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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Byrd Man El Hombre Pájaro

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Angel Eyes
Part II


Seattle
2009

Hunter’s Meadows.

It was the kind of neighborhood where even the air cost seven figures. Manicured lawns, mansions that started at three stories high, security cameras on every light pole, and an army of armed guards. We were following one of those guards that night. Bowron drove slowly behind the golf cart as it puttered through the little streets with too-cute names. I sat in the passenger seat and stared out the window.

“Look,” said Bowron. “They got a Ronald Reagan Drive.”

“I wonder where MLK Drive is.”

“On another fucking planet,” Bowron laughed. "We ain't on Earth anymore, Jones. Welcome to Planet Money."

I thought back to how I’d ended up here. It was late that Friday night, Bowron and I were preparing to end our eight-hour shift when Turner himself called us to his smoky corner office.

“Sergeant Bowron, Detective Jones,” he rapsed. “I know the two of you are on the way out, but I need you on a call. It’s...going to require a delicate touch.”

“Look no further, sir,” Bowron said a little too bright for my taste. “Whatever you need. Discretion is our middle name, right, John?”

“Just so,” I said neutrally.

The assistant chief grunted and reached for the smoldering cigar in the ashtray on his desk.

“Either of you familiar with the Maddox family?”

And we went from there. Turner gave Bowron the address and we headed to the outskirts of the city. The community was a gated one. We had to flash our badges and be approved by the Maddox family before the guards even let us in and then we were to be escorted. I took note of the security measures each step of the way. If what Turner told us was true, then I knew the first questions to ask.

“Look at this,” Bowron said as we pulled into the driveway. The four-story Spanish style mansion was lit up, every window facing the road had a soft glow of light behind it. “Turner said the house was small.”

“I guess it is,” I said. “If you compare it to Buckingham Palace.”

The security guard led us to the front door. A bulky man in an off-the-rack suit and tie opened the door. His blazer was baggy, but not baggy enough to hide the bulge of a shoulder holster and gun. I pegged him as either ex-cop or military.

“Wideman,” he said without offering a hand. “Mind if I see some ID, officers?”

Bowron and I flashed our badges. One he was satisfied, it was his turn to lead us along. We followed him through a foyer that could double as a two-car garage, and down a maze of long hallways. Finally, Wideman lead us into the empty study.

Amidst the shelves packed with books, there was what looked like a shrine to the home's owner. Photos of Charles Maddox shaking hands with the last three US Presidents, one of him in New York ringing the stock exchange bell, a cover of a financial magazine with a younger looking Maddox on the cover. Photos of family accompanied the ones of achievement, but Maddox was always in the middle of whatever was going on. That didn't surprise me at all. A man like that had to be center of attention in everything he did. For guys like Charles Maddox, if you weren't first you might as well have been last.

“Detectives.”

Charles Maddox stood at the entrance to the study. He was nearly as tall as me and thin, with salt and pepper hair, a sharp face, and even sharper eyes. Those eyes though were dulled by tears. I saw he had a piece of paper in his hand, he clutched it as if wringing it would achieve something.

“It’s my daughter.”

He held up the paper and I saw it: a crude message made out in cut out and pasted letters.

“She’s been kidnapped.”

----

Now

There was a light drizzle out that night. Seattle’s reputation as a rainy city is a little overblown. While other cities get more rainfall, Seattle gets more than its share of light rains like this one. I had the collar of my raincoat turned up to ward off the rain.

It was just after last call and closing at Staccato’s. Momo paid me my flat nightly rate and it, plus the generous tips in the jar, meant I wouldn’t have to choose between eating and keeping power on in my apartment. Tucked under my shoulder was a manila folder, given to me by Bowron. I made my way to the Nite-Owl and found my usual booth waiting fo rme.

“What’ll it be, John?” Patty asked as I slid in.

“The usual,” I said. “How is the Oreo pie tonight?”

“Like me: dried out and sad.”

I smiled. “There’s no such thing as a bad Oreo. I’ll take a slice.”

I waited until she was gone before I cracked open the folder. The tattooed young man staring back at me was a stranger. Even though a decade had passed, I still knew what Caleb had looked like back then. I saw just a trace of the little boy in the mugshot in front of me.

Caleb’s record read like a lot of people who are caught up in drugs. Arrests for petty theft, drug possession, a few assaults. Because of his family’s wealth and influence he never did anything approaching hard time. In and out of rehab facilities that the typical addict couldn’t afford. A six month stretch in a juvenile facility three years earlier.

I thought back again to the boy I once knew. More than most people, and for obvious reasons, I tended to ruminate on things like fate. Can we really change our future, or has it been ordained before we're even born? Was this path of petty crime and addiction Caleb’s fate? Or had something facilitated it? There’s no doubt that that night all those years ago had left mental scars on the boy. As it had me, Bowron, and even his parents. I had responded by retreating from the world, Bowron sought justification in making rank. The Maddoxs? I don’t want to talk about how it effected him. Maybe this was how Caleb dealt with it?

“Here you go, hon,” Patty said as she plopped the coffee and pie in front of me.

If she took notice of the file in front of me, she had neglected to comment on it. I took a bite of the pie and immediately agreed with Patty’s earlier assessment: dried out and sad. But still… An Oreo was an Oreo. I took another bite and checked my watch. Almost three in the morning. Plenty of time to hit up skid row and see what kind of stories I could get from the Night People.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Inkarnate
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Inkarnate Nico Nico No

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Location: Poseidonis, The Kingdom of Atlantis


The taste of blood dropped onto the young princess’s tongue as she moved backward, her eyes moving across the arena like quick bolts of lightning. A cocky, slight smirk forming on her lips as she spun the trident in her hands around and swung it at the last remaining enemy. The sound metal striking metal would be the last sound in the room before a loud resounding ‘thud’ echoed the arena as the metallic body fell to the ground.

“I’m not a scared girl, anymore, Sark. You can turn the difficulty up.”

A gruff, annoyed voice echoed from above, the two atlantean’s eyes meeting each other at an angle. “I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about your mother, and what she’d do to me if she knew I agreed to this nonsense.”

“Well, obviously she’d be mad.”

“Clearly.”

The girl sighed, tucking a strand of her silver hair behind her right ear. “But I’m just being productive. My father has been missing for too many tides, and well, I’m just, well, you know!”

“I know, Mareena. Everyone is concerned. Vulko thinks its a troubling situation, and the honor guard are rightly confused that there is no sign of the king.” Sark held out his hand, as if to tell the princess he was not done speaking and she was not done listening. “But sending robots to break your bones when Atlantis needs you most is not a wise decision. Athena would think unwell of you.”

“Well, maybe Athena should get off of Olympus and help for once in her life.”

“Mareena!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. The gods are sacred and shouldn't be mocked or whatever. You sound like Vulko.”

Mareena’s mention of Vulko, the highest ranking official of Atlantis after the royal family, seemed to annoy the ginger-haired atlantean.

An unsettling silence filled the arena for a moment as Mareena took another deep breath, considering what she had said and what she should of said instead. Admittedly, the young princess was worried, overwhelmed, and anxious. She didn’t want to be told to watch her language or that she couldn’t handle the most dangerous of the atlantean gladiators. She wanted to do something. But it seemed like everyone was either ignoring her or treating her like a child. She had heard the same things that the honor guard, Vulko, and even her mother had heard. She knew that her father’s disappearance was an anamoly and that the aristocracy saw her as a weak, bull-headed heir to the Throne of Atlan.

It was hard to accept the reality of things.

“Well, like, what am I supposed to do, Sark? Everyone either hates me or thinks I'm not ready. I just thought that if I did this, like my father used to, I could be.”

“You know that’s not how it works, Mareena. Admiration and respect is not going to happen in one tide. You need to be patient. A good queen listens to her consul. I will continue to train you, with or without the gladiators, but only when you have a clearer head.”

“I understand. I don't like it. But I understand.” A smile followed Mareena's comment as she leaned the trident on the nearest wall. “I’ll talk to you another time, alright?”

As Mareena moved out of the arena, she wondered how much of it she actually understood. It was a habit of hers, to feign understanding to avoid tense disagreements. She may have been stubborn, but she also felt like she danced around everyone when it came to the difficult conversations. But after an entire existence of doing her curtsies and bows, she wondered if any of it really mattered when the people of Atlantis still doubted her and treated her like some dumb upstart kid. The people on the surface, like on her father's visits to Maine, seemed to treat her so much better, but then again perhaps she was just projecting her fantasies upward.

It was a thought that reminded her that before her father’s disappearance she was close to being allowed to visit the surface without, well, a babysitter.

Her father’s love of the surface, however, was a little more significant than inspiring her imagination as a child. Vulko had mentioned that the aristoi has grown uneasy and without her father to quell such distrust Atlantis was a pot that was about to overflow. Mareena wasn’t her father. She didn’t command respect nor had she earned any achievements to make the aristoi reconsider their unease. Sark had told her she didn’t have a clear head, but what was clearer than knowing that without her father that Atlantis was ready to return right back to where it was before he showed up? When Atlantis was on the edge while Orm sat on Throne of Atlan?

She shook her head as she dove above, pushing forward.

Maybe it was finally time to visit Vulko in the observatory of science.

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Retired
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Retired "Hayao Miyazaki"

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Manhattan, New York City | Present Day

Chapter One | Part Nine

Koriand'r's face lit up in delight as she bit into the baked, chewy treat Kitty had brought her. The chocolate chip cookie seemed to melt in her mouth and the alien girl nodded at her new friends who looked at her expectantly.

"Oh my!" Koriand'r said before taking another sip of her bubble tea. "This is most delicious! Your Earth confectionaries are wonderful. We had nothing like this on Tamaran."

Eli returned her smile politely. "I'm glad you enjoy it. I'm more of a fruits and veggies guy myself, try to cut out the sugary stuff, but I get the appeal."

Koriand'r glanced over at Kitty to thank her for the cookie and tea but hesitated as she noticed an odd expression on the girl's face. Amber eyes narrowed slightly, scanning Koriand'r. It reminded her of how the Okaaran warlords would silently and skeptically appraise her during training. Always looking for an exploitative weak point. In the few short hours the two young women had known one another, Koriand'r had gotten a distinct impression that the other girl did not like her.

Ever since finding herself on this new, odd little planet, Koriand'r had grown accustomed to the assorted looks and stares she received. From strangers both men and women alike, from young Garfield who often had difficulties averting his eyes from her chest. Even from Elijah, though she was glad to note his glances never seemed to be lustful. But with Kitty, Koriand'r felt under constant scrutiny. As if the human girl refused to trust her. And there was something else behind those eyes, something that Koriand'r had yet to figure out.

"Kitty, I—"

A loud, warbling wail off in the distance cut her off. The trio turned, looking for the source.

"Car alarm?" Kitty asked.

"Fire, I think. Seems like it's down the block." Eli nodded in the direction of the alley he had used to conceal his earlier spying.

Koriand'r watched in uncertainty as the other two turned back towards one another and almost simultaneously said, "you don't think?"

Eli was already up and rushing from the table, navigating haphazardly around what pedestrians remained out that evening. Kitty followed, trailed shortly after by Koriand'r. Rounding the corner, she stopped abruptly, nearly colliding into Elijah. Across the street, on a large, fenced-in lot sat the Meta Solutions laboratory. Dull red lights on the building's exterior flashed in sync with the blaring alarm.

"Son of a bitch."

"That is so not stealth," Kitty echoed Elijah's dismay.

"I am not sure what this means." Admitted Koriand'r. The repeating tones were not unlike the battle cries of the aggressive k'rildor on Tamaran, but she doubted this was an instance of two females battling to the death for the right to mate.

"It means Garfield's in trouble." Elijah shook his head. "Come on, can't just leave him in there."

"He might not even be in there still." Kitty pointed out as they hurriedly crossed the road.

"So, what, you want to just sit, wait, and hope it all just works itself out?"

"Of course not, but—"

"Hey! You, kids, get away from here." The two men who had been patrolling the grounds were converging on the gated entrance. One waved his arms in a shooing gesture. "It's dangerous, keep moving!"

Koriand'r caught Elijah's eye as he glanced back at her. "Starfire? Would you mind?"

"Are you certain? He does not seem to pose a threat."

"I said," one of the men began reaching towards Kitty. "Get moving!"

"Yeah, pretty sure," Eli answered her question as he pivoted abruptly, planting one foot firmly on the ground and twisting his hips to drive his elbow into the man's gut.

As the second of the two undercover guards slid his hand towards the concealed firearm he carried, Koriand'r's eyes flared up and she darted forward. One hand grabbing his wrist while the other yanked the weapon from its holster.

"Please do not try to harm my friends." She raised the gun to her face, regarding its design for a second. Then, she squeezed it tightly. Metal and plastic exploded in a spectacular fashion causing the would-be gunman's eyes to widen.

"Sorry, we're on a time crunch," Kitty added as she walked by the restrained guard. "But if you could tell us what's inside the lab that'd be a big help."

"Fuck you."

"You are not very kind." Koriand'r tossed the man next to his partner who was now rolling around on the ground clutching a dislocated shoulder. "Please do not get up."

Elijah finished dismantling the pistol he had grabbed, tossing the receiver and bullets as far as he could in separate directions before dropping the remaining parts. "Come on, we're wasting time. No need to be quiet at this point. Starfire, just bust the gate down."

The redhead stepped forward, placed her outstretched palms on the metal and pushed. The mechanism holding the gate closed snapped immediately and the two halves swung open.

"Well, if we're no longer worried about the cameras, I'll go ahead and see if I can find him," Kitty told the others before sinking into the pavement.

The entrance to the lab provided even less resistance to Koriand'r as it too splintered and shot forward. Pushing inside, the pair discovered the reception area, and beyond that a handful of empty cubicles.

Elijah pointed out the overturned chairs and still-warm cups of coffee at the desks. "Looks like they all got out quickly once the alarm went off. But keep your eyes peeled in case anyone is still around and tries something."

Nodding, Koriand'r split off as the two searched the adjoining hallways and rooms.

"Garfield," she called out loudly to be heard over the claxon. "Garfield?"

There was no answer and after two minutes of scouring the place, she rejoined Elijah.

"Anything?" He asked.

She shook her head sullenly. "I do not see where he could be. Perhaps Kitty is correct and he has already left?"

As if summoned by her words, the mutant girl stepped away from a wall. "Oh, Kitty was right. Just not about that." Pointing a finger towards their feet she added, "they've got a whole underground lab down there. Lot of people running around. They seem to think it's a false alarm, and I overheard someone talking about intruders. Not sure if they meant Garfield or us, though. But, the point is this all but proves my theory."

"And it's probably where the kid is. Alright," said Eli, "how do we get down there? I didn't see any stairs."

Kitty jerked a thumb over her shoulder towards the wall she had materialized through. "They've got a service elevator here. It's all the way at the bottom, and I didn't see a way to access it. But... we've got a key." She looked towards Koriand'r.

"Please step back." Koriand'r advanced towards the wall Kitty had gestured to.

Cocking back a fist, she gave a short shout as she forcefully slammed it against the surface. The section she struck dented severely, warping the elevator doors that were now exposed. She slammed her fist into the spot with another yell and this time the metal exploded forward revealing a hollow, narrow cylinder. The chunks that had broken free tumbled down the tube briefly before crashing at the bottom.

Koriand'r took several quick steps away from the opening. Elijah took her spot and peered down.

Whistling, he said "Damn. It's not too far, but I definitely can't climb down that without rope."

Kitty just shrugged and looked again towards Koriand'r. "She's strong and she flies, she can just carry you down. I'll meet you both at the bottom and we'll find Garfield. And, with any luck, those missing meta kids."

Without waiting for a response, the teen girl jumped into the elevator shaft.

"Jesus," Eli shook his head slowly before sighing. "the three of you are ridiculous. Alright, let's get this over with. You okay with carrying me?"

"Um, yes, of course." She stepped tentatively closer to the hole. It looked to be about the same diameter as the escape pod she had traveled to Earth in.

Her mind wandered to the long journey through deep space. The pod had only one room if it could even be referred to as such. Cramped by any definition as it had only ever been intended to ferry one individual for a short time, Koriand'r remembered how the interior of the sphere had seemed to grow continuously smaller the longer she remained trapped inside. And the blaring, incessant emergency alarms that had emanated from the navigation computers due to the damage that had sent her off course originally.

"Starfire?" Elijah was shaking her shoulder gently, distracting her from the memory. "Is everything okay?"

She recognized the concern in his eyes and her own went wide in embarrassment. "Apologies, Elijah. I am fine. Let us continue." Her voice was stilted, almost distant.

Taking one last look at the narrow shaft, she steeled herself. Suddenly wrapping an arm around her friend's waist and pulling him tight against her, she forced a smile back on her face. "Please do not let go."

Koriand'r's feet lifted from the floor and she floated toward's the opening. Eli gripped one of her shoulders tightly as the pair quickly began descending. About halfway down, the fire alarm abruptly cut off. Koriand'r heard Elijah say something but she was too focused on calming her breathing to register his words.

The flight down lasted less than a minute, but to her, it felt considerably longer.

At the bottom, she set Eli down and once more used her sheer strength to break open the elevator doors. This time, she hit them so hard a single strike that the entire metal frame came loose, launching the doors a dozen feet down the hallway. Koriand'r immediately stepped out and distanced herself from the hole only to find herself in an equally narrow corridor.

She felt overly hot, her skin slightly damp with sweat. Koriand'r swore she saw the ceiling slowly pressing down towards her like a vice, and although the lab's fire alarm had been deactivated she could still hear a high-pitched ringing in her head.

Why do I feel so strange, she wondered.

While she took a moment to collect herself, a whispered voice called to her and Eli.

"Guys, over here." At the end of the hallway, just before it split off into a T-section, Kitty frantically waved the pair to her.

"Did you find him?" Eli asked as the three gathered together.

"Uh, yeah. Well, he found me." Kitty eyed Koriand'r once more as the latter wiped the sweat away from her brow. "Is she okay?"

"I am fine." Koriand'r answered, a slight strain to her usual cheerful tone.

"Nevermind that, where's the kid?"

Garfield's voice came from around the corner. "I'm right here."

"Are you okay?" Elijah went to round the corner but Kitty held her arm out to stop him.

"I wouldn't." She said. "Trust me, you don't want to see him right now."

Garfield poked his head around the corner keeping his torso and lower body covered by the wall. He looked sheepishly at the older teens and asked, "I don't suppose anyone brought my pants?"
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Byrd Man El Hombre Pájaro

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PART III:
SHAKEDOWN

BANNER: Gotham Globe, 12/23/46
SNAPSHOT KILLER SLAYED IN ATTEMPTED ARREST

BANNER: Gotham Herald, 12/24/46
GCPD TIES DURFEE TO EIGHT MURDERS

Banner: Gotham Globe, 12/26/46
KILLER HAD A PAST OF PERVERSION, SAYS POLICE

BANNER: Gotham Gabber, 12/31/46
INSIDE THIS ISSUE: SNAPSHOT SLAYER SUBVERSIVE SOCIALIST
EXCLUSIVE PIX OF KILLER KOMRADE’S KRAZY KOTTAGE

----

1947


EXTRACT: Gotham Herald Sunday Edition Feature, 02/22/47
THE BURDEN OF COMMAND


GCPD Sergeant Max Eckhardt is far from your run of the milll cop. He’s got a gut, wears glasses, and has only used his weapon in the line of duty once. But that one time helped stop a string of killings that had paralyzed the city. And while not the square-jawed crimebuster Hollywood likes to portray, Sergeant Eckhardt is very much the upstanding moral exemplar those silver screen actors only pretend to be. In fact, his dedication to the rules resulted in Eckhardt earning a nickname among his fellow officers.

“I saw a lush on the street,” Eckhardt recalled with a smile. “I was maybe a month out of the academy, still new to my beat. I was in the middle of my foot patrol. I ran him in. Turned out he was a councilmen... He got a slap on the wrist and was released. And Whiskey Max was born.”

Readers to the Gotham papers will know Sergeant Eckhardt’s name very well after last year’s headlines, and a few may recognize it from a few years earlier. The man who solved the Snapshot Murders is no stranger to heroism. Soon after Pearl Harbor, then Detective Eckhardt answered the call of Uncle Sam. He was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, where he earned a Navy Cross for his actions at the Battle of Guadalcanal. For Eckhardt catching killers and fighting Japs is all part of the job.

“I was just doing my duty,” he said with a shrug. “When you choose to serve, be it as a Marine or a police officer, you are making a choice to do whatever is necessary to protect your city and country. And sometimes what’s necessary isn’t always pretty.”

When asked about Christopher Durfee, the man GPCD identified as the Snapshot Killer, Eckhardt frowns and tries his best to express his thoughts on what happened. Finally he sighs and shakes his head.

“It was not ideal circumstances,” he said. “I wanted to see him stand trial for his crimes, but eight women were dead and he had made it very clear he was not going to be taken down without a fight. To choose his life over my life, or the lives of my fellow officers and citizens. That’s the burden we sometimes face.”

And now a new burden faces Sergeant Eckhardt: The burden of command. GCPD Homicide Commander Leonard Boyle has taken a medical leave of absence and Eckhardt has taken over as acting commander.

“It’s a new challenge,” he said. “I’ve led men before, but that was during war. The circumstances are different. As are the expectations. But I take a lead by example approach. If I’m on duty in the middle of the night and there’s a call-out, I’m right there with my men at the crime scene.”

