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Aurum Shield

Discussion in 'Tilted Art, Photography, Music & Literature' started by redravin, Mar 30, 2014.

  1. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Things get worse.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Eleven

    “Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”
    -Sun Tzu

    “Very likely, what with enemies, and mountains, and rivers to cross, and losing our way, and next to nothing to eat, and sore feet, we’ll hardly notice the weather.”
    -C.S Lewis

    The Major was still clean shaven and his outfit neatly pressed. How he managed that when the only way we there was to keep clean was a sonic shower, I have no idea. Did he have The Silent One transport him back to Earth just so he could get a shave, a mani/pedi and a change of gear? I wouldn't put it past him.

    Brynhilde looked ragged around the edges but it just added to her glamour. Her long silver hair was plaited to fit under her steel helm with all the chainmail and leather armour trimmed in fur. There’s a YouTube video of the seven foot tall warrior tossing a PETA activist across Central Park because he splattered her armour with blood, that has over seven million hits. The idiot never actually hit the ground thanks to Celeritas racing over and catching him. Man, I missed the days of silly shit like that, right now we were going up against one of the last four circles and it was going to take everything we’ve have plus stuff we didn't.

    The circles were becoming exponentially harder to destroy. By now the snakes were fireproof flying, armor plated box cars with multiple heads. The plated armadillo squid that had swallowed me was the size of a tank and about as hard to kill. The damned things blithely ignored the cube root law seeming to combine metal and organic parts as needed. To make matter worse the pillars were generating some sort of force field in sections of the circles. Of course, Captain Science found it all very fascinating and along with The Teacher would give long lectures to anyone they could catch about how the Stoglan used the planet’s magnetic fields, solar energy, and even mined the earth as well. This explained why the areas around the circles turning into a dead zone, entirely devoid of plant or animal life.

    The Major’s plan of attack was pretty basic. Put the lower powered heroes, The Teacher, Captain Science, Pinkie Lee and Amam (a quiet man in a business suit who had an invisible hawk and lion he could call to help him) in the back with teams of locals. Lady Ferrum had dubbed the planets inhabitants the Puddleglums, because of their resemblance to the character from The Silver Chair. They would be using rockets and mortars to protect the spear that was going into the heart of the circle. For a peaceful low tech culture they took to things that went bang real quick and had no problem handling the rockets.

    On point were the two biggest baddasses The Major and Brynhide, followed by the next four biggest guns, Man Mountain, Pirtuk, Datter Av Brann, and El Viento. After them came the B team which included me, Lady Ferrum, The Archers, The Gunsmith, Slight, and Carabao, the young Filipino didn’t have horns but did have the strength and mass of his water buffalo namesake.

    Above them was the Air Cav, Strafe and Dançarino no céu. The two flyers had taken to keeping a tally of how many kills they had and even though Dancing in the Sky didn’t use guns she was currently ahead. Her ability to combine the power of Capoeira with air currents was amazing to watch. I had seen her kick through one of the armoured Stoglan and come out the other side still radiant.

    Behind us The Wolf Gangs were working as the flanking team, set to move in wherever things got too hot. They could move faster using four legs and could fight on the run, so they were perfect for the job. Sad to say the fastest person in our group, Celeritas was off scouting the other circles. I didn’t understand why he was halfway across the world when we needed him here.

    I kept thinking just how weird it was that all this felt normal, when I heard Brynhilde's very distinct battle shriek. She would leap through the air, coming down in the middle of the bugs chopping and slicing as she landed.. The Major was about four feet off the ground and were tearing into a wall of Stoglan by spinning like a top. There was blood and viscera flying everywhere. Brynhilde chopped snakes into pieces with her huge battle ax about as fast as I could cut carrots with my chef’s knife.

    Pirtuk created tornadoes of sleet, coating the Stoglan like obscene confections and freezing them in place. Man Mountain used a staff the size of a caber to smash them to pieces. El Viento made platforms of solid air underneath the armor plated behemoths just as two tried to attack. With no ground for their huge claws to dig into their momentum caused the monsters to slam together and tip over. Datter Av Brann burned holes through the soft spots in their bellies. The smell reminded me the time a box of lobsters caught on fire (it’s a long story). A Stoglan exploded and The Silent One calmly walked out of a gaping hole in its body where he had transported inside.

    Then it was our teams turn. Standing shoulder to shoulder Lady Ferrum, Carabao and myself, protected The Gunsmith and The Archers as they fired arrows and bullets loaded with explosives into the eyes and down the throats of dozens of Stoglan. One man-sized centipede rose up and grabbed my arm. Carabao slammed his head into the Stoglan and yellow goop exploded into the air. Around us mortars fell and we slowly worked our way towards the center of the circle.

    The first of us to go down was Datter Av Brann. Some new kind of monster came spinning out of ground, all teeth and claws. It latched onto her arm and ripped it off. She was able to burn it to a cinder and cauterize the wound before she passed out. The Silent One appeared a moment later and swept her away. I decided right there that I didn’t hate the creepy bastard after all. Then the screams started from behind us. Looking back, I realized the same burrowers that had attacked Daughter of Fire were now tearing into the launch teams. The Wolfgangs would have to fight their way to each team. Who knew if they would be in time?

    We pushed forward, there was no other choice. If we quit now there was a good chance that everything would fall apart. I was using the huge quad-barrel shotgun, The Gunsmith had given me. The was some satisfaction watching the depleted uranium flechettes destroy everything for hundreds of feet but it wasn't getting us close enough to winning this battle. There was a cracking sound indicating the destruction of an outside pillar as Brynhilde went after it with her ax.

    “Up.” Betanya gave the signal. Ducking down, I let The Archer jump up on my shoulders. We had practiced this but it was still awkward. Firing the crossbow I remembered from practice, she blew up two pillars just before a wall of Stoglan hit us at full tilt. For a while it was just a matter of hacking, shooting and praying that I could keep my friends from getting killed. The shield is a mixed blessing. Always knowing I would survive gave me this crushing responsibility to take care of everybody else.

    I’d only seen one person die in my entire life. Charles Walters gave me the shield when he died. I have never had someone die when it was my responsibility to protect them. Which was why seeing an armored Stoglan rip The Gunsmith’s head off, made the air turn solid. I saw every detail in slow motion as the skin tore away and the bones snapped. His face blank and bloodless because every drop was being splattered over me. The head rolling away like an errant soccer ball while the body finally got the message and slumped to the ground.

    I wanted to blow the monster apart.
    I wanted to go get the pieces of my friend and put him back together, just so he could smoke one more of those awful hand rolled cigarettes or say something stupid about the president.
    I wanted to scream, to curl up in a ball.
    I wanted to trade, to die myself so he could live.
    But I couldn't do anything because I couldn't move.
    It took Lady Ferrum reaching out with metal fingers to gently touch my face.
    “Come back, we need you.”

