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Anybody that cares about sequential art has an opinion about the new DC 52. If you’re still reading after the first sentence, then apparently you care, too. I’m not going to go the obvious route and talk about how much I hate this new DCU and the re-launch of characters and origins, and what not. That horse is beaten, turned into glue, and used to bind Superman 80-page Giant. While I have very strong feelings about this turn of events, I am taking a more positive approach to the news.

It’s clear that this decision to restart their entire universe, world, order of being, is solely about money and making more of it. That being said, I don’t see it as being just about making more money. It’s about survival. The world, much to my regret in some forms of media, is going digital. Music, movies, and more importantly, books. Example: about two weeks ago, I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble and there’s a girl next to me, in the book store, on her laptop downloading books for her digital reader (I don’t know which brand or version). Now, whether this young lady went to the bookstore for the single purpose of being ironic is beyond me. But still, I found it strange. Such is the way of the world; so it seems.

Why not go digital? That’s the main question. It’s cheaper. By golly, *in my best Billy Batson voice* is it cheaper. No printing cost. No shipping fees. It’s certainly faster. With the cover price of books rising, and sales dropping, why not? If you can do it and deliver it faster, and satisfy all the Veruca Salt I-want-it-now of the worlds, then you should, right?

Let me ask you this? Why did you take the job you have now? What motivated your decision? Money? I thought so. Why? Just cause you wanted to be richer? I know, as a comic collector you’re already a millionaire like me. (In fact, I’m not writing this myself, I’ve hired a slew of writers to do it for me, and make minor grammatical errors so it seems homegrown.) Bottom line, for DC they needed new readers. They needed growth and to make greater sales. It was either this, or, possibly, die. I’m not certain it was that dire, yet. But, I’m sure it was on the horizon. While I don’t feel the re-launch was the best choice – if it was this or no DCU, then I choose this. Bob Dylan said it best, but had to be translated for us to understand – “The times they are a-changin’.”

A lot of people are afraid that this will be the end of printed comics as we know it. Wrong. There are too many people that depend on this for it to go away. Not only that, but printed comics create a symbiotic relationship with the company itself. If you want to see exactly what I’m talking about, why don’t you looks back at the coverage from the event this past weekend. The San Diego Comic Con. Among everything else that’s there, the place is jam packed full of comic artists. For many of them, this helps to supplement their income. It also gives them a chance to meet the readers/fans, and build sales. If a company goes all digital, what will fans bring to the cons to get signed? Their e-readers? Get real. What would artists sign? Hell, what would writers do? Sketch stick figures on Post-it notes? The cons have always been a friend, a close friend to the business. It’s one of the biggest tools they have to spread the word. You can’t have cons without printed books.

Now, me, I’m looking at the Skittles at the end of this rainbow. I was there during the late 80s and early 90s when the market spiked and then went to hell. Recently, I was looking through a price guide at all the books I had from that era that had such high values. Guess what, they’re all cover price now. Unless it was a sleeper, or something that skipped the radar, it would probably have more value as the skin on a homemade piñata. As a collector, I highly discourage the practice of stripping, rending, mutilating, or burning any comic unless of course it’s early X-Force, Youngblood (doesn’t this sound like a gay porn? With names like Shaft, Diehard, Badrock, Vogue… gay porn), or Sleepwalker. Anyway, none of those books were worth anything but the satisfaction of the story and art. Which means that a lot of those books are worthless. Why? Because the market was inundated with them. X-Men #1 isn’t going to be worth anything ever – no matter if it’s cover 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, or the gatefold – because they sold 5 million copies. Do you know what that means? It means that, no matter where you go in America, a household will have either a copy of Thriller on vinyl, a Swatch watch, or X-Men #1!

So, what happens when half the books go digital, and the number of printed books gets cut in half? Well you know that issue #10 of the new 52 Batman book where the new Bruce is revealed to have been Ra’s Al Ghul the whole time? Now it has actual value again beyond the story and art.

To be fair, none of us got into this because we had hopes of owning the next Action Comics #1, or Amazing Fantasy #15. We got into it for the characters, the stories, and the art. And for many of us, that turned into a hobby, or obsession. It’s just nice to know that something you’ve devoted a part of your life to has some dollar value to go along with the personal value.

Gather Ye Acorns, my friends. This just might be a good thing after all.

JeraleC

Mindseyechronicles@comcast.net

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Chapter XXXIII

 

            “What the hell, man?!” the young teen said, flipping through the channels on the hotel TV.  Crash’s language had gotten a little “colorful” since their encounter with the Hell Spawns.  It was nothing for him to toss a damn or a hell into every other sentence.  It never progressed beyond that, but that miniscule amount was out of character for the formerly quiet boy. 

            “Hey!  Hey, DD, you see this?” 

            Crash pointed the remote at the news report on the television.  It was the third one he had seen that morning rehashing the events from the recognition ceremony the day before.  The ceremony where Electric Blue revealed to the world that Colonel Courageous was her father; after blasting him repeatedly with electricity.  Now, public opinion had turned on the overnight media darlings, and they found themselves being attacked by the same people eighteen hours earlier were praising them. 

            Outside the hotel, a crowd had gathered with signs decrying them and they’re antics.  Crash looked at the video of the angry mob on the TV, then walked to the window and looked out at them from his vantage point several stories above.  He clicked the remote control and changed to another channel where they were also discussing the teens.  On the news show, the hosts spoke via teleconference with an attorney who spouted legal mumbo jumbo and precedents.  The teletype on the bottom of the screen read: “Hell Spawns Detained Illegally.” 

            Crash un-muted the television so he could hear the garbage the lawyer was spewing. 

 

            “You have to remember, that these so called heroes have no jurisdiction in Argo city, or any other town.  Their actions are nothing more than vigilante justice.”  The attorney spat with false conviction. 

            “So,” the host responded.  “You consider this as ‘vigilante justice’ and not, say, a citizen’s arrest.  Let me remind you, that the police were on the scene, and they actually did the arresting.  All these teens did was help subdue the members of the Hell Spawns gang.” 

            “You say, that they helped subdue, but when I look at that video, what I see is not neighborhood citizens rushing in to protect themselves and their loved ones.  What I see on that video is a gang war.  The police are on the sidelines afraid to intervene.  There are undermanned and underequipped to deal with even one of them.” 

            “Hold on for a minute, Jason.”  The host spoke up.  He leaned in to the camera as if he and the lawyer were face to face instead of several thousand miles away.  “I don’t see where the video shows anything that you’re claiming.  We see these kids show up after the Hell Spawns had already begun their terror campaign.  They had one of the city’s heroes, the Aggressor, down on the ground, and were beating him to death.” 

            “There you go, mixing facts again.  Heroes, real heroes, like Colonel Courageous, Astronima, and Spartanicus are recognized bodies and have been duly appointed by federal and state agencies with the special privilege to be able to subdue and arrest those that break the law.  The Aggressor has not been recognized, or authorized, with those privileges. Furthermore…”

 

            Crash couldn’t take any more.  He turned the TV off and threw the remote on the couch.  The teen paced in front of the window.  One protestor stood out over the others.  He held a sign above his head that had the word “Heroes” crossed out and the word “Terrorists” underneath.  The teen snarled at him through the reinforced glass.  He reached out with his ability and pulled on the sign. 

            The man holding the sign jumped.  He looked around frantically as if someone had called his name, before going back to waving his sign.  Suddenly, his arm shot higher into the air, and his hand slid to the end of the wooden post that held the sign.  The man looked around again, and shot a glance into the air.  Crash could see the fear on his face as the protestor wondered what was going on. 

            Crash laughed and gave the sign another tug, yanking it completely out of the man’s hand.  He let it hover just out of reach for a few seconds, before dropping it down on the man’s upward looking face.  The protestor picked his sign off the ground and waved it halfhearted, while looking around to see if he could find who was responsible.  Slowly, he lowered his sign and slinked away, disappearing in the back of the crowd. 

            The mischievous teen chuckled at the frightened man down below.  “This is crazy.  DD, you should see this.  Yo, DD!” 

            Sitting at the breakfast nook, DD stared blankly at the trail of water he poured along the nook’s edge.  He lowered his head to the table, putting himself at eye level with the elongated pool.  He took his index finger, placed it on the table top, and slid it to the pool of water.  Crystals formed on the tip of his finger and slowly extended into the trail of water.  The water retracted as the line of quartz grew within it.  As the quartz grew upwards, the water was drawn inwards. 

            Diamond Dog would have found it fascinating, learning a new way to use his ability, had his mind not been weighed down with concern over everything that had happened.  Nothing had gone right for him since he was gifted with his ability.  Gifted?  Not a gift, a curse. 

 

            “Diamond Dog?” Crash called.  “You listening to me?” 

            “Enough of this Diamond Dog shit!  My name’s Carson!  Okay, Joseph?!” 

            ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?” 

            “Nothing.” Carson snapped at his friend.  The crystal trail that ran the length of the table extended upwards into spikes.  DD kept his finger on the table, at the starting point of the miniature crystal wall.  With an agitated push of his finger, the two inch quartz spikes were expelled from their bases and embedded themselves into the high ceiling. 

               Carson fell back in his chair and ran hand over his face.  “Joseph… Crash…  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry about all of this.  I never wanted any of this.  I don’t want to be a hero.  I don’t want people to depend on me to help them.  I don’t…  I can’t handle that responsibility.” 

            Crash looked down at the older teen.  Carson had always felt like an older brother to the younger teen.  He looked up to him. 

            “I do.  Maybe it’s a stupid teenage dream, but I’ve always wanted to be a hero.  Wanting to save people and make them feel safe.  Be on TV and on the cover of magazines.  But, I can’t do any of that.  All I can do is lift things into the air.  I’d make a great moving man, but not a hero.” 

            Crash walked back over to the window and looked down at the people with their signs calling him a menace. 

            “I mean, we kinda owe it to them, don’t we?” 

            “We owe a lot of people.” Diamond Dog whispered.  Crash knew who he was talking about.  Headwires, Renegade, and Bigtime.  They didn’t go with DD and the others to Yesterday Town that night, and had been excluded from the praise they initially received.  Diamond Dog was sure they felt slighted by that at first, now, though, he was certain they were relieved. 

            Even still, with Guru revealed as Abysmal, it didn’t take long for the government to seize his assets, including the house they had been staying in.  Scarlet helped bring them to the Valiant hotel to stay with the others.  Now, DD was worried that if the press found out about them, they would lump them all together.  He wanted to keep them out of it, if he could.  For their sakes. 

 

            While the others were on his mind, Diamond Dog’s primary focus was Blue.  He was still reeling from the events of the day before.  It didn’t help that he was constantly reminded of it everywhere he turned.  The thing he found the most difficult to accept was learning that Colonel Courageous was Blue’s father.  It all seemed so sudden and random at the time, but looking back on it, it made sense.  Somehow, it made sense.    

 

            A knock on the room door gave him the excuse he needed to stop thinking about Blue and the others for just a moment.  He rose from the chair and carefully made his way to the door. 

            Crash’s heart pounded in his chest, and he instinctively moved away from the door.  Images of old west lunch mob justice stampeded through his mind. 

            Diamond Dog peered through the peephole and into Scarlet’s friendly face.  Behind her were two people he could barely see.  He opened the door slowly, keeping his foot on the bottom of door, and preventing it from opening all the way.  Scarlet went to step inside the room, but stopped short when she realized that DD was standing in her way. 

            “Who are they?” Diamond Dog asked, keeping the door partially closed.  A thin layer of quartz formed on his unseen hand.  “More reporters?” 

            Scarlet didn’t smile.  Her expression was somber.  “No.  These are people you really need to talk to.” 

            Scarlet stepped back and ushered the man and woman forward.  The couple was in their mid thirties, but looked like they were ten years older.  It was clear that they hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months.  Every ounce of worry they felt had been etched into their faces. 

            The man and woman tried to smile but their mouths only twitched, as if they didn’t know how to anymore.  Nervously, the man extended his hand to DD. 

            “My name’s Edgar, and this is my wife Judith.” 

            DD looked from the couple to Scarlet, who nodded at him to shake hands.  He didn’t move, uncertain of where it was all going. 

            The man continued with his greeting.  “We’re Caroline’s parents.  May we come in?”

 ****

            The hotel bedroom was dark with the exception of the teenage girl that sat on the bed; a faint outline of blue and white illuminating her form.  Blue held the phone loosely in her hand, afraid that she might electrocute the person on the other end.  She tried to carry on a normal conversation, but her mind kept going back to the cheap high school phone prank.  Only this time, she really was afraid it could happen. 

            “Are you sure you’re okay?” asked the disembodied voice of Jonni through the phone. 

            “I’m fine mom.  I’m a little scared, but I’m okay.” Celia answered.  She called her mother the minute they arrived back at the hotel room; almost half a day after the incident.  It was all too much for her, and she felt like she was losing control.  When she wasn’t worrying about sending electric currents through six hundred miles of phone line, she repeatedly asked herself: WhyWhy her? 

            “The people outside are kinda scary.  I mean, some of these same people were asking for my autograph a few days before.  Now they want my blood.  I feel kinda like John Lennon.  I’m afraid one of them might try and kill me.” 

            Jonni practically burst into tears hearing her daughter say that, and she wondered: Is that how it happens?  Is one of those crazy people outside going to kill my daughter? 

            “It’ll be okay, baby.  I went through the same thing when my book came out.  It’ll all die down before you know it, and you’ll wonder what it was ever all about.”  Jonnie prayed that Celia couldn’t hear her voice crack as she spoke.  She did her best to keep her tears behind the thin wall she had built inside. 

            “He wasn’t lying, was he?” 

            “What do you mean?” 

            “Colonel Courageous.  My father.  He didn’t know about me, did he?” 

            The wall broke, and tears came flooding out. 

            “No.” 

            “Why didn’t you tell me?  You told me who my father was when I turned eight.  You made me keep it a secret.  Do you know how many birthdays that my only wish was to have him come and visit?  All those lonely nights when I prayed to God and asked why didn’t my father love me?  Why did he love everyone else and not me?  All that time, and he didn’t even know.  Why, mom, why?” 

            Jonnie sniffed hard, and wiped her tears away.  “I was afraid.  I was afraid that you’d- that you’d want to be just like him.  I was afraid that you would idolize him and that lifestyle he lives.  I’d been there.  I’d made my mistakes.  I didn’t want you to go there, too.” 

            “What mistakes?  Getting pregnant?!  Having me?!”  Celia started to get angry at her mother.  The light radiating from her body increased, brightening the entire room. 

            “No, baby.  Not you.  Never you.  I was afraid of losing you.  When I was growing up, there was a hero named Golden Goddess.  I wanted to be just like her.  I used to dream about what it would be like to be her sidekick.  How cool it would be to fight bad guys by her side.  Somewhere inside my common sense area, I knew that it would never happen.  But I still wanted to be there, be a part of it.  It was a different time back then, and to meet a hero you just had to be in the right place at the right time.  I got together with a group of other girls, and that’s all we did, travel to where the action was, trying to meet the heroes.  Eventually it worked, and – well… you know the rest.”  

            “I don’t – I don’t understand what you’re saying.” 

            “My point, is that I was afraid you would end up like me.  Not exactly like me, but wanting to be a hero.  Wanting to live that life.  I wasn’t afraid you’d fail to become one of them, I was afraid you’d succeed.  I’ve seen so many of them die long before their time.  I didn’t want you to be one of them.  I didn’t want to lose you.” 

            “You can’t stop it, mom.  If that’s my fate, then that’s the way it is.  Nothing you can do will stop it from happening.”  Celia had started to calm down, and room slowly went dark again. 

            “I know.  I know.”  Jonni started to cry again.  She had been crying so much over the past couple of months that each time she was surprised she still could. 

            “The thought of never seeing you again… I can’t… I don’t want that to happen.” 

            “I don’t either.  I’m just as scared as you are.  You’re not the only one, mom.”

            “I know, sweetie.  I know.”  Jonni took a deep breath and let it out in a staggered breath.     

            “Charles and I are coming to see you.  We’re going to try and fly out tomorrow.” 

            “No, don’t.  With everything that’s going on, it’d be better if you stayed as far away from all this as you can.  Scarlet’s still going to do her exclusive interview with us.  Give me chance to explain what happened yesterday.  Maybe once people know why I freaked out they’ll ease up on us.” 

            “Ok, you’re right.  Besides, we’ve got a lot to do around here after Colonel – your father – paid us a visit.  The neighbors aren’t too happy with their broken windows.” 

 

            A knock at the bedroom door took Celia’s attention away from the call.  Diamond Dog opened the door slowly and poked his head in. 

            “Blue?  There’s someone here you need to meet.” 

            “Just a minute.” The glowing teen answered.  She turned her back to the door and resumed her call.  DD retreated from the room, closing the door behind him. 

 

            “Mom, I need to go.  Someone’s here.” 

            “I understand.” 

            “Let me talk to Charles.” 

            Jonni handed the phone to her husband. 

            “Hello.”  Charles said. 

            “Hi dad.”

            Charles choked for a moment and he began to stutter.  In her sixteen years on the planet, she had never called him dad.  It was always Charles, never dad.  “Uh… H-Hi, CeCe.  You hanging in there?” 

            “Yeah.”  Celia smiled.  “I just wanted to say I love you, dad.” 

            Charles beamed.  “I love you too, CeCe.” 

            “I gotta go.  I’ll talk to you later.” 

            “Okay, honey.  Be safe.” 

            “I will.  Bye.” 

 *****

            The wind whistled as it split around the Colonel’s body.  He was amazed at the speed he was able to achieve.  Never before had he been able to reach velocities that great, much less sustain them.  Though he acknowledged this, he spent very little time thinking about it.  His head was still reeling from the high pitched squeal of the broken communicator that assaulted him minutes before. 

            He realized something was wrong during his meeting with Astronima weeks earlier.  After his secret meeting with Dr. 253 and Major Tom, he had completely forgotten about the malfunction, until the Dr’s call nearly crippled him. 

            Colonel Courageous’ mind was a mess of thoughts, ranging from the Cycksiks, to his new found daughter.  He was having a hard time believing that he was a father.  More so, he questioned Jonni’s decision to hide her from him. 

            Was his life so bad?  He wondered. 

 

            The Colonel landed at the secret military instillation, softer than he had at the Reinhart home.  He lifted the heavy metal cover that protected the launch tube and climbed inside.  He floated down the fifteen story concrete shaft to the hidden base below. 

            As he drifted down the dark opening, Colonel Courageous felt his eyes getting heavy.  His body started to list from side to side, and he nearly pitched forward to fall head first to the bottom.  He shook his head vigorously, trying to force the sleep from his mind.  It wasn’t really sleepiness as much as it was exhaustion. 

            His feet had barely touched the bottom of the shaft when the door to Major Tom’s research facility opened.  He smiled as the ground lights revealed the heavenly visage of Astronima. 

            “Fancy meeting you here.” The Colonel said with a smile.   

            “Gary.” Astronima was startled by the senior hero’s appearance.  “What are you doing here?”  

            “The Doc called.  I guess you know about our plan, right?” 

            “To destroy the Cycksiks home world?  Yeah.  Given what I’ve been through, forgive me when I say it should’ve been done a long time ago.” 

            The Colonel lowered his head and looked away.  “I’m sorry.  If I had known…  I never would have asked you to go there.” 

            “I know, and I don’t blame you.” 

            “What are you doing here?  You’re not planning on coming with us, are you?” 

            “No.” Astronima balled her fist and clenched her jaw.  “I wish I could.  But, I can’t.  I don’t trust myself right now.” 

            “Is there a problem?” 

