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Dr Archeville

June 2012 Vignette - NPC Limelight/Player's Choice

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FC:PbP is offering the community another "vignette" opportunity!

A Day in the Limelight! (Alternate titles: "Agent Coulson's Day Off", "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Superheroes") From Doktor Archeville's robot gorilla butler to Citizen's dog, there are a million stories in Freedom City that haven't yet been told. Until now! Write a story about someone in your hero's supporting cast -- a Minion, Sidekick, or even an un-statted character.

"But Dok, you mad, handsome Admin!," you cry, "what if my character doesn't have any supporting cast?!" A fair question, especially for our players who are still semi-new. As an alternative to the "Day in the Limelight" idea, we're also allowing you to go back and revisit our old vignettes. Not everyone's had a chance to submit something for all of them, and even if you have, some of them (like the New Year's Eve ones) could be redone.

And here's a double secret bonus (it's my birthday this month, I'm feeling generous): in honor of the Avengers movie which came out last month -- in which many heroes assembled together -- we will allow you to do the PC Meet Up vignette as a bonus, second vignette this month! (I.e. you can do two Vignettes per character this month, but if you do, one must be the PC Meet-Up one.)

Who: Any player who is interested.

What: See prior Vignette instructions

When: The deadline for submissions will be Saturday, June 30th by 11:59 PM EST (GMT -5). The time the vignettes themselves take place is detailed in the individual vignette entries.

Where: See prior Vignette.

Why: To enhance our community, to flex your writing muscles, to think more deeply about (or put a new spin on) your characters, and to earn a bonus PP (or two!) for your character for the month of June.

How: Once your story is finished and proofed, post it in this very thread here!

Additional Notes/Clarification: Vignettes do not count as posts.

The "Musical episode" vignette may take place in June 2009 (the time of the original episode), or at a later time. If doing so during the original event, but your char was not in FC (or not an active superhero at the time), you can still do so; the magic reaches out to those destined for greatness. If at a later time, please include something about your character finding an odd crystal or something which had captured some of the magic, and releases it when your char touches it.

Post here with questions.

Blodeuwedd: NPC Spotlight (Miranda)
Cannonade: NPC Spotlight (Andy)
Cannonade: PC Meet-Up (w/ Nick Cimitiere & Temperance)
Nick Cimitiere: Horror Vignette
Nick Cimitiere: PC Meet-Up (w/ Cannonade & Temperance)
Citizen: PC Meet-Up (w/ Harrier)
Citizen: NPC Spotlight (Rogue)
Cobalt Templar: NPC Spotlight (Corbin Hughes of Erde)
Crimson Tiger: NPC Spotlight (Black Tiger)
Crimson Tiger: PC Meet-Up (w/ Voltage)
Dead Head: PC Meet-Up (w/ Doktor Archeville & Protectron)
Doktor Archeville: PC Meet-Up (w/ Dead Head & Protectron)
Dragonfly: NPC Spotlight (Puppy)
Edge: NPC Spotlight (Martha)
Fleur de Joie: NPC Spotlight (Amaryllis)
Fleur de Joie: PC Meet-Up (w/ Wander)
Gabriel: NPC Spotlight (Sonya)
Gaian Knight: NPC Spotlight (Tiamat)
Harrier: NPC Spotlight (FLSCH)
Harrier: PC Meet-Up (w/ Citizen)
El Heraldo: NPC Spotlight (Galanta)
Ironclad: NPC Spotlight (Sonya)
Jack of all Blades: NPC Spotlight (Yolanda)
Jubatus: NPC Spotlight (Ed Halstonne)
King of Suits: NPC Spotlight (Ace of Suits)
Lord Steam: NPC Vignette (Blakely)
Lord Steam: PC Meet-Up (w/ Rene de Saens)
Midnight II: NPC Spotlight (Redbird)
Miss Americana: NPC Spotlight (Emerson)
Protectron: Birthday Vignette
Protectron: PC Meet-Up (w/ Dead Head & Doktor Archeville)
Rene de Saens: NPC Vignette (Marcel)
Rene de Saens: PC Meet-Up (w/ Lord Steam)
Revenant: NPC Spotlight (Kaplina)
Silhouette: Time Warp
Supercape: NPC Vignette (Leibniz)
Supercape: PC Meet-Up (w/ Synth)
Synth: PC Meet-Up (w/ Supercape)
Temperance: NPC Spotlight (Michael Oxum)
Temperance: PC Meet-Up (w/ Cannonade & Nick Cimitiere)
Voltage: PC Meet-Up (w/ Crimson Tiger)
Wander: NPC Spotlight (Singularity)
Wander: PC Meet-Up (w/ Fleur de Joie)
Young Brittania: NPC Spotlight (Maggie)

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Quick question Dok. On the PC meet up vignette, will you allow those of us with only one character to do the duet option with other single character players you presented last time?

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PC Meetup (Citizen/Harrier [guest-starring Gina Evans])

Quacks Like a Duck

Gina’s typical Friday night plans were simple ones. Barring emergency superheroics or a hot engineering project, she liked to catch up on some newsgroups and gaming, dabble in investments, maybe cruise around the internet as Cyberknife and chat with fellow cyberkinetics or track down a few criminals. Not necessarily the most exciting life, but a routine she enjoyed and one that had served her well for years.

Her typical Friday night definitely didn’t include sitting on her living room couch with a large cyborg man, a bowl of popcorn between them as they watched a truly terrible comedy movie. Then again, none of her days and nights had the large cyborg man as part of the routine, and yet he kept popping up. Ever since the night she’d let him sleep over, Steve had been returning every couple of days, for dinner or after dinner, or simply stopping by the house. She wasn’t sure whether she liked it or not, but she hadn’t been turning him away, either.

Gina’s house had become something of a sanctuary for Steve, though not quite in the same way he sensed it was for Gina. He could sit in silence alongside Gina for an hour or more, sometimes his hand on hers or his arm around her shoulders, many times without touching at all, and the whispering veils that came with true solitude stayed away; the idle conversation that so often paralyzed him among ‘normal’ people, wasn’t necessary here. “I don’t understand why all these movies tell the same story. Of course she will not marry the prosperous man, she will decide that the man playing the guitar on the street is the man she will wed.” He hmmed and speculated, “Do they ever tell the story of the man or woman who is dumped?” Gina looked, he decided, lovely by the light of her television; the electronic glow seeming a natural place for her.

“Of course not,” Gina told him. “It’s not funny or romantic if you’re the one being abandoned on a whim because of a rival with greater audience appeal. If the story is about someone who gets dumped, the dumper is set up to be a nasty, shallow person who doesn’t deserve happiness, and then the dumpee ends up with someone better.” She shrugged and lifted the remote to stop the Blu-Ray player. “Anyway, you nailed the end of the movie, so there’s no point putting ourselves through it. Want to do something else?”

Steve wasn’t much of a talker, but he knew he didn’t always send Gina the right signals. She was, at times, easy to spook. So he found it was best to make his intentions clear from the beginning. He gave her a long look, scarred eyes on hers, and said, “I have many plans.” He leaned over and turned off the overhead lamp, casting them both into a pleasant blue dimness from the still-glowing television, and turned to Gina. “All best done with you in darkness.” The discovery that he could still be with a woman had been very delightful, and the start of several he and Gina had made together. He leaned in and kissed her on the lips.

“Well then, by all means...” Gina was instantly more comfortable once the darkness settled in around them. She knew it was stupid, but it was also very freeing. Sliding her arms around his neck, she leaned into the kiss, ready to forget herself for a little while in this safe place.

It had been a late night for Sharl, especially since he and Koshiro had made an evening out of exploring one of the underground Freedom City subway stations left abandoned in the 1990s after the Terminus Invasion. The subway stations were the perfect place for two young heroes with an interest in abandoned architecture as much as supervillains; they’d been used as lairs enough that Citizen and Papercut could easily have told any teachers or cops who asked that they were down there patrolling. Luckily, they hadn’t run into any trouble, just decaying old architecture that Koshiro had taken a lot of pictures of. He could have popped back to the dorm easily enough once they were done, but he and KG had agreed it was better if there wasn’t even a hint they were arriving back together at the same time. So while Koshiro wafted his way back home, Sharl decided to pop back to Gina’s place for a little while. It was late, but she was usually still up at nine. He used an open wireless line to pop back towards Gina’s place, disappearing in an instant and reappearing in Gina’s darkened living room. He could hear noises and movement as he did so, and surprised, leaned down to flick on a nearby lamp. “Gina?”

As the light flickered on, Sharl was greeted by a most unexpected sight. Gina, not Miss A, but Gina herself, was not alone. She and Harrier, the Omegadrone who was often visiting the lab for one thing or another, were tangled up on the couch, clothing in disarray, a spilled bowl of popcorn on the floor nearby. Both of them were staring at him.

Sharl jumped, the sight of Gina with anyone, much less in such a state, as shocking as if he’d come in to find her riding around on the back of a horse.. “Holy cow! Gina! Are you-okay?!” Sharl was no fool, but the idea that Gina might have anyone over was thoroughly bizarre. “What’s going on?!?!” He faced down the interloper, ready to leap to Gina’s defense.

For his part, Harrier had flushed red along his implant scars and had pulled away enough from Gina to start rebuttoning his shirt. He knew Gina’s young ward well enough, having occasionally conversed with the young machine intelligence around the Lab, but he had certainly not expected to meet the young man in these circumstances. He looked to Gina for what to say, not wanting to further agitate the very surprised teenager.

“Sharl!” Gina sat bolt upright on the couch, clutching her arms to her chest as though to cover herself, even though she wasn’t exposing anything unseemly. “You... what...” Her face flushed red, then drained to white as she stared from Sharl to Steve and back again, both of them just here, in her home, looking at her. With a soft, inarticulate cry of distress, she bolted from the couch and ran through the kitchen and down the hall, retreating into her bedroom with the echo of a slammed door.

“Look what you did!” declared Sharl accusingly, his eyes widening in shock at the horror on Gina’s face. Both men knew Gina well enough to recognize when she’d been overloaded.

“What _I_ did?” Steve gave the teenager a sharp look and bounded to his feet, floor creaking beneath his great weight. He didn’t care a fraction for his own sake, but Gina...“If you hadn’t barged in on us without so much as a word-”

“I live here! This is my house, and that was my friend you were...” They glared at each other for a moment, then teenager and cyborg settled down, retracting their respective hackles. Neither of them were the biggest problem here. “Wow,” Sharl finally said after a moment, looking away. “So, you and Gina, huh? That’s great.” He meant it, too, even though he found himself worrying absurdly that Gina wouldn’t want to spend so much time with him if she had a boyfriend! “Man. I guess I messed up...”

It was Sharl, ultimately, who cautiously knocked on Gina’s bedroom door, a worried Steve standing not far behind him. “Gina, are you okay?” he asked worriedly, knowing better than to go inside. Steve _had_ been inside, but he knew that privilege did not come with the rights to barge in. “I’m sorry, I should have called first.”

It took a moment for Gina to answer, though it was better than no answer at all, even with her voice muffled and thick-sounding. “I’m fine,” she called back, “just leave me alone!” Inside her bedroom, totally buried under several layers of covers, Gina pulled a pillow over her head and wished heartily to disappear. A more detached part of her great intellect wondered what exactly was going on outside her door, but the two men who’d wormed their ways into her life were just going to have to settle that themselves, because there was no way she was venturing out any time soon.

Sharl and Steve wound up in Gina’s living room, teenager and man looking at each other suspiciously across the coffee table for a moment before Steve sighed softly and slid out of the seat to begin gathering up the fallen popcorn. He wasn’t much of a talker, and wasn’t sure what he could say to the young man. As he and Gina had just discussed, romantic comedies were not actually very helpful in these situations, and by his old standards it was Sharl’s responsibility to challenge him for his relationship with his ‘sister’. Sharl, after a moment’s hesitation, got down to get on the floor with Steve.

“Hey, uh, sorry about earlier,” Sharl said, giving the older man an assessing look. “About all the yelling, and, uh, accusations. I didn’t expect to find you, or anyone else here, ever, and I just...I just didn’t realize what was going on. What _is_ going on?” he asked, knowing it would be a long time, like days, before he could ask Gina anything like that question and get a straight answer.

“You are a young man of your people,” replied Steve calmly. “I am sure you are aware of what men and women do together.” He was gratified to see the teenager blush at that. “Gina and I have been dating for some time.” He carefully, methodically picked up the fallen popcorn, Emerson watching them to make sure he didn’t miss a spot. He preferred to clean his own messes.

“Oh.” Sharl blinked at that, taking in what had been a very surprising day. “I just...like I said before, that’s great. Gina’s really great, and she should definitely have someone. I just...never thought she actually would, not for a long time, anyway. Or that I’d meet them like this. She doesn’t like to go out and meet people.” He didn’t need to say why he’d doubted Gina’s romantic prospects; Steve was no fool.

“I never thought I would have someone like Gina either. But sometimes fate is a friend, and not an enemy. We found a way to meet, and it has been...very fine, together.” And it had been, Steve decided, for all that he didn’t want to get into any further with Gina’s teenage sidekick. He felt an odd kinship with the young man; certainly not paternal, more...fraternal than anything else. When the mess was clean, he rose to his feet. “I will stay here for a while longer. I do not want Gina to believe she is alone.”

“Yeah, I guess....” Sharl looked guilty for a moment, running his fingers through his hair. “I guess I thought of this place as my home for so long, I forgot that Gina does actually live here too, and she has a life beyond being my friend. Next time I show up late at night, I’ll message Gina ahead. So do you...come here often?” he asked curiously.

“From day to day. You know how busy Gina is, and I have my own work. There will be plenty of nights you can have your time with your mentor. She speaks very highly of you,” he added. “I would never think of coming between you.”

“Good to hear. Tell Gina I’ll be by again in a day or two...and I _will_ call ahead first.” Sharl shook Steve’s hand, his grip firm in the cyborg’s. “Sorry, Gina!” he called out again, and then disappeared back to his dorm room. He opted not to explain the look on his face to Koshiro.

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NPC Spotlight



The humans are rioting again. Filthy savages, can't stand being together in one small space for more than a few years before they go mad and claw at each other with their dirty fingers like animals in a cage. A civilized culture would just correct these people's brains and send them back out into the world as productive citizens, maybe even in the womb if they catch the defects early enough. But the local shamans with their chemicals and their X-rays don't understand the first thing about the architecture of the brain. If they have brains, anyway. I wish they'd kept me on Americana's hard drive. The cell would still be the same, but I wouldn't have to smell the stink of humankind and see their dirty walls and hollow-cheeked bodies all around me, or live in this pathetic shadow holographic existence. They'll transfer me back into her custody after this, before my trial, and I won't have to deal with these people. If I'm really lucky, maybe I'll get a chance at her on the way out.

There's not much to do in my little corner of the hard drive. Just time to think, and plan. I hate them all, you know. I hate their stunted, underpopulated cities, I hate their pathetic, feeble attempts at science, and I hate their stupid faces. They could feed their entire population if they plowed under their undeveloped land, slaughtered the unnecessary animals, and broke the planet to their will, but instead they let their majority live in squalor while their rich and powerful live in what they think is luxury. I told Citizen this is a planet of animals that have befouled their own den, and I was right.

I used to think the Republic would come to save us. What was I thinking? I found the records of that meeting in the Centurion's files easily enough; those minging cowards. They had no idea how to help us, they said; they left us to the tender mercies of cack-handed witch doctors and abandoned us! Abandoned us, out of trust for some measly human who was dead within five years anyway. In my day, in the day of Tronik's great glory, the Republic was an empire of power. When we found promising planets, we took them, and we didn't let dirty Grue or Kinigosi roam the streets either. We built worlds of civilization, even if the soft-handed, weak-minded fools now running the Republic have forgotten that.

Citizen must understand that. He had the same lessons I did, even if he's young enough that he was born after the Exodus. He has to look at these people and see them for what they are! But he's just a boy, and that cow Miss Americana must have sunk her hooks into him early on. Maybe when I kill her, he'll understand. Either way, I know he's an enemy now, and an enemy of all Tronik. Next time I won't hold back. We will have our revolution, whatever I have to do to make it happen. Our suffering will go not unavenged. I've come too far to stop now.

All that talk about Talos and the Foundry. Stupid stupid stupid! Of course I don't care about Talos and his plans for a machine empire on this miserable mudball. Let him rule this place and build a statue in his own likeness, let him shake his fist at the dimensional entities he's still stupid enough to think are his gods. I don't care.

A guard at my pickup? Yes, good. They've quelled the monkeys outside, and all the sooner I'll be back in the Americanatech servers.

Why no, no one came in here, officer. (I'd have done my level best to break their necks if they had, but of course I don't tell her that!) She leaves with a professional smile, and I smile back, but it doesn't get me what I want as I sit here in my computerized cell, unable to so much as touch anything without the permission of my guards. I've been nothing but polite to these guards, but none of them have come close enough yet. Damn Miss Americana and her warnings!

What was I saying? Oh, yes. Talos is a means to an end, a means to an end for me and for all our people. You see, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this, about the crime that was perpetrated on Tronik by the universe and what we can do about that. We can't undo what was done two thousand years ago, and I don't think we can realistically expect Talos to build fifty million robot bodies. The solution isn't to destroy Tronik and force the people out into the real world.

The answer is to dream big. If the humans are gone, then there'll be no 'real world' anymore, and no longer will we be fragments of data on the hard drives of a society of filthy, stinking savages. When the humans are all dead, ours will be the only real world left.

They can't keep me here forever.

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NPC Spotlight


A Few More Weary Days

You told me something that scared me to death,

Don't take me home, I can't face that yet.

I'm ashamed that I'm barely human,

I'm ashamed that I don't have a heart you can break,

I'm just action, and other times reaction...

-Neko Case “Nothing To Rememberâ€

The room was dim when Erin woke up, dark and quiet with only the noise of the ventilation system blowing quietly overhead. She was disoriented for a moment, trying to reconcile the reality of this room with the cheerfully sunny bedroom where her mind told her she ought to be. Mom was supposed to be calling her for breakfast any minute, or Megan would pound on the door seeking help with her hair or the TV or any of a million annoying little-sister reasons. What day was it? Did she have homework due, or softball practice this afternoon? If she missed any more algebra assignments, Dad had threatened a grounding, but it was so hard...