And Sergeant Eckhardt will have plenty of chances to show off that approach. Already on the short-list for promotion, his heroic actions last year are expected to cement Eckhardt’s position as a member of the GCPD command structure. He’ll have his pick of any assignment that opens up.

“I just want to go where I can do the most good,” said Eckhardt.

And our fond wish at the Herald is that it does indeed come true.

BANNER: Gotham Globe, 03/31/47
GCPD DOWNPLAY GANGLAND SLAYINGS

EXTRACT: Gotham Gabber, 04/12/47
CRIMEWATCH: Giacomo Gang Getting The Garrote!


Welcome back, you lecherous luciferian lushes, to the lowdown on larcenous life in our little locality. The buzz around our burg‘s bandit bund is that some bad bruisers are butchering button men with a brutal breeziness. Xplicit Xamples are as follows:

Xample One:
Joseph “Toots” Leggario.

Tough Toots took the night train to the Big Adios in January of this year. Trusty Toots served as the dictatorial dope dealer for the Giacomo Crime Family. He’s gunned down outside a negro night club where ne’redowells nestle. Pedestrians peeped a purple Plymouth peeling out poste haste. Officially, the GCPD case is still open and they are asking for anyone with any information to come forward. But while the courageous cops chew on their crullers crime continues. With Toots’ obit typed and set, Giacomo's are now frail and flailing in the free-for-all fight for control of the city’s drug markets.

Xample Two:
Peter “Three-Legs Pete” Gregario.

While the reason for the nickname is too risqué by even our sleazy standards, we can at least publish that Pete was the premier pimp and smut seller for the Giacomos. Pete got his ticket to perdition punched at the beginning of March, when his ‘46 Cadillac combusted courtesy of a car bomb. Pete was reduced to powder, along with the Giacomo’s profit when it came to prostitution and pornography. Both the Gotham Police and Fire Departments looked into the arranged assassination, but both inquiries are on ice. The one pointer passers-bys gave? A purple Plymouth parted promptly once Pete’s Caddy was under conflagration.

Xample Three:

Richard “Just Rich” Riccotti.

The mobster with the meek moniker, Ricotti lorded over loansharking and debts for the Giacomos. As shylock-in-chief, Rich supervised the supply of scratch for desperate debtors, and kept a diary of deadbeats that owed the Giacomos gelt. Always the practitioners of proper punctuation and print, we speak of Ricotti in the past tense for a particular purpose. Just Rich was found, his body beaten and bloated, on the beach just two weeks ago. The hoodlum’s hausfrau had reported her hubby gone to the crackerjack constables of the GPCD, but the copper collective carried on with their casework. One more mobster missing in action meant one less to monitor. Like the previous two gangland slayings, GCPD states that serious scrutiny is being used to survey the slaughter of Just Rich. One pesky postscript? Sources say that Just Rich’s shylock scratchpad is missing. If it was found on the body, then the cops are clammed up and won’t comment.

Summation: We’ll drop the alliteration and get to the point, dear readers. What does it all mean? All three goons were Giacomo geeks. All three controlled the following rackets: Drugs, prostitution, and loansharking. All three major money makers for the Giacomo Crime Family. In the void of capable lieutenants, other mobs are crashing Giacomo rackets. While the cops seem to poo-poo the idea, the fact is that at least two of these killings seem to be linked. If the same people did not personally kill all three men, they were at least coordinated by some unseen force. Who is that person? We have a list, readers, but we won’t be sharing them. As much as we enjoy the crimewatch feature, we have no intention of becoming the subject of a future column. All we say is that famous Latin phrase used in investigations since the beginning of time: Cui bono?

Downplay it all they want to, dear readers, it seems apparent to us here at the Gabber that a gang war is on the horizon. Remember you read it here first from the Gabber, giving you all the dirt that’s fit to print.

*****


05/21/47

Gotham Gabber Offices
10:07 PM

Vicki Vale looked up from the copy on her desk. Rain hit the window pane. She sighed. Two days straight of this shit. Shit weather while she did shit work. Copy editing June's edition. It was filled with the usual scandal rag padding: hints at which movie stars had communist leanings, which high society types were being naughty, and sinnuendo galore on negro jazz musicians smoking reefer and fucking white women. From start to finish the whole rag had Gertie’s fingerprints on it.

The Gabber was a labor of love for Gregory “Gossip Gertie” Gertrude. It was his life. If he wasn’t here working on an article, he was out collecting dirt. He was a cockroach who lived for dirt. He pulled his pud to photos of Bette Davis and a well-hung Samoan stunt double named Smilin’ Joe. He had files on everyone. Said files were filled with salacious material. Said files could ruin countless lives. Said files were stashed away and under tight lock and key.

Lightning flashed across the sky. Vicki heard thunder rumbling. She rubbed her temples and pulled a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass from her desk. One, two, three shots and she was buzzed. Vicki leaned back in her chair and went here she always went when the booze got in her system: Semmes.

Semmes, Alabama. Pop: 1280. Spitting distance to Mobile and the Gulf. Her momma died in childbirth. Her daddy, Wayne Frank Vale, was a sheriff’s deputy. He raised her and her brother as best as he could. Semmes was Klan Kountry. Her daddy tolerated the Klan. All the white people either embraced or tolerated their local Klavern. No one ever came out against the Klan, to do so marked you as a race traitor. Her brother heard the cry “Remember Pearl Harbor” and went into the army. She heard the cry “wartime opportunity” and attended college by day and commuted to Mobile to build ships by night.

In ‘43 Wayne Frank pulled a bunch of white men off a negro one Saturday night. Wayne Frank ran them all in. The klan went krazy. They kondemned Wayne Frank. They kalled him a kounterproductive kraker. The Exalted Cyclops Teddy Marshall Lewis decries Wayne Frank as having negro blood. Wayne Frank dies a few months later in a single kar kollision. The klan keeps kalm. They don’t klaim the krime. Vicki knows the truth. She buries Wayne Frank and finishes her degree. Her brother died in the mud fighting over some place called Monte Cassino. By then Semmes was in the rearview mirror. She worked on losing her accent and headed north. She took her journalism degree and started looking for jobs. She took a job at the Gabber because Gertie was the only editor who didn’t see a blowjob as a prerequisite to employment. She worked on copy by day and fantasized about bloody revenge at night. Teddy Marshall Lewis and his klavern were all on her list.

“Is that hooch I smell?”

Gertie waddled in. He topped out at 5’5” and weighed at least two hundred pounds. His raincoat ran long to compensate for his girth. It trailed on the floor behind him like a cape.

“You’re too cute to drink whiskey straight, 'Bama.”

'Bama was his nickname for her, lest she forget where she was from. Vicki downed another shot. “And you’re too fat and short to hit on me.”

“Just stating the obvious.”

“So am I.”

He laughed and flopped down in a chair. The chair creaked and groaned. The chair took his weight. The chair was close to collapsing. He took off his hat and wiped the rain from his forehead. Vicki went back to the copy on her desk.

“You a boxing fan, Vale?”

She didn’t look up from the paper. “Ugly men beating each other in the face and making themselves uglier, what’s not to love?”

Gertie dug wax out of his ear. “I know you’re from fucking hicksville, USA, so you wouldn’t know about it, but there’s a cop on the city police who is a bit of a celebrity. Slam Bradley? Ring a bell?”

Vicki yawned. “Can’t say that it does.”

“He was famous for a bit in the late 30’s and early 40’s as a local fighter. Gotham’s Great White Hope. I’m working on a new segment for the paper with him, busting high-profile hopheads and other debauched celebrities while we ride shotgun.”

Sounded like shakedown city to Vicki. A chance to give people willing to pay a chance to avoid arrest and exposure. It sounded strictly from hunger to her. It reeked of gauche grifting.

Gertie scratched his neck. “And I want you working on it.”

She looked up. “Seriously?

Gertie winked. “I’m stretched too thin, 'Bama, something I can never say about myself in any other circumstances. And you've done a solid job at the copy desk. I hate to actually give out compliments, but you’ve earned a shot to wade into the mud.”

It was coming up on two years since she was hired. Two years of proofreading scandal sheet shit, grabbing lunch orders, and doing everything else but writing published pieces. Now she was being given a chance. Gertie raised an eyebrow.

“Well?”

“When do I get started?”

*****


05/22/47
3:45 AM

His dreams played on a reel.

Heat and mosquitoes. It’s the jungle. It’s a goddamn war and you’re not gonna survive. You will die on this shitty rock in the Pacific. Your death, in the name of taking over some godforsaken place called Guadalcanal, will be meaningless. You will never see your daughter again. You will never see… him again. You hear gunfire and Jap gibberish. You see Sergeant McRainey with a flamethrower. You hear the words:

BANZAI!

BANZAI!

BANZAI!

McRainey torches the trees. He brays like a donkey. Japs scream as the world goes up in flames.

Next reel: It’s cold. A pump shotgun in your hands. Red, numbing hands on cold gunmetal. Ambition coalesced with absolute justice, opportunity sprung forth. Bold dreams required bold action. Eight people dead. Heinous crimes required swift resolution. Shotgun justice. Shotgun Max took matters into his own hands.

Max jerked awake. Nightmare. He felt cold sweat on his forehead. Nearly six months sober. This was the price of price of bucking The Thirst. Night terrors and old debts accruing haunted his dream. He squinted through the dark of the bedroom at the clock on the wall. Almost four AM. Stirring at his side. Marcus rolled away from him. He got out of bed and found his glasses. He started to dress in the dark.

He sensed Driver waking up. Driver said, "Leaving?"

"I need to get back home before Mary wakes up. If she finds me gone that'll lead to a conversation I don't want to have. Plus I have to be at work at seven. I seem to recall you’re on the six to six shift."

A flash of light in the dark. Driver lit a cigarette. A red ember danced. Max could feel his eyes through the dark. They watched him. They asked the same thing he was asking himself. What did we do? And what are we going to do? Over five years years since their last coupling. It still was not enough time to kill the heat. He could feel it simmering even now, hours post copulation.

Max asked. “Will I see you later today?”

Driver blew smoke and played coy. “Depends on if I have a reason to go downtown."

“Make one up.”

“Is that an order?”

Max groped through the dark, found Marcus and his lips. Careful. A mostly chaste kiss. Something more would threaten to reignite it. He walked towards the door, came up short and looked back in the dark.

"Was it... the same as it was all those years ago?"

A long pause while Driver stubbed his cigarette ut. "God yes... and that's what I'm afraid of. Last time we treated it as a fling. It destroyed your marriage and I had to put my career on the backburner, but chalk it up to a one time thing. But, now? With you where you are in the PD?"

Max rested his forehead against the door. What he wanted to say: I would gladly sacrifice my career, this city, and everything short of my daughter to be with you. You are my salvation. You are the one who can save me from myself.

What came out: "I know."

Still dark when he stepped out into the morning. Warm and sticky and humid. A hot day coming up. He already felt sweat beading. His car was stashed two blocks away. His idea of being covert and careful. He walked down the sidewalk. A car started up down the block. Max felt his stomach go cold. He turned, saw a black coupe racing down the street. He tried to snag a plate number. The car had no lights on so no tag lights showing a plate. The car hauled ass down the street and faded in the distance.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by HenryJonesJr
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HenryJonesJr

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"Great news, Booster," her handler and Roxxon PR Manager Sandy Vincent smiled at the hero as she landed on the roof of the Roxxon Building. "Your battle with Blackguard has raised your profile ten points in the biggest markets on the east coast. Great job making it look so easy, not to mention the quips. People love quips. Saving the guard at the last minute? Brilliant. And hitting the guy with the car he tried to use as as weapon!? Man, people are loving you."

The PR executive's long, red hair bounced excitedly as she swiped her finger on her L-Pad, scrolling through statistics. Sandy was short and thin, and relatively young for her job. Black rimmed glasses hung on her freckled face. She told Booster she just looked young, but Gold put the woman's age at twenty-five, almost the same as her. At least Booster thought her own age was around twenty-five. Sandy had been nothing but nice to Booster ever since the hero had come on board, but Booster couldn't say if that was anything more than normal PR fakery. Sandy seemed nice enough, but there was really no way to be sure.

"Even better is the fact that Mr. Agger was able to sell even more sponsorships for you during the battle. Three more high profile clients have agree to come on to the project," she nearly squealed in delight. If nothing else, she was damn good at her job. "We're going to turn you into the next Captain America."

As the words left Sandy's mouth, a flash came over Booster's vision. She saw a red, white, and blue uniform in tatters, the white stained with blood. The words "Go! Now!" echoed through her ears and she heard a metal disk clang to the ground. As the vision passed she had to steady herself by leaning on the wall. Her breath felt like it had been stolen from her, and her head swam and swirled.

Sandy, worried, placed her hand on Booster's shoulder, "Hey, are you okay?"

"Yea," Booster flashed her trademark smile and waved the PR employee away. "Just a little lightheaded. Must be dehydrated from earlier. Saving the world is tough work, you know."

"Sure," she motioned towards the water cooler near by. "I'll grab you a drink and then we can go meet Mr. Agger. He's go big news."

"Ma'am," Skeets's voice came through the comms. "Your heart rate has risen and your breathing is erratic. Are you okay?"

"Fine, Skeets," she tried to calm the robot down. "Just another vision...or memory or whatever."

Booster had no idea what that news was, be she figured as much when Agger had called her in the same day as she had a battle. Usually he gave her a few days to rest up before giving her the rundown of how much it had helped the bottom line.

The PR Exec returned with a cup of water that she downed, making it seem like she really needed it. So far she hadn't told anyone about the visions of the future she was having. At least she had figured it was the future. Without her memories that was nothing more than a hypothesis to work on. Better not to worry anyone until she knew what to worry them about.

"Whenever you're ready, Booster," Sand smiled broadly.

Booster nodded back and they headed for Dario Agger's office.


Spymaster walked confidently into the communications room of Onslaught headquarters. While his outward demeanor was calm and collected, inside he had to admit he was nervous. He was unsure as to how The Director would react to the loss of Blackguard. The experimental suit the bank robber had been given wasn't cheap, that much was sure. Not to mention the effort it took to even get the suit out of its holding place.

As he took his seat, the screen at the front of the room came alive and the shadowy figure of The Director came up. Spymaster had no clue what the man truly looked like. No one with Onslaught knew, in truth. All the organization knew was that he supplied the funding and its direction. Anything else was above all their significant pay grades.

"Sir," Spymaster nodded to his boss politely. For longer than he could remember, Spymaster had never been with the same employer as the months he had worked for The Director and Onslaught. Most of them couldn't afford him for long, so he performed a single, high-paying job before he left for the next one, sometimes working for the same people he had previous been working against.

"Spymaster," The Director sounded far more chipper than the espionage agent expected him to be. "I saw the report on Blackguard."

"Yes, sir," he nodded. "I wanted to apologize. We never should have sent the suit in the hands of such an unprepared operative. I shouldn't have been so literal when you said you wanted a bank robber."

His benefactor chuckled, the voice modulator he used masking his true voice under a deep baritone, "No, my friend. That was exactly what I wanted. Now our grand plan can be put into action."

"Grand plan, sir?" Spymaster was confused.

"We need to get the engineer. Now."

Under his mask, Spymaster's eyebrows raised, "Well, that certainly is the escalation, sir."

"It's time. And let's embarrass the bimbo in blue and gold while we do it, shall we?"


"Booster! Sorry to keep you waiting!" Dario Agger smiled broadly and flung his arm around her shoulder as they walked to his desk. If Sandy Vincent's friendliness's sincerity was hard to read, Agger's was the complete opposite. Agger was a slimeball through and through. She knew he was using her to make money and didn't care a spit more about her. But that was fine. She was gonna bleed him dry just as well. In the end, Skeets said his company would be dead, and she would be rich. "Great job today with that bank robber! We've been getting sponsorship offers left and right!"

"Sounds like I should be looking for a bigger loft," Booster smiled weakly and moved to sit down, getting Agger's slimy arm off her. "Sandy was giving me all the numbers. Seems like our business partnership is bearing the fruits you thought it would."

"I'm not the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 for nothing," he smiled devilishly. Dario Agger was the definition of corporate greed. He didn't care that his company would continue raping the natural world. He didn't care how many native people he had to displace to get what he wanted. He didn't care how many endangered species he destroyed. But he was her meal ticket. "But I didn't bring you in to talk about how much people were impressed by you today or for a drink or anything. I mean, we can have a drink if you want a drink. Do you want a drink?"

"I'm good," she waved him away. The last thing she wanted was to get friendly with this guy.

"Okay," he shrugged and poured himself a glass of a dark liquid. "I'm gonna have one. But anyway, we didn't bring you in for a normal meeting. No, this one is about your battle from earlier today. About Blackguard."

"What about him?" her eyebrows raised.

"Well, the armor he was wearing, it was ours. It came from Roxxon Experimental," he smiled weakly after taking a sip from his drink. "A prototype. Take from our testing grounds in North Dakota."

"You're creating weaponized power armor?" she asked angrily, she felt her blood boiling with anger below her skin. She had seen what weapons of war could do in the wrong hands since she came to this time. If an energy company dipping their toes into that field meant they could be sloppy. Clearly they were sloppy. They wouldn't have lost the suit if they weren't.

"Oh no!" Sandy tried to reassure her. "We don't arm them! Ever since Iron Man-"

The words triggered another vision. Tony Stark flashed in front of her, older, but not by much. He was hunkered over some sort of machinery. He turned to her and smiled warmly. "What do you think, Booster? Is it gonna work this time?" As soon as it came to her, it disappeared and she tried to control her breathing. At least she was sitting down this time.

"-our armors are only designed for mining and extraction. Not for offensive capabilities."

"That's right!" Dario clapped. "But that doesn't mean people don't want them for nefarious purposes, as we've seen. Which is why we're sending you to defend the man who's been designing them for us."

"Excuse me?" she looked at him with trepidation. "I'm here to save people, not protect assets."

"I know, I know," he assured her. "But if he's captured by the villains who stole Blackguard's suit, imagine what they could force him to make? And that is far more scary."

She considered what he had to say, and had to admit it made a lot of sense. She motioned for him to continue.

"His name is John Henry Irons, and we moved him from the Dakota testing grounds down to one of our facilities in Houston last week. You'll rendezvous with him there, and then head to a safehouse in Arizona while we figure out who's after Irons and our armors."

"Sounds like a solid plan," Booster nodded. "I'll head home and pack."


As Booster headed for the exit of the building, she heard Sandy's voice echo through the lobby, "Booster! Hey Booster! Wait up."

She turned to find the ginger executive racing towards her, waving. When the other woman reached her, she smiled, "So I know you told Mr. Agger you weren't interested in a drink, but you really seem like you need one. I have to finish some things up in the office, but do you want to meet up after I'm done for happy hour?"

Booster studied Sandy carefully. She was being genuine after all. Surprising. And, to be honest, Booster could use some friends that weren't artificial intelligence if she was going to have any semblance of a life in this timeline. Plus she basically didn't have anything to pack. She hadn't gotten around to buying anything with all her money. Except for a Tesla. Why did she need a Tesla when she could fly? Because shut up, that's why.

"Sure, what the heck," she shrugged and smiled at Sandy. "Call me when you're done."
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Pacifista
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Pacifista Buck it.

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Location: Chihuahuan Desert (the outskirts of Navapo, New Mexico)
Seeing Green – 1.02

Interaction(s): None
Previously: 1.01

Thumb sliding across the phone screen, blue eyes skimming a list of headlines, Elizabeth Ross adjusted her posture, crossing her legs the other way. One hand going to the hem of her black pencil skirt, her eyes shot up to the desk at the man in uniform, turning his Dallas-style mustachioed face away from her gaze ‘casually’ scratching the back of his head as he yawned. Rolling her eyes, she flopped her phone down, asking, “Can you page him again?”

Nameplate reading ‘G. Talbot’, the Staff Sergeant shrugged before turning to his internal phone line and picking up the receiver. Letting it hang, he asked, “What did you want to see him for again?”

Betty’s eyelids fluttered, breathing thrown off slightly. Keeping her cool, she reiterated, “I would like to see my boyfriend.” Her emphasis was pointed. She continued, “Look, I know security is tight after the accident, but...”

Talbot scowled, “What accident?” Looking around, he said, “You aren’t supposed to know about any accident.”

Are you fucking serious? Betty didn’t say the words, but Talbot’s sharp reaction was ample enough evidence to show that expression was all she needed. Holding up his free hand helplessly, he muttered, “I can’t just let a journalist in without permission.” Eyebrows raised, he added, perhaps playfully, “I mean, maybe we can work something out...”

Betty could have thrown her phone through his face. Science advocacy was a bit more broad then just journalism, but she knew damn well that Glenn was trying to earn some kind of favor, because he always did. Or always tried. Arm pulling back, she flexed as though she might toss the phone at him, but only for a moment, quickly bringing it back around to her face. There was a moment of hesitance as she went through her priority contacts, thumb hovering over ‘Dad’. “I can see what the General has to say if you’d like.” Betty hated pulling the ‘dad’ card, but being with Talbot was honestly worse. Eyes darting to the phoneline in trepidation, Talbot complied. Picking up the phone, he rolled his chair back and turned away, calling it out. Letting out a frustrated sigh, Betty's hovering foot tapped the air lightly as she waited.