            “I’ve been a little under the weather lately.  My powers have been a little erratic.  I’m worried that the procedure might be wearing off.  It was supposed to be permanent, but who knows.” 

            Colonel Courageous moved closer to her. 

            “What did the Doc say?” 

            “Nothing.  I mean, I didn’t get the chance to talk to him.  He and Tom have been in that lab working on the invasion plan.  I didn’t think I should disturb him.  That’s a bit more important than some manufactured hero.”  Astronima forced a smile. 

            “You’re a hero, that’s all that matters.  How you came about powers doesn’t change who you are.  Come on, let’s get Doc to give you a good once over.” 

            “Thank you Gary, but no.  I’ll be fine.  I just need a good night’s sleep and to stay out of the skies for a little while.  I’ll call Great Guardian, and see if he can help keep watch over LA for a week.  Give me some time to relax.” 

            “Are you sure, Val?” 

            “Yeah,” Astronima said, already rising into the air.  “I’ll be fine.” 

            As she spoke, her body waivered a slightly, and she put a hand to her stomach.  She gave the Colonel another forced smiled and flew out the long tunnel. 

            As his colleague disappeared the Colonel questioned his life once again. 

            Ailing heroes.  Alien invasions.  Maybe his life wasn’t as shiny as it looked on the cover of the magazines.   

 

 

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The thunder crack of the sonic boom echoed in the halls of the Reinhart home.  It was immediately followed by a shockwave that shook the walls and blew out the front windows.

Charles was expecting it from the moment he saw Colonel Courageous fly off on the television.  He was standing at the door when the windows shattered.

“Gary.” Charles said as he opened the door for the Colonel.

“Charles.”

Dirt, dust, and leaves trailed in behind the Colonel as he entered the home, still caught in the wake of his supersonic flight.

“I didn’t know you were capable of hitting that kind of speed.”  Charles said in an attempt at small talk.  He honestly didn’t know.  Neither did the Colonel.

The Colonel ignored him and walked directly to the sofa where Johnni sat.

“Is it true?” 

“Gary?” Jonni said weakly.  Her voice was hoarse and cracked as she spoke.

“Is it true?” the Colonel repeated.

“Let me explain.”

“Is it true?!” Colonel Courageous demanded.

Jonni’s lips quivered, and tears trickled from her eyes.  “Yes.”

The softly spoken words hit Colonel Courageous like a rogue comet.  He stumbled backwards until he collided with the wall, cracking the drywall and knocking down Charles’ painting of “Summet Heights at Dusk.”  He knew it was true.  The moment he looked into those eyes, he knew it was true; he just had to hear it from Jonni.  Believing it didn’t make Jonni’s validation any easier.

“Gary…” Charles said softly.  His hand sought the Colonel’s shoulder.  “We didn’t want you to find out this way?”

Colonel Courageous batted Charles’ hand away, using a bit more force than he should have.  Charles snatched his injured hand back and cradled it to his chest.  It wasn’t broken, as far as he could tell, but was going to be severely bruised.  He could feel it starting to swell.

The hero braced himself against the wall and tried to stand.  He felt weak, and sick to his stomach.  He wasn’t sure if it was because he just found out that he had a daughter, that his daughter had just tried to kill him, or the volts of electricity she had pumped through him less than ten minutes earlier.  Whatever it was made him suddenly left him without any strength, and his legs wobbled.

“How long have you known, Charles?  How could you raise my little girl as your own without telling me?  You owe me!”

“He didn’t know.” Jonnie piped in.  She walked over to where Colonel Courageous was against the living room wall.  Her hand reached out for the Colonel’s face knowing that he wouldn’t smack her hand away as he had Charles’.

“He just found out a few weeks ago.  I hadn’t told him either.  If anyone w owes you, Gary, it’s me.”

The Colonel reached up and held Jonni’s hand to his cheek.  His eyes started to glaze over.

“Why, Jonni?  Why did you leave?  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t… I couldn’t have her in that life.  It’s… It’s complicated.  I didn’t want her to not know her father, or to make Charles play the role of substitute dad, but she deserved better than the daughter of the world’s greatest hero.  She needed a normal life.  You can’t raise a child in that whirlwind rollercoaster of a world that you live in.  She needed a childhood.”

“A childhood without her father?  You thought that was what she needed, and you made that decision without me?  You thought she would be better off thinking I had abandoned her?  Having her hate me for something I was never guilty of?  This was your grand idea?”

The Colonel didn’t speak his words so much as chew them up and spit them at her.  He pushed her hand away from his face.

“How’s that working out for you?”

Jonni let her hand fall by her side and started to slink away.  The Colonel’s words tore into her chest and stabbed at her heart.  He was trying to hurt her, and she knew it.  But it hurt even more because she knew what he was saying was true.

“That’s enough, Gary!” Charles moved in between his wife and Colonel Courageous.  “I understand you’re upset…”

“Upset?!” blurted the Colonel.

“Look, you’ve got every right to be angry about this, but if we’re going to talk about it, we need to talk about it.  Not do this.”

“Don’t talk to me about my rights.  I’m Colonel Courageous, dammit!  I know all about people’s rights.  Like the right to see their children.  The right to know they even have children.”

“GARY ENOUGH!”  Charles roared at the champion hero.

Colonel Courageous stood, still shaky on his feet, but steady enough to stand on his own.  The two men met eye to eye; neither blinked nor looked away.

“It’s time for you to leave.”

The Colonel stared at the man before him and waited.  He watched for the change in Charles’ shape as he turned into Wooly Mammoth.

He waited; palms sweating.

It didn’t happen.

Charles remained in his human form.  His eyes stayed locked, unwavering on the Colonel’s.  Slowly, the anger Colonel Courageous felt within started to subside.  The man that stood in his face remained a man.  He wanted a fight, but Charles wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

The hero looked away and stepped back.  His anger quickly turned to shame, and the weight of it held his gaze to the floor.

“It’s not fair.  She’s my daughter.”

“I know.”  Charles said, empathizing with him.

“No.  You don’t.”  The Colonel said defeated.  “You’re her stepfather.  She may not like you at times, but she still loves you.  Both of you.  For me, the love she should feel has become nothing but hate.  I’ve fought men who wanted to exterminate whole races, creatures from other planets, and people who wanted nothing more than for me to die, but I don’t think any of them hate me as much as she does.”

“Gary… I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, Charles.”  The Colonel lifted his head a higher, making brief eye contact with Charles and Jonni.

“I just – Aaargh!”  The Colonel cried out in pain and fell to his knees.  His hands furiously clutched his head

“Gary!” Charles and Jonni cried in unison.

The hero continued to scream, his voice piercing the air and echoing down the usually quiet street.  Dogs howled at the sound, and car alarms began to blare.  Colonel Courageous dropped even lower to the ground, his forehead resting against the softness of the carpet; not that he felt it.  He was beyond feeling anything except the shrill white noise that drilled itself into his brain by way of his ear canal.

The Colonel raised his upper body off the floor; remaining on his knees.  A stream of blood flowed from his nose and down the front of his uniform.  Droplets splashed down on the beige carpet, before quickly being absorbed into the fibers.  A distant hollow voice drifted across his brain like the words of a ghost.  He could only make out a few words, and those words frightened him.

Cyksiks.  Extermination.  Now.

He slowly rose to his feet, as the sound faded away, taking the pain with it, but not the memory.  The Colonel staggered to the front door and threw it open.  His leaden feet drug across the ground, chipping the concrete walk and digging up the dirt.

Jonni and Charles followed him out to the front yard.

“Gary, are you okay?” Jonni called out to him.

The Colonel forced a smile.  “Yeah.  I’ve been having problems with my communicator.  It’s just Doc calling me.  I’ve got to go.”

The hero of heroes dropped to one knee and raised his head to the sky.  Before Jonni could part her lips to say another word, he was gone.  Grass, dirt, and leaves were sucked up into the air by his departure.  They hovered for several seconds before descending back to the ground.

Charles waved to his angered and excited neighbors, most of whom had been waiting their whole lives for this moment – when Colonel Courageous, or any of the heroes, would pay a visit to the Reinhart home.  For them, fourteen years of living next to Wooly Mammoth and Super Slut had finally paid off.

The former hero, turned husband and stepfather, escorted his wife back inside their home.  He tried shutting the door, but found that it no longer fit on the hinges.  He fit it into the frame as best he could, and glanced around the house at the other repairs that were needed.

Jonni walked over to the spot where Colonel Courageous had fallen, and stared at the small puddle of blood in the carpet.

“You lied to him, didn’t you?” Charles questioned.  “I’m sure all that stuff you said was true, but that wasn’t the main reason was it?”

Jonni lowered her head.  She made lines in the carpet with her foot.  “No.”

“Then why?”

“I was afraid.” Jonni said, still looking at the floor.

Charles walked over to his wife.  His hand moved slowly and softly under her chin and lifted her head till their eyes met.

“I was afraid that she would want to be just like him.  That she’d become a sidekick and would be killed before she…”  Jonnie couldn’t finish her sentence.  Her throat began to tighten and her eyes welled with tears.

Charles continued to stare into the soul of the woman he loved.

“This has something to do with Johnny Wonder, doesn’t it?”  he asked.

She couldn’t answer.  Jonni bit her quivering lower lip to try and hold back her third outburst of tears that afternoon.

Powerful arms surrounded Jonni and pulled her close.  Charles’s embrace was so stronger, so loving, that she scarcely knew that her feet were no longer touching the ground.  And in his arms, she cried.  She only wanted to make things better for her little girl.  Give her a better life.  Now, she felt like she had made a mess of everything, and it was too late to make amends.

*****

Blrrrp…

Blrrrp…

Blrrrp…

The phone had been ringing nonstop since the news broke the week before.  At first he answered it, even just to say no comment.  As the calls became more frequent, and more persistent, he stopped.  It was too much.  The only reason he even plugged the phone back in was because of Julian’s insistence.  Of course, Julian wanted him to answer it.  This was the kind of publicity that agents lived for.  And after a decade of  managaing Wally, he felt he was long overdue.

Wally couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t answer their questions.  He didn’t know what to say.

That was a lie.  He knew what he would say, the one thing that both he and Julian agreed that he shouldn’t say.  All the callers – journalist, reporters, producers, editors, agents – they all wanted the same thing.  They wanted to know how he felt after learning Abysmal was still alive.

Wally only had one answer: Scared.

He was frightened beyond belief.  When the news first broke, he was in disbelief.  He was certain that it was a hoax, or a joke in bad taste, but it wasn’t.  When he saw that costume on the TV, and heard the man’s voice, he knew it was real.  Very real.  Abysmal, the man who confined him to a wheelchair, was alive.

Alive.

Alive.

Alive.

Wally didn’t sleep for the next two days.  He watched the TV and saw every news broadcast, and, every recorded image of him; those neutralizing restraint cuffs weighing his arms down.  Going to the police station, the court house, and his eventual transfer to the Locker.  Even after all of that, he was still shaken to his core.

That was when the calls began.  First the calls, then the visits to his home.  It was too much for him.  He wondered how, he could have ever wanted this life.  He had gotten a taste of it after the book came out, but it was nothing like this.  And, just when the calls started to die down, one of Abysmal’s “students” attacked Colonel Courageous on live TV.  Suddenly, the media went crazy with the thought of teens with abilities acting as sleeper agents.  Some media outlets portrayed Abysmal as a cult like father figure, likening him to Charles Manson and Jim Jones.

It was too much for Wally to bear.  It was Julian that kept him from shutting them all out.

Blrrrp…

The phone rang again.  This time it was immediately followed by a knock on the door.  Wally looked at the touch screen on his universal remote control.  The remote operated almost every electronic device in the house, from security cameras to the coffee maker.  Julian’s face appeared bright and beaming on the LCD screen.

“Wal, it’s Julian!  Open up!”

Wally sighed and wheeled over to the front door.  A push of a button unlocked the front door and opened it before he got to the foyer.  Julian came in with his usual hustle and bustle attitude.  He was a firm believer in the saying, “time is a factor.”  He did everything as fast as he could and before anyone even knew what he was doing or what they were agreeing to.  Wally included.

“Wal, it’s two thirty.  Why aren’t you dressed?  More importantly, why aren’t you answering the phone?”

“I have been.”  Wally lied.

“I just called, Wal.”

Wally swiveled his chair around and wheeled back into his study.  Julian stayed close behind.

“I told you, kid, you can’t hide from these people.  Not now.  Not this time.”  Julian was only a few years older than Wally, but called all his clients “kid.”  He used the word kid as superiority over them.  By talking to his clients as if he were older than them he garnered their respect.  They treated him as if he had years of wisdom because he acted that way.  With the exception of Wally, his other clients were his own age if not older.

“I can’t Julie.  I can’t deal with them.  I can’t… He’s alive, Julie.  He’s alive.”

“I know kid.”

“I thought the Holy Avenger killed him.  He killed him, and the anguish he felt is what made him change his name.  That guilt is what stopped him from coming to see me.  You know the story.  He found me lying there on the tarmac, broken.  He stopped long enough to call for paramedics, and then he went after… him.  I never saw him that night, or since.”

Wally clutched the arm of his chair; his fingers digging into the soft leather of the armrest.  He picked the remote control off his lap and pressed the television button.  The flat screen came to life with video of the attack on Colonel Courageous, the Yesterday town heroes, and Abysmal.

The news channels repeated the same video of Abysmal being led away by police.  It reminded Wally of the footage they always showed of Lee Harvey Oswald right before Jack Ruby shot him.  Every time Wally watched it, he hoped that someone would come out of the crowd and shoot him, too.

Julian snatched the remote from Wally’s hands and turned the TV off.

“Watching this isn’t going to help you feel any better.  Getting out in front of the people will.”

“How is that going to help?”

“I know you’re scared.  I know that.  But, you’re already crippled, kid.  He can’t cripple you again.  Look, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with your past.  Might as well be sooner.”

“I can’t go there.  It’s too painful.”

“I don’t care.  Van Tortelli wants you on his show.”

“Ugh!” Wally groaned.  “The last thing I want is to be on some celebrity sensationalist gossip show.”

“Uh-uh.  Van’s giving up the tabloid talk and is going back to his journalistic roots.  They’re reformatting the show, and he wants you to be his first guest.”

“I don’t know.  I’m not sure that…”

“Yeah.  Too bad what you think.  I already booked you, a week from Monday.  If you don’t do the show, not only will you be fined three hundred thousand dollars for breach of contract, but you can find yourself a new agent.”

“Come on!  Julian, how could you do this to me?   I can’t do this!”  Wally wheeled away from the man in the six thousand dollar suit.

“I’m tired of your shit, Walden!  All that time you were whining to me about how you never got the chance to tell your side of the story.  How every show you were on, all they wanted to hear about was all the other heroes.  How you were sick of being called Kid Paladin.”

Julian marched across the room and spun Wally’s motorized wheelchair around.

“Stop being a pussy and grow up.  This is the life you asked for.  It’s finally here.  I’m going to give you some tough love here, cause I like you, kid.  Paladin was a failure.  Paladin is the person in that fancy chair, not Kid Paladin.  Kid Paladin is immortal.  He can never grow old, never lose a battle, and never end up in a damn wheelchair.”

Julian scooted back and sat down on the arm of the sofa.

“Any other agent would’ve left you a long time ago.  I stuck in there because I knew, I knew that one day it would all come back around.  Even more, I like you.  Dammit boy, you were a hero!  A lot of people have forgotten that, but I haven’t.  Listen to me while I lay this all out for you.”

Julian put a foot up on the sofa and fished around his inside jacket pocket.  He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, thumped one out and stuck it in his mouth.

“Light?”

Wally kept his hands in his lap.  “You know I don’t allow smoking in my home.”

“For anyone else.” Julian snapped back through pinched lips.

Wally let out a heavy sigh.  He wheeled himself over to the fireplace and grabbed a box of matches off the mantle.

“That’a boy.”  Julian struck the match and dangled the glowing stick before his face before lighting the cigarette.  “Okay, Alexandria publishing wants to go back to print with I’m in the League.    They want a new foreword and a new closing chapter of you fifteen years later.  If the sales are strong, which they will be, they’re talking a new book on those fifteen years.  Now, where’re the legs?  I wanna see the legs the Doc made for you.”

Wally dropped his shoulders and sighed again.  It seemed that when talking to Julian all he ever did was sigh.  Julian wanted him to wear the leg braces that Dr. 253 had made for him years ago. Even over a decade old, they were still the cutting edge of technology.  The braces connected to his central nervous system through bio-electric relays, and allowed him to walk under his own power.

Wally hated them.  They weren’t his legs, and though they allowed him to walk, he still couldn’t walk.

“They’re somewhere.”

“Get ‘em out.”

“They give me a headache.”

Julian conceded.  He knew how much Wally hated the legs and tossed them out just as a concession point.  Wally would feel like he won something, and Julian would get what he wanted.

“Look, there’s one more thing.”  Julian took a long drag on his cigarette.  “To do this… to do this right.  You’re gonna have to talk about all the stuff you wouldn’t talk about before.  All of it.”

Wally looked over at the mannequin wearing the Kid Paladin uniform in the glass case in the corner of the room.

“Yeah.  I guess I will.”

Tags:

 

Chapter XXXI

            Jonni Cordalis Reinhart sat on the plush carpet only a few feet away from the TV.  Her glazed eyes absorbed every sight and sound transmitted from the flat screen.  When the news reports of the new heroes of Future City, along with video of their heroic battle against the local powered gang, was run on every channel and news show Jonni was suddenly filled with new life. 

            On the screen onlookers gathered outside of Future City’s city hall.  Reporters tried their best to speak over the excited crowds. 

            Behind Jonni, sitting on the couch, Charles watched his wife.  This was the liveliest she had been since Celia had run away.  Charles himself was equally as happy.  Not only did he now know that his daughter was alive and well, but his wife was mentally resurrected at the same time.  Over the past week, he had seen her go from beyond despondent to overflowing with energy.  She had written a new chapter in her book, all about her life after the heroes and how happy she was.  Jonni was her old self again. 

            When the live broadcast started, Jonni was sitting on the couch next to her husband.  Within a few minutes she was down on the floor, as close as she could get to the TV and still make out the picture.  Charles stayed in his spot and let her have the moment.  She needed it. 

            “I think I just saw her!” Jonni squealed.  “Oh my God, honey!  I never would have thought.” 

            Charles smiled.  “Me neither, baby.  But then, she is her mother’s daughter.  Being exceptional is in her blood.” 

            Jonni heard her husband’s words, but gave no indication.  She was lost in the moment. 

*****

            “Good afternoon, Futurians.” said the channel WKST anchorwoman.  “I’m Rebecca Summerland…”

            “And I’m Roland Clark.” The anchorman next to Rebecca added.  “Welcome to our special coverage of the mayor’s Hero Commendation Ceremony.  In just a few moments we will be turning things over to our on location reporter, Scarlet Hensley.  Scarlet was the brave reporter from WKST that along with her cameraman Walter Morrison captured the battle between our new heroes and the Yesterday town gang known as the Hell Spawns.” 

            “That’s right, Roland.”  Rebecca said, assuming control of the broadcast once again.  “Scarlet will be reporting live from the ceremony.  And make sure you stay tuned afterwards for our WKST exclusive interview with these new heroes.  We’ll learn all about who they are, what they can do, and about their training at the hands of the powered criminal known as Abysmal.” 

            “For those of you that don’t know…” Roland interjected on cue.  “Abysmal was the man responsible for the crippling of Walden “Wally” Patterson also known as Kid Paladin, the former sidekick of the Holy Avenger.  Wally wrote the book I’m In the League about his life as a sidekick.” 

