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Cowboys And Aliens: Issue #3


Warpath, Texas

'Behind you?' Jaime was taken aback in that brief moment when an ordinary man in a cowboy chaps told Jaime to stand behind him. Jaime, the one wearing the alien power armor, needed to be protected by the guy with a pair of six shooters. The cowboy was brave, there was no denying that, but Reyes couldn't help but think he might have a screw or two loose underneath that ten gallon hat of his.

Reyes stepped forward to stand beside his defender as he went to confront the stranger. Everything about the giant of a man painted him as a metahuman- no one was naturally that large, and the black spandex wasn't exactly ordinary attire for the ordinary man. He had to have powers. But that begged the question, then: what was he doing here? Jaime's first assumption was that he was working for Dr. Caulder and he'd come to secure the Scarab, but that didn't make any sense. Caulder had just disposed of him; why would he have a change of heart so quickly? Of course, there was a possibility that falling through that portal had taken much, much longer than Jaime had first assumed...

His assumptions were thrown out the window when the figure addressed the 'vigilante.' Of all the things Jaime could be called, that certainly wasn't one of them- which meant that 'Black Star' was here for the Texan.

"Wait- the Silver Surfer-" A thousand questions raced through his mind as the Black Star spoke of the other alien, but Jaime wasn't able to get another word out before the metahuman disappeared from his vision in a blur of midnight fabric, only to reappear several meters away underneath the shade of a nearby porch. He tore one of the support beams from the wood with the same ease that a child might take apart a Lego set, sending the beam flying through the air like a spear aimed right for Reyes's heart. So dumbstruck by what was going on and unprepared for the sudden burst of speed, Reyes would've been impaled on it if not for the hands that threw him out of the way of the incoming projectile.

The roar of gunfire mingled with the sound of splintering wood as Jaime pushed himself up to his feet, every part of his body crying out in agony. He hadn't taken even a moment's rest since his last fight, and with the strength and speed this 'Black Star' seemed to possess, this was shaping up to be even more difficult than his duel with Otto and Caulder. The protesting, sharp pain in his muscles went ignored; he couldn't just sit back and let this 'Vigilante' be torn apart by a guy who was clearly out of his league. Maybe Black Star was out of Reyes's league too. He wouldn't doubt it. But Jaime wasn't about to turn tail and let a total stranger die alone.

He'd left too many bodies behind him already.

"Unless you've got a hand grenade in that belt, I think you might need my help!" Chunks of concrete and wood soared through the air, punching holes in the barn behind them like a pen pressed through a sheet of paper. The only thing keeping the two of them from being punctured through with equal force was the makeshift smokescreen Vigilante had managed to kick up with that whip of his, but it wasn't going to last. "This guy's a bit above our weight class- we're gonna need a plan!"

'Not compatible. Eliminate with extreme prejudice.' The voice of the Scarab snarled once more, it's words echoing deep in Reyes's mind. He felt strongly compelled to follow the 'suggestion,' his right arm already morphing to form the deadly energy weapon he'd used to eliminate the German surgeon back in Caulder's prison camp. Reyes didn't particularly want to use that kind of force against anyone, but this guy...he was next level. There was no holding back if Jaime wanted to walk away from this without any casualties among the townsfolk that had- surprisingly- yet to rear their heads.

"Yeah, not helping. You get any better ideas other than 'kill him'?" Reyes shot back. For a thousand year old parasite packing so many weapons and tools, it didn't seem all that forthcoming with ways to use them. Most of it's suggestions tended to be something along the lines of 'just kill them' or 'maim and cripple.'

'Not compatible. Target possesses enhanced strength and speed. Surrounded by unknown energy. Not compatible.'

Reyes stood to his feet, lifting his cannon to fire off several blasts in the general direction of where he'd last seen Black Star. "I got it! Not compatible! Dios mío you're useless. What does that even mean?!"

'Not compatible.' It repeated in that same angry tone it had taken since the metahuman first appeared. Jaime was getting real tired of hearing it.

"Great. Just great. My psychotic Jiminy Cricket comes with an error message. Terrific." With the smoke beginning to clear and Jaime being able to make out that black costume of their adversary once again, he realized that they didn't have any time left. Black Star was going to break them apart the moment he spotted them among the cloud. Reyes might be able to take that kind of punishment, but Vigilante? Unless he had some kind of secret superpower he was hiding, he was just a normal man with some very abnormal enemies. Jaime needed to do something to keep Black Star from taking his life.

So, in all of his teenage brilliance, he decided there was only one thing he could do.

He rushed Black Star.

Both of the Scarab's talons drawn, he let the engines on his back flare to life as he leapt through the air to quickly cover the distance between himself and their black clad foe. He had little control over his flight, but he could stabilize enough to simply shoot in a straight line right for Black Star like a less-than-human ballistic missile. Both blades held out before him, he could only hope that the super villain wasn't as durable as he was strong.
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Cowboys And Aliens: Issue #4


Warpath, Texas

Gutting a living, breathing person was a strange sensation. Skewering through that first layer of flesh and clothing was like sticking a knife into a piece of flabby elastic. It bent and contorted around Jaime's talon, giving so much that he thought for a moment that it simply wouldn't break through. He was wrong, of course; once the tip managed to dig even a millimeter in, the flesh gave way easily. The layers of fat squished and squirted as the razor sliced it's way through with a frightening speed and momentum. It tore open as easily as a piece of paper tore from the rings of a notebook. Passed the initial incision came the thicker bits of the body- the muscle. It was simpler to cut through each layer than the flesh, but there was just so much of it. The sinew was like hundreds upon hundreds of cords tightly wound together, making it near impossible to cut through all of them at once; the blade kept catching at poor angles, slowing it's advance for a short while.

But Reyes kept pushing. The adrenaline pumping through his veins wouldn't let him slow as he finally tasted Black Star's intestines.

It made his stomach churn, but he wasn't given any time to regret the attack before Black Star retaliated.

There was a crack in the air just before his fist made contact with Jaime's gut. It was the sound of the sound barrier breaking just before Black Star struck the teenager with the force of a howitzer gun. The chitin armor on his abdomen exploded into splinters, the living metal screeching and squirming as the knuckles dug into Jaime's stomach and forced their way up into his insides; mere inches of the Scarab lay between Reyes and a fist through the hair as Black Star pulled his hand back and Reyes was sent flying backwards.

He didn't make it far before the villain was upon him, another blow sent crashing against the underside of the child's jaw. An audible, sickening crack sounded just as he was sent air born. The momentum would've been enough to send him flying across town if Black Star hadn't reached out and plucked him from the sky. Massive, powerful fingers contorted around Jaime's throat, cutting off his breathing with an incredible amount of force. The armor bent and cracked underneath the force, threatening to shatter if Black Star continued to apply such pressure.

Jaime was almost lucky that the man imbued with the Power Cosmic decided to slam Reyes's face into the dirt. His face plate cracked in half like it was made of cheap ceramic the moment he hit the ground, bits of dust, blood and mucus spilling out across his face. Though his mouth was agape, he could not scream; all he could do was suck in polluted air in a desperate bid to keep from asphyxiating after nearly having his throat crushed.

The battle that continued around him was a blur of thunderous sound and dizzy, foggy images. He couldn't make much of it with the pounding headache threatening to split his skull in two, and the agonizing pain that stretched across his body from head to toe. Otto's acidic scars had opened up along his back, hissing and screeching as pus and blood dripped down his flesh, warm, sticky and hard to ignore. His ribs were aching fiercely, something scratching and screaming along in his insides every time he squirmed even a little bit. His nose and mouth were both leaking streams of crimson, though he couldn't tell if anything important was broken. It was hard to focus on anything in that moment. Even the pain felt dulled and numb, like his senses had been shoved under water and weren't allowed up for air.

"-...Nnng..." Jaime gasped and sputtered, his hand weakly reaching forward to drag himself along the ground. He wasn't sure where he was headed. He had no idea if he was even going to live through this. But he felt a powerful urge driving him to drag his battered body through the mud.

Then he saw it.

Just barely, out of the corner of the eye, but it was there- he couldn't deny what he was looking at, no matter how unreal or impossible it might seem. "Holy shit." He breathed.

A monster with a skull cased in black fire was clashing with the Black Star. They were exchanging blows and throwing one another across the town with abandon, destroying buildings and crushing cars along the way. It was a terrifying and magnificent sight to behold all in the same moment as the immensely powerful metahuman traded punches with a demonic beast dragged out from the depths of hell.

"What is that?" He blinked, unsure if he was hallucinating. Where did it even come from? One moment it was just Jaime and that Vigilante guy, and the next...

'Entity is of extradimensional origin.' Khaji Da answered flatly. 'Relativistic integrity compromised. Recommend termination.'

"Thanks." Reyes groaned, partially from the pain and partially from the pain of dealing with the Scarab. "That clears that up."

That odd feeling of numbness that Jaime felt only seemed to grow, stretching out across his form like a blanket had been laid over him. He could hear the living metal at work stitching itself back together, the hard plates during to liquid and morphing together to reform itself harder and tougher than before. But that wasn't the only healing being done, Reyes realized, as he felt those same tendrils running along his nose and up his back.'Beginning self-repair process. Recommend rest time of up to forty eight hours.' The Scarab informed him. Jaime's annoyance deflated slightly; so maybe the Scarab wasn't totally useless after all.

Reyes wasn't going to sit here in the dirt for two days, however, as he slowly pushed himself back up to his feet. The destruction had come to a halt, he noticed. The sounds of battle fading with the dying roar of a motorcycle of all things. Curious, he made a cautious trip further into the town. Part of him thought he should take flight while he still had the chance. Trusting a demon bathing in hellfire not to pull his spine out wasn't exactly a smart move. On the other hand, however, he couldn't just leave this town to be ravaged by two all-powerful monsters. People had to have been hurt during the chaos already. Reyes...Reyes didn't want there to be even more names added to that list.

His shock could not be understated when he finally discovered the demon standing over top the fallen form of Black Star, the villain held within inches of it's flaming, menacing head.

”No one messes with my town."

There was something about that voice. That distorted, demonic voice, that Jaime found vaguely familiar. Even through the screams of the damned and the choking heat of the Ninth Circle's embers, that thick Texas accent found a way to shine through. Reyes was taken aback, but all of the pieces seemed to come together at once. "Vigilante?" Reyes balked, approaching the "man" from behind. He made sure to keep his distance on the off-chance he was wrong, yet...Something told him he wasn't.

As he approached, Jaime was once again assaulted by the sound of Khaji Da's abrasive voice blaring within his mind. 'Not compatible.'

"Oh, not this- what? What isn't compatible? How about you explain it to me, bastardo, instead of just shouting in my-" He didn't get to finish as one cryptic message was replaced by another. Instead of two words, however, Khaji Da could only offer one.

'Darkseid.'

"-Like of the Force? You're not making any sense, ese. My L-phone's better at explaining things than you are." It wasn't the time for humor, Jaime realized, but he was very close to snapping after everything he had endured in such a short time. If he didn't do something to break the tension, he might just lose it.

'Your handheld device lacks sufficient information on this subject.' Khaji Da countered.

"Oh, and how would you know that?"

'I checked.'

"You did what?" Jaime blinked.

'I still have access to the device we assimilated seventy one and a half hours ago. Your 'information super highway' knows nothing of the ๔คгк ๒гเภﻮєг.'

It was time for Reyes to throw his hands into the air, turning around to take several steps away from the ghostly Vigilante. He couldn't help but cackle at the sheer ridiculousness of what he was hearing. "My alien parasite gets WiFi! What- what's next, unlimited talk and text? Gonna sell me a cable package too?!" He mockingly joked. "Good Lord, when did the world stop making sense?" And on top of it all, Khaji Da spoke a word that definitely wasn't English. It was the first time he'd heard the Scarab fail to translate anything in his mind. It was oddly disturbing, given the subject matter.

The Scarab never skipped a beat, ignoring Jaime's obvious distress as he continued with his previous thought with brisk accuracy. 'I have cross-referenced the facial recognition software installed in this device with your 'internet.' This 'Black Star' appears only by a different name- one William Mowse. There are several news articles about his incarceration in the prison complex known as the Raft. According to the most recent reports, hundreds of similar inmates have appeared across the United States, performing attacks similar to the one we have experienced.' He explained. There was a pause before he decided to add a more...personal comment. 'I am surprised the warden has neglected to activate the explosive chips embedded in the base of each prisoner's spine.'

"What?!" Reyes shouted incredulously. He knew SHIELD was bad, but-

'...Is that not standard practice on your world? How primitive.'

The pain wracking Jaime's body hadn't fully subsided. He still winced a little with each step he took, and there wasn't a great deal that the Scarab could do the alleviate the exhaustion that had taken deep root in every inch of Reyes's muscles. By all logic he should've simply passed on what he had learned to Vigilante and returned home to El Paso to rest- and to finally see his family after suffering through this ordeal. By all rights, he had earned the rest. He hadn't asked for any of this. Responsibility and power had both been thrust into his arms in equal measure, and the Scarab was expecting him to rise to the occasion like this wasn't complete and utter insanity.

Jaime had no real responsibility to...to any of this, right? What he wished to atone for had nothing to do with the Silver Surfer that had tried to destroy the world.

The Scarab's rage did not burn for the life of the other alien- it burned for Dr. Caulder and Dr. Caulder alone.

SHIELD wasn't going to stop hunting Reyes until he proved that the telepath was responsible for the incident, and not Jaime or the alien.

By all rights, this was not Jaime Reyes's fight. And yet he felt a tug upon his body that went deeper than any of that. It went deeper than the armor covering his flesh. It went deeper than the ache in his muscles. It even went deeper than the very marrow within his bones. He felt a pull so strong and so profound that there was no fighting against it. He knew it wasn't the voice of Khaji Da trying to convince him to join this fight; in fact, if the Scarab had it's way, they'd just lay down right there and not move for the next two days. No, this pull...it belonged to Jaime. It belonged to his soul.

After what felt like eternity he came to a decision, turning on his heel to face the Vigilante that he had met just tens of minutes ago at most. They didn't know so much as one another's names, yet Jaime felt a degree of trust in this man that went deeper than that. The Vigilante had saved his life; and that was a debt not easily repaid.

Jaime had just gotten a metric ton of new information that he needed to share with the man, but there were more pressing matters to attend to in the immediate future. They needed to get moving as quickly as they possibly could. "Right, so I'll...I'll explain on the way, but how fast can that fancy motorcycle-from-hell of yours move? 'Cause if we want to get to the Surfer, we're gonna need to head up to New York and I left my running shoes at home." He joked, smiling underneath his creepy, stoic mask.