Hanging up the phone, Talbot came back to the desk. “Uh...Banner still hasn’t show up.”

Betty stared for a moment, before shaking her head. Going to her contacts, she phoned Bruce. Letting it ring, she knew it wouldn’t have reached him if he were actually in the lab where it wasn’t allowed, but at the moment he could be anywhere. Yet the phone only rang fruitlessly. “The person you are trying to reach is unav-”

Hanging up, Betty glanced behind her, as if Bruce might show up in the waiting area. Turning back, eyes finding a vacant spot on the floor, her mind was abuzz as she postulated on just where that man could have gone, or what he could have gotten himself in to.

---

First was the dream, the rush of the desert speeding before him.

Second was the heat of the dirt he rested on, its painful scent. Third was the breeze, the dust it carried lost, confused. Fourth was the harsh beat of the sun, so furious.

And finally was the terror. Bruce took in a sharp breath, coughing and hacking the dirt and dust that came with it. Grunting and groaning, he pulled his arms out from underneath him and crawled to his knees, mouth dripping globules of spit as he tried to drain the dirt out of his mouth. His breath couldn’t seem to regulate as more and more information brought him more and more confusion. His glasses were missing: he couldn’t see well, but he could tell he was in the middle of the desert, blurry rocks and dry shrubs spattered in the dusty flats. It was still day, but the sun was dipping even lower in the sky, closer and closer to tinting the day orange. His feet burned, bare against the ground. His pants felt loose, several of the seams broken. His shirt was in tatters, only hanging on quite literally by threads. The cold sweat on his skin might have made the breeze more comforting, even as dirt stuck to his skin, but it did not calm him. What he last remembered already seemed distant, the anger he’d felt well drowned out by his current emotional cocktail. Desperately skimming his pockets, his phone was gone, but he had his keys and his wallet, (for as good as that would do him).

Trying to make out anything he could, he stumbled to a shadier spot, crouching under a medium sized rock to get out of the blare of the sun. With one thing out of the way, however small, Bruce’s mind tried to figure anything useful, pushing back his confusion as a dread set in. legally blind without his glasses and in the middle of the desert, the very real possibility existed that he would die. The Base would be wondering where he was since he didn’t show up to work, but god knows how many hours it would take before they really got to searching, and what reason would Bruce have to be out here? Betty would be dragged into his mess too. She wouldn’t rest until he was found (bless her), but Bruce didn’t want to worry her if he could help it. But could he? Out here in the nothing? Picking a direction and going would be dangerous, but the phrase ‘do or die’ was one he couldn’t shake from his thought process. He needed direction, and if he was lucky he wasn’t that far. But then again, if he were lucky, he wouldn’t have ended up in this situation in the first place.

Turning about, Bruce stooped and scrambled up onto the rock, the tallest thing within a few meters, taking a seat on the surface. Grimacing as the sun’s heat met him yet again, he bore it as he kept his eyes peeled. Rubbing his forehead with the back of his arm to keep the sweat back, he skimmed the horizon, straining to pick out some kind of landmark. Color was about the only thing he could really see in his blurred visions, any shape distorting ever so slightly. But among that was light, and from his position he swore he could make out points of light reflected in the sun: vehicles in a parking lot? It was the only thing that stood out from the tanned stone and stumpy shrubs, and with only one option before him, he didn’t feel like he had much choice. He had to move. Now. Or else he wasn’t going to make it back.

Hoping, praying, Bruce dared to make his way. His feet did not take to the movement kindly. Wearing shoes outside your whole life really dulled you to just how much there really was to feel underfoot. Cracks in the ground became falling hazards, Bruce ultimately blind to them. Every little rock poked at his feet, his reflexes demanding he flinch away but his mind fighting that notion, gritting through the pain and discomfort to maintain his course. After some time he stopped himself in some shade, removing what remained of his shirt. It barely covered him as it was, so while his pale complexion was set to burn a nice shade of red, he could at least protect his feet, even if only a little. Guarding his heel and toes with bindings from the scraps of his shirt, he continued on, but the reprieve only lasted so long before they inevitably came undone, the little protection they offered short lived as it was. Feet now totally bare and god knows how much desert lay in front of him, the dirt only became more of an issue. The longer he walked, the more he could feel it grind him down. Sandpaper had its name for a reason after all, and as the walk went on, blisters forming, then bursting, skin went red, rubbed raw, before splitting. The stinging as blood became matted in the dirt, wounds coated in dust was only bearable as Bruce tried to focus on the reflections still in the distance, steadily becoming closer as the sunlight fractured into orange. Even if the area’s temperature was becoming more temperate, the cold that was coming only made Bruce worry more, as he was certainly just as unprepared for that as he was for this.

Crushing day turned to foreboding night, even the moonlight could not make up for Bruce’s lacking eyesight. And yet, somehow, his tenacity allowed him to press on just long enough as he stumbled face first into a chain link fence. Falling back onto his rear, he looked, but he simply could not see it, though the sound was unmistakable. Beyond he couldn’t make out much of anything through the darkness, but he didn’t need to. One hand on the fence, he picked a direction and went, the fence allowing him to brace himself as he went along, praying it would take him somewhere.

But instead, it took others to him. The barking of dogs in the distance sent a wave of hope, then a wall of anxiety and dread in the face of not knowing what he was getting in to. Looking around, he saw lights bobbing out from the other side of the fence, shapes moving alongside. Letting go of the fence, Bruce took a step back, waiting for their arrival with his hands raised. A voice called out, spouting Spanish, Bruce only making out a bit of it. As they made it ever closer, Bruce sputtered, but no words came out, his throat too dry. Covering his mouth and trying to make due, he finally gagged, “No hablo m...mucho español. Solo un poco. I-” Bruce stopped, a series of coughs bursting from his chest before he groaned, “...speak English.”

To tired to even look up as lights looked over him, Bruce heard, “Hey he needs medical attention!” He nudged his partner, yanking the dog on its leash back, before pulling out a walkie to call it in. The other grasped the fence, looking around, likely trying to figure where Bruce was to go from here.

Bruce dared asked, “Where am I?” The guard’s head shot to him. Bruce couldn’t see much with the flashlights ensuring they only appeared as silhouettes. The guard answered, “El Diablo Air Force Base.”

Relief flooding through him, Bruce kept his hands where they could be seen as he sunk to his knees, bloodied feet taking any reprieve they could get. Voice raspy, he let out a low laugh simply out of relief.

“Sorry, I’m late for work. I got here as fast as I could.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Inkarnate
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Inkarnate Nico Nico No

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Location: Poseidonis, The Kingdom of Atlantis -- Several Weeks Ago


The Observatory of Science was quiet.

“Gods. They’ve found it.”

The King of Atlantis was the first one to break the silence, his eyes looking over the footage. It only confirmed his first and principal fear; the fear that the surface world finding something they should not have. His brows narrowed as he looked back at Vulko, his blue eyes pale as a white anemone.

When he arrived in Atlantis several decades ago, he had been met with distrust and hatred. It didn’t surprise him, considering he was a castaway—a mistake. But in the shadow of it all, Vulko taught him what it meant to be a child of Atlantis. One of those important things he learned from the old man was what dangers lurked within the ocean floor. And in the shadow of his rule in the present humankind had somehow found one of the “sleeping titans” that Vulko had spoken of. If the stories were to be believed, it was the single most powerful titan that had survived the ascension of the Olympians.

A creature that up to this point in time had been sleeping since the middle ages. With something that dangerous lying around, Arthur wasn’t exactly a man who wanted to have that change. Especially not if everything Vulko had told him over the last forty-or-so years was true.

“And now you see the threat.” Vulko spoke as he moved next to Arthur, looking at the radar with him.

“Yeah. Well, between everyone upstairs trying to kill the planet and V’lana’s uprising, I’ve had my hands full.”

“Well, while you have had your hands full.” Vulko gestured to another monitor in the observatory. “I have been hoping to ensure the world does not become consumed by pandora.”

Pandora. In Vulko-speak this meant “the end of the world”. It wasn’t a literal concern of the mythological figure, as Arthur had realized after decades of working alongside Vulko, but more of a figurative turn of phrase. It was also Vulko being melodramatic, or well, as melodramatic as someone who was concerned about the world could be.

“Have you sent anyone to check it out?”

“By Zeus, do you think after all this time I would have sat on my thumbs, waiting for you to ask me to investigate?”

Arthur placed a hand on Vulko's shoulder.

“Vulko, calm down. What did they say?”

“That’s just the thing, my king. They didn’t. The screen shifted in front of the two. “No report. Dead air, as the surface-dwellers would call it.”

“I guess I should go see what’s going on, then. God knows what trouble is brewing there, but you know, I'm Aquaman. It's my job to go deal with trouble.”

“My king, if that creature is awakened—”

“—Vulko, I know. I’ve been doing this for a while now. This isn’t my first rodeo. If something bad happens, you need to deal with what comes next. Make sure Mareena’s ready.”


Location: Poseidonis, The Kingdom of Atlantis -- Present Day


“Get me ready? Ready for what?”

“To rule. To become. To be as what is needed to be.”

“What does that even mean, Vulko? I mean, obviously I know what rule means, but... my mother isn't ready for that. The aristocracy isn't ready for that. I'm not ready for that.”

The thought tied her stomach in knots. Her father had been gone for barely a few long tides and here Vulko was telling her that she was to become the new ruler of Atlantis before her father’s death could even be confirmed. There had been so many cases throughout her childhood where she had to grieve for her father, but every single time he came back. The aristocracy always went crazy when it happened, but Vulko and her mother had always been there to step up and keep things together until he eventually returned.

Why couldn’t Vulko do that again? What did her father go off to fight where she had to be considered for succession? Mareena bit her lip, her brows narrowed at the thought that popped into her mind. This wasn’t a situation Vulko would treat lightly and it was most likely ordered by her father before his untimely voyage. She knew it deep in her heart, but she refused it. Immediately she swung out her arms and raised her voice, the tone sharp and full of anxiety.

“My father is not dead.”

“Doesn’t matter if he is or isn’t.”

Vulko moved to the control panel in the observatory, pulling up a world map on the largest monitor.

Mareena’s mouth remained open, offended by the fact Vulko had just told her that it didn’t matter yet also recognizing what kind of map Vulko was showing her. Several pings of red and green were marked all over the ocean, some on coastlines of islands that floated on the surface. Her father's symbol that he bore on his waist caught her eye firstmost as it sat upon a part of the ocean she knew that was designated as dangerous, untravelable and unclaimed depths. Was that his last location?

“Worrying about the throne isn’t important right now. Your father had other, secret, responsibilities. Responsibilities that cannot go unchecked.”

“And while my father is missing...” Mareena mused.

“...we need to continue in his stead, yes.”

Mareena crossed her arms, her eyes moving back to Vulko from the monitor.

“Vulko, I’m not sure what that means. What did my father do? Where did he go? What was he fighting? I have so many questions.”

“There will be time for to answer those questions, but first, I must show you something. Follow me.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by IceHeart
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Location: United States Skies - Lex Luthor’s Private Jet
Issue #2.02: Keeping Ahead of the Game



Lex Luthor found himself in a good mood after his most recent visit to Washington D.C. Lex Luthor had made it one of his key objectives to get in the good graces of some key senators that had championed the D.M.A. so he could help, add some helpful parts to metahuman legislation. As usual it was too easy to nudge congressmen in the right direction. The promise of a fundraiser here, the procurement of some hard to find item there, almost all government officials had their price and Lex Luthor had the means to get anything they desired.

While it was very easy to get them into his debt the one thing that was most important was to let them believe it was either their idea or that they were helping him somehow. It was somewhat amusing to think that a few of them were deluded enough to believe they were becoming invaluable assets to Lex, what could a paltry congressman possible give a man who had one of the largest corporations in the entire world, a man with ties in all sections of the world in some form or another. A deluded man or woman, were the easiest to control, it was those with a moral compass he had to worry about, thankfully they never seemed to last very long in politics.

Looking out the window at the planet below Lex Luthor smiled contentedly, aside from a few hiccups, mostly on the Metropolis front, everything seemed to be falling in place. The foundation was in place but like all things political, it was still going to take a while. In the meantime he would be able to relax a little and concentrate on more local matters.

“Here you go Mr. Luthor, enjoy!” A bright young stewardess came up to the multi-billionaire and handed him a crystal glass with a bubbly clear liquid. She was a pretty young thing with curly blonde hair, decked out in a white and red accented uniform made to accentuate her womanly figure. She was quite lucky to be hired my Lex Luthor, she was certainly pretty enough, especially after his staff dolled her up, but that’s all she was, a pretty face to impress those who had the good fortune to ride with the one and only Lex Luthor.

“Thank you my dear.” Lex Luthor gladly took the glass and took a small sip. The refreshing taste of seltzer water with a hint of apple tickled his tongue. The carbonation made sure that the drink was exciting to the mouth and the apple flavoring gave it that hint of sweetness to ensure the water was a delight to drink rather than just a boring refreshment.

Lex Luthor noticed that the stewardess seemed to have a question on her mind by the way she was still hovering around.

“You look like you want to say something?”

“Oh, sorry it’s just…well I somewhat assumed you would be having a fancy glass of champagne or wine, but here you are, one of the richest men in the world and you’re just having a glass of seltzer water.” She had hesitated for a good moment before asking her question, no doubt afraid she was out of line.

Lex Luthor laughed and put the glass to the side. It was sometimes fun to explain the simplest of things to people. He had to admit, he was a little surprised at her question.

“As you know, I could obviously have any drink in the world, the most exotic of flavors and the highest quality drink. Yes I could be enjoying such a delicacy but alcohol is for socializing. Alcohol is amazing for loosening the tongue and getting people in a pleasant mood but casually partaking of such a drink could prove detrimental to my work. I need my mind at its best so a simple, flavored seltzer is just the thing to brighten my mood and tantalize the senses. I do more than enough sampling at social events so I try my best to keep my private alcohol consumption to an absolute minimum. After all, I wouldn’t want to be known as some heavy drinker or a party animal like some billionaires I could mention. I have an image to uphold as a member of the world’s highest society so I must be moderate in all things.”

Lex Luthor enjoyed watching the girl try to keep up with his explanation, did she understand what he was saying or was she merely pretending to do so to appear brighter than she was. He was about to continue conversation when he noticed Mercy and come from the aircraft’s back room with a laptop in hand. Her face was emotionless, which meant she was none too happy with how Lex Luthor was conversing with one of the hired help.

“You will have to excuse us my dear, it appears my utmost attention is needed.”

The pretty stewardess fluttered her eyes for a moment in confusion before she looked behind and noticed the imposing figure of Mercy Graves behind her. Flustered she quickly made sure she had everything she needed and retreated out of sight. Mercy quickly took a seat opposite of Lex and plopped the laptop on the table, but instead of opening it like a normal laptop she opened it up completely so it was flat on the table and instantly a holographic display of the laptop’s screen jumped up in front of them.

Graphs and numbers jumped up in front of Lex, his countenance quickly turned a little sour as he noticed what was wrong, a sharp drop in revenue in Metropolis. The losses were already in the millions of dollars in the illegitimate enterprise category. The legitimate sector was still fine for the most part but if enough loses accumulated in the underground, it would eventually spill over into regular LexCorp dealings.

“Sorry Lex, I wish I had better news but Supergirl has really dealt a blow to our underground networks. Our Intergang connections in particular have had a hard time getting any profitable work done, several high profile operations have already been thwarted by her, but of course I made sure that nothing could be traced back to LexCorp.” Mercy cracked her knuckles for emphasis on what kind of lengths she went to ensure nothing escaped her notice.

Lex Luthor nodded, happy to have such a resourceful subordinate, but of course the growing pain in his side was just getting worse, there had to be a way to move Supergirl out of the picture. The problem was Supergirl seemed literally untouchable, an absolute ludicrous amount of speed, power, senses, nigh invulnerability, and even flight made the superhero incredibly difficult to escape from once she had her sights on a target. She couldn’t be killed, yet, hardly anything could outrace her, hiding from her eyes was incredibly hard, and that left very few options to thwart her efforts. The best way to ensure an operation’s success was to distract her with something else but that was expensive and inefficient. The other option was to make sure an operation was completely stealthy but that took a lot of time and effort to pull off so it slowed everything down.

It was a tough puzzle to figure out but every puzzle had a solution, he just needed to find the right tool for the job. Something he had seen earlier suddenly came to his mind.

“By the way Mercy, I’ve heard of a new operation in town that has been almost effortlessly making heists throughout the city at even the most heavily guarded of facilities. What information do we have on them?”

Mercy was surprised by the change in topic but she quickly switched the screen over to bring up the new crew in town. “They appear to be a dark web group for hire, what is most surprising is how easily they can complete their objective with very little prep time. From the reports, it appears they have the ability to instantly incapacitate an entire area’s staff which then allows them to easily raid a facility as the only obstacle left is the security systems in place. Since there are no people to react to the intruders they have little trouble bypassing security and securing their target.”

A brief video showed the inside of an office where in an instant, the entire staff dropped to the group as if dead, but the gentle rise and fall of their chests revealed they were just sleeping. It was completely unnatural and was obviously not chemically induced. Lex Luthor smiled as a plan formed in his head, but it needed testing.“Mercy, I’ll need you to organize a raid on LexCorp labs.”

“Our own lab Lex?”

“Indeed, but we’ll need to make sure Supergirl knows about it. Maybe there is a way to take down Supergirl after all.”

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[ Prev ] Prologue: Mojave Nights, Part II” [ Next ]

W E L L I N G T O N, N E V A D A
Sheriff's Office


Captain Donovan Blake peered at the girl through the one-way glass of the interrogation room. Averting his gaze, he glanced upwards towards an old ceiling fan struggling to keep up with the heat. He grumbled as he pulled at the collar of his shirt the fabric sticking to his sweat drenched neck. The former collegiate football player still carried the build of a defensive lineman albeit having softened somewhat with age. His dropping jowls and morose disposition had earned him the make-sure-he-wasn’t-looking-first nickname of Mastiff around the department. Standing next to him Trujillo thought it was an apt comparison.

For the past hour the Mastiff had grilled him and Reid over everything that they had seen. After their discovery in the desert, the department was abuzz with activity. Anyone that was in town on call or not was dragged into the office or sent out into the Desert to start collecting evidence. The boys at the county morgue had to enlist some biology students from the community college to help them deal with all the bodies. It all felt wrong to Trujillo as if he and Reid had disturbed some long unbroken code after all massacres don’t happen in small desert towns. Blake was insistent on getting everything under control again before the journalists started trying to bash the door in. He needed answers and without the girl he was going to get jack shit out of those.

Trujillo rubbed the gauze on his arm as he looked at her through the glass. She had woken in the truck on the road back and attacked the first thing she saw. Trujillo had dealt with unruly drunks before but none with actual claws. One of the sharp bastards had managed to slice through his forearm like roast beef before Reid was able to hit her with the taser they kept in the glovebox. She had handcuffs on now, but Trujillo wasn’t sure she wasn’t just tolerating them to keep up appearances.

“This is a shitshow Trujillo.” Blake stated as he paced the length of the window. “I got a dozen bodies in the morgue and a mutant killer in my interrogation room.”

“To be fair sir,” Trujillo argued “they were the ones shooting at her.”

“And how do we know they weren’t doing so in self-defense? You saw the footage from New York and Star City, you know what those freaks can do.” Blake countered

“With all due respect sir, I also saw a bunch of those “freaks” helping save everyone.”

“Your bleating fucking heart is going to be the end of you Trujillo,” Blake sighed before continuing “well if you are such the mutant lover, then you go in there and talk to her. I need a report on my desk before the spooks from Metahuman Affairs come knocking, or they will have all our heads.”

“Whatever you say boss” Trujillo replied trying his best not to roll his eyes.

With the exchange over, Trujillo exited the room and turned left away from the interrogation room. Trujillo didn’t have kids, his libido was all but non-existent, but he did have a feisty old bastard of a cat and if living with cats had taught him anything was that food was the great equalizer. It didn’t matter how uncooperative you wanted to be everyone needed to eat.

Calling the room that Trujillo entered a kitchen was an exercise in kindness. The rickety gas stove looked like it had stopped working a decade before he had signed up, and the sink pumped out rust more than it did water these days. Somehow though the kitchen still had a working refrigerator and microwave though and at the moment that was enough for Trujillo. He pulled a bottle of water and a half-empty carton of milk from the fridge stacking them alongside a pack of instant oatmeal he grabbed from a nearby cabinet. He tore open the oatmeal and dumped it into a bowl before splashing in the milk. Two and half minutes in the microwave later and the smell of cinnamon and maple syrup wafted its way into Trujillo’s nostrils. He took a scrap of paper towel to create a barrier between his hand and the hot contents and took the water bottle in the other.

Sergeant Reid’s familiar dower face guarded the interrogation room door. She took measured sips from a thermos its pale-yellow matching her hay colored hair. She had been standing watch since their return, despite offers of reprieve from some of their colleagues so that she could catch a few minutes of shut eye on the break room couch. Ever since the girl had attacked Trujillo in the truck, Reid had been more on edge than usual. Even now as he turned the corner to head down the hallway, Reid head perked up like some grazing animal listening from predators. The tension in her shoulders loosened and her expression softened as she realized it was just Trujillo.

