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New Years Eve Vignettes [2007]

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We have been discussing this great idea by V_M this for weeks, but I thought since the time is approaching, an announcement would be appropriate.

 

New Years Eve Vignettes: If you would like to participate, write an extended (at least 1 page) “post†detailing how your hero or villain will spend the last few minutes/seconds of 2007. Send those to me (PM or Email) by the evening of the 30th (EST, GMT -5), and I will post them on New Years Eve for all to enjoy. You may, if you wish, collaborate on the writing project with another player (or players). Players who submit at least 1 page (or 1 page per player in the case of collaborations) will receive an extra PP in the December awards.

 

I have already received several submissions, and we are all looking forward to hearing from you!

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UPDATE: I am going to be out of town for New Years, so Heridfel is taking over the duties of collecting and posting the New Years Eve stories. PM all of your submissions to him. If you have already PM me your submissions, I have passed them along already.

Herfidel: put the vignettes where they were taking place, IC, but I had pointed out to me that it'd be nice to have a place where we can find all of them more easily. Therefore, I'm sticking links to each of them in this post.

 

On New Year's Eve in Southside... (Nightrival (and Madeline?)) (I thought about calling this "Why Does It Always Have To Be Ninjas?" as another possibility. :D )

Crime Never Sleeps (Shadowjak)

It's So Hard to Find Good Help These Days (Pandemic)

Reflections (Nanowire and "Daisuke")

Reporting In (Emissary)

A Traditional New Year's (Velocity)

Let the Ball Drop (Hub and Raindance)

A Time To Be Born and A Time To Die (Heavy)

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The Last Stand

Snow slowly drifts down onto the Southside’s darkened streets and rooftops. Incandescent clouds glowing blue and white crawl across the sky and shroud the moon with their milky arms. The sidewalks are covered with a few of inches of snow, and the evening snowfall adds a soft layer to the hardening crust below.

Although the downtown core of Freedom City sports a wide variety of architectural styles, the Southside remains consistent with its long streets lined with brick tenement buildings. People mill about the sidewalks, some wearing colourful hats and masks, loudly cheering and laughing in anticipation of the New Year.

A dark figure dashes across a rooftop above the crowd and leaps to a neighbouring building, landing on his hands and then rolling back onto his feet, resuming his pace to the next building. He can hear the faint sounds of music and cheers from within the glowing apartment windows. He ignores them, directing his eyes and ears to potential sounds of distress from the streets below.

Suddenly, a woman’s scream echoes from a block away. He immediately springs to his feet and races to the source, jumping from one building to the next. He finally arrives where the sound is the loudest, but discovers as he leans over the edge of the roof that the woman is far from being in danger: she is part of a larger group of partiers, and one of the men has heaved her over his shoulder.

Nightrival grins to himself. At least someone’s havin’ fun tonight.

“You are far too tense to enjoy the festivities,†says a cool voice over Nightrival’s shoulder. “I’d be happy to provide a distraction.â€Â

Nightrival turns around. A tall man in a loose-fitting white robe stands on the roof, his lithe form blocking the light from the moon shimmering behind him. His dark eyes and narrow face are serene yet inquisitive.

“Oh, it’s you,†Nightrival hisses.

Nightrival was never alone in his search for martial perfection. Other men and women also ventured deep into uncharted realms to search for the perfect technique. Some were benevolent, but others craved power above all else. Burning Tiger was one such student.

“Your choice of venue for this holiday is rather apt, isn’t it?†says Burning Tiger. “Outside, in the cold. Very suitable for the likes of you.â€Â

“You here to join to me, then? Don’t you have children and old folks to slaughter?â€Â

“If only. No, I’m here on business.â€Â

“You’re too late to steal presents from under trees. The big day was a week ago.â€Â

“You’re mistaken. The big day is today.â€Â

Other figures emerge from the shadows behind Burning Tiger. They wear the distinct black uniform of the ninja, the tightly folded shinobi shozoku. Some brandish ninjato, and others carry bows.

“Apparently you angered the wrong people. Of course, I have no idea what you did and I really don’t care. But when I heard there was a contract out for a dark-clad vigilante beating muggers in Freedom City, I just couldn’t resist.â€Â

“I’m flattered.â€Â

“And dead,†snaps Burning Tiger.

The ninjas shift their feet. Nightrival draws into himself and silently prays he knows enough Aikido to avoid getting sliced to ribbons. He hears the distinct whiz of released arrows and he ducks as six shafts fly over him.

I can’t fight here. Gotta draw’em away from the crowds.

As the ninja notch their arrows, Nightrival takes advantage of the pause and runs towards the neighbouring roof. A handful of ninja suddenly appear in front of him, blocking his path. Before he can retaliate the ninjas lunge at him with sleek swords. Nightrival ducks and pivots to avoid their steely glances. He is able to push some away, but in the corner of his eye he sees dozens more rushing to the fight. Burning Tiger stands away from the melee, watching with intense interest with his arms crossed. The ninjas continue pressing into him, like water pouring into a cup.

Did someone have a bulk sale on these guys?

He needs to breach their line. Nightrival mentally switches to Muay Thai, twirls on his back foot and drives his knees and elbows into the closest ninja. His opponent utterly collapses. Nightrival’s unexpected ferocity startles his attackers, and in their hesitation he edges closer to the edge of the roof.

He struggles to keep his footing, but the icy surface beneath his feet and the twirling glittering swords unnerve him. Nightrival instinctively grabs the battered ninja as he tips over the ledge.

Nightrival centers himself. He reconnects with his arms and legs, tucks into a roll and lands soundlessly into a snow-covered alley. The ninja, dazed and disorientated, lands hard on the ground with a sickening thud shortly after him. Nightrival leans down to check the ninja’s pulse, which is slow but strong, and quickly spins his head towards the deep shadows against the walls.

A person wrapped in ragged blankets sits in a doorway, looking directly at him. He can’t find the person’s eyes under the mass of blankets.

“Hey,†says Nightrival.

“Hey,†shoots back a small voice.

“You, um, better get going. It ain’t safe here.â€Â

“And where do you think I’m supposed to go?â€Â

“I dunno, away? I don’t know if these guys care about bystanders,†he says, glancing at the fallen ninja in the snow.

“It’s cold, and wet, and it took me all day to find this spot. I’m not moving.â€Â

“I hear ya, but really, ya gotta move.†Nightrival grabs what appears to be an arm under the blankets and yanks the figure up in one pull.

“I told you, I’m not moving!†The owner of the small voice is a girl no older than fifteen, wearing multiple layers of jeans and sweaters in clashing colours.

“Geez, you’re just a kid.â€Â

Nightrival looks closer at her and notices that her eyes are entirely black.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?â€Â

“I’m a mutant, you retard.â€Â

Nightrival hears a faint snickering. He peers up and sees Burning Tiger looking down from the roof, flanked by scores of ninja crouching on every available ledge.