    Before I got together with Gail, I had one serious girlfriend. Like I said when I commit, I tend to do it without reserve and when you’re sixteen things are forever. She slept with a friend of mine and I went nuts. Not teenage, it’s for the drama nuts but smash mirrors and slash your wrists nuts. Some of that came from losing my parents and never getting any therapy but I was deeply broken. I stood there with that piece of mirror in my hand and just knew that it was the only option. There was a party going on downstairs, some of my only friends and a very small voice told me they would be horrified when they found me and hurt to lose me. Up to that point in my life setting that piece of mirror down was the hardest thing I ever had to do, it took everything I had to walk out of that bathroom and pretend nothing had happened. I drew on that same strength to drag myself back to that battlefield. This time I had help from a beautiful pair of green eyes.

    “I’m here” I grabbed Lady Ferrum’s hand and held it tightly.
    “Good, let’s go kill some fucking monsters.”
    “Damned right.”
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  2. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    The shit really hits the fan.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Twelve
    “The enemy," retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, "is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.
    - Joseph Heller

    We destroyed the circle but it cost us, dearly. We couldn't find Amam until one the Wolfgang saw a lion standing next to a dead Stoglan. We couldn't see it but we took his word and cut open the monster, inside were pieces of Amam’s body. The Wolfgang all nodded to something that wasn’t there and started to howl. The new type of Stoglan that ripped off Datter Av Brann’s arm, turned out to be an adaption of a cute little native animal. Captain Science was convinced that all of the Stoglan fighting force started out as Suess Planet’s flora and fauna. The Teacher couldn't help him with the autopsy. She died, along with the twenty-seven Puddleglums who were manning the rocket launchers and mortars.

    By the time The Wolfgangs fought their way to her, The Teacher had killed dozens of Stoglan with the eclectic assortment of historic weapons she could materialize but it just wasn't enough. Coming back I found myself standing in the spot she died. Looking at all those dead monsters, I tried to imagine what she had been thinking and feeling. Pulling a piece of her red cardigan sweater from between the claws of a beheaded Stoglan, I found a blood spattered teachers union pin attached. The Silent One had done his vanishing trick with her body, so I wrapped the pin in a handkerchief and put it in my pocket.

    That night I used the pin as an excuse to go to Lady Ferrum’s tent and ask her what she thought I should do with it. She was nice enough to accept the excuse and even let me sit on her one piece of furniture, the cot. We shared a plastic squirt bottle of Man Mountain’s homebrew. It tasted like spruce needles and rotten potato peels but it had alcohol which at this point was all that mattered.
    “I guess you could ask The Major if he would return it to her family.”
    “Knowing my luck he’d count it as another favor.” Crap, that didn’t sound very good at all. “I mean I’d be happy to pay in order to make sure they got it but …”
    “Don’t worry, sweets. I know what you meant. I’d say ask Captain Science but he’s gutted.”
    “Is Pinkie Lee going to make it?” I said, trying to change the subject.
    “She’ll live but her left eye is gone.” Then her voice dropped to a whisper and she moved close.
    Her skin smelled like oranges but her breath smelled like pine needles and rotten potato peels. I didn’t mind at all.
    “You can’t tell anyone about this, K?”
    “Sure, of course.”
    “Pinkie can do more than just project images.She doesn't tell people because it makes them uncomfortable and Pinkie likes being the pretty party girl.”
    “Cutesy wootsie. Sure I know.” God, how was she going to do her thing with half her face missing?
    “Just after we got here she picked up a conversation between The Major and PsyAnnie back on Earth. She told me because it scared the hell out of her.”
    “Why am I not surprised The Five aren't telling us everything?”
    “Haven’t you always wondered how they knew the Stoglan were coming? The Five did something to divert them here. They were in route to Earth but somehow The Five caused their ship to drop out early.” She took another drink.
    “PsyAnnie is preparing the UN for an invasion. She’s using everything they’ve learned about fighting the Stoglan to do it. Us and the Puddleglums, we don’t mean a bloody thing to them. The Five will go home but the rest of us are meat.”

    My guts felt like they were boiling, there was acid in my mouth and my eyes wouldn't stop blinking. I wanted to run outside and tell everybody but I knew it wouldn't help or make things better. The Puddleglums were tall, thin people with bulging eyes who looked a bit like stretched out frogs. They were so gentle and decent. It had been the woman who were willing to fight when they understood what they were up against but none of them were at all xenophobic.The old folks sang a songs for us every time we went into battle and carved trees in honor of our dead. I played a game with the kids where they would throw pebbles at me and pretend to be surprised when the rocks would bounce off my shield. Knowing that these people had been set up as a buffer, cannon fodder, was just disgusting.

    At the same time, having to do this same fight on Earth would have been horrific. So there was a part of me that was grateful, which made me absolutely disgusted with myself. The fact is, if I had been given the choice of fighting here where my daughter was safe and the Puddleglums could be wiped out, I was going to choose here. That choice made me hate The Five even more for not giving me the information in the first place and more determined to destroy the Stoglan.

    “Those evil bastards! So Gunsmith, Teacher and Amam all died because of them?” I was clenching my hands so tight that the shield was keeping me from pushing my fingernails into my flesh.
    “The sad part is they could have died on Earth along with a a lot of people.” And Lady Ferrum spoke what I was thinking, scary how she could do that. “Do I suck for telling you this? I am really sorry but it has been eating at me.”
    “It’s all right, I’m glad you did. You know, I can’t decide which is worse. That two people I got to know so well, in such a short time died or that someone who was protecting my back died and I never bothered to ask him about his family or anything.”
    “Amam prefered to keep to himself.”
    “Doesn’t mean I couldn’t have gone and talked to him a bit, been a comrade in arms, but I never did. Now he’s dead and it sounds like The Five planned it that way.”

    “The important thing is to not to let those smegheads get to us.” She was still whispering and getting much closer.
    “Lady …”
    “Karen.” She gave me a gift in a single word. In our world names were important things.
    “What, Dan?”
    “I keep thinking about you.” That wasn't what I had meant to say. I was supposed to be talking about the death of our comrades and The Five, not the feelings I’d been carrying around with me since I first saw her.
    “I hope in a good way.”
    And with her soft words everything came tumbling out. “Depends on how you look at it. This is a completely inappropriate time to talk about it and besides you’re really out of my league. You’re half my age, incredibly smart and funny and pretty and English and the most I've ever accomplished as a hero was to have a traffic light installed.”
    “Cor, but you talk a lot.” The kiss was pretty much what you would expect from a first kiss by two people with nothing in common, sitting at odd angles, not great but not totally awful.
    The second one was way better, the third and fourth even more so. All the horror was blocked out for just a few minutes.

    “I have no idea how this is going to sound to you, which is why I would normally never say it. I mean I usually have to know someone for a while before I say something personal like this …” Would I ever stop stammering when I talked to her?
    “Really? We’ve been snogging for, what twenty minutes, and you’re worried about being personal?”
    Karen’s laugh was deep and full. Instead of embarrassing me, like you might think, it gave me confidence.
    “When I said I keep thinking about you, I meant it. I thought it was just how smart and pretty you are.”
    “You keep saying that, like it’s a given. I’m not pretty. Fuck all, compared to Dançarino no céu, I’m a dog.” I wasn't hearing false modesty in her voice, there was some pain. I was going to say something wrong I just knew it.
    “Sure, she’s beautiful but you are, I don’t know … You touch a part in my brain that she never could.”
    I noticed she didn’t argue with me about the smart part.which somehow made me want to convince her of the beautiful part even more.