“Didn’t you stuff your face when we got back?” She asked cocking her brow as she regarded the small meal that her partner had prepared.

“It’s not for me,” Trujillo explained as he closed the distance “its for our guest of honor.”

“She rips your arm open and you go and make her something to eat?” Reid responded as her eyes lingered for a moment too long on the gauze on his arm.

Trujillo shrugged.

“What can I say? I’m a masochist.”

“Just be careful in there Wash.”

“Is that an order sergeant?”

“It’s whatever you fucking want it to be if it stops you from getting mauled.”

Reid slammed the door securely shut behind Trujillo as he entered the room with a loud thud. He stood at one end of a long and narrow space, like someone had thrown up a wall and door in a disused hallway and called it a new room. One wall was dominated by the smoky one-way glass that concealed the room that he and the Mastiff had been talking in minutes earlier. Across the way and pressed up against the opposite wall was a metal table with two chairs on either end. The girl occupied the chair at the far end her gaze fixated on the floor below her. Trujillo took the seat closer to the door laying out the food equidistant between the two of them.

Sitting there he couldn’t help but think about how normal she looked. In his time working for the Sheriff’s department, he had dealt with a lot of runaways. Nestled right along the long I-95 between Reno and Las Vegas, there was a lot of folks that eaten alive by the casinos or the drugs or both. The neon-soaked allure washing away everything else including pesky things like putting food on the table for your kids. The smell was the same, the pungent odor of desert caked sweat that built up on the body after a week or more of not properly bathing. The same ragged and torn clothes and sunken features of somebody that didn’t know where their next meal was coming for. And at a quick glance, you could mistake the dried-up blood for dirt.

It was hard to imagine how the girl standing in front of him caused all that death he and Reid had stumbled upon. The sting of protest in his wrapped-up arm as he rested his elbow on the table reminded him. She wasn’t’ just a normal runaway after all, she was a metahuman. He knew some people from school that ended up in Star City, folks with kids, jobs, and dreams, and some were in the ground now, others were still in the hospital, and those lucky enough to come out physically fine were still going to therapy to deal with the post-traumatic stress. But he didn’t see or hear about any girl with claws in those stories and it wasn’t in his belief to punish someone for something somebody else had done.

“So,” Trujillo started leaning forward in his sat “are you going to talk now?”

Her gaze turned upward from the floor meeting his own. Her eyes were a dark green speckled with dark spots that echoed the ink-black of her hair. Trujillo’s abuelita had always said the quickest way to judge somebody was from their eyes, as they were the only parts of the body that couldn’t lie. And the eyes he was looking at now were empty, dark endless circles. He’d seen killers, thieves, and rapists with more life in them, a deeper sense of humanity. He had to fight against the shiver that was building up at the base of his spine. Pushing his discomfort away he gestured towards the food on the table.

“That’s for you,” he explained.

The girl looked at him and down at bowl of oatmeal and the bottle of water and back up at him again. In the span of a single blink the girl had pulled the two items over towards her. Her movements were spastic because of the handcuffs, but she still managed to move quicker than Trujillo ever could. On her first attempt she tried to use the spoon that Trujillo had provided, but her hands were bound in such a way that she couldn’t bring the spoon up to her face without spilling half of its contents. Quickly she grew frustrated and tossed the spoon to the side sending it clattering against the one-way glass.

For her second attempt, Trujillo watched in astonishment as she leaned over and dipped her hands directly into the still hot oatmeal using them to shovel the food into her mouth. If the girl felt the pain, she didn’t show it to him as she quickly devoured the meal with a ravenous hunger. As the oatmeal in the bowl diminished, she turned her attention to the water bottle. In a flash, the girl extended the sharp metal claws on one of her hands and used one of the sharp spears to puncture the plastic like it wasn’t even there, catching the water as it spilled out of the freshly made hole. She continued to chug the water bottle until it was empty. Trujillo watched wondering how long a girl had to go without eating to consume food at such a pace.

“Around here they call me Corporal Trujillo,” he explained “what should I call you?”

The girl licked stray pieces of oatmeal from her fingers as she looked back up at him, almost like the food had made her forgot that he was there. The bright patches of pinkish skin where the hot food had scalded her already beginning to fade away back to their original healthy color. She looked at him for a long time, a question on her face, before she finally answered. She sounded young but there was a definite confidence about her.

“My name is Laura.”

“Are you alone out here Laura?”

“I had a mother… but she isn’t here anymore.”

From the way she hesitated Trujillo could tell that wound was still fresh. He felt something in his heart break for her. In a small act of mercy, he got straight to the point.

“What happened Laura? Out in the desert?”

The girl froze again looking down at hands caked with blood. Trujillo could see the muscles in her throat move as she swallowed a handful of air. Finally, she looked up at him and shrugged.

“I killed some people.”

“Why?” Trujillo asked glancing towards the one-way glass

“I had to.”

“You had to?” Trujillo asked leaning forward.

“That’s right.”

“Can you explain why?”

The girl paused again as she observed Trujillo. He felt those dark endless eyes pick him apart, searching for something. A knot of anxiety began to form in his stomach he breathed out deeply trying to expel the childish fear that she was seeing something that he didn’t want to see. As he exhaled, he could of swore that there was a flash of disappointment across her face. She shook her head as she spoke.
“I don’t think I can Corporal Trujillo.”

The questioning continued like that for the rest of the hour. Trujillo would come forward with a feint and the girl would deflect with a well-timed riposte. With what little information the girl ended up providing Trujillo was able to gather very little. She had come from somewhere to the north, but she had been pursued along the way. She didn’t know how old she was and if he had to guess didn’t spend much time around people. He wrote all of this down in the notebook that he kept in his back pocket, and going over it once more, it looked more like the plot of a second-rate thriller that you would buy an airport than anything resembling reality.

Trujillo would have wanted to ask more, but the Mastiff having listened to the whole interrogation from the adjoining room was eager to wash his hands of the whole affair. As far as the captain was concerned the girl had produced an admission of guilt about the killings, and that was enough for him. She was a dangerous mutant and a threat to public safety who had attempted to maul one of his officers. Following recently established guidelines he was to inform the Department of Metahuman Affairs and let them deal with her as they saw fit. All they had to do was wait a day for the transport vehicle to come and pick her up. After that it would be back to a much more palatable life of domestic abusers and serial rapists.

The captain wanted to toss her in the holding cell until tomorrow, but Trujillo was able to convince him otherwise on that at least. He just didn’t think it was right to punish a girl for acting in self-defense no matter how excessive the force she may have used. Instead they took the air mattress and extra sheets that they kept holed up in the supply closet and they blew it up in his and Reid’s office. The door locked from the outside and there would be a guard there stationed for the rest of the night and the window was alarmed and made out of reinforced glass, so if she tried to get out they would know, but it at least give her some semblance of privacy.

The last the corporal saw of her for the evening was when he gave her a change of clothes. The DMA guidelines for subject transfers were very strict and they were to gather up all evidence clothing included. As the girl used the shower to scrub away the blood, he went about trying to find new clothes for her. With Reid’s help he managed to scrounge up an extra-small dark blue sweatshirt embossed with the department seal and a matching pair of gym shorts. The type of stuff that the higher ups wanted them to pawn off to their family members in exchange for “charitable” donations and fundraisers. The girl looked surprised but thanked him none the less.

After that he went up to the front to type up his report since he could not use the computer in his office. He had to stifle a yawn as he went through the long process of checking every box and filling out every prompt. When he used to work at the port he had to fill out and go over shipping manifests for all the cargo haulers that came in, but even that didn’t compare to the level of bureaucratic nonsense that had to deal with in the department. If he filled out even one section of the form wrong, the Mastiff made it sound like half of the government would be coming to chase him down.

Somewhere around the sixth or seventh page the front door opened. Trujillo sighed before speaking rubbing at tired eyes as he did.
“How can I help you today…” His voice dying out quietly as he felt his heart leap into his throat.

A man with dark sunglasses, brown duster, and matching cowboy hat stood in the door. Flanking him on either side were two heavily armed men dressed in the same black combat armor as the ones that they had found in the desert. The man with the duster sauntered forward to the desk taking broad, long steps as he did. He propped his arm up on the desk as he got close and it was at that moment that Trujillo noticed that it was made from metal, he could hear gears and pistons turning beneath the metal plating as he flexed his fingers. Smiling the man with the duster pushed his sunglasses atop his dirty-blond hair; his eyes the color of lapis.

“Well partner,” the man started with an easy Texas drawl “my name is Pierce and I’m looking for somebody.”

Never breaking eye contact, Trujillo began to reach for the revolver at his hip.

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[ Prev ] FEAT OF CLAY, Part VI” [ Next ]
B L Ü D H A V E N

1013 Parkthorne Avenue

Fifty years, he’d been living this double life. You would think that in all that time, he’d have been a natural at all the sleight of hand and subterfuge. Instead, Dick was a stumbling fool as he tried to get the semi-conscious automaton from out of the car and into the brownstone apartment.

At least he’d laid the foundation for the rumor mill to support the inevitability of someone seeing Dick and the child-like doll going in and out of the apartment, but if anyone saw the robot now they’d be likely to think that he was drunk or high. Or some combination of the two.

Fumbling with the door with one hand and trying to corral the drunken robot with the other, Dick finally managed to get Toyboy -- that is, Jason -- onto the couch in the living room. Like a rag doll, the boy just slumped forward as though a puppet that had all of its strings cut. Stooping low, Dick was able to prevent the child-like machine from spilling out onto the floor, instead steadying him into a seated position on the sofa.

Glancing up at the loft, Dick thought about the advice that Sarah had given him. Put him to bed. In the morning, he should be functional again.

He’d made a makeshift room for Toyboy Jason there, but Dick had enough trouble wrestling the robot through the apartment. Getting him up into the loft was a feat more than Dick was prepared to undertake. At least, not now.

Right now, Dick was definitely feeling the notion of going to bed.

Taking another look at the lifelike robot -- vacant eyed stare peering out a thousand yards into nowhere -- Dick merely gave a shrug before making his way toward the back of the apartment where the master bedroom was located...


+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

August 24, 2019. The last day of peace and quiet at 1013 Parkthorne Place.

Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now
I been feeling it since 1966 now
Might've had your fill, but you feel it still

A pair of boy’s briefs swung back and forth, as the underwear clad hero danced to the lyrical stylings of Portugal, the man. The music reverberated off the walls of the inner sanctum of the Blüdhaven vigilante known as Nightwing, the aptly named Man-Cave.

Standing in the doorway, Dick was confused about a great many things. He’d left Toyboy Jason to get dressed for what was essentially a training day. A routine patrol through Blüdhaven in order to assess how the robot was holding up with the upgrades that S.T.A.R. Labs had installed. Instead, Dick returned to find that Jason had gotten onto the refurbished Batcomputer and tabbed out a series of YouTube videos. One, the music video for Feel It Still, which was currently rocking the casbah. Then there was a video game playthrough.

Was that Fortnight?

“So...” Dick began. He was going to say, So, you were getting dressed..? but he was cut off when a small robot suddenly turned and slam-hugged him. The force of the doll’s pounce not only winded him, it almost put Dick on his ass.

Instead, the man steadied himself and rested a hand on top of Toyboy Jason’s head. “You were getting dressed?” Dick remarked finally, catching his breath.

“Can’t,” the boy remarked, turning his head up toward Dick as he added, “Not done hugging yet.”

He’d been like this ever since Dick had broken the news about the name. About the identity. Dick felt like it wasn’t much. If anything, it was only borrowed time. When Dick retired, in about two years, Jason Todd would need to disappear as well. Otherwise, people were apt to take notice of things that Jason couldn’t do, such as grow up.

Even still, the robot formerly known as Toyboy acted as though Dick had transformed water into wine and lead into gold at the same time. “All right. Hugs later,” Dick said, prying himself of Jason’s spindly arms. Picking up the dark red leggings, Dick tossed the pants over the dolls head. “For now, less Jason. More Robin.”

While Jason tugged on the pair of trousers, Dick bent down to pick up the red and black tunic. As the child-like doll straightened back up, he put his arms up over his head so that Dick could pull the tunic down over the boy’s head. While Jason fastened Dick’s old utility belt around his waist, the man picked up the short cape, fastening it to the Mandarin-style color.

Hopping back on one foot, Jason wrestled with tugging on a boot. “So you think this Clayface is back from the dead?” the boy-bot chirped, as he reached down to pick up the other shoe.

Collapsing into the chair that rested before the massive assortment of screens, Dick gave a grunt. “It’s only a hunch, but it feels right,” the former Boy Wonder opined flatly. “Hagen was an actor, so I wouldn’t put it past him to have faked his own death in the water, but it doesn’t add up. Where’s he been hiding for the last twenty odd years? And why come out now just to knock over pawn shops and jewelry stores?”

Tugging on his last boot, the spry doll hopped to his feet. Dick reached over, picking up the domino mask and then leaning forward. “Can I see the chemical analysis?” the robot asked, as Dick applied the mask to the child-like face.

Turning back toward the computer, Dick took a moment to access Bruce’s old files on Hagan. Finally, a chemical strand and associated notes populated across the screen.

“Matthew Hagan’s altered organic composition was soluble,” Jason noted aloud, scanning over the notes in less than a second. Turning his head toward Dick, the doll asked, “And you said that he fell into the ocean?”

“That’s my story anyway,” Dick stated, propping his elbows against the desk top as he explained, “I think Bruce was convinced that I threw Hagen in there.”

The nuance seemed lost on the pragmatic machine. “Either way, his survivability in an ocean environment seems improbable,” the robot noted simply.

“Well, you’ll just have to get out there and disprove my theory,” Dick remarked, turning back toward the costumed Toy Wonder.

With a firm nod, the child-like doll suddenly took off in a sprint around the inside of the Man-Cave. Na na na na na na na... Robin! Away! the boy-bot sang, hopping and skipping as he bounded toward the door, sounding for all the world like a stampede of elephants contained in the form of a child.

Slouching back in his chair, Dick felt the energy start to sap from out of his body as the prospect of peace and quiet in the apartment settled an appealing vision in his imagination.

Then the stampede came back in his direction. Throwing himself into the chair, Toyboy Jason again slam-hugged the former Boy Wonder.

“Last hug,” the doll promised, before pouncing off into the night.
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T H E ‘ E M B A S S Y ‘

Present Day | Manhattan, New York

Beatriz DaCosta was stretched out on a deck chair by the pool, wearing a skimpy green bikini and soaking up the sun. She’d been for a swim as soon as the camera crew had left, noting how fantastic the pool had looked when they had first passed it, and now she was making the most of the seasonal warmth.

Hank Pym was sitting on the next deckchair over, and put a book down to open up his laptop and start some work.

“Hi!” Bea said, angling herself towards Hank.

“Hello.” Hank said with a smile, before returning to his laptop, entering his password and waiting for it to load.

Bea furrowed her brow, and looked down at herself before trying to engage again.

“Oh! I seem to have forgotten to put on sunscreen, would you be able to help me out?” She arched her back and pushed her breasts forward provocatively towards the blonde haired scientist.

“Sorry. I didn’t bring any.” He said, looking her straight in the eye with a sympathetic look. “Made sure I came out here fully covered.” He gestured down towards his clothes. “Ah! There’s some over there though!” He pointed to the next deckchair over where her bottle of sunscreen rested.

Bea rolled back and pouted. She wasn’t used to being rejected. A few seconds passed before Hank made an outburst as if a thought had finally occurred to him.

“Oh!” He exclaimed.

“Yes..?” She rocked back, making the same sultry pose as before.

“I don’t suppose Ted told you the Wi-Fi password, did he?”

“No.” She said firmly, with frustration boiling to the surface. “He hasn’t!”

Bea got up and stomped away, green mist bubbling off of her bronze flesh. Janet was approaching the pool coming the other way, wearing a full bodied yellow and black one-piece, huge wide sunglasses and an oversized wide brimmed hat. They passed and Jan took a free deckchair next to Hank with a knowing self-satisfied smirk.

“Time how long it takes me to crack Ted’s Wi-Fi network?” Hank asked, looking for a challenge.

“Sure thing, hon.” Janet said, smiling and setting a timer as she rocked back, the self-satisfied smirk not going anywhere fast.

“Hey! Looking good, Bea!” Ted said, approaching the pool wearing only his Blue Beetle cowl and board shorts.

Bea growled at him ferociously, causing him to jump back a few metres in self preservation.

“He didn’t tell her the Wi-Fi password...” Hank said knowingly to Janet.

“Poor Ted, he really has no idea what women want.”




T H E H O M E O F H A N K P Y M & J A N E T V A N D Y N E

Two Weeks Post-Crisis | Manhattan, New York

Ted hit the buzzer at the compound, and waited for the reply.

“You’re late.” Hank buzzed through.

“By... forty seconds.” Ted said, checking his still Hank-time set watch.

“Late is late, Ted.”

“It’s getting later the longer you leave me out here.”

He heard the loud buzzer and the gates started to slide open. Ted started the long walk up the driveway to the complex. Once again he was wearing his Blue Beetle outfit under street clothes. Called to help handle an issue for Hank and Jan once more.

He got to the front door and knocked.

Hank opened the door and stood in front of the doorframe.

“See. Now you’re three minutes late.”

“Last time you told me I was early when I rang your buzzer allowing for the length of the driveway. Do you want me to allow for the driveway or not?”

“It’s not about what I want Ted. You run your own business, you have your own responsibilities. You should want to be on time.” Hank said, letting Ted into the house.

“Well, its sounding like you want me to ring the buzzer, and then travel at the speed of light up the driveway so that no time actually elapses, so I can both be at the front gate and your door at the same point in time.”

Hank ignored him and led him into the kitchen, where he sat down with very high posture at the dining table. Ted turned a chair and sat down facing him.

“So, I heard you came up with something for Jan.”

“Yes.” Hank replied plainly. Completely missing any implication of a question in there that may have required elaboration.

Ted decided to make it overt. “Well-- would you like to show it to me? Caring is sharing, Hank.”

“You’ll see when Jan comes home from work. She won’t be long.” Suddenly Hank got up, tucked his chair in and started walking to his lab. Ted quickly got to his feet and rushed to follow him. Doubling back to tuck his chair back into the dining table, before racing after Hank. It wouldn’t be worth the trouble to do anything otherwise.

“And how have you been, Hank?”

Hank twitched mildly, and then responded with some surprise. “I’m fine. Back on my medication. I’ve still been-- somewhat productive. I’m-- happy enough, I suppose if you’re looking for a specific mood update. But this seems more like kitchentalk. Are you, messing with me Ted?” He asked, before going back to his workbench where he was assembling cut metal sheets.

“Kitchentalk?”

“Yes. Kitchentalk. Doortalk you have your basic greetings and salutations. Then social decorum dictates we move into the house. Idle chit-chat and exchange of pleasantries over a beverage… oh, I didn’t ask you for a drink. Is that what this was? One of those subtle jokes you use, because you wanted something? Chai? Coffee? Soup? Ovalti--” Hank exploded to his feet.

“Whoa--!” Backing up so as to not get bowled over as Hank was quickly into action. “No, I’m fine. I don’t need anything. It wasn’t a joke. I guess I’m not as up to date on my social etiquette as some.”

Hank slowly sat back down and got back to work. “Oh, because I thought it was one of your jokes. Talking about work in the kitchen and then engaging in idle chit-chat in the laboratory. It was quite funny.” He smiled broadly, whilst he worked.

“I can see that.” Ted said, standing back and watching Hank work. “Well, since you don’t want me talking about whatever you did for Jan until she gets here, I guess I may as well fill you in on an idea I’ve been working on.”

“Oh. Are you having issues with the clustering on your nanite spore-cloud for your upper atmosphere cleansers?” Hank asked, as he kept on with his metalwork.

“What--? How did you know about th--? No. Well, yes! But that doesn’t matter! This isn’t about that.” Ted was thrown for a second.

“I’m putting together a superhero team!” Ted exlaimed.

Hank stopped working and sat up, seeming to focus on something in the far off distance.

“But you’re not a superhero.” Hank said bluntly. His brow furrowed with curiosity as if he’d been presented with a problem he couldn’t yet solve.

“Wow. OK.” Ted said, surprised by the response, even from Hank. “But the news seems to disagree. And it isn’t so much about me. I know a few metahuman girls who seem interested that I think I can get on board, and human-metahuman relations have never been more strained. I think a team that shows collaboration between humans and metahumans would be a good thing right now.”

“But you’re not a superhero.” Hank repeated. “You’re a very human person who jumps around in a blue suit of your own design, using a gun of his own design, and flying an interplanetary prototype vehicle that nobody else could design or afford to make. So if I were to hypothetically agree, your ‘superpower’ would be an engineering background and money. Neither of which are superpowers.” Hank explained, before returning to his work.

“It’s not about ‘powers’, Hank…” Ted responded.

“And furthermore,” Hank continued, “it would seem that the implication of the mask or cowl is there to preserve and maintain your actual identity as secret. Having the kind of money to come up with that interplanetary exploratory vehicle would limit the possibilites of who you could actually be. Because despite being private citizens, these people tend to find themselves at the top of rich lists and their wealth is generally known, regardless of efforts to keep that knowledge from the press. It’s only a matter of time until someone figures out who you are, mask or not, just through process of elimination.”