“Hiding behind a child?†says Burning Tiger with a snort, “how refreshing. I’m sure if I had one of those blogs I would write about this very moment. Oh, well.†He turns to a ninja standing next to him, clutching a drawn bow. “Kill the whelp. She’s seen too much.â€Â

“Time to go.†Nightrival lifts the girl over his shoulder and sprints out of the alley and into the street.

“Lemme go!†she shrieks. “What are you, some kind of – â€Â

Nightrival places his hand over her mouth. A single arrow zips over his head.

“Gotta stay quiet.â€Â

He hits the sidewalk, more arrows sinking into the snow behind him, and dashes across the street. Some faces in the crowd turn to look at him and some jump out of his way, but most continue their merry-making. Nightrival enters an alley and runs down its length, crisp snow crunching under his feet, and exits onto another street. This one is thankfully empty. He turns left and slips into another alley, only one that is much narrower. Nightrival puts the girl down between two blue dumpsters.

“So how come yer sleepin’ in an alley?†he asks. “I thought all the mutant kids went to Claremont.â€Â

“Yeah, well, I guess they lost my invitation in the mail.â€Â

Before he can reply, a swift figure slips past his periphery vision. More appear, and Nightrival turns to see the entire alley is swarming with ninjas. Burning Tiger stands among them, his arms dangling at his sides.

“Did you think you could find a defensible position?†asks Burning Tiger, his voice like jagged ice. “How clever. No matter where you hide, I will find you. Tonight I end this chase.â€Â

The ninja slowly encircle them, their swords steady. Burning Tiger follows them. The snow begins to fall heavily in thick flakes, resembling white stars descending to Earth. Nightrival crouches, with fists up and his legs apart.

There’s too many of’em. Looks like I gotta go Custer.

“C’mon, then. Let’s do this!†Nightrival clenches his fists.

The ninjas raise their swords. Burning Tiger smiles.

All of a sudden, the air smells of ozone. Nightrival can feel his hair stiffening. A crackling hum fills his ears, and the ninjas look among themselves and to Burning Tiger, who just shrugs his shoulders.

Nightrival looks to the girl, whose fingers are splayed out and gleaming pale blue.

“Oh, man.â€Â

A livid bolt of blue energy erupts from her hands and pierces the closest ninja. The bolt arcs to another ninja standing near the first target, then to another and another. Each ninja appears to be woven together in an electrical web, their bodies violently convulsing. Even Burning Tiger was caught in the blast; he screams in agony as thin electrical threads coil around him. The alley is illuminated in blue light for a minute, and then the girl holds her breath and releases the ninjas. They all slump to the ground.

Nightrival and the girl remain silent for a moment, watching the snow pile on their unconscious assailants.

“That was neat,†Nightrival finally says.

“Thanks.†She looks down at her glowing hands, which begin to dim. “But I have no idea what I just did.â€Â

“We’re alive. They’re down. I say it’s a win for us, regardless.â€Â

The girl nods her head.

Red fireworks pop and snap above the rooftops, and a thunderous cheer erupt from the crowds on the street.

“So, what’s yer name?â€Â

“Madeline.â€Â

“Well, Happy New Year Madeline.â€Â

“You too, retard,†she replies smiling.

The two walk out of the alley, stepping over ninjas. The fireworks continue bursting in the sky.

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The wind whipped across the triumverate towers with an almost knife-like edge... howling with an inhuman rage. Their strength was such that one could almost imagine the great towers swaying with their gusts. The winter storms were gearing up in Freedom City... snow was not far behind.

The flakes just began to fall when a shadow began to flicker in a small corner of the landing. As the wind paused in it's rage against the structure, a silent shape flowed from the pool of darkness... its amorphous shape taking on the shape of a man.

Bracing himself against the coming aero-assault, Anton slowly stood. His trained eyes scanning the entire roof of the building he was standing upon. With a deliberate slowness, he began to pick out the placement of security cameras.... his intel was right. They pointed mainly out and either up or down... this corner... his corner was a blind spot.

For several long and agonizing minutes, the Umbral Infiltrator did not move so much as a muscle...his eyes tracking and timing the patterns... his hair and his breath the only things seen moving.... then with a sudden burst of speed, Shadowjak began to flip and somersault across the roof... his form in constant twirling motion... arcing and rolling to avoid the watchful eyes of the cameras... ending in his dive into another shadow... swallowed completely by its umbral embrace. It was at this moment that all across the city that fireworks went off... the New Year had begun.

The job had begun. Anton Jakova's first move in a new city... in a new environment. Delphic Industries was about to have a midnight inspection... courtesy of Shadowjak, the Umbral Infiltrator.

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A young man with black slicked hair stands at a floor to ceiling window high in the air. The rest of the room is dark and all that dances in his eyes are the lights of city and the people who wait for the new year. From this vantage point the man can see just about all of Freedom City.

"Everything is in order, Mr. Gythen."

A meek voice called forth from the darkness towards the man looking out of his tower just on the North Side of Freedom City, Hanover to be exact. The man continued to gaze outwards over the view of the twilight, without a motion his calm voice answered the voice.

"Good. Please bring in Mr. Davis, then."

The door closed behind the underling, the man standing at the large floor to ceiling window never turned around. He continues to enjoy a fine glass of dark red wine, slowly sipping away at the flavor. Behind him on a beautiful oak wood desk rests his name plate - "Nicolas Stewart Gythen" - the man who controls mega-corporations around the globe.

He looks at his expensive watch, then quickly goes back to looking at the Freedom City skyline. Just then the door reopens and in walks a ordinary looking man probably in his mid 40's, balding hair, glasses, and a brown sweater vest. Without turning around to acknowledge the man, Gythen again begins talking.

"Good evening Mr. Davis, please... have a seat. As I look out over this glorious city, do you know what I see?"

The man taking a seat says nothing and just slouches into his chair. Gythen continues his speech.

"I see a world filled with people that want one of two things. Either they want more money or more power. They go about their daily lives scurrying around the streets looking for ways to show that they have acquired either of those or look for ways to find more of it."

Gythen takes a sip of wine.

"And that brings me to you, Bob. Bob... I put you in charge of acquisitions and what did you do?"

The man's eyes light up and he interjects

"But Mr. Gythen I didn't kn--"

The billionaire calms him down with a wave of his hand as he finally turns around to look at Bob.

"Do I sound mad, Bob? There's no need to defend yourself. But let us recap these events that have brought you here to me on New Year's Eve. I put you in charge of acquisitions with the sole purpose of bringing to me a single item."

He stops suddenly.

"I'm sorry, Bob. Would you care for some wine?"

He shakes his head nervously as Gythen pours himself some more red wine and a second glass for Bob. Gythen hands him the glass and Bob takes a sip, the strong flavor causes his face to twitch at first, but then it seems to take on a calming effect.

"Then you put a man on the job of buying that item in Fatehpur Sikri, and that man instead turns around and sells it to a museum. Bob, my only question is... when I gave you more power and more money in your new position, what influenced you to fail getting that item for me?"

There is a pause as Gythen drinks some more of his wine. The other man takes small sips and searches for answers. He adjusts his glasses and tries to explain in a nervous voice.