    “Your smile, the way your hair is so curly and sometimes comes out of your hat and falls into your eyes, the way you scrunch up your nose when you’re thinking, and if you don’t mind, your broad shoulders, the way your breasts peek out of the top of your blouse, your thick strong legs and round …”
    She was kissing me hard and since we had practice it was very good. Or at least it started out that way, then it got a little odd. I realized that her skin was slowly turning hard.
    “Karen is everything alright?”
    ”No! Dammit to hell” She pulled away from me. “I thought I could control it. I’m sorry, this isn't a good idea.”
    Karen grabbed her gear and rushed from the tent.
    “Wait, can’t we just talk. We don’t have to do anything else.”

    I was running after her trying to think of something better to say when there was a flash and it suddenly became daytime.
    ENERGY WEAPON GET DOWN!” Man Mountain was yelling.
    “Where’s it coming from?”
    Looking over I could see the smoldering ruin that had been the forest, I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any cover deep enough. I had no idea what the hell was going on but someone had to do something and I was the only one who could deflect energy beams. Running to the north guard tower, I climbed out on the roof.
    “I love you Sara. Sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye kiddo.”
    Then the world exploded.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2014
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  3. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    In which I try my hand at writing a sex scene. Let me know what you think.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Thirteen

    “You cannot choose your battlefield,
    God does that for you;
    But you can plant a standard
    Where a standard never flew.
    - Nathalia Crane

    Opening my eyes hurt. In my early days of working kitchens I was assigned to cleaning the fryers. There wasn't time to let the fryers cool and the drain was clogged. When I punched the drain clear, gallons of hot grease poured over my hand and arm. I had second and third degree burns over the entire area, which was the worst I’ve ever been hurt in all the years I’ve worked as a chef. Laying on the cot I would be happy to have the grease burns. There was also something really heavy laying on my chest and it was making an odd cyclone sound.. Tilting my head even the slightest brought on a wave of blinding agony but it actually made me smile to see that the weight was Lady Ferrum’s head in metal form and the sound was her snoring.

    “Hey.” The word came out as a croak.
    “Oh, thank the Goddess you’re awake.”
    “How long was I out?”
    Karen pulled out my pocket watch, “ About twenty hours.”
    “Really?” I gave the watch my best what the fuck look.
    “You weren’t using it.”
    “What happened?”
    “You saved everybody. Not only that but you deflected the beam back to the source and destroyed the circle. Left nothing but a smoking ruin.”
    ”I wouldn't let The Silent One take you. What was he going to do? Drop you in some hospital? Keep you at the The Fives headquarters and make you owe them again?”
    “Thank you.” I reached out and touched her hair; it was solid, then her iron face. “Why the armor? Are we in danger?”
    “They've tried to hit us with some kind of long range missiles. Nothing has landed yet but better safe than sorry. Captain Science thinks the Stoglan took Puddleglums and boosted them the same way they evolved the animals.”
    “That’s horrible.”
    “I have to go, we’re going to take out the smaller of the two circles left..”
    “I’m coming too.” I tried to stand and promptly fell backwards.
    “No, you aren't. We’re going to need you for the last one.” Karen tucked the watch into his pocket. “Get some sleep, I’ll be back.
    The kiss was great but made me feel like a real loser for not being able to get out of bed.

    It took something exploding very close by, to wake me up. As I tried to get my bearings, I saw two figures running towards me through the flames. I had to shake my head a few times to realize they were Karen and Alphonse.
    “Can you walk?” The Archer asked grabbing me by the arm and pulling me to my feet.
    “Sort of.” Real answer, no not really.
    “We have to get of here.” Lady Ferrum’s gear was torn and splattered with gore.
    “Where are we going?”
    “The forest.” Alphonse split off to grab arrows and other supplies. I could see other heroes doing the same thing. The camp was burning, torn and half destroyed. They were salvaging what they could.

    Karen spoke in a low voice while Alphonse was gone, “Betanya was badly wounded, The Silent One took her back and Alphonse isn’t the same.”
    “What the fuck happened?”
    “We took out the second circle. Just as we were getting finished, the last circle dumped a load of missiles into the camp.”
    “Do I want to know how it went?”
    She wouldn't look at him.
    “Not well. Two of The Wolfgang were killed, they've been howling for hours. Carabao died destroying the center stones. Pirtuk was wounded but refused to go back to Earth. Man Mountain was hurt a couple of times but I swear he just stuffs the holes with dirt and keeps going.”
    Alphonse came back, in the light of the burning tents and flashlights his face could have been made from the same material as Karens.
    “Strafe can not fly anymore and is talking about killing himself. I told him I would be happy to put an arrow in him myself just to get him to shut up. El Viento has paired him up with Datter Av Brann, she has handled losing her arm very professionally maybe he will stop being such a whiny little bitch.”

    “Any good news?”
    We were getting closer to the forest and I was almost able to take a step or two on my own.
    “ Captain Science found some of the actual Stoglan in the circle you destroyed. They are about the size of a tick. Some kind of a hive mind that can go dormant safely in the rock under great stress like in space or an energy blast.”
    “Can he do anything with the information?”
    “Not yet but we’re hoping because it looks like we’re going to be able to do sod all about the last circle. It has a full force field around it. Nothing penetrates it.”
    “Right now we need to get to cover. Man Mountain has dug out a place for us.” Alphonse pointed to a pile of dandelion trees and what appeared to be a path inside.
    “The Major has called a Meeting in six hours. We have to come up with a plan to take out the last circle.” Karen helped me through the ‘wood’ reinforced tunnels until we got to a hollowed out spot.
    “I’ll be ready. What are you going to do?”
    “I need to sleep.” She started to unroll the sleeping bags and set up cots that were thrown in the corner.
    “Oh, yea, cool.”

    So I’m laying in the dark. My mouth opens and I find myself doing exactly what I've done with more than one woman in my life and regretted. Asking a question that I know will make us both uncomfortable and will change our relationship irreparably.
    “The other night when we were kissing, you said you thought you had it under control. I could feel you armoring up. Was I doing something wrong?”
    “No, you were fine. It’s a long story. Now’s not a good time. Let’s just go to sleep.” Her iron voice was even more hollow and distant than usual.
    So I thought about that for a couple of minutes and like an idiot kept talking.
    “I’m sorry, but no, I can’t do that. I just about died and while I was unconscious, people I knew did die. Fuck, you could have died.” I reached out in the dark and took her hand.
    “I’m very hard to kill.” She didn’t sound all that confidant.
    “Nothing is off the table. Just tell me what happened so we can deal with it.”
    She sighed, “You’re not going to leave this alone, are you?”
    “No, not really.”
    “I can usually control my turning. My father trained me when I was a little girl. It’s always been part of the fight or flight reflex and can still come up if there is a sudden attack. If I need to stay iron, I have to use these.” She held up a small bottle of pills. “It’s hard on my system so I don’t do it often.”
    Taking a deep breath she continued, “My problem is when I get excited. The hotter I get for someone, my skin starts to iron up.”
    I didn’t know what to say. So I thought I’d go with something I'd never tried before, saying nothing. Don’t go out on the limb, ignore the limb entirely. So I started kissing Karen, she protested, pulling back.
    “Hey, you know I can’t even feel that and I could hurt you?”
    “You can’t really hurt me, remember, and you might not be able to ‘feel’ directly but you know it’s there. How long are those pills going to keep you armoured?”
    “Not long. I need to take another one.”
    “Please don’t.”