“That’s why this idea is so great, Hank! Forming this team ALSO hides where the Blue Beetle’s costs and expenditures go. Because all I need is a plausible figurehead with money at the top and people stop asking that question!”

“That’s all well and good but you’d still need a ‘plausible figurehead’, I can’t imagine there’d be too many of those lying around; people with that kind of money and time on their hands.”

“But don’t you see? I’ve got the perfect guy for it now! Max!”

Hank stopped working and leaned back, trying to figure out what was being said to him.

“Max?” He asked, trying to figure out who he knew that might fit the bill. Then when he found it Hank’s eyes doubled in size.

“Lord, no?” He barely spoke above a whisper. “Lord? No.” He said considerably louder.

“I admit he can be a bit rough around the edges.”

“Rough around the edges? The man is a crook.” Hank was stunned at what his friend was suggesting.

“Technically not a crook.” Ted corrected, holding one finger up.

“Because he agreed to resign if charges weren’t laid and then went and jumped into a multimillion dollar golden parachute, Ted!”

“He did. And now he has money and time, like I said. Plausible figurehead.”

“The Government took out marching orders to distribute his heart medication! Do you have any idea how crooked and money-grubbing you have to be for the government to actually issue marching orders against a pharmaceutical company?” Hank went back to work. He lowered circuitry into the chassis of his work, and closed it up.

“That’s the nature of the pharmaceutical industry, Hank. It’s de-regulated and crooked by its very nature. He won’t be working in Big Pharma surrounded by executives who are all out to scrap for every dollar they can get. He’ll be surrounded by heroes! How bad could he possibly be?”

Hank turned around, and looked Ted straight in the eye. “What was that?” He asked, before clapping twice loudly.

Ted seemed taken aback by the clapping, but this was Hank he was talking to. He was known to have his little eccentricities, OCD tics and foibles, so he repeated himself.

“I said ‘That was Big Pharm. He won’t be working there anymore. He’ll be surrounded by heroes. How bad could he possibly be?’”

“Thanks.” Hank clapped twice again. “Did you get that?”

The chassis on the work-bench sat up and replayed a recording of Ted’s voice.

“I said ‘That was Big Pharm. He won’t be working there anymore. He’ll be surrounded by heroes. How bad could he possibly be?’”

“Thank you, that’ll be all for now. Turn around, I have to seal the backside of your chassis.”

It jumped off the workbench and turned around, exposing it’s backside for Hank to continue sealing. It was an extremely rudimentary robot, almost like a stick figure given enough thickness to support it’s own weight, but lean, lanky and cumbersome.

“What the Hell do you call this!?” Ted exclaimed, baffled by the show Hank and the robot were putting on.

“This is L-RON.” Hank said plainly. “Say ‘Hello’, L-Ron.”

“Hello L-Ron.” The robot replied in it’s own voice, clearly different from Ted’s voice which it had just replayed earlier.

Hank smiled, pleased with himself. “Sorry, that’s just a little joke we worked out together.”

“L-Ron?” Ted asked Hank, pointing at the robot.

“Yes, for Learning-Robotic Organization Network. This is just the Beta version. Hence ‘Learning’.”

“I may be the Beta, but I’m all Alpha.” The robot replied.

Ted looked at Hank. “Don’t look at me. I only taught him the ‘Hello L-Ron’ joke. Heh-heh. ‘Hello L-Ron’.” Hank chuckled to himself.

“Where’d he come from? Why do you suddenly have a robot?”

“Well he came from me making him, Ted. I mean, you’ve been standing right there whilst I put him together. I thought that much would be clear.”

“That’s not what I--”

“And as for why I have a robot, well I was looking around on the K.O.R.D network one day and I stumbled upon this Butler Xcel smart home system you’ve been working on and since - as you know - we’ve been having issues with my pills and such some time I thought I could probably do with something to help me get more organized and--”

“Wait-- You were on my network? How did you--? What were you doing on my network!? That’s corporate espionage!”

“Friends don’t accuse friends of committing corporate espionage, Ted.”
“FRIENDS DON’T COMMIT CORPORATE ESPIONAGE AGAINST FRIENDS, HANK!”


“I wasn’t. I just... like to see what you’re up to. What you’ve been doing. You’re my friend.” Hank seemed hurt.

“Hank. I was working on a home organizational system. You hacked into my network and now I’m looking at your own organizational network which came from you looking at those planned K.O.R.D projects. You call him ‘L-Ron’, I call him ‘Intellectual Property’.”

“That’s harly fair. It’s science, Ted. Ideas beget ideas. L-Ron’s hardly your company’s intellectual property, because I fixed all of the problems you’d been having.”

Ted forged on beyond the kidney-punch to his ego. “Problems you only knew I was having from hacking my network… to work on a project you only considered trying yourself because I was already working on!”

“Well, alright I guess I hadn’t considered all of that!” Hank yelled back.

“So how about, if I just don’t mass-produce it? Keep it a personal hobby project? Would that be OK with you?”

“That would be fine.” Said Ted, calming down.

“You’d be alright with that? You could live with depriving the world of--”

Ted cut him off. “I think the world will be just fine with the completed Butler Excel, and if its not, I’m sure someone else who hasn’t hacked my company’s network will find a way to fill the market just fine.” Hank replied icily.

“To be honest I’m honestly not sure if you guys want to stab each other or suck each other off half the time. Maybe both? A kinky hate sex kinda deal.”

The pair both looked at the robot wide-eyed. “What--? Hank, why did you teach him that?”

“Me? That’s all you.”

“Me? I don’t speak like that!”

“Well, not you-you. But it’s on you. I wanted to fast track L-Ron’s ability to speak with colloquialisms, so I created a series of Bot’s to probe your DissKORD gaming network and you should have heard the things it came out with… It took me a whole night to sweep through L-Ron’s subroutines just to delete the instant request for pictures from any female it comes across.”

Ted stood slack jawed. “This is what I’m talking about with corporate espionage! What made you think that was alright?!”

“Why are you yelling? I thought we already agreed this was just going to be a hobby-project.” Hank asked plainly.

“But you didn’t know that we were going to agree to that when you did this!”

“Well, it’s only until I can come up with a more effective way for it to base it’s automated thought processes. I’m still working on a way to contextualize my own brain scans.”

“Yours..? God help us all. Ted sarcastically sniped, before instantly regretting it. Hank really didn’t mean any harm, and deep down Ted knew it.

“Well, he’s hardly going to use yours, is he? It’d be factory seconds.” The robot replied.

Ted just swallowed the abuse, knowing he probably shouldn’t have made the sarcastic jibe in the first place. Suddenly they heard noise coming from the direction of the front door and the jingling of keys. Janet had returned home. The three left the laboratory to greet her.

“Hi Jan!” Ted called out, to anounce his presence, before she’d see them in case she wasn’t expecting him and he startled her.

“Hi Jan!” The robot clanked past the human pair and greeted her. “I don’t suppose you have any pics of yourself..?”

“Hup, Hank. You missed one.” Ted called out.

“Oh, he’s still doing it.” Hank said, disappointed, pulling out a smart device and going back through L-Ron’s subroutines via Bluetooth. Ted looked over his shoulder at the operating system Hank was using to run L-Ron.

“Hello Ted, I take it you’re here to help with the Scott Lang situation?” Jan called out, from places unseen within the complex.

“I am. And to see whatever Hank’s cooked up for you. He’s been keeping it a secret while you’ve been out.” Ted called back.

“Well, in Hank’s defense he wouldn’t have been able to show you while I was out. Just give me a few seconds to get changed and I’ll be right with you!” She called back.

Ted kept walking through the house. “That’s fine. Whenever you’re ready.”

He got towards the front door and saw a pile of cloth on the floor. Out of curiosity he walked to the front of the house and crouched down to inspect it. He picked it up.

It was a dress.

Had she just-- stripped down at the door..?

“You know, if you sniff that Ted, we can’t be friends anymore.” Joked the two inch model dressed in a form fitting black and yellow number, flying right next to his ear.

“Gah!” He fell out of his crouch into a sprawl on the floor.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Natty
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Christina Weir tore down the darkened corridors of Midtown Elementary, accidentally slamming into a wall of lockers briefly as she turned a corner. The clanging of the metal doors did little to cover the snarls and growls that followed close behind her. Her eyes darted around the greyed walls as she moved, desperately searching for a spot to hide from the beast that followed her. The school was empty now; with the cries and shouts of her peers gone, leaving nothing but an eerie sense of despair. The colourful posters lining the walls did nothing to stop the overall impression of drabness, with the lifeless banners depicting the school's mascot and emblem looking as useless as school often made her feel.

This wasn’t a comforting place for Christina, even before the additional fear she now had for her life.

Daring a glance backwards, her eyes widened once more at the sight of the creature’s shadow imprinted against the far wall behind her, moving ever closer. Her breathing increased rapidly as she fumbled at the door of a nearby classroom. Regardless of how much she pushed, the door remained locked. She scrambled to repeat this process at every door she came across, with each door bringing the 4th Grader closer to losing what little hope she still had.

Tears streamed down her face. She had to act fast. The creatures were getting closer.

Her eyes snapped to the sign stuck onto the next door, with her letting out a groan when she realised who it belonged to. Normally she’d detest entering Mr Derrickson’s science lab; the man terrified her. But now she was facing something even more terrifying. She burst towards it, the door handle turning with ease in her hand. Relief flooded over her, only to be washed away in a second as she caught sight of a shadowy presence in the corner of her eye.

Christina had barely enough time to slam the door shut before the shadows began to pound against it, attempting to knock the wood from its hinges. She wailed loudly as she held her body against the door with all the strength she could muster. The growling behind the door grew more ferocious. The door shook violently, pushing Christina down onto the floor amongst the room’s desks. And with its sole protector gone, it swung open.

The beast burst into the room, a shadowy mess of black smoke and fur. Resembling that of a large dog, the horned creature roared into the night, flashing rows of ashened teeth. Christina could do nothing but cry now. She wanted her mum. She wanted her dad.

The creature snarled and readied itself to pounce.

Her mind flashed to images of Wonder Woman and the costume doll of hers that she kept next to her bed. She wanted a hero.

As the demonic beast leapt into the air, a wave of bright blue fire flashed through the room. The flaming blade sliced through the animal, the shadowy mist that made up its body dispersing into the air of the classroom. The growl vanished, replaced by a calming silence.

Christina stared in awe at the woman that had appeared above her. The spiked armour that covered her arms and legs reflected a cold hue of blue from the sword that she held confidently at her side. She was almost menacing, with the facial expression under her head of blonde hair being that of pure anger and annoyance. The woman moved her head around the room, watching the remains of the creature disappear into nothingness, before turning her attention on the girl on the classroom floor. Moving down onto one knee, she moved towards Christina, her face completely changing into one of warmness as a reassuring smile began to spread across her face.

Hello vhere.” Christina clung to every word as she spoke, taking her all in.

Who… who are you?” the girl asked, her mouth agape.

My name vis Magik. You must be Christina. Such a pretty name for a pretty girl.” The woman extended her arm down towards her. “Vant to get out of vere?

Christina found herself calming down slightly as Magik spoke, a toothy smile escaping her lips. Taking her hand, the two rose to their feet. Yet before they could make a move, the ground began to shake around them, with the desks and shelves around the room vibrating wildly. Magik steadied herself with her spare arm, before turning to Christina who was now panicking once again.

What’s… what’s happening?” She cried looking around in desperation. “This isn’t my school. It can’t be. Where are we?

Magik leaned down once more and put a hand on her shoulder reassuringly.

I promise you. Vit’ll all be alvight.” Giving Christina’s shoulder one last squeeze, she moved back up, before bringing her sword above her head.

Swinging dramatically, the swordswoman cut into the air. Another fury of flames seemed to flare from it as if by magic, it began to tear through the classroom as if actually carving a hole into the air around them. The duo watched as the spot where the sword stuck seemed to fizzle, with the room beginning to dissolve in a very similar manner to the creature from before. The furniture went first, fading away quickly, before the walls began to fall, shifting into mist.

The empty nothingness that revealed itself to them from outside the disappearing walls was the last thing that Christina had expected to see. Whiteness seemed to stretch in every direction around her as far as the eye could see as if she were gazing at an empty canvas. However, as she soon saw, the canvas wasn’t quite as empty as she had originally thought.

Black shadows rocketed around them. They mirrored that of the beast that had been chasing her for as long as she could remember, with the spectral animals snarling wildly as they propelled themselves through the air. Evident from the explosions of colour and darkness that fireworked around them, it was clear to see that the creatures were engaged in some kind of horrific battle, which painted the world around them. Christina clung to Magik’s hand as tightly as she could as the two found themselves floating carelessly in the nothingness, her tear-stained face taking it all in.

Motioning her sword around them, Magik finally began to explain.

Vhis is all in your head, Christina.” She explained, looking down at the girl. “And you’re just having a nightmare.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Angel Eyes
Part III


Seattle
2009

I walked the halls of the Maddox mansion with a security guard traveling in my wake. Bowron was downstairs with Charles and Carrie Maddox, along with their pet muscle Wideman. My partner and I had consulted each other in private before taking statements from the parents of Celeste Maddox. Bowron and I agreed on very little in most regards, but on this case we came to the same conclusion: we were both out of our depth. Kidnapping was and is a federal crime that automatically gets handed over to the FBI. So why were two Seattle PD detectives given the case? Charles and his wife claimed it was in the name of discretion. They were calling favors with the local police to let them deal with it first. If they called the FBI, that package would include an army of agents, locking down the sleepy little gated community, helicopters buzzing over their estate, the whole megillah.

“That’s true,” Bowron had said. “But they have the resources we don’t. All those G-Men messing up your neighborhood’s peace and quiet? They’re gonna find your daughter faster and more efficiently than we can.”

I left Bowron to continue his sales pitch and headed upstairs to see what I could find in the way of impressions. The house should have come with its own GPS system, but the security man who tailed me was nice enough to point out where the Maddox girl’s room would be. The hallways were lined with family photos, mostly of the two children in the home. Photos showed Celeste’s progression from a newborn up until the twelve year old she was today. Her younger brother Caleb had his life charted in the same way, only with photos of him playing sports instead of participating in beauty pageants. A photo of Caleb performing at what looked to be a piano recital made me pause for a moment before moving on.

What nobody, not even my partner, knew was what I was really up to that night. At that point I had been a cop for over twenty years, first LA and then Seattle, and I had earned a reputation as one of the best detectives around. Manhunter, they called me, because I could always find my target. And that was because of my ability: I could hear the thoughts of others. I once read that it was called telepathy, and I used it to great effect over the course of my career. Downstairs while Charles Maddox told us how Celeste had gone missing, I had scanned his mind for any signs that he was lying. I also listened to the thoughts of his wife and security team. Nothing.

“Her room is right there,” my babysitter said, pointing a finger to a door we were approaching.

I used my shirt sleeve to push open the door and avoid leaving fingerprints behind. The room was typical preteen girl, almost to the point of cliche. Pink walls with popstar posters covering them, stuffed animals on a bed, a wall of trophies and ribbons. As far as insights into Celeste Maddox and her life went, it was lacking in substance.

That was why I decided to open my mind up to thoughts. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I could hear the thoughts of the security guard, wondering what I was doing. I could also hear the buzz of the entire household, dozens of mental voices creating a cacophony. I expanded further out into the neighborhood and beyond. The collective thoughts of Seattle roared through my ears and I sifted through them until:

“There,” I said under my breath.

Celeste Maddox’s mind, less than a mile away and racing with fright. She was in the dark and panting. A bright light and then. Pain. A deep pain unlike anything I had ever felt. The sounds of her screams reverberated through my brain. I felt my knees collapse, just before I passed out, I realized that Celeste’s screams had become my own.

-----

Skid Row
Now


I walked down the cracked sidewalks with Caleb Maddox’s folder tucked under my arm Even though the area seemed deserted I could feel the watchful eyes of people on me from the dark alleys and hiding spots this part of town provided.

Every city, even one as seemingly well-off and peaceful as Seattle, has a place like this. It’s a refuge for those people who our society has overlooked, the people don’t benefit from Amazon’s massive tax breaks, people who are firmly reminded that the Starbucks bathrooms are for paying customers only. They weren’t all drug addicts, and they weren’t all unemployed criminals, but I knew from my time as a cop that enough suspect people lived down here for Caleb to have at least passed through here in the past.

And speaking of cops, I had to assume the wide berth the Night People had given me was due to my appearance. A middle-aged black man wearing a blazer and slacks screamed police. They gave me a wide berth back when I was a cop as well. It had been a long time since I’d last ventured into Skid Row, 2007 at least. I was still working missing person the last time I came to visit my friend. These places were always migratory, but I was hoping against hope that he had stuck around.

It was a bit unbelievable to find that same old bus bench with a rusty RCA sign leaning against it forming a raggedy lean-to. Around here it was the equivalent to a penthouse. I rapped on the sign and waited.

“Who the fuck--”

He stopped short when he saw me looking down at him. Chunky Edwards had put a lot of miles on his tires since I’d last seen him ten years ago, haggard with a drawn up face and long grey hair, but still being alive after all that time was a victory in and of itself.

“Shiiiiiit,” he said, flashing a mouth full of jagged teeth. “I remember you. Detective Jones. Probably chief of police now or some shit. You don’t write, you don’t call, you don’t offer me a job, and you don’t stop by for my wine and cheese parties.”

"I’m not a cop anymore, Chunky.” I reached into my pocket and fished out the squat candybar with the silver wrapper and CHUNKY written across it. “But I bet some things never change. Still got the sweet tooth? ”

“Do I shit in a bucket?” he asked before snatching the candy from my hand. “Don’t answer that.”

Chunky started into the bar as best as he could with his teeth and got out of his makeshift home. The two of us sat on the rickety bench in silence while he ate.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” I finally said. Chunky was busy licking chocolate from his fingers. “I know living rough like this isn’t anybody’s idea of safe.”

“Yeah,” he said with gleaming eyes. “But it’s a trip, man. See I’m actually a billionaire who pretends to be homeless for fucking fun.”

“I can put you up in a hotel for a week,” I said. “Hot water and everything. I just need help with something.”

He looked me over with a quizzical eye. I noticed that he was wearing a faded and torn beanie that proclaimed the Seattle Seahawks as Super Bowl XLIX Champions.

“I thought you said you weren’t a cop.”

“I’m not. I’m just trying to find someone. A kid. Just barely a kid.”

I flipped open the folder and showed him Caleb’s mugshot. He looked confused for a moment before he started to nod rapidly.

“Party Man,” he said with a laugh. “Yeah, I know him. Seen him around the way.”

“Why did you call him that? Party Man."

“Because he’s always looking to party. Got this guy with him, hanger-on type with his head so far up the boy’s ass, he’d break his neck if this kid took a corner too sharp.”

“By party you mean trying to cop?”

“Yeah,” said Chunky. “Always chasing around looking for some pills or dope.”

“You know where they get it from when they get it?”

“Man, I don’t fuck with them drugs,” he said, pointing to his head and smiling wide, showing me a mouth of missing and rotten teeth smeared in chocolate. “That shit rots your brain, detective.”

“You said he has a friend with him. What does he look like?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, just a young white kid with dark hair. As interchangeable as the picture you just showed me. I know his friend is always trying to get the girls around here to blow him, trying to trade drugs for BJs and pussy.”

“Do you know any of the dealers around here, Chunky? What about the girls?”

Chunky took a long pause before sniffing and answering. “Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. I’ll help you out with this boy because he ain’t one of us, but if word gets around I’m a snitch… look, man. You’re just visiting, okay? I’ve got to live here.”

“I understand,” I said as I took another Chunky bar from my pocket and passed it to him. “Now about that motel.”

“No thanks,” he said as he started on his second bar. With his free hand he slapped the metal sign. “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. You should come by next week, my book group is discussing Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. And afterwards we're gonna rummage through the garbage for empties.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by HenryJonesJr
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THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXYY

IN
RAMBLE ON



The air in the cave was stale and damp, with more and more humidity as the four of them moved deeper into the bowels of the planet. The warm, wet air led Thor to believe that there was plenty of fresh water beneath the surface of the rocky planet, which made sense. The surface had no water, so it had to have its stores below for habitation suitability. The heat could also be used for geothermal power depending on the strength. It was a good spot to set oneself up, at least when they weren't being hunted by ravenous space insects.

"So what do these things look like?" Rocket asked as he kept his eyes peeled on the walls around them. Thor had told the group that the creatures enjoyed using rock faces as camouflage. Rocket, who could see better than the rest in the dark, was tasked with spotting them if he could.

"Like a Bolovax roach, only bigger than a guy," Star-Lord shrugged. "And with huge teeth. You'd be an appetizer."

"At least until I blew myself out of his stomach with these things," Rocket patted the weapons on his belt. "Ain't no one eatin' me without a fight."

"I am Groot," the living tree nodded.

"They are fast," Thor warned his new ally. "You may not have the chance."

"You managed to get away carrying all those muscles," Rocket shrugged. "I think I'd be okay."

The four of them shared a nervous laugh as they traversed the slick, metal platform that made up the floor of the mine, which was still in its infancy. The passage was dimly lit with green, glowing orbs lining the handrail they walked beside. The walls of the cave, assuming they weren't lined with the alien creatures, were black, with luminous blue-green streaks running through them. Rocket and Peter had explained that the ore, when refined, was an important additive to fuel for their ships. It kept the engines from exploding, which Thor figured was quite important for space travel.