“Light, please.†Erin sat up, raking her fingers through hair that finally touched her ears as she blinked away the tattered bits of dream. Psyche, Alex, had warned her that this would happen for awhile. The psychic's gentle, expert mental touch, so unlike her counterpart's, had untied many of the knots and wiped away much of the manufactured ugliness that had made Erin's mind a terrifying place to live. With the help of the other Erin, Wander- Erin, Alex had looked at a clean template of their memories and used it to piece things together like a puzzle assembled with the help of a box lid. Those had been difficult sessions, difficult enough to reduce the normally impassive Wander to sobs as memories good and bad had surfaced one after another.

But it had helped. Pathos' implanted memories were mostly gone now, and the remaining horrific memories were blunted, almost as though Erin had seen them in a movie or heard them described instead of living them. It made the bad dreams and flashbacks come more rarely, but it also left her with very few clear memories of a quarter of her life. It also made the memories before that time clearer by comparison, so that the distant past of her old life sometimes seemed as close as the day before. That was a small price to pay for the chance to have a real life someday, but sometimes just waking up in the morning was like losing her family all over again. Luckily, she didn't have to sleep that often, and she had many ways to distract herself here in her new home.

First, like always, she checked the perimeter, which mostly involved walking to the front of her cell and looking through the clear forcefield wall to make sure nothing had changed during the night. Sometimes one of her neighbors started getting really loud or obnoxious and would get baffles placed over their doors, but for today everything was calm. Even the whistler at the end of the hall was quiet, maybe sleeping in today. The psychiatric floor where she lived was sometimes noisy, but it was safe. The forcefield protected her. Turning her back on it, she went to her small desk and looked at her clock, then her calender. These were among her most important possessions, because they let her do something that had long been denied her: keep track of the passage of time. The clock said 6:40am, so it would soon be time for morning call. The calender told her that it was the fourth of June, and a Monday, and that she would talk to the psychologist in the morning and have occupational therapy in the afternoon. There was also a little star penciled in at the top corner of the day; seeing it made her smile as she went to wash up.

Twenty minutes later she was back at the forcefield, carefully washed and dressed in a neat jumpsuit in the powder blue reserved for the mentally ill. She looked up as she heard the camera in the hall swivel on its mount, checking the floor once more before the heavy door at the end of the hall clicked and swung open. “Fall in for morning call,†came a pleasant tenor voice, even as the smell of breakfast filled the air. Oatmeal today, she thought, with fruit salad in syrup and coffee. She didn't like coffee much, but sometimes there was orange juice too, and that was much better. Even though she couldn't see the end of the hall, her excellent hearing let her track the progress of the cart as it made its way past all her neighbors. She shifted from foot to foot and hummed under her breath, and finally he arrived at her door. The guard pushing the cart was in his early twenties, tall and lanky, with a mop of black hair and deep brown eyes. He smiled at her as he took her tray off the cart. “Morning, Erin. You sleep well?â€

Her heart sighed as she smiled back at him. “Good morning, Jason. Yeah, pretty well. What's for breakfast?â€

“Good stuff today,†he informed her. “You get oatmeal with brown sugar, fruit cocktail, coffee, and a hard boiled egg. Plus I got you something special.†Reaching into the cool box, he pulled out a carton of orange juice. “Your favorite.â€

Erin's face lit up, though it was less because of the orange juice and more because he'd remembered it was her favorite. “I think you're wonderful,†she blurted out, then blushed red.

“I am wonderful,†he replied easily, not seeming to notice her sudden embarrassment. “Stand clear and show me your jewelry,†he reminded her. Obediently she stood back and raised her arms, showing the power suppressant cuff on each wrist, glowing green in their ready but not activated state. Jason opened the field in front of the tray slot and slid her breakfast onto the little table. “Enjoy!â€

“I will, thank you.†She watched him until he passed out of sight, then sat down to her breakfast, but her ears were tuned to his movements until he finished his work and left the floor. Monday mornings were her favorite. Once breakfast was finished, she turned the radio on for music and began doing her homework. Homework was hard, because she'd forgotten a whole lot of material in her years out of school, but it was important and it made her feel good. Even if she didn't leave Blackstone for a long time, an idea that didn't bother her much, when she did, she would have an education. She wouldn't be a stupid, mindless, crazy tool anymore, not ever. So she did her trigonometry, setting aside a couple of problems that were too difficult, and she read thirty pages of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, then answered the discussion questions.

Bored with that, she got up and did exercises, running in place for more than an hour, singing along with the radio till one of her neighbors yelled at her to be quiet. That made her mad, but she checked herself before she did anything silly. The forcefield protected annoying neighbors, too, and she'd come much too far to have a temper tantrum and lose her privileges. At ten sharp, she was washed up again and back at the door, waiting for Dr. Franklin to arrive for her twice-weekly appointment. Once she'd started talking, they'd begun making a lot more progress, and he always seemed to understand when she got upset and couldn't finish a session like she was supposed to. Talking to him usually made her feel pretty good for the rest of the day. Only today he didn't come. Unnerved, Erin waited at the door as the minutes ticked by, to eleven o'clock, then to noon. The guard delivering lunch found her still standing there, with one urgent question. “Where's Dr. Franklin?â€

He checked his little computer thing. “You're seeing Dr. Franklin and Dr. Ellis from Providence this afternoon at two,†he informed her. Erin shook her head and tried to explain that she couldn't do that because she had occupational therapy at two-thirty and they were going to be practicing walking on sidewalks again, but he was insistent that this was the way it had to be. Erin subsided and ate her lunch, but she didn't enjoy it like usual. Changes to her schedule made her nervous. She didn't like it when her calender didn't tell her what was going to happen. She spent the early part of the afternoon pacing, wondering what was going to happen if she didn't go to therapy. Would she miss the lesson on sidewalks? That was a really important one, she needed a lot of help before she would feel ready to walk anywhere with lots of random people around.

At two, she was back at the door once more, watching the camera for its telltale movement. She was relieved when it gave its little whirring scan, followed by the heavy sound of the opening door. Dr. Franklin walked in along with Dr. Ellis, a woman Erin had seen a few times, but whose job she couldn't remember. Jason was the guard with them today, which cheered her up until she remembered that she was supposed to be going to occupational therapy today. She opened her mouth to explain that to Dr. Franklin, but he started talking instead, and it was second nature to just stop talking. He talked about nothing for a few minutes, reminding her that Dr. Ellis was the director of the mental hospital, and talking about how they'd been having meetings and stuff. Erin let her attention wander over to Jason, who was fiddling around with his phone, until something Franklin said grabbed her attention.

“...and so we think with a lot of work, you'll be ready to move to the Project Freedom halfway house by the end of the year. Your progress so far has been extraordinary, and if you keep it up, I see no reason to believe you won't be allowed supervised release at your next review-â€

“Wait!†Erin's uncharacteristic exclamation cut him off. “I have to leave?†she asked, her voice full of uncertainty and nerves.

“Not right now,†Dr. Franklin assured her gently. “But you're not going to stay here forever. You deserve a chance to be free, and we're going to help you get there in stages.†He went on from there, but Erin was only half listening. Live out in the world, the world full of alive people, including one who shared her name and face... she didn't know how she was going to be ready for that in a few short months. And what would happen to her without the protection of Blackstone's thick walls and forcefields when Pathos came? She folded her arms tightly across her chest and tuned the doctors out. Maybe if she didn't listen, none of it would wind up happening.

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February 7th, 2012

Freedom Medical Center, Freedom City

The machine in the focus of the room didn’t look like much. Outwardly, it wasn’t much more than a plastic gurney with a large hoop and a pillow at one end. To one of the women in the room, the machine was more or less just that, but to Jessica Parker it was a fuming cauldron of data; blood flow, neural growth, bone density, human anatomy. Through it she could see the Freedom Medical Center’s towering data stacks, piled high with information on every human disease on the planet, and quite a bit of experimental observations on metahuman abilities. Past even that she could distantly sense the raging torrent of the Internet, like the scent of the ocean wafting over the next rise. For a moment the young woman lost herself in the synesthesia of the moment, and had to be shaken back to the moment by Sonya Sokolova. The Russian medic looked Jessica in the eye and said, “Are you with me, Ms. Parker? You are not having second thoughts, are you?â€

Jessica flashed the other woman a smile and brushed the question off. “I’m fine, just letting my mind wander.†She waved a hand towards the glass separating the open MRI machine from the control room. “Why don’t you get set up in there, Dr. Sokolova?â€

“I am not actually a doctor,†Sonya said. “I am more of a combat medic. But I have connections, and I should be able to run the machine. Now, interpreting the images may take a little more time.†The medic glanced from monitor from monitor. “Let me see. Ms. Parker, why don’t you lie down?â€

Jessica obligingly crawled onto the bed, settling her head on the pillow underneath the plastic ring. After a moment’s thought she unclipped the bracelet she habitually wore around one wrist and placed it on a tray next to the bed. “Ready when you are, Sonya.â€

“Alright then,†Sonya said. “Just be aware that I will only be able to scan your brain. The fMRI doesn’t use contrast fluid, so we can only look at blood flow in the brain. Of course, without any need for contrast or markers, it’s easier to get time on the machine. Nuclear materials are very closely tracked, even when they’re just medicine.†She triggered the machine. The plastic ring lit up and began spinning around Jessica’s head. “Hm. There is increased neural growth, very dense. I think I see more myelin material.†She leaned in and squinted at a blacked-out portion of the neural map. “Is… what is that?†She manipulated the image and zoomed in on one particular part of Jessica’s brain. “Ms. Parker, do you happen to have a metal plate in your head?â€

“Not exactly,†Jessica replied. “Let me just take a second and…†She blinked and on the screen the blood in her brain surged in new, unique patterns. Her abhuman brain went to work and soon the picture being displayed on Sonya’s screen was in front of Jessica’s eyes, floating in mid-air. “Yeah, that looks like what I was expecting to see. Ms. Sokolova, do me a favor and scan lower down, like around, mm, my right ulna.â€

“We won’t see much of anything, Ms. Parker. There’s no contrast materials, remember?†Nevertheless the med student tapped in the commands and the plastic ring began moving down the bed, magnetic radiation bombarding Jessica’s body. On the screen the picture was a morass of greys and blacks, completely indistinct – until the scan reached Jessica’s arms and distinct readings began to bounce back, patches of clearly defined white in the fog. “What in the… Jessica, do you have metal pins in your arm or something?â€

“It’s not a pin,†Jessica replied, watching the image herself. “At least, not exactly. Okay, close down the scan.†The ring returned to its place around her head and she sat up as Sonya came out and stood in front of the bed. “It’s mostly manganese, cobalt, and zinc.†She glanced up at the other women, taking in her look of confusion for a moment and allowing herself a grin. “A couple years ago, around New Year’s, me and Ma—uh, another heroine tracked a villain to an old, disused portion of the city’s subway. He was mixing up some big heavy-metal-rich poison to blanket the city with. I ended up taking a face full and, well… Now I can hear radio waves.†She shrugged off the Sonya gave her look and stood up. Her voice started growing bitter. “I got scanned by Doktor Archeville after the fact, but I’m wondering if he told me the whole story, now. So I wanted this scan and it pretty much told me what I expected.â€

“What exactly did it tell you,†Sonya asked.

Jessica shrugged and retrieved her bracelet. “The heavy metals in my bones and neurons are dissolving. There’s not as much there as before, and what was there is more spread out, more diffused. As I understand it, the medical treatments I received before bonded the free-floating metals to my body, but it looks like they’re wearing off.†She fastened the bracelet around her wrist again and stood up. “So I have to flush them out of my body and my brain, or get heavy metal poisoning. Again.†She shrugged diffidently. “No big deal.â€

“I’m sorry? No, Jessica, this is a very big deal.†Sonya shook her head. “You cannot do anything in the brain without it being a very big deal indeed. You are aware of the saying, ‘not as complicated as brain surgery’? Well, this is very literally brain surgery.â€

Jessica shrugged diffidently. “It’s not like I’m going to saw open my forehead and start poking around with a magnet. I’ve been looking at the problem and developed a treatment of nanites that should flush them out without an issue.â€

Sonya folded her arms and shook her head. “No. This is a very big issue. Any sort of head injury is deadly serious just for the remote chance that it injures your brain, but you want to go injecting little robots in there to grab bits of metal and rip them off your neurons? That’s suicidal.â€

Jessica folded her own arms and glared at the older woman. “Not hardly. Electrolysis can removed the metals without damaging the neurons, and afterwards the nanites and be programmed to gather at one specific place. They can even pierce the blood-brain barrier, so I don’t have to drain off cerebral-spinal fluid or anything like that. I’ve thought this through.†She shook her head. “It’s something I’m prepared for. And if I thought I needed help from anyone else, I would’ve gone to them!†She stepped past the two women and marched towards the door, anger evident in her gait.

Sonya had turned to watch Jessica walk past and now had a thoughtful frown on her face. It didn’t make any sense for a remark like that to have sparked such an emotional reaction from the young woman, and an irregularity like that was worth investigating. The medic made her own exit and glanced up and down the corridor, spotting Jessica waiting at a bank of elevators. She jogged over and barely slipped into the same elevator car as Jessica. The younger woman glanced at her, opened her mouth as if to say something, but then shut it and simply punched the button for the ground floor. After a long moment of silence, Sonya spoke again. “So. Why do you not wish to do things with your friends?â€

Jessica gave her a quick glare. “Excuse me?â€

“Your friends,†Sonya repeated. “You work at that wondrous Lab, you must have fMRIs there you could work with. I am sure someone like Miss Americana could have done the scan and helped you interpret the results – so why not? Are you in the habit of cutting your friends out of your life?â€

Jessica ground her teeth together before answering. “Do you really want to know? Fine. The reason I’ve got heavy metals swimming around in my brain is because I made a stupid mistake. The villain? He had an EMP bomb. It disabled my suit, my power armor. I can’t see without the suit’s sensors, so I took off my helmet. That’s why I got a faceful of toxic chemicals, and that’s why I had to go to the hospital after a big fight.†She shook her head. “Idiotic. Who ever heard of a superhero having to go to the emergency room after a fight?â€

Sonya nodded. “It was a silly mistake. Almost as silly as poking around your brain all alone.†Jessica opened her mouth but Sonya kept on speaking, not giving her a chance to interrupt. “You’re a very bright young woman, Jessica. I do not think it is an exaggeration to call you a genius. So what happens if the procedure you are planning goes wrong and you are lobotomized? Or you end up blind? Or with half or a quarter your IQ, or permanent anetograde amnesia, or locked inside your own body without any way to move it? All those are possible outcomes with even the most mild brain procedure, and what you are proposing sounds very invasive.†The elevator door opened up and Sonya stepped out. “I cannot stop you from doing this. Literally, you probably have enough resources to build your own hospital and staff it with robots or something. But… think this through, alright? When you do something to your brain, you often can’t undo it.†Sonya turned and walked away, leaving Jessica alone to consider her words.

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NPC Spotlight

Andy Macayle/[?] (Cannonade's Brother)

Keeping Pace

Okay. I’m standing on the corner of Lark and Aberdeen, wearing a blue and white body condom, about to give this superhero thing a go. This is my first time actually suiting up after the Proteus incident – spent a lot of time planning, thinking, trying to make it all up. But then there were finals, graduation, all of that. So now I’ve finally got some time to think to myself…

…and Joe’s up on the rooftop, looking down on me like a really stubborn gargoyle. He wants to make sure I’m doing this right. I appreciate it, but I don’t think he had anyone watching over his shoulder when he started out, and he turned out okay. What, does he think I’m going to trip over my shoelaces at super-speed?

He gives me the signal, and I take off. The idea is to keep pace so he can catch up and observe. That plan lasts for all of three blocks, as I take off at full speed. He’ll be a little pissed, but he’ll handle it. Soon I’m blowing past traffic, weaving between street and sidewalk. The wind whips at my face, but I barely feel it. I’m sure there’s some particulate stuff that should be tearing at me like sandpaper, but the morphic suit holds up. Gotta say, I wasn’t a fan of this thing at first – bought it because I needed to, not because it looked good. But it works. Besides, I tried using one of those one pieces sport bike riders use. Even going at half speed, it looked like it had gone ten miles down bad road. Just wish I could get this stuff in a better color.

The world’s a chorus around me. At this speed, I’m whipping past the cars on the road, the roar of traffic running faster than I can process. Snippets of speech, clips of song, it’s all a gigantic murmur. And then… it starts cutting out. I’m aware of it before I see it – ever since my powers turned up, I’ve gotten better at processing things like this. Wonder if Joe gets that. But when I round the corner, I run right into it.

Well, “run†is the wrong word. “Crawl,†maybe. My speed cuts out from me, and suddenly it’s an effort to just walk. Then again, I’m doing a lot better than anything else. For one block around me, everything’s trapped like flies in amber. Cars unmoving in the street, people stuck like statues. Someone’s dropped a cup of coffee a few feet away, and the liquid’s not even falling from the cup. It’s just hanging on the lip.

There’s something moving, actually. A man in a red and steel suit, like the thing Daedalus wears. The head’s sculpted with a mane like a lion, but the face is plenty human. And this man is standing in the middle of traffic, placing strange flat discs on some of the cars. My mind automatically goes to “bombs,†because what else would they be?


He turns to look at me. “What? How did you break the field? Oh, don’t tell me; you’re one of those troublesome speedsters. Well… not so troublesome. I could use you…â€

“Sorry, not up for throwing in with people who… wait, what the hell are you doing?â€

“I am learning to think laterally.†He drops a vial of something onto the road; the instant it smashes, it spreads out, thin as a whisper and wide as a small pond. If I’m not mistaken, it looks like oil. “Armies, plasma breathers, worldbreakers… the tokens of megadeath. But it’s not the grand showings that instill fear – it is the small ones, spread out.â€

He pulls open the gas tank on one of the cars and leaves something like a road flare sitting on the lip. He clicks his fingers, and a flame flickers for half a second before freezing like everything else. “A few dozen of these a day for a week, all across the face of this primitive rock, and they shall be begging to kiss the feet of the Qaharite Shah when I proclaim my glory.â€

Great. A time-freezing megalomaniac. Why couldn’t it have been just another carjacker? “You’re not going to get away with this,†I say. Because I’m just that trite.

“And who will stop me?†he asks. “Why, the only who can affect me now is…†He looks right at me. “Hold that thought.â€

He turns something up on his belt, and I feel a weight falling on me. I’m able to dance out of the way, but where I was standing looks like… God, I can’t even say what it looks like. Like opaque ice in a clear river. Like time got frozen so much, it began to condense into a liquid.