"Oh, by the way..." It still felt rude for him to go on without introducing himself, the gravity of the situation be damned. This was his way of coping- by pretending everything was normal and continuing to act like the dumb, stupid kid he still wished he could be. "My name's Jaime. Jaime Reyes. I'm from El Paso."
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Cowboys And Aliens: Issue #5


New York City, New York

Jaime Reyes found himself flying through a wall of solid concrete for what felt like the fifth time today. It shattered on contact with his armored body, sending him tumbling through it to the other side, where he was promptly buried in a pile of rubble, stone and rebar. He remained unmoving for several seconds, still reeling from what had just happened. He hadn't even had time to process it. He and the Spirit had descended on the Silver Surfer in a ball of flaming plasma and hellfire, moving so fast that the world around Jaime had looked like little more than sheets of color flying passed his head. Then he was...here. On the ground, his body screaming out in protest once more as his wounds reopened and blood leaked down his face inside of his mask.

"God, my head..." He groaned quietly, shoving away the heavy debris that covered him. The Surfer...he'd just deflected their attacks like it was nothing, hadn't he? The Spirit of Vengeance that Reyes had been hoping could match the likes of Superman had been tossed aside like a bag of rocks, used like a projectile against Wonder Woman. Even his own blast had been smacked away and redirected toward-

"Shit, shit- Spider-Girl!" The last thing he remembered seeing was a ball of hot plasma flying right for New York's resident superhero. He'd seen what that kind of thing could do to a human being before. If that hit her... "Please don't be dead." He rasped, his head on a swivel as he tried to find that white-and-black clad insect. "God damn it, I did not come up here to kill a superhero."

Thankfully she was quicker than she looked, and she managed to flip right out of the way without being turned into a pile of human gore and slag.

He was such an idiot. A total, complete, unredeemable idiot. How he could he have thought this was a good idea? How could he have possibly considered that he could stand up against the same guy that took The Flash and Superman to task? Vigilante was right. He was just a kid. He should've...he should've ran the moment they got here, and let the real heroes deal with the Surfer-

The Surfer. He was looming in the center of it all, his unblinking eyes direct right toward Jaime. They stared into his soul with an alien intensity, as if the thing could see right inside of him. And then...and then it spoke.

It spoke his name. Jaime Reyes, the sixteen year old that felt impossibly out of his depth, was called out by the conqueror by name. "W-what?" He froze where he lay, enraptured by the brief words the alien shared about him.

It said he was the most intriguing of all. It spoke of potential he never knew he had. Despite the fact that the woman that caught a plane and the man that dragged himself out of the depths of hell were but a few feet away, the Silver Surfer had said those words about Jaime.

Little Jaime Reyes, the boy that couldn't pass a Physics test to save his life. Jaime Reyes, the accidental murderer. Jaime Reyes, the child that had failed to beat a crippled man in a wheelchair. He was the one that held the alien's attention. It...it didn't make any sense. It clashed with every thought that had plagued Reyes's mind as he rode with Vigilante to confront the herald of Darkseid. And now it contradicted his own belief in his worthlessness.

It was a moment as captivating as it was terrifying.

And it was fleeting, too, as the Surfer turned to address the entire crowd of costumed and caped heroes that had come here to put the alien down once and for all. It cried out about the suffering of the world and the power Darkseid had to save them with such conviction and authority that Reyes almost believed it.

His attention was torn away by a sound like a roaring wind turbine coming up from behind them. A blur of red and yellow burst forth from the prison's entrance, coming to a halt in all of her wounded, heroic glory. Even with the new costume it was impossible to mistake the fastest woman alive for anyone else; the moment she had struck down the Silver Surfer had been broadcast across the world for everyone to see. Reyes had never expected to be present when those two clashed for a second time, and he found his heart pounding through his chest as he looked at the heroine, hope shining through the bleak shadow that their would-be destroyer cast around it.

"...Kick his sorry ass, Flash!" Were all the words he could get out before she started moving.

The two opponents became a blur of movement and thunderous noise as they kicked up a hurricane of wind around them, bits of dust flying in every direction. Even with the enhanced senses offered by the Scarab, Jaime had no idea what happened in that brief millisecond. He thought for that brief, tiny time frame that perhaps the Flash was winning-

Right up until he heard her bloodcurdling scream echo across the floating prison's courtyard. When the dust cleared and the blurs came to a stop, the Surfer was the only one left standing. He held the Flash's limp, unconscious form in his hand; there wasn't a scratch on him, and that same, uncaring look was plastered across his face.

One of the strongest heroes on the planet- half of the team that had taken down the Surfer the first time- was knocked out in the span of a blink, and she'd done no noticeable damage. It tossed the Flash aside like yesterday's trash, only for the Spider to catch her and set her down away from the action. All the hope Jaime felt building up in his chest was thrust into the sea and drowned in that split second, leaving him with nothing but a throbbing emptiness and a sense of overhanging dread. There goes their biggest gun.

"Give me all the juice you've got, Kha!"

Despite the fact that all of his instincts screamed to run, Jaime found himself shooting forward. It was almost like his legs moved of their own accord. Whether it was the wordless demand of the Scarab that drove him, the demand for assistance from the Spider or some kind of subconscious bravery, he couldn't know; all he knew was that he was moving very quickly toward the being that had knocked down the Flash with little effort. Wonder Woman was already descending on it, and Vigilante would hopefully be joining her in a moment. That left Jaime with an opening to try something he never had before.

He slapped both of his arms together, willing them to combine as they had when he formed the shield. As he had guessed, that same transformation worked with other weapons, too- including his plasma cannons. When stuck together, the barrels changed and morphed into one, much more menacing tool. The power that radiated from the massive piece of artillery was like nothing else Reyes had ever felt. He dug his feet deep into the ground to anchor himself in place, willing the cannon to power up.

"See if you can't keep him still!" Jaime called out. He waited for the weapon to ignite, watching intently to make sure he had an opening. He didn't want to blast Wonder Woman right in the chest, and now he knew that the Surfer could redirect his shots if he knew they were coming. If they could pin the guy down, maybe...maybe there was a chance...

"HEY, YOU BALD BASTARD!" Reyes roared, his finger itching to pull the trigger. "GET THE FUCK OFF MY PLANET!"
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Cowboys And Aliens: Issue #7


New York City, New York

'Warning: Supernova equivalent heat detected within atmosphere. Seek cover immediately.'

The hero they called 'Johnny' had set the sky on fire, yet the Silver Surfer still stood tall. Jaime could feel the waves of heat radiating from that massive explosion, even while he was still on the ground far below. A bright flash filled the air behind the clouds, a series of colorful lights dancing like titanic embers in the morning sun. The new hero showed a terrible amount of power that would've struck awe into anyone; Reyes was reminded of the mushroom clouds made by the nuclear bombs he'd seen in history class. Yet despite that magnificent display, the Surfer had descended through the smoke and ash, an unfeeling contempt on his stoic expression. The herald of Darkseid was going to crush Johnny in his hand, and there wasn't a single thing they could do about it.

Reyes tried, of course. He had flared his jetpack to life before Sue had finished crying out for someone to do something. A burst of power sent him flinging into the air at speeds that could match an F-22 Raptor. Jaime could tell he still wouldn't make it in time. The Surfer was already preparing the finishing blow, Reyes's arms reaching out in front of him and a desperate cry of "NO!" on his lips just before his vision was filled with a brilliant display of color, and a sound like the crack of thunder drowned out his voice.

It was like flying through a rainbow, if a rainbow's arrival came with hurricane force winds and a shockwave that rocked the coastline. Jaime's flight pattern- it was more like a controlled leap, really- was immediately thrown off by the unexpected blast of alien energy. He was sent spinning through the air and falling from the sky for the second time that day, only this time Reyes wasn't the only one that needed to be caught. He used the same methods he did before, lighting up his arm cannons to direct steady himself enough to catch a glimpse of Johnny's falling form. "I gotcha, ese, hang on-"

'Massive influx of unknown energy nearby- it is 300% more efficient than our current power source. Recommend assimilation.'

"Not the time, Scarab!" Jaime let his jets burst to life, flinging himself through the air toward Johnny-

Only, Johnny wasn't there. A blur of movement filled his vision, and Jaime was only able to track it long enough to see it race out over the bridge and into the city. "-Flash?" There wasn't anyone else who could've pulled that kind of speed off, yet he was still left floating there, awestruck at what had just happened.

Flash wasn't the only one that left him feeling like he was in the presence of gods.

He was close enough to make out the man that had exploded through the rainbow bridge in a ball of lightning and fury. With every throw of his fist, the sky cried out with an vengeful howl, electricity dancing between his knuckles. The man himself was...massive. He had to be almost seven feet tall and packed with muscle. And the power he wielded...it wasn't like anything Jaime had ever seen before.

It left him thunderstruck, to say the least.

With no one left to catch and the sky rapidly filling with clashing gods, Jaime decided to cut his engines and plummet back down toward the Raft, only letting them flare to life right at the end to break his momentum before he destabilized the prison further by crashing right through it. He looked over to the blonde woman from earlier. "I think Flash got him?" He said with an awkward shrug of his shoulders. Any chance he had at impressing the new heroes had been stolen away by the fastest woman alive, leaving Jaime to look like a dunce. It wouldn't be the first time a girl had done that to him, and it definitely wouldn't be the last.

He wasn't given much time to gawk at the duel for the fate of humanity as Spider-Woman called for everyone's attention. It wasn't until she mentioned it that Jaime noticed just how poor the state of the Raft was; it looked like the only thing keeping the prison afloat was duck tape and a couple of prayers. Part of him had mixed feelings about rescuing some of the lowlifes imprisoned here. Many of them were metahumans, and he couldn't imagine there were too many other places that could keep them in.

It didn't take long to throw those feelings out when he remembered that, if not his escape, he'd be sitting in one of these prisons too.

Jaime was just about to speak up when he heard something loud blare out from behind them- an alarm?- and then felt a pair of hands wrap about him. Then the world turned to liquid and he felt himself move faster than any human being should be capable of. It only took a split second to realize the Flash must've grabbed him too, and only a split second later it appeared she was planning on ramming his face through a solid wall of metal. "-OH GOD-"

Reyes was letting out a rather undignified scream when he came to a sudden and abrupt halt, his stomach turning and the world no longer making any sense. They were standing inside the prison, on...the other side of a massive locked door. Flash had put him inside the sinking prison, alone, and had just ordered him to get the door open. "Wait, you can't just-" And she was gone before he could finish.

"Women." Jaime groaned, stepping up to the panel. He hadn't a clue how to operate it, or what she was thinking bringing him in there in the first place. "This is why I don't date, Scarab. Women don't make sense."

'You realize that you cannot physically lie to me, correct? I'm well aware what you were thinking when-'

"-Just shut up and help me get this door open." Reyes grumbled, tearing the front of the panel off to expose the wiring underneath.
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Cowboys And Aliens: Issue #8


New York City, New York

Jaime couldn't get the door open.

He'd tried everything the Scarab suggested, but nothing was working. Rerouting the power only activated the dead switch on the gate that kept it from popping open if the facility lost power. Attempting to reverse the lockdown ended in failure because he needed a specific code that only a choice few employees knew. And apparently just breaking the door down was going to compromise what little integrity the structure still had.

"Gotta be kiddin' me." He grumbled to himself, fidgeting with a pair of wires he'd already tried three times before. He couldn't just stand there dumbfounded, but he was out of ideas. To make matters worse, he had a growing audience to watch him fumble and fail. Over a dozen prisoners, guards and staff had appeared in a blur of movement as the Flash dragged more and more people to the front entrance. They were as impatient as one would expect when their lives were hanging by a thread.

"If I don't open the door, the Raft gets flooded with water and we all drown," Reyes mumbled under his breath, his brow furrowed in utter frustration, "but if I actually open the door, the roof collapses, we get buried under rubble and we all drown anyway." It was a real catch-22- one that ended in about a hundred people dying in the worst way imaginable because Jaime's advanced alien backpack couldn't manage to open a God damn door.

"Get it open already!" One of the prisoners shouted, throwing his bound hands into the air. "We're gonna fuckin' die in here!"

"I'm trying, hombre, but it's harder than it looks!" The distant rending of metal as more of the building caved in was yet another reminder of how little time he had left. There had to be something he was missing. Something he was overlooking that he could use to get them through it before they went down with the ship. "Give me somethin', Scarab. What do I do here?"

'Force the door open.'

"So the ceiling falls on us? Great pla-"

'No,' Khaji Da interrupted him sharply, 'we can bear the extra weight while the others flee.'

Reyes wasn't sure. "What, like hold the roof up? I...don't know about that." There was so much that could go wrong. So many things that would have to be accounted for. If he screwed it up even a little bit, people would die- potentially a great many people. There had to be some other way. There had to be. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of concrete snapping above his head. A crack shot across the ceiling, sending dust and bits of rock falling down on the prisoners' heads. He felt his heart sink when he spotted water dripping down from the crevice. There wasn't any time left to doubt; he had to trust Khaji knew what it was talking about.

"Alright. Let's do this." He stepped up to the massive iron gate, rubbing his palms together as he looked over it. It was almost twice his height and just as wide across, and at least twelve inches thick. He had no idea what this much steel would weigh, but Jaime couldn't imagine it was any less than several tons. He hadn't gotten the chance to test just how strong the suit made him...

Better late than never, right?

Reyes shoved his fingers into the slot between the two sides of the door, wiggling them as deep inside as he could. "Come on Jaime." He huffed, dragging at each half with all of the might that he could muster. "Come on, Jaime!" It felt like he was trying to pull apart an aircraft carrier. The lock wheezed, bucked and screamed in protest, metal shearing against metal as Reyes tried to open up the door. For every inch of progress he made, the sound of the ceiling pulling apart grew louder. More water was flooding the corridor with every passing second, and a panic was starting to spread through the survivors behind him.

The muscles in his forearms ached and burned, the sinew tensing as it was brought to capacity. 'This is what I get for skipping gym.' He thought with a grimacing, struggling through the pain. He was rewarded by the scent of sea water hitting his nostrils from the other side, a ray of light shooting through the crack. It gave him the second wind he needed to shove even harder, sliding a leg into the gap to use everything he had at his disposal.

Despite the great strength he showed in moving it this far, Jaime still couldn't get it open enough for anyone to slip through. If he couldn't go all of the way, his effort would be for naught, and the lives behind him forfeit. Thankfully for the young, intrepid hero, he was not alone. 'It would appear you require my assistance.' A dozen tendrils of living metal shot form the Scarab-flesh, twisting and turning in the air as they shot for the gap in the door. Each dug deep into the metal, solidifying into powerful limbs. The Scarab gave it all it had, and it proved to be enough-

The door was open now.