"Hm," Peter said as he closed his face shield. "My scanners are picking up life. Looks mammalian. Might be some of our settlers."

"I am Groot."

"Yes, tree," Thor smiled up at the plant alien. "Some of them are indeed alive."

"Guess I owe you one hundred credits, Quill," Rocket groaned.

"Never in doubt!" Peter chuckled in victory.

"Keep your eyes sharp," Thor warned his friend. "The creatures may be leading us into a trap."

But as they traversed deeper and deeper into the cave system it was clear there was no trap coming, at least not imminently. Nothing but foreboding, rocky passage after foreboding rocky passage. Quill said that every step brought them closer to the life forms that were still on the planet. While it should have given Thor a thrill, he felt a pit growing in his stomach. There was something wrong here. He felt like he was trespassing on some forbidden ground. If that was the case, it wasn't a surprise that the settlers would meet a horrible fate. They would have been destined for it by just coming here.The three of

"We're only a click away from the signal," Peter warned them.

The four of them crept carefully towards an opening that seemed to glow with a red light, very different from the green light they had seen up until then. Entering, Thor and the group were completely taken aback by what they saw.

Six of the settlers were cocooned on the wall of the rockface, their insides splattered on the floor of the cave. The room reeked of death and fear, as if their dying moments had been trapped in the cavern.

"Oh god," Star-Lord shook his head. "We were too late."

"I am Groot," the tree sounded just as despondent.

"What kind of person could have done this?" Rocket's fear was palpable. This surprised Thor. The small creature's detached nature was a defining feature, and being shaken like this was enough to prove the scene's grisliness.

And Thor saw something that proved that some sort of otherworldly for was at work. On the back wall of the room, in the middle of the bodies, was an ancient rune that Thor had not seen in ages. A crude face, one side painted in white, the other in black, with pointed ears was drawn on the cave walls. The site sent a pang of fear rolling through the son of Odin's body.

"It's not possible," he muttered to himself, taking a few steps back from the drawing. "It cannot be."

"Man he's really freaked out about that graffiti," Rocket muttered to Groot.

"No time for that," Peter warned. "We got movement in that rock shaft."

"How many of them?" Rocket asked, spinning his guns in his paws, ready for a fight.

Quill paused, "Just one. Coming toward us slowly."

"A scout," Thor growled. "Let us avenge the settlers. We will leave none of these beasts alive."

The four of them dropped into battle stances, ready for anything that might come. They heard the scratching in the rock tunnel as the creature approached, scrambling over the rocks to get to them. It continued to get louder as it approached.

But what came through wasn't an insectoid. It was a little girl. Long, dirty black hair hung over her teal-green face, and striking blue eyes stared back at the four of them full of fear. She was small, no longer than eight if Thor had to guess. Malnourished as well. It looked like she hadn't eaten in days.

He motioned for her to come closer, "Come out, young one. We aren't going to hurt you."

"You wont," she said hauntingly. "But they are coming."

Thor spun to look at Quill, "Multiple movement signs! Shit! More than I can even keep up with."

"BRING 'EM ON!" Rocket growled, full of blood lust. "I've got a shot with every one of their names on it!"

"I AM GROOT!"

Thor scooped the girl up, who didn't struggle in the slightest. The four of them spun and sprinted back from where they came from. As their foot falls started to be drowned out by the clatter of exoskeleton-covered legs hitting rocks, the metal floor creating the floor of the mine gave way, and the five of them were thrown into complete darkness.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Roman
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Roman King of Dirt

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Previously...
Next...

Season One: All The Rest Of Us
Issue One: Departure


John Constantine’s room is a shithole.

Wall-to-wall, the floor is visible only in scraps, littered with garbage that feels like aggressive white noise in its hostile repetitiveness. Beer can, discarded food packet, dirty laundry, beer can, discarded food packet, dirty laundry, beer can, scrap of carpet. Foil sheet, emptied of pills. Beer can. Empty plastic bottle of six bob voddy. Beer can. Laundry. Beer can. Beer can. Beer ca-

John wakes up. His neck hurts, and he knows this is because he has no pillow, but he is inwardly angry anyway, resenting his body for being damaged by his own poor caretaking. He rolls over onto his stomach, and the physical exertion makes him feel nauseous, and he reaches for a plastic carrier bag to vomit into. Nothing comes up, but John tastes bile in the back of his throat and spits thick saliva into the bag. He throws the bag away, another movement he immediately regrets, and while it lands atop one of the scarce few bits of carpet left, John tears rapidly through the closest pile of rubbish and fag-butts to find at least one smokeable cigarette. He comes up empty, and now his hangover, a fetid miasma of migraine, nausea and muscle ache, begins to crash in waves against him, and his scorched throat begs for further lashings.

Ignoring both, or at least ignoring the ever-increasing urge to vomit, John sits up on his mattress. His duvet, thin with no sheets, falls off his torso quietly, the change in temperature barely noticeable. He splays his legs out in front of him, kicking aside empty cans and paper wrappers with his heels as he waits for the dizziness to subside. John rubs his eyes. He stands, legs cold and shaking, and then makes a quick trip to the bathroom across the hall, where the nausea overcomes him and he empties his stomach and his bladder in quick succession.

It is while John washes his hands, mouth, and face under the cold tap in the sink that he thinks of his stash. He finishes off, patting himself dry on a stained, ragged old towel that he scoops from the floor and then returns there, and crosses the hall again back to his room. His stash is hidden behind his chest of drawers, and he has to move a pile of laundry before he can move it, but when he does he can see the cracks in the wall almost instantly. He can't remember the last time he used his stash, but to his nicotine starved mind, behind that small section of pull-away wall hides John's earthly salvation: a small white box, adorned with a simple purple square.

John feverishly works his finger into the small hole carved into the wall and pulls at the section. It is stiff but comes loose without much effort, and John quickly pushes his free hand into the compartment. His fingers find no box, but instead touch glossy paper. John seizes the object and pulls it out for inspection.

He barely glances at the old photograph before he drops it reflexively and casts his gaze away, his whole body flinching before going rigid. He is dumbfounded, all thought function seizing up and clattering to a halt. His vision swims and his heart-rate and breathing speed up involuntarily, as his surroundings seem to swell against him and push upon his skin. He places a hand on the chest of drawers to steady himself, and screws his eyes shut tight enough to hurt. His blood pounds in his ears, drowning out all other sound, and though John breaths he is asphyxiating, his chest feeling like a clockwork spring with its key being wound; tighter and tighter, twisting his innards into a tense ball that grows smaller withe very turn, every gasp for air a new threat that it would burst and punch a hole clean through John's torso, killing him and letting loose every demon and insecurity, every bad though he'd ever had, for everyone to see and point and judge and laugh and ostracize and -

And then it's over. The coil unwinds, slowly but gently, and John's breath and vision come back to him. He lets go of the drawers, his knuckles brilliant white and his hand aching, and carefully, slowly, picks up the two pill boxes that stand alone atop the unit, pulling a foil rack from each and pop-pop releasing the pills from their containers. John reads the words 'citalopram' and 'clozapine' with glazed-over eyes as he swallows the tablets dry, and then takes some deep, steady breaths as he bends down to retrieve the photograph, holding it with both hands as he stands back up.

The photo is of a young girl, center frame, water behind her and the light of the sun reflected off of it to illuminate the girl from behind, giving her an ethereal golden outline. John is almost moved to tears just looking at the picture.

Instead, he tears his eyes away from the smiling face of the girl and sets the photo down next to his pills. He looks around his room, allowing the true scope and meaning of the filth to sink in, and then dresses himself in the least-smelly pair of jeans and top with the fewest stains. He pockets his pills, and then carefully folds and pockets the photo as well.

Downstairs, John pads quietly from the hallway to the kitchen in search of water and food. He drinks from the tap and takes a half-empty packet of digestives from the cupboard, and then makes his way to the front door. Behind him, through the hallway into the living room, he can see Thomas Constantine - a father to the letter of the law and no further - sound asleep on his worn and rotted old armchair. A can of lager has fallen from his hand and spilled across his lap and the floor. From here John can smell piss as well. He nervously eyes the small mound of empty cans beside Thomas, and can't help but picture the cans on his bedroom floor upstairs.

John turns around. Thomas' jacket is hung beside the door and John does not hesitate to pilfer the wallet from the inside pocket and empty it of the cash within. He turns, putting a hand on the handle of the door, and hesitates only long enough for his other hand to touch a finger to the photograph of his sister in his pocket - and then he leaves.

---


John was ten, Cheryl fourteen. Summer in Liverpool, as much as Liverpool could allow, and the sky was covered by a pallid shroud of grey clouds. They were collecting change - running through the streets, spotting shrapnel on the floor, on abandoned tables, in phoneboxes and ticket machines. John's pockets rattled melodically with coins as he joked, jostled, teased and cracked wise. Cheryl downplayed her amusement but could not stifle a chuckle here and there.

At a dockside cafe, Cheryl distracted the owner with meandering, protracted questions about the menu, while John took the opportunity to dip his hand into the tip jar and came up with a few more silvers than he had gone in with. Cheryl had ordered cola and sandwiches and the pair ate outside; when the owner turned to serve another customer, the pair had ran, laughing at themselves and each other as the frustrated shouts grew quieter and quieter behind them.

Back on the high street they ducked into a Boots and found a disposable camera; John emptying his pockets into Cheryl's outstretched hands so that she could count out their collection. They had only scrap left after their purchase, but they left the coins and the plastic wrapping of the camera on the counter behind them as they left with their prize. They filled the camera roll in only a few short hours, and then returned to Boots to develop the film. The lady behind the counter huffed and puffed as they turned out their pockets to pay the fee, and eventually, just waived it entirely as their performance grew too tedious to deal with any longer.

John and Cheryl sat on a street bench in the fading sunlight, thumbing eagerly through their envelope of photographs. Many were unfortunately marred by poor lighting, lens glare, or even intrusions from John's clumsy fingers as he had played with the camera. But one picture stood out: Cheryl, standing center frame with the Royal Albert Docks behind her, smiling and laughing at the John behind the camera. The clouds had opened up in a moment of serendipity to stream sunlight down onto the water, and it bounced off the surface of the docks to light up the photo from behind. To John, the photo was remarkable, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his young life so far; it held a paradoxically fleeting and infinite moment of serenity, and seemed to capture an angelic quality about Cheryl. The photo was a gleaming representation of John's sister through John's eyes; he loved it, and her, and they spent the rest of the evening delaying their return home any way they knew how.


---


John sits on his arse on the kerb outside of Leicester central station, staring at the creased photo of Cheryl he holds out in front of him. The cash in his father's wallet got him from Liverpool to Nottingham, and dodging the ticket man had gotten him from Nottingham to Leicester, and here he had been caught and summarily ejected when he was found unable to pay the fine.

The sun he sits in is suddenly blocked by an approaching figure, who casts a large shadow across John as he stands watching. John looks up, squinting against the sun that shines behind the man.
"What do you want." John demands, his back bristling on habit alone. Liverpool didn't teach him to be friendly.
"You look lost."
"What's it to you, geez? Shove off."
The man chuckles, and this both irritates and disarms John.
"Thought you might need a hand."

John pauses, hesitant. This stranger's forward nature unsettles him. He is not used to kindness.
"I'm fine. Shove off." The man does not move. This annoys John. "You bored?"
"What's that photo?"
John stands up, and pockets the photo. The man is taller than John, and wider, and John is cold and hungry, but John has anger and a wild, nervous energy building inside him. John thinks he could take the man if he had to.
"None of your business." He responds, looking the stranger directly in the eyes and locking his jaw. He waits.

The man steps back, and without the sun behind his head John can see him clearly. He has a friendly face, and in his eyes is a look of genuine concern and empathy. The man holds both his hands up before putting them back in his jacket.
"Fair enough. Bad start.” He steps forward, only slightly, and extends a hand to shake. John does not take it. “Francis Chandler.”
John does not offer his name. Instead, he sits back down. Francis stays standing. After a long pause, John explains.
“I’ve come from Liverpool. Trying to get to London to visit an old friend. Cash ran out at Nottingham. Narcs caught me here. Now I’m stuck.”

Francis rubs the messy stubble of his chin and sits down next to John, taking off his flat cap.
“Well, that’s a fair bit of luck to get from Nottingham to here.” He days after a moment of deliberation. John murmurs an unenthusiastic agreement. “And I reckon you got chucked just in time too.”
John frowns and looks at Francis. He smiles, a wry little smirk that forces John to like him a little. “I’m leaving back to London today. Just escaped a visit to my ogre of a ma. Car’s parked at the station. Saw you first, though. Lucky bugger, don’t you think?”

John stares at Francis, his face conveying all manner of emotion: incredulity; confusion; distrust; disbelief; hope. He doesn’t know how to respond, or whether he should. Most of him thinks Francis is playing a cruel joke.
“If you get your jollies being a cunt I reckon you’re done for the day with this one.” He finally says, and Francis laughs. John waits for a response, but Francis doesn’t reply. “Why?”

Francis shrugs.
“You look like you could use some help.”
“I could be about to take you for all you’re worth.”
Francis laughs again. “You’re welcome to, got fuck all anyway. I’d let you drive away with me in the boot if it got me away from my mother.”
“Why do you want to help me so bad?”

Francis stands up, John does the same. Francis stands across from John, regarding his skinny frame in the sunlight.
“I’ve got a nose for good hearts. Good people. You got an aura about you. I can tell. You just need a break.”
John could cry. Francis has compassion he hasn’t felt since...that he hasn’t felt in a long time. He clears his throat.
“I think you’re full of shit.” He pauses as Francis chuckles. “But I could do with a break.”
John extends his hand to shake. Francis takes it firmly.
“John Constantine. Nice to meet ya, Francis.”
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Simple Unicycle
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Simple Unicycle ???

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Location: Hub City, Illinois - United States

Interaction(s): None
Previously: Who Are You?


As a car pulled through the alley and up to the shack, I ducked behind a garbage can, carefully peeking out to watch. Out of the car stepped an older man, early-60s at least, with slicked back grey hair and a cane. Coming out of the car with him was a man in his 30s with a black crew cut and a rugged face, with a pistol at his side and a cigarette on his lips. The old man took a moment to adjust his suit and tie, before the two of them entered the derelict shack.

I slipped out of my hiding place and leaned against the wall, peeking into the shack. The thugs playing Go Fish suddenly stood up from their chairs and turned to the old man as he walked through the door. The younger guy leaned against the doorway, taking a drag from his cigarette before flicking it onto the wooden floor. Quickly, he produced another from his pack, lit it with an old zippo, and went right back to puffing. God, I could go for a cigarette right now...

The old man began speaking to the thugs. "I take it you fools have been keeping busy waiting for us? How was your card game going?"

"Uh, it was going good, boss! Real good!" I almost had to choke out a laugh at the man's forced enthusiasm. This old guy must really scare the hell out of them for a hardened thug to be acting like this.

Old guy didn't look amused. He gave a small tsk, shaking his head slightly, before stepping forward. "Yes, yes, good to hear. Have you made any progress in your search?" Search, huh? That sounded promising. The only question was, search for what?

"We ain't gonna find the Question, he'd get the drop on us and not the other way around." That caused my eyes to widen beneath my mask. They're looking for me? I suppose I should be flattered. "So we've been spreading rumors about this place, saying that there's something big gonna go down. Sooner or later, it'll get back to him. He'll come here, and we'll take him down."

Shit. Roscoe might have had good intentions telling me about the tip he heard, but he'd unknowingly led me right to a trap. It'd be best to just get out of here now, come up with a plan of attack and return later... Yes, that sounded good. Slowly, I pushed myself away from my place on the wall, crouching down to walk past the window and avoid detection...

*BLAM!*

A gunshot! I whipped around, staring at the people in the shack through the shattered window. The chainsmoking man had his gun out, the barrel smoking, and pointed dead at me. For a moment, he and I stared at each other, while the others looked shocked. Not waiting for him to make the first move, I turned tail and ran. He fired another shot, clipping my shoulder and sending me tumbling to the ground.

Then, darkness.

The next thing I remembered, I was bound up in a dark room.


-----


The sudden burst of memory hit me like a freight train, and I found myself gripping my head trying to contain the pain... These guys were looking for me. The question was, why? Why did they want me? Why did they keep me alive? If they wanted to get rid of me so bad, shouldn't they have just shot me dead right there? So many questions, no answers.

Doesn't matter. What does matter is that right now there are thugs making their way to me. As the sound of footsteps approached the door, I slowly back up to a stall, opening it and slipping inside. There, I got up on the toilet and kept my head low, so they couldn't spot me too easily. I heard the door open, and the footsteps were even clearer than before...

"Come on out, ya faceless freak! I won't hurt ya... Much!" I almost scoffed. Talk about a generic threat. Once he throws this stall door open, he's gonna be in a world of hurt. I listened carefully, holding my breath. He was taking his time, opening stall door after stall door, whistling lowly all the while. I felt the knot of excitement in my gut tighten, waiting for release...

He opened the door, and I reacted quickly. I kept a firm grip on the top of the stalls and swung myself forward, my feet meeting his face. I heard the crack of his nose breaking, felt his shattered teeth digging into the soles of my shoes. He let out an ungodly scream of agony, falling to the ground. My grip on the stall's walls kept me from falling, and I let go once I had good footing on the ground.

Blood stained the once white bathroom tiles, and the thug was squirming in agony, clutching at his messed up face. I heard the sound of running footsteps approaching the bathroom, and quickly picked up the thug. Moving to the door, I stopped next to it, waiting for the others to burst in. Any second now...

I didn't have to wait long.

One of them burst right in, and I threw his buddy onto him. The two of them fell into a heap on the ground. Another was close behind the one who just walked in, and I clapped my hands onto his ears. Disoriented, he tried to raise his gun, but quickly smacked it aside and rammed an open palm into his throat, cutting off his airway. He fell to the ground, gasping for a breath that wouldn't come, and I turned my attention to the one who was still on the ground.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH! I'LL FUCKIN' KILL Y-" His shouts were cut off by a sharp kick to the face, and he fell limp. The others weren't here yet, must've been in other rooms. I looked around for some sort of weapon, before heading back to the stall. The toilet tank cover. That'll work. I picked it up, grunting a bit at the weight of it, before heading out into the hall.

Down the hall, I saw the remining men fast approaching me. Four in all, no guns on them, just their fists. At least I had a bit of an advantage there. One of them immediately went into a sprint when he saw me, throwing a wild haymaker my way once he was near me. I ducked out of the way of the blow, then swung the cover into his knee. His leg broke like a matchstick, and he fell to the ground, gripping his broken limb and shrieking in pain. One down.

The other three were a bit more cautious, slowly inching towards me and quickly jerking back if I made any sudden moves. Must have been scared. No clue why, I was just a guy in a cheap suit and a cheaper mask. One of them finally mustered up the courage to attack, throwing a punch; I tried to dodge, but he must've been waiting for that, because he quickly brought his hand around to catch me in the side of the head. I dropped the toilet tank cover on reflex, reaching up to the side of my head.

That upped the courage of the other two, who quickly rushed forward to attack. One of them went for a cross punch which caught me in the gut and caused me to bend over in pain, while the other tackled me to the floor. He was right on top of me now, landing hit after hit on my face. Shit, this is it, isn't it? I'm done for...

It was then that an idea popped into my head.

He continued to wail on me for a bit, but after a few more hits I went limp. Slowly, he stopped punching, then got up off of me. "Shit, he's dead. Boss'll have our heads for this," the one who was going to town on me said.

"Shit, we'll dump him. Say he escaped. That'll be better than us killing him, boss'll just dock our pay instead." The second thug paused, picking me up by the legs. "Help me with him, will ya?" Now two of them were carrying me. This wasn't what I was counting on, but it could help. I waited, that familiar knot of excitement building in my stomach...

I jumped out of their grasps in a flurry of punches and kicks. My foot struck Thug #2 in the jaw with a sharp *CRACK!*, while I clamped my hand onto Thug #1's arm. Their grips on me released, and I fell to the ground, dragging Thug #1 with me. Thug #2 was already falling to the ground and nursing his jaw, which was broken judging by the crack I heard.

I quickly released my hold on #1 and got up, kicking him in the groin. His face went red from mingled pain and anger, and I quickly took advantage of his state to deliver a quick kick to his head. Lights out for him.

Thug #3 was watching in terror, quickly reverting to his earlier state of backing away from me in terror. #2 was too busy rolling around on the ground to be a threat. I slowly approached #3 as he backed away, quickening my pace all the while, until I sprinted towards him and delivered a few quick punches to his liver. Then, I grabbed his arm and slammed him into the wall, before letting him slip to the floor.

I walked past #2 on the way to the exit door, kicking him in the face along the way to knock him out. Time to get out of this shithole.

To Be Continued...
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by DocTachyon
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DocTachyon Teenage Neenage Neetle Teetles

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Issue 10




New York City, NY --- Thompson Memorial Hospital




Mid-Crisis.

“Guh-buh--...” Nonsense-words spilled out over Peter’s cracked lips like the blood that leaked from his mouth as he wrenched himself over the rooftop gravel, little stones grinding into his chest and spiking pain up through his ribcage. His Spider-Sense didn’t matter anymore, it was a constant background, crackling TV Static over the violence and the twisting slurry of his costume over his skin, the black tainted red with his blood.