    “Really, you want to pick at my personal problems in the middle of all this?”
    “No, I want to hold you, to touch you, to snog you and have you do it back.”
    “Well in case you haven’t been listening let me spell this out for you. As soon as I start liking what you’re doing to me, my skin will turn to iron and then it’ll get progressively harder for me to feel it.”
    “So we just have to come up with a way to keep you occupied. Then see if we can't turn up the intensity."
    “You think I haven’t gone that route? Most of the men who like getting that intense have issues of their own. Do you have issues?”
    “Lots of them, but I don’t think any of the ones you’re talking about.”
    ”The other problem was how easy it was for me to hurt them. Fuck all, to break them in half. I guess you don’t have to worry about that.”
    “I don’t know, the symbiont is kind of random in what it does and doesn't let happen sometimes.”

    As we talked Karen had turned to flesh in my arms. I started to touch her face, the laugh lines by her mouth, the high cheekbones, and finally cupping her chin, then went for the kiss.

    Taking off clothes is awkward when what you’re wearing is normal streetwear. If you have gear designed to absorb bullets, stop ravening monsters, strap weapons to, and look cool while you’re doing it, there are whole new sets of problems. So by the time I was able to get Lady Ferrum undressed her skin was getting harder. Since we were both standing, I turned her away from me and bent her forward.
    “What the hell?”
    “Trust me.” Which would have sounded better if I wasn't making it up as I went along.
    “I’m not some dog that you can just … "
    From the pocket of my jacket I pulled out one of the few things I had absolutely demanded when I discovered there were none in the camp, books. This was Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It was one of the few books I had read multiple times, usually when my life was in a really bad place. For a book about the apocalypse it was remarkably cheerful and did a lot to lift my spirits.
    “Here read this, aloud.”
    “Are you bonkers?”
    “Just keep your beautiful ass in the air and read. It’s an idea I got from Clayton Cubitt.”
    “Photographer, Hysterical Literature, never mind, just read.”

    So she pulled out my bookmark and started reading from the point where the four horseman are riding down the motorway with the other four horseman behind them.
    “Can I be War as well?” asked Big Ted.
    “Course you can’t be War. How can you be War? She’s War. You've got to be something else”
    Big Ted screwed up his face with the effort of thought.
    G.B.H.,” he said eventually. “I’m Grievous Bodily Harm. That’s me. There. Wott’re you going to be.”
    Her breathing became more ragged as the the bikers debated what their names would be until she moaned and said, “Oh God in heaven, don’t stop.”

    From what I could tell I only had a couple of minutes before I’d have to do it so hard that my hand and tongue would go numb, so I added a few other twists and with the other hand even more stimulus.
    Unable to stand it any longer Karen dropped to her knees but when I threatened to stop she continued to read. That didn’t last long. Looking back at me with her eyes glazed, Karen tried to say something that came out as an unintelligible moan, I grabbed that moment to save in my memory forever.

    Karen let out a shriek and collapsed on the cot. I dropped down next to her.
    “That feels a whole lot different when somebody else does it.” she said softly.
    “Nobody ever tried distracting you?”
    “Music, videos, pain, but never a book,” she kissed me. “You clever boy.”
    She eyed him suspiciously, “So what about you?”
    “Don’t worry about me. We haven’t got done handling you yet.”
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  4. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Things get complicated.
    Aurum Shield Chapter Fourteen

    “The flies have conquered the flypaper.”
    - John Steinbeck

    “The bloody circle is eating the planet.”
    “Could you be a little more specific?”
    “Ask Captain Science if you want the numbers, honey bunny. The gist is the damn thing gets bigger round every day and taller.” Karen tucked her hair into her top hat and adjusted the buckles on her great coat.
    “Has he come up with a way to get through the force field?”
    “Not yet. I think that’s what this trip with Celeritas is all about. We’re supposed to protect him while he runs around it to see if there are weak spots.”
    I pulled on my aviator cap and goggles, then put on the leather duster. Grabbing the quad-gun and making damn sure it was loaded, completed the outfit. Nobody went unarmed these days.
    “How the hell are we supposed to do that?” I asked.
    “Don’t know, guess we’ll find out.”

    We slipped into the briefing late, scrunching in between Slight and Man Mountain.
    You’re late.” Slight sounded more amused than accusatory. Even though she was whispering, the words were clear.
    “What did we miss?” Karen asked.
    “So far just the big guy telling us what a great job we’ve been doing. I think he’s working us up to go out and die.”
    “You don’t seem to mind much.”
    I’m at peace with the idea if that’s what you mean.”
    “How bout you, MM?” I asked.
    “I just want to stop it from building a new ship and heading for earth.” The big guy was trying to whisper but everybody was turning and hushing us.

    “Now for those of you who just arrived, and I’m sure you had a good reason, Captain Science has been working to adapt some of the transport technology so kindly provided by Dr. Ruin.” The Major wasn't as neat and pressed any more. The sonic cleaner had been destroyed with the camp and the green mud was now pretty much a given along with Stoglan blood on everyone's gear but he still looked better than the rest of us.
    “Celeritas is going to place them against the base of the shield in a pattern that, when they are activated, will destabilize the field.”
    “And once that happens?” Alphonse was sprawled out in the corner, drinking Man Mountains home brew. “Didja have a new weapon for fighting the fucken Stoglan or didja just plan on getting more of us killed?”
    “As sorry as I am about what happened to your clone mate, it is hardly necessary for you to interrupt this briefing.”
    The Archer was on his feet with his bow loaded and drawn so fast I wasn't sure it had really happened. The drunkenness was gone, now death was pointed at The Major or it might have been if he wasn't indestructible.
    “This is an arrow I have been saving for a special occasion, Major. The tip is plastique and the sand from a certain spring in Arizona. Shall we see what happens if I use it?”
    That was when I should have walked up to stand with my friend. He had taught me how to be a hero and hot to understand the rules of being a Super. Instead, I just stood with everybody else and watched. I wasn't sure if he had lost his mind, didn’t want to go up against The Five and most of all was too much of a coward. So much for being a hero. Everybody in the room was holding their breath but it was The Major who blinked and put up his hands in mock defeat.

    “I didn’t think so. So don’t ever say anything about my partner again.” Alphonse lowered the arrow. “Let me know when it is time to get killed and I’ll be there. These people matter, even if you don’t mean shit to me.”
    The Archer turned and walked out of the meeting. Considering the way The Major was glaring, I wouldn't have dared turn my back on him.