Reyes slipped to the side, shoving his shoulder against one part and motioning forward with his head. "Alright everybody, pile out! I dunno how long I can hold this!" He shouted backward. The freezing mob of prisoners and staff didn't need to be told twice. They rushed for the door, ducking underneath Jaime's extended arm and making a break for the Raft's bridge. None of them even bothered to look back at the struggling teenager as he fought to keep from crushing some poor soul between the giant slabs of metal.

He was forced to remain in that position, holding up the waning structure like some discount Atlas as the Flash ferried the injured and other prisoners out through the gap. Reyes groaned, grunted and snarled, but he held his ground. The bruises in his ribs and the burns upon his back were not kind in their aching, but he had to ignore the wounds; he wasn't going to abandon any of these people. That wasn't what superheroes did.

"Jaime Reyes- agh- superhero. I can- shit, this is heavy- get used to that."
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Season One: Epilogue


New York City, New York

The Surfer was beaten, his newly freed persona taken away by a strange woman with a mace. It was about par for the course with all of the other insanity that had gone on in the last six months, so all Jaime could really do was shrug his shoulders and try to move passed it. He had plenty of revelations to mull over while he spent the next four days in bed, that was for damn sure; the heaviest of them being the decree that Darkseid would return someday to finish what his herald could not. It was a sobering thought, knowing that the Silver Surfer that had nearly killed all of them was just the vanguard for something far greater and far more terrible.

'We will be ready.' The voice of the Scarab assured him, as steely and unwavering as ever. It gave Jaime a new resolve, knowing that Khaji Da believed they could prepare for Darkseid's arrival. Though life had certainly been difficult since the two were introduced, the alien had not once led him astray.

Before he knew it, everyone had started to go their own separate ways. The three spandex clad heroes that had rallied that misfit band into something resembling a real team were already off to go check on their fourth, wounded member. Spider-Woman swung away before Jaime could muster up the courage to so much as wave. Thor was still lingering, though given the hole in his chest, he'd be leaving soon- probably to find a hospital or something.

A hand fell on Reyes's shoulder, taking his attention away from the redheaded demigod. It was the Flash, looking a good deal less heroic than usual; she looked like she was about ready to collapse right then and there. Despite her sorry state, she was offering him help. Letting him know that he could count on her if he ever ended up in trouble. Jaime was glad he had the helmet on to hide the reddening of his cheeks. "Uh..y-yeah! Yeah. I'll do that. Thanks." He nodded fervently, even as she turned around and started to make her leave.

He still had what she told him earlier about getting a 'nom de guerre' in the back of his mind. Jaime didn't know for sure what it meant- it sounded like a type of souffle- but he believed he understood the gist of it. He needed a hero name. Something inspiring. Something heroic. Something that when you hear it, you can't help but feel like everything'll be okay.

A name like...

Like...

”You did good out there J- Er, ‘scuse me. I mean, uh, nice one, Blue Beetle?”
DocTachyon


"Blue Beetle?" Reyes lifted a hand to his chin, mulling over it. He was certainly blue. And he had to admit, the armor was rather beetle like, the more he thought about it. "Blue Beetle..." It didn't sound nearly as iconic as Flash, but he didn't have any better ideas. Jaime shrugged. He had plenty of time to work on it."It'll do for now." He nodded.

Jaime jumped on the opportunity to get a ride back home from Vigilante. He couldn't exactly fly yet, and the armor didn't come with bus tokens as far as he knew, so he didn't have too many other options. " I'd appreciate that." He didn't mind the fact that it'd be a long ride. After everything that had happened, Jaime could do with some slowing down.




El Paso, Texas

The road was long and arduous, but Jaime was finally home again. It felt like an eternity had passed since he walked through those poorly paved streets, passed his neighbors of questionable character, and took in the scent of freshly baked bread and motor oil.

They used to call his neighborhood the Devil's Triangle back before Jaime was born. Gang violence, drug trafficking and prostitution plagued the streets back in the late seventies and eighties. His parents used to tell him stories about how they couldn't walk home after four o'clock without being followed by some scumbag in gang colors.

Things were much calmer these days. Jaime had yet to be accosted by anyone in all his years growing up there, and the city had even changed the name to the far less aggressive Angel's Triangle. Now instead of drugs and gangsters it was known for rampant poverty and terrible burgers. Still, part of him used to be nervous passing this particular corner, especially when the sun started to go down.

Used to be being the key phrase there; before he went and had a giant alien weapon fused to his arm.

Vigilante had offered to drive Jaime right home, but he'd declined, asking to be dropped off a ways away. He told Vig that he wanted to stretch his legs. It was a paper thin lie that Saunders probably saw right though, though thankfully he didn't press and did as Reyes requested. The truth of the matter was that Jaime had no idea what he was going to say. He'd been gone for so long- been through such an...impossible ordeal. How would his parents react if he told them the truth? Should he even tell them the truth? Trying to hide the fact that he had an alien in his skin sounded like a terrible idea that wouldn't last a month before he was found out. But if he just came out and told them, could they look at him the same way after everything he'd done?

He rounded the corner, his tiny, one story house coming into view. There were a dozen other homes that looked exactly the same around it, from the color of the roof right down to the ragged, rundown appearance of the walls. He could feel his heart pounding through his chest and his blood pressure spike all in the same instance.

"Ya gotta be kiddin' me." He muttered under his breath. "You fought the Surfer, Jaime. Get a grip. It's just your parents. They'll...they'll understand. They have to."

Right?

Reyes stepped onto the crack, gum-infested sidewalk, walking passed the chipped, bent chainlink fence that cordoned off the little section of houses he lived in from the rest of the Triangle. The faint sound of an off-tune beat carried on the blistering warmth of the wind. He felt his heart beating faster with every step he took, each potential scenario about what could happen playing through his head. It kept getting consecutively worse and more ridiculous. As he took that final step up onto his porch and reached for the doorknob, Jaime had gone so far deep that he was wondering if his parents had it in them to report him to SHIELD.

It was insanity, of course; they'd never do such a thing. Even in the absolute worst scenario, he couldn't feasibly imagine-

"...Thank you for your time, Mrs. Reyes, I appreciate it. Let us know if you hear anything." The gaunt faced man with slicked-back blonde hair had a voice like a ghoul and eyes that could pierce through steel. Jaime almost did recognize him at first, standing in the middle of Reyes's living room in a tacky Hawaiian shirt, sandals and cargo shorts. But that voice had been burned in his brain the moment he awoke in that interrogation room, strapped down to a chair and was told he had killed thirty people.

Agent Sitwell wrapped his skeletal fingers around his mom's hand, the corners of his mouth upturned in a twisted interpretation of warmth. There were two more agents in plain clothes huddled together not far from them, whispering about something that Jaime couldn't make out. He ignored them. His entire attention was absorbed on his own mother and the man that turned Reyes into a wanted criminal.

It felt like someone had driven a dagger through his heart.

He wanted to move. He wanted to do something- to run, to fight, to...speak...But he found himself incapable. His muscles locked up. His throat went dry. His mind was made blank. It felt like he had been robbed of any meaning and sense of balance as a sense of vertigo pounded against the inside of his head.

'Threat detected. Attack.' The Scarab howled within his mind. It knew well what had happened the last time they encountered Sitwell, and it refused to let Jaime endure that again. The chitin slipped forth over his hand like a second skin, morphing and changing as it took the on the heavy barrel of it's primary weapon and igniting it all in the same, fluid motion. The sleeve of his jacket exploded in a spray of torn material as the gun tried to lift itself.

That drew the attention of the extra agents, their hands going down to the handguns at their sides as they shouted at Reyes to freeze. He still hadn't made a conscious move. Sitwell himself spun around, the shock on his face matching the look that Jaime himself wore. They locked eyes for several seconds in a silent acknowledgement of everything that had happened since their last encounter. Sitwell knew what Jaime had done at the Raft. He knew that Jaime had helped save the world.

"Stand down!" He screamed, throwing a hand back at his partners. Neither of them obeyed; all they needed to see was the gargantuan weapon on Jaime's arm to justify shooting at a terrified and confused sixteen year old boy. Bullets tore through brittle stone, sending sprays of rock flying out over the grass alongside bits of hot metal. Reyes tripped over his own feet in his desperate bid to escape, no part of him wishing to fight anywhere near his mother- he wouldn't risk her getting hurt.

"God damn it! Put the gun away, Scarab-" Jaime shouted over the sound of gunfire, his armor slipping on over his torn clothing even as he sprinted out into the open once again. He was in full panic mode, the only thought in his mind to escape before SHIELD managed to pin him down. He still didn't have the proof he needed to absolve himself and the Scarab of guilt. He still needed to bring in Dr. Caulder. He needed more time.

The roar of an engine drew his gaze down the road, locking it on a white van that was speeding toward him. More agents. They had this entire block on lock down, no doubt; they'd have reinforcements pouring in with bigger, better firepower in no time flat. Reyes needed to find a way out of town, now...before it was too late.

The van's driver hit the horn and held down on it, even as he brought it up alongside Jaime before he even had a chance to consider where he might run to. He squared up to deal with the men inside, hands ready before his face when the side door slid open.

And his eyes locked with Paco Tejas. His broad shouldered friend had his hand held out, a desperate look plastered on his face. He was motioning for Jaime to take it, even as several rounds struck the inside of the cabin- getting frightfully close to Paco's head.

"GET IN!" Brenda Del Vecchio shouted from the driver's seat with all of the rage of a burning star.

Jaime hesitated for just a moment before he locked his fingers around Paco's, dragging himself into the vehicle. They slammed the car door behind them and Brenda hit the gas, shooting down the empty street like a bottle rocket on the Fourth of July.

"Esos idiotas están locos! Are they trying to kill us?!" The redhead snarled, pulling on the wheel to take a sharp turn that nearly sent the vehicle rolling. It lurched, two of the wheels briefly leaving the ground before slamming back to the concrete and shaking the entire metal frame.

Reyes climbed up to the front seat, forgoing his seat belt as he glanced between the two. "What the hell are you two doing? How are you- how are you even here?!"

"Dropped outta a portal by that wackjob in the cloak." Paco explained, popping up between the two front seats. "Same as you, right? With all the craziness in the sky-"

"Yeah, and the voice! What was up with that?"

"Not the time, morons!" Brenda snapped. She wrenched on the wheel again, shooting around a car that was driving twenty miles too slow for her as she was busy trying to escape an international spy organization that had just tried to murder the three of them. "Where the hell are we going? Anybody got any ideas?!"

Reyes furrowed his brow, searching through every location he could think of. Central City? The Flash did say he could rely on her....Maybe back to Warpath, with Saunders? The three of them would be safe in either of those places, for a time.

But that was the problem: only a for a time. SHIELD was going to keep chasing Jaime until they either caught him or he proved his innocence. But he couldn't do the latter until he found Dr. Caulder, and he didn't have a clue where that bastard was hiding-

But he did have a clue, didn't he?

"Metropolis. Make for Metropolis." Jaime finally said, his expression shifting once more. It hardened with resolve. He was done running. He had to find the other alien and find out what in the hell was actually going on.

Jaime Reyes- The Blue Beetle- was going to clear his name.

No matter what it took.



TO BE CONTINUED...
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Ultimate One Universe: Season Two Application


The Unflinching Traitor to Mankind...Blue Beetle!
"Great. Just great. My psychotic Jiminy Cricket comes with an error message. Terrific."


Full Name

Jaime Reyes

Alias

Blue Beetle

Powers/Abilities

Synaptic Symbiosis Interface: The Scarab Parasite has embedded itself within the genetic code of the human being known as Jaime Reyes. It's fused together with his internal structure seamlessly, altering his physiology on a molecular level to make Jaime a more perfect host body for the Scarab unit. These changes make Reyes far more robust, even in his 'ordinary' form, and his energy consumption has been made two hundred times more efficient for added endurance at less of a cost. Most importantly, however, it is what allows the Scarab to communicate with Jaime telepathically.

Technological and Biological Assimilation: There is no singular race in the entire universe that can be described as perfect. Each has flaws- gaps in it's knowledge that can be exploited. The Scarab was designed to circumvent this flaw. It's body is the perfect blend of technology and biology, forged with the express purpose of assimilating and absorbing any and all tech it encounters deemed to be useful in the pursuit of perfection. Thus far, the Scarab has encountered nothing it cannot absorb within itself and make use of. Assimilated parts are typically 'upgraded' using other bits of technology already installed in the Scarab.



Season One Recap

Jaime Reyes's life was turned on it's head when he encountered a piece of alien technology in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History that, when activated, crawled down his throat and took control of his body, using him to slaughter nearly twenty innocent people. He was captured by the international organization known as SHIELD and interrogated by one Jasper Sitwell. The interrogation went south, ending in the deaths of several SHIELD agents and Jaime fleeing from the scene with the dubious assistance of the alien squatting inside of his body. He returned to Washington, D.C, intent on discovering the truth when he found himself assailed by an unknown force.

He was kidnapped and brought to a facility owned by Doctor Niles Caulder, a paraplegic telepath with one of the greatest minds the world had ever seen, squandered by ambition and cruelty. The good doctor had spent his life chasing after ancient aliens and unearthly artifacts, bleeding himself and everyone around him dry in his attempt to change the world with his discoveries. He lost his legs in his chase for knowledge, though he gained much more: he and two of his colleagues were granted power beyond their own understanding, and it was with these powers that they pursued Jaime and the Scarab. Niles revealed that he was the one responsible for the Scarab attack; his attempt to communicate with the alien had apparently sent it into a blind rage.

For all of the doctor's attempts to coerce, persuade and force Jaime to give up the Scarab, Niles was unsuccessful in his operation. He had his lackey cast Reyes away, vowing that he would return to take the alien from him when the time was right.

A ragged, wounded and tired Jaime was then dragged into the world-spanning test of the Silver Surfer. Despite his sour state, the boy's conviction carried him to New York City, where he attempted to do battle for a world that had turned it's back on him. He did little in the grand scheme of things, but it gave him a taste for heroism, let him make critical connections with fellow metahumans, and even gave him his new alias...

The Blue Beetle.

Three months have passed since. Jaime lives out of the back of a van with his close friends and allies, Paco and Brenda. They've been dodging SHIELD and working to find the supposed second Beetle that Niles spoke of. Thus far, they've had little luck in the matter; most days the trio is too occupied keeping out of the law's watchful eye to continue pursuing their only lead.

It's far from a glamorous existence. The only money they have for food and gas come from care packages sent in by Brenda's aunt, and even then it often isn't enough to get them through the week. Local police tend to hound them for 'squatting,' and Jaime only attracts more negative attention when he 'suits up' to do nightly patrols. Both Paco and Brenda tell him it's moronic, but he doesn't care. The exhaustion he feels when he comes back helps him sleep.

Where Do You Plan To Take The Character This Season?:

Season One was about laying out the groundwork for Jaime as a character, and teasing the rest of the story I wanted to tell. Now that we're in Season Two, though, I can really kick it into full gear. Whereas before I was working in a vacuum to build up the mythos and tell Blue Beetle's Origin, this time around I'm looking to introduce him to the rest of the world and hopefully leave an impact on it by the end.