"I..I..I checked his sources, and they all said that he was a realiable person. I swear Mr. Gythen, if you allow me another chance I'll get the re--"

Again Gythen stops him from talking with a wave of his hand. At this point, Bob begins to cough a little and that catches Gythen's full attention. Again, as calm as can be he moves closer to Bob.

"It's okay. I'll take care of it for you Bob. You've been here long enough waiting, probably pacing back and forth thinking of what you were going to say to me or further if you lost your job how would you explain it to your wife and two children, how would you afford to pay for that nice house just a few miles away from here.

It's probably been one long night for you."

Bob continues to cough with more and more force and sound. He tries drinking more wine to stop the tickle in his throat, but nods his head at everything that Nicolas Stewart Gythen says. Gythen backs off a bit, but stands just over Bob's shoulders.

"Bob, I'm not going to fire you. I think you've learned your lesson about hiring scrupulous people for an otherwise unscrupulous job."

Bob nods, but now has to cover his mouth as he begins to choke. Sweat pours from his forehead and his face is flushed almost as red as the wine in his hands. Gythen continues to remaind calm.

"Look, only seconds away from another year for humanity. Let me give you some advice, Bob... the same advice that I gave tried to give to Socrates so long ago.

Never, ever, drink the wine offered from the Greeks."

Gythen smirks as Bob grabs at his chest and falls to the floor. Gythen makes a quick move and saves the glass in Bob's hand from spilling onto his rug. He then places it on his desk carefully and makes his way over towards the window.

"Almost ten seconds, Bob."

Gythen flicks his wrist and turns on a television. It is broadcasting the dropping of the ball here in Freedom City and the aged man begins the final countdown.

"TEN!

NINE!

EIGHT!

SEVEN!

SIX!

FIVE!

Bob finally dies.

FOUR!

THREE!

TWO!

ONE!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

[bOOM!]

With the final second, an explosion in the distance goes off with Gythen overlooking it from his high perch. He gives a little smile as he drinks the wine from his glass. The door to his office again opens up, and Gythen knows exactly who it is as the meek voice calls out again towards him.

"Everything okay, Mr. Gythen?"

Gythen turns around.

"Yes, but he never answered my question. I think I used too much on Bob. Oh well, dispose of the body in the ashes with the rest of them. He was afterall, a good family man."

The meek voice makes a quick call on his radio.

"Will that be all, sir?"

Gythen thinks about it for a second.

"No, then first thing tomorrow I need you to contact the curator over the museum. You should also tell the men that they should get their rest: I have a feeling that this year is going to be busy. That'll be all."

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"This would be the perfect place to destroy the city from", Renichi Sonada, aka Nanowire, thought morosely from the top of the Sentry Statue.

 

All around him stood the hundred foot tall monument to the hero Centurion, immense and immutable as the man himself. Though the gold tint at the pinnacle of the crown had faded somewhat from its original vibrant color due to exposure to the elements, none of its inherent power had gone with it. Still present was the firm expression of determination and compassion the man himself was famous for. Someone had to have come up to the top on a fairly regular basis and clean as well. It would not do to have Centurion’s head covered in bird crap.

 

Just being there felt wrong to him; a violation of privacy against a man that died to protect the world. His anxiety was not helped by the mournful echo of the wind as it blew through the open observatory level. Though it provided a prefect 360 degree view of the city and bay, the statue itself had been closed down in preparation for tonight’s festivities, leaving the environs, and him, woefully alone that night.

 

Not that he would have relished company even if it had been provided. He felt like being alone tonight. While all the couples of the city snuggled in close and celebrated the beginning of the new year, he would remain forever divorced from them, unable to join in. The reason was simple. He was a criminal. A bad guy. One of those people you saw on the evening news and thought to yourself, “How dreadful. I hope somebody locks him up and throws away the key.â€Â

 

Renichi snorted at the thought, whether derisively or in amusement he wasn’t really sure. Certainly there was nothing funny about his predicament. Nothing had gone right from the moment he’d entered this city. The plan had gone out the window the moment he’d gotten dragged down in the minutiae of its inner workings. Simplicity had turned out to not be his friend at all, merely dragging him down into the depths of the criminal underworld. Worse, he’d effectively prostituted himself to the highest bidder, acting as a ronin in the middle of a drug deal.

 

That was his low point. Though he’d redeemed himself there, it had been a close thing. It felt as though he was constantly walking a knife’s edge of morality, trying not to lean too far in any one direction for fear of falling into unexplored territory. Not that he was doing too well in that respect as it was, but he could have done a damn sight worse. A hero Renichi was not; he’d known that from the very moment he’d found out what had happened to him, how he was no longer human. The thought of using his powers didn’t disgust him as much now as it had to begin with, but the knowledge that his body was no longer organic, but filled with metal and wires, still provoked a mental shudder from him.

 

Another gust blew past, whipping his hair about, short as it was. Renichi looked out across the bay, over to the coast where people had gathered to witness the fireworks spectacle to commence shortly. His enhanced vision let him see everything there as if he was right next to them. A man hugged a woman close to him from behind while she giggled like a schoolgirl, seemingly overjoyed to just be there with him, to just be alive. Nearby, a couple watched the setup of the display with rapt attention, chattering back and forth about whatever caught their eye. A group over closer to a blanket had already started the festivities a bit early, breaking out what appeared to be liquor and drinking it heartily while laughing.

 

God, how he hated them all.

 

He hated them for being in love. He hated them for being happy. He hated them for being alive.

 

But most of all, he hated them for being what he was not – human.

 

Two months since he’d left Japan in search for a cure, and what had it gotten him? Nothing! Nothing but fear and depression and more hatred! Unconsciously, Renichi’s fingers dug into the gilded bronze, making visible impressions as his inhumanly strong digits squeezed tighter in response to his anger. What was the use of looking human without his armor when he wasn’t? Inside, he was still as much a machine as when he’d left.

 

And all of a sudden, Renichi remembered why he’d left. Why he couldn’t stay like this, even if for some reason he’d wanted to. In his short time imprisoned in this faux flesh shell, a reminder of what he wasn’t anymore, he’d had exactly one friend. A young boy named Daisuke Seto. He was the one person who wasn’t afraid of his metal form, who actively encouraged him to do more. Renichi supposed it was just because of the boy’s age. Too young to be properly scared of the monster he was. Even so, the time he’d spent with him and the other outcasts in their little fortress on the outskirts of the Keihanshin Industrial Zone. He’d felt… warm inside as Daisuke looked on him with wonder every time he’d do something as simple as move a heavy weight. It had done much to heal the hurt inside, to stave off the cold encroaching on his non-existent heart.

 

But then the other meta, Kamikaze, had come and ruined everything. Just some thrillboy out for some kicks, and a group of homeless people, with no one to look out for them, would have seemed like a good a target as any. Kamikaze started his “funâ€Â, terrorizing them, making them feel small - as if society at large hadn’t done that already. Renichi could still remember the look on Daisuke’s face when the boy begged him to take up the fight. The young man was scared, his tear-streaked face had been evidence enough of that, but now, in his private moments, Renichi understood that that was what Daisuke wanted of him. To stick up for those who couldn’t stick up for themselves. To defend the weak and helpless.