            “One moment, Roland.” Rebecca said, holding her hand to her ear and looking off camera.  “I believe the ceremony is about to start.  We’ll now turn things over to Scarlet Hensley on the steps of city hall.  Scarlett.” 

            “Hello Becky and Roland.” Scarlet began.  In her mind she could see Rebecca scowling at being called “Becky.”  “We are about to get started here.  Because of my relationship with the teens, we’ve been allowed to get closer to the festivities than any of the other stations.” 

            Walter swung the camera quickly over the crowd, showing that only he and Scarlet were standing on the steps of city hall, with the other station’s reporters out in the street. 

            Back at the top of the steps, Mayor Guilden stood at the podium with Electric Blue, Diamond Dog, and Crash seated several feet to his left.  The mayor locked eyes with the crowd and wore his best smile.  In the chairs, the teens fidgeted with nervous energy.  Crash drummed a beat on the side of his metal folding chair that with a tempo that rose with each passing minute.  Diamond Dog sipped nervously on his sixth bottle of water.  Tiny crystal spikes formed along his sweaty palms.  Blue took deep breaths and let them out slowly.  She kept her eyes closed for the majority of the waiting.  Every five or so minutes she would open them and look at DD.    

            “As you said earlier, Becky.  We will be doing an exclusive interview with the teenagers after the ceremony.  Diamond Dog, Crash, and Electric Blue, whose real names are Carson Smalls, Joseph Harris, and Celia Cordalis.  As most of the world now knows, Celia Cordalis is the daughter of Jonni Cordalis Reinhart, former superhero groupie turned author.  She wrote the book I’m In the League, Too, about her time with the heroes.  During our interview we’ll talk to Celia and ask her what it was like growing up with a mother as notorious as hers.”  Scarlet smiled and her eyes narrowed to devilish slits, convincing the audience that they were going to go somewhere they weren’t invited. 

            Mayor Guilden gripped the flexible base of the metal coiled microphone and angled it towards him.  He cleared his throat and enlarged his smile by two sizes. 

            “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here at the steps of city hall to recognize the efforts of three incredible teens.  What these three young people have done is more than just their actions on the west side of Argo city.  What they’ve done is send a message.  A message not only to us, but to the world.  That message is progress.  When we look at our city, we are constantly reminded of the steps we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made in technology.  What we forget, and what they have reminded us of, are the steps that we need to continue to make as human beings.  The progress that we still have to work at and strive for to become better people.  Better people make a better world.  We can’t simply quantify our achievements by micro-chips, wireless internet, and plasma televisions.  We need to look beyond our mortal accomplishments, and look at the things that will make us immortal.  The things that we need to do to carry ourselves, our children, our children’s children, and our world into a better tomorrow.  To do that, we must first stand up to the things around us that aren’t right.  We need to stop turning a blind eye to evil and injustice.  We need to take a stand and say we will no longer tolerate these actions in our world.  We will make things right.” 

            The mayor gripped the people of Future City and held them in his hand.  His words had been chosen to negate his own actions of injustice, especially to the people of Yesterday Town.  Despite what he said to the masses, he was afraid of what blue and the others had done.  They brought light to a section of the city he had kept shrouded in darkness.  His gentrification of the people of Yesterday Town had been ignored by the residents of Future City.  They all knew what was going on, but chose to ignore it.  They lived in the bright, shiny metropolis of technology.  It wasn’t their plight. 

            Now, the people were forced to look at what they had turned their backs on for years.  Human nature dictated that they blame someone other than themselves.   The mayor was determined to not be the object of their fury.  So far, his speech was leading them along like a flute song.   

            “For years, a corner of our city was gripped in fear.  Those that orchestrated the terror and destruction held our best efforts at bay.  That fear was then channeled to all of us and we felt powerless.  We aren’t powerless.  We can do great things if we remember the potential that we all have inside.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small we are.  It doesn’t matter if there are a hundred of us, or only one.  All that matters is that we stand up.  Stand up and say we will not allow this to go on any longer.  We will fight, and we will win.” 

            The crowds gathered along on the base of the steps, and along the sidewalk cheered.  The applause was deafening as it echoed along the stone and marble entry way.  The people of Future City shouted praises and endearment to the astonished and somewhat embarrassed teens.  Homemade signs and banners were thrust in the air, searching for their attention.  Many waved quickly produced and over priced tee shirts that they had bought from street vendors that morning. 

            Mayor Guilden gestured for the crowd to quiet down, as he beamed a genuine smile and gripped the mike again. 

            “Thank you.  Thank you.  I would now like to present our three heroes with a token of appreciate from the city.” 

            The mayor turned and gestured for the three teens to stand.  The three nervously rose to their feet, standing awkward before the growing crowd. 

            “Celia Cordalis.  Carson Smalls.  Joseph Harris.  This city owes you a debt of gratitude that we can even begin to repay.  Your actions in Argo City have reminded us of who we are.  I would like to take this time to recognize your actions.  On behalf of the great metropolis of Argo city and its citizens I would like to present you with this medal of heroism.” 

            The uproar of cheers was deafening to the teens.  Crash’s head started to swim as he looked out on the ocean of faces, cameras, and cell phones.  Hundreds of people clamoring for a piece of him.  It was too much for the young boy, and he felt his knees buckle.  His hand shot out and gripped Diamond Dog by the arm to keep himself from collapsing.  Crash wondered how he could have rushed headlong into battle with the Hell Spawns without a twinge of fear, yet here he was more nervous then he had ever been. 

            Diamond Dog winced as Crash’s death grip locked onto his arm.  He looked back at the younger boy and smiled.  He leaned back and whispered to his friend. 

            ‘I hope you’re not expecting me to hold you up.  The way I feel right now, we’ll both end up on the ground.” 

            The two boys laughed. 

            Mayor Guilden looked to the sky over the gathered citizens and smiled. 

            “And here to present the Argo city Award of Heroism – Argo city’s own…” 

            Everyone’s eyes shifted up, and necks craned back to the sky.  Camera’s made “J” shaped movements on their tripods, trying to capture the moment.  His arrival. 

            “Colonel Courageous!” 

            Backlit by the midday sun, Colonel Courageous glided down from the sky.  His body slowly descended over the heads of the crowd and to the top landing of the city halls steps.  A momentary hush fell over the crowd as the city’s protector moved above them.  Without warning the crowd erupted into a cacophony of roots and cheers that could be heard from blocks away. 

            The Colonel touched down on the marble floor with the grace of a butterfly.  He shook the mayor’s hand before turning and waving to the crowd. 

            “Good afternoon, Argo city!” The Colonel bellowed.  His voice carried as far as the masses screams, but without their volume or a microphone. 

            Diamond Dog’s heart raced, and he reached for the bottled water on the ground.  He could barely keep on his feet amidst the instant popularity and throngs of fans, but coupled with an appearance by the world’s hero… he suddenly wasn’t sure. 

            “You’re on your own.”  DD said to Crash as he removed the boy’s hand from his arm. 

            A jolt of electricity zapped DD as he bent down to grab the bottled water.  Blue threads of electric current ran between the legs of the metal folding chairs next to him.  His eyes moved upwards, leading his body, scanning Blue’s body.  More thin tendrils of electricity twisted and jumped along the metal chairs and to her body.  The ends of Blue’s hair began to lift skyward. 

            DD put a hand on her shoulder and received a shock for his caring gesture. 

            “Blue?’ he started.  “Blue, are you okay?” 

            The teen girl didn’t answer.  Her eyes were locked on the larger than life hero and the perfect smile he cast out at the crowd. 

            “What’s he doing here?” Blue spat between gritted teeth. 

*****

            Jonni had been watching the ceremony with the excitement of a young child on Christmas day.  She even found herself moving Closer to the television every time the camera panned by Celia, or zoomed in.  That all changed with the mayor’s last words, and he appeared on the screen.  Jonni’s smile disappeared, and she quickly retreated from the bright, high definition TV. 

            “Oh no.”

            Charles moved over to his wife’s side, stopping her backward crawl across the carpet. 

            “What’s wrong, honey?  What’s going on?”  Charles asked. 

            The images on the TV started to waiver and became distorted. 

            “She doesn’t know.” Jonni whispered.  “She doesn’t know.” 

            Charles looked from his wife to the television and back again. 

            “She doesn’t know he’s her father?” 

            Jonni shook her head no.  “She doesn’t know the truth.” 

*****

            Colonel Courageous walked over to Celia, his hand outstretched.  His charming smile made her sick, and fueled the rage building inside her. 

            “Celia Cordalis?” the Colonel asked politely.  “I knew your mother, Jonni.” 

            The metal folding chairs rattled against each other as they danced to the pull of Blue’s electric sway. 

            “Don’t you dare say her name!”  Blue commanded. 

            “Blue…” Diamond Dog called to her.  His words were lost in the crackling sound of collected electricity that filled her ears. 

            “You don’t have the right to say her name!” 

            “I’m sorry?” questioned the Colonel. 

            “No.” Blue responded.  “You’re not sorry.  You’ve never been sorry.” 

            Blue’s eye’s disappeared behind a wall of white electricity.  The hair on her head stood on ends and the air around her became charged with static. 

            “Is there a problem here?” the bewildered Colonel asked.  “Did I do something?”

            “You don’t know what it was like for us!  What we had to endure because of you!  Because you weren’t there!  You could help everyone in the world, but you couldn’t help us!” 

            DD could see the currents flowing into her hands before she raised them, and knew what was about to happen. 

            “Celia!” he cried out to her.

            “You bastard!” Electric Blue screamed.  She fired off a blast of electricity that hit the Colonel in the stomach, just above his navel.  The charged electrical bolt burned through his nerves.  The muscles in his stomach tightened and locked, and the hero staggered backwards. 

            Colonel Courageous gripped his stomach and stood up straight.  The first shot had caught him off guard.  He braced himself for a potential follow up and stepped closer to the young girl. 

            “Where were you?!” Blue cried.  She fired a second bolt of electricity at the Colonel which stung him more than he thought it should. 

            “Caroline is dead because of you!”  A third bolt shot out from Blue’s fingertips.  The Colonel was still too shocked to move out of the way.  The blast hit him in the upper right of his chest.  He could feel the tendrils of electricity as they moved through his skin, danced along the fringes of his nervous system, and constricted the muscles in his chest and back.  The blast exited out of the Colonel’s right shoulder and hit the stone wall of the building behind him. 

            The city’s hero staggered back.  He tried to maintain his ground, but the blast from the young girl had an unexpected effect on him. 

            “You should’ve been there!  You should have saved her!  This is all your fault!”  Blue screamed at the world’s champion. 

            “Wait!’ Colonel Courageous said.  He was finally able to snap out of his surprise.  “Just stop and talk to me for a minute.  I know you’re upset.  Just talk to me.”   

            “Talk to you?  Where were you all the other times I needed to talk to you?” Blue screamed at the Colonel. 

            “I don’t… I don’t understand what you mean.” 

*****

            Jonni sat on her knees in front of the television mumbling to herself.  She could see it all happening moments before it actually did.  All those years she had been hiding the truth from everyone.  Eventually it had to come out. 

            Jonni turned behind her and looked at Charles.  The large man sat behind her with the same horrified expression on his face.  It was all about to come out. 

            Jonni turned back to the TV. 

            “Not like this.” She mumbled to herself.  “Not like this.  Don’t do it, baby.  Please, don’t do it.”

 *****

 

             “Where were you?!” Blue repeated, followed by another electric blast.  This blast was different then the three before.  Not only was it more powerful, but also had a light blue streak that ran through its center.  Unlike the preceding bolts, this one didn’t leave her fingers and fire out at the target.  The blast was a stream of electricity that flowed from Blue’s hand.  It moved through the air like a high voltage snake. 

            Colonel Courageous tried to dodge the electric whip.  He side-stepped the blast at super speed, shifting his body two feet to the left without actually taking a step. 

            The electric whip snapped back at the hero, arcing around from behind and hitting him in the back.  The attack brought the earthly savior to his knees.  The energy drilled into him, and set his nervous system on fire.  The pain was like nothing he’d ever felt. 

            Blue drew her other arm back and drew more electricity from the available sources around her.  Currents arced through the air and from the ground and into her body.  The blue and white tendrils traveled through her and amassed in the palm of her withdrawn arm.    

            Diamond Dog ran up behind Blue and grabbed her.  His hands reached out and took a hold of hers.  Crystals grew along DD’s forearms and down to his hands.  The crystals covered his and Blue’s hands, locking them together.  A long faceted spike extended from their union, aimed at the sky. 

            Blue’s last burst of electricity was released inside the quartz covering and bounced furiously around inside.  Diamond Dog concentrated on his quartz exo-skeleton; forming crystals within crystals.  He tried to alter and arrange the formation of the quartz to funnel the electricity to the spike where it could discharge harmlessly into the air.  

            Blue and DD fell to the ground spent.  DD let his sheath slough away so he could hold her in his real arms.  He kept his arms wrapped around hers in the event she tried to fire another blast. 

            The young girl kept her eyes on her father, refusing to look away or blink.  She wanted him to feel her anger.  Her hatred.  Her pain.  She wanted him to know what he had done to her all those years. 

            The Colonel rose to his feet, taking all the strength he had, and made his way over to the two teens lying on the ground.  Bleary eyes stared down at them with confusion.  What was she going on about, he wondered.  Why would Jonni’s daughter attack him?  Surely she knew about the time they spent together.  What woman wouldn’t brag about being Colonel Courageous’ former girlfriend?   

            His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.  Jonni.  The girl on the ground was about sixteen years old.  Sixteen years.  It had been that long, hadn’t it?  Sixteen, almost seventeen, years ago that Jonni left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.  In hiding for years until the book came out.  By then she was married to Charles and they had a baby girl.  A family.  My family?  Is this my daughter?  My baby girl? 

            Thoughts ran through his head like twenty high-speed trains all pulling into the station at once.  His thoughts collided with one another and were scattered throughout his mind.  Some were salvageable, others destroyed upon impact, and the remaining had merged into incoherent mental babbling. 

            Celia.  My grandmother’s name was Celia. 

            The Colonel knelt down before the crying girl.  She lifted her head up and looked into his face.  He stared into her eyes.  Not her eyes… his eyes. 

            “Oh my God.” 

            The Colonel stumbled back.  He couldn’t take his eyes off hers and nearly fell down the building’s steps. 

            “No.” he finally said. 

            “I didn’t know.  She didn’t tell me.” The Colonel mumbled.  “She didn’t tell me.” 

            Without another word he was gone.  Faster than anyone had ever seen him fly before.  The people around him were blown backwards by his sudden departure.  Within seconds a quiet boom sounded in the sky overhead. 

            Celia curled up in Carson’s lap and cried.

Tags:

 

            Diamond Dog tore out the front door of Guru’s house, rushing recklessly into the busy streets of Future City.  His anger propelled him forward like emotional jet fuel.  He ran into the street and stopped, barely aware of the two friends that had followed him out the door and into the street. 

            DD whipped his head back and forth, looking for something to get them to Yesterday Town before it was too late.  Before the Hell Spawns could get away. 

            Cars honked and drivers screamed obscenities at the teenagers standing in the middle of the street.  DD ignored them as he looked around.  A thought clicked in his head, and he hurried to the other side of the street.  He stopped next to an electric compact car parked on the side of the road.  A quartz covered fist shattered the driver side widow, spraying busted glass all over the seats. 

            DD hopped into the driver’s seat while Blue and Crash looked on in shock. 

            “What are you doing?” Blue asked. 

            “I’m hotwiring this car.” DD answered.  “It’s the only way we can get there in time.” 

            “Dude,” cried Crash.  “You know how to hotwire a care?” 

            “No.”

            DD ripped the covering off the bottom of the steering column and pulled the wires free.  He examined them for a while before selecting two to rub together.  He pulled the red and blue wires from their casing and struck them against each other.  Nothing happened. 

            He tried again.  Nothing. 

            The older teen jumped out of the car and slammed a hard angry fist on top of the roof bending the door frame. 

            “Blue.  It’s electric.” Crash blurted.  Can you juice it?”

            “I don’t know.” Blue said hesitant.  Her voiced waivered.  “I’ve never done anything like that.  I might blow it up.” 

            “Shit!” screamed Diamond Dog.  The adrenaline continued to flow; keeping his mind clouded and his heart jack hammering. 

            His head began to swivel around again, owl like in its movements.  He couldn’t give up.  The Hell Spawns had to pay. 

            DD wanted redemption.  He wanted retribution.  They took everything from him; his house, his friends, his chance with Blue.  He refused to let them get away unscathed.  To him, this was his only chance to take back what they stole. 

 

            “What now?” Crashed asked of his two friends.  He was starting to feel the rage that Diamond Dog radiated.  His heart was beginning to race and his vision blurred.  He hadn’t felt this way since that fateful day at Heroes Hoagies. 

            DD’s eyes fixated on something a few blocks away.  He started running in its direction, leaving the others to catch up. 

            “There.” he said, already several feet ahead of them. 

 

 

            Scarlett Hensley tapped her toe impatiently as she waited for Walter “Gibraltar” Morrison to open the van door.   

            “Gibby, will you hurry your giant ass up?  We’re gonna miss all the action.  I want to be the first reporter on the scene.” 

            “It’s in Yesterday Town.  Trust me, you’re going to be the only reporter on the scene.” 

            “Not if you don’t hurry your slow ass up.” 

            “I’m coming.” Walter spat.  He switched the camera to his right hand so that he could fish the news van keys out of his pocket.  The van chirped three times, and the side door slid open. 

            “Finally.” Scarlett said as she open the passenger door and climbed inside.  Scarlett was WFTC channel 14’s field reporter.  In her seven years she had reported on over a hundred fights and aftermaths of hero battles.  None of them had even gotten her the attention she felt she deserved.  Being a reported for Future City would have been enough for most every other reporter, but not her.  She needed that big story, the one she had the inside scoop on, the exclusive story to send her national. 

            Naive upon her arrival from Florida’s WKST, she thought her good looks and phony charm would be enough.  It took four years on one of the smaller ratings channels doing personal interest stories and hosting a Saturday morning show before she could even get the attention of the WFTC.  Not to say that her beauty was wasted on them.  Her honey colored hair was perfectly coifed at all times.  The best plastic surgeon in Future City had slowly “tinkered” with her face so that hardly anyone noticed the transition from another pretty face to news goddess.  The reconstruction gave her that sexy all American look that was warm enough so women didn’t mind letting her digitally enter their homes, and seductive enough that men couldn’t help but look, and wonder, and hope. 

            She had been working with Gibby for the past two years.  Though he had gotten used to her diva/prima donna attitude and greater than thou behavior, he sometimes wished he were teamed with another reporter.  Now was one of those times. 

            Nicknamed Gibraltar for his impressive size and the legendary story of him filming hurricane footage while standing unmoved in the face of Category 2 winds; he was one of the best in the field.  Walter studied film in college and worked as a cinematographer on several low budget Hollywood movies.  A disagreement over a shot during the filming of one movie led to a fight, and the director having his arm broken in four places and his jaw cracked.  He had been lugging a camera for WFTC ever since. 

 

            Walter stowed the camera in the back of the van and went to shut the door from the outside when Scarlett started barking again. 

            “What are you doing?  Will you get in here?”

            “Hold on.”  Walter answered with a sigh.  He knew one of the reasons he had been teamed with Scarlett was because the studio knew no matter how much abuse she dished out, he wouldn’t break her arm and her jaw.  At times though, he seriously considered it. 

            “I’m just going to run back inside and grab my gun.” 

            “Your gun?” Scarlett said, rolling her eyes.  “The Hell Spawns are fighting the Aggressor, surrounded by police officers with plenty of guns.  Trust me, your gun isn’t going to make a difference.”