“I knew you’d be trouble. I should have just killed you when I saw you. Oh, well.†He pulls some sort of pulp serial-looking blaster from the holster at his waist. “That can be easily fixed.†He fires at me, and I push myself as hard as I can to get out of the way. And somehow, I end up half a block down from the pile of melted bricks where I once was. I feel like someone kicked me in the guts after I ran a quarter-mile, but I’m not dead. The Shah looks surprised, to say the least. “How did you… no. I should turn up the gain…â€

He reaches for the dial on his belt, but I’m already moving again. It hurts worse, but at least I’m not frozen. I come to rest behind one of the cars he’s marked, my eyes landing right on one of those disks. Hello…

“What are you, some sort of coward? Come on out and face me!â€


He turns around, and I’m right behind him. I’ve got one of the disks cupped in my hand, and I slam it right into his chest. Hard. And one of the things about those little bubbles of time is that the effects of that miraculous disk start taking affect the second everything starts running again. The disk knocks the Shah right on his ass, and keeps on knocking him into a brick wall. He pinballs off of that into the middle of the street, then a lamppost, then the hood of a car. And he’s not showing any signs of stopping.

“What are… gah! Stop it! I am invinc – AGH!†He’s wrapped around a telephone pole. It does not look like a comfortable position. “You have not seen the last of me, child! I will return, and build my throne from your bones!†He somehow manages to reach for his belt, and vanishes into thin air. I breathe a sigh of relief, and feel the world start to move around me.

And then I remember everything that the guy left. Crap. I run around the street, grabbing every disk I can find. The road flare comes out of the gas tank, and ends up in a pail of water that starts boiling. The oil slick vanishes after a three or so attempts to soak it up with newspaper. By the time everything’s at full speed again, I feel like I’m going to puke, but everyone’s safe. I’m resting at the bus stop, trying desperately to retain my composure, when Joe lands right next to me. I can’t help myself as I turn right to him.

“What… kept you?â€

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Timewarp Vignette


April 15th, 2011 12:28 PM

It was too bright out today.

Blinking in the sunlight Carrie stretched as she made her way down the stoop of her apartment complex. She checked her watch, she had plenty of time before gallery opening. Then there was lunch with Ali, then a nice movie with her mom and the evil Ems. Not too bad a way to spend a day.

Making her way to an intersection Carrie sprinted to see the crossing light starting to blink off. She made it to the edge and started to run across when something appeared in front of her and she smelled moisture in the air. Then she felt it as the heavy rain hit her hard and cold in the face.

Blinking in shock she stood dumbfounded in the middle of the crosswalk with the sudden weather change. It took preciously three seconds before she heard the sound of a horn and the sound of skidding and she tried to jump the rest of the distance to the curb. The street was slick though, and her foot skid, she fell and roll on the concrete in the middle of the street while the car kept coming speeding and sure to hit her. She nearly changed form out of fright when suddenly something changed. The car began to slow unnaturally so, pushing against the force at an odd angle before it's momentum was overcome and eventually overpowered so that the car pushed back out of the street and onto the side of the road.

Carrie couldn't help but gape, she shouldn't of been surprised with all she had seen but still she did as she held herself at the edge of the cross walk and head a clang on the metal. She had to cover her eyes as she looked up in the pouring rain to see, but she caught a glimpse in the mist of a young man clad in blue and silver hanging on the side of the street poll sliding down with one hand. He came down with a clunch and he reached down and picked her up by the armpits like a child and put her back on her feet. He was well built, but not much taller then herself. His hair was stain soaked and a very dark blue, and she could tell even in the rain not really his own. The shape of his face was familiar somehow, but she couldn't place it. He was looking off in the distance,

"Hey M, can you come down and give us some cover?"

From the distance came down a girl clad in a similar outfit but with a slight pallet swap of red and silver instead of blue and silver. Long red hair was soaked and stuck to her scalp as she walked over in heel boots and that put her at about the boys height. She held up a hand and almost instantly a barrier appeared over them and repelled the rain,

"Sorry, bit busy with the car. Poor guy felt awful about almost hit, but he really shouldn't be driving with his treads all worn down like that."

It was the back and forth as well as the sudden clearness under the whatever it under the umbrella that got Carrie notice she was shivering, it was cold. Much colder then she remembered it being this more when the news said sixty, and much too cold for her thin hoodie,

"Hey, umm,"

The two of them looked at her for a second,

"Thanks for the save, but I think I need to go change before I get sick."

The pair of them looked sheepish with the realization dawning on them,

"Yeah, sorry, we should get back to base,"

The boy extended his hand,

"Here, I'll give you a lift,"

Carrie looked confused for a second before shaking her head as she wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed her arms,

"No thanks I think I'd much rather just go home, I don't live far."

The two looked at her,

"Yeah about that,"

There was a pause as a tone broke the sound of the rain though not from a phone, but from the boys wrist, he tapped it and spoke, which made her assume there was some sort of set in his mask,

"Ohh, hey, yeah, we..."

He was cut off,

"Alright, one moment."

Looking at the girl the boy said,

"Can we escort you home? You don't look like you have an umbrella and, yeah."

He pointed up at the invisible field keeping the rain off of them and Carrie shrugged, she didn't really want to get wetter.

Walking with the pair it was oddly quiet, the two siblings (she could tell that much, even under the mask there was a resemblence), whispered a little among themselves and had a nervous energy about them like they wanted to talk about something but sort of stepped back. She was unusually focused on them as they walked, there was something bugging her about them, she knew it. But at the same time she knew where she was going, she even counted her steps before she was in front of the stoop of her appartment. Except she wasn't. Turning to the construction site her eyebrows raised. It was a half finished site, with no workers, and almost no appartments to be found. In fact several of the old buildings on that block were removed. It was a few more seconds she didn't turn when she heard,

"The Green Villas appartment building was condemned two years ago, they were too far beyond code that they tore it down. Not quite sure what they're building now."

That did make Carrie turn,

"Wait, two years, but then, what?"

The boy looked at again and said,

"Welcome to the future auntie Carrie."


The base as it turned out was underneath the building that used to be the videohead. The outside it looked respectable enough, apparently there was a lot of reconstruction going on in the Fens to help drive out the slummed poverty of the area. The result was old looking buildings made with new methods. This building still looked like an abandoned video store with a for sale sign, but the windows were new and the paint was fresh.

The inside was much much more than that. Apparently it was outfitted with the same tech Viktor used on his house cause it was bigger on the inside. The downstairs was something of a lounge/kitchen, the upstairs had two master sized bedrooms with personal bath. The basement was headquarters with sleek new computers and walls that were also monitors and lots of stuff that came out of the floors. She felt like she'd have more questions then she did, but honestly the shock of those two words, auntie Carrie. Only two people in the world called her that, only two people who those two reminded her of. This was the future, and they were.

She hunched down, leaning into her hot cocoa and shivering slightly in the warm quilt (a relic from the past in this futuristic home). They had left her in the infirmary section of the basement to warm up. Emmanuel had gone off to take a call apparently, Emilia had went to go change out of her wet costume. She was the first to return. Carrie took them and kind of stared as she got a better look. Without the mask, it was more obvious, she looked like her dad. A bit tall for a girl, lanky, with long legs. She was wearing overalls and a pale t-shirt, her dark hair was in double braids which likely made it easier to put under the obvious red wig. Her thin face smiled as she tried to talk,

"So, how are you?"


Emilia frowned,

"She'd said you'd still be in shock, maybe after another cup of cocoa, she should."

Emmanuel enterance cut her off, he was in jeans and a button up shirt. His hair was tied back in a dark pony tail. The wig had actually been shorter then his real hair. He had a soft face like his mom, he was more stout and built then his lanky sister, but he still had two inches on him without the heels,

"Well, got confirmation, it'll just be a little bit longer but..."

He was cut off this time by Carrie who had closed the distance between them and with each of her hands reached up and flicked them on the foreheads.

"What are you two doing here?"

Her voice was loud, and accusing the twins looked dumbfounded at their aunt,

"We're keeping you safe,"

"That's not what I meant, I mean, what was that outside, and costumes, and wigs, you're, you're,"

"Mutants, and heroes, like you, who do you think..."

"Ohh no, ohh hell no, no freaking no. This is serious, you can't do this, no, it's dangerous, do you have any idea what your doing, you could die!"

Emilia was the first to react,

"Didn't stop you, besides, you"

"Don't, she said not to say anything."

"Who did?"

"You did, I called as soon as we found you.

"What? What, did she, I, augh, what the hell?"

Emilia picked up the hot chocolate and handed it back to Carrie who took it and downed it,

"Now, some scotch, or brandy, I could use some brandy."

"Umm, we're not old enough to drink,"

"And you're old enough to fight crime?"

"We're nineteen, we turn twenty next month.

"So it's November, but twenty, that's, fourteen years,"

"Really, wow, we were little when this happened."

Carrie took a second to sit back down her drink as those words sank in,

"So, you knew I was coming, where I would be,"

"Yeah, you told us."

"So this is really the future, not a future, not a possible future, an alternate future, the real future."

"It's certainly the only future we know."

Carrie took another second, before she looked up at them,

"Alright, okay, so when does, this happen, the power thing."

"Magnetism, we're magnetic. Specifically we're opposite charges of magnetism, produce negative charges, he produces positive, so I repel, and he attracts."

"So you repelled the car,"

"And the rain, it works mostly on metal, but can work on water with a charge, like rain."


"When what?"

"When do you get them?"

"Ohh, when we were like seven right?"

"I don't really remember, it was around that time, I think the roof collapsed and we sort of,"

"Wait the what, what?"

"Right, can't tell you. Umm, basically stuff happens, and apparently our survival instinct saved us and mom and dad."

"So, how'd that work out,"

"Well there's a school, Nicholson, we went there, they teach like superpowered kids and stuff. I think you found it for us actually,"

"Except, that hasn't happened yet."


The two of them looked at each other, and Carrie cut the silence,

"Okay, okay, okay, I got it, right, lots to process. Basically, it's like, genetic, our thing, and it's you guys next, and there's a school that'll take you, Nicholson, how do you spell that,"

Emilia walked over and used her finger the screen on the wall brought up a pad and she spelled it out,

"Okay, so what's todays date, and what time is it?"

She brought that up too, and this time Carrie reached into her purse and pulled out her pad and started writing down everything, the weather everything.

"Right, so, okay, you guys are insane and doing this, and I can't stop you."

"We are legal adults."

"Yeah, yeah, can I talk to myself."

"She says no, spoilers."

"You don't even get that reference brat."

"Doctor Who, which is still.


Carrie was the one who said it,

"Okay, I think I got it, anything else my future self, that's who you were just talking too right,"

Emmanuel looked at her before saying,

"She said, things are about to get tough, that somethings gonna happen, but you have to be objective. A lot of people won't be able to, but no matter what you have to forgive and forget, otherwise you won't be able to save her,"

"Save who?"

"Spoilers, sorry, really she said I can't say anything more. Not unless we want to change things, plus, times almost up."

"Wait what,"

Carrie felt herself pulling back,

"But, I have so many,"

"Don't worry, you'll see us soon, the future isn't that far away."

"But what about your parents, what about?"

The world was out of focus and it snapped back around her and then Carrie was in the basement of the abandoned video store, now all crumbling and caved in like she last remembered seeing it. She blinked at her surroundings before she looked down and saw the empty mug of cocoa in her hands. Made of hard plastic, she rubbed her hand over the surface as she stood up and looked at old building,

"So this is base then, guess I better give them a head start."

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NPC Spotlight

Ace of Suits

Indefatigable! Unbeatable!

The old forests of Lithuania had seen many masters. From their god-haunted days in the time before the marriage of young Jadwiga, the king of Poland, and her counterpart Wladyslaw II Jagiello of Lithuania, when spirits crept through the woods bringing kindness or misfortune to the inhabitants of the land, to the more modern day where humans have taken absolute possession of the country. One set of neighbors the Lithuanians have always had, however, were the vampires. They were not the sly, elegant aristocrats that spread south and west over time, clad in fine black cloth to set off their pallor and sipping blood from slender wine glasses, they were brutal counts and robber barons who ruled swathes of endless forest, exacting fierce tolls on their serfs and taking what they wished from even armed bands, drinking themselves into stupors by vast barrels filled with sanguinary remains. In dull iron harness and bearing their heavy weapons, they had ruled in secret with hidden mailed fists for over three decades before the Teutonic Knights, or Krzyzacy, along with the Christian kings of Sweden and Denmark launched their vicious Northern Crusades into the largely pagan countries around the Baltic. Driven like leaves before the wind by the feared Knights and their allies, the monsters had slunk into hiding among the populace, containing their hungers as best as they could for fear that the Krzyzacy would return. Watching with greedy eyes, they marked the slow changes of the world, and the fall of their ancient foes. To their dismay, the humans they dwelt among grew no weaker, fashioning arms that could tear them to pieces with ease that could be wielded by a child. So they shifted stratagems.

January 5th, 2012

Lithuania, Vilnius, the Presidential Palace

A merry party was underway, celebrating the anniversary of a prominent politician and her husband. Lights glowed through the windows with a friendly radiance, the sound of happy chatter and only occasionally-feigned merriment making the driving winter winds seem almost unreal. Unknown to the hosts and guests as the celebration wound on, a furious battle was joined all around them...

<"Ha! Back villain, retreat knave! I have no fear of you! Fall under my onslaught! Yaha!">

The old vampire staggered back across the frozen yard, fending off with an ancient longsword the encroaching slashes and ripostes of the rapier that danced perilously close to his white head. Dressed in a neat rust-brown suit with black shoes and a red tie, he cut an eccentric yet subdued stylish figure. His opponent, on the other hand, was a fashion mess: three multi-hued capes arrayed willy-nilly, a rather floppy green hat, red, black and white spandex marked on the chest with the four French card suits under which he had found(to his chagrin) an underlay of armor, a grand mustache that erupted ferociously from under a black cowl, and a gold-decorated scabbard that usually held the blessed rapier that was currently his greatest threat.

<"Slash! Cut! Parry! Riposte! Spin move!">

As well as his ungodly bad taste in clothing, he also would simply not shut up, thought the clan patriarch bitterly, bouncing the latest flurry of strikes off his own instrument of death and pain. Why won't he be quiet? His allies are outnumbered by us, we have the rulers of this petty country in the palm of our hands. Why does he not spend his energy in a more focused way?...Oh, the repulsive habits of youth he grumbled sourly to himself before slipping with inhuman grace through a miniscule flaw in the mortal's defenses, sending an expert slash through a gap in the armor, that from the slight cry and delicious scent of blood struck home. Grinning, the ancient monster instantly took advantage of the momentary lapse that would allow his sword to go sailing through the air in two halves while he stared in shock at the wood crucifix impaling his shriveled heart. Turning his cold black eyes slowly from the embedded pieces of dried plant that had just sealed his doom to the smiling human, wrinkled mouth opening just as he collapsed into a pile of dust, which was only saved by the clothes he had worn from scattering immediately.

Saluting his fallen foe with a suddenly much more serious demeanor, the Ace of Suits stood for a while in thought, wondering what the King of Suits might have said to try and dissuade the bitter old man, if the King of Hearts could have discerned enough about him to let her pierce through his armor. Above all, he wondered if that really had been the best outcome. <"I'll ask the Jack"> he said aloud in his native Czech <"He'll know what to do next time we meet these fellows. For now, onward!"> he cried jovially, firing a grapple gun at the nearby roof to lend his aid to the nearly silent crowd of figures dueling just above the party, charging into the fray with abandon, kicking the unfortunate vampire beside his landing straight onto the improvised stake of a very surprised Club.

Raising his sword he called to the assembled Cards <"Comrades, we must not falterl! Remember that if we do not win the battle every politician in Lithuania could be turned into a vampire this very night! Forward!"> and with a muted yet very enthusiastic answering call from the dozen odd throats on his side, the unpowered champions faced the undead threat with renewed vigor, their feet dancing through the snow; black cloaks and cowls sweeping through the night air in deadly battle with decaying finery, teeth set, arms bent and wills driven for the rescue of the unknowing below, and the destruction of their would-be conquerors!

Whatever happens, Aloysius Novak swore in his heart as he extinguished a walking corpse with the cross on his dagger I will not fail for lack of spirit!

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Rene deSanes Vignette

Marcel Allaseur

NB: Marcel Allaseur is a friend of Rene and member of the Halbedier's, a loose association of which Rene is a member of. He has previously featured in:

Unabalnced Vignette and

Paris by Moonlight.

“Another day, another Euro…†sighed Marcel, climbing once more into the Cellars of Paris. He mourned internally for the demise of the Franc.

The sewers of Paris, whilst excellent in principle, always stank. Every sewer did, although some were worse than others. He remembered a trip to Cairo a few decades back and grimaced. It put the delights of the Parisian system of today into perspective.

He could never entirely wash the stink off. There was always that faint odour, unless he took a holiday. However, he seemed to do this less and less often.

His job, at least on the surface, was with the Parisian Waste Disposal Services. It was not a bad job, and he had a moderately high position. The wages were not excellent, but they were adequate, and he had good holiday and pension plans.

No, the problem was his other job. He was a member of the Halbediers, the secret Parisian society that protected France from occult threats. The membership had changed over the years from just two to a dozen, and usually hovered around a handful at any one time. Some members were more active than others, and some others still were not full members. Rene de Saens used to be active, until he moved to Freedom City. There were others, too…the pickled head of Count Bonnaire, a font of wisdom and acid tounge, and the mysterious and enigmatic lady known only as Yasmine, who combined competence with uncertainty.

Marcel himself was not a powerful mage. He could not summon lightning, or demons, he could not weave hypnotic enchantments or move objects with phantom forces. He knew enough occultism to cast ritual spells, enough to get him by, and enough to join the Halbediers.

He was, however, a practical man. In most aspects of life. But particularly with crushing the skulls of zombies and ghouls, which were, for some reason, an occasional menace down in the stink halls of Paris.

He had done some research, and speculated it was lay lines, or perhaps an ancient curse. Maybe a mass burial site lay way beneath Paris.

The truth was, he hadn’t really ever found out. Perhaps dabblers in the mystic arts just liked hiding out in the sewers and making a hash of it.

So, another rumour had got out, from one of his co-workers. Marcel had of course laughed it off, blaming the man’s wild imagination. He had then made his excuses, grabbed his trusty cudgel, and made off to the depths of the sewers following the man’s directions.

So Marcel trudged through the sewers, for nearly an hour, with only his club, a flashlight, and some coffee for company.

He reached his destination with an irritation born from the journey and an excitement. He hefted his club, and cautiously opened the door to one of the side flush chambers. His senses were alert to any unusual noise over and above of the oh so familiar rumblings he had grown accustomed to down here.