To that end, I've crafted a villain with a very specific motive that'll drag Jaime across the country and beat him to his knees worse than last season's villain ever could. This'll be the biggest threat that Reyes faces, and there's no chance he's going to be able to do it alone. His growth as a hero and as a person are both vital to learning to triumph over what lies ahead, and that includes learning that he can't handle everything on his own.

Many of the threads left unfinished from last season will find conclusions as well. In particular there'll be a focus on the guilt that Jaime has wrestled with, and revealing the ugly ways he's been attempting to absolve himself of it. If I could nail down the themes for this seasons, they'd definitely be redemption and triumph despite (or through) suffering.

Supporting Cast

Paco Tejas: Jaime and Paco have stuck together through thick and thin. They met all the way back in Kindergarten, and haven't spent more than a week apart from one another since. Paco's one of many middle children in a family of eight. He loves his family to death, but by God if he can't stand how crowded his tiny house is.

Despite his great size, Paco is generally a timid person. He has no room for violence in his heart, and could even by described as somewhat cowardly on his worst days. Still, he's proven himself to be invaluable his companions over the last three months with his technical skill and knowledge of all things mechanical. He wants to be supportive of Jaime's endeavors, but he can't help the feeling that something terrible is going to happen to him if he keeps it up; that armor of his doesn't make him invincible, after all.

Brenda Del Vecchio: The coolest person willing to associate with Jaime, Brenda's been part of the gang since seventh grade. Both her best friends were made aware of her...less than ideal home life a long time ago, and they've done their best to support her through her personal struggles.

Brenda's always had a fire in her that few could tame, but the recent months on the run have only seemed to fan those flames. Hunger and exhaustion has made her temperamental, and the constant need for vigilance against SHIELD has only exasperated her more. She often finds herself forced to keep the leash on Jaime and Paco, who don't seem to understand the danger they've put themselves in. To make matters worse, her aunt grows less and less supportive of her 'road trip' with each passing week, insisting that Brenda return home to El Paso where she can be safe. She's held steadfast thus far, but as the months drag on and their attempts continue to bear no fruit, Brenda's beginning to believe they'll never find this 'alien' Jaime insists they chase.

Ted Kord: Ted Kord is the owner and CEO of Kord Industries. Based out of Metropolis, the tech company is best known for it's advances in nanotechnology- it's one of a handful that's managed to avoid being devoured in the ever-growing titan that is lexCorp. Ted has always fashioned himself as a self made man, and he'll be damned if he sells his soul to anyone.

The Brotherhood of Evil: Led by Dr. Caulder, AKA The Brain, the Brotherhood is a group of metahumans and hired goons meant to assist Caulder in his attempts to capture and study Jaime Reyes. Though they haven't made an attempt on the boy since they dropped him off in Warpath, Caulder continues to keep a watchful eye on his activities, all the while mustering the strength needed to take what rightfully belongs to him.

The current members of the Brotherhood include The Brain, Warp and the deceased(?) Plasmus.

Baran Flinders: A mutant born with an incredible capacity for growth, Baran was an easy target for bullying as a child; he was far too tall for a boy his age, and due to his X-gene, he was often overweight. The cruelty continued as he grew older, seemingly only getting worse as the abuse turned physical. Driven to the edge of his sanity, Baran retreated into himself and began on a path toward self-improvement. He took advantage of his mutant abilities and packed on pounds upon pounds of muscle, cutting down his diet and transforming himself from an awkwardly shaped loser to a paragon of strength. His former bullies treated him quite differently afterward, and that only empowered Baran to exact his revenge against them. He began his own form of torment that escalated in cruelty and violence until he found himself behind bars.

Now, after twenty years, he's returned from prison, though felony assault charges have made life...difficult for him, to say the least.

La Dama: A faceless crimelord and the queen of Texas's underground. Real name unknown. Influences stretch all the way down to various Cartels in Latin and South America. After the Punisher tore his way from her territory and over to Los Angeles, she's grown paranoid and defensive over her holdings, fearing that New York City's Reaper would return to deal out his brand of lead-based justice. She's invested heavily in arming her gangsters for what she perceives as the coming storm.

Jasper Sitwell: The agent assigned to interrogate Jaime after the Smithsonian Incident, Jasper has suffered setback after setback in his search for the boy. More often than not, his own team has been responsible for the escalation of conflict with Jaime; no part of Sitwell enjoys leading a manhunt against a teenager, but the power Jaime wields is far too much to be left in the hands of someone that young. The massacre committed by his hands (whether accidental or not) proves that.

Issue #1



The Blue Beetle Series:



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S.I.O #4217




WARNING: THIS DOCUMENT IS CONSIDERED CLASSIFIED UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND THE DIRECTOR OF SHIELD. VIEWING OF THIS DOCUMENT WITHOUT PROPER AUTHORIZATION WILL RESULT IN PROSECUTION.


INVESTIGATOR: Anderson, R. ADDEDUM: Sitwell, J.
CASE NUMBER: #4300 - 01 ADDEDUM: #4217 - 32
CURRENT DATE: 12/30/2018

DECENDENT IDENTIFICATION


NAME: Frank, Robert, M.
SS#: <REDACTED>
ALISES: XxWhizzer1337xX; Robbie
D.O.B: 11/27/91
GENDER: [_] FEMALE [X] MALE [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)
RACE: [X] WHITE [_] HISPANIC [_] AFRICAN AM. [_] ASIAN/PACIFIC ISLANDER [_] HUMAN [X] MUTANT [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)
MARITAL STATUS: [_] MARRIED [X] DIVORED [_] WIDOWED [_] NEVER MARRIED [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)

DECEDENT WAS HOMELESS: [ ] YES [X] NO
HOME ADDRESS: 744 Stark Ave, #206
CITY: Blüdhaven
STATE: NJ
COUNTY: Central Business District
ZIP CODE: 53540
PHONE NUMBER(S): <REDACTED>

EMPLOYMENT STATUS: [_] EMPLOYED [_] UNEMPLOYED [X] OTHER

While technically unemployed, Mr. Frank regularly participated in 'Esports tournaments' for a video game called 'Street Fighter,' earning large enough cash prizes to sustain his spartan lifestyle. From the statements we've taken, he was considered arguably one of, if not the, best players in the world, rarely losing even a single match despite playing several hundred over the course of the last handful of years.
Note

PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT: N/A
OCCUPATION: Freelance 'Esports Athlete'

SCENE INFORMATION

DATE NOTIFIED: 12/30/18
TIME NOTIFIED APPROX.: 17:45 HRS
INVESTIGATOR NOTIFIED BY: Officer Higsby, Brian - BHPD First Responder; Matthews, Julien - Neighbor

Mr. Matthews noticed a strong smell while passing Mr. Frank's residence and, in distress, chose to force entry into the room, fearing for Mr. Frank's life. Upon discovering the body he called local police. Due to the nature of the victim's injuries, SHIELD was contacted thirty minutes later. Mr. Matthews is currently being evaluated for breaking and entering charges by the BHPD alongside being held as a suspect in Mr. Frank's death.
Note

ADDRESS OF INCIDENT: 744 Stark Ave, #206, Blüdhaven, NJ, 53540
PLACE OF INCIDENT: [X] DECADENT'S HOME [_] PLACE OF BUSINESS [_] HOSPITAL [_] SCHOOL [_] ROADWAY [_] DETENTION FACILITY [_] ANOTHER HOME [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)

No sign of breaking and entering prior to Mr. Matthews's alleged intervention. The decadent's body had been decaying for several days prior to this incident, making Mr. Matthew's an unlikely suspect, but he is being investigated regardless. The Place of Incident is noted as being unkempt and poorly maintained. Visits from guests appeared to be infrequent at best prior to the incident. Neighbors report very rarely seeing Mr. Frank around the complex, though he was noted several times as being cordial and friendly, if not somewhat withdrawn.
Note


LEAD-UP TO INCIDENT:

Thousands of unique private messages were pulled from a number of websites that Robert frequented under the pseudonym 'Whizzer.' While most of these proved irrelevant to our investigation, we believe his correspondence with <REDACTED> may be linked to his murder. He was first contacted by <REDACTED> only a week after the breaking of his 'mutant scandal' via direct message on Twitter.

Several of these messages are transcribed below, beginning on 7/6/18.



XxWhizzer1337xX: yeah its been really tough these last few days :( but im starting to feel a bit better i guess

<REDACTED>: I can imagine. What they did to you is unacceptable; you didn't deserve any of it.

XxWhizzer1337xX: thanks. its nice to know at least one person gives a shit lol. are you a fan ?

<REDACTED>: Certainly. I've been watching your career quite closely since you joined the scene. Your game versus Daigo in particular fascinated me. I've never seen anyone play so perfectly.

XxWhizzer1337xX: >~< oh jeez, thanks. but its not like i earned that win

<REDACTED>: Preposterous. Why would you say that?

XxWhizzer1337xX: you know why. everybodys been talking about it. im a mutant

<REDACTED>: And how, precisely, is that your fault? You didn't cheat. You didn't alter the game in any way. You're simply better than them. And I don't mean just at the game.



Correspondence continued daily for the next two months until the nature of their relationship changed on 9/13/18, as transcribed below.



XxWhizzer1337xX: hey, i know this is rly random and everything, but. . .i just wanted to say thank you. youve made life bearable for these last few months. honestly i dont know if id be alive if it werent for you

<REDACTED>: Anytime, Rob. I'll always be here for you.

XxWhizzer1337xX: there was one other thing, but. . .god its so embarrasing

<REDACTED>: What is it?

XxWhizzer1337xX: dont take this the wrong way or anything, but you look rly cute

<REDACTED>: Why thank you. You're quite handsome yourself.

XxWhizzer1337xX: nah, im ugly af lol. but thx anyway ^^




The frequency of their messaging increased exponentially at this point, becoming a good deal more explicit in nature over time. It's unclear the precise date in which the two became romantically involved, but by the time December arrived, they were planning on meeting in person for the first time. They made plans to spend Christmas together in a hotel located halfway between where each party lived. This changed on 12/20/18 as transcribed below.



XxWhizzer1337xX: im sorry. im so so sorry. i dont know whats wrong with me

<REDACTED>: Please reconsider, Rob. We've been planning this for far too long for you to flake on me now.

XxWhizzer1337xX: i know

<REDACTED>: Don't you love me, Rob? Don't you want us to be together?

XxWhizzer1337xX: of course i do, but. . .

<REDACTED>: Then let's meet. We can finally be together

XxWhizzer1337xX: i cant, im sorry but i cant. im so nervous im literally in tears rn. i want to but i just cant handle it rn

<REDACTED>: You're going to meet with me, Robert.

XxWhizzer1337xX: ill be ready next year, i promise

<REDACTED>: Christmas Eve. This Christmas Eve.

XxWhizzer1337xX: i already told you no, <REDACTED>. stop it

<REDACTED>: I already booked the flight. I'm not cancelling it now.

XxWhizzer1337xX: pls just drop it ok? i feel bad enough already

<REDACTED>: If you're not at the hotel on Christmas Eve then I'm coming down to you whether you like it or not. You're being obtuse

XxWhizzer1337xX: wtf dude. why're you being so fking creepy

<REDACTED>: Don't test me, boy.



At this point, <REDACTED> grew increasingly distraught, his messages becoming more threatening to the point where Mr. Frank decided to block <REDACTED>'s Twitter account. <REDACTED> went on to create several dozen alternate accounts, sending Mr. Frank hundreds of messages, many of them little more than a jumble of numbers and letters. Robert decided to delete his account. Based on his search history it appeared that he was looking for a new apartment on the other side of Blüdhaven.
Note


CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING DEATH


DATE OF DEATH APPROX.: 12/25/18
TIME OF DEATH APPROX.: 00:00 HRS
PLACE OF PRONOUNCED DEATH: [X] DEAD AT INJURY LOCATION [_] DEAD ON ARRIVAL [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)
MANNER OF DEATH: [_] NATURAL [_] SUICIDE [_] ACCIDENTAL [X] HOMICIDE [_] OTHER (Please Specify Here)

CAUSE OF DEATH:
Due to the extent of the decedent's injuries, it's impossible to determine which of these injuries was the ultimate cause of his demise. Repeated blunt force trauma to the front of the head is the most likely cause; however, it's entirely possible that the decedent was still alive when the <REDACTED> broke through his chest cavity and crawled inside of his bloodstream. If this was the case, he would've remained conscious until roughly <REDACTED> percentage of his bodily fluids had been drained from his body; at which point, his mind would've shut down. It's unclear how long the draining process lasted, ranging anywhere from ten minutes to <REDACTED> hours.
Medical Examiner


ADDENDUM: Due to forensic evidence confirming the presence of Special Interest Object #4217's plasma residue within the victim's apartment, this case is hereby being transferred to AGENT SITWELL, J. All further information should be presented to him and his team. Godspeed, gentlemen, and good luck.
OFFICAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
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Wess Bathens

"My father's peers called him a savage behind his back; I will accept no less than 'equal.'"




Identification/Serial Number:
KY-9914


Sex:
Male


Age:
23


Homeworld:
Aquella


Rank:
Private


Role:
Stormsurgeon


Callsign:
Patches


Appearance:
A destined soldier from the day he turned eleven years old, Wess Bathens learned underneath the best trainers and dieticians his father's credits could buy. He spent every waking moment crafting himself into an icon worthy of his homeworld, and worthy of the Galactic Empire; he was all but born and bred to fight. Standing at five feet and eleven inches, his body is a series of forged, tightly packed muscle in a slender yet powerful frame.

Fists like tempered metal and eyes as cold and blue as ice characterize the son of Aquella's senate representative, though surprisingly his planet's traditional, full-body tribal tattoos are absent; the only mark upon Wess's body is a small purple swirl around his left wrist. Deep brown hair with faded sides frames a handsome, clean-shaven face.


Equipment:
Standard E-11 Blaster Rifle
Standard Plastoid Armor w/ Bronze Identification Pauldron
Backpack
Additional E-11 Energy Cells
Ion Flares
Bacta Patches, Salves, Bactade, and Bio-Bacta Tank
Additional Medical Supplies
A Single Thermal Detonator


Psychological Analysis:


Backstory:
Senator Daros Bathen, the democratically elected representative of planet Aquella, was not a popular man on either his homeworld or Coruscant. At home, he was often referred to as a traitor to his culture and a dog of the Empire; in Coruscant, they thought of him as a savage stuck in his ancient, outdated ways, barely better than an alien. In an effort to bridge the two clashing cultures, Daros and his wife, Sara, brought their child to Coruscant. He was named Wess after his grandfather and was to be raised as they hoped all future sons of Aquella would be raised- with their culture intact, yet modernized to conform to Imperial law.