 

To be a hero.

 

And so, reluctantly, Nanowire went to work, cheered on by his one-boy fan club. The battle was everything he thought it would be – two opponents, one clearly in the wrong, the other clearly in the right, the good guy holding back his true power, waiting to surprise the bad guy with a sudden increase in fighting potential. It was almost surreal, how akin the battle was to his manga. They slugged it out with each other, throwing taunts as often as they threw punches. Concrete and steel tore like paper as superhuman blows fell like rain. It seemed as though two angry gods had been set loose on Earth. It was a game to them. A stupid, dangerous game.

 

Caught up as he was in the glory of the struggle, Nanowire didn’t see what was happening around him, how unstable the warehouse they were using as a battleground had become. Finally, the stalemate broke when a hurled piece of rebar pierced his shoulder joint, actually harming him. Renichi shivered atop Sentry Statue, not from the cold, as he remembered the panic and fear that filled him. He was hurt. Actually hurt. He wasn’t indestructible; he could be killed. For so long, Nanowire had lived without fear of death, of age, of hunger; above normal humans. Now, with that little wound, all that had been stripped from him.

 

The destruction wrought thus far seemed as nothing in the face of what happened next. Nanowire fused his arm with a huge earthmover shovel, lifting it as easily as another might lift a baseball bat, and swung at his tormenter with all his might. The blow landed cleanly, and the result was catastrophic. Kamikaze was blown out of the warehouse as though struck by a freight train, although that would have been severely underestimating the amount of force actually contained in the blow. The warehouse itself, taxed to the limits of its durability already, began to collapse, the steel bones twisting and warping as it seemed to cry out in mournful pain.

 

Nanowire saw all this, and turned back to where the outcasts - to where Daisuke - still huddled in fear. He saw Daisuke’s face, looking not at the tons of steel descending upon his head, but at him. He was smiling. To this day, Renichi didn’t know why Daisuke was smiling through his tears. Perhaps, in the end, Daisuke had seen something in him he did not. Perhaps he thought Renichi would still save him.

 

Whatever he thought was rendered irrelevant as the warehouse crumbled entirely, long before Renichi had been able to reach Daisuke. For a time, there was peace among the junkyard that had served as their home for months. The echoes of metal against metal faded off into the distance, and the world seemed to return to normal, blessedly unaware that lives had just been ended thanks to the arrogance and fear of one.

 

Then the peace was shattered once more as Renichi tore himself free of his steel prison. Almost as if sleepwalking, he made his way over to where his charges had been last. Dazed and in shock, the mecha known as Nanowire began to dig them out, one piece of scrap at a time. What he found, down there in the depths of the hell he’d made for himself, he refused to recall, even to this day. Only Daisuke still lived, and only barely. Before he knew it, Renichi had dropped the boy off at the best hospital he could, sure that they would take care of him where he had not.

 

The outcasts were not the only people that died when the warehouse collapsed. Renichi, the Renichi that could have been recognized by those that knew him before, died there too. Only Nanowire walked away. And so it would remain until he could recover that which he lost. But as the year ticked down to nothing, and Renichi looked out across the water, he had to wonder what happened to Daisuke, the only one that ever cared.

 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

Tokyo General Hospital, hours before.

 

 

“â€Â

 

“â€Â

 

“â€Â

 

ҠThe doctors turned and walked out of the ICU where they had just lost a loosing battle with a young boy somebody had dropped off a couple months back. Nobody knew his name, nobody came looking for him, and it seemed nobody cared now that he was gone. “â€Â

 

Ҡthe other doctor responded as the doors swung shut and their voices receded down the hallway. “â€Â

 

The room was quiet now. Still. Where before there was the bustle of desperate action, sweat and exertion in the attempt to save a life, now there was nothing. Even the spirit of the room itself seemed to have become subdued with the departure.

 

The boy they’d worked on laid in the center of the bed. He looked so small in comparison, barely filling up half the available room. The hospital staff had unhooked the machines and monitors leads after time of death had been called, but the rest, the respirator hose still filling his throat, the IV line where they’d fed him blood in the vain hope of a response were all still there. The staff had a party to attend, after all. It was the New Year. Not even the passing of a twelve year old boy would deter them. After the party, they would be back to clean him up, make him presentable.

 

Silence. No motion. And then… the grey pallor seemed to move, congregating at a place just above the boy’s heart, getting darker as the seconds ticked by. Finally, the grey broke out of the skin, spreading over the surface of the boy’s flesh like quicksilver. The liquid metal ran down his chest, over his stomach and down towards his legs, while simultaneously defying gravity and making its way up the boy’s chin. The silver spread quickly, covering every available portion of his skin before solidifying, coming to an even coat over the existing surface. Even his hair did not escape the change. The individual strands became like bare wire, still matted and unkempt from his long hospital stay. Finally, the operation was complete. The boy, before flesh and blood, had turned into solid metal. And the room was still again.

 

Until…

 

The boy sat bolt upright in bed, clawing at his throat before grasping the tube still intruding on his airway, tearing it away roughly. He gasped and heaved in great gasps of air. After several seconds of heavy breathing, he stopped entirely and took in his surroundings. The hospital room where he lay was dark and dead, barely enough to see the walls. The boy shoved the sheets aside and put his feet on the ground. They made small ‘tink, tink, tink’ sounds as he stumbled across the linoleum floor. Finally, he reached the light switch and flipped in on. The sickly pale fluorescent bulbs filled the room with equally wan light, and the boy had to shield his eyes from the sudden iridescence.

 

And that’s when he saw his hands. The hurting of his eyes from the too-bright lights faded as he gazed at the steel appendages in shock. He slowly turned them over, confirming that the steel covering was not simply contained to the palms of his hands. The ‘tink’ sounds his feet made on the floor figured perfectly now. There was only one thing left to check now. He crossed over to the sink and gazed into the mirror above it. And saw a face he knew well – his own – covered in metal. Perfectly representative of his former meat body, all except for the little creases at the corners of his mouth, heading down to his chin like a dummy would have. There was only one thing Daisuke Seto could say after such a bizarre realization.

 

“â€Â

 

 

 

To be continued…

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There were, invariably, a wide variety of invitations he'd recieved, but he was able to claim with a personally soothing honestly that he had a prior and personal engagement he couldn't miss. That it meant he dodged being used as a symbol of one upsmanship in Freedom City's complex social scene was something of a side benefit, really.

And so the evening found him floating up above the city, looking down at a nighttime jewel that glimmered particularly from the many open air decorations and parties ringing in the new year. He smiled at the sight, catching on the breeze snippets of cheers and celebration as he ocassionally strained to hear them.

Some time passed, and the air beside him shimmered, and then outright warped until it coalseced into a projected image of Councillor Sarlyn, who had long ago been Envoy Sarlyn, Utopia's hero in the wider world.

The Emissary beamed in his smile to him.

"Is it not lovely father?"