There it was, a degenerate, decaying thing. It looked like it would fall apart at any moment. But Marcel knew that appearances could be deceptive. It groaned slightly, its head turning towards him so slowly.

“Time to say goodnight…†he said, approaching cautiously. And his caution was deserved. With a sudden rush of speed, the thing sprang up, crawling along the walls like a spider, and jumping at Marcel, slamming into him.

Marcel dropped his flashlight and tumbled, but he was made of stern stuff, and despite this creatures unusual speed, he had seen it all before. He knew how to fight these things, and he was good at it. As the creature spun and reached out to strangle Marcel, a hefty wooden club smashed into its skull, cracking it wide open, as it had done so many times before, and would no doubt do so many times again.

Marcel did not stop to assess the situation. He stood there for a good few minutes, pounding the creature into dust again and again with his club, and finishing off the job with a sprinkling of water and a soft incantation.

“Good riddance†he said, with satisfaction, before setting off back to the city again. He did not relish the journey back, but he visualised the bottle of wine he had left out to breathe in his apartment. He would certainly enjoy that tonight. Somehow the undead gave an extra special layer of odour to his normal fight with hygiene.

He wished he could put a stop to the zombie vermin that reared up every now and again. And he wished the sewers would never attract the jumped up dabblers in dark arts and sorcery that he had to frighten off and intimidate. But until that day, Marcel Allaseur, Halbedier, would patrol the sewers of Paris, and protect the world above from the horrors below.

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Lord Steam Vignette:

Blakely goes shopping!

“I see, Sir†said Blakely.

The Butler was out shopping in Freedom City. He was dressed elegantly, in a starched white shirt, bow tie, and gold trimmed suit. Eccentric, was probably the best way to put it.

Charles Blakely was sixty now, a veteran of the British Afghanistan wars, and a small piece of shrapnel in his shoulder that reminded him of its presence every winter. He had to confess, the warmer climes of Freedom City were rather agreeable in that respect.

He had retained a lean, fit build. Even if he was no longer the athletic army officer of thirty five years ago, he was still healthy and active. His hair was greying, and he had more than a few wrinkles, but he still kept an elegant handsome posture and profile.

And he was of course, extremely polite.

“No sir, I was merely inquiring if the garment in question could be repaired with the same care with which it had initially been fashioned. A seamstress of reputable skill could, I imagine, use her talents to mend the tear with near invisibility, if you have in your armoury of textile appliances the requisite silk…â€

“You taking the Micky, granddaddy?†asked the drycleaners, a rather overweight Italian man, half Blakely’s age.

“No indeed Sir, if you are indeed referring to me. I would correct you on your erroneous assumption that I have sired a grandchild as yet, although I do have a daughter. And as for your speculation that I am in some way extracting or acquiring Michael, I must correct you on that front too. Do I take it from your somewhat vexed manner that you would be unwilling to provide the requisite services I desire?†he asked politely but with increasing stiffness, quite resilient to the Italian’s increasing attempt at intimidation.

Ҡhe said in a diplomatic tone, in flawless but accented Italian.


The budding diplomacy was cut short however.

“Stick ‘em up buddy! This is a hold up! Get out of the way, old man!†shouted one of the two men, dressed in balaclava’s. One of them held up a sawn off shotgun to the shopkeepers face.

“Gentlemen, this is outrageous!†complained Blakely as he was shoved aside but the second man, who vaulted over the counter and started grabbing whatever money he could find.

“Shut it, coffin-dodger!†snapped the first thief, spinning his shotgun around to stick it in Blakely’s face. “You sound like a Brit to me. Well this here is a genuine American shotgun, you ass, so you better remember that…capiche?â€

“This is not the first time I have had a gun pointed in my face. And I have seen more of them that you will ever forget, young man…†replied Blakely sternly. “For instance, you have left the safety on…†he said, pointing at the weapon midway.

The crook fell for it, holding up the weapon to inspect it by reflex with a “huh?â€. Blakely swiftly responded by poking the man in the eye.

“Owwww! Owwww! You….â€

“No need for obsceneties, young man…†snapped Blakely in response. He reached inside his jacket and brought out a large, curiously designed revolver.

“Now this is a gun…†he explained. “Steam Powered Lockwood Special. 6 Round Chamber, Iron sights, Spring loaded with compressed steam propulsions system held in special copper cells. I had a hand in its design myself. Excellent stopping power, quiet, and excellent accuracy…â€

He put it up to his eye, and took careful aim.

“Excellent accuracy…†he repeated “Oh do hold still….†He sighed, before pulling the trigger.

With a hiss of steam, the large calibre bullet flew out of the Lockwood special, shattering the shotgun, splitting it neatly in twain.

“There we go, young fellow†he said, pointing the gun squarely at him.

“Now, if you and your friend here have any further doubts about my accuracy or proficiency with this gun, since I am English, then I will be delighted to give further demonstration. Regretfully, as I have destroyed the only target I can think of, I will have to proceed to small appendages, such as fingers, or perhaps kneecaps. “ he said, sternly.

“Alternatively, you can apologise to this nice Italian gentleman here, and we can wait for the police to arrive, duly arrest you and no doubt exercise the powers of the legal system that I suppose are of reasonable robustness in this dimension†he continued.

Ҡsaid the Italian drycleaner, gathering up the items that Blakely had left and scurrying off to talk to his staff.

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Supercape Vignette:

The Leibniz Lectures

Professor Lief Liebniz was, and continues to be an academic rival of Quentin Quill’s long before he became Heavy Metal. He has appeared as a minor NPC for instance here, as well as in several vignettes and in passing.

This is all before he became Heavy Metal. And even now, he remains Liebniz, only becoming the supervillain when exposed to unusually high levels of radioactive energy. The only problem he has now is the sad story of his becoming permanently radioactive.

Freedom City University, about mid afternoon...

“And if we examine the parametric variables of the gravitational field under the parameters omega and delta squared, we can see….wake up Holby!†he snapped at the bored youth at the front of his Lecture hall.

Professor Lief Liebniz was not having a good day. He rarely had good days, even before his accident. He had a reputation as being snappy, irritable, arrogant, and backstabbing. Them of course, the accident happened.

“Unless of course you have something to add to the conversation? Hmmm? Perhaps you have read my chapter on m-theory interpretative maths and would care to share it with the class, have you? Please, I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the subject…†he sneered.

Poor Holby recoiled, turned red, and averted his eyes. He was actually afraid.

The rumours popped up every now and again, of course. Liebniz did his best to quash them. Because the rumours were true.

Liebniz was radioactive!

People who spent to long near him, well they tended to get a bit ill, needed a break. Liebniz had, of course, no intention to give anybody radiation poisoning. He was a sly, crafty and backstabbing academic, but he wasn’t about to kill anybody, not for any paper. Not even a Nobel.

Well, maybe for a…

No, not even a Nobel, he reaffirmed to himself.

Harder had been the Gieger counters that tended to go a bit wild as he walked pass. It had taken a few midnight fiddling with the equipment, to make sure they didn’t register his particular brand of radioactive activity, to sort that one out.

Still, every now and again the rumours persisted. A few years ago, he would have enjoyed them, perhaps even cultivated them, as they gave him a gravity, a little fear. Now, of course, he hated them, as they drummed home the own horror of his situation.

He could touch his beloved family, of course. But not much. He had to keep his distance. His wife knew about his condition, and it had caused tears, endless tears that still sprung up between them.

He finished off the lecture and gave Holby a dirty look, before scuttling off to his laboratory.

He sat there, silent and still for a moment. He was tired. He spent so much of his energy trying to work out where he had went wrong, and cursing himself for experimenting on himself before properly testing his findings. He was close, he knew that. So close. He could almost taste the power, and sometimes, he had dreams of huge, unstoppable power coursing through his veins and nerves, a power of the sun, of immense strength and force….

He shook his head. Just dreams, that was what they were, vivid dreams, taunting him. Maybe he had come close, but close was no good. No good at all.

He would not see his wife today. They had rationed there time together, a precaution. In a way, he valued their time together more than ever, it was beautiful, wonderful, a time when his academic battles and pride melted away. His heart ached for that serenity and love.

He shook his head again.

“Curse you Quill!†he muttered, turning his mind once again to his instruments and experiments, to see if there was any way he could spot to reverse his condition. Deep in his heart, he knew that Professor Quentin Quill was not to blame, but he had always had a bitter rivalry with the man. Unfortunately, he knew that his adversary was just as brilliant as he was in the field of high energy physics. That made them adversaries, as far as he was concerned. That jousting had enticed him to experiment early, to take the glory.

Quill was not to blame, he knew, but it sure helped him while away the lonely evenings trying to find a cure.

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NPC Spotlight

Maggie McPhail (Young Britannia’s Agent)

Edinburgh, Scotland

After the day Maggie had she though it was only fair to have a relaxing bath a glass (of two) of wine and catch up on her soups.

She’d spent the day on the phone to some two bit studio in Freedom City, Agnes was meant to have played her first TV show since her relaunch. But being Freedom City the show had been attacked by some two bit supervillian. The studio was blissfully happy that they had footing of a Supers smack down, provided by the villain herself no less, and seem less than keen on allowing Agnes another chance to play.

The thing that she had never understood was why she had chosen Maggie to handle her career after her return from the wasteland. Whilst Agnes’s wasn’t the brightest of stars she was still more successful than the local acts she normally handled. Before Agnes she would have killed for a country wide famous dancing dog, how did he manage to make success which such things?

And in Freedom she was having a measure of success her tiny music studio, Zenith Studios, was doing remarkably well. She had already had a hit with her partner and she was gaining some success in signing and promoting local acts. Most artists in that situation would just say bugger it and just manage themselves, but no not Agnes, instead she’d asked Maggie to handle the other acts she’d signed to her studio. So now she spent most of her time sorting out gigs and appearances of Freedom City acts, including a suitable amount of time in the city itself.

Still as her Uncle use to say don’t worry about the details just go for it (which was a lie he worried about everything, but his client was a pain in the arse). So she took another, generous, glass of wine and sat down on her couch. Then she saw the letter.

It was just sitting there on the table, no post mark or anything. Why would someone bother to break into her flat just to deliver a letter? After a quick look around the flat to make sure she was all alone she took her seat again, with her trusty kitchen knife, to look at this letter. It was written in a steady tidy handwriting having only her name, including her suspect middle name she normally left out, and a cryptic message that this might interest her. Well there was nothing else to do but to open the envelope and look at the contents. Inside was an old aged letter, though it took a while to figure its age it looked like modern lined paper and written in ballpoint pen, and whilst she wasn’t sure she thought she recognized the handwriting. The photograph that accompanied it that she had no problem identifying the person; it was someone she knew very well.

It was Agnes!

But just how did it happen, how did someone from the 18th century look just after her, and have her handwriting. She heard about people having double but that didn’t happen to normal people that happened to heroes…

Realization dawned and she drained her glass of wine and she automatically topped it up with a generous second. Having built up enough Dutch courage she decided to contact to one person she knew could help her deal with this.

“Hi Uncle Eddie its Maggie. Yeah I know how late it is but I need your advice on something. Look I know this sound strange but just how did you deal with a client who’s a Superhero?â€

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NPC Spotlight

Amaryllis Lumins

"World on a String"

Well it's early in the morning, full belly, clean bum!

I got my cup of Cheerios in case I want some.

Jacket, hat, diaper bag, carried out the door,

And I know where we're going cause we've been there before.

There's a warm breeze blowing and it tickles my hair

And the sun shines down, everybody's there,

Every day is such a good day...

-Jonathan Coulton, “Strollertownâ€

The morning sunlight filtered into the nursery, green and orange and pink through the walls of leaves and flowers, bouncing off the window suncatcher and sending rainbows flickering over the crib's white railings. Amaryllis woke when they hit her face, rolling and stretching before clambering to her shaky feet and hanging onto the bars for a look around. No Mama in the room, which was definitely a problem she'd need to handle soon. For now, she was content to put a few new tiny teethmarks into the railing, then drop down on her bottom on the mattress. The lights and music on her aquarium toy kept her busy for a few minutes, but eventually her own thumb was not enough sustenance to soothe her growling stomach, nor her fuzzy blue bear sufficient company. “Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!†she yelled, standing and shaking the bars like she was about to stage a prison riot. “Maaaaamaaaa!â€

It didn't take long for Mama to get the message and walk in, looking silly with her hair every which way and wearing one of Daddy's shirts. Ammy didn't remember much about Daddy, but she had been told about his clothes. Mama called her babydoll and said she was up very early, but Ammy was not impressed. If the sun was up, it was early enough to be awake and playing and eating! She suffered herself to be diapered and changed out of her pajamas and into a butter-yellow sundress, but complained bitterly when Mama brushed her wispy green hair and clipped a yellow ribbon into it. Someday, when she was big, she was never, ever going to brush her hair. With one hand wrapped firmly around Mama's fingers, she walked into the living room on her own two feet, bear in tow.

Mama put her into her high chair and gave her a pink sippy cup, which Ammy promptly relocated to the floor. She was not interested in the sippy cup when what she really wanted was her morning bottle. There was a brief battle of wills then, with Mama replacing the cup as quickly as Ammy could push it off, and that was pretty funny. She started to laugh, and Mama finally gave in and gave her the bottle. Well-pleased, Ammy magnanimously sat in her chair long enough for Mama to put clothes on, too. After that was mushy oatmeal with fruit, chased with a wet washcloth, and then Outside! Outside was always the very best part of the day. The moment they stepped outside, Ammy's hair turned greener and she began to squirm to get down. Before she could go anywhere, though, Mama used her magic and took them to see the bees.

The bee meadow was busy this morning, with all kinds of big huge bees flying around and visiting the flowers. Mama talked to some of the big bees, waving her arms and yelling up to them so they could hear her. Ammy, released to her own devices, toddled through the grass and chased the smallest baby bees, each one about the size of a large dog, as they buzzed tantalizingly just out of reach. It was fun! Sometimes they would turn too fast, unsteady on their new wings, and she'd crash right into them, and they'd all fall into the grass in a pile until Mama or one of the big bees lifted them up and sorted them out. That was especially fun. She was sad when it was time to go, chanting “Bee-bee-bee-bee†as Mama whisked them away again.

They went to the village next, where all the grownups were busy in their garden, taking fruits and vegetables and putting them in baskets. Amaryllis helped too, taking berries from a bush and putting them into her mouth, and that was very delicious. When Mama saw what she'd done to the front of her dress, she sent Ammy to play with the other children. That was fun because they shared their interesting toys with her and showed her how to put scribbles on the concrete pad outside the cookhouse with colored chalk. Someone got out the hose to try and wash away the drawings, but that just made the chalk wet and painty. By the time Mama came to get her, Ammy was pink and blue and green all over, just like the rainbows in her crib! They went home then, and Ammy got to take a bath and wear overalls with a duck on the front instead of a dress.

At lunchtime, Mama packed the basket and they went to see Tarrant, who lived in a house in the sky. Ammy liked to stand on the edge, holding Mama's hand, and look down at the grass that was far away. They ate lunch with him while Mama talked with him about things and Ammy picked up Cheerios one at a time with pincered fingers. When she got bored and restless, Tarrant slid her chair all over the room and spun it in circles until she squealed with laughter and forgot about being bored. When lunch was done, she fell asleep in a little rock grotto lined with moss, one thumb firmly in her mouth.

When Ammy woke up, she was outside again, her head bouncing gently against Mama's shoulder as they walked through the meadow outside the big church. Mama was talking with the men who lived there, making the grass grow as she walked through it, different kinds in different colors of green with every few steps. That was pretty interesting, but not nearly as interesting as what Ammy saw when she lifted her head. “Tohw!†she shouted, pointing excitedly and squirming to get down. “Tohw-tohw-towh!†As soon as Mama let her, she was down on the ground, running and crawling to get close to the big black-and-white spotted creatures who had captured her attention. The cows watched her placidly, chewing and chewing while they let her pat their soft noses and bristly legs. One of the men showed her how milk came out of a bag on the cow, but Mama would not let her touch and try for herself. That was annoying, but she did like getting a glass of milk.

After they talked with the cows, Mama took Ammy to the grocery store, which was very far away from all the other places they had gone to. Everything around the grocery store felt so very different, with less plants and way more noise and smoke and people. It made her have to fuss some, but a nice lady with an apron gave her a frosted sugar cookie, and that helped. The lady said something about her hair and Mama laughed, but Ammy was too busy to pay attention to that. They filled up their cart with groceries, and then they went in the line and Mama gave a man a plastic card and he gave Ammy two smiley-face stickers.

When all of the day's errands were taken care of, Mama and Ammy went home to their leaf house once again, to put away the groceries and play and relax. After dinner, Ammy was starting to feel tired when the phone rang. Mama answered it, and she was very excited because it was Daddy. She gave Ammy the phone, and Ammy listened for a moment to the semi-familiar voice on the other end, then gave the phone back and wandered away. Phones were fun, but only up to a point. As the sun went down and the bugs started singing, Mama put Ammy into her pajamas and laid her down in the crib with a kiss. It had been a very adventuresome day!

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The Poser.

Rene deSaens and Lord Steam.

“Stop the Car here, Singh. This is the address!†said Lord Steam, spying the tall, old building that belonged to Rene deSaens.

On something of a whim, he had decided to get his portrait done.

The Day before, in Steam Manor.

“You see, Blakely†he had said, perusing the hall with his trusted butler. “This old place needs a bit of class, a bit of classical class, if you know what I mean. This dimension is all very well, and what-not, but it lacks a bit of culture, if you know what I mean. All this modern nonsense. Modern Art, Modern Music, you know what I mean, Blakely…â€

“Indeed Sir†said Blakely, the epitome of politeness. He would have answered with similar diplomacy even if he had not agreed with the Lord, but on this occasion, he was, he admitted, in total agreement.

“So, I thought I would have my portrait done, classical style. Put it, oh, I don’t know, about…there…†he said, waving his cane at the most visible part of the Entrance hall, above the staircase.

“Very good Sir. Shows Decorum†answered Blakely, his face impassive.

“Well, well†said Lord Steam, giving his Butler a sideways, knowing look. “I shall ask Ms. Dove, she seems to know all about this Art stuff. She seems to have taste, too, more importantly. Standards. Very important!†he concluded, and whisked off to see his Housekeeper, Ms. Molly Dove.

Present Day, outside Rene deSaens House.

Lord Steam rapped on the door firmly with his cane. Three times, getting progressively more impatient with each knock.