As a boy, Wess found himself enthralled by the pomp and circumstance of life in the Empire's capital city. He was more than attuned to the fanciful parties, strange costumes, and plentiful festivities. One of the things he enjoyed most was waking up early to watch the Stormtroopers in their bright, heroic armor drill in the Imperial Plaza every morning. Though he didn't know it at the time, that impressive sight would be burned into the forefront of his mind for the rest of his life.

Though life as the son of a senator proved hectic and enjoyable, his father, Daros, was bending under the weight. His superiors in the Senate were pressuring him to tame the wild nature of his home system, pressing hard for the eradication of slavery in particular. The Aquellans were far from accepting, as the enslavement of debtors and the children of whores had been a facet of their religion and culture for thousands of years; it was a common punishment for petty crimes since it was said that imprisonment made men lazy and worthless. Their vitriolic refusal had brought the veritable hammer down on their heads when a Stormtrooper battalion arrived and forcibly freed every man, woman, and child enchained. Many believed that it would be impossible to reconcile Imperial rule with the ferociously independent Aquellan culture. Even Daros's own family and sponsors doubted him, often pleading with him to return home so that Wess might grow up a proper man.

Infuriated by their derision and unwilling to break, Daros spoke frankly to his son about the situation they were in. He convinced his child that the only way to solve the issues they faced would be to prove that Aquellan culture could be integrated with Imperial rule; he needed to prove that a child could grow up under the Emperor's banner yet continue to live free and serve his gods with the same fervency and reverence as ever. Wess would be that proof. He would be the living embodiment of everything that Daros had preached. Wess would be lauded as an icon of his people, and a model of Imperial service and citizenship. Eager to make his father proud, he accepted, and the course of his life was altered forever as he was immediately enrolled in a prestigious Imperial Military Academy.

Wess had a natural athletic ability that, when coupled with his pre-training from age eleven, made him a top student in his class of cadets at the academy. He had a sharp, inquisitive mind coupled with a dedication and discipline one could not expect. Every course, every drill and every little scrap of instruction was approached with the fullest eagerness; there was almost a palpable desperation in the way Wess leaped at each opportunity presented to him. He proved particularly interested in the field of field medicine, where he was promptly transferred after putting in a request to the academy head.

He eventually graduated in the top percentile of his class, earning the right to wear that shining white armor that he had once ogled at from a distance. Though he has only served for a handful of years, he's already adjusted well to the soldiering life; admittedly he does miss the luxury he once lived in, but his surroundings are more than tolerable. One of his primary duties given to him by his father was to document his time in the army well, sending back plenty of material for Daros to use as Imperial propaganda to show Aquella the light. His whole world's eyes lay on Wess as he makes his slow, perilous climb up the Imperial ladder.

'Imperius Unitada ober Totallex'


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Silent Night, Holy Night #1


Metropolis, Delware - Suicide Slum

It was a cold and lonely Christmas night. There was naught a carol in the air, nor a cheer of a child born; the few that roamed those dark, freezing streets had no home to return to and no hearth to sit beside. The destitute, the homeless and the unwanted wandered between those looming projects and those rundown apartments with dark circles under their eyes and solemn looks plastered on their weary faces.

Jaime Reyes was among their number. A child driven from his home three months prior, with nary a clean blanket or a working heater to call his own. A numbness etched itself into his marrow as the wind beat into his thin coat. There was a sharp pain in his cheeks like needles in his flesh as each frozen gust rolled by. He tried to ignore it as he thrust his shovel into the snow, lifting it up with all the strength his arms could muster and throw it back into the grass.

Though the snow still fell from the grey clouds that loomed overhead, he'd been tasked with clearing a path to the apartment complex towering over him. It was one of many odd jobs he'd been forced to take on after their last care package ran dry; it was the only way he might afford a more adequate coat. Shivering and fumbling to keep his fingers from falling off, he continued his work, diligent and desperate to finish that uncomfortable work.

"You look like you're about to pass out." A voice called from down the sidewalk. Brenda was approaching through the snow, her own shovel hanging over her shoulder and a much larger, firmer coat wrapped about her form. She, at least, was bundled up properly. "You can borrow my coat if-"

Jaime cut her off with a firm shake of his head. "No, no. I'm fine," he lied. "The Scarab keeps me warm. Let's just hurry up so we can get back to the van." This wasn't the first time she'd offered, and it wasn't the first time he had to use that excuse. Reyes knew she did worse with the cold than him. Even with how she was dressed up, she still looked frozen to the bone. Reyes could take it. They were nearly finished anyway. He just had to ignore it for a little longer.

It wasn't the only thing he was trying to ignore.

"-can't do anything right, you god damn bitch-"

The Scarab was the only reason Jaime was still alive. It had saved him several times over, and for that he was nothing but thankful. He appreciated all it could do- all of the power it allowed him to wield. It let him do a lot of good.

"-please, Henry, not in front of Mary-"

But there were some things Jaime wished it couldn't do.

"-don't you tell me what not to fucking do!"

Some things he wished he couldn't hear.

"I'm sorry! Please, just-"

Jaime had been so enthralled in the whispers carried to his ear by the Scarab that he hadn't noticed just how hard he was digging with the shovel until he heard a sharp snap like a whip. He blinked, staring down at the handle- he'd broken it straight in half on the concrete, the head of the tool sent clattering against the pavement. His hands were shaking, but not from the cold.

'Just ignore it.' He told himself.

"Jaime?" Brenda called again, dragging his gaze away from that broken mess of a tool. He'd have to pay to replace it- less money to go toward food and new clothes. Typical. "They're at it again, aren't they?" She sighed, her voice solemn and quiet.

He nodded without saying a word, unwilling to meet her sympathetic gaze.

This wasn't the first time he'd heard it. They spent a great deal of time in this neighborhood the last few months as they chased ghosts and leads that never went anywhere. In fact, they used to park their van in an alley just around the corner- it didn't last long, though. Jaime couldn't sleep with all the screaming in his ears.

She sighed. "I'll go tell Larry. We can get the cops down here again, and-"

"-And what?" Jaime suddenly let out a violent, angry snarl, his eyes darting up from the snow to meet her gaze. There was a fire burning behind his pupils that had rarely lived there. "And what, Brenda?" He repeated with equal, furious emphasis. "Nothing, that's what. Nothing's going to happen. Nothing happened the first time we called, nothing happened the seventh time we called, nothing's going to happen this time either." He protested, tossing down the broken remains of his shovel as he threw his hands up into the air in a sudden start. "The cops don't care. They've never cared. I...I should-"

It was Brenda's turn to cut him off. "You should what, Jaime?" She took his own words, twisting them against him as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Throw on your armor and go kick Henry's ass? Is that what you want to do?" She accused, taking several steps toward him.

Jaime didn't back down, meeting her iron gaze with one of equal strength. "Maybe- maybe, yeah! Maybe I will!"

He was supposed to be a hero now. He had to do something.

That set her off even worse as she continued to press him, moving even closer. "Brilliant, Reyes, fucking brilliant." Brenda praised, her words oozing with joyless sarcasm. "Do you have the memory of a goldfish? Because the last time you brought the Scarab out, SHIELD spent three weeks chasing us across the country! How much sleep did we get then, Jaime, huh? How close did they get to catching us?"

He fought the Silver Surfer. He helped save the world.

Jaime took a step backward, his hands moving up to run through his hair. He could feel his heart pounding through the front of his chest. There was a pressure in his skull as he felt an unrelenting desire to drive his fist through something. He was angry. So, so angry. But he felt a snaking pit of doubt forming in his stomach. He remembered those first nights all too well- he remembered how palpable his fear was back then- he was sure they were going to be caught. He didn't want to go back to those days. Yet...at the same time... "Am I supposed to do nothing?" He asked, his voice broken and pleading. "Is that it? You want me to just sit here and listen like I couldn't stop it whenever I wanted?"

But now...

"Yes!" She affirmed without skipping a beat. She was equally distraught, if not more so. She felt like a monster for trying to convince Jaime not to help someone in need. It made her soul ache with a painful sort of spite; she hated having to be on this side of the argument. But she knew he had to hear this. She knew from the very depth of her marrow that Jaime needed to be reminded of the consequences his actions would wrought. "It's not worth the risk. If you get caught, we're done. Do you understand that? We're done. They're going to lock you up and throw away the key. Every night we spent in the back of that stupid...stupid van? It'll- it'll be wasted. You'll be blamed for everything that happened and, and we- I- won't get to see you again."

...Now he couldn't save just one little girl?

Those words cut deep, and they gave Jaime pause. He retreated another step, his eyes falling to his feet as he was overcome by shame and guilt. Conflicted, weary and cold, the only thing he wanted to do now was to shut out all of the noise and leave. He stood in silence for several minutes, the sound of that vitriolic arguing like the constant, mocking whispers of his inner demons. His shoulders sunk when he finally spoke, his voice naught by a broken mutter. "Alright. Let's tell Larry." The landlord could handle it. He'd tell the police, and...and they'd come down and talk to Henry again...Maybe this time it'd change. Maybe this time it'd be better.

And if not?

'Just ignore it, Jaime.' He was forced to tell himself.

Some hero he turned out to be.
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Op. No. KY-9914; Pvt. Malik Skaya
121st Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, 1st Squad
Lothor Minor | In orbit aboard the Tempest
APPROX. 1200HRS; 5 BBY



A burst of static covered the screen like a field of jagged, broken light. It's steady, stabbing rhythm lasted for no more than a second as it transitioned harshly into a black screen, the day's date marking the middle in large, blocky letters. The darkness receded slowly, revealing a poorly lit, tightly cramped room, and a man seated far too close to the camera.

"Shamech talcu."

Though spoken in little more than a gentle whisper, the voice seemed to rumble with the depth of an ocean trench and the barely constrained power of a thunderstorm. The audio cut, a burst of crumbled static cutting off the next few words he spoke before it came rumbling back in like a runaway starfreighter. It was exactly the sort of voice one would expect to come from the brawny behemoth with a rigid, aggressive jawline and shoulders broad enough to carry a Bantha on. Even underneath the plastoid white armor of a Stormtrooper, one could make out that he was a powerfully-built individual.

"I apologize for how long it's been since my last message, but things have been...chaotic, recently." Fat, tired bags hung underneath brilliant ruby eyes, emphasizing the exhaustion that permeated his words. He forced a smile, long lines stretching across his face as he glanced above the camera. His brow furrowed, a hand reaching up into frame. It fumbled with something, sending the screen into a violent, shaky mess. "Is this even on?" The voice growled, the rest of his mumbling cut off by the booming sound of his hand slapping against the side of the cam. After seemingly determining that it was, in fact on, he returned to his seat- which looked to be no more than an overturned container inside of a tightly packed sanitation closet.

"Right, where was I?" He sighed, rubbing a great, meaty fist in his eye. He was quiet for a few moments while he tried to remember what he was talking about before. "Why I haven't recorded anything. That's right." He nodded, pulling himself back on track. "I was transferred away from my previous team. It was a last minute decision; this squad needed a spot filled and I was the one they chose to do it. It's not ideal if I'm honest with you- I was only just adjusting to the last bunch, and now I've got to start all over again." He sighed again, his gaze sharpening for just a moment; he remained still for several seconds until his expression began to relax.

"Once I have their trust, I'll begin sending footage with them back to you, father. Hopefully, they'll provide a better example of the Empire's finest than the last bunch." There was a brief glimmer of hope in his gaze, but it was struggling not to be choked out by the frustration and exhaustion that fought to hover in those crimson eyes. "If not, well-"

The man in the video cut himself off, his eyes darting out of frame. He leaned down, retrieving a bucket-shaped helmet from the floor and placing it upon his lap. It was beeping softly, a red light flashing to alert him of an incoming message. "-Apologies, father, it seems duty calls. I'll speak to you again shortly." He brought a fist up, balling his gloved hand tight. "May peace follow you wherever you may wander." He reached up back in front up of the camera, flicking it off- causing the screen to go dark in an instant.

Malik Skaya flipped his helmet around, staring down inside its dark interior. He had to turn it sideways to slip it on without getting it snagged on his nose. A chiming click sounded, informing him that he'd secured it in place. His ears were immediately greeted by the sound of his new sergeant's voice as he ordered the squad to assemble in the hangar bay. He spun around inside the closet, his gaze searching for-

There it is.

The black, sleek rifle he'd carried since his academy days was resting up against a shelf, alongside several canisters of unknown chemicals. He snatched it up, sliding it into his armor's holster before making for the door. 'Alright. Hangar bay. Hangar bay.' He went through his mental map of the Tempest, trying to remember where everything was from memory rather than relying on his HUD. Ignoring the pair of officers giving him the side eyes for popping out of the janitor's closet, Malik made his way down the hall at a quick march, intent on reaching the destination on time. He didn't want to be the last one to arrive; he hated that. It always felt like everyone stared at him when he did.

He was halfway there by the time he remembered that he needed his medical kit- since he was, in fact, a medic. Quietly reprimanding himself for his forgetfulness, he rushed back in the other direction toward the medbay at doubletime, thankful that the order to deploy meant he wouldn't be reprimanded for making such a rush. Skaya filled his pack with the standard allowed supply, logged it with the attendant, and started back toward the hangar bay- after making a brief stop at the armory for extra energy cells and flares.

By the time he'd arrived in the hangar, he was sure he'd be one of the last to arrive. It was some wonder, then, that he was only able to spot a single other member of first squad in the entire hangar. He pushed his way through the crowds of troopers, engineers and technicians that flooded the cavernous chamber, jogging up toward the armored Stormtrooper his HUD marked as 'SN-7739.'

"Uhm, hello-" Malik nodded, intent on introducing himself to his new squadmate. He had seen him around the bunks, and perhaps even spoke a few words to him, but he had yet to properly introduce himself to anyone except his ranking officer. Though he'd spoken the tongue for years now, basic was still difficult for Malik; it was so impossibly different from the native tongue of his people that he still had trouble coming off as stunted and overly formal at times. "Orson, right? My name is Malik. It is good to meet you."
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Silent Night, Holy Night #2


Metropolis, Delaware - Suicide Slum

The angelic cords of Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah flittered through the cold, winter air with a haunting grace. Spotted with sharp, angry static, that muffled tune slipped out through the cracks and dents in a conspicuously-inconspicuous van parked on that lonely, otherwise quiet street. Nothing moved through the snow banks but shadows and the whispers of a snapping breeze.

It was Christmas night and the only creature stirring was Paco Tejas.