    It took the better part of a day to fight our way to the last circle, which was now about the size of Rhode Island. Finding a spot where Captain Science could set up his gear and get Celeritas rigged was another battle because we were attacked through the whole process. Karen and I were assigned the fun task of keeping Captain Science alive and healthy.
    “This is the one for the right quadrant grid. You understand the order that these have to be set?”
    “Yes,you’vegoneoverthisadozentimes!” ‘Yes you've gone over this a dozen times!’ Talking to Celeritas took patience because he didn’t have any with the slow people around him. Like the rest of The Five, Celeritas was not an easy person to get along with but at least he had a valid reason. Unlike The Major who was just a pompous ass.

    That was the moment we were attacked by insects that looked like a cross between a mosquito and a baseball glove. Celeritas took off with the doohickies leaving the three of us to fight the bugs. Fine asshole, I guess that’s what we’re here for but still not even a word of support? I’d blown away a bunch of the damn things with the quad gun (RIP Gunsmith) and was reloading when I noticed that Captain Science had a rather nifty rig using natural gas to burn them out of the sky. He was being damned efficient about it. All I could see in his eyes was the flame of burning insects, Captain Science no longer cared what made them tick. He just wanted to kill as many as possible.

    I heard the call in my ear, “The wall is coming down. Turtle formation.”
    The three of us worked our way to where the rest of the crew was waiting at the force field. No spear formation bullshit this time. We were borrowing from the Romans, making a box with shields and spears. Brynhilde wasn't at all happy, she was the jump out front and hack the living shit out of things type fighter. It was Man Mountain who had come up with the idea, (who knew the big guy was huge history buff) and there had been some serious arguments between the two of them with The Major finally siding with Man Mountain. Since he was taller than everyone else Man Mountain was going to be turret.

    There was a crackling sound and the shimmer that would have fried us if we went any further vanished. There was a short cheer as we started to march forward. It didn’t last very long since we knew that this was the beginning of a very long march. It was about thirty miles to the edge of the circle mountain and we were going to be fighting all the way.
    “This is a lot fucking harder than it was back at the camp!” Strafe was not happy. He seemed to have dealt with the not being able to fly but holding a shield and marching in time with other people was defeating him.
    “JUST KEEP YOUR SHIELDS TOUCHING AND YOUR KNEES BENT.” Man Mountain grabbed a sixteen foot long flying snake out of the air and kept folding it until it broke.

    I wasn't doing all that well myself but I knew better than to bitch about it. I had my quad gun but there would be no time for me to stop and reload, so I couldn't use the damned thing. Instead it was all about spears and other edged weapons. Alphonse was behind me with one of the roof shields, an upwards spear and a small crossbow. I have no idea how he reloaded it one handed.

    “Kneel and unlimber.” The Major might be a dick but he sounded so calm that being under attack by dozens of tank size Stoglan seemed par for the course. I took got out the quad-gun and the bandoleer of speed loaders. Lady Ferrum had a 50 cal rifle adapted to fit her shoulder instead of a mount, also a gift from The Gunsmith. She dug her feet into the ground, and fired the first shot. She didn’t get the hit, had to adjust and made a kill. The next two hours was nothing but slaughter upon slaughter. It was what The Gunsmith would have called ‘a target rich environment’.

    “We have to get moving or it will be dark before we get there and I don’t think that would be the best course of action.” I could never figure out how El Viento could be so polite but make it so clear he was incredibly pissed off.
    “Of course. Let’s move out.” The Major ripped the head of a snake and waved to everyone.
    “YOU HEARD THE MAN. LET’S GET IN FORMATION AND MOVE OUT!” When he wanted to The Major could be as loud as Man Mountain.
    I dragged my sorry ass into place, strapped the quad gun down, almost cried when I realized just how little ammo I had left and grabbed my spear. We had another ten miles to hike and there were going to be Stoglan at the center that made the ones we were fighting now look like house pets. Considering a couple of months ago I was forty pounds overweight and got winded just running up the block, I guess this should be impressive but I would go back to that in a hot minute. I had lost weight but not in a healthy way. We were eating a lot of protien bars and MREs. now that the camp had been destroyed. Peanut butter crackers and canned fruit do not make for good nutrition.

    I had gotten so used to being scared and over adrenalized that I didn’t think there was anything that could make me feel overwhelming fear. Having something so big appear above us that it blocked out the sun nearly brought me to my knees. If the Stoglan had launched their ship or if they had made something this big, nothing we had done mattered. It was all over. We were screwed.

    “Get down, Shield, Ferrum, cover who you can.” The Major using his calm voice. What the hell did he know?
    So I grabbed Captain Science and Datter Av Brann and we curled up. I saw Lady Ferrum doing the same thing with Alphonse and Slight. There was that tick tick tick, just enough time for you to think -well this is embarrassing and then I saw a black wall heading our way.

    .When I was a kid the Pine Barrens burned. It was a major fire for New Jersey. Nothing like some of the fires in California or Alaska, I’m sure but we had ash floating around for days. I remember the smell and even the taste. People complained, of course, but that’s because they have never had to breath the burnt remains of a mountains worth of Stoglan. When we dug out of the ash that covered us, the entire mountain was a glowing crater that went down almost two miles.

    The Major gave a rather glorified description of the ‘allies’ who had come to help us and why, but I was a fan of the breakdown done by Pirtuk and Man Mountain.
    “So there was an intergalactic exterminator waiting for those bugs but on the other side our galaxy? They set up a tent and we were on the wrong side?” Pirtuk kept running his hands through his black hair like he was trying to make it sink in.
    “I guess it worked. Always nice to have a deus ex machina on your side.

    There was no celebration for me. As I was heading back my bunk to meet Karen I ran into The Silent One. Next thing I on the street in front of my apartment, retching and screaming.
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  5. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    I'm sure you know but the beginning of the book fits here.
    Aurum Chapter Fifteen

    “Stupid men, always thinking they're the ones who get to do the rescuing.”
    - Peadar Ó Guilín

    I was having a hard time breathing. Holding onto Karen’s hair had gotten to be impossible because it was turning to steel. The shield would come up if she broke skin but the symbiant seemed to have a problem distinguishing the point when pleasure was turning to pain. The edible lube had proved be a great idea once we discovered how excited she got during queens choice. I think I wrenched my back when the moment came. She dropped into my arms, her skin slowly turning from metal to flesh as we cuddled.
    “Does the lube taste all right?”
    “Pepperminty. Come here, taste.” She drew me in for a long kiss. Peppermint and yes, other tastes too but I wasn’t going to think about that.
    “I’m hungry and since you have destroyed your kitchen, we are going out to get a decent meal.” Looking at the stacks of takeout boxes that cluttered the bedroom, I couldn’t really argue with her. We’d been holed up in here for a couple of days now. Since we’d run through the options of Italian, Chinese, and Indian food that delivered, it was time to go out.

