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Cannonade Vignette - Gruevasion 2010

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A Reverie on Identity, as Interrupted by Tentacle Monsters


11 AM, Day of the Invasion


The Boardwalk was starting to pick up a crowd. It was a fairly cool May, but people still wanted to come down to see the festivities, even if they weren’t willing to plunge into the Atlantic Ocean just yet. Joe walked the streets in his usual gear; he was probably drawing some attention, but he didn’t seem to care. He was mostly lost in thought. When he was younger, he’d come to the Boardwalk regularly – with family, with friends, with girlfriends. He had good memories of the place, and maybe it’d give him a chance to get his head together.


It had been three weeks since the incident at the foundry. It had been a week since he lifted his couch up over his head with one hand. And last night, his dad had told him all about his grandpa. That was a hell of a thing to find out – that you were the grandson of a superhero. And the powers were obviously coming in… toughness, if the spill-over was any indicator, super-strength… If the medical records on Legionnaire indicated anything, his grandpa had been able to “cross whole battlefields with one bound†and “run to catch up with a transport going at top speed†by the time he’d died, so he’d probably come into that in time.


He pretty much knew what he was going to do now. It wasn’t like you had something like this land on you, then went back to sitting on the sidelines. The question was, could he do it? Pushing the boneheads out of shows was one thing – being a hero meant taking on crooks, mobsters, gangsters, madmen, gods, demons, aliens, monsters, and whatever crackpot had more power than he deserved and a control fetish. Could he do that? More importantly, could he do that and live? His grandfather had been tough, but he wasn’t invincible – Superior proved that. Did he really even know what he was doing?


Joe was interrupted from his thoughts by the sound of honking. One horn joined another, and another; the familiar rapport of Jersey driving told him something was wrong. He broke away from the Boardwalk and made his way to the main street, where he quickly saw what was wrong.


Twenty people were standing in the middle of the road, in four-by-five formation. The crowd was a mix of ages, ethnicities, and genders. They were also standing stock still before a crowd of honking cars. Two traffic cops had already made their way into the middle of the road to try and get the crowd to disperse, but they weren’t having much luck.


“Come on, miss, you’re holding up traffic,†the traffic cop said to one of the still women. She didn’t seem to register, so he pulled out the cuffs and grabbed her by the arm. “Miss, you leave me no choice--â€


The woman reached out, lifted the traffic cop off his feet – one-handed – and threw him through a storefront window well across the street from her. That shut the horns up. Around Joe, people were already starting to run – they didn’t really make ‘em stupid in Freedom.


“This is the Three-Lobed Eye of the Grue Empire.†The voice came from one and all of them – they spoke in perfect unison, and their words rung out above the rising chaos. “Your world has been analyzed, and found suitable. Colonization shall begin shortly, but there is no need for distress. Go peacefully, and all will be well.â€


That was when someone threw a brick at one of the people. It struck them right in the forehead, leaving a solid dent that seemed to knit back together like Silly Putty. Joe grimaced; they also made ‘em brave in Freedom. Sometimes too much for their own good.


“The Meta-Mind has accepted this as a sign of defiance,†the chorus said. “Engaging in suppression mode.â€


Before Joe’s eyes, the people seemed to lengthen, stretching like taffy and growing out of their clothes. They streamed together in the middle like steel being poured from many vats, and then they swelled. The blob grew to the size of a small brownstone, then erupted into a mass of tendrils. A mouth like a cave emerged from the “front†of the mass and let out a terrible roar.


That was when the panic really set in. The people around him began running through the streets, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the giant Grue bioweapon. Joe took one look at the rampaging beast, and did the stupidest thing he could think of. He ran forward.


It was only when he got up close that he realized just what he was dealing with. The thing towered over him, and was flailing its tentacles wildly, turning over cars and tearing down buildings. Fortunately, it seemed mostly focused on civic destruction. That’d give him an avenue to get in.


Before he could move, however, one of the tentacles came thrashing down at him. He managed to slip to the side as the thing slammed down and cracked the asphalt. Joe took advantage of the moment and grabbed the tentacle. It felt like microwaved Play-Doh, and slithered like a snake. The beast roared, and turned to face him.


Yeah, that’s not good. The tentacle rose into the air, and took Joe along with it. Despite his strength, it appeared he didn’t exactly have the anchoring necessary to wrestle this thing to the ground. He’d just have to try something else. Once he figured out what the beast was doing…


The beast, meanwhile, decided it had better things to do than fight the puny human. It threw him at the row of buildings right across the way. Joe came to rest after tasting brick, lying on an alcove. He looked to the bioweapon… and then to the ocean. It wasn’t that far at all. He couldn’t pick the thing up by a tentacle, but that didn’t get rid of other options.


He rolled down the street and started running as fast as he could. The tentacles came down around him, but he managed to dodge them – it was like this thing was still getting its land legs. When he got close enough to the flashy mess, he slipped his hands right under it. It took some effort, but the giant bioweapon slowly lifted up from the street. Joe could feel it convulsing in his hands, like it was trying to find some way to deal with the human underneath it. He took advantage of the few seconds he had before this thing turned into the blob, and lobbed it.


It didn’t fly far; instead, it seemed to topple over onto the sidewalk. But that was enough; the thing began shifting, like it was trying to regain its balance. While it struggled, Joe rushed forward again and punched it right in the underside. The thing quavered like Jello, and actually seemed to split a little. It began knitting itself back together, but Joe took the opportunity and tossed it on its side again. He repeated the process, making his way to the ocean. He didn’t know if this would work, but if it did…


He felt the water creep over his boots and soak the cuffs of his jeans, even as he pushed the thing further. It struggled all the way, trying to grab him and throw him back onto the land, but he didn’t give it a chance. Once Joe felt the sands shifting under his feet, he leapt back to shore. The beast tried to come after him… and struggled to move, dropping further into the sands.


Joe had spent his childhood on these beaches. He and all the other kids who played in the surf knew the sand got soft about twenty-five feet in, and after that was a bit of a drop-off. Easy enough for a kid to swim out and up from… but given the size and composition of the thing, it had to be a lot heavier than your typical kid. And sure enough, it was trying to gain purchase in the water and the shifting sands, and failing.


He heard a rush of air, like a kite unfurling. Overhead, he could see The Scarab and Fulcrum, looking down at the thing struggling in the surf. With them would come the press… and he realized he had no mask. He quickly ran back to the street and disappeared into a back alley. He’d make his way back home, but mainly to get changed. Then he needed to get a mask.


Joe had made up his mind. He knew what he was going to do next.

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