How did this happen?

Hairs jolted up on the back of his neck -- the air behind him was crackling, ionizing faster than Peter could think. His muscles moved on their own, throwing him up into the air and crashing down to the side and flopping like a dying animal as a brilliant bolt of lightning obliterated the rooftop, sending plumes of gravel into the sky. Peter flipped onto his back and his fingers flashed spasmodically into his palms, sending out arcs of webbing blindly. He had to hit something, anything.

There was a force on the other end and he was in the air, over the lip of the roof, nothing between him and the ruinous concrete but a drop. His muscles screamed and his grip tightened around the line, refusing to release. His costume gelled together, black cells trying to weave an impact barrier as he was yanked back and jerked to the ground. His face hit first and his nose exploded into blood and phlegm.

“Urgh-!” He had barely hit the ground before he wrenched his torso around and tucked his shoulder, moving below the vibrating speed of a passing fist.

“C’mon, Spydah-Man.” An Austrlian accent cooed. Peter could scarcely hear it over the wardrum of his own heart in his ears. “Give us a fight, now.”

“The Spider’s all tuckered out, Frank.” Peter hardly registered the shifting of gravel before there was a gloved hand around his neck, lifting him into the air. The costume railed as it could, weakly, tiny tendrils sluicing themselves from the membrane of the costume and slapping against the glove weakly.

“This way, Sanders.” A third said, somewhere beyond the haze of Peter’s vision. “I wanna see him fucking joke when his heart stops.”

***


Earlier.

The background buzz of electronic drones had subsided in this part of the city -- the horde that swept to Madison Square Garden had left the Upper East Side deserted, a sky free from bugs and streets free from deranged civilians, spare the stragglers that dragged shattered legs behind them, enroute to join their fellows.

Spider-Man swung high, switching off of each web at the low point of its arc, prioritizing speed. The X-Men had parked their battle wagon some miles away -- miles that didn’t pass quick when hauling a blue fuzzball. He hooked a right turn and skipped over a rooftop like a stone across water -- his hand came out and another web snapped to the skyline, he felt the suit with him then, making microscopic adjustments to the cadence of his swing, ensuring he’d hit on target.

It’d be moments before the Four Freedoms came into view -- if the newly topless Empire State, and the streaking trails of flying metahumans were to be believed, it was the place to be. Maybe if Peter got there fast enough, he could get in a few licks on the chrome-domed dude, and -- Blue Beetle’s earpiece snapped to life in his ear, back in comms range.

”Hey, kid! Things are getting wrapped up here -- I’m about to check on our friend in the Bug, but it’s looking like we have a man down at Staten Island. Think you could swing by?” Peter heard The Blue Beetle’s voice in the background, having failed to deactivate his own mic. Swing. Bwahaha!”

Rescue duty? Again? Peter’s muscles jerked as he overextended on his web. He released and slung another, leaning into it with his shoulder. He stuck himself to the nearest skyscraper and steadied. Wall-crawling boo-boo patrol, at your service

”I got it, B.B. … Save some cake for me.” Spider-Man tapped his comms device and shot forward into the sky. He felt his suit worm into his muscles and he fired another webline, hanging a turn down the island.

Oh, what am I complaining about? I could show up at the Four Freedoms anyway, have Captain America and that weird arrow dude tell me I did a great job running away in the first place. He adjusted his angle at the subtle indention of the black fabric, instinct guiding his hand, and he crested over the next building, bringing the next row of concrete towers into view.

One stood out -- The Thompson Memorial Hospital. He hadn’t realized he was passing so close. The fibers of his suit quivered, on edge. Like a spider raising its forelegs in warning.

He held onto his web for a moment longer and released at the tip of its swing, launching up above the sweeping cityscape. The Hospital’s lights winked dimly in the encroaching night sky, warding the darkness. The helicopter pad atop it sat unused -- they were probably more concerned with keeping the building shut and the bugs out than accepting helivac patients. Tombstone’s people could be with them now, sequestered from the ICU to the labs, hiding needles of heroin amid crates of narcan, away from the Hell that dwelled outside. Dennis Carradine could prowl the halls, swiping his mop from one side to the other.

He’d probably already forgotten about the man he’d shot.

Spider-Man refused to forget.

The next web brought him low and he let go, loping between rooftops and springing towards the Hospital. He was a hunting dog, and blood was in the air. His legs pumped and he was in the sky again, one last webline before -- goosebumps rippled across his skin, and the fabric of his suit stuck fast to him, sealing his pores and insulating his body.

Spider-Sense? What the hell is--?

His muscles had started to spasm before the feeling of burning got to his brain. There was shock up and down his body as his fingers opened involuntarily and he plummeted, arms pinwheeling and legs splayed. A smell like chlorine jumped up his nostrils and he hit the gravel of the Hospital’s rooftop hard, pain lancing up his back.

“Aw, that was so not crash.” Spider-Man grunted. Spider-Sense flared and he rolled into it, bouncing off the rooftop as another arc of lightning crackled past. He swiveled in the air, white lenses turning to meet his attacker. He was six foot at least, wrapped in black tac gear -- it was a little like what the MSF’s tower mercs had been wearing, but higher end. This one had a yellow belt wrapped around his waist, it was about as thick as Peter’s biology textbook. Electricity crackled across his body, sparking from the belt to nodes around his joints, joining together into a glowing ball in his hands.

“Cut it out dude, you're gonna ruin your electric bill.” Peter moved to fire a webline, but there was a black blur and something rammed into him, flinging him down the rooftop. He adjusted in mid-air and landed on his haunches, hands forward and ready to fire. There was a second player on the rooftop, in the same gear as the first, but his chest was sheathed in a red and blue polymer plate. Shielded red goggles hid his eyes.

“Couldn’t wait five minutes for my coffee break, webs?” He said, rolling his shoulder.

“You’re right red, take a load off! I’ll deal with Sparky here first,” Spider-Man said. He fired a salvo of webs at the new opponent and sprang to the side. Bounding off one hand, he flipped onto the rusted steel of the Hospital’s AC unit as webs sealed the new player’s hands in white gunk.

“Think he’s all you gotta worry about, Spydah?” A voice tinged with an austrailian accent rose from the rooftop around him, and with a resonating clang the AC unit lurched, metal screaming as bolts burst and the unit was tossed into the air. Peter’s muscles sprang in a tenth of a second and he jumped, spinning backwards in the air. A dent the size of Peter’s whole body marred the side of it. Suddenly, there was a hand as big as a baseball mitt around his ankle and he smashed into the ground. He pulled forward before the pain had time to reach his nerves, away from the new combatant’s steel corded grip. There were spiderweb cracks along one of his eyes lenses -- the suit liquified it, trying to repair the damage. He squinted, one eye closed.

“Aw,” Peter coughed, “all three of the Musketeers? You shouldn’t have…” Bones in his knees clicked and ground as he staggered to his feet. His shoulder blades stood out like razors and he hunched. You could count each bone of his spinal cord, bulging from his back, each bundle of neurons frazzled yet pounding with electric potential. Peter chanced a glance backwards, eyes darting faster than most men could perceive.

Number three made Captain America look like a schoolboy. He’d forgone the armor of his fellows in favor a stretched black long sleeve. The plates of his muscles were like armor in and of themselves. He cracked his knuckles and the sound reverberated across the rooftop. Like gunshots.

“Take it as a compliment.” The red one said. His hands began to shake. Faster. “Whole squad of Enforcers just to crush one little bug.” In moments, his hands were a blur, shaking the webbing that held them apart, vibrating through.

“Surprise parties are always nice. Can’t say I’m a big fan of the guests.” Peter said. The suit fluttered. Gravel shifted behind him. Movement. He swallowed.

“How’d you goons know I’d be here, anyway?” Peter’s eyes tracked Red, his movements, the shifting in the soles of his feet. He watched the arcs of electricity sparking around the hands of the man in yellow, crackling with death.

Red laughed. “Things you stole only lead one way, dipshit. Tomb--” Yellow’s face scrunched up.

“Shut the fuck up Sanders. Move, now. Yellow snapped. There was a low hum of power, lightning given form. Yellow’s nodes sparked. Peter’s muscles coiled. Red looked back. The big man stepped.

“Hold him still, Oliver. Don’t get squeamish when he starts to fry.” Yellow said. The air was still. Peaceful, almost. The currents were gone, like the air channel was preparing to conduct motes of lightning, jumping from one atom to another. Gravel shifted behind Peter.

Spider-Man exploded to the side and a gigajoule of electricity sparked past him and into the washboard chest of the big man. He gargled out a scream and Peter flung himself into the air on his own power, dispensing bursts of web fluid down on his opponents. His brain weaved a web between them, a map of attacks, movements.

“Watch your aim, Shocker!” Spider-Man called. He dodged between arcs of lightning, trying to keep red suit down while the big guy recovered from his surprise defibrillation. He could dodge the shots, as long as it was the only thing he had to worry about. “Wait, wait, my bad, isn’t that taken? Sparkplug?” Peter flipped away from another shot. Yellow grunted.

“Sanders, get moving!” He turned away from Spider-Man and pointed two fingers at the man in red. A bolt arced between the two men, frying bundles of webbing on contact. Red goggles locked onto Peter’s lenses.

Uh-oh.

Peter’s muscles hardly had time to coil and spring before Red was upon him, an unrelenting whirling dervish of fists and kicks and blows delivered so quickly that each strike blended into the next. Peter twisted away from the strikes and zipped away on a webline, higher into the air, narrowly avoiding another megajoule of electric death.

Peter contorted his body in the air, staying aloft on weblines strung between the surrounding skyscrapers, weaving a very literal web. The red speedster darted from point to point on the ground, ready to obliterate him if he ever touched the ground… Or if sparky got in a lucky shot and brought him down.

“Woah, guys, one supervillain at a time!” Peter shouted. He sprung from an elastic strand and fired between the maze of his webwork, dotting the ground with globules of webfluid. “Come on, Speed Demon, slow your roll.” Another arc of lightning whisked past his head as he spoke. He flipped backward and scurried along his webs.

“See Lightning Lad, there’s a good name -- Speed Demon. We’ll get t-shirts printed, and --” Spider-Man began, but the man in yellow cut him off.

“Sanders, wake Oliver. I’ll deal with the webhead.” He commanded. Speed Demon changed his trajectory in an instant, weaving between blasted heaps of gravel and nodes of web to the big man, who was slowly working to regain his footing.

“Hey! Three players is already more than enough.” Spider-Man complained. There were more arcs of lightning by the second, blasting through the openings in his labyrinthine web, like a cage of lightning between him and the other two villains.

Peter’s eyes flickered over the rooftop as he danced over the web. There had to be something to give him an edge. He eyed the crumpled remains of the AC unit, lying in scattered pieces among the gravel.

Galvanized steel… Aluminum… It should attract. Webs lanced from Peter’s wrists and Yellow jumped to the side, instinctively, but Spider-Man wasn’t aiming for him. Pieces of metal were spirited away, strung up and into the great lattice hanging above the hospital. He was like an orb-weaver, swinging above and below his creation and applying the metal, gluing them to stress points as lightning tried and failed to strike him. The bolts twisted in the air as they were fired, unsure of their target -- looking for the easiest path, the most conductive surface. The remains of the HVAC began to thrum with power, vibrating with endless joules of electricity as Yellow tried and failed to hit, blasts arcing off into shards of fans and metal chassis -- irresistibly attracted to the path of least resistance.

“Wallcrawler!” Yellow screamed. A tremendous bolt launched from his hands, rocketing towards the white spider emblazoned on Peter’s chest. The bolt faltered and changed course, splitting into little streaks of lightning and dissipating into parts of the HVAC.

“Megawatt!” Peter called back. “Hey, another good one! I’m two for two!”

“The streak ends here, underoos.” Speed Demon shouted. The big man was up again, sporting a blackened mark on his chest. It was red and angry beneath the char.

Okay, not… Favorable. At least they can’t hit me up... The big man crouched, low, and the rebar supporting the rooftop screeched as he launched himself, soaring up and beyond Peter’s web and into the sky. His frame was big enough that he seemed to blot out the sun, the black silhouette of death. He hung in the air for a moment, priming his legs for another shot on landing.

“...Here.” Peter finished aloud.

“You guys have a Kangaroo!? PETA’s gonna be pissed!” Peter talked as he worked, firing two weblines to either side of tugging back on them, bracing for launch. A good slingshot kick should knock him clean away from the roof, and --

Lightning shot up, the perfect angle to sever one webline and have the other pulled out of Peter’s hands, unbalanced. He tipped backwards, down below the swoop of his web and a hand came up, to pull him to safety, but it was too late.

Speed Demon descended on him in a moment, sweeping in with the force of an F1 racer. He jumped and pulled Peter the rest of the way to the ground, crashing into gravel at impossible velocity. Pieces of it flicked up like bullets, tearing through his costume and leaving bleeding rents in his skin.

Peter didn’t have time to think before Speed Demon went to work. There were fists and knuckles and crunches and blood from every angle, sprays of red and the combined squelch of meat as Speed Demon worked him like a tenderizer. He felt a rib crack in his chest. Two. He couldn’t see anything through the flurry but the descending form of Kangaroo, obliterating the hanging web with the force of his body, pulling it all down at once -- the stretch and crack and squeal of concrete connection points begin ripped apart.

Fists turned his head into a blender for his own brain, crashing from one side of his skull to the other. His chin was like a speed bag, knocked forth and back by the flurry of blows. Hairline fractures erupted all at once across his chin and his jaw, blood began flowing into his mouth.

Run. It was all he could think. Darkness closed at the edges of his vision.

Run. He needed a way out. He lashed out at once, with everything he had, muscles splayed out in blows easily dodged, leaving holes in the roof’s cement. Knuckles pulverized his muscles for every attempted strike, punishing him for his insolence.

Run. His brain drew inward like a wounded animal, a spider with its legs ripped off by a cruel child, searching for any survival instinct against impossible odds. His suit bubbled and festered, black tendrils drawing themselves outward from muscles and sinew and bone, preparing beneath the surface. They speared out together, all at once, a network of spines and thorns and bristles and spikes, warding off any attacker. Fists too fast to react crashed in anyway, drawing lines of blood and shards of finger bone. Speed Demon yowled and danced backwards, shaking his knuckles out.

“What the fuck was that?” He shouted.

Run. The spines withdrew and Peter flopped onto his stomach, crawling along the rooftop, vying for escape. Run, c’mon, run, c’mon…

***

Now

Peter’s hands pulled as they could against the hand around his throat, pockmarked with injury and blood dripping down the black fabric. Lightning crackled in the distance, and huge muscles closed in to turn his remains to powder.

Have to… Run. He shifted his wrists upward, adjusting the angle, and let loose with what webbing he had, spewing into Speed Demon’s face, filling his eyes and nose and mouth.

“Gobdbdamnbitb!” Speed Demon choked out, stumbling away, pulling at the substance choking his airways and filling his eyes. Peter lurched forward and the edges of lightning streaked across his back, incinerating a line of his costume and blasting his skin. He stifled a scream and took one last step. Foot over the ledge, up, and out.

He was in the sky again, finally away. Webs launched from his wrist and snapped to a skyscraper. A few more swings and the ‘Enforcers’ would be in the dust, Megawatt and Speed Demon and --

Kangaroo leapt from the rooftop, across the gutter of open air between the buildings. He slammed his shoulder into the connection point of the webbing and shattered the building’s facade, breaking through and sending shards of stainless steel and granite wall to the streets below. Peter’s lifeline snapped, connection point destroyed, and he plummeted, pinwheeling, trying to get his hands in front of him.

He focused, like he had before, at the police station. Uncertain phantom hands merged in his vision, steady coalescing into one.

C’mon, c’mon… He aimed. The skyscrapers were passing so quickly now, endless stonework of walls speeding by.

Now-- It was too late. Metal and plastic groaned as a teenager destroyed an industrial garbage bin with his body, sending chunks of green metal and heaping piles of trash into the street.

He lay there, for a moment, waiting for his brain to stop pinballing around the inside of his skull. The moon shone down, framed by buildings on either side, silver light painting piles of garbage and twisted metal in sharp relief.

Every bone in his body cried as he rolled himself from the crumpled bin, hitting the concrete with a wet smack. He gurgled as he rose, supporting himself with the wall. He couldn’t decide if he was supposed to swallow the blood to spit it out. He thought he felt a tooth floating around in it, by now stained red with his suffering.

He let the blood dribble from his mouth, around the edges of his lips and down through torn holes in his costume. He looked up. No one was coming for him. Maybe this was enough. Maybe the Enforcers though he’d learned his lesson… Whoever they were.

He set his eyes front, and nearly cried as his neck protested the movement, reaching out into his chest with icy fingers of pain.

It would be a long walk home.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Stein
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Stein That's Queen Stein, thank you.

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Issue 2.01 – The Book of Baal LP - All Falls Down


The Thunder’s Call: Break the Mold


By Arturo Rodriguez

The last time we ran a “Break the Mold” segment, our readers got an exclusive look into JAY-Z’s 8th rap album “The Black Album.” The multi-millionaire rap artist-turned business mogul, turned political activist, turned arts patron was more than happy to let us into his home. In the process, we got an intimate view on foundation that built rap’s HOVA.

This time, I get to take a seat with Baal, the artist who’s on track to save the world. His meteoric rise as an activist and hero is second only to his meteoric impact in the music industry, and in his own words, his “throbbing, fucking ego.”


It’s an ego which can be felt as soon as I walk into the waiting area of his studio. 4 portraits of him adorn the walls. The lavish explosion of color, richness of texture, dramaticism of his poses are all further accentuated by the wall housing them, marble of an ivory white. Readers, if you find this impressive, I won’t even get started on the mural in his main hall.

More on that, later.

Because Baal himself is an inviting host. He’s surprisingly candid from the intense demeanor his outside appearance gives. No formal wear, just a black shirt and white pants. His signature lightning bolt chain--of course--accompanied by splayed arms and a smile. In the interview coordination phase, it “slipped” how much I’d followed the new musicians rise. I was already a dire fan. I asked about what he was working on and in response my audio recorder short-circuited. Baal apologized for his excitement, ushering me into his studio and promised me a brand new one. After one glorious hour, listening and experiencing the next wave Baal has up his sleeve (I’m under oath to say mum about it), I was taken to his sky deck.

En route, we passed an art studio, study room and a few rooms, but the Man of the Hour wasn’t interested in showing off the grandeur of his home. He was more interested in telling the stories that birthed the art pieces in his home.

I’ve been thinking and, I promise this will be all I say on anything outside the music, but if you think about it--your message is essentially to save the world through Art, Unity and Action.


“Yeah. I guess you’re right. Holy Trinity, if you will.”

You don’t mince words or shadow your ego in a veneer.


“Why should I? If you don’t know your worth, if you haven’t proved it to yourself, how will you to anyone else? If I can’t live up to the hype, the world will know soon enough.”

On the topic of hype, Baal’s first album, “By Divine Rite” scored a 99 on Metacritic. It’s a feat almost unheard of by rap-focused albums. It’s garnered him rightful critical and popular appeal.

After hearing your samples from “The Book of Baal,” I have to say it’s a vastly different sound, sprinkled with deliberate nuances. But I might be even more excited for this album than BDR.


“Come now, love. It’s almost like you’re trying to make me blush. Takes more than that, but I appreciate it.”

How do you think the rest of the world will feel? Will they respond well to the new direction?


“‘Course they will. Have you heard the sound, the bravado of the album? Did you listen to the soundscapes? It’s likely to become the album of the summer, one of the albums of the year.”

There’s...not an ounce of doubt in your voice. You won’t even feign humility or some shadow of doubt, will you?


“Please, SparkArt. When you’re as good as I am--”

Baal paused as this point. It was the first I’d experience of the man looking surprised. I inquired, and he shook his head. There was a wistful tilt to his head as he said “Just a...just a wave of deja vu.”

You were saying...


“Right. When you’re as good as I am, this is humble. I see no point, pretending to be smaller than I am because some pruned feathers might be ruffled. Mortals have such a short life, why spend it pretending? Pretending to be lesser than you are, greater than you are. Be who you are, find your truth.”

Mortals? You say it as if you aren’t one.


[Continued on next page.]
Excerpt from IMPACT’s Fall Volume, Special Edition


“Mortals?” Baal read, “You say it as if you aren’t one.” The sky god chuckled, dropping the magazine onto his armchair.
Raindrops ran down the wall of window he looked out of, blurring the flecks of light that dotted the Seattle cityscape. It was no London, but it was a good substitute on nights such as these. “Well,” Baal asked, “what’s your verdict now, SparkArt?”

The figure in his bed slid from the silk pool of sheets that stained beige by the city lights. “Hmm, I’m not sure. You’re definitely something, alright.” Jimmy wound his hand around Baal’s arm, shivering next to him. “All I can say for sure is you’re a shockingly good space heater.” Arturo smirked at the sky god. The patter of raindrops turned his gaze toward the cityscape. “Do you ever think about it? That day in New York?”

Baal resisted the urge to tense up. ’Don’t be like the rest of them, James. Don’t be daft.’ Baal thought to himself. But he answered. “Not really, no.”

Art motioned him back to the bed. “Really? The entire world was holding it’s breath. Waiting to see how New York would come out of this. If the rest of us were next. How does that not sit with you?”