Sarlyn nodded his head, if with a less exuberant smile. But when beside the Emissary, outright glee can come off as less exuberant.

"It is. A little over a year now you've been out here Emissary. I'm glad of seeing it still goes well with you."

"Very much so. I continue to live in gratitude to the council at having been shaped for this purpose. Though, did you know the gifts of the 12 days of Christmas is just a song? I found that somewhat unfortunate."

Sarlyn did not immediately reply, his mouth catching on a bit of a frown at the mention of the council.

"The council... my son, there are some on the council who find your report on this year to be a touch.. overly optimistic. Finding you here, like this, wouldn't help in avoiding that impression. There is a feeling that you do not give enough consideration to the wrong that you find out here in the conclusions you reach."

The Emissary's head tilted.

"But this is not a finding you yourself share. And given that I have not been recalled, several others do not besides."

Sarlyn managed an oddly proud smirk at that.

"It's going to get you in trouble one day, when certain people realize you're more perceptive than they think you are. Still.. those who dissapprove of this mission, well, let's do a thought projection excercise, as we used to. What would they say to see you here?"

The Emissary paused in thought as Sarlyn's demeanor became more professorial, arms folded behind his back.

"They would say that.. hm.. ah! I have it! They would say that this is the very embodiement of the flaws in my reports. I am too dazzled by what I see as wonder to realize I have become fixated on a surface image. That I have become incapable of taking a closer look to realize that amidst the shimmering light, are sheer and pervasive ugliness. That on some level perhaps I even willingly blind myself, keep myself.. well.. above and distant, so that I can only see what I wish."

The Emissary was entirely the eager pupil in tone, and Sarlyn nodded in a gentle acknowledgement.

"Good. Now, the most important part. What would you say to them in reply?"

The Emissary needlessly chewed his lip in thought, and just as Sarlyn was about to tsk to him about bad habits, his silvered gaze fixated on the Councillor with an earnest, forceful sincerity that took even him aback.

"I would say that in fact, all of that foulness and horror, vice and degradation, is in fact part of the point. I know it exists. I have seen it. I have even fought the parts of it that I could. Were even not my perception refined beyond that of man, my heart is that of a Utopian, synthetic though it may be, and it cannot recoil from seeing others suffer, only instead bleed with them, wish that they could know the peace that I have. I know and know for truth of inequalities both social and economic, of strife on a global scale, of tragedy as wide scale as ethnic cleansing, and as personal as a mother giving alleyway birth to a child facing a life of damage from her active abuse of drugs."

There was an ache in his tone, a hurtful sorrow.

"But.. that does not mean this is a world doomed only to pain, to suffering, sinking under the weight of its own corrupted impulses. No. It means this is a world of miracles."

There was a steel now to his words, and his gaze began to shine as he continued.

"For all of that is true, and it may well be that it will be true for years to come. But despite all that, look at what they have done! Their world can be so cold, hard, harsh. And yet, they come together, knowing all this to be true, and look to the new year with hope so fierce they revel! They laugh! We live in perfection, how easy it is for us to hope for a better tomorrow, for we know with near certainty that it will come. On a near daily basis they are threatened by forces from the mundane, to those beyond their comprehension, and still they do not just survive, they hope. That their world will yet improve. That their lives will better. That if they are the champions of their people, from the most superhuman titan, to the most mortal of policemen, their fight for their own will one day bring that better tomorow, and so they will never stop fighting for it. These people, these humans, are surrounded by every imaginable foulness, and yet their spirits aspire with such strength that it turns an entire city into a beacon of light. Even if just for one night."

"Who could possibly have a heart so dead as not to behold all that and be dazzled? Be awed? Who could see such triumph and not realize that though their journey may be difficult, one day these people will, indeed must be as our equals? It is understanding all that is wrong that they must face, even within themselves, that lets me form such an appreciation for them, it is not formed despite it. They are every one of them a people of miracles, and the sorrow of whenever one of them fails to realize that only increases my resolve that we must have a part in guiding them, in helping them. That I know as a greater truth than any that one day the separation between our societies will be redundant, because we will no longer be able to tell or even recall how they were different than us in the first place."

He becomes, after a while, aware of the even primal force with which he is speaking, and settles down into a cough, rubbing the back of his head.

"Ahm.. that is the response I would give to them father."

Sarlyn, for his part, simply beamed as the mirror of his "son's" earlier exuberance, and squeezed the Emissary's shoulder with his own fierce pride.

"Well said my son. I will include the recording of your words with your report."

The Emissary hrmphed.

"That was very sneaky father."

Sarlyn grinned in response.

"I am older than you, and have learned the ways of treachery and deception."

The Emissary was about to form a retort, when he looked past the Councillor and to the city proper, sounds of a different nature travelling to him on the wind.

"I think.. I think I hear someone being mugged. I have to go father, I'm sorry. But perhaps you can visit me again soon please, and we can linger a greater amount of time in your doing so?"

Sarlyn did not have time for a reply before the Emissary sped off, his wake shining silver as he reflected the city's light, while advancing fearlessly into its darkness.

"Happy new year my son."

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Megan Howell shivered slightly in the cold night air as she looked out over the well cared for gardens at the Midnight Society’s mansion, dim lights providing a slight reflection off the snow and making the gardens seem all the more impressive. She had accompanied her parents to the Midnight Society’s New Year’s party this year, and it had been quite a turn out, as usual.

 

The young blonde was wearing a black dress by Jovanni. The dress left her arms bare as well as her shoulders, save for the somewhat narrow straps that went over them. It had a very deep and reveling neckline. The straps went over and crossed in between her shoulder blades, wrapping back around to connect to the sides of the front, leaving the lower back, shoulders and base of the neck all bare. It was a very nice dress, but not at all made for cold night air as was out tonight. She had just needed a bit of a break from the crowded interior of the mansion.

 

The year had been an extremely busy one for Megan, with difficult classes, tons of extracurricular activities and having an active social life. In addition to that, she had been becoming more and more involved in being a superhero, as her powers had been growing a good bit the last year. If it were not for the fact that she had superspeed, and thus could at least cut her time for homework down to a fraction of the time it would normally take, she likely could never fit it all in. Even with superspeed it was not always easy.

 

This last year had also seen her face some of the toughest threats she had ever gone up against as Velocity as well. She had even sort of worked with the Freedom League in dealing with a threat to the city on Halloween, alongside several other heroes that had been there when the giant robot mummy had appeared. It had been one busy year indeed.

 

Suddenly the sounds from inside the mansion grew louder, indicating that someone had come out onto the balcony. “So, did you miss me?†She heard Randy ask as he walked over towards her. Megan waited a few moments before turning back to face him, a slight grin on her face.

 

“No, not really. I was enjoying the peace and quite.†She teased.

 

“Ouch.†Randy said in reply as he came up next to her. “Guess I’ll just keep this champagne for myself, or see if one of the other young ladies here tonight might be interested in it.â€Â

 

“Well, I guess this makes the interruption excusable.†Megan replied with a smile as she took the glass of champagne. She took a sip as Randy looked down at her. Once she was done he leaned down and gave her a kiss, Megan finding his warmth very welcoming. She had to admit that he looked very good in his tuxedo, and was somewhat glad that she had come to the party with her parents, otherwise she would be very tempted to head over to Randy’s nearby dorm.