 

            Scarlett’s loud obnoxious cries prevented either of them from noticing the three teenagers approaching them until it was too late. 

 

            Diamond Dog formed the quartz on his right fist into a foot long multi edged spike.  He walked up on the bickering reporter and her cameraman and shoved the crystal spike between them.  Their eyes stared at the deadly object before their faces before following it backwards to the arm and body that it was attached to. 

            “We need a ride.” DD said with a disturbing smile. 

            “We?” Scarlett questioned.  Her eyes were still focused on the pointed end of the spiked that she hadn’t noticed Crash and Blue standing behind DD. 

            Walter looked down at the powered teen who was about a foot and a half shorter than him.  His eyes roamed from him to his two companions and then over to Scarlett. 

            “Bet you wish I had my gun now.” 

 

            Blue stepped forward before the cameraman made a move that would make the situation get any worse. 

            “We don’t want any trouble, we just need a ride.” 

            “A ride where?” inquired Walter. 

            “Where you were already going…” Diamond Dog replied.  “Yesterday Town.” 

 

*****

            Killzone’s fist rose and fell with the power and timing of a rock crusher.  He drove his fist repeatedly into the Aggressor’s face, taking pleasure in each blow he delivered.  The fight, though one sided, was a long time in coming.  The Aggressor had both anxiously awaited and dreaded this day.  He knew that when the day came it would have to be a stop to the Hell Spawn’s reign of Yesterday Town.  He had never confronted the Hell Spawns directly, with the exception of the two wannabe bank robbers – Pyroclast and Black Death – that he had stopped several years prior, and wondered if he would have what it took to bring them down alone.  His current situation seemed to answer the question definitively. 

 

            Unknown to the other members of the gang, Killzone didn’t care much for their fallen comrades, Pyroclast and Black Death.  They were a threat to him and his control of the Hell Spawns and Yesterday Town.  He sent the two of them into Future City knowing that they wouldn’t stand a chance.  The Aggressor showed no mercy in their apprehension.  In fact, he was more hostile with them then he needed to be.  The beating he gave them on live TV wasn’t for the reporters or the people of Future City, it was a message to Killzone and the other Hell Spawns – stay out of Future City. 

            Even though the mayor had split the city into two separate halves, Future City and Yesterday Town, to the rest of the world and the Aggressor, it was still Argo City.  As the city’s protector he had a duty to protect them all.  Future City didn’t require as much, but being the larger part of Argo, it wasn’t any less taxing.  The bigger heroes still tended to shy away from street level crime even there, which only left him, some of the smaller –  and less powerful – heroes, and the police to patrol the gleaming technological metropolis.  But, Future City had the benefit of the police to handle the day to day crimes.  Yesterday Town wasn’t as lucky.  Sometimes it seemed like a losing battle to the Aggressor.  He tried to give the residents there hope, but it seemed as though the more he tried, the more he failed them. 

            Take tonight for example…   

 

            As the Hell Spawn’s leader continued his assault, the Aggressor contemplated his next move.  As it were, he didn’t have a play to make.  Heartless used her telekinetic abilities to pin his arms and legs to the asphalt, holding him in place.  If he were stronger, he could resist and try to break her hold over him.  Telekinesis literally is mind over matter.  The power to move objects was dependent on the user’s willpower and mental strength.  Fighting against the telekinetic force could cause a psychic backlash against a weak user.  A psychic backlash could result in anything from a severe headache, to unconsciousness, or death.  At the moment, the Aggressor would take any that he could get. 

            In addition to Killzone and Heartless, he also had to contend with Negative Death and Napalm.  The two of them were fairly useless against his invulnerability and they stayed out of the fight.  Negative Death took as much pleasure from the onslaught as Killzone, and urged the powerhouse on with cries and excited screams. 

            Napalm turned her back to the assault, occasionally glancing over her shoulder at the fallen hero.  The Aggressor couldn’t tell if she was jaded to the violence and found it boring, or if she was sickened by it.  Not, that it mattered.  If he broke free then he would take her down, too.

 

*****

 

            “Step on it, Gibby.  I don’t want to miss the story.”  Scarlett said, side seat driving as always. 

            “Lady,” Diamond Dog began, his anger rising the closer they got to the old train station.  “There won’t be a story until we get there.” 

            “I could go faster if David Blaine back there would stop levitating the van!”

            “Sorry.” Crash said grinning like a freshly carved jack-o-lantern.  His hands shook as his hormones raced around within him.  He was excited and couldn’t wait to fight the Hell Spawns again.  The excitement mixed with the nervous feeling that flipped his stomach repeatedly, as he was reminded how scared he had been during their first encounter. 

            Scarlett unfastened her seatbelt and pushed past the teens to get to the back of the news van.  The heavy van rocked as it lifted off the ground again and dropped back down.  The reporter bumped her head against the ceiling and let out a thirty second long string of profanities that made them all chuckle.  She quickly composed herself as she grabbed one of the small digital cameras off the shelf and turned it on.   She aimed it at the teens and began her pre-battle interview. 

            “So.” Scarlett began.  “Who are you guys?  Another gang looking to rule Yesterday Town?” 

            “We’re no gang.” DD said indignantly.  “We’re just some kids that were looking for a place to belong.  We found it, and then the Hell Spawns came and destroyed everything.” 

            “So, first things first – what are your names?” 

            The group looked among each other before answering. 

            “I’m Diamond Dog.  That’s Crash.  And she’s Electric Blue.”

            “Diamond Dog, are you the leader?” 

            “No.  I mean, I try and take care of them, but we don’t really have a leader.  Look lady, we’re not a gang.  We were just some runaways.  Guru took us in and helped us out.” 

            “Who’s Guru?”  Scarlett asked with dripping enthusiasm.  She could practically feel the weight of the Peabody award in her hand.    

            “He’s kinda like our mentor.” Crash piped in.  “He found us and took us in.  He’s been teaching us how to use our powers.” 

            “Where’s Guru now, while you guys are out jacking news vans?”

            “He’s taking care of the others.” Crash answered again. 

            “Others?  There are more like you?” 

            “If you mean more young kids looking for a place to go when their world stops making sense? Then yeah, there are more of us.”  DD snapped.    

            “You three are the next waves of super heroes, huh?”

            “No!” Blue interjected.  “We don’t want to be heroes.  We just want to be normal.  We want to go back to our families without worrying that we might hurt someone.  We don’t want these abilities.  We just want them to go away.” 

            Her words changed the mood in the van.  Suddenly the angst and rage seemed to quiet down and give way to rational thought and reasoning.  That was until Walter screeched the news van to a halt and said those two words. 

            “We’re here.” 

 

            The group piled out of the van with DD leading the charge.  The police were focused on the news van and the tower of light that slowly erected from the top like a thousand watt Tower of Babel that the three teens slipped right by them. 

 

            “Hurry, Gibby.” Scarlett called to the hulking cameraman. 

            “This is going to be big.  I don’t want to miss a single shot.”  Scarlett said as she did one more check on her makeup and lipstick.  She ran her fingers through her hairs, fluffing it out, before striking her rigid reporters’ stance. 

            “Make sure to get the action, but try to keep me in the shot.” 

            “I know my job.” huffed Gibby as he hefted the camera onto his shoulder and flipped up the light. 

            “This is going to be big.” Scarlett repeated.  “Bigger than the Washington Square disaster.” 

 

            Electric Blue caught the last words of the reporter as she followed Diamond Dog and Crash into the fray.  Had the words registered in her brain she might have turned and fried the camera and all their equipment, but they didn’t.  The words couldn’t penetrate the battle drum sound of her heart beating in her ears.  The thumping drowned out the world and sucked her into the emotional gravity well that revolved around DD and had already drawn Crash into its destructive orbit. 

            All she could hear was the blood pumping chant that screamed: Kill!  Kill!

 

            “Hold it!” cried officer Westerman.  He rushed over to the reporter and her cameraman, waiving his hands in an attempt to block their view. 

            “No cameras!  This area’s off limit!  You’re gonna hafta pack your stuff up and leave the area!”   

            “What’s wrong, Westerman?” Scarlett grinned, backlit by the lights from the camera and the news van.  “You afraid I’ll show the public you not doing your job again?”

            Westerman shielded his eyes from the light with his left hand and looked into the face of his misery from two years back.  “Jesus!  Not you!” 

            “Yes me, and from here, it looks like the police have drawn the line at the border between Future City and Yesterday Town, am I right?  Last I checked, you were still Argo City policy officers.  That’s what it says on those shiny well polished cars over there, right?  Don’t you have a civic duty to protect everyone in the city?” 

            “Don’t give me this crap, Hensley.  We’ve got orders to stay put unless the Hell Spawns cross over into Future City.” 

            “Awfully convenient isn’t it, considering they’ll never do that.  In the meantime, one of our heroes is in their getting beaten to death.” 

            “I have my orders.  They say we stand here, and that you have to leave.”

            “Let me get this straight…  You and your men are going to sit back and watch a man get beaten to death, while at the same time denying me my First Amendment right to be here, on live TV?”

            Scarlett was bluffing, and hoped that Westerman didn’t call her on it.  She didn’t even know if Walter had turned the camera on.   

            A forced plastic smile appeared on Westerman’s face, believing that everything that had just transpired was being broadcast to two thirds of the televisions in Future City.  “I’m not denying your right to free speech.  I’m trying to protect you and your cameraman from harm.  It’s too dangerous for you to be this close.” 

            “Really?  If I were you, I’d be more concerned about them.” Scarlett said with a bigger genuine smile, while pointing into Yesterday town. 

            Westerman snapped around to catch Diamond Dog, Crash, and Blue cross the tracks and move in on the Hell Spawns.    

            “!@#$!” Westerman spat. 

            “If you’ll excuse me.”  Scarlett shoved Westerman out of the way and made her way towards the line of police cars.  

            “I wonder if your parents named you Scarlett cause you were a red hot pain in their asses, too.”    

            “You know I’m still recording, right?” 

 

*****

            The Aggressor gritted his teeth and spat blood at the grinning man-child that knelt on his chest.  The repeated blows to the face had broken his nose, and he could feel his right eye starting to swell.  He ran a tongue along his teeth and found one in the front staring to loosen.  He suddenly started to rethink his objection to killing them before an audience of police officers.  All he needed was an opening.  If he could break Heartless’ hold, then he’d show them.  He’d show them. 

 

            The rushing sound of churned water took Killzone’s attention off of the Aggressor.  He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Mack the Ripper speeding in.  The wasted speed freak slipped on the water logged grass.  He tumbled head over feet, his speed propelling him forward like a human cannonball until he slammed against the wreckage of the burning police car. 

            Ripper slowly rose to his feet, unaware that he was resting against a burning car until the flames singed his hand. 

            Napalm rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Killzone.  Negative Death howled with laughter and shadowed his way over to the obviously stoned gang member. 

            Ripper stumbled forward, barely able to stay on his feet.  His topsy-turvy entrance, combined with the drug he had taken was too much for his weak stomach, and he vomited on the ground. 

            “Watch him.” Killzone said to Heartless as he climbed off the Aggressor’s chest.  The gang leader marched over to his teammate. 

            “Where have you been?” he growled.  His fist clenched tighter, knuckles cracking, as he waited for an answer.

            “Huh?  What’d ju say?”  The speedster babbled while wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.  “I was jus’ scorin’ some stuff before the big g’bye. Mus’f fallen ‘sleep.  ‘S cool.  Ah’m cool.” 

            Ripper staggered towards Killzone.  His legs wobbled like a marionette with every step. 

            “No you’re not!” Killzone bellowed.  He swung a right cross at the drugged gang member.  Ripper tried to dodge, but couldn’t get his body to respond faster enough.  The powerhouse’s fist clipped the side of his head and sent him spiraling to the ground. 

            Negative Death laughed as his friend’s body made like a human top, spinning seven hundred and twenty degrees before falling down.  The glancing blow ripped a large gash across his forehead.  Blood poured from the wound and mixed with the shallow water at their feet. 

            “Pick him up!” Killzone demanded. 

            Corporeal hands emerged from the shadow body of Negative Death.  They lifted Mack the Ripper up by his underarms and held him in the air. 

            “Wazzat fer?” the disturbed speedster asked. 

            “For almost !@#$-ing up our big night.” Killzone barked.  He drove his fist into Ripper’s stomach, breaking nearly all of his ribs, and busting something soft inside him.  Maroon colored blood flew from his mouth and onto Killzone’s bare chest.

            The little titan looked down at the blood on his skin.  He backhanded the unconscious gang member, wrenching him out of Negative Death’s grip and across the yard.  There was little doubt among the group that he was dead.       

 

            Killzone intertwined his fingers and stretched his arms out in front of him, cracking his knuckles. 

            “Now, let’s get back to work.” 

 

*****

            The remaining members of the Factory gathered around the police band radio listening for news about their friends.  Collectively they shared the dread and guilt for staying behind.  None of them could make sense of the thoughts that ran unrestrained through their heads. 

            They hoped that their friends would be okay and would survive. 

            They felt guilty for not going with them. 

            And, they prayed that they would get revenge and kill them all. 

            Neither of them spoke, they just sat and stared at the radio, waiting for it to give them some sign.  Tell them something.  Give them hope. 

 

            Without warning, the radio squawked and gave them the first bit of news since the three had left ten minutes earlier. 

            “Two fifty seven to dispatch.  We have reporters on the scene.” 

 

            Big Time bounded across the sofa, enlarging body parts at random in an attempt to reach the TV remote faster.  His haste caused his normal size leg to trip over an enlarged one, and he fell off the sofa and onto the floor.  A normal sized hand reached up from underneath the coffee table and grabbed the television remote off its surface.  He pushed the button without even looking, turning the TV on. 

            Headwires snatched the remote from Big Time as he tried to stand, and started flipping through channels.  It wasn’t too hard for them to find the right station.  There was only one channel covering the fight, and the fire and commotion in the background told them immediately they had the right one. 

            Renegade sat down in the chair and drew his knees up to his chest. 

 

            The three were so engrossed that they neglected to hear the whine of the elevator, or the grating sound of metal on metal as the gate opened. 

            Guru walked over to the sofa and turned his attention to the movie that had the three so enraptured.  On the screen he saw heroes fighting adversaries in a battle that reminded him of his old life. 

            Three? 

            Suddenly, Guru realized that they weren’t watching a movie.  What was on TV was real life.  He then recognized the people on the screen. 

            “Oh no.” he whispered. 

            Guru looked down at the three remaining teens.  They were still too focused on the news show to take notice of him. 

            “I have to go.”  Guru said.  Neither of them moved, nor did they catch his last words.  “I’m sorry.” 

 

*****

            Killzone rolled his shoulders and sauntered back over to the Aggressor.  The vigilante had hoped to take advantage of the reprieve, but couldn’t break Heartless’ hold.  He could see the strain on her face, and had he more time, he might have succeeded, but that time wasn’t afforded him. 

            Or so he thought. 

 

            “Killzone!”  The cry echoed across the courtyard and buildings.  The gang leader stopped in his tracks and turned towards the train tracks.  He knew the police wouldn’t be foolish enough to cross the line, and was curious as to who was calling him out.  He hoped that it wasn’t Number 5.  He wasn’t prepared for what he saw coming at him, neither was he intimidated. 

 

            Diamond Dog sprinted across the courtyard towards the Hell Spawns with Crash and Blue on his heels.  He slowed his pace as he got closer to the group and widened his path, bringing him directly into the spray of one of the busted hydrants.  The water cascaded down over his body, soaking into his clothes and skin. 

            As DD came out from under the water, his quartz began to from around his body.  He layered it on thick, piling faceted faces on top of one another, giving his exo-skin hundreds of razor sharp edges. 

 

            Crash took a straight forward path that brought him face to face with Negative Death.  He had no idea what he would do, or what he could do, but he knew what he wanted to do.  He wanted them to bleed.  Bleed like they bled.  And then he wanted them to die. 

 

            The police car headlights dimmed and flickered as Blue got closer to the gang.  Her fingers clenched in a tight fist. She fought back against pull of the electricity that called to her.  She couldn’t take hold of them yet.  She had to stay in control.  At least for now.  

 

            Killzone smiled as he saw the three Factory escapees coming his way.  His eyes gleamed in the flood of police headlights. 

            “This just gets better.  We get to close everything out all at once.”  Killzone sneered.  “What do you want, boy?” 

            DD’s chest heaved beneath the six inches of crystal.  He didn’t answer Killzone’s question.  He marched forward, his gait quickening.  His march became a trot, which quickly turned in a full blown charge.  DD rushed the stocky leader, head down and shoulder forward, like he had done hundreds of times on the football field. 

            Killzone stood his ground, and let the younger man crash into him.  His encounter with the police car earlier that evening had made him overconfident.  DD drove his shoulder into the gang leader’s sternum and pushed up.  Killzone was taken off his feet and knocked to the ground.  The sharp faceted sides of DD’s quartz sliced into the misguided titan’s skin.  Dozens of razor blade like cuts appeared along his chest and the insides of his arms. 

            Killzone used DD’s momentum to flip him backwards off the top of him.  Other than the minor cuts and having the wind knocked out of him, Killzone hadn’t suffered any damage from the attack.  He quickly rolled over onto his stomach and hopped to his feet.  Diamond Dog wasn’t as quick, and was just getting to his knees when Killzone attacked.  He swung a high arcing kick into the young man’s chest.  Chunks of broken quartz shot out from the impact of the kick.  The pieces flew high into the air before raining down like ragged hail. 

            Diamond Dog tumbled backwards, and tried to roll with the blow.  He came up on his knees and rose to his feet.  His chest ached, and his vision crossed.  He refused to give the miscreant the satisfaction, and stood up tall, driving his heels into the ground. 

            The shattered section of crystal on DD’s chest reformed itself and looked as though it had never been cracked.  He grinned under the translucent covering.  “That the best you’ve got?” 

            “I’m just getting warmed up.” Killzone retorted. 

 

            Crash raced towards Negative Death, his fist drawn, telegraphing his every move.  Not that it mattered.  Negative Death turned his body into its shadow form, and let the young teen pass right trough him.  Once Crash passed through, he solidified his right leg and kicked the boy in his back, sending him sprawling along the wet ground. 

            Negative Death slunk over to him and lowered his shadow body over the top of Crash.  He glided across his body, coming up in front of him.  Crash quickly climbed to his feet and began to back away from the shadow man. 

            “Aww!” cried Negative Death in mock offense.  “Don’t run.” 

 

            Blue’s legs shook as she approached the two female Hell Spawns, and the costumed man that lay on the ground.  Her feet felt like two helium balloons attached to wooden poles.  The girl closest to her pushed the short black hair out of her eyes and stared.  Her eyes looked through Blue as if she didn’t care.  Not just about Blue, but about any of it.  The other girl moved closer to the man on the ground and scowled.   

            The other female Hell Spawn seemed to be about Bue’s age, with dirty blonde hair and black circles around her eyes.  In the over saturation of light she looked malnourished.  Blue couldn’t tell if it was from not eating, or drug use; neither mattered to her.  Every thirty seconds, or so, the girl would make a loud snoring noise as she took a deep breath through her mouth.  Her nose was swollen and disjointed, and Blue recognized her as the one Renegade fought in the Factory that night. 

 

            The man on the ground strained against invisible bonds.  Blue could see the intensity on his face, but wasn’t immediately sure what was going on. 

            “If you’re here to help…” the Aggressor grunted.  “Now would be the time.” 

            Blue shifted her gaze from him to the girl with the scowl and broken nose. 

            “Let him go.” Blue said in a voice that came out stronger than she expected. 

            The girl made a wet choking sound and answered back in the best voice she could.  “Make me.” 