    We were sitting in the Americana Diner when I told her that I hadn't talked with Sara since I got back. Karen hit me hard, in the back of the head and she was ironing up when she did it.
    “You call that girl, you call her right bloody now and fucking apologize for being such a sorry cunt.” At which point she stormed out of the restaurant, leaving me to sit there and feel very much like a sorry cunt.
    So I paid the check with her credit card, went out to the car and called my kiddo. It was hard at first, Sara wasn’t happy with me and had every right not to be. As always I was totally honest with her. Mostly, I just begged for mercy.
    “This whole being a hero thing kind of sucks sometimes. I’m really sorry.”
    “No Dad, what happened really sucked. Not calling me was a douchebag thing to do.”
    “You’re right, what can I do to make it up to you?”
    “Is Lady Ferrum there?”
    “I can get her.”
    “Good, I want to talk to her.”
    When I gave Karen the phone she shooed me away. After I was finally allowed to come back and say goodbye to Sara, I asked Karen what they talked about.
    “She told me if I hurt you she would melt me down for scrap.” Karen was smiling.
    “What? I didn’t tell her we were together, just that you were here to help me with a case.”
    “Your daughter is not stupid. In fact your daughter is pretty awesome. I told her we would get together when school gets out.”
    “Why yes, that should be fun.” I didn’t even want to think about what my ex what have to say about that.
    I was pretty disgusted with myself both for having taken so long to call her and for having to be bullied into it. Emotionally I felt like I’d gone a few rounds with one of the biggest Stoglan.

    “Let’s gear up and go see your stop light.”

    Karen’s first reaction when she saw that I was putting on my coat was “Don’t you have another one?”
    It took a few minutes for her to understand that I only had one set of gear. We used Karen's rental car to drive to the bus stop where the city had installed ‘my’ crossing light. What I didn’t know know, was a picture someone had taken of me standing in the road, front end of a car wrapped most of the way round my body and a pissed off look on my face had been turned into tack ups. They were all over the bus stop and from what I could tell on the power poles all down the street. There were only a half dozen people at the bus stop but they were thrilled to see us. I have never been asked for an autograph. The feeling is hard to describe. I just tried to copy Karen. She handled it like breathing, growing up in the life gives you certain advantages.Getting back in the car I realized there was something that really needed to be done.

    “We have to go to Camden. I need to talk to somebody.”

    Walking into Papa Joe’s was a totally different experience. Kevin and T.C. started to move in on us but something made them back up. I’m not sure if it was Karen in full Lady Ferrum mode or that I still had Stoglan blood all over my coat.

    “Can we see him?”
    “You’re alive.” said Kevin.
    “Sorry to disappoint you.”
    “Means I owe Rag a deck. Didn't see you making it.”
    “You knew where I was going?” This was getting weird.
    “No.” Rag’s voice came from the back of the shop, “He knew what happened to me. Don’t stand there jawing, come on back.”
    “You were hurt doing something for The Five?” I asked when we were settled in the back room.
    “Ask her father, he’s better at telling stories then I am.” Rag replied, using a tone that made it very clear he had no intention of discussion it further. Since I have no plans to be talking with Karen’s father any time soon, I guess it will be a mystery for a long time.
    Rag settled back in his chair. “I’m glad to see you survived.”
    Now came the first thing I needed to do. I remembered watching a documentary about what it was like being a cop and they asked this highly decorated officer what was the toughest part of the job. He said that going to tell people that family members and friends had been killed was harder than being in a shootout. That had seemed unlikely to me but right now I really understood what he was talking about.

    “I remember reading about how in the 80’s, you and Bone worked with The Teacher to expose those school buildings that had toxic mold, lead paint, and asbestos. You guys caused a real stink.”
    “I ripped the walls open and showed 'em the pipes when they said the crap wasn’t there. She testified at the hearings.” The old man looked at me levelly. His voice dropped. “Fuck!”
    I pulled the pin out of my coat pocket, still with the piece of sweater attached, took Rags hand and placed it in his palm.
    “She went down fighting. Thousands of people would have died if it wasn’t for her.”
    We cried and talked about the lady with a beehive hairdo. tortoiseshell glasses, and a love for learning that dragged everyone along with her. We drank and remembered how she would pull sherikans out of the air to use as push pins or morningstars for chemistry demonstrations. It was a true wake.

    “I wanted to continue the work we were talking about that night. The girls who disappeared.”
    “CJ called last night and said that he had heard something I might be interested in. Do you want to follow it up?”
    “Sure, if you can give me the address to the Cadillac Jim's pool hall. I don’t think I could remember how to get there.”
    “I’ll send Kevin with you.”
    “You don’t have to do that.”
    “Not a problem, he’ll be happy to help out.”

    If happy to help out meant sitting in the backseat of the rental car and bitching about the music, having to sit in the backseat, there not being any cupholders, and how bad the air conditioning was, then he did a great job. His direction giving skills got us turned around twice which just came down to “you should have let me drive”. We should have stuck with the GPS.
    There was the same stare down between CJ’s bodyguards and Kevin only this time CJ didn’t send them away. He wasn’t the same easy going character he had been the last time they came to visit. CJ’s razor sharp pinstripe suit looked like it had been slept in and he had his guys run all the customers out of the place before he would talk.
    “I wanted see Rag, not some honky street hero, don’t know what time it is.”
    “This is Lady Ferrum, she has come all the way from England to help. I’m sure you know about her and her father, The Iron Duke.”
    “Doesn't mean anything here. Look I've got contacts that run pretty deep in the dark and ugly, so I thought I would check to see what was out there. It started going directions I didn’t expect.” The old gangster held up a zip drive. “Got it all here. My grandson hooked me up.”
    “GET DOWN!” Kevin was diving for the floor with his gun in his hand. “Useless fucker!” He had to pull one of the bodyguards away from the line of fire. I grabbed CJ and covered him as the windows to the pool hall exploded with bullets. Karen stepped in to block for Kevin and other bodyguard.

    Four men dressed in commando gear and carrying machine guns powered their way into the pool hall. They seemed a little surprised to see anyone still standing but continued to fill the room with bullets. When they realized we weren’t going down and in fact appeared to be Supers, there was was some conferring (during which Kevin shot one of them) and they retreated. If I had my quad-gun there would have been no question how the situation would have ended but since New Jersey doesn’t allow street Heros to have guns I only had batons.
    “Are you OK?” I asked Cadillac Jimmy.
    “I will be as soon as we get out of here. Looks like I’m going to be retiring earlier than I thought.”
    “Shield! Lady! Over here! Everybody else get out now!.” This was a whole new Kevin. An all business, not to be fucked with, handle it now Kevin.
    “What is it?”
    “They left us a present.”
    The bomb was probably set to give them time to get well away since it was really big. They must have planned on taking down the building. It looked like we had about two minutes left.
    “I can cover it but the blast will just turn me into a projectile.” I remembered hanging out in the tree above the battle of circle 20.
    “Pool tables weigh bout 800 pounds.” CJ was standing behind me appraising the bomb. “It’ll go into the basement if we get this done quick.”
    “Can you flip one?”
    Karen leaned into in and when it moved, she nodded, “Then I’ll sit on it.”
    So I covered the bomb with my body and waited for the weight of the pool table to come crashing down on me.
    I really was getting too old for this shit.