 

After a few moments their lips parted, though Randy’s face hovered just a few inches from hers. This was yet another of the facets of her life that had been extremely busy this year, Randy was the latest in quite a string of young men that she had dated over the last year. Megan was not even quite sure why she had gone through so many relationships over this last year, her boyfriends in years prior having lasted much longer. Sometimes she worried that her sense of time was distorted by her powers, and she grew bored of guys too quickly. But deep down she knew it was more likely that it was her being Velocity, and keeping that secret, that was causing strain that eventually ended her relationships.

 

“I think that was worth a glass of champagne.†Randy whispered with a sly smile.

 

“I would hope so.†Megan replied with a grin. She then paused and looked back inside the mansion. “It is getting pretty close to midnight, we should probably head back in.†She added.

 

Randy looked back over at the glass doors to the crowded interior of the mansion as well as he reluctantly replied, “Yeah, we probably should.â€Â

 

Turning towards the doors, Randy held his arm out as Megan wrapped hers around it and they started back inside. The inside of the mansion was full of energy, as everyone was getting ready for the final countdown to the New Year, champagne glasses being refilled in preparation.

 

Megan and Randy were able to find her parents, just as the countdown began. The hundreds of voices in the mansion sounding out and echoing through the halls and rooms.

 

“10!â€Â

 

“9!â€Â

 

“8!â€Â

 

“7!â€Â

 

“6!â€Â

 

“5!â€Â

 

“4!â€Â

 

“3!â€Â

 

“2!â€Â

 

“1!â€Â

 

“Happy New Year!†Called out all the guests as people lit sparklers and fireworks could be seen shooting into the area over parts of downtown through the windows. Megan raised her champagne glass along with all those gathered around her, gave her mom a hug and kissed her father’s cheek. She and Randy turned towards each other as people continued congratulating one another. Their eyes met for a moment before their lips met once more in a brief kiss.

 

To Megan, the moment seemed to last far longer than the brief seconds it really took, and then they were back turning to congratulate more of the crowd around them. The blonde teenager had to wonder what this year had in store for her.

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Kevin looks around at the party unfolding in his fraternity's basement. Technically, it's not a New Year's party, so much as a New Year's Eve party. There are enough pledges who are new to Freedom City that the officers decided back in October to hold a party at midnight on December 30, then have everyone head out to the ball drop to ring in the new year. Almost all of the brothers came back early today after going home to visit their families during Christmas.

 

It's dimly lit, and the music is just loud enough that no one can really hear anyone else without shouting or speaking directly into their ears. Kevin grins to himself. It was a good idea to bribe the guy in charge of the music. Ten bucks is like the cover charge for one of the clubs, and this gets him music he doesn't have to fake enjoying. It looks like enough of the other guys like old-school rap, and if they don't like Johnny Cash when it comes up later, they can suffer. He didn't try to throw in any hard country. Too obvious then that he was the one who chose the music, not Keith.

 

Unfortunately, it isn't all fun and games. Randy and Jake are having their usual drinking contest, and as usual, Kevin is doing his best to keep them from going to the hospital to get their stomachs pumped. Not for the first time, he wonders if it wouldn't be a good lesson for them. Then he remembers what he heard about last year. It seems like the only thing that held them in check was being underage - it wasn't enough to keep them from drinking, but it was enough to keep them from getting so drunk that the cops would pick them up walking back to their house.

 

Meanwhile, he's still on his first and only beer of the night. "There's no justice," he thinks to himself. He raises his beer in a silent toast to the ceiling, then finishes what remains in the Dixie cup.

 

The downside to being on Christmas break is that the brothers are pretty much the only ones at the party. There are a couple of the girlfriends who couldn't bear to be away from their boyfriends for any longer than necessary (clingy, and definitely off-limits), and a couple of girls who lived in or around Freedom City and wanted something better to do than hang out with the people they knew from high school. Of course, most of them left fairly quickly. There's something about being the center of attention for half a dozen jocks that intimidates even the most jaded coed.

 

Despite all of them being people that Kevin knows, he feels like he is alone here. He's got a big secret to keep, with no one to confide in. Not for the first time, he wishes that Sabrina was able to show up. Even with all that happened the last time that they met, at least she would understand how he felt.

 

"Of course, I looked like an idiot there. I don't even know if she believed me when I said that I healed her. They probably get people all the time, thinking they're superheroes when they're not. Still, what can I say, 'Watch, just cut yourself and I'll heal it, invisibly?" Right," he thinks to himself morosely. Just then, "Hurt," as covered by Johnny Cash, comes on. He chuckles at how appropriate the song is, and decides that he's not helping the party any by being down. He makes his goodbyes (doing his best to heal anyone who looks like they need it), and heads out the door to go home to his dorm room.

 

 


 

Kevin gets up early the next morning. From what all of his friends told him, people start getting to the plaza really early, and he wants to get a decent place to stand. Besides, there are almost certainly going to be superheroes there to protect against a supervillain trying to make a name for himself (or herself, he thinks ruefully as he rubs his back where that women in the battle armor threw him into the car). If he's there early, he might be able to get a picture of somebody like Captain Thunder with his new digital camera. He was glad that his dad chose that item from his Christmas list to get for him. Granted, he prefers getting the pictures taken of him when he makes a good play, but he knows that he's not in many of those. Centers only get noticed when they screw up. They might get a little circle or underline when they make a really good block, but even then, it's usually the running back that gets the attention.

 

He shakes his head to get out of his reverie, then starts layering on the shirts and coats. Jeans aren't usually warm, but he has a flannel-lined pair that'll keep him standing for the hours that he'll be out there. His gloves are fingerless, with mittens that pull over the top for when the hands aren't doing anything. His hat could almost be mistaken for a doorag, but Kevin avoids looking like the white boy trying to look black. He tried back when he was younger, but when his little sister asked him why he was dressing up like a pirate when it wasn't Halloween, he realized that it just wasn't worth it. Finally, he puts the camera into its case and throws his cell phone into a side pocket. He'll give a call to a few of his friends when he gets there, and he finds out exactly where he'll be standing around all day.

 

 


 

The Power Bar he packed in his pocket isn't much of a lunch, but the only physical activity he's been doing for most of the day is shivering. Lady Liberty showed up briefly, and Kevin couldn't help but wonder how she was staying warm in that superhero suit. He took a picture anyway - his sisters would get a kick out of it, even if she wasn't that easy to see in the shot. He was still trying to figure out how to keep the flash from going off, and the zoom still only put her in a small fraction of the screen.

 

While he stood there, he kept thinking about what he should do. It seemed like a lot of the young heroes went to the Claremont Academy and got help with their powers and stuff like that, but he's 19 years old now, and older than most of the kids there. Besides, he still doesn't know exactly what it is that he's doing. Is he a mutant? None of his sisters said anything about super-powers, though granted, neither did he. But he thought they usually found out what they could do early, during puberty, not this late in the game.