            Blue glanced over at the Hell Spawn with the short black hair to see what she was going to do.  Her disinterested eyes trailed from Blue to her friend and back again.  She put her hands in her pockets and took several steps back. 

            She didn’t say another word.  Blue raised her hand and allow the electricity around to fill her body.  She open the gates slowly, not wanting be inundated with the power and lose control.  Opening herself just enough to do what she needed to do and make the Hell Spawns sorry for what they did to her.  Make them feel her pain and her loss. 

            The currents filled her body in less than a second, and the teen girl’s skin became luminescent.  Her body a bright white at its center, with a sky blue aura at the fringe.  Electricity whipped and snapped from her finger tips.  Electric cords moved around her head like Medusa’s snakes, taking on a life of their own and crackling a warning at anyone who dared to come near.  Blue’s soft eyes turned into white ovals that masked her emotions.   

            Three seconds had passed since Heartless had challenged Blue’s demand.  Now, the unassuming young girl had turned into dynamo of electricity.  She pointed a finger at Heartless and fired a bolt of electricity that ripped through the sky and set the girl’s nervous systems on fire. 

            Heartless stumbled backwards and fell to the wet street.  Her body convulsed for several seconds, splashing in the shallow pool of water.  A low level boom sounded in the area she had been standing a heartbeat after her body hit the ground.  The thrashing quickly stopped, and her body was still. 

            The Aggressor sat up sharply and turned his battered face to the fallen girl.  He watched her quiet body, looking for any movement or sign of life.  Nearly a minute passed before her chest rose, and her open mouth drew a ragged breath. 

            The vigilante turned his attention to Blue as he got to his feet.  He was unsure what to think of the glowing teenager.  He took a quick look around, assessing the battlefront.  From his prostrated position on the ground, he could hear more than he saw.  Now, he was able to take in the fight and all its participants. 

            A few yards away from him Diamond Dog was doing his best to go toe to toe with Killzone.  The gang leader had the upper hand, but he was still holding his own.  Not too far from their position Negative Death toyed with Crash, hitting him with phantom punches.  The only Hell Spawn that wasn’t engaged in battle was Napalm. 

            The Aggressor still couldn’t get a read on her.  His impulse was to walk over and deliver a haymaker that would send her to her knees, but he fought against that.  She stood with the Hell Spawns, but hadn’t done anything.  She just watched. 

            He narrowed his good eye, the other now completely swollen shut, and glowered at her.  Napalm saw his look and turned away.  The Aggressor determined she wasn’t an immediate threat and switched his attention to someone who potentially was – Electric Blue. 

            “These guys are with you I take it?” He said referring to DD and Crash. 

            “Yes.” Blue answered.  Her voice was high pitched like radio static, but hollow.  He words travelled on the air in waves, and the Aggressor heard her answer multiple times like an echo. 

            “The little one needs help.”  The Aggressor fished a hand into the pouch at the small of his back and pulled out a small black egg.  “And I’ve got just the thing.  A magnesium flash grenade.” 

            The urban protector dashed across the street to where Negative Death and Crash were fighting.  “Follow my lead, and try not to kill anyone.” 

            “I’ll try.”  Blue’s hollow words turned her honest reply into a snide retort.  The Aggressor swallowed hard and hoped that once things were all over he wouldn’t have to try and take her down, too. 

 

            Crash swung wildly at the air trying, hoping, to connect with some solid part of the shadowy Hell Spawn.  Negative Death stayed in his immaterial ebon form, only solidifying his fist or feet before an attack.  He swarmed all over the younger teen boy, hitting him from various unprotected sides.  Each punch and kick made Crash angrier and his attempts to retaliate more unfocused and reckless. 

            Crash tried to reach out with his ability and pick him up.  He just needed to get the ghost man off of him long enough to think.  It didn’t work.  Droplets of water, rocks and piece of trash floated briefly before his eyes, before a punch or kick would cause him to lose his concentration, and they would fall back to ground.  With every punch Crash would blackout for a few seconds.  He didn’t know how much more he could take. 

 

            “Cover your eyes!” came a cry from across the street. 

            Crash turned to see the Aggressor and Blue racing towards him.  He closed his eyes and covered them with his arm. 

            The Aggressor threw the black egg at Crash’s feet and turned his head away.  The small oblong orb splashed in the half inch puddle and rested against the ground. 

            The miniature flashbang grenade had been designed to explode on impact; the two part compound mixing and producing a blinding light to temporarily incapacitate its target.  The pool of water absorbed the force of the throw and kept the egg from hitting with enough force to break it open. 

            “Dammit!” snapped the Aggressor.  It really was his only weapon against the ethereal gang member. 

            Cold hollow words echoed from behind him.  “Let me try.  Keep your eyes closed.” 

            Blue glided beside the Aggressor and lifted her hands.  Palms facing each other, she held her hands apart and sent currents of electricity back and forth between the two of them.  The electric tendrils bounced between her hands, gaining speed and intensity as they moved.  She slowly spread her hands apart and fed more electricity between them.  The currents moved at a speed too fast for the human eyes to follow and looked more like a glowing ball of light that hovered between her hands.  The light grew in intensity to where it was blinding to everyone but her. 

            Blue took her outstretched hands and slapped them together, forcing the threads of electricity to collide into each other and break away.  The light in her hands blasted out like a beacon into space; the brilliance was too much for anyone to behold.  A thunderous pop sounded instantly and made everyone’s heart beat. 

            In the heart of Future City, heads turned and people were awakened from deep sleeps at the sound and radiance of the localized thunderbolt. 

 

            Negative Death was unprepared for the Electric Blue made flashbang and was caught in its disorienting sound and visual.  The shadow man unconsciously reverted to return to his material form, leaving him vulnerable to the Aggressor’s attack. The attack was a combination of moves he had used on many occasions designed to keep the opponent off balance and incapacitated.     

            The vigilante moved in with a hook shot to the stomach, forcing the air out of Negative Death’s lungs.  If he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t fight.  His next move was a strike across the bridge of the nose with the flat of his hand.  Breaking his nose would continue to hamper his breathing, as well as making his eyes water.  He boxed the teens ears with flat palms, throwing off his equilibrium and dropping him to his knees.  The coup de grace was the “Hand of Judgment.”  

            The Aggressor grabbed Negative Death by the hair on the back of his head and pulled down, tilting his face up.  He raised his right hand above his shoulder so the defeated youth could see the reflective palm. 

            “Judgment time!” the Aggressor cried. 

            Negative Death dropped to the ground, unable to do anything but void his bowels. 

            Crash looked down at the fallen thug and sneered.  He gave his motionless body two rough kicks to the stomach. 

            “Asshole.” 

 

            As one Hell Spawn was losing a fight, another was triumphing.  DD fought hard, but was unable to overcome the strength of the older youth.  The water logged streets and spewing hydrants kept him hydrated and allowed him to keep his quartz formed, but he wasn’t able to deliver blows powerful enough to do any damage.  He had abandoned the crystal layered fists, and had changed the design of the exo-sheath around his hands to pointed claws.  Even still, the quartz wasn’t strong or sharp enough to do more than scratch Killzone’s invulnerable hide. 

            Unfortunately, Diamond Dog’s anger and head strong nature prevented him from retreating, even a little, and he continued to try and match the little titan blow for blow.  A tactic he had sadly lost several punches ago. 

            DD swung a clawed hand at Killzone, only to have it batted away like a buzzing gnat.  Killzone moved in on his open guard and drove his fingers into the crystal on his chest.  He dug his fingers in deep and gripped the covering like he was palming a basketball. 

            Killzone yanked his arms down, ripping the quartz off DD’s chest, arms and thighs.  The splintered pieces of crystal rained down on the flooding streets.  DD stumbled back and looked at his opponent in amazement.  The remaining pieces of his crystal shell began to crack and break away.

            The Hell Spawn leader took two quick, short steps forward, closing the gap, and swung his right leg high into the air.  Diamond Dog saw the kick coming and tried to block.  He raised his left arm for protection, and tried to plant his right foot for support.  The kick broke the fracturing pieces of quartz off his arm and knocked him to the ground.   

            DD tried to push himself, but couldn’t find the strength.  The throbbing in his left forearm had him convinced it was broken.  He lifted his torso up with his right hand, and tried to get his feet underneath him. 

            Killzone did a quarter turn, overcompensating for the momentum of the kick, and staggered next to DD.  He sneered, and raised his leg to stomp the younger man. 

            “You remember this dance, right?” the sadistic man said. 

 

            The Aggressor rammed into the street menace before he could stomp the struggling hero.  The vigilante forced his shoulder into the smaller man’s ribs and grabbed him by the back of his legs, lifting him into the air.  He dropped himself to the asphalt, using the young punk under him to break his fall.  The bodyslam knocked the wind out of Killzone, but didn’t take the fight out of him.  He grabbed the street hero by the back of the head and slammed his forehead into the man’s already broken nose.  The Aggressor recoil and rolled off of the smaller man. 

            Killzone scrambled to his feet and dove at the vigilante.  The Aggressor stopped him in mid-air with a upward kick to the stomach.  The little powerhouse fell to the ground and laughed. 

            “I can do this all night.”   Killzone climbed to his knees and swatted at his saturated pants legs, pretending to knock the dust off them.  “You can hit me, but you can’t hurt me.  How long do you think you can keep this up?” 

            A large quartz javelin shattered against Killzone’s bare ribs as Diamond Dog rammed him in the side.

            “We ain’t tired yet.” DD retorted.  Despite his statement, he was obviously tired, but refused to give up.  The Aggressor was impressed with his spirit and strategic thinking.  After each failed attack DD would try a new tactic.  This time, he had made his quartz skin thinner, but with large spikes protruding from the chest, shoulders, elbows, fists, and knees. 

            “You know how to do this?” The Aggressor asked the refracting teen next to him. 

            “We keep hitting him until he stops moving.” 

            “Yep.” 

 

*****

 

            On the other side of the railroad tracks the spectators stood in awe.  The news broadcast had brought dozens upon dozens of people to the scene to witness the fight in person.  Hero battles were nothing new to the citizens of Future City, and to most of the world – many having been broadcasted live and repeated on anniversaries and in documentaries – but this was something different.  With the exception of the Aggressor, the people fighting weren’t heroes.  They weren’t adversaries.  They were people.  Bad people doing bad things, and good people doing what they could to stop them. 

            For those watching, this didn’t seem extraordinary.  It didn’t have that same movie theater feel as all the other battles.  This one seemed real.  This was them. 

 

            Scarlett looked at the people gathering around her and the police officers and her jaw dropped.  She stepped out of the camera frame for a moment and whispered to Walter. 

            “Tell me you’re getting all this.” 

            “I got it.  I got it.”  He replied in exuberance. 

 

*****

            Across the street Devilish stirred from this police baton induced sleep.  He shook his head and tried to shake the haze from his mind.  The rapid movement made his head hurt even more, and he almost passed out again.  He grabbed a hold of a parking sign and pulled himself to his feet.  As he steadied his wobbly legs his eyes scanned the streets.  He wasn’t entirely sure what he expected to see, but what he saw wasn’t it. 

            Half a block away Killzone was fighting against two men.  Devilish recognized one of them, the Aggressor, immediately.  The one that looked like a giant piece of rock candy was a mystery, at first, but slowly came back to him.  He remembered trying to bite down on an arm covered in crystals back at the Factory and his jaw started to ache. 

            Not too far away from them were a young teenage boy, and a person that looked as if they were made of pure white light.  Outside of them, the only other person he saw standing was Napalm, who like the boy and white person watched the fight with Killzone. 

            Devilish glanced around the watery streets for his other friends.  Down the block he could see the body of Mack the Ripper.  There was something about the way his body was crumpled up on the curb that told him he wasn’t alive.  A few feet behind the boy and the glowing person were an unconscious Negative Death.  And, just past Napalm, Heartless lay on the ground. 

            The demonic looking teen sped across the street.  He wasn’t sure who was alive and who was dead, but he was determined to even the score by taking one of them out.  Crash seemed the easiest target. 

 

            Crash heard the splashing of feet rushing across the wet street and turned to see Devilish coming towards him.  He arched his eyebrows, took a deep breath, and spit on the ground.  He had come there to fight, and so far all he had down was play punching bag for Negative Death.  With the exception of Killzone, all the other Hell Spawns had been dealt with.  As the tattooed teen charged at him, he decided that this was his last chance to prove himself.  His chance for revenge. 

 

            Devilish trampled at Crash, his freak arms outstretched.  The younger teenager stood his ground, and pulled on his lower lip with his teeth.  His brow furrowed as he reached out with his ability and thrust Devilish into the air. 

            Devilish tried to fight against the force drawing him upwards.  When he realized that it was hopeless he stopped, reverted back to his normal self, and began taunting the young boy. 

            “That’s it?  That’s all you can do is lift me up?”  Devilish screamed.  “Is this supposed to hurt?” 

            Crash craned his neck back as he continued to raise the older boy higher and higher into the air.  He judged the height by that of the building closest to him, stopping the ascent at four stories.   

            “Can you fly?” Crash called back with a delightful sneer. 

            “No, I just grow long claws that I use to hack little boys to death.” 

            “Then yeah, this is supposed to hurt.”  Crash said as he stopped lifting the gang member in the air and let him fall to the ground. 

            Devilish cried out as he plummeted to the ground below.  His body slammed against the ground, raising slightly, but not enough to be considered a bounce. 

            Crash didn’t know if he were alive or not.  He didn’t care.  The only thing he knew for sure was that he wasn’t in a position to hurt anyone anymore.   

            “That was for Little Ghost.” 

 

 

            The two heroes began circling the gang leader.  Killzone spun slowly, trying to keep an eye on both of them.  He lifted his hands and waved them in. 

            “Come on.” 

            Diamond Dog moved first, swinging at him from too far away to actually connect.  The tiny titan instinctively tried to catch his arm and took an extended crystal spike to the palm of his hand.  DD grew out the spike from the back of his hand, trying to spear the powered thug. 

            Killzone drew his hand back and examined his palm.  The spike hadn’t gone deep, but it did break the skin.  It drew blood. 

            “Aarrghhhh!” screamed the injured gang leader.  The wound made him focus all his attention on DD and he forgot about the Aggressor. 

            The vigilante came up from behind and delivered a flurry of punches to the back of his head.  The attacks sent him reeling forward and into a follow up attack from DD.  The two realized that the best way to maintain the advantage and possibly win the fight was to keep the older teen off balance. 

            Diamond Dog hit Killzone with an uppercut that took him off his feet.  The two heroes continued with a barrage of punches as he fell.  The turning tide didn’t last long.  On his back, Killzone drove a heel into DD’s knee, fracturing the quartz and bringing him down.  A second kick knocked him backwards, and he skimmed along the wet street. 

            The twisted gang member brought his legs up and wrapped them around the Aggressor’s upper body.  He flung him over and pounded him into the ground.  With a deft twist and grab, he caught the night vigilante in an armbar.  He tugged backwards on the arm, threatening to pull it out of socket. 

            “Weren’t expecting that, were you?” he taunted.  “See, that’s your problem.  You don’t know how to fight someone who is invulnerable.”  

            Killzone pulled back again, making the Aggressor grimace.  He wanted to make him scream, make him howl in pain, but he wouldn’t do it.  The Aggressor would let his arm be yanked out of socket, even ripped clean off, before he would ever give him the satisfaction. 

            “Being invulnerable just means that you have a thicker denser skin.  It takes more for something to damage it, or penetrate it.  But, on the other side of that, are a lot of soft organs, which are tougher, but they’re not that tough.  You may not bleed, but you still bruise.  It also doesn’t stop something like this.” 

            Diamond Dog stood and started to jump back into the fight, but was stopped before he could.  

 

            “So you did learn something from me, Terrence.  It’s a shame it was all the wrong things.”  Came a familiar voice.

 

            All eyes turned to greet the stranger behind the voice.  From across the tracks came an older man dressed in all black leather.  The suit was well made and looked like something one of the heroes would wear.  Its design wasn’t noticeable from a distance, but as the man got closer they could all see the faint outline of black on black patterns.  Had the stranger wore the mask that was certain to have been made for it, his presence would have been intimidating.  Instead, those gathered gasped and stared in bewilderment.  The stranger’s long grey hair, pulled back into a single braided ponytail, and his wise countenance didn’t match the fearsome costume. 

            Diamond Dog, Electric Blue, and Crash couldn’t believe their eyes.  What was Guru doing there, and why was he dressed like that? 

 

            “No, I learned all the right things from you.” Killzone replied.  “I learned how not to be weak, and how to take what I want.  Power rules this world.  You can have anything you want as long as you got the power to take it.  Money.  Women.  Anything.  It’s all yours if you’ve got the power to take it.” 

            “I wish you knew just how wrong you are.” 

            Killzone released the Aggressor’s arm and shoved him away with his feet.  He stood slowly. 

            “Is that Halloween costume supposed to scare me?” 

            “No.  It’s to show you and everyone else that true power means the opposite of what you just said.”  Guru walked slowly towards Killzone.  The younger man held his ground.  He kept his arms down and cocked his chin up. 

            “You tryin’ ta teach me another lesson?” 

            “Not this time I’m afraid.” 

            Guru held his hand out, a few inches from Killzone’s chest and hit him with a blast of kinetic force that picked the small man up and flung him across the street.  The gang leader crashed into the building across the street, crushing the brick and mortar exterior. 

            Killzone jumped to his feet and charged at the older man.  He drew his fist back preparing to hit him with the most powerful punch he had.   Guru didn’t change his stance, and continued to stand with his hand outstretched.  The powerhouse propelled his fist forward, putting everything he had into the punch.  The attack hit the invisible kinetic force barrier that Guru extended, robbing it of all its inertia. 

            Guru returned the stolen inertia with a downward slap the knocked the gang leader to the ground, forcing the water away from them like a small circular tidal wave. The force cracked the blacktop and drove Killzone’s knees into the street. 

            The intensity of the blow was more than the titan had ever felt before.  It was as if the entire Earth had been dropped on his head and shoulders.  The crushing weight rolled down his body in waves of immense pain.  He could feel his bones cracking and his muscles tearing.  The pain was indescribable. 

            He sat on his knees and waited, hoping that the pain would subside.  Killzone’s face started to swell and blood ran from his crushed nose and busted lips.  He used his tongue to push the loose teeth from his mouth and over his stinging lips. 

 

            “I’m sorry, Terrence.” Guru said to his former student.  His failure.  Guru felt responsible for everything that had happened.  Had he been able to find a way to get through to him, to connect, maybe none of this would have happened.  There would be no Hell Spawns, and Caroline would still be alive. 

            “I’m so sorry I failed you, but it’s over now.”

 

            The beaten punk laughed and tried to spit blood at them with swelling lips.  “Over?  It’s not over.  We still win.”  He beat the wet ground with the flat of his hands, splashing water on them. 

            “Napalm!  Do it!  Do it!” Killzone screamed through busted bloody lips.  He gargled a wet laugh. 

            “Do you know who she is?  You know what she does?” Killzone asked the victors around him.  “She turns water to flame.  Water to flame!  Look around you!” 

            Guru and the others survey the immediate area.  The busted hydrants continued to spray water all over the streets.  The water had begun to run down along the train tracks and into Future City.  Not only were they soaked to the skin and standing in an inch of water, but so were the buildings surrounding them.  On the other side of the tracks, the police, their cars, the reporters, and bystanders were standing in a shallow pool. 

 

            Napalm heard Killzone scream her name and cut her eyes over at him.  She wondered if she could do it. 

            Could she set the entire town ablaze?  Could she kill all these people?  Would she do it?  Would she do it for him? 