His fingers danced across his worn and well-used keyboard like a decuple of musclebound ballerinas, occasionally pausing as their owner lost himself in the music. Paco loved this song; it was his favorite Christmas song, in fact, and he hadn't stopped blasting it since 2007 and wouldn't stop until the day he dropped dead. He cycled through different covers of it occasionally, but he always came back to Buckley in the end. There was just something about the way he sang that made it so beautifully heartbreaking. He was lucky his very Catholic parents had never paid close attention to the very Uncatholic lyrics.

As enthralled in the lyrics as he was, he didn't notice the approaching figures until one of them had already thrown open the van's driver side door. Paco gave a start, nearly leaping a foot from his seat at the loud churning of old metal that came with every attempt to move the door. His terror caught in his throat when his gaze met Brenda's tired eyes, her cheeky half-grin doing little to abate the embarrassment he felt. "You're...back!" He called, his voice cracking as he tried and failed to laugh the incident off.

"Observant as always, Paco." His best friend called from behind him, dragging Paco's head around. Jaime's shoulders were sagging, and there was something oddly subdued about his ton. Paco didn't catch it, however- not that that was in any way out of the ordinary. He hadn't even noticed Reyes open the double-doors that made up the van's rear, much less crawl inside and make himself comfortable among the blankets and pillows they'd called home for the last three months. It hadn't exactly been easy. Most nights they went to bed a little hungrier than the last, and it just kept getting colder and colder and colder...but Paco wouldn't trade it in for the world. Playing sidekick to a superhero and dodging their way around an international organization of spies and assassins had to be the most fun he'd ever had; he was basically living in a movie, and he was going to cherish every pulse-pounding second of it.

"Alright," Brenda let out a slight sigh, brushing the greasy, unwashed hairs from in front of her face. None of them had gotten a chance to shower that week. They stopped by the Kord Outreach Center as often as they could, but Brenda was adamant they avoid frequenting the same places too many times; it only took one person recognizing them, or one picture getting out, to bring SHIELD's hounds running. They could never be too careful. "Where're we holding up for the night? Find anywhere good, Pac?" She asked, her voice ragged and tired from a hard day's work. It wasn't going to be enough cash to get them through to the next care package, she knew, but it was way too late to start another job; not to mention just how exhausted she was.

Paco pursed his lips, glancing at Jaime through the rearview mirror. The two's gazes met, their minds seemingly going to the same place in that instant. "Well, I didn't find any five-star hotels, buuut..." He started, only for Brenda to abruptly cut him off with a laugh.

"No. Nooo, no, no- you can't be serious. Do you see the time?" She waved her hands in front of her chest, an incredulous look on her face as she swiveled her head between Jaime and Paco. Neither of them were laughing with her.

"Come on!" Paco protested. "It's close, and it shouldn't take long at all!" He turned toward his computer, punching in a few keys as he brought up a map of the city. There were colored, digital 'pins' stuck in the map at varying locations throughout Metropolis, and a little cartoonish version of their van pointing out their current location.

Brenda scrunched up her nose, looking back at Jaime in disbelief. "We've been shoveling snow all night, aren't you exhausted?" She asked, hoping to God that he'd agree with her so she could finally get some much-needed sleep. Much to her regret, however, he only shrugged.

"I mean...it's the whole reason we're out here, right?" Jaime reasoned, choking back a yawn. "Plus the sooner we find this guy-"

"-or girl-" Paco interrupted.

"...thing..." Jaime offered him the briefest glare before continuing. "...the sooner we can get everything fixed and head back home."




Metropolis, Delaware - Hob's Bay

Lines of warehouses stretched as far as the eye could see, their shadows cast long across the concrete and asphalt. There was nothing alive down here save for the rats; the sharp odor of old fish hung so heavy that even the most desperate of wanderers would find somewhere else to spend the cold, winter nights. Jaime practically leaped out of the back of the van, throwing the doors wide as he took in the horrific scent like it was cotton candy at a carnival. "Really wakes ya up, doesn't it?" He snickered, calling over his shoulder to the others. He appreciated the change of scenery a great deal more than he'd like to admit, and he was excited to finally be doing something. It felt like an eternity had passed since they had last pursued a lead.

Dr. Caulder's alien had been a ghost of a ghost, alluding them at every turn. Brenda and Paco weren't even sure the thing was real at this point, but Jaime never stopped believing. He'd seen that bastard's face when he told him about the second alien...The alpha, Caulder had called it. It was another of the doctor's obsessions. If they found it, they'd hopefully pick up on his trail again. It was...a long shot, to be sure, but it was the only shot they had.

"Unfortunately." Brenda replied with a heavy sigh, dragging herself up alongside Jaime with her hands stuffed into the pockets of her heavy winter coat. "And here I was thinking I couldn't smell any worse than I already do. Silly me."

Paco stumbled out of the passenger side of the vehicle, his backpack clutched to his chest like it was an old woman's pearls. His fuzzy Trapper Hat was secured rather firmly to his head, the unsecured flaps flittering with every awkward movement from the boy. "Oh, no, you smell- fine!" Paco assured her as he hustled to join the other two, only just realizing how that sounded. "Err, uh, I mean-"

"No she doesn't." Jaime stopped him.

"No, I don't." Brenda was quick to agree, hurrying that conversation away as quickly as she was to start down the rows and rows of warehouses. "Let's get this done nice and quick before I pass out." From lack of sleep or from the scent of dead cod, she didn't know, but Brenda would rather not wait around to find out which one would do her in first.

A look of shame and defeat crossed over Paco's face as he made his way after her, careful to only stay a few steps behind while not getting up into her personal space. "Place kinda gives you the spooks, huh?" He asked, trying and failing to start a conversation to get the last one out of memory; that, and he felt the need to keep the silence away. It was dark, and the looming shadow of all these buildings- and the knowledge of what had happened here- only emphasized his need to keep talking.

Once Brenda was well ahead of him, Jaime cut back, grabbing Paco by the arm to drag his friend back with him. The two kept their pace up enough that she couldn't get too far ahead, but far back enough for them to talk for a moment. Reyes leaned in just to be safe. "Dude, ya gotta take it easy."

"What do you mean?" Paco coughed, his eyes going everywhere but to meet Jaime's.

"You know what I mean, man. You're trying too hard!" Jaime said, slapping him on the arm. "Take it down a notch. Play it cool. All'a that stuff. Girls like it that way."

"Whadda you know about girls? You can't talk to Traci without bumbling like an idiot!" Paco countered defensively, his cheeks puffing up. "You get one suit of alien armor and suddenly you're an expert on everything."

"Like you do any better!" Jaime shot back. "You've known Brenda since you were twelve and you still haven't told her how you fee-"

'Unknown energy detected.' Khaji Da's voice rang in Reyes's mind for the first time in quite awhile. 'I recommend vacating the area immediately or arming yourself in preparation for attack.' The alien had gotten less and less talkative since the first incident with SHIELD, only ever popping in when Jaime asked for his help.

It was...odd, but Jaime hadn't felt the need to ask Khaji about it. 'Guess I can't really tell Paco off for doing the same thing, huh?'

"Eyes up, guys, we're close!" Jaime called, pulling himself back into the present and mentally preparing himself for whatever might lie ahead. It was just then that he noticed Brenda was no longer walking in front of them and had managed to disappear while he and Paco were talking. For a brief moment, he felt the pull of growing panic, but the sound of her voice in the distance calmed him- somewhat.

"No shit! Come check this out!" She yelled from inside one of the nearby warehouses. It looked like it'd suffered quite a bit of wear over the decades, several holes marring its walls, rust covering the metal and the wood chewed up by termites and the slow weathering of time. Jaime and Paco rushed inside to see what she'd found, an unexplainable anxiousness sprouting up in Jaime's chest.

He passed inside the warehouse, his gaze met by a wall of sheer darkness. He could barely see anything more than five feet ahead of him, save for the faint outline of several wooden crates stacked up on top of one another in front of him. Jaime sucked in air between his teeth, his eyes shifting back to Paco who was already picking through his backpack for flashlights. "Here ya go." He handed one off to Reyes, taking one for himself as he struggled to sling the bag back around his shoulder.

Jaime flicked the light on, illuminating the darkness in front of him. Every visible surface was covered in dirt and grime, a layer of dust hanging just above every box and discarded piece of trash in the place. Nothing in here had moved for months at the very least; maybe even longer than that. He started deeper into the warehouse, keeping the beam of light moving as he took in his surroundings. Old shelving covered in rusting tools, rotting plywood and marred pieces of sheet metal. "Brenda?" He called out nervously, shifting between his feet as she shuffled deeper into the cavernous chamber. "You're still alive, right?!"

"D-dude!" If Jaime was nervous, then Paco was about to pass out. He could barely stutter out that single word between his chattering teeth, that feeling of anxiety laying heavy on his shoulders as he advanced just behind Reyes into the mounting darkness. This was the worst part about adventuring, he'd realized: actually adventuring. Anything could be lurking in between the scattered and broken storage containers. His fears were far from irrational; the things he'd read about in the last eight months...all of the bombastic superheroes and excitement came with a healthy dose of demons, monsters and sadistic, superpowered serial killers. "M-maybe I'll go wait outside..." Paco gulped, slowing down significantly.

Reyes sighed, stopping to turn and look at Paco. "Why don't you tell me again about what we're doing here?" He asked, hoping to get Paco's mind off his fear and onto something at least semi-productive.

"W-well, uhh..." Paco nodded, trying to force the words out between his slicked teeth and wavering jaw. He'd read over the article on a 'Local Paranormal Mysteries' website at least three times. There was a lot of nonsense on that site, but this one looked the most legit. "T-the dock workers don't come by this part of the pier anymore. I-it started with them complaining about...a...a feeling that someone was watching them, y'know? But it got worse over time. They started wearing weird- weird noises coming from the warehouses, a-and they were finding d-dead animals a-and, like...one of the workers went missing around here, s-supposedly, b-but the cops never found..."

His eyes went wide, nearly bulging out of his head as he started to rapidly retreat backwards. "Oh God. They never found the body. God, Jaime, we're gonna die-"

"Get a grip!" Reyes hissed. "I can protect you guys, but only if you stick with me. Just stay behind me, watch my back and- and...why hasn't Brenda said anything yet?" He whipped around again, letting his light trace along the wall. The far wall. He hadn't noticed that they'd gotten all the way across the room, yet there hadn't been any sign of Del Vecchio yet. "HEY! BRENDA! This isn't funny, okay?! You're freaking me the fuck out now! Brenda!" And yet again there wasn't a reply but the cold, malignant whisper of the winter breeze.

"Fuck this." He muttered under his breath, dropping the flashlight to the floor. "Khaji-" Before he'd even finished, Jaime could feel the sickening movement of his flesh as it made way for the escaping carapace of his alien armor. That slick, chitinous stuff shoved it's way up through his bones and slithered over his skin until every inch of him was shielded from harm by it's living metal. "Scan for her. And gimme night vision while you're at it."

'As you wish.' Khaji Da gruffly replied.

The Scarab complied, a sonar-like ping being sent out in every direction. It would send back an echo of everything producing body-level heat in the vicinity. Provided Brenda hadn't been flash frozen like that freak in Gotham, Khaji Da would find her. In that same vein of thought, it had already activated the green-and-white specialized vision for Jaime that would let him search with his eyes as well as with the scanner.

Only it wasn't working like it was supposed to. Jaime's vision was popping in and out, filling with static for short, quarter of a second bursts before returning to normal or failing and shunting the world into darkness. The scanner wasn't working properly either- it kept giving multiple short pings, like there were several people right next to him. "What's going on, Scarab?" It didn't make sense; it only should've been pinging Paco once. It must've been broken or...or something.

'NOT' Khaji Da practically screeched, its voice echoing and distant yet blarringly loud in Jaime's mind.

"What the hell?" He breathed, a hand going up to grasp his head. "Scarab, what's wrong?" Something...something was hurting it- him. He didn't know what, or how, or why. But the Scarab was in physical pain, and it was leaking into Jaime's brain and sending bursts of dulled agony through his nervous system.

'NOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOTNOT-'

"J-jaime. Jaime, behind-" Paco screamed too, but it was already too late.

Something drapped in shadow had already wrapped its arm around Jaime's throat, dragging him backwards into the darkness. It wasn't particularly strong, but whatever it was doing to the Scarab made it impossible for Reyes to focus on anything but the pain he felt inside of his head. He let out a howl, flailing his arms like a madman in an attempt to tear the force off of him.

It tripped him, sweeping his legs out from under him. He hit the floor, his back somehow passing directly through whoever was standing behind him. Paco was screaming, the Scrab was screaming, Jaime was screaming as shadows began to pass over his chest and limbs. Then they swallowed up him, and everything went quiet.
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The screen in front of him was what really should've been dominating his attention, though. He scrolled through hundreds upon hundreds of social media posts, conspiracy theorist articles, and the ramblings of the madmen that still used forums like it was 2004. Each and every link that rolled passed his gaze had several phrases highlighted in several different colors. Each highlighted word was being automatically tagged as 'Relevant' by his system, and the color associated with that word told Paco what category it belonged to. Words in red, for example, had to do with the names 'Jaime Reyes,' 'Doctor Niles Caulder' or 'Blue Beetle.' He'd only ever seen a handful of those since he set the program up, thankfully- that color was bound to give Paco a panic attack.

There was a point in time when Paco wouldn't have dreamed to have such a program at his disposal. It was effectively doing the work of the FBI from his rinky-dink laptop in the back of a poorly heated van; realistically, it shouldn't have been possible.

And before the release of Brainiac, it would've been.

But all Paco had to do was plug his phone into his computer, and Luthor's greatest creation had written up months upon months worth of code in less time than it took for Paco to tie his shoes- and he could tie his shoes exceptionally fast. Skynet had always been one of his many, many fears, but he couldn't deny that it made his life a sight easier. If his robot overlords could make everything this simple, he'd be the first one to sign up help the machine uprising along.
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G R A V E S

• Tʜᴇ Dᴜɴɢᴇᴏɴ •



Graves was nearly taken off his feet when Arnaakus shook the dungeon interior like a child shaking his present on Christmas morning. The sheer force of the demon's rampage was enough to make him stumble, his halber'd butt jammed hard in the stone to keep him from tumbling onto his back. "God damn it!" He howled, his expression twisting in an ugly, angry snarl as he stared up at the towering titan that threatened to end them all. Their backline was hitting the thing with everything they had, but it had barely made a difference. There had to be something they were missing here; some weakness they hadn't exposed.

He wasn't given the time to think it over, though, as Arnaakus had started his next attack. A gargantuan arm of frozen ice as tough as steel and taller than Graves was beginning to sweep across the chamber with frightening rapidity. Rael had grabbed Tiferet and dragged her away from the incoming hand, but Graves felt his stomach sink as he realized he wouldn't be able to avoid it: too slow to go around, too heavy to go over, and likely unable to survive what was coming his way.