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  6. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Chapter Sixteen

    “How do you stop those who will stop at nothing?”
    - Anonymous

    When I was finally able to get my eyes to open, the first thing I see is Donny, the big cop we met at the WaWa. He’s got a Sawzall and is cutting the rebar from around my head. Part of me is happy to see him while another part of me thinks, he sure keeps testing the shield with the edge of that saw doesn’t he? It took Donny and some other enterprising members of the CFD almost an hour to cut me free from the combination of, flooring, concrete foundation and two pool tables.

    The good news was the building didn’t get blown to pieces. Our plan worked and most of the bomb’s force was driven down, it knocked the building off its foundation but I was fine with that for about two minutes. Then Karen crawled down in wreckage to give me the bad news. Somebody with a sniper rifle killed CJ, they hit her twice but she was fine. Once again, I failed to protect someone in my care.

    When I was finally cut clear and had promised to come down to the station to be debriefed, we went looking for Kevin. He had faded into the crowd with no intention of answering any questions from the police. The set line in his face made it clear he was upset about CJ’s death and I got the feeling he blamed himself even if he wasn’t going to admit it.

    “Talked to Rag. He not happy that you got CJ killed.”
    “I didn’t get CJ killed. I got blown up trying to keep him alive and Lady Ferrum got shot.” I held up the thumb drive he gave me. “This got him killed. We need to find out what was so important.”

    Kevin gave us an address and very clear instructions to get there. He was in and out of the building faster than it took for Wolfmother to finish ‘Appletree’. Over one shoulder was a laptop bag and the other a duffel bag that I know we did not want found if we got pulled over by the police.

    There were a number of things on the drive but the one that interested us was labeled Holding. There were three addresses and considering the way the evening had progressed it seemed best to check them out soonest. This time Lady Ferrum just let Kevin drive, screw the rental agreement.

    We came around the corner much faster than I felt comfortable with for a residential neighborhood. There were firetrucks pulling up at the same time. The house we were looking for was engulfed in flames. Kevin didn’t even slow down and headed for the second address. We beat the firetrucks to this one but not the fire. There was already orange light coming out of the windows and black smoke from the roof. Karen called in the 911, while I ran to the front and back doors. When the doors wouldn’t open even when I slammed my considerable weight against them, I looked to see nail heads around the edges.

    The door didn’t hold up to Lady Ferrum at a full run. I did have the problem The Archers had warned me about; I could go into the fire without being burned but I didn’t have anything to breath. Karen had the same problem with added problem of melting. I found one person before I had to leave. The man I pulled from the fire was dead and from what I found out later had been dead before the fire started but horribly not the four girls locked in cages in the basement.

    We made a dash for the third address with Kevin suggesting we just call 911 before we got there. Turned out he was right. Same thing, doors nailed shut, fire already so hot it was impossible to go in. All total sixteen girls and three men died in the fires. Nobody in the low income residential neighborhoods thought there was anything odd about the men who lived next door. They seemed like average guys and there never seemed to be anything odd going on at the houses.

    I was feeling very frustrated and thought the night couldn't get much when my cell phone rang.
    “What the fuck is going on?” It was the very pissed off voice of my ex-wife.
    “I’m sorry about the child support. I was fired. I should have told you but things have been kind of crazy.” We had kept communications to a minimum, finding it was the best way to avoid recriminations and saying things either of us would later regret. Now that was coming back to bite me in the ass.

    “This isn’t about the child support, asshole. It went through just fine.” It did? How the hell was that possible? My checking account should be empty, which was why Karen had been paying for everything since she got here. “Men came into the house, I had to shoot one and your daughter Tasered another. I’m at the compound and my dad’s gone on lockdown. You know how much I fucking well don’t want to be here!” Her voice had risen to a scream.

    My family! They came after my family. I didn’t even know who THEY were and my family was in danger. Sure, I couldn't live with the woman, but I still loved her, and my daughter! They tried to hurt my daughter. Something inside me broke open. I looked down to see the shield forming around my body. It sensed something was wrong and was trying to protect me.
    “Sara says you have become some kind of fucking hero. Once again you have ignored your family to do what …” She was hitting the point where everything that had ever gone wrong was going to come out and we just didn’t have time.
    “You’re right.” I was yelling to cut through. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think. Most of all I’m glad you’re alright. Tell your Dad and brothers thank you for me. Give me twenty-four hours and you can go back to your regular life. I promise.”
    She had run away from the world she was raised in but thankfully retained certain parts of it. I was genuinely sorry that she had been forced to go back to that compound in New Egypt.
    “How can you promise that?”
    “I have contacts. Give Sara my love and tell her how badass I think she is for Tasering that guy.”
    I hung up without giving her a chance to respond.
    “We need to find someplace with WiFi, I've got some things to check.”

    Kevin turned out to have a wireless hotspot so I first checked my bank account to discover that I had a little under ten grand in my checking account. I found an email with a notification that I’d been picked as the winner of a Hudson Grant. I never heard of them but it’s apparently a private group that provides grants to deserving individuals. Later, Karen did some digging and it turned out all the companies that were part of the Hudson group were owned by Betanya and Alphonse. The grant was for $10,000 a month tax free, for the rest of my life. I’m sure that might not seem like a lot to many people but I've never made half that much a year in my life.

    There was the discussion with Kevin.
    “If they came after CJ and my family they will probably come after Rag. Shouldn't you be there for him.” Not that I wanted to him to leave but losing Rag would be just too much.
    “Don’t worry Rag’s got other peeps and he can take care of himself. They will have to send more than some suck ass punks with guns to take him out.” Kevin was pulling an assortment of guns out of the duffel bag and strapping them to his body, then covered them with a long coat.

    My next step was to download some gaming software. It didn’t make Kevin happy but I needed it to make the contact. The one person I had exchanged names with besides Karen was Slight and it wasn’t the one you might think. It turned out we played the same MMORPG. So I went on her server and checked to see if she was online. For the first time tonight, my luck was good. I thought it would take a while to sell her on the idea but after four sentences, she asked where I wanted to meet her. Then only because she was sure I hadn’t been stupid enough not think of it, “Who is the second?” I told her I was working on that but would have it taken care of when she got here.

    “Who else can we get?” Karen asked. “I’d be happy to but I want to go after these bastards, honey bunny.”
    Kevin smiled, “I would volunteer but somehow I don’t think I could do the blend in thing you’re looking for.”
    “Thanks for volunteering and if I can’t get who I’m looking for I might take you up on it, blend in or not.”
    “Who did you have in mind?” Karen asked.
    “You remember how The Gunsmith talked about his sister who had her own skills?”
    “The Bullet Bitch? She’s on the bad side isn't she?”
    “Not bad per se, just works for the highest bidder, so totally amoral.”
    “We don’t have the kind of money she’s going to be asking for.”
    “Maybe but I think they do.” I pulled up the electronic accounts that CJ had put under Finance on the thumb drive. “CJ did the smart thing, he followed the money.”
    “So how do we get it. We can’t hack a bank account.”
    “We don’t have to,” Kevin said. “That one isn't a bank account, it’s a storage bin in Trenton.”