 

            Napalm saw Blue approaching her and backed away.  In her head, the vision of Brutal being electrocuted played over and over again.  Watching the young boy cook from the inside out turned her stomach.  The memory of the scent of burnt hair and burning flesh made her gag.  Napalm turned away and tried to get the image out of her head. 

            Napalm continued to back away.  Blue continued to move forward.  Ropes of pure electricity reached out from the tension wires above her head and took hold of her.  The power flowed into her body, warm and inviting.  It was different from any other time Blue had used her abilities.  This time, she wasn’t afraid.  She welcomed the deadly element and let it become a part of her. 

            The Hell Spawn member could barely look at the glowing teenager that glided towards her.  Her feet were only a few inches above the puddles on the ground.  She had never in her life seen something so beautiful and so frightening at the same time.  Napalm tore herself away from the glowing death that moved towards her and looked at Killzone.

            The Hell Spawns fallen leader was on his knees cackling.  Thick strands of blood ran from pummeled mouth, down his chest, and along his chest. 

 

            Blue stopped a few feet away from Napalm and hovered.  The brilliance that radiated from her was near blinding.  She wasn’t aware.  Her mind was being torn between the joyous sensations of millions of sparking and popping electrons, and stopping the Hell Spawns. 

            Napalm squinted against the light.  The hairs on her arm stood up, and she could feel the metal in her clothing pulling away from her.  The hair on her head lifted and tugged at the root. 

            She looked down at the overflow of water soaking into her canvas shoes.  Across from her, the water popped and fizzled with the proximity of electricity.  Napalm kept her hands by her sides, not wanting to make any movement. 

 

            “Did you know that electricity moves at near the speed of light?  That’s over a hundred and eighty thousand miles per second.  I could fry you in less time than it takes to blink your eye.”  Blue said in a matter of fact tone. 

            Napalm turned her head again to look at Killzone.  Her eyes drifted up to the heroes that stood over him, and then over to Ripper’s lifeless body.  She turned her head back towards Electric Blue, her head slightly down to avoid being blinded. 

            “!@#$ this.  I quit!” she said in a calm firm voice before turning and walking away.   

 

 

            From across the tracks the crowd cheered the heroes’ victory.  For a moment, everyone just stared at each.  They couldn’t believe the events that had just transpired.  It wasn’t until the people in Yesterday Town started to applaud and come out of their houses did it seem real.  The police drove their cars across the tracks and began arresting the defeated Hell Spawn members. 

            The assemblage of people swarmed the streets of Yesterday Town, some steeping foot in that part of Argo City for the first time.  All of them wanting a piece of the new heroes. 

            The Aggressor smiled and slinked away into the shadows.  

 

            Blue slowly powered down, relaxing and letting the electricity flow harmlessly back to where it came from.  Diamond Dog watched in awe. 

            “You did it.” He said with a grin that practically stretched around his head.    

            “Yeah.” Blue said sheepishly.  “Yeah, I did.” 

            “We did it!” Crash interrupted.  “We won.” 

            “Yeah.” Blue replied, barely acknowledging him.  She stared into DD’s eyes. 

            The older boy took her in his arms and held her tight. 

            “I can’t believe Guru showed up.” Crash said.  Blue and Diamond Dog pulled away from each other and looked out among the cheering crowds that rushed the streets. 

            “Where did he go?” DD asked.  He scanned the maddening crowd.  He could see him pushing against the swell of the crowd, like a salmon moving upstream.  He was headed towards the reporter. 

            “Guru!” DD called after their mentor.  The three sprinted after him.  “Guru, wait!” 

 

            Scarlett stared at the Guru as he approached her.  Her eyes focused on the black leather suit he wore.  Her mind clicked, rolling through thousands of images, trying to find a match.  She knew that costume.  It belonged to someone from long ago.  Someone no longer in the game. 

            “I need to speak with you and those watching.  For several years, I have found children with abilities who have run away from their homes; scared of who they are.  I took them in, gave them food and shelter, and taught them how to control their abilities.  I did this to try and make up for my past indiscretions.   I wanted to give something back to make amends for all the hurt that I caused.” 

            Tears rolled down Guru’s face as he confessed his sins to millions of viewers. 

            “At first I tried to hide away from the world.  I hoped that time would heal the injuries I had caused, but I was wrong.  Time doesn’t forget or forgive.  Only redemption can free a darkened soul.” 

            “Who are you?” 

            “My name is Xander Atwell.  The children I have been protecting and training know me as Guru.  Before that, I was known by another name.  Years ago, I went by the name…” 

            “Oh my God.” Scarlett blurted as the memory recalled and the realization struck. 

            “Abysmal.” 

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I don’t know?  Do I even sleep anymore?  “To die.  To sleep.  To sleep perchance to dream.”  Well, I know that I’m not dreaming ‘cause my spinning top keeps falling over. 

Where was I?  Oh yeah… 

So, I haven’t posted in awhile.   Sorry.  I’ve had so many things going on at one time; it feels like I’m trying to travel to the moon by slingshot.  But, I have found a way, after a long period of time, to make some headway.  With the Charlotte Heroes Con quickly approaching, June 3rd through the 5th, I’ve been busting my brain to get some stories cranked out.  Unfortunately, time has a way of catching up on you like Jason Voorhees in a dense forest.  You think you have a sizable lead and can stay ahead of it because it’s moving so slow, then – BAM!  You’re out of time.  Well, I fell for time’s trick again, this time with a more serious ramification. 

There will be no stand alone Unwanted Heroes story for the con.  Yes, Terror IX From Outer Space will not be finished in time.  “Oh no!”  “I know.”  And, as it’s looking right now, *sigh* the collected volumes, II &III, won’t be printed in time.  So, with all the stuff that’s not getting done, and a chapter that’s two weeks over due, what have I been doing?  Trying to push them all to make the deadline.  There has to come a time when you need to abandon one project or risk them all falling behind.  Yeah, I didn’t recognize that time when the alarm went off.  Well, to try and make up, of sorts, here’s what I do have –

Unwanted Heroes chapter XXX will go online Friday night.  Not only that, but it’s a double sized chapter.  We’re talking 11-12 pages.  This chapter carries us into the next stage and begins the conclusion of our first story arc.  It’s good.  Some people finally get what’s coming to them. 

In addition to that, I’ve officially finished the script to Fairy Tale Knights book 2, and Wolly has started the preliminary breakdowns for it.  We’re shooting to have all five issues done and printed before the end of this year.  After that, we are going to take a small break and come back to it with issue 6 and see the world after the events in issue 5.  It’s going to be good.  So, speaking about Fairy Tale Knights, issue one is being printed now, and will be on sale at the Heroes Con. 

I encourage everyone to come and check it out.  The talent pool keeps growing with amazing guests.  Some of the people set to attend are:

            Neal Adams

            Ethan Van Sciver

            John Arcudi

            Geoff Darrow

            Tommy Lee Edwards

            Matt Fraction

            Jackson Guice

            Ed McGuiness

            Kevin Nowlan

            Tim Sales, and so many others. 

 

This is going to be an amazing year with an incredible turn out. 

So, I hope this helps to explain everything, and assuage the anger for falling behind.  As a reminder, Friday, chapter XXX.  Not to be missed. 

           

“With insomnia nothing’s real.  Everything’s a copy, of a copy, of a copy.”

 

JeraleC

Mindseyechronicles@comcast.net

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            Dan Montgomery ushered his wife and two small children into the back bedroom of their cramped and dilapidated apartment in Yesterday Town.  He paid too much for the tiny rundown space, devoting three of his weekly paychecks to pay the rent, but it was all he could afford.  The same size place in Future City would cost twice as much, and his job at the factory couldn’t support that.  As it was, what he brought in left him two hundred dollars in debt every month once all the bills came in.  His wife, Linda, did various home based jobs to make up the difference. 

            Living was lean and rough, but it was all they had.  The chaos and calamity that roared outside and echoed off the walls of the cheaply made apartment threatened to tear it all down. 

 

            Killzone stood triumphant atop a pile of wrecked cars.  Two of the three cars were abandoned vehicles that had sat on the streets for months.  The top car wasn’t new, but had been in working condition prior to being pounded into submission and stacked on top of the other heaps. 

            “This is out night, Hell Spawns!” he bellowed into the night air.  Around him the other Hell Spawns terrorized the residents of Yesterday Town.  Still bodies peppered the weathered streets.  The Hell Spawns attacked anyone who stepped outside, even those trying to escape the mayhem.  The gang tormented the residents, attacking their homes and forcing them into the streets. 

            KIllzone leapt off his automobile mountain and down to the sidewalk below.  He wrenched a postal mailbox from its cement housing and tossed it through an apartment window.  The mailbox ripped through the window, tearing down a large section of the brick wall that framed it.  The mailbox was nothing short of a small missile, and obliterated everything in its path. 

            The apartment was still, save for the sound of its demolished contents settling into their open graves.  Minutes went by before the owner of the apartment believed it was safe enough to make a break for freedom.  The frightened man cautiously emerged from the hole in the wall where a window and air conditioning unit had previously been.  His head snapped left and right as he checked to see if a member of the Hell Spawns was nearby. 

            The older man, his blonde hair streaked with sweeps of grey hair, climbed out of the wreckage of his home and scampered for the train tracks three blocks away.  The tracks were the dividing line that separated Yesterday Town from Future City.  If he could make it there, he’d be safe.  If he could make it there. 

            Once the now homeless man was out in the open, Devilish made his move.  He sprinted along the street; his freakishly long arms dangling behind him.  The talons that protruded from his fingertips drug the asphalt as he ran.  There was no escape.  The old man was butchered before the watching eyes of the other discarded residents.  They cowered behind drawn curtains and cheap wooden doors, wondering how long they had before they would meet a similar fate.

 

            The remaining Hell Spawns paraded up and down the streets like a third world death squad, looking for any reason to kill.  Each member had their job. 

            What seemed like random chaos and terror was actually a well orchestrated plan of destruction.  Killzone and his crew followed the directions, as laid down by the Big Man, via Number Five, to the letter; with one addition.  Killzone’s goodbye present to Yesterday Town. 

            The target of their destructive rampage had been chosen for its proximity to Future City.  Their terror tactics were designed to draw the Aggressor to them.  The plan was to bring the vigilante into a public forum so that his death would be witnessed by people in both Yesterday Town and Future City.  And once he was dead, Killzone and his gang were going to blow town… literally. 

 

*****

            Diamond Dog listened to the stared out at the irresistible glow of Future City.  The city was like a beacon of brilliance and technology, lit by over two million artificial stars.  The city nights were just as bright as its days, but with a little more radiance.  At night everything seemed to glow and pulse with a life that called to its residents like an electronic sirens call. 

            The elder teenager listened to the police band radio while he lost himself in the visual pleasure of the world outside his window.  He couldn’t help it.  Even the police cars that raced down the still crowded streets were intoxicating to the eyes.  The city was magical in its own right.  Like a real life OZ. 

            The radio white noise static helped Diamond Dog to temporarily forget his troubles.  In his mind he floated out over the city and was awash its unnatural glow.  He swooped under street lights and glided above the flashing LED signs.  He saw the smiling faces of the people below as they moved about from one happy place to another. 

            He had never seen Future City at night, save for his first day there.  That instance had him filled with fear and worry.  A stranger in an even stranger land.  He was too scared to enjoy its beauty and magnificence. 

 

            The radio squeaked, and rapid fire directions poured out. 

            “All westbound units respond!”  the box cried.  “Reports of gang violence at the Argo City train station.  Repeat. Gang violence at the AC train station.  Approach with caution.” 

            The words ripped Diamond Dog out of daydreaming and grounded him back in reality.  The words echoed in his head.  Argo City train station.  The train station was on the edge of Yesterday Town.  The now defunct Argo City railway tracks were on the west side of the city and divided Future City from Yesterday Town. 

            Gang violence in Yesterday Town. 

            The answer hit him like a punch in the stomach, and his knees waivered.  Diamond Dog’s head snapped over at the others who had been sitting around the living room watching TV.  Their eyes locked and their hearts collectively skipped a beat. 

            The words came out in a whisper but had the intensity of an atomic bomb. 

            “The Hell Spawns.”

 

******

 

            Sirens cried a charge into the air, signaling the approach of the cavalry.  The valiant knights coming to the rescue of the peasants of Yesterday Town.  Or so it would seem.  The residents knew otherwise.  Argo city police rarely patrolled the streets of Yesterday Town at night.  Though the mayor had divided the city in half, it was still officially called Argo city, and the public officials had a responsibility to take care of all its citizens.  Some they left to the law enforcement’s discretion. 

            As expected, the Argo city police drew the line on the opposite side of the train tracks.  The officers got out of their cars and watched.  None of them were brave or stupid enough to cross the threshold.  Just like none of the Hell Spawn would dare leave their protected area. 

            Some of the veteran cops compared it to the Vietnam War, soldiers being attacked from over the Cambodian border, and unable to retaliate.  Their public disapproval and outspoken comments did nothing to solidify their backbones, and they too refused to cross the tracks. 

 

            The Hell Spawns didn’t care.  The police’s sole purpose was to bear witness and spread the word of the Aggressor’s death.  They had to be there to give credence to the story of the vigilante’s fall.  The story would pass like a virus throughout the city, from the cops, to the people, to the other heroes.  They would all know that the Hell Spawns were major players in the heroes and villains game, and when they made their presence known in Future City, all would fear them. 

 

            “Car Two Fifty Seven  to dispatch.” called the Roger Westerman, senior on the scene.  “We’re at the AC train station on the Future City side.  The Hell Spawns are on the scene.  We have positive ID on Killzone and Devilish.  The suspects have attacked several civilians.  There appear to be multiple casualties.” 

            “Acknowledged           , Two Fifty Seven.  Observe and Report.  Do not engage.  Repeat.  Don not engage.” 

            “Roger, dispatch.” 

 

            Killzone marched across the street to the block corner closest to the railroad tracks.  He put his foot atop the fire hydrant rooted in the curb, threw back his head, and laughed at everyone watching.  He took a step back, his foot sliding from the top of the hydrant and lined himself up.  Killzone drew back his leg and punted the fire hydrant into the air and across the train tracks.  The metal football flew over the police officer’s heads and disappeared somewhere several blocks inside Future City. 

            The gang leader laughed again, even louder this time, as water erupted from the ground, soaking him and flooding the streets.  The escaping water ran everywhere at once, fleeing from its cylindrical prison. 

            The Argo city cops exchanged glances with one another.  The actions of the young gang left them confused.  There seemed to be no purpose for their rampage.  The Hell Spawns weren’t moving towards Future City and endangering the citizens there.  It didn’t make any sense to them. 

            The officer Westerman called out to Killzone from the speaker in his car. 

 

            “Be advised, if you step foot in Future City you will be fired upon and arrested!” 

            Killzone scoffed at the cowardly officers as he strode across the street to another fire hydrant, diagonal from the first.  He ran a hand through his wet short cut hair slicking it back. 

            “Please desist in terrorizing these people!” 

            “No!” Killzone screamed back at them with a smile so wicked he could have been mistaken for the Grinch.  He stood several feet behind the second fire hydrant and stared into Future City. 

            “Tell us what you want!”  the officer called to him. 

            “To be a member of the Argo City Titans!” Killzone punctuated the statement with another kick and hydrant field goal. 

            “What do you think?  Think they’ll take me?” 

            The entire teen gang erupted in laughter.  The cacophony of their delight echoed off the stone walls of the surrounding buildings.  Though only Killzone and Devilish could be seen from the cops vantage point, they assumed that the others were nearby.  The riotous laughter confirmed their suspicions.  Several of the officers were suddenly relieved that they hadn’t broken rank and entered Yesterday Town after all.  It would have been a massacre.   

 

            The squad car radio squawked and blurted out commands to the senior officer and the others. 

            “Car Two Fifty Seven, what’s your status?” 

            “Two Fifty Seven to dispatch.  We are still at the city line.  Objects have been thrown in our direction.  No injuries to report.  The Hell Spawns are still on their territory.” 

            “Acknowledged, Two Fifty Seven.  Orders remain observe and report.  Do not engage suspects unless they cross the city line.  Repeat.  Do not engage unless they step into Future City.  Over.”

            “Roger that.  Two Fifty Seven out.” 

 

            Officer Westerman’s eyes glanced over the faces of his fellow police officers.  A knot formed in the center of his stomach that felt as if his entire intestinal track had tried to retreat inside itself.  He could tell from the expressions on the other men’s faces that they felt the same way.  Their job was to serve and protect.  He felt as though he were betraying everything that he stood for.  Not because he followed orders that told him to watch good hard working people be terrorized and killed, but because he was happy that the orders told him not act.  Because the orders helped to mask his cowardice. 

            The city and all its officials had turned its back on the industrial area of Argo city.  They had dubbed it Yesterday Town, and cut off all support that it could.  Gentrification overlooked by cowardice and greed.  Westerman tried to blame it on the governor, the mayor, and everyone with a pay grade above his, but the truth was, he was just as responsible.  He turned his back on everyone that lived west of the train tracks.  He suddenly felt the pain of every rape, robbery, and murder that had taken place in Yesterday Town since he became a police officer. 

            The emotional backlash was too much for him, and officer Westerman stepped inside his car, closed the door, and cried. 

 

 

            Killzone batted at the water that sprayed from the hole in the ground; his clothes were beyond drenched.   He watched as the water pooled and flowed down the street.  The streets were flooding, but it wasn’t enough.  He wanted more.  More water.  He wanted all of Yesterday Town to drown.  The demented powerhouse pushed against the water spout and tried to angle it at the nearby buildings.  He even turned his hand towards the police and tried to spray water their way. 

            He wanted to bust open more hydrants, but couldn’t.  The closest ones were at least two blocks away.  He couldn’t leave the area next to the train tracks.  Now that the police were there, it was only a matter of time before the Aggressor arrived. 

            Killzone spat, and hoped that what was flowing would be enough for his dramatic ending. 

 

            “Hey!  What the hell?!” cried one of the officers across the tracks.  The Argo city cop was shoved aside as a mysterious figured slid into his car and slammed the door. 

            The car tires squelched and choking black smoke rolled along the group of police officers.  The patrol car busted through the line and across the train tracks, lifting into the air as it bounded over the raised metal lines.  The vehicle’s high beams and driver side searchlight ripped through the dim light of the Yesterday Town street, exposing Heartless and Napalm in their hiding places.  The siren roared like an angry beast announcing its intent to attack. 

            The barreled down the cracked street and homed in on Killzone.  The Hell Spawn leader stood his ground as the squad car raced towards. 

 

            Westerman threw open the door and hopped back out into the tense air.  The moonless night hid his red puffy eyes and tear streaked cheeks. 

            “Hold your positions!” the commanding officer cried over the loud speaker.  He didn’t know which of his men had broken formation, but knew he didn’t want things to escalate.  As much as he hated to do it, whoever it was that broke the line was on their own.  Neither he, nor any of the other cops would cross the tracks to save him.  In his heart, he praised the brave soul that did what he could not. 

 

            Killzone crouched into a tackling position and dug his feet into the ground.  He squinted against the blinding light that trained on him and curled his upper lip. 

            “Come on.” He said with a grin. 

            The powered twenty year old sprang forward just as the squad car was about to hit him.  He forced his shoulder into the front bumper, forcing it through the grill and into the engine.  He continued to move forward and the car split around him like a banana peel.  The engine was shoved back into the car and tore through the dash panel and lodged itself between the backseat and the trunk. 

            Killzone found himself trapped in the wreckage of the demolished squad car and tried to extract himself from the twisted metal.  His right foot was caught in the remains of the front seat, while his left arm and leg were tangled in the various wires and hoses that had ripped free. 