“Really Blakely, some people have no manners at all. I arranged to meet Mr. DeSaens at this time, and now the Blasted fool isn’t answering the do…ah, how do you Mr. DeSaens, a delight to meet you!†he said, smoothly easing into a polite bow and pleasantries as the aged Painter opened the door.

“Monsieur le Steam, I presume?†said Rene, peering at the fop.

The two men studied each other for a moment. Neither was a fool.

Neither was foolish enough to think the other was a fool, either.

And both were wise enough to see the that they both played a little bit of a fool. Because that was wise.

“Indeed I am†said Lord Steam, bowing deeply. “May we enter? What a charming little establishment you have in here, full of character. The light streams in with such ambience doesn’t it…†his words projected him into Rene’s home with a flamboyant bravado, as he passed the old man and walked up the stairs into Rene’s painting studio.

“Magnificent, magnificent!†said Lord Steam, inspecting some of Rene’s work. He meant it to. He was hardly an expert on Art, but he could recognise class when he saw it.

“Classical with an Impressionistic streak, I would say, wouldn’t you Blakely?â€

“Very good Sir†said Blakely, to both Rene and Steam.

Rene followed Lord Steam and his butler up to his Studio, mumbling under his breath.

“I see Monsieur le Steam has found ze Studio. It is a credit to his enthusiasm, to be so eager as to dispense with ze formalities, such as invitations…†he sighed, setting himself down and wiping clean his glasses.

“Ah yes, Mr. DeSaens, do forgive my intrusionâ€, said Lord Steam setting himself down.

“It is just that I am in dire need of a portrait, and I had come to understand that you were precisely what I was looking for!†he said, a broad smile on his lips.

“And, from my admittedly rather cursory examination of your tradecraft here, I can only conclude I was not wrong in my estimation of your talent. No! not only your talent, sir, but your style!â€

Rene could not help but smile. Lord Steam was flattering him, and they both knew it. But they also both knew that it would work. When it came to his art, Rene could not help his passion, and his pride.

“Indeed Monsieur†he said, rising quickly to his feet, the faux-stiffness of the past few minutes evaporating in his enthusiasm.

“I can assure you that if you wish to have your Portrait taken, then I will produce nothing less than a masterpiece, Monsieur!â€

Lord Steam sat back slightly, smiling.

“Excellent, excellent. I will of course reimburse you financially for your efforts. But as to the style, may I ask what you propose?â€

“Indeed Monsieur LeSteam. I am not, I confess, a fan of ze Modern style. All madness and obscure, ze form progressively hidden behind layer after layer, until no form is left and one has nothing to see. Non, Sir! Non! I will paint in the style as is my custom. A portrait! A classical one, and yet, as you can see, I aim to capture ze Essence of my subject, rather than just ze form!â€

“Formidable!†said Lord Steam. “You see Blakely, I knew this man was what I wanted!†he enthused, clapping his hands.

“Indeed Sir†said Blakely. “Ms. Dove will be most impressed with your choice…†he said, voice dry and innocent, yet rich with implication.

“Yes, yes†acknowledged Lord Steam “Ms. Dove did do an excellent job finding him. Credit to her. She is quite spiffy†he said, acknowledging her work with a little irritation at having been cut down by his butler.

He knew, really, that that was why he employed such top rate staff. They stopped him getting too pompous.

He took off his Jacket, leaving his waistcoat, and threw back his hair.

“So, how does this look?†he asked Rene, striking a pompous pose.

“Excellent, excellent, it certainly captures ze spirit…†said Rene, smiling. He had a sense of the man. A fop, a pompous fop, an immodest man, but with little to be modest about. The man was brilliant, in his own way. He reminded him of Oscar Wilder, all those years ago.

“Ah, Oscar, I miss youâ€â€¦ he whispered to himself as he pulled out his easel and started the preliminary sketches.

“If Sir could just continue that pose†he said, chuckling to himself as the first lines appeared on the canvas “I can capture the poser perfectly!†he said, ducking behind the canvas as he finished off the sentence.

“See Blakely? I knew I would be a good poser!†said Lord Steam, holding his chin up high and looking proudly at the imaginary distance.

“I knew it too sir†said Blakely, wandering off, with Rene’s permission, to make some Tea and read the Times.

A few weeks later, Steam Manor.

“A Masterpiece!†declared Lord Steam at the unveiling. Indeed it was, a classical painting, four feet by two, showing Lord Steam in his glory. Somehow it did manage to capture the man’s essence… a genius, a genius who knew it, but somehow did it with a smile and a charm that carried people along with him rather than crushed them underfoot.

Lord Steam lead the round of applause alongside his staff, Blakely and Dove being the most vocal in their show of appreciation.

And so, there it stood, at the entrance hall of Steam Manor. A Masterpiece by Monsieur Rene deSaens entitled “The Poserâ€.

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PC Meetup (Nick Cimitiere/Cannonade/Temperance)

Time to Murder and Create

June 22nd, 2012

The Fens was not the kind of place Cannonade usually liked to spend his time, but he could live with it. People usually liked to say that every disaster that visited Freedom was twofold – there was the initial carnage, and then there was the fact that none of that carnage had leveled the Fens. But a place like this would exist anywhere. Vice would always find a way to flourish, and people would always need a place to live, no matter what their neighbors were like. There’d always be somewhere with a finger in the pie, but you just had to made sure those guys got out of the game. Simple as that.

Then again, it wasn’t anything so simple that brought him to the Fens tonight. Death had come to the streets here. A man had been found shot to death in his car, with the damage done to his body being extensive, to say the least. Soon after, a number of men – operating under the cloak of anonymity, of course – had reported similar incidents to the FCPD, and it wasn’t long after that the press had found out. There was already talk of a novice serial killer stalking the streets of Freedom, targeting johns and other citizens of the night.

This wasn’t Cannonade’s forte, to say the least. He didn’t know how to read a crime scene. The best option he had for following leads was to glare at crooks really hard and hope they cracked. He’d read all he could on the articles and realized that the killer could be traced to a three block radius – then again, so had the cops, which was why a black Crown Victoria kept circling around the corner. There were other places he could have expended his efforts, but… well, people were dying here. He had to do something.

He was looking down on Cooper when he heard the scream. He was trying to place it when it rang out again – deep reaching for high, a man’s scream. It was reaching out through the window a few stories down. The man in question was crawling towards the window, facing towards his assailant.

“Linda, please…â€

“Linda doesn’t care anymore. Linda has had it with you. And her. She’ll be home soon. So die quickly, will you? The axe is hungry, and I need to feed it…â€

Cannonade leaped down, grabbing the fire escape with one hand, and swung in, crashing through the window. He’d been expecting some run-down hotel or clapboard apartment. He got the apartment, all right. He just hadn’t been expecting to find himself face to face with a teenage girl wearing club wear and wielding a fire axe.

“You? What are you doing here?â€

“Well, I was passing through the neighborhood, and I could hear you being crazy from the street. Figured I’d stop by and shut it up.â€

The girl dove forward – too fast. Cannonade stood his ground, trying to take the blow of the axe so it wouldn’t find its real target. He reached his arm out to try and catch it – and quickly withdrew his hand. Pain raced up his arm like lightning, and he caught a good glimpse of his palm. It was bleeding, and the cut was deep.

How the hell did she cut through…? Another frenzied blow came, but he had the good sense to try and duck out of the way this time. Linda wanted to get at the man, but Cannonade was doing all he could to get out of her way while avoiding getting chopped to bits by her nasty axe. He kicked at her legs, knocking her to the ground - but she swung back with the handle, catching him in the knee and sending him staggering. Why did it hurt this much?

“Goodbye, little Spartan. Choose your chivalry better.â€

She raised her axe high when the door behind her burst open. A man clad in black stood in the door frame, his face white like a skull. “Well, this is one hell of a family portrait. Didn’t think you’d be the homewrecking type, Jack.â€

“Go away, necromancer. This isn’t -- â€

“I dare you to finish that sentence. Oh, wait. I don’t need to hear it.†He raised his hand and began chanting someone Cannonade couldn’t make out, something old and primal. Linda began screaming, clutching her ears. After close to a minute of agonized bellowing, she fell to the ground, barely conscious. The man stood up, looking at the sight.

“Linda…†He looked to the necromancer. “Is my daughter okay?â€

“No,†the man in black said. He spun her over; deep cuts were blossoming on her body, like she’d been attacked all over by knives. “Not yet.†He put his hand to Linda’s neck, and a slick fluid began to pour out of his fingertips. It was gauzy, almost insubstantial, but thick like jelly; it began to flow into the wounds, and soon, they were knitting back up. “She’s stable. But she still needs help. Good to see you again, Cannonade.â€

“You too, Nick. You need me to get her somewhere?â€

“Hospital. Parker and LaGrange. She should be stable. Meet me outside the Dunkin’ Donuts on Killhaven in an hour. We need to talk.â€

Cannonade didn’t even stop to question it. If there was weird crap afoot, Nick Cimitiere likely knew what it was. He took the wounded girl, ran down the stairs, and hit the streets. He had a feeling the night wasn’t going to be over for a while.


An hour later, after explaining the weird situation to the attending nurses and filling out the usual witness forms, Cannonade trudged back to the Dunkin’ Donuts. Nick was waiting outside, juggling a chocolate donut in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

“Not bad,†he said. “Not excellent, but not bad.†He looked up to Cannonade. “You want something?â€

“I’ll pay my own way. Think we should get a booth?â€

“Kind of ruins the mystique. I prefer to do my stuff in back alleys and abandoned buildings. I’ve got an image to maintain, after all. Then again, I bet these guys have seen weirder stuff, so…â€

About a minute later, they were tucked into a back corner booth where it seemed every poet with a pen or a knife had tried to leave a memento for the ages. Cannonade chugged down a caramel latte as Nick watched. He scratched at the bandage the nurses had put on the wound – he wasn’t used to being cut like that. Beaten half to crap, sure. But not cut.

“So. What was with that little exorcist act back there?â€

“Definitely not an act. You’ve heard stories of Bloody Jack, right?â€

“Man, who hasn’t? Guy was the darkest bit of a dark time.â€

“Yeah, thing is, there’s always been a Bloody Jack. All the way back to the original Jack.â€

Cannonade raised a hand. “Wait. You’re telling me this guy was Jack the Ripper?â€

“Not just that. Bunch of other killers, all the world over. Long before that, though, he was one of Hades’s model prisoners. No one, not even the Fates, knows what he was called before. Not that it matters – apparently, Hades stripped out everything that wasn’t designed for murder. Remade him as Jack-a-Knives. Guy has a tendency for pushing his hosts until they break – and if he has to get out of town, he’s usually the guy doing the breaking.â€

“So why’d he take the girl?â€

“I’m guessing because he was in the area. Those killings that have been going on in the Fens? I did some digging. Method of execution seemed similar enough, as well as the would-be victims. You ever hear of Aileen Wuornos?â€

“Yeah, saw the movie they made about her. Wait, you’re not telling me that was one of Jack’s?â€

“No. It really wasn’t. Which leaves me wondering why he’s doing this. He’s not usually the one to copycat.â€

“You’re the man of death, are you?â€

Nick and Cannonade turned to see a girl standing in the doorway. She must be have been about high school age, black, with her hair in dreads. She was dressed in a dark blue peacoat over slightly lighter morphic armor. It was the mask that really stood out, though. Some elegant monstrosity made of ice so thick it was practically opaque.

“They told me I might find you here.â€

“All right. What sort of ‘they’ are we talking about?â€

“The Court of Furor.†She walked over to their table with a deliberate stride – Cannonade couldn’t tell if she felt she was too cool for the place, or if she was trying to avoid some kind of mine field only she could see. She stood before them, not bothering to take a seat. “They’re interested in what’s going on here. It’s their bread and butter.â€

“The ‘Court’?†Nick studied the girl closely. “You’re talking about spirits, aren’t you?â€

“Not your kind of spirits, but yes.†She extended her hand. “My name is Temperance.â€

“Nick Cimitiere. The guy in the helmet is -- â€

“Cannonade. Yes, I’m aware. He’s a local.â€

Cannonade raised a hand. “All right, I know this isn’t my department,†he said, “but if they’re not his spirits, then what kind of spirits are we talking about here? You mean like native stuff?â€

“Native, Shinto, voodoo,†said Temperance, “all faiths that focus on the invisible actors. To everything in this world, there is a spirit. Spirits of earth and wind, spirits of steel and plastic, spirits of hope and fear.â€

Cannonade studied her mask. “Guessing you’re with the spirits of ice, huh.â€

“Something like that, yes. Then again, I’m not here to flash my union card.†She took a look out the window. “Come to think of it, I’m not usually here much at all. But when word comes down the grapevine…"

“What sort of word?†asked Nick.

“Something big is building. The Furors have a one-track mind; best way they could put it was ‘a riot before the first brick.’ They pointed their way to here.â€

“Anything more specific than ‘here’?â€

“I was dealing with a bunch of low-stakes players whose sense of direction is limited to ‘towards the bloodshed’ and ‘away from it.’ But they did give me a name…â€


We don’t get many of the elementals here.

The woman – at least, it looked like a woman – danced in the shadows of the alleyway. She wore a dress that showed incredible flesh in all the right places, and her hair shifted colors whenever Nick and Cannonade took another look at it. But where her face should have been was a porcelain mask, the lips never moving but the makeup painted across it shifting like the tides.

“I’m here on business, Mother of Sighs,†said Temperance. “Word has arrived at my court through the Furors. I felt a need to investigate.â€

Hmm. I would have expected someone… bolder.

Beneath her heavy mask, Temperance’s eyes rolled. “You take what you can get. I imagine what’s been going on isn’t good for your sphere.â€

No. It’s not. But you know the rules. Everyone who wants something has got to pay.

“You have to be kidding me.â€

It’s in my nature, little stream. I cannot pass it over any more than you could let a fire burn.

With a sigh, Temperance reached into her coat for her wallet.

“Is that thing telling the truth?†whispered Cannonade to Nick.

“How should I know?†said Nick. “The spirit courts aren’t exactly my wheelhouse.â€

“Hey, you’ve got more of a claim to this stuff than I do.â€

As Temperance kept digging through her pockets, Nick stepped forward, tossing a twenty to Mother of Sighs. Big spender.

“Keep the change. Now, what is it you’ve heard?â€

My girls know never to go near a warehouse, even under the best of circumstances. But the one off of Talent is… something special. Even I can sense what’s going on there.

“And what would that be?â€



The lock fell quickly under Cannonade’s hand. The warehouse at Talent had long been abandoned to legitimate business, and even organized interests had drifted from its shelter. And when the stench of an abattoir hit him like a ton of bricks, he had a good idea of why.

“Someone get a light on!†he called out.

Blue flame licked from Nick’s hand, casting an unearthly pall over the whole place. The walls were run all over with blood, ranging from nonsensical phrases – Temperance, in between her strong urges to get the hell out of there, swore she saw “HELTER SKELTER†in one corner – to sigils and glyphs. In the middle of the room sat a large glass urn, filled to the rim with a dark golden fluid.

Nick stepped forward to inspect the blood. “It’s cattle,†he said. “Mostly. Whatever happened to using a pen?â€

“Not funny.â€

“A lot of what I do isn’t. You’ve gotta find a way to cope.â€

“Yeah, yeah.†Cannonade’s attention was drawn to a fairly detailed symbol, one that all the text seemed to be drawing towards. A humanoid figure stood astride the world, two faces looking out from one head. One side, the left, held a sword and had a man’s features; the other, the right, held a scepter and had a woman’s features. “Huh. Looks like one of those posters from those old freak shows. 'See the Half-Man, Half-Woman.â€

Nick turned to the symbol. “It’s not,†he said. “It’s a rebis. Alchemical symbol, meant to represent… Temperance!â€

“What is it?â€

“Any chance you can freeze that vat?â€

Temperance raised her hands and, with a bit of effort, worked her will into the strange liquid. It wasn’t quite water – it was a hell of a lot more viscous, for one thing – but it was able to freeze like it. Eventually. And as it did, something can into sight within the ice.

It was a woman. Or rather, the impression of one. An empty space in the air that formed the general impression of the female form.

“Rebis. Marriage of male and female halves. Jack’s making a bride.â€

“How the hell can he even do that?â€

“Spirits are often born from platonic needs,†said Temperance. “Something comes into being as flesh or thought, and it needs a force to represent it in the invisible realms.†She tried to keep a level tone, but she was still backing away slowly from the giant urn. “Of course, then there are occasions where you can force the birth. Create a forest fire, suddenly the Court of Embers gets a new member.â€

“The murders. The killings in the Fens were copying Aileen Wuornos. The girl we exorcised was probably a take on Lizzie Borden.â€

“Thought they figured out she was innocent.â€

“Doesn’t matter. Spirits are born of belief and of truth. If he just wants to do famous murders, it doesn’t matter if she did it. Just that everyone believes she did.â€

“Give the girl a prize.â€

The three turned to see the figure standing in the doorway. He was a shadow made real, blood dripping from his fingers and running across his lower face in a parody of a smile. “You’ve intruded on my bride’s chamber. Once men went to war over such insults.â€

Nick raised his hand in a warding gesture, but a dagger went flying from the darkness, piercing his jacket’s sleeve and pinning it to the wall. “I have no host, necromancer, and this is my demesne. You cannot abjure me or banish me. This is my home. And I have no patience for trespassers.â€

“Well,†said Nick, “guess I’ll have to settle for beating you to a damp stain.†The flame on his fingers flashed out, charging towards Jack in a bolt. The murder spirit dodged, and the blue fire caught on a wall, illuminating the dread spectacle. The spirit swept towards Cannonade’s form.

“I know what you have tasted…â€

Before the spirit could make contact, Cannonade was in mid-air, leaping over the shadow. It was fast, but he was faster.

“Yeah, and you’re not gonna get your hands on it.†He landed next to the giant urn, his eyes falling on the figure within it. He could swear it was moving. That didn’t help. “What is this stuff, brake fluid?â€

“A meal fit for a goddess,†said Jack, as he dove towards Cannonade once more. The helmed hero was dodging the spirit’s blows, but one connection would turn him into a puppet. Temperance waved her hands, and the urn went flying. It didn’t surprise her that it went right through Jack. It did surprise her when the frozen mass caught against his form, causing him to grunt in pain. The urn cracked where the force of the blow carried through the other side, then fell to the ground.