'Don't think about it.' He told himself, his eyes shifting to those around him. There had to be something he could do. Flower boy was closest, and though he looked a deal more agile than Graves, the Blood Knight wasn't taking any chances. He sprinted over to Ochre, a hand wrapping about the scruff of his neck. "Climb!" It was the only word Graves was able to get out before the sweeping limb was nearly atop them. He reeled back, tossing Ochre with all of the strength he could muster, watching for that brief second before impact as flower boy managed to scramble over top the arm and fall off the other side, safe and sound.

Graves and Vulcan weren't so lucky.

There was a sickeningly loud crunch like the sound of a beetle being crushed under a man's heel. Graves felt his breath catch in his throat, his lungs compressing as several bones began to snap and break in a concert of violence and cruelty. Something hot and sticky dripped down his face, and there was this...enormous pressure all over his body. He couldn't explain the sensations in any sort of meaningful language; his mind was too clouded by shock to properly grasp that he was inches away from having his organs flattened in a mass of gore and blood.

Then the pressure was abruptly brought off of him, and he felt himself fall away from the wall. Crumbling stone landed atop his back as his face slammed against the floor. He struggled to take air into his lungs with short, desperate gasps, the agony in his body amplifying with each passing second. The shock was beginning to wear off now. He was becoming more aware of his surroundings; more aware of the fact that half of his limbs refused to budge. Graves forced his only working arm backward, fumbling around for his potion belt. His fingers brushed through a great deal of broken glass before he managed to find one that had managed to survive the impact.

Even as he lifted the healing potion to his lips, he was keenly aware that he wasn't the only one lying on the floor- but he was the only one that had started moving.

Despite his condition and the pounding ache in his head, Graves was more than able to hear the explosion that rippled out like thunder from Arnaakus's head. Someone- maybe Landon, or the Pyromancer- had landed a lucky blow directly through the demon's eye, and the resulting explosion had blown a giant chunk out of Arnaakus's skull, revealing the glowing mass of what could only be assumed to be its brain. Realizing its predicament, the beast let out an agonized roar, lifting up one arm to protect it's exposed organ while the other began to smash into the ground in the vague direction of its attackers in the hopes of squashing them like the obnoxious little gnats that they were. Each blow caused the room to quake, sprays of broken cobblestone and dirt flying in every direction to make the scene even more chaotic than it already was.
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go away wraith ya bugger
1x Laugh Laugh
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Op. No. KY-9914; Pvt. Malik Skaya
121st Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, Alpha Squad
Lothor Minor | Entering Atmosphere aboard Imperial Shuttle
APPROX. 1200HRS; 5 BBY



Little time was given to Skaya to speak with his squadmates, the chaos of deployment sweeping him up and forcing him into formation with the rest of the troopers. He fought to remain still and at attention, choking down the jittering in his hands. A thousand worries were running through his head even as Sergeant Vytuia tried to ease the tension they all no doubt felt. It didn't do much for Malik's nerves, his gaze flickering about the rest of the team.

He didn't know a single man that stood beside him. He didn't know which of them he could trust to have his back and which of them he needed to be weary of. The academy had beat it into Skaya's head that he needed to be able to have full confidence in each and every trooper in the Corps, but experience had taught him otherwise. This was his chance to make a good first impression and he had to do everything in his power to keep from screwing that up. In an effort to calm the storm in his soul he did as he had done since he was just a bo: he bowed his head and gave a silent prayer for protection and guidance.'Keep watch over me and stay my enemy's hand,' He thought, his jaw clenched to keep his teeth from chattering. 'give me either the strength to triumph over this foe or the will to pass into your presence with grace and honor.'

The sound of a hundred boots against steel rang out as they loaded into the transports. Malik slipped down into his chair and strapped himself in, his rifle laid out on his lap as he fought against the urge to bounce his leg. Anxiousness and excitement swirled about in tandem in his heart, sending waves of adrenaline coursing through him. This wasn't his first mission- far from it, in fact- but he could never shake that initial surge of emotions that came with stepping aboard the transports. Once he was seated and Vytuia began explaining the mission, however, Skaya's full attention shifted to his squad leader. He mulled over every word and considered every possibility, taking in the holographic map and committing it to memory- he needed to be able to successfully navigate the facility on the off chance that his Heads Up Display malfunctioned.

Once the time came for questions Malik cleared his throat, bringing up a hand to catch the sergeant's attention. "How important is it that the facility remains intact?" He asked with a tilt of his head. "Will we be able to use thermal detonators inside or should such destruction be avoided?"
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Silent Night, Holy Night #3


???

Everything was black.

It had been so dark in the warehouse that Jaime couldn't see his hand in front of his face, but this...this was different. He could feel this darkness. It weighed heavy on his shoulders like an invisible thumb pressing against his back, moments away from squashing him like the insect he was. The shadows around him were thick enough that he felt slow pushing through them; it took considerable effort just to blink.

"Where the hell am I?" He muttered, his breath ragged. He was growing tired just trying to remain standing.

"That's a good word for it." Another voice echoed through the dark, bouncing around on the streams of shadow like the bang of a gunshot echoing through a canyon. Jaime couldn't tell where it was coming from; like it was sounding from everywhere yet nowhere all at once.

Something sharp pressed into the small of his back, slashing through layers of chitin and living metal until it kissed his flesh and drew a drop of blood. Jaime spun around, swinging his arm like a baseball bat to strike at whatever had stabbed him, but his arm found nothing but empty, noxious air.

"Hell." The sharpness slipped along Reyes's cheek as the voice called out in a taunting tone, dragging the unseen blade down his jawline, retreating a moment before the Blue Beetle could land a counter blow of his own.

Reyes felt heat rising in his cheeks. "Sorry, but I've met the devil and he is so much more intimidating than you." He held his hands up in front of his chest, listening carefully for even the slightest sound around him. The blaring static from his malfunctioning helmet made that quite difficult. Jaime waited, keeping perfectly still right up until he felt another strike land on his back. It tore through his armor with disturbing ease, taking another long chunk from his back and sending a spray of blood through the blackness.

He was struggling to keep it together. Every cut and stab caused him immense pain. Khaji Da had gone silent save for the obnoxious ringing in his ear, and the armor was doing next to nothing to protect him. Reyes felt exposed. And he felt alone.

"You're not like the other one." The shadows hissed again, menace and rage laced into every reverberating word. "Barely putting up a fight!"

'Other one?' Jaime furrowed his brow, his mind racing with questions even as he felt another agonizing slash race across his chest. He buried his concerns and swallowed his panic. He couldn't die here. Not after everything else he'd gone through. If the Silver Surfer couldn't kill Jaime Reyes then this two-bit phantom didn't stand a chance. He counted out the seconds in his head, his body turned slightly and his elbow locked in preparation. 'One. Two. Three-' Then he let it loose like a rocket, flinging it back just as he felt the knife touch his back. The elbow struck true against something solid. Something that audibly cried out at the contact.

"Ha!" Jaime celebrated, spinning around to throw another wide punch in the hopes of following up on his success. It went wide, but it did little to impede his reinforced morale. "Knew you weren't a fuckin' ghost!" It was a person- maybe a metahuman. If he could hit them, and if he could hurt them, that meant he could win.

His celebration was cut short when he felt a weight land on his back, forcing Jaime to stumble forward and nearly fall. Limbs wrapped around his waist and another around his throat. A moment later he felt something impale through his shoulder, slicing up muscle and sinew with ruthless efficiency. "DIE YOU BASTARD!" The shadow roared right in Reyes's ear as it pulled out the knife and plunged it right back in a few inches to the left. "Won't- won't let you hurt me again-"

Reyes took hold of the arm around his throat, squeezing down on it with all of his strength. Even if the armor wasn't doing much to protect him it still offered him the overwhelming physical prowess needed to snap bone between his fingers. The shadow let out a pained, almost pathetic yelp as Jaime broke its wrist and dragged it from his back. He threw it to the floor, an audible CRACK! sounding as it made impact.

"You came at me!" Reyes snarled between panted breaths, holding steadfast to the broken arm to keep his attacker from scrambling away. He shuffled forward, his hand moving through the dark until he found something solid to take a hold of. Now he had...whoever it was pinned to the ground. All they could do was flail and thrash uselessly against the infinitely stronger Reyes. "Now who the hell are you?! Where'd you take me, and where'd my friends go?!" He demanded, ignoring the pain that stretched across his body.

The metahuman wasn't speaking anymore. All it gave were anguished whimpers as it continued to fling itself around in a desperate and useless bid to escape from Beetle.

"What 'other one' were you talking about? Another person-"

"Another MONSTER!" The shadow person screamed. Now that the fighting had stopped and Jaime was close enough to it to hear, the voice sounded feminine. And it sounded angry. And scared. "Let me go, damn it- LET ME FUCKING GO!"

Jaime felt his heart drop into his stomach. He'd been called a lot of things over the last few months. Criminal, terrorist, murderer- but that was a new one, and it hurt a great deal more than all the rest. Jaime loosed his grip, only holding on enough to ensure she couldn't slip away without causing the metahuman too much unnecessary pain. After a moment's hesitation, he willed his helmet to peel away, exposing his sweat-soaked face. His human face.

Struggling to keep his voice even, Reyes spoke as calmly and quietly as he could. "I don't want to hurt you." He promised. "I didn't come here to hurt you. I just wanna talk."

She stopped thrashing, though she still refused to speak. The static that once clogged his hearing left with the helmet. Now all he could hear was their shared ragged and pained breathing. Silence otherwise hung with the same weight as the darkness. Minutes passed before the other metahuman finally spoke, her throat raw and her voice ragged with pain. "The other one would've killed me by now." She muttered hoarsely. Again she went quiet, and again she waited a few moments before coming to a decision. "Okay. I...trust you."

Then Jaime felt the floor give out from underneath him.

He fell through the black, emerging to the blinding light of the moon and the stink of old fish in the air. He was back in Metropolis, standing over a woman perhaps only a few years his elder. Her dark flesh and curly, black locks were as slicked with sweat as his own, and her eyes were glazed over with pain and exhaustion. Reyes slipped his hands off of her only to slip them underneath her arms to keep the taller metahuman from falling over- it took a great deal of effort for Reyes not to collapse with the extra weight placed upon his torn and cut shoulders. "You really did a number on me, chica." He groaned, stumbling toward a nearby stack of crates that they could rest upon.

She just laughed, practically throwing herself at the first box they came upon. Despite the questionable quality of the wood, it looked like the most comfortable thing she'd ever sat on at the moment. "Expected more from you, to be honest." She rasped, a hint of an Indochinese accent peeking through.

"Hurtful." Reyes chortled. He took a second to catch his breath, casting his gaze around their lonely surroundings. Tall, abandoned warehouses stretched on for miles all around then. The one he, Paco and Brenda had entered was just on the other side of the street, yet there was no sign of their of his companions. "Where'd they go?" He asked, casting his gaze over toward the unnamed metahuman.

"...I don't know." She answered, a hint of fear in her voice. "I didn't take them with me. Just you."

Jaime was relatively sure she was telling the truth- which made him all the more worried. They should've been there. "Guys? GUYS?" He called out as loudly as he could, listening to the sound of his voice echo through the warehouse district. No reply came, save for the returning reverb of his own cry.

"GUYS?" He asked again, shoving himself off of his resting point. Jaime only made it a few feet forward before he tripped and stumbled, landing on his knees. "Where the hell did they go?" The only answer the night had for him was silence.
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Op. No. KY-9914; Pvt. Malik Skaya
121st Battalion, Bravo Company, 1st Platoon, 1st Squad
Lothor Minor | Planetfall - Contact
APPROX. 1200HRS; 5 BBY



The rear of the Lambda shook as it broke through Lothor Minor's atmosphere. Malik Skaya wrapped his fingers tighter around his E-11, his gaze kept firmly on the floor as he counted down the seconds until they made planetfall. The nerves he'd gotten simply entering the shuttle returned now, the prospect of rushing into a volley of blaster fire made his blood boil with anticipation and anxiety. Violence and bloodshed had plagued Aquellan culture since its dawn. It was bred into each and every one of them at birth; those who refused to fight were seen as oddities at best and damned cowards at worst.

Skaya had spent every day in the Corps proving again and again that he was the warrior his people expected him to be. This was just another chance to prove his mettle one more time.

A panicked voice drowning in static screamed out from the cockpit. Skaya was too far from that side of the shuttle to understand it, but the tone in the pilot's voice and the way the sergeant spun around made the medic's heart jump into his throat. 'Contact? Already?' He wondered, only for the enemy to confirm his suspicions by firing upon the shuttle. The entire vehicle gave a sudden and savage lurch, throwing the sergeant to the ground and slamming Malik's head forward. He would've gone tumbling out of his seat if not for the restraining straps that dug into his shoulders between the gaps in his armor plating.

"Zina." He cursed under his breath, clutching his service weapon to his chest like it was his only lifeline in the middle of a storm. That rifle was the only damn thing Malik knew he could rely on. It was the only thing that would keep him alive once that lift fell and he went dashing headfirst into enemy laser fire. Everything else was just noise. Screeching, violent noise as he counted down the agonizing seconds until the fighting began- or they were blown out of the sky before he ever got the chance to fire off a shot.

The shuttle touched down, crushing a mass of trash underneath its weight, the ramp beginning to fall but a moment later. Skaya unhooked his straps in one, quick motion, rising out of his seat to the tune of the devil's piano that the enemy was using to pepper their transport. A thick, noxious fog rammed against Malik's nostrils as he filed out behind Sergeant Vytuia, adrenaline racing through his system as he mentally steeled himself for what came next.

A flurry of heat passed mere inches from his head, the blaster bolt striking against the hull of the shuttle directly above him. Vytuia's voice played in his ear through his helmet's built-in radio even as Skaya made his mad dash for cover. A large, flat piece of metal half-buried in a mountain of junk looked to be his best bet. It was was one of the wings of a long defunct TIE Fighter, he guessed; not that where it came from mattered as much as its ability to absorb enemy fire. Malik slammed his shoulder up against the broken wing, several more blaster bolts flying passed him just as he disappeared behind it.

His first task was to crouch and peek, hoping to get a decent lay of the land before he decided the best course of action for taking the top of that hill. The first thing he noted was just how damned hard it was to pick out the natives from the terrain. They wore the same, drab browns and dirty grays that made up the junk and rock of Lothor Minor, allowing them to blend in even when they stood in plain view. There could be anywhere from five to twenty-five of them just on this hill and Skaya wouldn't know until they started shooting. The second thing he noted was just how aggressive they were. Even now, two of the bastards were running right at them with near-suicidal intent, like their lives didn't matter. Fanatacism, maybe? Or desperation?