 

That he needs help is pretty clear. He barely managed to stay ahead of that assassin, and that was mostly because he wasn't the guy's target. The woman in the super suit was even more humiliating. He was used to working as part of a team, but he wasn't even aware of his teammate's location there. It was the first time he did a superhero teamup, and he ended up being thrown into a car. He was lucky he didn't break anything then. Maybe he does have some small ability to heal himself, subconsciously. That'd explain how he got over being shot and thrown/stomped/punched so fast. He still has a mess of bruises and cuts (good thing the trainer doesn't get a look at that), but so far, nothing worse.

 

"Better than nothing, I guess," he thinks to himself. "Could be dead. Still, I wish I could do more with what I've got."

 

He has a lot of time to think in line before anyone else shows up. He makes a promise to himself. If he's going to try to be a superhero, then by God, he's going to have to do some training. Most of his powers won't help him from getting smashing (even if they help other folks avoid the same), and it's just... humiliating to get tossed around and beaten up.

 

"My first New Year's resolution," he says out loud, surprising himself with his own voice. He shakes his head. "I sure hope someone shows up before the ball drops." He reaches down to pick up a piece of trash that blew onto his foot and started flapping them. It looks like a flyer that blew off a telephone pole. He's about to crumple it up and throw it away when he reads what it says.

 

"Master Lee's School of Defense - private lessons available," he reads off the paper. He chuckles to himself. Looks like a neat coincidence, and he could use the privacy, just in case something weird happens with his powers, like the eye thing. He smoothes the paper out and puts it into his bag. Not long after that, some of his friends show up with some food. Kevin's just happy for the company, and for someone to hold his place while he finds a restroom.

 

 


 

Hovering high above Federal Plaza, Raindance looks over all of the people gathering to watch the ball drop. He frowns, secure in the knowledge that they can't see him.

 

"I don't know what it is about New Year's that makes people act so crazy. It's just another day, one that we decided means something because a number changes on a calendar," he thinks to himself. He sighs, opening his senses to the weather and making sure that any rain clouds avoid the city during the celebration.

 

"The worst thing about being a weather controller is all the people who want favors," he thinks. "And that's just coming from the superheroes. If people knew who I was, I'd probably never sleep so that little Janey's birthday party doesn't get rained out."

 

Of course, this request came straight from Captain Thunder himself, so there wasn't any question of whether he'd help out. And it was only for a couple of hours... and it wasn't supposed to rain, anyway. Mark suspected when he heard the request that Captain Thunder just wanted someone watching out for Dr. Stratos so that he didn't have to.

 

"And I can understand that," he thinks. "Superhero is a job that doesn't allow for a lot of breaks, and everybody knows who he is now." He rubs at his shoulder. His costume still doesn't fit quite right, even though it's supposed to mold to his body perfectly. Miracle fabric of the future... right. "I can watch the weather from the ground just as easily, and in street clothes," he thinks. "Maybe I'll find the true spirit of Christmas there too. Wait, spirit of New Year's." He snorts at his own bad joke and heads down to the ground, out of sight of any superhero watchers.

 

 


 

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Happy New Year!" the people shout, Kevin along with them. Sure, he didn't get a great turnout - only a couple of friends were able to make it to the plaza in time, after the hangovers that they still got, even with his healing - but this is the sort of thing that everybody should do at least once. Freedom City's the next closest thing to New York's balldrop, and frankly, it's a lot cleaner here as well. He was pretty near the ball drop, and that meant a lot of people had to leave before he could get a chance to do the same.

 

"A few hours waiting for a few seconds as the ball drops," he says to the guy standing next to him. He hadn't noticed him there earlier in the day, but to be honest, he doesn't pay nearly as much attention to guys as to gals - even with all of their winter wear on, they're still a prettier sight.

 

"Yeah, I guess so," the guy says back. He pauses, and Kevin thinks he's going to leave it at that, but he says, "Why do it? Why waste all the time standing here?"

 

He seems to be asking the question honestly, and not just complaining about how long it's taking for everyone to get out. Kevin tries to come up with a reason, and sort of shrugs. "A chance to see folks you know, tradition... you know. It's sort of cool to say that you were there when the ball dropped, just to say 'I was there'." He smiles, "Sort of like climbing Mount Everest, only a lot easier to do."

 

Mark looks back at him and says, "Yeah, I guess. All the stuff that happens over the year, it's good to have something that you know will be there, right? That's what tradition is for."

 

"Yeah, that's it," Kevin says. "Though I wish this tradition was taking place somewhere a little warmer. I'm freezing my butt off here," he says with a smile.

 

Mark is startled for a second as he realizes that yes, it is pretty cold outside. It wasn't something he noticed any more - the only time that he felt cold outside since he discovered his powers was when he started flying so high that he ran out of air. Still, he nods, pretending to agree. He holds out his hand to Kevin to shake.

 

"Yeah, I hear you. It's good to meet you. I'm Mark," he says. Kevin shakes it firmly, "Kevin. Good to meet you too, man. Well, looks like the crowd's finally clearing out. Happy New Year."

 

"Yeah, happy new year to you too," Mark answers. He moves away faster than Kevin, thanks to his lack of a camera bag and friends to slow him up. Once he's out of sight, he pulls back on his costume and flies away home. Maybe New Year's doesn't mean anything, but still, it's nice to know that it's there.

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"Five... four... three... two... one..." Sean Parker counts down to himself silently. But his countdown isn't the one that everyone else is going to be counting down, later this evening. He thinks back to how he got here, strapped to a wooden table as the scent of strange herbs and glowing lights assail his senses.

_________________________________________________________________

"Rarrgh!" Sean shouts, slamming his fist into his kitchen table. The flimsy wood can't take any more abuse, and it cracks into two pieces. Sean barely manages to grab the grimoire before it slides onto the floor. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

"Hey, quiet up there!" Sean hears the muffled cry through the floor. It seems like the walls, and ceilings, and floors of his apartment are made of cardboard sometimes. The hand that isn't holding the grimoire clenches into a fist. Not for the first time, he angrily thinks, "I could crush him like an insect," and as always, his next feeling is guilt. He isn't like that. He doesn't hurt people without powers. He's not one of those psychos who start killing because he's stronger than they are.

"It's the suit," he thinks to himself. "I can't take it off, or I start getting older. I've spent a year outside of it over the last thirty years, and it's taken over my life. What's wrong with me?"

He sighs, taking off the helmet on his plate armor and walking over to the fridge. Another can of soup for dinner, and another night alone.

"I used to think it'd be better if he had made it so I didn't need to sleep, too, so I could get more done," he says to himself, quietly, so the neighbors can't overhear. "I didn't realize that there's not much you can do when you're in a suit of armor 24/7."

His brooding is interrupted by the ring of the phone. It's an old one, and it sounds like a phone, rather than all of those new-fangled cell phones that start playing music or something. He walks over quickly and picks it up.

"Hello?" he says.