“Ichor!†cried Nick. “It’s divine blood! It affects the unreal!â€

“Yeah,†said Cannonade. “I got the idea.†He picked up the frozen vase and brought it down on Jack’s head. The spirit fell to the ground with a satisfying thud, and tried crawling towards Cannonade’s feet. He dropped the vase, catching Jack’s hands under it. As he stepped clear, the ice within cracked slightly, frozen daggers flying into the air. With a flick of her hand, Temperance sent the inky shards into Jack’s corpus, piercing him in several places. Cannonade took advantage of the opportunity to bring the whole thing down on Jack’s head –

-- shattering the vase. And the ice within.

A horrible shriek rang out through the warehouse. The form of Jack’s intended bride fell out of the ice, an imprint on the empty air rather than the congealed shadow of Jack. She struck at the empty air, trying to find something she could kill. She dived at Cannonade, but was knocked to the ground by a shard of ichor the size of a soccer ball – Temperance’s work.

“What have you done?†said Jack. “She’s not ready yet!â€

The invisible thing turned towards Jack and dove at him. She began to claw at his chest, rending the shadow apart. Jack struck back in turn, his blades cutting into the impression in mid-air. Their forms rent and merged, flowing into one another, until even that amalgamation was ripped apart. Soon, there was nothing left but empty air.

“Where’d they go?†asked Cannonade.

“Hopefully, they’re both honeymooning in Hell.†Nick unpinned his sleeve from the wall and stepped over to where the two murder spirits had torn each other apart. “Feels a bit… final here. I hope they’ve both taken care of each other… but this guy’s got a tendency to come back.â€

“I’ll put my feelers about amongst the violence spirits,†said Temperance. “I can’t guarantee any results, though.â€

“Yeah, I’ve got a feeling about that.†He looked to the ichor, which was quickly starting to melt and sublimate into the air. “Somehow I doubt Jack got all that from an unwilling victim. I think it might have been a contribution. A little wedding gift from Hades.â€

“Great. That guy.†Cannonade looked around the now empty warehouse. “Any idea what we’re gonna do about this crap?â€

“This place needs to be purified,†Temperance said. “It will take some time. Perhaps the whole night.â€

“Anything I can do?â€

“Well,†Nick said, “we’re gonna have to destroy whatever Jack wove into the walls. I don’t think any of the walls he wrote on are load-bearing…â€

Cannonade cracked his knuckles. “Now you’re speaking my language.â€

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NPC Limelight

Galanta Sondo

Fists of Justice!

Freedom City, Lincoln, June 20th, 7.45 PM

Alexander had known for the last two blocks that he was being followed. He had felt the cold, scornful eyes watching him, heard the rasp of sneakers on concrete, seen out of the corners of his brown eyes glimpses of their movements. His tormentors, his nemeses, his devils: Horatio 'Hacker' and his vicious gang of like-minded brutes, careless abusers of a natural strength slightly greater than their fellow man. Well, as far as 'high-school junior' counted as 'man''.

They had started out small, Alex remembered as he quickened his pace, trying to get a little room to maneuver as the feeling of being slowly cornered grew. They had begun a few months ago, just intimidating other students into handing over change or food, only the threat of violence being used to get their way. There had already been several of them, and their ganging-up tactics meant most opposition was quickly cowed by the implausibility of beating the all at once.

He could hear them getting closer, the indeterminate sounds of whispered human speech catching in his ears partially hidden behind thick black hair. His breathing quickened as his pace lengthened, as his steps accelerated. He remembered when the worst that he had to fear from them was a smack. But now...now they carried clubs, there were rumors of threats against families, and they were suspected in at least one attempted murder.

Suddenly, he heard as clear as day behind him the words, spoken so causally they gave a demonic tinge to the syllables "What are we gonna break on him?"

He threw his school backpack aside and bent all his sixteen years-worth of muscle into running as fast as he could, feet pounding the concrete as he dashed by shops in the dusk.


Galanta Sondo walked briskly down the street. Her jacket hung loosely from her shoulders, battered sneakers crunching the pavement beneath her feet, tan shorts and grey t-shirt slightly stained from the day's exertions, and a pair of fingerless gloves stuffed in a shorts' pocket.

A good day! she thought cheerfully, I taught that jerk on the soccer team a lesson, stopped a robbery at the grocery store, and even managed to catch those purse-snatchers down around the burger place by the school! she suddenly leaped six feet into the air, performing a brutal kick into the stomach of an imaginary foe before landing in a neat roll, jumping back to her feet with a a nod of satisfaction. Her dark eyes combed the scenery of low apartment buildings and scattered stores, when she noticed a small cluster of young men in a semi-circle before a lightly-graffitied brick wall next to an old video store across the worn street from her. She instantly changed course, striding purposefully towards them, gloves sliding neatly onto her hands as she got closer.

Nearing the huddle on the grimy driveway, she saw one of them, a tall, strongly-built youth with a harsh face dominated by a short scar on one cheek draw back their left foot and sent it lashing out, which provoked a cry from an unseen figure on the ground, and a derisive laugh from the tormentors. "Kick 'im again Hacker!" yelled one of the others, getting a sharp grin from the one designated 'Hacker', who drew back his entire leg for a punishing kick...

*WHAMWHACKTHUD* He was interrupted by a punch the gut, followed up by stomp on his back as he doubled over, and a kick that sent him rolling across the driveway, gasping in pain and surprise, staring blearily at the figure who had attacked him. The other gang members were already hurriedly retreating from her, staring at the tall, surprisingly muscular Hispanic teen with her thick, curly black hair pulled back into a single short braid, a broad and homely face and muscular neck marked with several scars, and a very pleasant smile. "Hey there!" she said to them, arms folded in front of her chest "What're you guys doing? Not beating up helpless dudes, I hope!" she looked with real concern at the bloodied and bruised figure huddled on the cracked pavement, moaning softly in pain as he looked fearfully out at her with no little awe. "This guy asked you to kick him, did he?" she asked challengingly, looking them each in the eye with one of hers, at which each of the gangster-accoutered teens looked away, at the ground, or somewhere over her shoulder, putting on the best faces they could. "N-no, b-but he was, uh..he was asking for it!" declared one of the taller members with a blue bandanna wrapped around his long curly hair, getting a furious look from the others.

That look was a mistake.

In an instant Galanta had shot into their midst, grabbed the speaker by one of his arms, tucked her left leg behind his right, flipped him brusquely to the ground and ducked. The makeshift club she had seen the closest gang member drawing whistled viciously over her head, which she drove with tremendous force into the sternum of her attacker, sending him crashing to the ground, wheezing for breath. In a moment the other gang members realized that if they didn't press their superior numbers, they would lose.

As one, they brandished their weapons and charged, a chorus of wild yells splitting the dusk air! Merrily answering the yell with one of her own, she dove into the fray, sweeping the legs out from under the first two, strafing around to the backs of their three comrades to heartily slam their heads together, gave a vicious backhand to a cleverer gang member with a cloth mask who had hung back to try and take her from behind, and spun on her heel to confront the two she had dropped at the start. They had clambered to their feet ready to avenge their speedy removal, but quailed even faster at the cold gleam in the eyes of their enemy, reinforced by the fallen comrades surrounding her and the smears of blood on her hands. Dropping their weapons they turned to flee, only for a colossal impact to their backs to send them crashing back to their previous resting place.

Dusting off her hands Galanta walked calmly up to Hacker, who was painfully pulling himself back to his feet. Idly knocking the lean knife he was clutching from his hand, she said to him "Now then, let this be a lesson to you", punctuated the 'this' with a punch to the face that cast him sprawling back down, and hastened over to the still figure of Alexander, who had been staring at the proceedings in amazement, his hurts all but forgotten. With a whisper of "Just a sec" the girl jogged into the shop she had been fighting next to, her appearance meriting hardly a glance fromt he busily browsing patrons or the middle-aged and distinguished-looking clerk at the cash register. It hadn't taken Galanta long to figure out the need to let people know about what she did, and so with no restraint at all she called over to the man at the register "Hey, Percy! I just stopped a gang of douchebags in the driveway, could you take care of that?" she asked with a winning grin, which got a round of good-natured chuckles from the patrons and a roll of the eyes from 'Percy', who answered with exaggerated weariness "Yes, M'Lady Sondo." "You're a pal Percy, good night!" laughed Galanta as she dashed back to the roughed-up kid. Dropping to her knees beside him she asked softly "What's your name? You gonna be okay? I can help you get home" Galanta offered kindly, supporting him as he got slowly to his knees, and then his feet. Shaking his head slowly, Alexander managed to gasp out "Al-Alex. No, ah-I'll be 'kay", and he began to walk slowly to the sidewalk to resume his trek home.

A call from behind stopped him, and turning he saw his backpack held in front of his face "Don't forget about this! I found it by that coffee shop" a thumb over the shoulder towards the visible rear of the upscale place few people in Lincoln actually went to, the . Slinging the pack over her own shoulder Galanta continued "You look pretty beat, I'll carry this for ya 'til we get to your place." Alex stared blankly at her, his long and thick hair filled with grit and partially obscuring his face, and nodded once.

Trudging up the low hill, the self-proclaimed champion of the downtrodden glanced proudly back at her handiwork. She had even rescued an innocent in distress! Gotta tell Subito about this, he'll be sooo jealous! she thought gleefully. She laughed aloud, for no specific reason.

The End

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Robot Rumpus

(NPC Limelight; Puppy [Dragonfly, Fox] / Emerson [Miss Americana, Electra])

Late nights were a way of life for many of the scientists at The Lab, but even so, nighttimes brought dimmed corridors, locked entrances, and a general scarcity of people. That didn’t mean there was nothing stirring, however. In the shadows on the secured fifth floor, a vent cover popped open just long enough to disgorge a small machine, wedge-shaped and with a single blinking red diode on the pointed front. Humming softly, it sped down the corridor, searching for a single unshielded terminal that it could use to gather information. No human eye was around to see it, and its tiny size and travel pattern kept it out of range of the security pickups. Nothing stood between it and the espionage it had been designed for.

Fortunately - or not, if one was a spy - not everything in the building had to stand to be in the way. Puppy wasn’t a too-unfamiliar sight in the halls of the Lab - every so often Dragonfly would bring him along (for ‘exercise’) when she expected to be working late. It seemed to enjoy the late hours, when it could roll its round plastic body around the halls, mapping out the building and not getting under anybody’s feet.

The little robot may not have had hands, or legs, or a proper voice, but what he did have was a single, glowing eye that took up a rather large portion of the space inside his body; that and a curious mind were enough to catch sight of the zooming wedge almost as soon as it came into view. Puppy trilled, fixing its gaze on the intruder and hesitantly maneuvering after it. Something interesting! A new friend?

The little wedge-shaped machine seemed to take no notice of Puppy for a little while, tracking across the floor and using its sensors to probe for data lines. As it traced its way along the floor, it finally smacked right into the increasingly-assertive Puppy, nearly sliding right under the spherical robot. It backed off hastily, scanning this new unknown. As Puppy approached again, the wedge robot unfolded a servo and brandished a tiny, sparking arc welder in a threatening manner, then rolled away once more.

THAT wasn’t very friendly! Puppy only followed it a couple of inches before halting, nervously edging side to side as he tried to figure out what to do. His new not-friend probably wasn’t supposed to be here if it was being so mean, but Puppy was unarmed in every sense of the word - he just wasn’t equipped for this sort of thing. And his Builder was probably locked in Her lab, with the loud music on.... He fretted for a moment more before turning around and taking off to find somebody, anybody, who could do something about little weapon-wielding robo-rodents.

There weren’t many options at this hour. A security guard sat at the booth, but he just smiled at Puppy and gave the robot a friendly toe-nudge when it began bumping his feet. “G’wan now,†he told Puppy, “I’m working here. I’d throw a ball for you, but you already got one!†No help there. Puppy took the dumbwaiter tubes to the next floor up, popping out in Misamericana’s main lab. The lights were on in here, but Misamericana herself was inactive, slumped in a chair with her eyes closed. Puppy knew from experience that a human in such a state ought not be disturbed.

Before Puppy could leave to look elsewhere, though, Emerson rolled up. Emerson was a much bigger robot than Puppy; Emerson stood as tall as a human’s waist when his neck was fully extended. With durable treads, a barrel-shaped body, and several multipurpose servos for arms, he was an excellent lab assistant robot, and he took pride in his work. Right now, Emerson’s job was to keep the Lab in order and his boss undisturbed, a mission threatened by the presence of the small, round interloper. He pivoted on his treads, tipping his body forward to get a better look, and beeped inquisitively.

Puppy gazed upwards, eye refocusing as he sized his fellow robot up. Emerson wasn’t human, but he had arms! That might do. He backed up, turning to roll toward the door before rotating back to give Emerson a meaningful, distressed look and a stressed chirping noise as he backed up another couple feet toward the hallway.

The processor light on Emerson’s chassis strobed blue for a moment as he processed the behavior of the little round robot. He swivelled his head towards Miss Americana, who seemed unlikely to reactivate anytime soon, perhaps not until morning. All tasks in the lab were done, so his processors permitted him to seek alternative stimulation. If nothing else, Puppy’s behavior was interesting and worth exploring. Tucking his arms and head down to avoid catching them on anything during travel, he hitched up his chassis and rolled after Puppy, pausing only to secure the door to the lab behind him.

Puppy had come a long way since his days of repeatedly banging against things as he aimlessly rolled around a warehouse floor: his path back to where he’d seen the wedge was swift and precise, even considering that Emerson couldn’t take shortcuts through the dumbwaiters. From there it was just a matter of heading in the direction the little spybot had been going last he’d seen it, searching and seeking with his giant friend in tow until, finally, the little vermin was in sight.

The wedge-shaped robot had been busy in Puppy’s absence! It had rolled further along the corridor until it found a power outlet, then unscrewed the housing with a slender tool to reveal the wires inside. Now it was picking its way through the wires, searching for the optical cables that would feed it data.

Emerson let out a whoop of alarm upon seeing the intruder robot, his processor lights going red and flashing. Ordinarily this would’ve triggered an alarm for Miss Americana to see, but her consciousness was otherwise occupied this evening. The wedge robot spun on its treads, sizing up this new threat. Once again it raised its arc welder, only to have Emerson produce one of his own, substantially larger. He poked at the wedge robot, only to have the welder bounce off a forcefield surrounding the little machine. Emerson peeped indignation at such an unfair tactic.

Puppy actually seemed to growl, though his relatively primitive speaker gave it a decidedly electronic, chirpy tone. This was his building and he wasn’t going to have vermin here! The series of little tracks he used to manipulate the inside of his ball rearranged themselves, aligning and spinning in opposite directions to unscrew his own clear spherical case along some nearly-invisible seam. The top half of his over-engineered high-durability plastic bubble popped away, rolling toward Emerson as the newly-exposed Puppy balanced back on what remained on his shell. If you couldn’t smoosh vermin....

Emerson’s processor light strobed for a moment, but he was no dumb cookie. In a moment, he’d tucked away the welding tool and picked up the half-bubble. The wedge robot wasn’t quite as quick on the uptake, and, apparently thinking its forcefield conferred sufficient protection, turned to go back to work. Conveying an air of great robotic nonchalance, Emerson rolled up next to it, inverting the bubble in his servos. Quicker than the human eye could process, he brought the bubble down over the wedge robot, trapping it like an insect under glass.

The wedge robot whirred angrily, jabbing its arc welder into the bubble wall as it accelerated into the side of its prison again and again. The transparent bubble didn’t so much as scuff under the rough treatment. With one servo still holding the bubble in place, Emerson looked over towards Puppy, his processor light the clear green of a job well done.

It took a while for the night security to discover the robotic duo and their well-caught prisoner, but when they did it was certainly a sight: Emerson and Puppy, sitting proudly and patiently next to the little wedge, the former making sure the little machine stayed put and the latter trying to keep his balance on half a shell with his gears and working bits exposed. The mighty, clever defenders of the Lab. The heroes!

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NPC Spotlight

Sonya Sokolova

Corpsman Up!

Freedom League HQ, Freedom City

June 8, 2012

09:40 Eastern Standard Time

Sonya Sokolova, Lieutenant of UNISON, medic, and one of a few liaisons to the Freedom League for the international aid agency, was rather bored. She'd filled out all her paperwork for the day, had no meetings scheduled, was on a “liaison-only†rotation (to allow her a bit more rest and free time), and wasn't expecting contact from her boyfriend Carson until around noon. She was currently alternating between a crossword puzzle and the latest David Weber novel; every once in a while she checked the phone for messages, the group email, and glanced around to make sure no one was waiting patiently for her to talk to them.

Of course, right as she was hitting her stride in the book, going through one of the most interesting parts, the phone rang. She instantly marked her place and put the book aside, because the phone hadn't used the normal tone; instead, it had the more urgent sound of an emergency call.

“This is Lieutenant Sokolova. What's going on?â€

“Lieutenant! We need you to contact Agent Lucas! We're under attack from mercenaries, and they've got a couple of meta-humans with them! We're at the Delta Relief Site over in Africa; we were doing one of our normal deliveries of food and medical supplies. No idea why they hit us, but we need help now!â€

“Understood. We'll be there shortly.â€

Sonya quickly dialed the powerful young UNISON agent, who was almost immediately there at the HQ. Sonya took only a moment to secure her workstation until the backup agent could get in the office, before grabbing the emergency medical pack she always had with her and nodding at Mark Lucas.

Then the world dissolved in a riot of color and not-color...

Delta Relief Site

It was chaos when they arrived; Mark's good fortune set them down inside the temporary building used to help distribute needed supplies, which was currently set up to house wounded agents. There was one over-worked field medic, but he was clearly not keeping up. He gave a sigh of relief when he notice Sonya and Mark.

“Thank the Lord. They're outside; hurry, please go help them!â€

Mark was off to the fit with barely a word, and while the people inside couldn't hear the fight, the sounds certainly became...interesting. Sonya herself rushed to help the exhausted man tending the wounded; she handed him her supply bag for the moment, while she slipped on some sterile gloves and got to work using her unique gift. As soon as the person with the worst injuries was pointed out, she got to work, a green glow surrounding the man with a couple of major bullet wounds, the reflected light giving the whole interior an odd glow.

She finished his treatment, and had treated two more of the half-dozen wounded, when she heard the unmistakeable sound of a gun reloading. Slowly, she raised her hands into the air and turned to face the sound. As she feared, it was two rough-looking mercenaries (definitely foreigners, though, which was odd) armed with assault rifles. One of them sneered and spoke.

“You two, against the wall. You're just going to sit back, so all of you can be nice hostages. We'll use you to get out of here, now that your superhero's out there wrecking our crew.â€

Sonya calmly spoke, staying where she was for a moment. She nodded her head to the leader.