            Neither the gang leader, nor his followers, had noticed the man that had flung himself from the driver’s seat just before impact.  None of them even gave the driver a second thought until the remnants of the police car burst into flames. 

            Devilish saw him first and tried to issue a warning to the others.  His inability to speak in his monstrous form gave the attacker the time he needed to make his second strike. 

            “Harggkhl!” Devilish gargled. 

            His unintelligible sounds were suddenly drowned out by the sound of the police car exploding.  The sound was near deafening as the explosion reverberated in the perfectly acoustic open area.  Killzone’s flaming body could barely be seen amidst the burning carnage.  Flaming piece of plastic and metal arced through the air like fiery arrows.  It would have been beautiful to watch had it not been so destructive. 

            Cowering inside homes, the residents of Yesterday Town wondered if things were getting any better, or worse.  None of them dared to leave their homes. 

 

            The Aggressor had ignited a flare prior to exiting the car, and was hoping the crash would rupture the gas tank.  He used the explosion to distract the pang of powered teens and gain the upper hand.  He dashed across the street and moved straight towards Devilish.  The demonic looking teen had tried calling out to his friends, but none of them heard him.  The Aggressor had taken an extendable baton and a side-handle baton from the police car prior to his departure.  He used both to subdue the alarmed gang member. 

            Devilish swung a razor clawed hand at the Aggressor, who blocked it with the side-handle baton and countered with a downward strike with the other baton.  The blow dazed the teen for a few seconds, but it was all the vigilante needed to drop him to the ground.  The Aggressor held the side-handle baton by the short handle with the longer end flush against his forearm.   As the Hell Spawn member’s head dropped from the first hit, he followed the strike with a second, cracking him across his elongated jaw the side of the baton.  The final blow was a skull cracking blow to the top of Devilish’s head, knocking him unconscious. 

            The Aggressor scanned the area for his next victim.  He had to move quickly, and try to subdue as many as he could before Killzone freed himself from the demolished police car.  There were two more he could take out with relative ease, leaving the most dangerous for last.  He couldn’t allow all of them to converge on him at once.  His invulnerability had limits, and he had no intentions of finding out what they were. 

            If he could take down Heartless and Napalm, the all he’d have to concern himself with was Negative Death and Killzone.  The Aggressor had a plan for the shadow teen.  All he had to do was wait until the right time.  He had to be careful, though, if he used his special weapon too soon, then it wouldn’t work, and he wouldn’t get a second chance. 

            With the gang leader, he simply had to tire him out.  The Hell Spawns had no formal training and relied solely on their powers to fight.  The Aggressor counted on Killzone having very little endurance and stamina.  He was certain that if the fight went for longer than fifteen minutes, then the leader would run out of energy and he’d be able to take him down. 

            Take him down.  The Aggressor hadn’t decided how he was going to handle the Hell Spawns.  He wasn’t against killing, and in some cases saw it as the only recourse.  The gang was a menace, but he wasn’t sure they deserved to die.  For them, life in the Locker could be just as bad.  Plus, with the police watching, would they allow him to continue to operate in Future City if they watched him murder a group of teenagers before their eyes? 

            True, he had killed before, and many of them rightly attributed the deaths to him, but it wasn’t a certainty.  They hadn’t witnessed it with their own eyes.  Did he really want to take the chance? 

            No.  Not against them.  The Hell Spawns weren’t worth the risk.  The Big Man, that was another story.  He’d strangle him to death before the Supreme Court. 

 

            The Aggressor’s eyes darted around the streets, peering into every dark corner and doorway.  He had seen the two girl members as he drove the squad car across the tracks, but lost them when he jumped free. 

            “Damn!” he spat through gritted teeth.  He didn’t have much time before Killzone would be free, and it would be him versus the four of them. 

            The Aggressor knew better than to go into a battle, especially one such as this, with only one plan of attack.  It was reckless and stupid.  Unfortunately, it was also the only way he could think of.  Divide and conquer, but on a faster scale.  He had sent an alert to the Justice Squad as soon as he heard the call over the police radio.  He put little stock in any of them showing up.  He envisioned them off fighting some alien menace, or just too self involved to care. 

            This was a street crime; meaning it was his beat.  He was alone on this one, and losing was not an option. 

            The hair raising sound of twisting metal, like fingernails on a chalkboard, grabbed the Aggressor’s attention.  He snapped to the rear and watched in semi-awe as Killzone pried himself from the burning car and walked nonchalantly over to the fountain of water.  The human inferno moved like a fiery ghost, almost drifting across the street. 

            A hissing sound, like a thousand snakes, floated on the light breeze across the train station courtyard as the fires were extinguished by the eruption of water.  Killzone stepped out of the reverse waterfall, his clothes barely intact and covering very little of short stocky frame, and wiped the water from his face. 

            “’Bout time you showed up.” said the Hell Spawn leader.   “Get him!” 

            Fingerless gloved hands reached from the darkness at the Aggressor’s feet and clutched his ankles.  The darkness pulled away, dragging the hands with it, and with them, the Aggressor’s legs and balance.  The vigilante tipped forward, bringing his head into perfect alignment with the charging Killzone. 

            The gang leader planted his shoulder into the top of the hero’s head, jarring his neck and shoulders.  The Aggressor’s eyes crossed, and he was stunned for several seconds.  His arms and legs went limp, and his vision blurred. 

            The hero’s body bounced and rolled across the street like human tumbleweed.  He tried to get to his feet, but couldn’t immediately get his legs to respond to commands. 

            Killzone bopped towards him with his cocky swagger.  His gate was over exaggerated and obnoxious.  Napalm and Heartless emerged from their hiding spaces.  Heartless held her hand out at him, and Aggressor knew she was using her telekinetic abilities to keep his legs from moving.  From over his shoulder, Negative Death’s flesh body peeled out of its shadow form.  He put his hands on the vigilante’s shoulders and looked down at him from over the top of his head. 

            “Looks like we got ‘em, boss.” 

            Killzone cracked his knuckles.  “Goodbye Yesterday Town.  Hello Future City.”     

 

            Westerman snatched the radio from the console and screamed at the faceless dispatcher on the other end. 

            “Dispatch we have an incident!  The Aggressor is on the scene and has engaged the Hell Spawns!” 

            “Two Fifty Seven, please repeat.  The Aggressor is on scene?”

            “Roger, dispatch!  The Aggressor is on the scene and has engaged the Hell Spawns!  He needs assistance!” 

            “Roger Two Fifty Seven.  Orders are to hold your positions and continue to observe.  Out.” 

 

******

 

            “Car Two Fifty Seven  to dispatch.  We’re at the AC train station on the Future City side.  The Hell Spawns are on the scene.  We have positive ID on Killzone and Devilish.  The suspects have attacked several civilians.  There appear to be multiple casualties.” 

 

            Diamond Dog threw his feet into the new shoes that Guru had bought for him and raced for the elevator. 

            Blue rose from the couch and called to him. 

            “Where are you going?” 

            Diamond Dog’s eyes looked at her with anger and hate greater than anything she could ever imagine.  

            “To get revenge!”

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             Well, as you may have noticed, Chapter XXVIII was a week late.  Sorry.  That was planned, but it wasn’t planned.  Let me ‘splain.  No, there is too much, let me sum up.  I was planning to temporarily move Unwanted Heroes updates to every three weeks during the spring to give me more time to work on the collected editions, and the convention stand alone, Terror IX from Outer Space.  In addition to that, I still have to write the regular chapters, and do the breakdowns on Fairy Tale Knights issues 2 &3.  Plus, I’ve been collaborating with my good friend James on a Steampunk story.  The details are working out rather nicely, and we should have a nice little novella on our hands.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with James, we worked together on the soon to be defunct site Raptorface www.raptorface.com, and you can check him out on his other site, here:  http://www.gummymind.com/

            It’s been a while since I done this, let’s do an update, shall we.  First off, Fairy Tale Knights preview book is available for digital download here: http://www.rebelstarstudios.com/p/store.html.  If you are unfamiliar with the story, spend a dollar and check it out.  IT’S A DOLLAR!!  Gee whiz Scrooge McDuck, splurge a little.  The story is about a girl named Mila and her wolf familiar/friend Patrick.  Mila is a knight in the order of the Red Hood and protects the Land of Imagine, filled with fairytale characters from each other and outside forces.  That’s the elevator speech version.  The preview has an 8 page story, plus character sketches and details about the five issue series.  My partner and artist on this is Antwon “Wolly Vinyl” McNair.  He is also the creator of the book.  You can see more of his work and check out his convention schedule at his site (same site as the store): http://www.rebelstarstudios.com/

            I hope everyone is enjoying Unwanted Heroes, errors and all. *groan*  Unfortunately, the schedule that I’ve been keeping with the writing and the posting has been very last minute, and hasn’t given me the opportunity to edit it as well as I would like, or is needed.  We are getting close to a close for the first story arc, and, if all goes well, we should be wrapping up about mid-summer.  Hopefully, about chapter forty.  After that, the plan is to take a short break, focus on 117 Days in Hell, and then return to writing Unwanted Heroes book 2.  As a reminder, book two will not be posted in chapters on the site, and will be published as a complete book.  Right now, I’ve been re-editing the chapters for a reprinting of the first six and Bury My Mask at Washington Square, as well as the other chapters.  Collection one is getting a name, tentatively titled “Face the Strange.”  Collection two will be “It Never Rains, But It Pours” and three, “Just For One Day.”  If you’ve been following the story, then the titles are pretty clear.  “The final collection will be, “Ashes to Ashes.”  

            Now, I’ll give you a little info on Terror IX from Outer Space.  This story tells the end of the heroes first encounter with the Cycksiks aka Terror IX.  It involves Colonel Courageous and Major Tom going to the Cycksiks’ planet and wrecking shop.  I promise plenty of action. 

            Okay, time to wrap this up.  With the chapter schedule temporarily stretched out, expect more regular posts and updates.  Oh, and for those of you living nearby, I will be attending the Roanoke Valley ComiCon on April 2nd.  Stop by and say hi, grab a book or two.  I should have some copies of the FTK preview book on hand as well as some mini-posters and flyers.  More info on the RVCC: http://www.untamedworlds.com/rvc/rvc.html

 

Be good.  God Bless.  “Let’s just keep rockin’ and rollin’, man.”

 

JeraleC

Mindseyechronicles@comcast.net

 

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Chapter XXVII

 

            Diamond Dog tried to memorize the path Guru took them through in the poorly lit underground tunnels, but was lost after the sixth turn and second interchange.  There was officially no going back now.  As they went further into the unknown, he found himself slowing down.  Soon he was at the rear of the procession.  He didn’t know if it was intentional, or if he was just too tired to keep up.  A part of him just wanted to stop and be lost in the maze of darkness. 

            DD realized then, that it was the former. 

            It was all gone.  Everything he had been trying so hard to get back was gone.  Family.  Friends.  A life.  An emotional connection with a female.  All gone.  Now he was stuck with starting all over again.  Or, was he?  He could just give up now and save himself years of anguish and torment.  Believing that everything was getting better, only to have it all come crashing down again. 

            “Was this his life now?”  DD wondered.  Normally after that thought came the question, Why?  He didn’t ask that this time.  The “why” didn’t matter.  It had happened.  The next question was, “What was he going to do now?  Fight, or quit?”  They both had their pros and cons.  The outcome of both were unknown.  And, much to his regret, they both took as much energy to do. 

            Diamond Dog realized that he had stopped walking, and was standing in the waning light of the stone corridor contemplating.  He looked ahead at the others as they trudged on.  His eyes fixed on Blue. 

            Blue walked autonomously with the others.  She hadn’t spoken to anyone, or done anything but follow behind Guru, carrying Little Ghost’s body.  As DD watched her move further and further from him, he saw her head lift up slightly.  She turned slowly and looked back at him standing alone in the shallow light.  Her eyes blinked, and she turned back around.  Her head lowered again and she continued on. 

            DD felt his legs moving before he had even decided that he was going.  He started walking towards the group, and picked up his pace to catch up. 

            No, he wouldn’t give up.  He didn’t know if things would get better or not, but he wouldn’t give up. 

            The group travelled until they came across a large metal door hidden in the darkness among the damp bricks and mildew.  Guru held a hand against the right side of the door, opposite the hinges. 

            “Stand back, children.” He said, his soft relaxed tone reappearing. 

            Everyone took two steps back.  Blue bumped into Diamond Dog as she moved backwards with the others.  He reached out and placed his hands on her waist to steady her and let her know it was him.  Blue didn’t say react to his touch, nor did she pull away.  DD let one hand fall away, but held on a bit tighter with the other. 

            Guru closed his eyes and took in a deep breath.  He blew the air out slowly and pushed his hand forward.  The force of his power butted against the door pushing it in and activating the lock release. 

            For almost a decade, the door had been sealed; hidden away from everyone.  For almost a decade Guru pretended that it didn’t exist.  He wasn’t trying to hide what was on the other side away from the world, he was trying to hide it away from himself.  For almost a decade the door was closed and abandoned; and now, it was being opened for the third time in a week. 

            Guru stepped back as the door unlocked and slowly slid open.  Light streamed from inside the hidden room, blinding the children whose eyes had become accustomed to the dark. 

            “Hurry.” said Guru.  “Step inside, children.” 

            The children fought against the blinding light and made their way into the room.  The footsteps of the orphaned residents of the Factory echoed off the metal floor.  Many of them looked around in desperation, confused by the feel of cold steel under their bare feet and the metal bars of the cage they had just entered. 

            Diamond Dog was the last to enter.  He had stopped just short of the “cage”.  Guru extended a hand from inside. 

            “Please.” Was all the elder mentor said.  DD took his hand and entered the cage. 

            The large metal door had begun to swing closed.  Guru waited until it locked.  He reached over his head and pulled a large metal door down over the entrance to the cage.  The door was solid metal on the lower half, with a diamond grid pattern on the upper half. 

            DD realized before Guru pushed the button that they were on a freight elevator. 

            A push of the fourth button, top of the row, made the elevator whine and begin carrying them up. 

            The children’s eyes had adjusted to being out of the dark by the time they reached the third floor.  Guru opened the door and ushered them out. 

            The group stopped a few feet outside the elevator and stared at their new surroundings. 

            They weren’t at the Factory anymore. 

            The floor outside the elevator was a shiny and slick oak.  The hardwood flooring led into the kitchen and to some rooms along the back half of the building.  The kitchen was large and fairly state-of-the-art.  Some of the appliances were a little outdated, but nothing compared to what the kids had been using back at the Factory.  Boxes of groceries, that had yet to be put away, lined the counters.  On the other side of the open kitchen was the living room and den.  Together, the room was twice the size of the Pit.  It was divided by a wall of multi-colored glass squares. 

            The living room had an air of tranquility about it.  It was clear that the room was used for quiet thought and relaxation.  A modest stereo system was centered in the bookcase of the far wall.  The bookcase was virtually empty, with only a few select books remaining, scattered across the dozen shelves.  Two unframed art pieces dangled from the ceiling over the handcrafted sofa, chaise longue, and glass table. Next to the bookcase was a fully stocked bar. 

            On the den side of the room, things were nearly the living room’s opposite.  Across from the bookcase wall was a projection screen and an audio system that would bust every glass in the building if turned up to its max.  A library of movies flanked the projection screen.  Unlike the bookshelves, the movie shelves were packed.  An abnormally large, plush couch was parked directly in front of the projection screen with only a wooden coffee table separating the two. 

            The two rooms shared a large floor to ceiling window that was covered with a heavy dark curtain. 

            It was Crash who made the realization of their new home.  He ran across the room and threw open the curtains.  The heavy fabric flew back and the early morning light flooded into the room.  It was like the dawning of a new age.  For a brief moment everyone forgot the pain and misery they had suffered hours before. 

            Outside the window people were already moving.  Some were headed to work to begin their day, while others passed by them, heading home from a night out.  The bright lights of neon letters and LED signs were fading away against the early morning sunshine.  Even at such an early hour, the traffic of people on the streets was steady and constant.  For every person that stepped inside a building, another was stepping out.  For every car that parked, another was pulling into traffic.  It wasn’t the city that never slept, it was the city that never stopped living.   

            Across the street from the window was the green grass and manicured trees of the greatest city park in North America. 

            Diamond Dog stepped forward, coming to stand next to Crash.  In the far distance, across the park, he could see the familiar cornice of the building that housed Cockrum’s Café. 

            Crash looked at DD with a huge smile. 

            “We’re in Future City.”

            Blue wanted to join the others in their moment of awe and wonder, but the pain she held in her arms stopped her.  She looked down at Caroline’s body and started to cry again.  It wasn’t fair.  She would have gladly given her own life so that Caroline could live. 

            “Why wasn’t she given that choice?  Why was it decided that she had to die?  Why did she have to die and leave her feeling so useless?  Helpless. Empty.” 

            Guru approached Blue with his arms outstretched.  The teenage girl looked up into his eyes. 

            “Let me take her.” Guru said in a voice even softer and more serene than normal.  

            Diamond Dog saw Guru and Blue’s reflection in the window and hurried over to them. 

            “It’s okay, Celia.  It’s okay.” Guru said. 

            Blue stared in the older man’s eyes.  She didn’t want to let her go.  There was nothing she could do for Caroline, but she couldn’t bring herself to let go of her body.  Blue was afraid of letting her down again.  She promised to protect her, and she broke her promise. 

            Guru cautiously moved closer to the teenager.  He slid his arms under Caroline’s body and lifted her out of Blue’s arms.  The feeling of the weight of Caroline’s body being lifted off of her was like losing the young girl all over again.  Blue collapsed. 

            DD had gotten across the room just in time to catch her.  He helped lower Blue to the floor, and knelt beside her. 

            “Where are you taking her?” Blue asked.  Her voice was cracked and dry. 

            “The hospital.  They’ll reunite her with her family.” 

            DD brushed Blue’s cheek and tried to smile.  Looking at the pain in her face, he couldn’t really find a reason to smile, but he tried anyway. 

            “I’ll be right back.” DD said. 

            Diamond Dog hurried over to Guru as he walked towards the elevator.  He stepped between the two of them and got in Guru’s face. 

            “What is this place?” DD demanded.  “Who are you?” 

            Guru looked around at the posh home, and his breath caught in his throat. 

            “This is a place I tried hard to forget.  It’s someone I tried to deny existed.” 

            He locked eyes with younger man, then looked over at Blue lying on the hardwood floor.  DD’s eyes followed. 

            “I promised you that I would explain it all later.  Right now, you have more important things to deal with.”  Guru tilted his head to the right, away from the living room and den.  “There are bedrooms back there.  Blue needs rest.  The others need food.  And you need water.” 

            Guru stepped around Diamond Dog and left him standing there.  He stepped inside the elevator and turned around to face the teenager. 

            “Take care of them.  We’ll talk when I get back.” 

            DD turned slowly.  He looked at the man who had been his mentor for almost a year.  Never had he steered him or any of the others wrong.  He took him in and taught him how to control his abilities.  Never once did he ask for anything in return.  He promised to explain, and DD owed him that.  In truth, he owed him more. 

            “Yes sir.”  DD said.  He grabbed the overhead gate and pulled it down so the elevator could start.  “I’ll take care of them.” 

            Guru looked up at the teenager as the elevator began its descent. 

            “I know you will.” 

*****

 

            Killzone punched the walls of the rooms on the fifth floor of the Hell Spawn lair.  He grabbed a nightstand next to the bed and threw it through the wall.  He was intent on destroying everything in his path. 

            The night had been planned to perfection.  It was the first step in Killzone’s glorious plan.  How could it have gone so wrong, so fast? 

