I want Thai food."
As they began to argue and accumulate scrap metal, Hawkeye threw an arm over Captain America's shoulders.
"So, about your pose…"