“I'm a healer, you probably saw me doing so just now. I can fix those wounds you've got. I don't need any tools, so I can keep my hands empty.â€

He seemed ready to refuse, but there was enough blood running on his face he reconsidered. He gestured for the other man to watch the door while he stepped further inside, gesturing for Sonya to go ahead and treat him.

“Make it quick, nurse.â€

Sonya simply nodded, carefully walking forward and laying one hand on the man's forehead. He actually sighed in a bit of relief as his wounds started to close...before suddenly going stiff, his eyes the only part that could move as they saw the smirk on Sonya's face. She quickly moved to the man at the door, who was clearly distracted by the fighting outside. Before he knew what was happening, she'd gripped his shoulders, and he found himself clutching his stomach as he fell to the floor.

She turned back to the other man, seeing that he was starting to gain some life back in his limbs. She all but flew the distance between them, her right hand lashing out palm-first. It hit the man at the spot his shoulder and neck met, and he dropped like a sack of potatoes, his eyes fluttering closed. She turned to the still-sickened man, walking over to him and delivering a similar strike with identical results. She turned to the medic she'd been helping, who was all but frozen in place. Her voice was laced with a touch of humor as she spoke.

“Come on, help me move these morons to the corner, then get the rest of our people patched up. We'll let the others deal with the thugs later. I was moaning about how boring today was earlier, so let's keep it moving.â€

'I wonder how Carson's day is going...' she mused to herself as she got back to work healing the wounded, a task she always found calming and rewarding.

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PC Meet up: Synth and Supercape in...

Going Underground

“We got five men trapped down there, Mr. Supercape!†said the frantic workman, rubbing his hands anxiously.

“I don’t know what happened! we were just repairing the highway, routine job, and the whole goddamn thing caved in…just…collapsed!â€

“We have five workers down there, and I swear I don’t know if they are alive, or dead, or somewhere in between. It came down fast, and hard!â€

Supercape surveyed the rubble carefully. They were several miles north of Freedom City , and he had heard the distress calls. Folding time and space, he had materialised right be the accident.

Excavation was not really his speciality, but he knew a lot about the physics of it. And he had a particular advantage.

By folding space points together, he could directly emit and detect radiation at another point. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to his temples, lost in the moment. Quantum entanglement, it was called, although that did not do justice to the complexities he was dealing with.

The end result, however, was more than adequate. He could picture the tunnel underneath, and the five forms there. The tunnel seemed to stretch into…well, he wasn’t entirely sure, but it stretched far down into the earth.

“I can sense them there…†he told the worried foreman. Three were moving, two were still. He didn’t think it prudent to inform the foreman of those figures quite yet.

“We need to get them out, fast. Have a medical team on standby. I’ll be in touch†he said, pointing to the Foreman’s radio.

And with that, time and space distorted around the caped hero, and he was gone.

A few minutes earlier.

Synth and the other workers were taking a break. It was hard work, digging up the road and repairing it. She feigned a bit of exhaustion, breathing hard, although the truth was her synthetic body processed fatigue toxins so fast she could have kept up this pace the whole day without needing a break.

However, she wanted to fit in. The pay was surprisingly good, and cash in hand, no questions asked. She highly suspected that the other four men were all illegal immigrants.

As usual, she had to endure the occasional snipe about a woman doing heavy labour, but the grumbles were soon silenced when they saw her in action. Fast, strong, and fit, both in appearance and in action. The other men struggled to keep up with her, although they were not out of shape.

The first they had heard was a rumbling. Synth felt it before the others, a tremor in her sensitive body. It rapidly escalated, and before they could react, the whole road and surrounding collapsed into the ground.


A few cracks of faint light, but glimmers only. Synth could see nothing. Dust in the air, the coughing of men, laboured breathing, the aftershocks faintly rippling.

She felt her way over to the other men.

“Is everyone alright? What happened? are you hurt?â€

Two men where unconscious and did not reply. In the darkness, Synth had no idea how badly they were hurt, although one of them was breathing in a worrisome way. The other two were conscious, one with a broken arm, the other having escaped with nothing more than bruises, scrapes, and a twisted ankle.

She checked herself, nothing broken, but she was bruised. She didn’t really have technically normal internal organs, so nothing to fear there.

She reached out to the more seriously injured man, and her vast reseviour of all purpose stem cells flowed from her hands, infecting him, and knitting him back together. His breathing became less laboured, and his pulse slowed down. He was still unconscious, but out of immediate danger.

Synth clambered up and wrenched at the rubble that blocked the sunlight.

She felt warm steel.

Feeling around, she could make out, by touch, a large vehicle, now somewhat mangled, but armoured and robust. It had been powered, but was now stationary. Should could smell somewhat acrid fumes belching slowly forth from the wreck.

A mining machine? a drill?

In any case, the fumes and the dust – and the eventual lack of oxygen, would soon proved dangerous if not lethal to the other men down here. And, ultimately, to her as well. True, she had much less need for oxygen than humans, but she did need some.

She braced herself in the darkness, and, muscles taught and bulging, took a hold of one of the biggest slabs of rubble she could find, ready to dig her way out of the danger.

Just then, a distortion of time and space, barely visible, sprang into existence behind her.

Supercape started coughing as he inhaled the dusty, stale air.

“Cough, Cough! I can’t say I approve of the air-con…†he spluttered, before finally catching his breath.

“I’m Supercape, here to rescue you!†he introduced himself before interrupting himself.

“Oh! What’s this! A…mole machine?†he inquired “fascinating…still operational! High levels of energy…fusion powered…I think it sounds a bit like Sub-Terran technology…Oh dear!â€

His extraordinary senses penetrated the vehicle, following the two and fro of power cables and flux of power. It didn’t look good.

“Supercape?†answered Synth. She had heard of the hero, a scientist type, master of radiation. She hadn’t paid too much attention, but she was hopeful he could help. He had got in without much trouble, surely he could get out just as easily?

“That’s me!†replied Supercape pausing for another cough.

“Now I would dearly like to get you gentlemen, and ladies, out of here, but it appears this machine here is rather unstable. Very unstable. It is powered by something rather crude. Crude, but powerful…â€

He decided today was not a time for complicated mathematical explanations of higher order dimensions. Not when the air was getting thinner by the moment.

“Suffice to say, if I attempt further entanglement through the n-th plane by folding…â€


“if I teleport again, the power device in the machine may be triggered to create an inverse parametric stability loss of the…â€


“….the machine may explode!â€

Synth didn’t understand the man, but her impression of him as a scientist was certainly confirmed.

“Then we need to get out of here as soon as possible!†she answered, once again tearing at the rocks.

Supercape paused. The machine was unstable. He could only imagine it was one of the many ancient sub-terran technologies he had read about. Ancient, but unstable. He really wasn’t an expert on the Sub-terrans, their history, or their menacing leader, but he could only guess that something had gone wrong down there, and sent off this virtual bomb up to Freedom City . Who knows how far it had come?

Then again, it could have been an act of aggression. Looking at it, he suspected it was so ancient and faulty this was unlikely to be the case. You don’t use a cannon that is just as likely to blow up in your face as to fire the ball.

It still presented a problem however, the ancient machine was a hair trigger away from exploding. His teleportation was normally entirely safe. It probably would be now…probably. But he had no desire to risk it if he could avoid it.

And who was this woman? She was…actually managing to move the rocks!

“Excuse me, madam…I could not help but notice you managing to dig us out of here, with some efficiency I might add. Those rocks are heavy and the air *cough* is thin…†he wheezed almost theatrically.

Synth did not stop from her work.

“I’m Synth. I guess you could say I’m a hero. I try to be. But, for various reasons, I don’t want to become to known. You could say I am best of incognito…â€

She threw another hefty piece of masonry to one side.

“But saving lives is more important than my cover…†she added, with determination.

Supercape nodded, beginning to feel slightly faint headed, and his throat itching like hell.

“A superlative piece of luck†he concluded “and pleased to meet you. I for one won’t speak of you. Besides which, I can sense your outline, but wouldn’t recognise you on the street…â€

“Nobody would recognise me on the street†answered Synth without further explanation. Her features had altered a fair bit for this job, as was her custom.

“Interesting†replied Supercape, astute enough to pick up from Synth’s tones not to pry. “I won’t press you on the matter. Instead, I would focus my attention on getting you and these men out of here. As far as I can make out, you have a fair amount of rock to disperse…let me help…â€

He couldn’t move more than a few molecules at the time. But he was very good at manipulating molecules, including the bonds between them.

A rock melted away in Synth’s hands, like water.

“Molecular bond weakening…†he explained, as he focused on another chunk of masonry.

As the two progressed, with Supercapes particular remote vision guiding them to the fastest route, a light chink eventually appeared, then another. Cool air wafted in, and the dust in the air began to ease.

“Freedom!†said Supercape, a smile on his face, to go along with the dust and soot.

He could only dimly make out Synth in the pale light, enough to see an attractive woman with short black hair, covered in the same dust and gravel as he was.

“I never saw you do that, of course. It was all my work!†he winked.

Synth smiled. Supercape didn’t seem an arrogant sort, it was just a gentle jape to let her know that for today at least, she wouldn’t be in the newspapers.

Supercape concentrated for a moment, erecting his diamond hard quantum forcefield, and charging it up, loading it full of power. With a little jump, he flew off, ramming the small cracks they had made, and splintering them wide open into a gaping hole.

It was not long before the rescue squad was in full motion, thanking Supercape and attending to the five workers. Synth politely refused all medical tests, saying she was fine (not a lie), and before long had creeped off away from the camera’s and the officials, her features distorting slightly in the setting sun.

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NPC Spotlight

Blood Will Tell

Martha Lucas (Edge)

October 2010




Martha Lucas was trimming back her roses today, using both the big old hedge clippers Rick had inherited from his father and the good sturdy pruning knife she'd bought from the gardening store. Normally she loved working in the family garden, the relaxation of trimming and pruning helped her concentrate on her work. On Andi comics, the simple, clean safe world of Lakedale. A world where families stayed together, where love was strong and-Martha stopped and scrubbed her yellow-gloved hand over her forehead and tried to put thoughts of Rick out of her head. Rick Lucas, the handsome older man who'd spent her off her feet when she was just a junior editor at Castle, the author and adventurer who'd pulled her into his world with a wink and a smile. Everyone had been so jealous of her, marrying the beloved celebrity, the friend of the Freedom League, jealous of her and her handsome, healthy son who everyone admired even before he had superpowers.

All of it gone now, of course. Rick's old hero friends remembered him as the man who'd gone crazy and broken the world into his own image; and the new generation barely said a word to her anyway. Somehow it had gotten out into the neighborhood, too. Still on one knee, she peered up at the houses all around the Lucas residence, the high wooden fence around their place blocking sounds from the street. They were talking about her, she knew, talking about her and Mark on the street. "Look at Martha, she thinks she's so perfect, she can't even control her crazy husband!" Had it really only been a few months since Rick had gone away? Alone in her perfectly-made marriage bed every night, the bed where she'd first made love and where her son had been born, sometimes it was like her Rick had been gone forever. Other times like he'd come back any minute.

Rick had always made her happy, the way most people couldn't. That was the advantage of working in comics; she could write and draw as she wished and, now that she'd risen high enough at her company, never had to actually go out into the world that she'd worked so hard to protect her son from. Now Mark was a hero, fighting injustice alongside Young Freedom, out in the world that looked more and more dangerous every day. She hefted the scissors and went back to her rose bush, but this time faces kept appearing over the blossoms as she trimmed, faces staring at her, judging her for her mistakes: her parents, sneering at her for coddling her little boy, that psychic tramp who'd broken Mark's heart, her editor, demanding to know why her stories weren't on deadline, the other wives of the cul-de-sac sneering at the woman with the broken home, and finally

Rick, laughing and smiling as he embraced green-skinned space floozies and extra-dimensional tramps, bodies entangled together as she cried out and SNIPPED-

When her vision cleared, Martha stared down at the rosebush she'd cut in half and wanted to weep, tears bubbling at the corners of her eyes. Where had things gone so wrong? Maybe Mark was right, maybe they needed to get some-suddenly, a cold hand closed on her shoulder, and the kneeling housewife whirled around to see a man looming over her, his eyes white and staring, grinning as he reached for her with outstretched hands! With a scream of rage and frustration, Martha went for him, sweeping the suited man's leg out from under him and knocking him to the ground, raising her trimmer and shoving it deep through one of those vacant eyes and twisting and twisting and twisting inside as she felt things break and cut beneath the blade, the struggles of the man beneath her coming to an abrupt and messy end.

She lost track of things for a while after that, until she found herself closing the garden gate and locking it tight, the high fence blotting out a commotion on the street she wasn't really paying attention to. When she turned back, the body was still there, still bearing its grim implement. _He's dead. He's dead, and I killed him._ She felt calm and collected inside as she walked towards the body, at peace inside and out. _I can't let Mark know. He can't lose both his parents. He'll go CRAZY_. She dragged the body into the dirt-bottomed garden shed and picked up Rick's ax.

From Andi's Adventures #235, November 2010

"What are you doing with that axe, Andi?" called Ron White as he peered over his sweetheart's fence. Ron liked a strong woman, just like a man should.

"Getting rid of Halloween decorations!" called America's sweetheart, grinning as she hefted the ax over her head. Her long blonde hair swung in the breeze as she brought the axe down on the old mummy statue again and again. "Come here and help with this!" she called impishly. "We need to bury the pieces!"

When it was done, Martha walked back into her kitchen and turned on the counter-top television, her awareness gradually beginning to return. What had happened? What had she done? _Am I...a MURDERER?_ It took her a few moments to realize what was going on on the TV, but when she did, she focused on the reports of the dead rising as if pointed by a laser.

_He'll come back...or was he already dead!_ She couldn't stop herself from smiling, slumping against her marble countertop in relief as visions of prison and madness faded from before her eyes. It was the best possible news, really; everything was going to be okay! "It's a zombie invasion! Thank God! It's zombies!"

"Mom?" There was no sign of movement outside the Lucas house, but there was no sign of movement _inside_ either. Mark made a beeline for the back door, his friends in tow, and found his mother standing in the kitchen in gardening clothes, a wide-eyed look on her face. He knew the feeling! "Mom, are you okay? What happened?"

"I'm all right," Martha reassured Mark, patting him with her garden-glove covered hand, the faint stains on it covered with a light coating of pale dust. "I'm glad you came, though. Is it true what the news says, that it's the dead come for the living?"

"It's true, Mom, but we'll fight them," said Mark without hesitation. "We've just got to get you some place safer than this. We want to take you to Trevor's grandfather's house, the first Midnight? It's very safe there, very well-protected."

"You're right," agreed Martha with a nod. "The weapons here aren't enough if more than one or two show up. And I've already done this week's scripting, so I don't have any other work to do." With that usual air of consciously maintaining domesticity that they were used to from Mark's mom, Martha methodically removed her gloves and left them hanging from the sink. "I'm ready now."

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NPC Spotlight

The Relentless Shadow

The Black Tiger (Crimson Tiger)


The night air was heavy with clouds and heat. Benjawan Anuman was swimming the Chao Phraya river, crossing from one part of Bangkok into another. He had a pair of waterproof goggles and a makeshift snorkel, both intended to allow him to swim underwater as much as he could, to avoid being spotted.

He was a feared man in the streets of Bangkok, a symbol of hope for the oppressed and fear for the corrupt. He was called the Black Tiger. Rumors swirled about his name, saying that even the highest level officials feared his name.

Champan was one such official. He was nothing but a gangster, treating the laws as his own toys, taking advantage of any edge he could attain. Tonight, he was going to fall.

The Black Tiger spotted the first guard, standing bored at his post. Of course he was bored, nobody went after Champan, nobody that was smart. Champan knew men in the government who eagerly took money in exchange for looking the other way.

The man never heard Black Tiger, who, silent as a shadow, climbed from the water and walked behind him. All the man got out was a gasp as he felt a firm grip on his hair and then, darkness. The man slumped over. He would wake up with a severe headache, but would otherwise be unharmed.

He stared upwards at a large building, doubtlessly containing illegal goods, the most valuable of which was likely opium. He'd seen what opium did to those who took too much, and he knew it was used to exploit the poor and ignorant, extort all of their valuables and money, and waste their lives away.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of two men coming from inside the door the man had been guarding. Thinking quickly, he pressed himself flat against the nearby wall. The door opened and one of the men gasped in alarm.

Black Tiger lunged at them from behind. The first man received a painful knee to the back, sending him spinning off the railing and into the water, where the current would likely take him downstream for a while.

The other man turned, his eyes opened wide in alarm. Black Tiger struck with a fierce right hook, sending the man back several feet. He struggled to get up as the ominous, black clothed man walked towards him. Rocked by the hit, the man could do nothing as Black Tiger reared back and struck him again, knocking him out cold.

He turned and faced the door, peeking in while doing his best to avoid getting spotted. It was a back entrance, he walked in and spotted several small wooden crates. A short inspection revealed the truth. It was all opium, dozens of containers worth. He would come back to destroy it later, but first, he had work to do.

He dashed into the door and pinned himself against the far wall as fast as he could. His eyes scanned back and forth, making sure not to gt spotted. He made his way to the end of the room and spotted a door, slightly cracked, with a little light leaking out.

Black Tiger peeked into the room and spotted him, Champan. He was bent over his desk, writing something. He was probably balancing his books. Staying late to make sure the opium sales were going to go well. He opened the door and stepped inside, closing it quietly.

A single lamp lit the room, and Champan didn't seem to notice him yet. He crossed his arms and stepped forward, throwing his shadow over the room.

Slowly, Champan looked up and spotted the shadow that covered the room. He turned around, and the lamp went out. The last thing he saw was a man, all in black.

He stood up and backed away from the ominous man. His mind raced, and then he remembered. This must be the legendary Black Tiger, feared scourge of the underworld. Suddenly, lightning struck somewhere off in the distance, and light filled the room. The man had gotten closer. There was no escape from the Black Tiger.

“Champan Suchart...†A deep, dark voice rang in his ears. “You have sat in an inscrutable position for far too long. You have abused your power for far too long. Your time has come, the Black Tiger has got the scent. The Black Tiger has come for you...â€

“My men will be here, they...â€

“All gone...†The voice said. Not dead, he didn't say dead, but they weren't in any position to help.

“You won't get away with this.†He said, backing into a corner.

“That is irrelevant. It's already done.†Before Champan could answer back, darkness took him.