            The other members of the Hell Spawns had seen fit to stay out of his way.  They’d seen their “leader” in one of his moods before, and knew that they didn’t want to be anywhere near him tonight.  The others went their own way soon after returning to their home.  It could prove deadly for any of them to be within his line of sight. 

            Killzone continued to rampage, tearing up everything he had given to Brutal.  It was easy to blame the newest member for their failure, but Killzone knew it wasn’t his fault.  Hell, he had succeeded where the others had failed and actually killed one of the kids at the Factory.  He also paid for that victory with his own life. 

            That was what really bothered him.  Beneath his ego and bravado, Killzone was glad that he hadn’t killed any of them.  Not if it meant he would end up like Brutal.  The other thing that bothered him, was what Guru had tried to teach him.  Control.  Killzone was all power and fury, with no true guidance or direction. 

            What bothered him the most, was that Guru was right all along. 

            He couldn’t accept that.  His way had to be right.  Look at everything he had accomplished.  His crew ran Yesterday Town.  Any other gang that tried to move in on their turf was dealt with quickly and severely.  They had even garnered the attention of the big man in Future City.  They were on their way up.  How did they get beaten by a group of kids? 

            Guru couldn’t be right.  He couldn’t be. 

            Even worse, what if the big man found out?  If he knew the Hell Spawns had been beaten by a bunch of kids and barely escaped with their lives, Killzone’s dreams of living big in Future City were over. 

            Killzone ripped a sink out of its base and chucked it at a wall.  The porcelain basin lodged itself in the papered covered drywall.  He stomped over to the wall and shoved the sink the rest of the way through. 

            “Quite the temper you have there.” Came a voice from behind Killzone.

            The Hell Spawn’s leader snapped around to see who was behind him.  He wanted to see who he was about to kill. 

            His fist was cocked and ready to release a punch strong enough to pulverize a normal man’s head.  His arm quickly lowered at the sight of the man behind the voice, and he tried to compose himself. 

            Number Five, bodyguard to the kingpin of Future City, stood before him.  He was dressed in the same black suit that he had worn that night at the rail yard.  What Killzone didn’t see was the big ugly gun that had been shoved in his face twice that dark night.  He didn’t doubt for a minute that Number Five had it on him. 

            “Number Two, right?” Killzone said, being snide. 

            “Don’t pretend like you don’t remember exactly who I am.  It’s not cute or funny to disrespect a friend.  Or an enemy.” Number Five said.  His tone was well rehearsed and professional.  He spoke with an attitude that would be powerful in a boardroom, and deadly in the street.  There was much that Killzone could learn from him on how to operate within Future City, and how to work with his boss, but those eloquences would be lost on someone like him.  After all, Guru had tried and failed. 

            Number Five looked down at Killzone with disgust.  He would never question any plan orchestrated by his boss, and followed all orders to the letter, but his dislike for working with the Hell Spawns was evident in his mannerisms.  He would have to work harder to hide it.  Later.  

            “Let’s get something straight here.” Number Five said flatly.  “I don’t like you.  You or your ghetto crew.  You lord over a town of people that have been left behind and ignored.  Anyone can rule over the downtrodden.  You have broken these people.  They were broken before you got here.” 

            He stepped closer to Killzone.  The two were a little more than an inch apart.  Number Five was only a few inches taller than the gang leader, but held his chin against his chest to over dramatize the height difference. 

            “Two.  I know all about you. You and your crew.  There’s nothing you’ve done your entire life that I don’t know about.  From you wetting your bed at age 10, to the beating you and your gang took last night.” 

            Killzone tried not to show his surprise at Number Five’s knowledge.  A blind man could have read his expression. 

            “He knows, too.  Lucky for you, he still thinks you can be useful.  I, on the other hand, have my doubts.” 

            “Who are you?” Killzone said, puffing out his chest.  “You’re just the chump after number four.” 

            Number Five smirked.  “Stupid kid.  You want a piece of me?  You want to show me how bad you are?  Knock me down and strike an Ali pose over my body.  That what you want?” 

            His eyes lit up with excitement.  He wouldn’t go against his boss’s orders and start trouble with the gang leader, but he could certainly defend himself, and put the punk in his place at the same time. 

            “After all, I’m just a guy in a suit with a gun, right?”  Number Five took a step back.  He unbuttoned his suit jacket and pulled the frightening gun out of its holster.  He turned his back to Killzone and laid the gun on what remained of the bathroom countertop. 

            “Be careful, I’m not a hotel room.  I fight back.” 

            As Number Five turned back to face his opponent, Killzone tried to catch him off guard with a cheap shot.  The bodyguard ducked the punch and swooped up around the incoming fist.  His body moved with the speed and agility of a snake.  In the time it took for Killzone’s arm to extend, Number Five had slid behind him and delivered an open palm attack to the back of his head.   

            The gang leader was thrown off balance by the unexpected attack and his body pitched forward.  Five more blows were delivered before the headstrong powerhouse hit the floor.  He felt two sledgehammer punches to his lower back, followed by an elbow to his right kidney, a sidekick to the back of his right knee, and a shin kick to the inside of his left thigh. 

            Killzone toppled over like a freshly chopped tree.  He wanted to stop his descent, or at the very least break his fall, but his body wouldn’t respond.  He crashed to the ground face first, defeated and humiliated. 

            The winner of the five second battle stood over his fallen opponent and snorted. 

            “I hope you learned a lesson just now.  It’s the same one you should’ve learned the other night.”   

            Number Five picked his gun up and slid it back into its holster. 

            “The plan is set for three days from now.  You and your crew better be ready.” 

            Number Five buttoned his jacket and stepped through the hole in the hotel room wall. 

            “I’ll be – in touch – again before then.”

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Chapter XXVI

 

            Valerie peeked inside the lab from the elevator doors.  She could see Anthony from where she stood.  He was in his usual spot, sitting in front of a workstation, completely preoccupied with a new invention. 

            “Knock knock.” Valerie said as she rapped quietly on the wall outside of the elevator doors.  She stepped into the lab and slowly made her way towards Anthony.  As she walked across the floor, she turned her head slightly to the left, trying to avoid seeing the corner of the room where she had spent her week of hell.  Anthony had removed the chains and restraining bolt in the floor, but in Valerie’s mind they were still there. 

            Anthony didn’t budge at her entrance.  She wasn’t even sure he had heard her come in.  She tried to make a little more noise as she approached him to keep from startling him accidentally.  The two of them had been through too much recently to be alarmed for no reason. 

            “Dr. Anthony?” Valerie called to him.  The Dr. didn’t look up and continued working. 

            “I hear you, Val.” He said. 

            Valerie hastened her walk knowing that he was aware of her presence.  She moved to the side of the workstation and stared at him.  On the table was the patchwork machine the possessed Dr. had built.  Anthony had spent the better part of the night examining it.  He had put it back together, taken it apart, and put it back together again in the hours he had been down there. 

            Above Valerie the ceiling moved, drawing her attention to it.  Liquid digital displays built in the ceiling projected an image of a rising sun. The sun rose and set in just a few minutes.  The display continued, moving day by day through the seasons.  The visual would change every displayed week, and show a new location, but during the same period of time. 

            “That’s new.” Valerie said.  Her head was craned back watching the days go by. 

            “Locked down here without any view of the outside world can be detrimental to the mind.  It’s a self imposed version of solitary confinement.  I need to be aware of the passage of time, without being a victim of its influence.  I keep the display out of real time for that purpose.”

            “It’s good to see you back at work.  Back to yourself.” 

            Anthony stopped examining the device and looked up at Valerie.  The sadness in his eyes almost made her cry. 

            “Don’t mistake what I’m doing here for normal.  I’m far from being back to normal.” Anthony replied. 

            “I’m merely trying to piece together what happened to me.” Anthony continued. 

            “What do you remember?”  Valerie asked. 

            “During the time I was under its control?  Nothing. 

            “What’s the last thing you do remember?” 

            “I’m not sure.” Anthony began.  “I spend so much time down here in the lab…  Everything seems to have blurred together.”

            Anthony closed his eyes and drummed the table with the pads of his fingers.  He tried to recall what he was doing before he woke up to the horror his life had turned into. 

            “I don’t… It’s all a blur.  Things blending together.  It’s like looking through frosted glass – just shapes and outlines.” 

            Valerie smiled at him.  “It’ll get better.  Just give it some time.” 

            “How about you?” Anthony asked.  His concern ran deeper than just the rekindled feelings he had for her.  She had been tortured by his hand.  The fact that he wasn’t in control at the time did little to ease his conscious.  He needed for her to be ok.  If there were any lasting damage, he didn’t know what he would do. 

            “Feeling better.” Valerie answered with another smile on her face.  “With that power dampener removed I’m back up to a hundred percent.  I took a quick fly around the tundra when I woke up.  It felt wonderful.” 

            Valerie closed her eyes and her mind went back to her early morning flight; the wind in her face, and the heat of the sun washing over her skin.  She soared up into the clouds and hovered for a moment before beginning her descent.  Valerie stretched her body out horizontally, pulled her arms to her chest, and dropped from the sky.  Her body tumbled sideways as if she were rolling down a hill.  Her hair whipped about her face and head tangling into a mess that her personal hairdresser would charge her several thousand dollars to undue.  For the freedom she felt at that moment, Valerie would pay any price. 

            The flaxen haired heroine opened her eyes and found Anthony looking at her with a smirk.  She blushed and ran her fingers through the ends of her velocity made dreadlocks.  Her fingers got caught in the tangles and she frowned. 

            “Ugh!  D’lores is going to kill me.” Valerie twisted her features into a mock grimace.  “You’d think that being a hairstylist to the stars, and charging five hundred dollars for a shampoo and herb and seaweed rinse, she’d be happy with repeat business.  Instead, she yells at me and tells me what a bad person I am for getting my hair dirty with soot and ash after saving people from an apartment fire.  Hollywood.  Go figure, huh?” 

            Anthony just stared at her.  Being one of the few heroes to escape the trappings of celebrity he had a hard time relating to her “problems”.  Still, he enjoyed listening to her talk.  He realized that it was something he should have done more of back when they were a couple. 

            “Well,” Valerie said, changing the subject.  “Are you going to tell me what you’re working on?” 

            Anthony turned his attention away from his former girlfriend and back to the machine.  He immediately went back to tinkering with it while he talked. 

            “Trying to figure out why this thing didn’t work.” 

            “Didn’t it?” Valerie questioned.  “I mean, it forced that thing, whatever it was, out of you.” 

            “This machine is what helped me snapped out of the mental prison that being held me in.  The problem is, it wasn’t meant to.” 

            Dr. 253 was in the middle of taking the device apart again when Valerie entered the lab.  He turned the machine around to show the inner workings and pointed out parts to her.   He looked down at his hands.  They weren’t his anymore; at least not the way they used to be.  Anthony looked up at Valerie. 

            “I’ve been struggling with these all night.” Anthony held his hands up.  “I’m stronger than I used to be.  I spent the first two hours down here teaching myself how to hold things again.  I went through about three dozen eggs before I learned the precise amount of pressure needed to pick them up without crushing them.  As you can see…” He gestured to the other end of the workstation.  A small pile of broken tools and various gizmos he had built were lying in ruin at the far end of the table. 

            “My tools aren’t much better.” 

            Valerie reached across the table and held his hands in hers.  She ran her hands along the backs of them, feeling the skin.  Anthony’s skin looked normal and smooth to the touch, albeit mildly discolored and bigger, but they felt like soft leather.  Not unpleasant to the touch, but textured and unnatural. 

            Valerie ran her hands down the backside and along the fingers.  She turned his hands over to feel the palms.  Inside her stomach knotted as her mind flashed back to the times those hands had taken liberties with her bare flesh.  She tried not to let it show to Anthony, and tapped the skin to cover her trembling fingers. 

            Anthony watched Valerie’s hands as she held his.  When she started to touch his palms he pulled away.  She looked at him with surprise, and wondered what she did wrong.  Anthony met her gaze, then looked back down at his hands.  Her eyes followed his.  His pinky fingers were still curled up against the palm.     

            “The pinkies have atrophied to the point that they’re useless.  The bones have become a sponge like consistency.  I think they’ll need to be amputated.” Anthony said in a matter of fact tone that was scary to both of them. 

            Anthony immediately went back to the device, trying to change the subject and temporarily forget about how different he now was.  He pointed at the pieces inside the machine again. 

            “You see this piece here… here… and here?”  The one with the blue tip is a receiver, of sorts.  The one with the orange line around the base is a transmitter.  The clear one is an amplifier.  I believe that the ‘other’ me was going to possess you the same way it had me.  Not him exactly, but one of his kind.” 

            Dr. 253 turned the machine back around to himself.  Her loosened a few screws and removed the top. 

            “See here?” The doctor pointed to another area.  “The blue and black wires lead from the transmitter to the amplifier.  They’re reversed.  Instead of them increasing the signal from the receiver and sending it at you, or whomever, they looped the ambient noise from the room and broadcast it back out.  Like putting an amplifier and microphone in an empty room.  The sound begins to loop and feedback until it become too much for either instrument.  In this case, it took the signal in the room, the being, and broadcast it back at itself, me.  The signal was intensified, weakening its hold, and allowing me to take control.” 

            “Okay.” Valerie said with feigned understanding.  She knew that Dr. 253 had dumbed it down as much as he could, but she still didn’t completely understand.  “I don’t get it.” 

            ‘Neither do I.” Dr. 253 continued on.  He knew what Valerie meant, but took it in his own direction as not to insult her intelligence.    

            “The being that made this knew what it was doing, up until here.  This is too simple of a mistake for it to have made.  There’s no way it would have done something as juvenile as confuse these two wires.  Had it not been for that, I’d still be under its control, for the time being, and you’d be a new host.” 

            “Maybe you did it.  Maybe your subconscious was fighting back.  There were times, when it seemed like you – it – couldn’t concentrate.  It would shake its head like it was having a fit.  It actually did that right before activating the machine.  Maybe a part of you was fighting back.” 

            “I don’t remember.  If I was fighting back against the creatures hold on me, there should be some memory.  A glimmer of subconscious thought.  There’s nothing.  I don’t remember anything.” 

            “What else could it be?” 

            “I have a theory.” Anthony replied.  He directed her attention to the other workstation.  The two of them walked over to the table.  Anthony activated the touch screen controls built into the table top and brought up dual holographic images of his brain.     

            “These are 3D renderings of my brain.  The one on the right was taken from a scan done early this morning.  The other is from a scan I did six weeks ago.” 

            “Wait!  You scanned your brain six weeks ago?” Valerie questioned.  As Dr. 253, Anthony was known to do some things that would seem crazy to those of lesser intelligence, including experimenting on himself at times.  She hoped he hadn’t been doing anything like that again.

            “Yes.” Anthony answered matter-of-factly.  “My entire brain scanned in its entirety.  The scan is done a micron at a time to ensure that nothing is missed.” 

            “And, when did you start doing this?” 

            “Shortly after we broke up.  I was afraid something might be wrong with me.  There wasn’t.  At least, not physically.” 

            Anthony turned back to the holographs of his brain.  The grey matter globes rotated slowly before both their eyes. 

            “See the one on the left?  Perfectly normal.  Each color indicates an individual brain function: active thinking, tactile senses, visual input, memory storage and recall, involuntary actions, etc.”  Anthony pushed another button, and the active regions of his brain lit up like fireworks.

            Valerie couldn’t believe her eyes.  The image of his brain was a kaleidoscope of colors. There appeared to be activity all over his brain.  There were so many colors that they were broken down into lighter and darker hues of the same primary.  Some blended together and were barely noticeable until the image turned a certain way. 

            “My God.” Valerie unconsciously said aloud. 

            “Using this, I was able to understand the nature of my power.  My intelligence comes from multiple areas of my brain all working at once.  It’s the equivalent to a thousand supercomputers working independently to solve one problem.  Each works its own path to a possible solution, and then all the data is compiled.  From this an answer, or path of action, is determined with the highest possible success rate.  If you then take that solution and run it through a thousand more computers, you will have an answer that is infallible.  My brain does this on a level beyond conscious thought.  It would be scary if it wasn’t so intriguing.” 

            Dr. 253 increased the size of the brain image on the right, drawing Valerie’s attention to it.  This scan was not as radiant as the other.  The colors were duller and there were fewer shades of the primaries. 

            “Take a look at the one I did today.  The duller colors indicate a slower processing speed.  My brain is still thinking on multiple levels, but not as fast or as strong.  Something’s impeding it.” 

            The holograph of the brain turned counterclockwise and the right front hemisphere enlarged in view. 

            “See that dark mass?” Dr. 253 asked.  “Cognitive reasoning.  Ordinarily this would be someone who has some form of diminished capacity, mostly associated with dementia or extreme levels of autism.  The brain itself is still active, but the response from the higher functions are slow, or sporadic.   The creature that possessed me subdued my conscious mind with his when it took over.  I believe the problem was, it wasn’t able to completely take over.” 

            Dr. 253 shrank the image of the possessed brain back to its normal size.  He merged the two holographic images together, overlaying the “damaged” one on top of the good one. 

            “My brain is designed to work for me and no one else.” 

            “Of course it is.  I don’t see what you’re getting at.”  Valerie inquired. 

            “When Mistress Meteora asked me to give you powers like hers, I couldn’t just graft those same powers on to you.  I had to tailor them to fit your DNA.  My brain is similar.  The way it works could only work for me, and no one else.  I believe that these creatures take over someone by mapping their mind over the host’s mind.  The creature’s mind slowly suppresses the host until they are completely overtaken and no part of them exists anymore.  This change also forces their DNA to recode itself to fit the creature’s natural form.” 

            Valerie looked from the holograph to Anthony, and back to the holograph.  It made sense – it was coming from Dr. 253 after all, the smartest man on the planet – but a part of her wanted to fight his explanation.  She didn’t want to believe that such a thing was possible.  Creatures taking over people’s minds and bodies.  If she hadn’t witnessed it herself, she would defy all rational reasoning and tell him he was wrong. 

            Dr. 253 continued.

            “My brain’s activity was too much for the creature to subdue.  So, even though it was able to take over my conscious mind, it couldn’t fully map itself to the rest of my brain.  Some part of my subconscious mind realized something was wrong, and started working on a solution to fix it.  This area of my brain either forced or tricked the creature into wiring the device incorrectly.  The feedback loop allowed my conscious self to reawaken and eradicate it from my mind.” 

            “Is it gone for good?”

            “For all intents and purposes, yes.  Because it had downloaded itself into my head, there’s no way for me to extract it.  Thankfully, when my mind reclaimed control of my brain it erased all traces of the creature.  This is why I have no recollection of the past month.  As my mind adjusts to being back in control, those dark masses will turn back into active regions of neural response. That could very well take weeks.  Even still, my memory of that time is gone for good.”   

            “Well, I guess that’s both good and bad.” Valerie said. 

            Dr. 253 turned off the holographic display.  He walked back over to the other work station, with Valerie in tow, and took a seat. 

            “What now?” Valerie asked.  Anthony had explained everything that had happened to her, but he hadn’t told her what he planned to do with that information. 

            “Now?” Anthony repeated.  “I wish I knew.  First I need to find out what took control of my mind.  Then, I need to find out what I did while it was in control.  If I can figure all of that out, then I’ll be able to make a plan.  Until I fully recover, I’m not much smarter than Stephen Hawking.  I fear that may not be smart enough” 

            On the screen above him summer was in full bloom.  The sun rose and set over his head, shining its light down on him like a spotlight.  The midday light bathe him in its radiance and for a minute he looked like his old self.  At dusk, the waning light seemed to accent the leathery texture of his skin and the weariness he wore like a mask. 

            Valerie knew at that moment that he would never be the same.  The Dr. 253 she knew was gone, and inside she cried.

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