"Hello, Heavy," an all-too-familiar voice answers. Despite the use of his super-villain name, Heavy doesn't panic. He's been waiting for this call for almost a month now.

"Talos. Are you ready? Did you manage to translate it?" he says.

"It is not... yes. For your purposes, yes," Talos answers. Heavy grimaces. Even though he knows that Talos is a lot smarter than he is, he hates the way that Talos likes to remind him of it. An uncomfortable silence stretches out. Sean breaks it.

"So are you ready? I did what you wanted. I got the grimoire, and you memorized it or whatever it is you do with these books, and now, you said you could transfer the enchantment from my armor to me," he says.

"Patience, Heavy. It is set up for tomorrow. I will meet you at Lantern Hill Cemetary. Bring no one with you, or you will die." The phone hangs up. Heavy puts it back down into the cradle, gently. Despite the ominous note on which the call ended, his main feeling is anticipation. He wasn't going to bring anyone with him, and now, he has a day to look forward to - a day when he's out of his metal prison.

_________________________________________________________________

The next day is New Year's Eve, but rather than spending his night buying champagne (or more likely, knocking over a liquor store), ready to toast the coming of 2008, Sean finds himself floating down, landing just inside the cemetary gates. He can hear the wind blowing around him, but the chill doesn't touch him inside of the suit.

There does not seem to be anyone around, and he grimaces inside of his suit. The cemetary is huge, and this is where he met Talos the last time.

"Bravo, Heavy," comes a voice from behind him. He spins around quickly, only to see Talos emerging from the shadows. There's no way that he could have been hidden there, but there he is now. "Come, sleep."

Then Heavy's knees buckled, and he knew no more.

_________________________________________________________________

"That's how I got here, wherever here is," he thinks. He has to fight down panic. Even though he knew that he had to get the suit removed before the transfer could begin, he feels naked without it, and he can almost imagine that he can feel himself getting older. Being strapped to a table, though - that came as a surprise.

"You might thrash a bit as the enchantment sinks in, and I don't want you to hurt yourself," Talos had said. "The magic is more painful to put into a person instead of a thing, and you didn't seem to want it before." Heavy grimaced as he remembered that exchange, almost thirty years ago. Then, the sort of pain that Talos had described had sounded like something to avoid at all costs. Now, it was clear what the costs were, and he could bear any pain for as long as the ritual would take.

"It will begin in ten seconds. Prepare yourself," Talos says.

And he counts down, trying to prepare for a pain that Talos described as 'worse than being burnt alive while giving birth to a child'. His countdown ends, and the lights and the smells and everything else fade away, but there isn't any pain, not like what he had expected.

He tries to take a breath, but the air had disappeared. He was so high, and his father had told him to stay lower during the escape. But he was flying, like a bird, free from the tunnels that his father had made and that had become his prison...

Heavy shakes his head. That wasn't his memory. What is going on? "What's going on?" he asks, or tries to ask. It feels like his mouth is full of cotton, and he can barely hear himself speak. The laugh that answers him doesn't sound like Talos. The robot's metallic timbre had changed into something colder and more unsettling.

"Rest up, Icarus. Your father is waiting for you," it says. Heavy tries to say that isn't his name, but he didn't have the strength. He falls back down into a sleep.

_________________________________________________________________

"Father, why shouldn't I fly so high? It has been so long since I have been able to do anything but stumble about in the dark. I long to see the sun."

"Ah, but if you flew too high, you wouldn't be able to breathe. The air thins out as your elevation increases, and eventually, there isn't enough oxygen to sustain..." the familiar voice says. Icarus opens his eyes, and he can see that it is his father, Daedalus. Daedalus can see the boredom and lack of attention evident on his face, and he decides to take a different tack.

"If you tried to fly too high, the sun would burn you up." This got Icarus' attention, and Daedalus nodded. "So don't fly too high, alright?" Icarus nodded back. "It's time. Put on your wings, and follow me."

His father did something, and the ceiling exploded. For the first time in years, Icarus stood up straight. It was time to fly. The light was blinding, and the feel of air not breathed in by rats, or his father, or the Minotaur was intoxicating. Icarus kept flying up, trying to get away from the Labyrinth that was their prison. It wasn't hot up there. It was almost cold, and he kept flying up to try to warm himself by the sun. He could hear his father shouting behind him, but the words were lost in the wind.

_________________________________________________________________

Heavy's eyes open again. He is back in the present, and Talos is looking down at him.

"I see that the transfer was a success. Your host had wanted to be immortal, unlike your father, who rejected me. I decided to grant his wish," he says, as he poked Heavy in the chest. Heavy looks down as a reflex. On his chest, there is a tattoo. It moves, changing form - sometimes a cross, sometimes a serpent devouring its tail, and sometimes a symbol that he seemed to recognize as an ankh, though he didn't know where he recognized it from.

"And now, you'll be my new catspaw, Icarus. You're much stronger than you used to be, and stronger still when you try on that suit," he says, gesturing to the suit in the corner. "Come now, try it on - you've grown a little."

Heavy isn't exactly sure what Talos means, but something tells him that letting him know that he isn't Icarus would be a very bad idea. The name sounds familiar, but he can't remember from where. The last comment, though, about having grown, comes as a surprise. He looks down, and he's shocked. All the scars he had gained from where the armor had dug into him for the last thirty years are gone, and the pale skin has become tanned and healthy. He grabs his face, feeling its shape, and he can feel a beard that he hadn't had, and his nose feels different as well.

"You wouldn't have been much use to me as a boy. This man's body will serve me much better. But do not delay any longer. Put on the suit," he says. The voice doesn't sound very patient anymore, and Heavy quickly moves to obey.

He's got most of the suit on when he realizes that he's put it on too quickly, like he knows exactly how it works. The words that Talos said echo through his head, and he moves his lips as he hears them for the first time. They weren't English, but he understood them just the same. He looks over to Talos, who is staring at him. He raises his hand, and his energy lashes out again. Talos staggers and falls to the ground. Heavy grabs his helm, and blasts off, through the ceiling and away.

_________________________________________________________________

Talos slowly stands up and smiles. He shimmers into another form. Instead of a bronze giant, this is a more ordinary looking man dressed in a business suit. Despite his smaller stature, he seems even more powerful than he did in his other form. He rubs his beard and smiles. He reaches out for his helm, but he doesn't bother to put it on. He won't need to hide where he is going. He can already feel the pull of Tartarus, and the slight freedom that the death of a year brings is soon to end. The last thing Hades says before he returns to his stygian kingdom is, "The best puppets don't even see their own strings."

_________________________________________________________________

Sean Parker stands on his apartment's balcony, clearly in view of anyone who'd glance up from their parties. For the first time in a very long time, he can be out in public without people calling to report a super-villain attacking, or without imagining that he can feel himself marchily steadily towards the grave. He holds a beer in his hand and tosses it back as he hears the countdown all the way from Federal Plaza.

"3... 2... 1... Happy New Year!" he hears the people shout.

"Yeah, Happy New Year," he says to himself. "Icarus - I like the sound of that."

And in Tartarus, Hades smiles.

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