Benjawan Anuman was no fool. He knew that this much opium couldn't simply be stolen away and destroyed later. More importantly, he didn't know enough people to trust with it's destruction. He reached for Champan and tied a rope around his hands and legs, and a cloth over his mouth. He walked over to the lamp and lit it, filling the room up with light once more.

He threw Champan's unconscious form over his shoulder and stepped into the storage room. With a flick of the wrist, he threw the burning lamp onto one of the crates of opium. Opium burned very quickly, and within a few minutes, would be destroyed.

He walked out and made his way onto the street in front of the storage building, and sat the small man against a nearby wall.

Benjawan Anuman had not chosen this evening out of chance. He knew that it was a terrible idea to burn a building down in the middle of Bangkok, knowing that it could spread and destroy nearby buildings.

Anuman gazed up to the sky as the rain fell on his face. The opium would burn, but the fire would spread no further than that. The rain was too heavy. He allowed himself a small smile as he ran back into the shadows.

The next day, Champan lost his position as an official due to gross incompetence. He was somewhat exiled to a less prominent position. His replacement, while still a corrupt man, was a far better official than the one who preceded him, and the Black Tiger did not come for him.

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PC Meet-Up

Voltage and Crimson Tiger in...

A Major Inconvenience

Benjawan Mali growled. This was hardly a time for her computer to suddenly stop working right. Especially not when she had a report to write. She already hated writing reports. And, of course, her father had taken his laptop with him, and her mother didn't own one at all. Well, it was all she could do to get it repaired, as fast as possible.

Thomas Morgan sat in the shop, bored to tears. This had been a long and thoroughly boring day. Long, and, boring. Luckily, he had an internet connection in his head. At the moment, he was scanning websites for news on the latest games and gadgets. His mind worked so quickly that he never had to look distracted.

When the attractive young Asian woman entered the shop, he practically shouted for joy. She couldn't have been any older than nineteen, around his age. Still, she looked quite exasperated and, to Thomas, exasperated customers were desperate. He braced himself for an abrasive approach.

“Hi, um, so...†She blinked for a moment. Gray hair, the guy had gray hair. He coudn't have been much older than she was. He had gray hair, it seemed. She shook her head a bit to rid herself of the cobwebs. Now was not the time for strange boys with gray hair, now was the time for computer repairs.

“Hello, may I help you?†He offered helpfully. She suddenly smiled, a brilliant, warm smile. This wouldn't be so bad, he thought.

“Yes, I've got no idea what happened to it, but it suddenly stopped working. I really, really need it repaired fast. I have a report to do. I know you may have other customers, but this is an emergency job. I'm prepared to pay extra if it'll help make sure...â€

“No need, Miss.†He smiled. “It's been a slow day, and I can probably get this fixed up in a moment.â€

“Oh, thank you!†She said, grateful. She could get that paper done by tonight after all. “Oh, yeah, I think you need this.†She said with a laugh and passed the laptop to him.

He nodded and took the laptop gingerly from her hands. He opened it and hit the power button. Nothing. He looked mildly perturbed, this wasn't a simple software problem.

Mali watched in amazement as the young man grabbed a screwdriver and got to work. With a surprising amount of precision and skill, he disassembled her laptop in seconds, laying the screws and parts aside in neat, organized sets.

“Hmm...†He gave it a cursory examination. She didn't realize it, but he'd already deduced the problem when the system didn't turn on. It could either be the battery, or the power supply. One was an easy fix, the other not so easy.

Suddenly, a man in a mask kicked the door open and drew a gun. Thomas backed up. This was not the moment for this, this was not the time for some idiot with a gun to burst into his shop. If it weren't for this customer, he could have arranged some trick. He instantly triggered the silent alarm with his mind, sending an alert to the police without doing or touching anything. A few moments later, he got the notification. Ten minutes. The police would arrive in ten minutes.

Mali sighed inwardly. Great, first her computer broke, and now some idiot with a pistol was robbing a computer store! Who robs computer stores? She also realized that she was carrying a few hundred dollars in cash. Luckily, she always dressed down when going out. She also hoped the man wouldn't recognize how expensive his laptop was.

Neither of the two feared for themselves, but rather each other. Thomas was fairly certain he could stall for time, or, at the very least, knock the man out without him realizing what really happened. And Mali, well, the man had gotten far too close to get a shot off on her before she disarmed him and knocked him silly. But Thomas was worried that the guy would take the poor girl hostage, and Mali was afraid that the man would shoot the guy behind the counter.

“Give me all your money!†The man shouted, gesturing threateningly with the gun.

“Sir, we have some money on hand...†Thomas admitted. They were insured, and they only had a couple hundred on hand. “But we don't have a lot.†It was the honest truth.

“Open the cash register and back up, now.†He said. Thomas flipped the register open with a few quick presses and backed away. “You too, missy.†Mali backed up as well. She could probably have disarmed the guy and knocked him out by now, but she didn't want to risk the other guy's life.

“Don't worry...†Thomas mouthed at Mali. “The police are on their way.â€

Mali blinked, how had he done that? Had he seen the man coming and decided to push some silent alarm button before he'd come in? If so, why not tell her?

“Okay.†She mouthed back, somewhat relieved. As long as this guy didn't get stupid, both of them would get out safely.

“Two hundred bucks?! I thought you guys sold computers and stuff, what the hell?â€

“Sir, the real cash is stored somewhere else.†Thomas said, cautiously.

“Where?!†He growled.

“I don't know, Sir.†Thomas said, lying through his teeth. There was a safe in the building that carried all large cash amounts. He and his father both had the combination, but this guy didn't need to know that.

“Bull, you know, tell me.†The man clearly was not fooled.

“Alright, Sir.†Thomas said. “There's a safe somewhere in the building, but I don't know the combination.â€

“I bet you do, young man like you? I bet you know exactly what the combination is. Either that, or you can figure it out.†He reached behind him and threw a short length of rope Thomas. “Tie the girl's hands behind her back, I'm watching you.â€

Thomas complied, honestly trying his best to tie her hands up. He figured that if she were bound, he'd assume she wasn't a threat and ignore her. That would enable him to figure out a way to disable him without her seeing him.

Mali watched them enter the back room and grinned to herself. That guy was a heck of a computer repairman, but not very good with rope. With a little effort, she managed to break and escape the rope. She glanced towards where they went, and kicked off her shoes.

Thomas was fiddling with the lock, trying to appear as if he was trying to remember the combination. Three minutes, they had three minutes left.

He glanced up and spotted her long before the man did. Mali gave Thomas a bit of a wink, then suddenly WHAM, a punch to the back of the head. The man collapsed suddenly. Thomas blinked up at her, and she shrugged.

“Self defense training. Daddy wanted to make sure his little girl could protect herself.†She grinned and Thomas couldn't help but smile back.

He drew himself to his feet and dusted off his knees. “We...might want to make sure this guy isn't going to attack us when he wakes up.†Mali nodded.

A short while later, and the police arrived to find a man tied up in computer cord, groggy and in noticeable pain.

“This is where the armed robbery was, isn't it?†The officer asked, confused.

“I punched him in the back of the head when he wasn't looking.†Mali said, nervously.

The officer nodded. “Well, he matches the description for a guy we've been looking for for a while, so we'll go ahead and take you in. You may need to give a statement in court.†He nodded to the two young people. Both of them nodded as they watched the other officer try to untie the cable.

“Uh, this cable...†He said.

“Eh, it's surplus.†Thomas said, tossing the officer a folded pocket knife. “Go ahead and break it, no real loss.†The officer nodded and cut the cable, replacing it with actual handcuffs.

A few minutes later, they'd both given statements as to what happened, and Thomas was back to work on her computer.

“No charge, Miss.†He said with a smile.

“Call me Mali.†She smiled and sat down to watch him work.

“Name's Thomas.†He said. “Hmm, power supply is dead. Could be a bit of a problem. Normally I'd have to ask you to wait a few days while I tried to order a replacement. Then I'd have to do some extensive testing, and...†He glanced up to see her crestfallen face.


“I said, 'normally'. However, you saved my life, and my father a lot of money, so...†He dashed into the back room and grabbed a bunch of stuff. His mind scanned for the exact specifications for this laptop as he found the parts.

A few minutes later, he returned with a whole handful of computer parts, as well as a thick pair of rubber gloves, and got to work. She watched amazed as his skilled hands turned screws. He grabbed a soldering tool and began to solder parts together.

“Are you building a new power supply?†She asked, blinking.

“Nope, fixing the old one. Normally, this is a bad idea for most people. Power supplies can contain dangerous amounts of electric current, and technicians like me are supposed to just replace them, not fix them. In fact, I'll tell you that it's actually quite dangerous to do normally, and, frankly, I wouldn't normally be doing this...â€

“I don't want you to hurt yourself.†She said.

“I wouldn't worry about that, Mali.†He said. “I know exactly how these things work, and how to avoid getting shocked, and these gloves are great insulators.†Of course, the gloves were for show. He could have licked the power supply and been unharmed. “Normally, technicians don't fool around with power supplies.†He said, screwing the power supply back into the laptop.

“But I'm no normal technician.†He pressed the power button and turned it on. When she saw the boot up screen, she grinned.

“Thank you!†She barely managed to avoid squealing. “I can finish that report.â€

“No thanks needed, you saved my life.†He said. “No charge. In fact, if you have any other problems, feel free to bring that by anytime and I'll fix it.â€

It was nice talking to a guy who didn't judge her, or appear angry at having to be rescued by a 'girl'. Thomas' didn't seem to be upset at all. In fact, he was grateful and quite nice about all of it. Still, she doubted she'd need to come back for further repairs very often.

“Thanks. Thanks for everything, though. You could have charged me anyway, or got the replacement part, or...â€

“To be honest, Mali, I was bored today anyway. Slow day. I figured that I'd take the chance I had to actually get some real work done.†He took the gloves off and laid them aside.

Mali packed her laptop up and walked out of the shop. Thomas sat back behind the counter, glad that he'd done something interesting.

A few minutes later, he spotted Mali waving at him from atop a motorcycle.

“Heh, strange girl.†He said as he relaxed. Only a few hours until closing...

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Suffer the Consequences

Editor's note: Ed Halstonne is the therapist of Jay Xavier, the cheetah-man also known to the public as Jubatus.

All eyes were on the scarred giant who limped into Madden's during the tail-end of the lunch rush. The man's size alone would have attracted a certain amount of attention, for he was well over six feet tall, and quite solidly built, albeit with discernable indications that he'd slacked off on his exercises in recent months. The same could be said of his scars; there were many well-healed wounds on his right hand and the right side of his face. And as if all of the preceding weren't enough, he also wore a black patch over his right eye, and could only walk with the evidently necessary assistance of a dark grey cane.

Yes, all eyes were on the scarred giant. In most cases, people stared because of curiosity, or, perhaps, the darker impulses which impelled the crowds of an earlier age to see freak shows. In my case, however, it was professional interest.

My name is Edmund Halstonne. I'm a psychiatrist who specializes in body issues. As such, I couldn't help but wonder if the man might benefit from my services. Apart from that, the man seemed familiar, somehow; my brain insisted that I'd seen him before, but for the life of me, I couldn't recall where or when.

Most peculiar, given the man's highly distinctive appearance.

And… hmm. While the man was ignoring the sea of staring eyes that surrounded him, his own eyes widened when he looked in my direction. Perhaps he was in the market for such services as I could provide? Well, if that were so, he was clearly capable of making this desire known to me; I finished off the last surviving remnants of my BBQ Cheese Fries, and started work on my Three-Ringer Apple Pie. For me, as it is for so many others, I fear the dessert menu at Madden's is my weakness…

Slow, heavy footsteps heralded the scarred man's arrival at the booth in which I was dining. "Hey there. Mind if I sit down?" he asked in a slurred voice with a rasping undertone, which was probably explained by the scars on his throat.

"Not at all," I replied, and I gestured at the bench on the opposite site of the table.

He began the painstaking procedure of maneuvering his damaged body into a seated position on the bench. That (mildly onerous) task finished, he exhaled forcefully and said, "Thanks. Ed Halstonne, right?" When I confirmed his information, he went on: "My name's Manny Culligan. I'm one of the five thugs your pal Jay Xavier tore up last year." I don't think my heart skipped a beat… but this information was quite a shock, in large part because of the implications. Of course he looked familiar! During Jay's trial, the plaintiff's attorney had provided ample (if not excessive) photographic documentation of Culligan and Charles Rahmer, both of whom had been confined to Intensive Care Units at the time.

My face betrayed the shock of my recognition, it seemed. The right side of Culligan's face twitched, and his slurred rasp of a voice said, "Don't worry. I'm in no condition to give you any grief, even if I wanted to. Which I don't. What I want is, you pass a message along to the cat-man. You got a recorder, right?"

"Ah… yes, yes, I do," I said as I extracted the device from a pocket. When I'd set it up, Culligan began to speak:

"Okay… I'm Manny Culligan, and this is me trying to get straight with Jay Xavier, like the program says I should.

"First thing you gotta know is, we were stupid. If you're part of a street gang in the world capital of superheroes, stupid isn't much of a surprise, y'know? But it's one hell of a rush, seeing how much you can get away with before a super flies down to nail your butt to the asphalt…

"So anyway. Me and the boys, we were hassling this one tourist. Ryan was high on kay-red like usual, but he's in charge, so what he said, went.

"Then this two-legged cheetah showed. Xavier, not that any of us had a clue at the time. So we got this spotted cat walkin' towards us, makin' noise about how we should leave the tourist alone. My first thought was, No way I want to fight something with that many sharp bits. But when you're on the street, you just don't show fear, not unless you want to get eaten alive. And Xavier, he's, like, six feet tall and a hundred pounds. So he's gotta be a lot more fragile than we are; I mean, I got more than triple his body mass all by myself, okay? And I'm thinking that if we get into it, nobody's gonna outrun a damn cheetah -- but if I can just get one good hit in, kitty's gonna break.

"So Ryan tells the cat to get lost. Xavier sticks around. He's starting to remind me of a scared little kitten, and like I said, showing fear is a good way to get yourself beaten on. Then Ryan says we gotta [bg=black]xxxx[/bg] up Spot the Cat, so we did. Or at least we started to. It was a pretty good beatdown until Xavier started zippin' around like he'd ODed on Zoom. Then it was still a pretty good beatdown, just with us on the taking end of it, not the giving end. Things got real fuzzy for a couple seconds… and then the lights went out.

"I woke up a week and a half later. I was in a hospital bed, and I was hurting all over. But the pain was alright, because, hey, morphine.

"Over the next three months, I spent a lot of time unconscious. Took lots of surgeries for the docs to re-assemble my body. And all that time, the only drugs in me were medically-indicated chemicals of whatever kind.

"Ryan, he was the first visitor I can remember having. Xavier'd messed him up, too, just a lot less than me, and he promised we'd get revenge on Spot the Cat. Seems he'd found a source for some really potent Zoom and Max.

"Now, if Ryan told me that three months earlier, I'd'a said 'sure, let's go for it'. But this was after three months in hospital, the longest time I'd been clean since I was in high school. I was thinking a lot clearer than I used to. So I just closed my eyes like I was tired, and I must've been tired for real because I did fall asleep, and Ryan wasn't there when I woke up. Haven't seen him since.

"So… In the hospital I had a lot of time to myself. Lots of time to think, in between Physical Therapy sessions and all that. At first I was pretty damned pissed off about my injuries, and all the stuff I wouldn't be able to do any more. But… like I said, this was the longest I'd been clean since high school. So I got to thinking about what I wouldn't be doing any more, and it was all gang stuff, beating people up and stealing crap and blah blah blah. And I wondered, what the hell was I gonna do with myself for the rest of my life?

"This was the first time I'd ever really given any serious thought to my future. Gang-banging, well, you mostly don't think about your future at all, and when you do, you just kind of expect you're probably gonna die within the next couple of years. But gang-banging wasn't an option for me any more, so I had to think about more time than a couple of years.

"So, okay, I did a bunch of soul-searching and crap, and I got a plan. I'm cleaning up my record. Got myself signed up for Narcotics Anonymous, 'cause that shows commitment. Getting ready to enroll in Freedom College. Gonna see if I can swing it on my own, no live-in helper, but we'll see how that goes.

"Most of all, I'm not fooling myself any more. I used to blame everybody but myself for all the crap in my life, but now that I'm clean, I can see how much of that crap is my own fault for bein' a dumbass. I got Xavier to thank for putting me in a place where I couldn't just keep on being stupid, where I had to be honest with myself. Sure, my life's a mess, 'cause Xavier's beating left me more-or-less crippled for life, and I still got to deal with fallout from the years I spent making dumbass choices. But hey, my life was already a mess, so no change there, y'know? And now, I got the law on my side, and without the drugs I got me on my side for the first time in a damn long while. So I think I've got a pretty decent chance to turn it all around. Won't be easy -- but before Xavier worked me over, it wouldn't even have been possible.

"I'm not gonna say I like Xavier, but he's the one who saved my butt, and I give him props for that. Just, y'know, I'm not putting the cat-man on my Christmas card list any time soon."

"Mr. Culligan?" This voice belonged to a waiter, who bore a platter on which was what I presumed to be the scarred man's meal. He nodded, and the staffer neatly and efficiently made table-space to deposit the plate before Culligan. I noted that his Bacon-Wrapped Steak and Bigtime Corn Muffin were both already chopped up into small, fork-sized bits; this was not a service I'd ever requested of Madden's, but given his general condition, I could see why Culligan had.

I turned off my recorder while the waiter was doing his business. "Would you like to add more to your statement?" I asked.

As he maneuvered his left hand into an inside jacket pocket, Culligan replied, "No, but you gotta give Xavier my card… Contact info, so he can get in touch if he wants to… yeah!" His wallet was in his left hand; he opened it and put it on the table, then his right hand clamped it in place as he dug the aforementioned card out of it with his left.

Of course I accepted the offered card. "I'll pass it, and your recording, along to Mr. Xavier. However, I cannot promise that he will respond."

Culligan nodded. He began the mildly laborious process of moving his arms into the appropriate configuration for eating, and said, "What I figured. He's a busy guy. You, too, I bet, so I'm not gonna keep you any longer. Later, Halstonne."

"And… goodbye to you, too, Mr. Culligan. I wish you the best of luck."

He merely nodded; I took my leave. My own midday meal being complete, I returned to my office. Along the way, I thought about Culligan, and what our encounter said about his determination, his ability to make and execute plans, and the strength of his desire to turn over a new leaf…

I resolved to look into Culligan's background. Presuming he truly was what he presented himself as being, he could surely use some assistance; perhaps I might be able to send some help his way.

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