Baal felt the chill from before. Before this realm. The way The Great Darkness billowed like a forming maw, tendrils snapping to attach to his limbs. The way it dragged him back. That damn cold. The only time he’d ever felt cold. “Because I’ve sat with worse.”

“Why?” Arturo pressed. “Why don’t you like mentioning your work as a hero? It’s a good thing, you know.”

“Because, Spark-Art. I’m not a good person. And that’s not why I’m here—”

“By that logic, why are any of us here?” Arturo threw his hands in the air, falling back into the plush of white pillows on the bed.

“Look, Spark-Art. I don’t know why you all are here. But, I’m not here for that: to be a good person and the heroics. It’s because your lot is shite at it. That Wonder Woman? If she’s your world’s posterchild for heroes, you all need to go blind then.” Baal turned to Arturo finally, slid into bed and pressed the journalist down. “But if that’s the case, I’m thinking I can leave you with some sights and sensations you won’t forget.”

Art flipped himself so he straddled the sky god. The sky god gave the mortal a taste of what he’d been too afraid to admit he’d been waiting for: Baal let sparks dance across his skin, run up Arturo’s arm. Arturo’s tan skin shivered and Baal lifted himself, carrying Arturo to the window and pressing the reporter’s head against the glass.

“Oh? How’d you know I was ready for round 2?”

Baal kissed down Arturo’s neck, glancing toward the skyline once more, noting a growing glint in the night. “Let’s just say there was a spark in your eye.” They both chuckled before Arturo let slip a moan and Baal ran his hand down the mortal’s torso.

“Well Mr. Baal, can you do that thing with your tongue again—”

Baal tensed, his grip tight on Art’s neck.

“Baal? You’re hurting m—”

The sky god’s grip became steel around Arturo one instant. The next, Art’s body was flung across the room, toward the door. He hit the marble floor, his skin tugging against the cold surface. The mortal looked up just in time to see a portion of the glass wall shatter, flames lick the panes and radiate outward, an explosion! With Baal’s silhouette right in the epicenter.
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Hidden 2 mos ago 1 mo ago Post by Bounce
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[ Prev ] FEAT OF CLAY, Part VII” [ Next ]
B L Ü D H A V E N

St. Anthony’s Cathedral

The evening mass had gone long in commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence.

Now, the streets were dark as the faithful emptied from out of the cathedral. Several ladies of the church gossiped as they helped one another down the steps. Mary Agatha, a widow twice over, was the oldest of the trio. Helen’s husband was still with them, but in an assisted living home that specialized in care for Alzheimer’s patients. Jean was the youngest, yet had been widowed the longest.

Mary Agatha didn’t drive much anymore. Two hip replacements had limited her mobility. Jean had given her a ride, and been able to park in front of the cathedral with the handicap tag that Mary Agatha carried. So, for them, the trip to the car was short. They got Mary Agatha seated quickly, standing there talking for a few minutes more. All the while, the people thinned out. The crowd dispersed. It was just Helen standing on the sidewalk, as Jean got into the car and the women said their goodbyes.

Parking in downtown Blüdhaven was always a problem. Helen hadn’t been able to find a spot in the small parking lot beside the cathedral, so she’d had to get a spot in the back. Making her way down the dimly lit alleyway, the woman was -- at first -- oblivious to the scattering of people that milled about. That was before two men stepped out to block her path forward.

Frightened, the woman went to turn back, but found another two men behind her.

“Lost, granny?” one of the men in front of her demanded, as the four men each stepped forward, pressing against the speechless woman. “Let’s see what’s in that purse, yeah?”

The alley was plunged in darkness. The sound of breaking glass echoing as one of the lights facing into the alley was suddenly extinguished. All five of them jumped, Helen as well as the four men. The knives came out. Along with a small .22.

The sound of footsteps overhead caused several of the men to look up to their left. Then a shadow, moving, sent their heads spinning as if on a swivel. Except, when they looked, there was no shadow there.

One of the men swore. “Shit, it’s Batman!”

That was when a giggling echo, like childish laughter, could be heard -- echoing down the alley.

A loud bang accompanied the arrival of a small form, descending from the rooftop to land atop the roof of a car abandoned in the alley. Turning his head up, the masked youth had a Cheshire grin plastered across his face as he asked, “Who’s Batman?”

The four men just stood there for a moment. Finally one blurted out, “The fuck..?”

Cartwheeling from off the car, the childish vigilante flipped through the air. Planting two feet straight into the chest of one of the thugs, the boy sent the man flying with surprising force into the side of the cathedral, sliding down to the ground in a stupor.

As the costumed boy made the landing, a leg sweep took a second thug to the ground. The man with the .22 brought the pistol around to aim at the kid, but coming out of the sweep the boy seemed to flip his body around like a break dancer. Both legs came up to seize hold of the man’s arm in a scissor lock, leveraging his body weight to then launch the man off his feet. The sound of bone snapping and the scream that followed gave evidence to the fact that the man’s shoulder may not have survived the encounter.

For himself, the doll used his hands to propel himself up, twisting in the air and then performing a handstand before popping back upright. It was two against one now, knives flashing in the darkness as the pair converged on the boy. Cherubic laughter echoed it a haunting melody of childish giggling.

The furl of his cape blinded the one to his left, while a wrist strike became a joint lock that he leveraged in order to spin the one to his right around, so that the two slammed into each other. A palm-heel strike to center mass supplied surprising momentum, as the thug was taken off his feet. A windmill kick ended with the sound of snapping bone, after which the other thug slammed down into a puddle on the alley floor.

A short scream caused the boy to turn around. The first thug -- the one that he’d kicked in the chest -- was back on his feet. He had the old woman with a knife to her throat. “Look, man. All I want is the purse, man. Then I’m leaving here, man. You got that?” the man sputtered, tightening his grip on the woman as he shouted, “You got that!?

Through his robotic vision, the doll was calculating a series of angles and statistics, extrapolating physical probabilities even as he began to put a still-formulating plan into motion. Holding up his arms, as if in surrender, the boy made a slow and deliberate reach to his utility belt. Withdrawing the grapple gun, he held it out at the side, slowly bending down as if to show that he was setting it down.

Then he reversed the grip and hit the trigger.

The grapple hook fired at the side of the building, the force and angle of impact causing it to ricochet off the brick. The hook caught the man in the side of the face, embedding itself there. A high-pitched squeal shattered the night, as the knife fell away, clattering to the floor. The man dropped a second later, clutching at his face as he writhed and screamed in pain.

Stooping low, the costumed doll snatched up the purse that had been dropped. Then, walking up to the shivering woman, offered it as he said, “I’ve contacted the police. They’re on their way.” Gently, the boy placed a hand on the woman’s arm and turned her back toward the way that she’d come. “Let me walk you back to the street. The police will be here soon.”

As the pair emerged into the light, the woman at last got a good luck at the strange figure. It was a boy. Little more than a child. His dark hair was tousled and wild, framing a face that was masked. A short black cape shrouded his slight form, though glimpses of gold and crimson were visible. As they arrived at the corner, the sound of police sirens could be heard. Flashes of blue and red began to appear down the street.

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman heard the childish voice say.

When she turned to look again, the boy was gone. As the first police car pulled up, with Helen caught in the headlights, the church lady clutched at her purse and then stared down the alleyway, wondering if some madness had caused her to imagine all of that just now.

...it couldn’t have really happened. Could it?

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

Childish laughter echoed off into the moonlight.

It had been a fairly benign evening. Busting up the mugging outside the church had been about the most excitement he’d had all night. That didn’t mean that it had been a quiet night. He’d been keeping up with the police scanner. All manner of routine calls had been coming in. Mostly calls for medical assists, stolen cars, or robberies of the convenience and/or liquor store variety.

Now that the hour was rolling past midnight, it was likely to get to be quieter on the police scanner and more interesting from Robin’s perspective. The people moving about at this hour could be divided up into two rather neat categories: People going to work on odd-hour shifts or people who didn’t want their comings or goings to be seen.

...or, in the alternative, wanted everyone to know their comings and goings.

The Street Demonz were one such example. Rolling through on motorcycles with bored out exhaust or glass packs to make them sound like overly aggressive Harley-Davidsons. They roared through the streets at around one in the morning, filling the streets with noise before piling into the parking lot of a closed strip mall.

As the headlights panned around the shops, they caught the form a girl. Illuminated there for a moment, the dark-haired waif broke into a run.

And the motorcycles in pursuit.

As the motorcycles swooped in, the girl found herself surrounded. Like a flock of vultures, the bikers prowled in a circle around her. “Well, what do we have here?” one asked, while others cat-called or whistled.

Clutching at the hem of the cardigan that she wore, the girl looked about, as though seeking an escape. Finally, one of the bikers broke from the circle, zipping up beside her to ask, “Past your bedtime, isn’t it cutie?”

Breaking in the direction that he’d traveled, the girl made a run for it. Two bikes cut her off, causing her to skid to a halt as the first biker came up behind her. “What the matter? Don’t you want to play?”

“Maybe she doesn’t like slime.”

As the bikers and the girl looked up, a shadow seemed to detach itself from the darkness, until a red-and-black clad figure became visible along the rooftops of the strip mall. At the realization that the figure was that of a boy, the bikers relaxed. “Halloween’s over, kid,” one of them boasted, before dismissively adding, “Now beat it. Before you get hurt.”

Vaulting through the air, the boy suddenly planted himself just an inch away from the man of the bike. Despite the size difference between the two, the man on the bike actually baked away a step, as the costumed figure said, “The girl leaves with me or you’re the ones getting hurt.”

“What was that?” one of the bikers asked, before another noted, “Oh, tough guy.”

That was when the bikers started moving. Circling and shooting toward the costumed boy and the frightened girl. Until one got too close and a windmill kick had neatly knocked one of the Street Demonz from off their pedestals. The bike were sailing into the one of the buildings, while the rider went down hard onto the pavement.

It was cause for a lot of consternation among the true believers.

“You see that?”
“No way.”
“You’re going down, kid.”

As the whirling dervish turned upon the pair, the costumed figure came to life. A grapple line took out two of the mounted thugs, while a trash can lid was repurposed into a projectile that served to turn another of the bikers into a projectile.

When the dust had cleared, the bikers and their motorcycles were laid bare, while the costumed Toy Wonder emerged victorious. Turning toward where the girl had huddled for security, the young Toyboy Jason asked, “You all right?”

Except there was no one there. Instead, glancing off to the left, the boy saw where the girl was running for her life down an alleyway. “You’re welcome,” the boy offered with a shrug.

The girl in the mini skirt and the cardigan sweater made it halfway down the alley before a police car with lights cruised by. Instantly, she froze. Backing away, she collided with something. Or someone. Turning, she looked back to realize that the Toy Wonder was standing there, behind her. “Is that what you’re running from?” the boy asked. As she shied away, he reached out, saying, “I just want to help.”

The girl adamantly shook her head. “You can’t,” she uttered flatly, adding, “I have to keep moving.”

She was a runner. “Is there somewhere I can take you?” the boy asked, almost pleading. Softly, he asked, “Do you have a family?”

The girl hesitated, “I...”

Whatever answer that he might have gotten was lost the moment that a voice broke across the strip mall parking lot and said, “Police!”

A plethora of police cars came barreling in, sirens blaring. Vaulting back up to the rooftops, the Toy Wonder vanished into the shadows.

He’d lost sight of the girl. Vanished into the night, as he had.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Byrd Man
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Byrd Man El Hombre Pájaro

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05/22/47
Gotham Central
8:13 AM

Inspector Merkel slid a small box across his desk. Max nabbed it and opened it up. Chills. In the box: A silver lieutenant’s bar resting on crushed velvet. Merkel lit a cigarette and raised his eyebrows.

“A bit premature, but it does become official the first of July. Congratulations, Lieutenant Eckhardt.”

Max snapped the box closed and looked up at Merkel. "Thank you, sir."

"Don't thank me. Around here, we reward good police work with more work."

The Chief of Detectives smiled and pulled out a bottle of booze and two glasses. Max felt the Thirst come on strong. His mouth watered. He dry swallowed as Merkel waved the bottle.

“I know it’s early still, but one drink won’t hurt.”

Max saw the gleam in Merkel’s eye. Max resisted the urge to drool. Max shook his head.

“I’m trying to cut back, sir.”

Merkel stashed the bottle back. Max had a flash of intuition: Merkel wanted to see for himself. He’d probably heard the rumors that Max went cold turkey after he killed Chris Durfee. The rumors were true: Whiskey Max was dead.

Merkel said, “Well, maybe another time. You’ll be receiving official word in the next few days. First of July you report to the eastern division as the head of their detective squad.”

Max flushed and coughed. He said, “Sir, I was under the impression when my lieutenancy went through, it was to be as a commander of one of the downtown detective divisions. I think my work as interim commander of homi--”

Merkel held a hand up. “I’m going to stop you right there, Max. You have done some exemplary work for this department, especially in the last year or so. The Snapshot Killer was a career maker, and your work filling in for Boyle has been terrific.”

The inspector flashed a wry smile and added. “Hell, you even got Two-Gun Jack singing your praises, which makes me wonder what exactly you have on him.”

Max let the joke pass in silence. He waited for the other shoe to drop. “But…”

Merkel sighed. He held out his hand and ticked off points. “One, you’re thirty, Max. Young brass always breeds resentment with the rank and file, detectives more so than patrolmen. Two, a first-time lieutenant taking over any detective squad is unprecedented in department history. Your record plus political friends are why your first posting as a lieutenant isn’t a nightshift commander of harness bulls so count your blessings on that front. Three, Boyle has to be replaced with a Mick. Captain Branden is taking over Robbery from Coogan. You taking over Homicide would throw everything out of whack. We need to put a Mick in Homicide to keep the Balance.”

Max seethed. The Balance: Old school political machine bullshit. In the GCPD there were two kinds of cops: Irishmen and others. The Balance decreed that for every Irish brass, there was a corresponding other. The Balance was a relic of a bygone era. The Balance encouraged lines to be drawn down ethnic lines. The Balance fucked over qualified non-Irishmen. Non-Irishmen like Max.

Charlie Fields popped into the office before Max could respond. “We got a DB on the westside. Local precinct is radioing in for downtown assistance.”

Max pocketed the box with the lieutenant’s bar in it and started out the door. He looked back at Merkel.

“I’m not done, Inspector. We’ll talk about this later.”

Merkel stretched and smirked. “I’m sure we will.”

---

The Dining Car
8:45 AM

Slam ordered steak and eggs with a pot of coffee and and waited for his contact. He needed to coffee to stay awake. Long nights he was used to, but working downtown narcotics was très tedious. After Shotgun Max blew away Chris Durfee Slam put in for a transfer out of Homicide. The shooting put too much light on Eckhardt. It anointed him as a golden boy and blew Grogan’s mandate all to hell. Two-Gun Jack froze Slam out of the mob squad. He got scooped up by the narco boys.

Narco had a reputation as being the most corrupt. And in this white man’s department, that was saying a whole fucking lot. They were insular to the extreme. They shunned outsiders. They watched Slam warily and gave him shit assignments. He ran R&I reports, he ran tails on pissant dealers who operated without GCPD sanction, he intimidated independent operators and roughed them up. During raids he watched the backdoor in case someone ran away. He wanted to work cases. Requests got him the cold shoulder. His rep as dumb muscle was locked in with the narco gang.

Six months in and his career was stalling. Grogan never returned his calls and avoided him. His new idea was a desperation play. SHAKEDOWN CITY writ in neon. He had enough local celebrity cred to pique Gossip Gertie’s interest. His narco gig offered entrée to the scandal rag for scintillating copy.

The coffee came and Slam started on it with no cream or sugar. A few minutes later a tall redhead slid into the booth across from him. She grabbed the spare cup and filled it up with black coffee. He could smell booze on her. She downed the cup and started going in for a refill. Slam watched silently, intrigued.

“Gossip Gertie?” he asked. ”You sure as shit look a lot better than I imagined.”

The redhead said, “And for a former boxer, your face isn’t the pulverized mess I thought it would be. You’re still fuck ugly, but in an adorable kind of way.”

Slam chuckled while the redhead finished off her second cup. He detected the traces of a Southern accent. Hidden under the tough talk, but still there.

“Vicki Vale,” she finally said. “Managing editor for the Gabber and I’ll be working with you on… whatever this scam is.”

Slam lit up a cigarette. “Scam?”

Vale took Slam’s pack and lighter and lit a cigarette for herself. She blew smoke and framed headlines in the air with her hands.

“‘Prizefighter Turned Pugnacious Policeman Prowls for Pushers with Passion.’”

Slam groaned. “Jesus Christ. With writing like that you must work for Gertie.”

The waitress came and laid a plate in front of Slam. A sorry cut of meat next to two overcooked eggs. He stubbed out his cigarette and dug in while Vale started on her third cup of coffee.

“I know a shakedown when I see it, Detective Bradley.”

“Call me Slam,” he said between bites.

“We’ll compromise and I’ll call you Bradley. So, Bradley, Gertie thinks you can get him some primo dirt for the Gabber’s pages.”

Slam shrugged. “I’ve got snitches who know all kinds of things. Being a celebrity on top of a cop makes a lot of people eager to please. I’m sure once this thing gets rolling, they’ll be even more willing to give up some dirt. Now what about payment?”

Vale raised an eyebrow. “I look like I work for the GCPD payroll department?”

Slam shook his head. “Cute. I figured that old fag would try to not pay me. Look, lady, I’m helping your paper out--”

She cut him off. “In exchange for exposure, right? You want to be the one-man war on hopheads, get that career of yours back on track.”

Slam leaned forward across the table.

“Who says that my career is off track?”

She didn’t waste a second with her comeback. “So letting a witness die on your watch was part of the plan?”

Slam felt a pit in his stomach. He slung his silverware onto the plate with a loud clatter. Other diners looked over curiously. Slam saw a geek in an elk’s hat look up from his Bloody Mary.

He said slowly to keep his temper in check. “My going rate is sixty bucks a piece for each roust and story I provide to you.”

She shook her head. “Too high. I only get paid forty bucks a story.”

“Well, I’m doing the important part, sweetheart.”

“Thirty bucks,” she said. “Take it or leave it.”

“I can call Gertie right now.”

“Find a payphone and call.” She crossed her arms. “He’ll probably offer you ten bucks a story.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Slam.

She pulled out a card and slid it across the table. She said. “No, Bradley. It’s Victoria Alison Vale.”

He looked at the card. It had her name and numbers. He let it there. Instead he pocketed his smokes and lighter and stood. “You can at least pay the bill. I’ll be in touch when I have something.”

---

Westside Gotham
9:02 AM

“The body is in the back.”

Max walked into the bungalow and put a handkerchief to his nose. The placed reeked of burnt flesh. The front room was in disarray. Jacobs, the western dick, led him and Fields through the house. More scenes of chaos in the kitchen and bathroom. Max stepped over broken mirror glass that littered the floor.

“Landlady found him this morning. She saw the door was ajar and came in… to this.”

The back bedroom was tossed just like the rest of the place. On the hardwood floor: a dead naked man. A white towel wadded up in his mouth. His eyes frozen in shock. Burns covering his body. Max held his nose and took a deep breath.

Fields asked, “Who was he?”

“Landlady said his name was Theodore Duncan. She claims he was a gigolo.”

Fields snickered as Max wrote down details in his notebook.

Jacobs said, “No shit. She claims he comes and goes all hours of the night. Wears flashy suits, has women over despite her complaints.”

“Thank god for old biddies,” said Max. “Jacobs, where are you in the investigation?”

“Uniforms are canvassing the neighborhood, morgue men are on the way. Although from the way those burns look I can almost guess the cause of death.”

Max bent down and looked at the towel in the dead man’s mouth.

“Don’t be so sure. The burns are scarring, but not life threatening.”

Fields said, “The burns were torture if I had to bet. See the way the place was ransacked? The killer was looking for something.”

Max stood. “The fact that they still tossed the place means our friend on the floor here didn’t give up whatever it was they wanted.”

Jacobs whistle. “Damn, I am sure thankful I called you downtown guys to come in on this one and take over.”

Max thought about a future where he was the boss of guys like Jacob. A whole squad of Keystone Cops at his disposal. Investigating nickel and dime crimes. All the important cases would be bootjacked by downtown detectives. The thought sickened him. It made him hanker for a couple of shots, something that would burn his throat and chest and drive the image from his mind.

A booming voice with a thick drawl. “Actually, this is our jurisdiction.”

Two-Gun Jack Grogan waltzed in like he owned the goddamn place. Two-Gun Jack in his shitkicker boots had a good four or five inches on Max. His Stetson added even more height. He winked at Max as he strolled through.

Max said, "Captain, this is a homicide."

Grogan pushed the stetson back and smiled. “Your powers of observation are outstanding, Sergeant Eckhardt. This is a homicide, and the man on the floor is a known organized crime associate. Or was, I should say. Mob squad is taking the case over.”

Max fumed as Grogan walked around the crime scene. He made chitchat with Jacbos. Max started to open his mouth. Two-Gun Jack turned around and cut him off.

“Congratulations on the promotion, Sergeant.”

Grogan slapped Jacobs on the back with a beefy hand.

“Truly, mentoring bright pennies like Detective Jacobs here is where you belong.”
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