Malik slid his scope up in front of his face, dragging it along the hillside. He counted out each individual muzzle flash he noticed, tallying them all up before moving the scope back over and double-checking his math. He popped up a shot whenever he thought he had a chance to land it, the E-11's stock smacking up against his shoulder with each gentle press of the trigger. Malik was no marksman, however, and the extraneous conditions on the field made his aim...questionable. "I count eight in total, including the gunner-" He started to speak over the comm, only for a blaster shot to fly right past his head and force him to duck into cover to avoid decapitation. That one came from somewhere else entirely. "Nine! Make that nine!"
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Silent Night, Holy Night #4


Metropolis, Delaware - Hob's Bay

Jaime Reyes put his hands on his head, doing his best to slow the rapid beat of his heart. Both of his friends were gone, and he hadn't a clue where they'd went. He was stuck in the middle of a stinking set of old warehouses in the dark, and the only person with him was a metahuman that had just been attempting to slice him into ribbons not but a few minutes ago.

'As shitty situations go, it doesn't get much worse than this.' He thought, his expression twisting as he tried to work himself out of his current mood. Needed to be focused now. Needed to stay calm if he wanted to figure this all out.

"Right." He finally breathed, letting his hands drop away from his head and down to his sides. He turned about, facing the young Asian woman draped in shadow. Something about the darkness that hugged against her form reminded Jaime of that monster Caulder ran around with- Warp. It unsettled him enough that Reyes decided to divert his eyes while he spoke to her.

"You didn't touch 'em, and I...believe you." There wasn't much to be gained by pressing her. Reyes could tell from the way she spoke that she was telling the truth; besides, if he couldn't trust her, Jaime would find himself truly alone. And that thought...sort of terrified him at the moment. "But then where on God's green earth did they run off to? And why?" It wasn't like Paco or Brenda to just bolt the moment things went south. Well. Maybe it made sense for Paco to run, the little coward, but Brenda would've tried to take a pipe to the Silver Surfer's head if she was at the Raft.

The other woman was in far worse shape than he was. Her hands were shaking with a violent and uncontrollable terror, and sweat was trickling down every contour of her face. She was throwing her head around in every direction like she was trying to find something in the dark. Just seeing her like that was nearly enough to unnerve Jaime even worse than he already was.

Reyes hesitated before deciding to move closer to her, his hands held out to take her arms as gently as he could. "Hey," He whispered, trying to keep his own voice in check so he didn't make matters worse. "You're okay, we'll figure this out. Like I said before, I'm not gonna hurt you. What's...what's your name?" Distracting her from whatever it was she was scared of sounded like a good idea to him. He couldn't be sure why she was so worked up, aside from the fact they'd nearly killed each other not that long ago.

"Sil." She muttered after a few seconds of thought, her eyes slipping away from her surroundings and locking on Jaime's. "My name's Sil. And it's... it's not you I'm afraid of."

His brow furrowed. "The 'other one' you mentioned?" He asked. Part of him knew what she meant, but the rest of him didn't want to believe it. He wanted her to say no, as unlikely as it would be. "Another one...like...me?"

"Yes." Sil nodded. "Like you, but worse. So...so much worse."

There was no other logical conclusion for Reyes to come to, but he decided in a split second that he'd deny it for as long as he could. "We need to get out of here." He hurriedly moved on, drowning the lingering doubt with something so much more simple: survival. Escape. "We'll...we'll figure something out once we're safe."

She nodded again, remaining silent as she reluctantly pulled away from Reyes. Despite the darkness that clung around them, some unknown enemy hiding under its shadow, they had to get moving; remaining here was a death sentence. The two started to make their way back toward the van, Jaime fighting back the urge to vomit as his mind lingered on the fates of his missing friends. He had to believe they were okay, that they'd...ran or-...or something-

Jaime was halfway through opening the driver side door when the lights went out.

Not just in the van, but everywhere. Every single street lamp in sight, every headlight in the distance, even the apartments hanging in the background went dark. He practically threw his head inside to check that even the screen on the cellphone he'd left on his seat was pitch black. "What the hell-"

"I'm sorry." Sil called from somewhere in that mess of black, her voice shaken and uncertain. "I- I'm sorry about your friends, but I can't...can't be out like this. I need to stay in the dark." Her voice grew softer now. Jaime couldn't tell if she was lowering it, or if she was just getting further away. "Its the only place that's safe."

"Wait, you can't- damn it, I need you!" Reyes roared in frustration, climbing back out of the van in a vain attempt to find her again. She couldn't do this to him. She was the whole reason he was here, the whole reason his body felt like it'd been dragged through a bed of nails, and she was the reason he wasn't around to protect Brenda and Paco-

This wasn't fair.

"I'm sorry. I've already spent too much time in the open. I'm...I'm sorry." Sil apologized again, and again, her voice little more than a distant, whispy echo now. "Someone else can help you. Not me. Can't be me."

She was abandoning him. She was the only one that could help him find the alien- that even knew anything about the damn thing- and she was just...just leaving. It made Jaime's stomach curl up with a blind rage as he raced out into lines upon lines of identical warehouses. "Sil!" He called out. "Get back here, damn it, SIL!"

"He's here-"

Something struck Reyes in the chest with more force than he'd ever felt in his life. Armor buckled like it was made of tin foil, and he felt his feet leave the asphalt before he even knew what was happening. An explosion of noise struck his ears a moment later, rattling around in his skull like a clap of thunder even as he hit the ground again.

Jaime let out a pained cry, though he couldn't hear it over the ringing in his ears. He gripped the sides of his helmet, trying desperately to cover the ears he couldn't get to. Panic built up in his chest like water against a dam, threatening to make his insides burst. Something hot, wet and sticky was running down his bare abdomen.

"Dios...mío..." He groaned, the sound of his own voice finally peeking through the ringing. Heavy hands moved to the ground, pushing against it to raise himself up into a sitting position. It was a slow and arduous work to fight against the heaving agony in his chest, but once he'd gotten there, Reyes found that he could finally see again. The darkness Sil had created had was now awash with that dim light it had tried to snuff out.

The light Reyes needed to see the gargantuan figure that towered over him.

Though he was barely off of his back, Jaime could tell in an instant he was nearly two feet shorter than the monstrosity standing before him. Its sheer size was wholly unnatural, with shoulders twice as wide as any normal man's should've been, and arms thick with sinew like steel cables. With titanic form draped in the natural darkness of the night, it was hard for Reyes to make out whatever this thing was, but even then he was barely looking at it now. No, his gaze was zeroed in on the other, much smaller, and much more familiar shape that it held aloft.

"...Sil..." Reyes croaked, staring with widened, bloodshot eyes at the claw-like hand wrapped around her throat. The fingers were so tight that Sil's skin underneath and around them was turning a strange shade of palish purple. She was fighting to take in tiny gasps of air, each one faster, weaker and, more horrific than the last. She was pawing at the hand, unable to do so much as wrap them around the giant's fingers.

"Did I hurt you, little brother?" Its voice was warm and silky, booming with a contradictory softness and power that rolled together with disturbing charm. It was the kind of voice Jaime would've expected to come from an actor. "I'm so very sorry. Sometimes I forget my own strength." It- he- laughed. A jolly thing, like he didn't have a care in the world.

This monstrous thing, this grotesque display of a living being, turned to look at Jaime now. And he saw his own face. Not his, exactly, but that of the armor. A shiny, black carapace wrapped tightly about a form bursting with strength and sheer mass, that distinctive, almost insect-like armor almost completely identical to Reyes's. The only difference was the mouth. It was grinning. The armor's faceplate was smiling at him. Even worse, it started to move a second later.

"I know you were close to taking this kill, but I've been tracking this one for weeks now!" He chuckled again, turning those glowing, golden eyes toward the girl he was suffocating the life out of. He had he held up by the throat, staring up into her tear-soaked eyes. Her brown orbs met his, the two holding one another's gaze for several seconds. There was so much fear reflecting in hers. So much terror.

Sil was disturbed by what she saw looking back at her. For all that this monster had done to her, for all the harm it had caused and intended for her, she expected to see sadism or cruelty reflected in those golden slits. Or, perhaps, just the cold, uncaring stare of a lifeless mask. But all she saw there was a flash of pity.

"You put up a good fight." He assured her quietly. "I'll make it quick."

"NO!" Reyes roared so loud it burned his throat. He reached inside of himself, ignoring all of the pain he was in to bring up his arm and lower it toward the black giant's chest. He tried to will his plasma cannon to slip over his arm, expecting that same, usual heat to fill his hand. But it didn't come. Panic practically bursting from his throat, he called out for the Scarab's help. "Khaji- cannon, now!"

But it didn't come.

Khaji Da was still silent.

The other alien was turned fully toward Jaime now, a look of bewilderment on his face. "What are you doing?" He asked, his lips creasing down into a questioning frown as his gaze narrowed on the arm held up toward him. It didn't make any sense. "I don't...understand, little brother." He started toward Reyes, his boots sounding with an audible impact that came with each footfall. There was no hostility in his posture, even as the alien lowered Sil's shaking form and dangled her by his side like she was little more than a doll. "Are you trying to shoot me?"

"Let her- let her go." Jaime ordered once more, the force in his voice greatly diminished as he brought his arm slowly back down to the snow-slicked asphalt underneath of him. "This is between you...and me." Even though Reyes didn't know what the hell this was. He didn't know how the alien was going to react when Jaime tracked it down, he was even preparing for a fight- but this was just about the last thing he expected. It had come to him. And it sounded so...

Human.

Hearing Reyes's words caused the alien pause. His exoskeletal face shifted with shock and confusion, his glowing gaze zipping between Jaime's faceplate and the metahuman he was practically dragging along the ground. "You don't know?" He asked incredulously. "You don't know what THIS is?" He suddenly shifted forward, lowering himself down so that he and Jaime were uncomfortably close. Sil was brought around, still struggling just to remain semi-conscious as the monster turned her paling, sickly face toward Jaime. "Oh Little brother. Oh, by the Reach, little brother, you truly don't know." Sadness etched itself into the words of the hulking, inhuman beast with a metal face that bent and moved in the most unnatural of ways.

Jaime took several, ragged breaths, his eyes tightening with rage underneath his mask. It took a great deal of self-control to keep from lashing out at the second beetle as he tossed a person around and spoke of her like she was little more than a rodent to be disposed of. "I don't know...what the hell is wrong with you..." Jaime started, trying to push himself to his feet. It took an extraordinary amount of effort, one of his hands taking hold of a nearby trash can for leverage while the other stuck an accusatory finger up toward the towering monster. "But you're gonna put her down," he snarled, glancing down at Sil, unsure how long she had left. "You're gonna tell me what you did to my friends," His eyes snapped right back up to the larger alien's, matching his gaze with all of the courage he could muster. "-And then you're gonna explain all of the mierda coming out of your mouth since you tried to punch a hole in my chest."

For several moments, the Alpha was silent. He stood aloft in the cold, winter night, his head turned upwards toward the night sky. The light pollution from Metropolis's towering skyscrapers all but blotted out the stars above, but it didn't stop the alien from staring while he thought. After a moment he sighed and looked back to Jaime...

A smile on his metal face as he tried to suppress a chuckle. "I'm sorry, little brother, I know you're serious. But all of these words coming out of your mouth- I cannot take them seriously! You speak like you're one of these primates and not-"

Jaime Reyes shot a closed fist into the Alpha's jaw. He felt his knuckles nearly buckle when the momentous force of his punch was transferred from his extended arm up into the metallic skull of the alien, the power enough to make the behemoth's head snap backward with an audible thwack. The skin underneath Jaime's gauntlet rippled and tore at the blow as the sinew, muscle, and bone it covered screamed out in agony, unsure how their owner had managed to harm them so.

The screaming in his bones was a mere whimper compared to the indignant cry on Reyes's lips. Adrenaline rushed through his body as he threw his other arm forward, letting it impact against his counterpart's abdomen with force equal to or perhaps even greater than the first blow he'd thrown. It slammed into place with an ear-pounding thump, the carapace it struck contorting and bending on contact. He wheeled the first fist around again, bringing it back into the Alpha's cheek, a satisfying crunch following the quick, wild blow. Again and again and again, the boy continued to fire off a flurry of haymakers that made his enemy stumble and backpedal with each landed hit. He cried out, his pent-up rage finally released from deep within his stomach as he poured it all into his assault.

Three months.

Three months of running. Of hiding. Of ignoring the cries for help. Of turning the other cheek. Of 'letting the police handle it.' Three months of holding the power of an atom bomb in his hand yet never being able to use it for anything. Three months of running around like a cockroach, avoiding the light, terrified of doing so much as helping someone that needed him.

Three months of mounting uselessness and anger all channeled into eight bloodied knuckles and his burning lungs and throat as he let it all out.

"Where's Caulder?!" Jaime raged, bits of black fluid and chunks of carapace flying passed his face. "Where's Brenda?! Paco?!" He cried, spittle crashing against the front of his mask as he poured his rage into every bone-shattering attack. "Where's all that FIGHT you had a couple seconds ago?!" He was exhausted. Aching. All of the cuts Sil had given him and the suit had repaired had already torn open again, the scar tissue flooded with blood and energy rapidly leaving Jaime's body with every passing moment. He ignored it. "Come on! Keep talkin'!" Exhaustion rocked his whole system, yet he kept flinging punch after punch after punch, blinded by the whirlwind of emotion that had overtaken him. "Call me a monkey again you fat, ugly piece of-"

A palm found its way onto Jaime's face, ten sharp digits digging into his helmet as the Alpha picked up Reyes by his head. "Silence, boy." He whispered, his voice barely heard above Jaime's screaming. The rage was replaced in an instant by pain. Nothing but howling pain. He was squeezing down on Jaime's head with enough force to crumble away parts of the helmet, revealing tufts of black, sweat-soaked hair and tanned flesh underneath. "Such outbursts do not suit a member of our species. Not to mention the deplorables you'll attract with that... inane screeching."

Not but a moment later, the sound of distant sirens echoed through the nearby streets. Whether they were meant for the docks or not, Jaime couldn't know; but he could barely keep his eyes open at the moment, let alone determine something like that.

"Hrmph. Of course." The alpha muttered, equally annoyed as he was frustrated. "A disappointing first meeting, little brother, I must admit. I expected more from you. Your reputation among the primates is...ill-placed, I fear. Still. You are my brother. I am obliged by our code to teach you." He sighed. "I will return for you when the trials are prepared. In the meantime..." He turned his eyes toward the water of the bay, the light of the moon glistening over its surface. "Why don't you cool off?"

With a mere flick of his wrist, the Alpha beetle sent his younger counterpart soaring through the air toward the icy depths. The last image his little brother saw before being submerged in the winter waters was the Black Beetle turning away, the unconscious metahuman known as Sil slung over his shoulder as he receded into the darkest corners of the City of Tomorrow.
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Saint Maxx The Artist Formerly Known As Superboy

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