    We got there just time to interrupt the two men loading the bin onto a truck. I sincerely hope they were part of the teams who set the houses on fire because Kevin shot one in the leg and Lady Ferrum punched one unconscious. We loaded up the trunk of the car, leaving the rest. I figured that the Bullet Bitch would work for $750,000. I was only taking enough to protect my family. Was it a cheap justification? Maybe, but right now I needed a way to make sure my kid stayed alive and I couldn't be sure that my father in law had the skills. Kevin put in a call to Rag who knew a bunch of charities who could use the money and had people who could pick it up quickly.
    be sure that my father in law had the skills. Kevin put in a call to Rag who knew a bunch of charities who could use the money and had people who could pick it up quickly.
    • Like Like x 2
  7. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    This is where my first major train wreck is in the book.
    I might need a bit to fiddle with to have it make sense.
    Chapter Seventeen

    “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
    George Bernard Shaw, Immaturity

    After Kevin made his calls I had to make a few of my own.
    It was a small ad in an internet magazine worded the right way with a phone number. The Gunsmith said it was how he talked to his sister. It was my only hope. An hour later, the phone rang.
    “Who are you?”
    “I’m called Aurum Shield. I was with your brother when he died.”
    “I’m sorry for you loss.”
    “Thank you. Is that all?”
    “I’d like to hire you for a protection detail.”
    “Not my usual work. How long?”
    “Until I can eliminate the threat. It’s two people, mother and daughter. I want them to have as normal a life as possible. You will have a partner. A hero. I’d need you to start immediately.”
    “We’ll see. What are you offering for this joy ride.”
    “Half a million with a quarter million bonus on completion.”
    “Where do you want to meet?”
    “She hated having to go to grandpa, you know.” I was in the Newark airport waiting for the Slight’s plane. The Bullet Bitch said she would meet us here as well but I have no idea if she was taking a plane. We dropped Kevin off, his duffel bag bulging with money, then went back to the apartment. We were operating on about two hours of sleep and quad shot mochas.
    “I know but being at the compound with him and your uncles is the best thing for now. Good job on taking out the bad guy. I didn’t approve of your grandfather giving you that Taser for your birthday but I’m glad he did.”
    “Thanks, I would have shot him but I’m glad I didn’t have to. Mom talks tough but she’s not doing well about shooting the other guy.”
    “Well, I’m sorry it happened and like I said, I’m making sure it won’t happen again. Love you kiddo. Gotta go.”

    I’d forgotten how tiny Slight was. Without her katanas, dressed in street clothes, she didn’t look much older then my daughter. I couldn't believe how good it felt that my friend from the Stoglan war had come to help me protect my family.
    “Thank you.”
    “Happy to help.” Slight hugged us both. “And my backup?”
    “I guess that would be me.”
    Oh hell! How did she manage that? Standing off to one side of us was a tall woman wearing jeans, a cotton work shirt and knee high moccasins. Her black hair was in long braids that went to her waist and I could see some of her brother in her tanned angular face. She was carrying a guitar case and a duffel bag. She looked like a country music singer, not one of the most dangerous assassins in the world.

    “What would you like us to call you?” Slight wasn’t one bit surprised.
    “Bebe is fine.”
    The drive to Connecticut was just plain weird and uncomfortable. Bebe had us stop at a gun shop to pick up a case she had apparently mailed there. Slight did her trick of pulling her katanas out of thin air.

    “Not that it matters but who are we protecting the targets against?” Bebe opened the guitar case, which oddly enough contained a guitar, and was doing finger exercises. From what little I know she is pretty good.
    “Faceless crime syndicate, that kidnaps little girls for unknown purposes and burns them alive to cover their tracks.” I said with a bit more venom than was necessary. I wasn’t happy to hear my kiddo referred to as a target.
    “One of those. So unlimited funds and the possibility of hiring top talent. Good thing you hired the best before they did.”
    “You think highly of yourself.” Karen said.
    “Not really. Just know what’s out there. If someone better comes along I’ll you.” She went back to her guitar.
    “Did you hear what she said?” Karen was appalled. “One of those? So she’s worked for people like them, maybe even for them.”
    “I know. Freaks me out too, but she’s not going to tell us anything. She’s a pro and has a code.” At least that’s what her brother told me. Maybe she could give me some general information. “Do you have any suggestions for dealing with faceless crime syndicates? I’m a little new to this.”

    Putting the guitar between her and Slight, Bebe sighed, “I could be giving up a lot of money by saying this. They closed up shop and sent you a message. Don’t know what they would have done to your ex-wife and daughter but they would have been alive.” When everybody turned to look at her, she snorted. “Like I couldn't figure out who they are? If you stick to stopping hit and runs, nothing else is going to happen. This is just one small part of their operation. The only way you will need us is if you keep digging.”

    I thought about that about twenty more miles and it kept coming back to those girls burning to death in the basements of those houses. Sara would never forgive me if I backed off now.

    I had called my ex and told her to meet me at the house. Needless to say that meeting made the drive up seem much less awkward in comparison. It was great to see my kiddo though. Holding her in my arms made the past month less painful. There was a very weird moment when I thought the shield was trying to wrap around her too. Then she abandoned me to talk with Karen and Slight. The Bullet Bitch walked the area after polite introductions.

    Gail was standing off to one side looking at me like she couldn't decide if she was going to laugh or cry.
    I had seen just about every emotion she could produce in our twenty years together and this was completely new. She held open a scrapbook with news articles from the Courier-Post and Trenton Times. Sara must have been keeping track.
    “Is this you?”
    “Yea, I’m the Aurum Shield.”
    “Why am I the last to know?”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “So where are these people supposed to stay?”
    “Bebe can sleep in the guest room and Slight is going to sleep on the airbed in my room.” Sara had Slight in tow and even picked up one of Bullet Bitch’s cases which only seemed to make the assassin smile. “Come on, I’ll show you. Hey Papa-San, you need to talk to Karen.”
    She gave me a quick hug and went into the house.

    Looking over, I saw Karen was on the phone. She wasn’t saying a word but she didn’t look happy. She wasn’t in iron form but all the warmth I usually felt from her was gone. When I walked to her she turned away. I got the message and walked back far enough to give her privacy. When the call was over she came over to me.
    “I have to go.”
    “What, why?”
    “It’s my father.”
    “Is something wrong.”
    “No, yes. He’s not sick or anything.”
    “Then why do you have to go?”
    “You wouldn't understand. I can be the bad girl all I want but I’m still part of the line. When it’s time to come home, I have to come home.”
    “Did he say why?”
    “No but I get the feeling it’s not good. He’s the master of the understatement and he said we needed to discuss an unfortunate situation.”
    I looked up and saw Bebe with a cup of coffee looking out the window of the house scanning the area.
    “I’ll go with you.”
    “What about the girls?”
    “Bebe said they shut down their shop here. I need a new angle. You came here and saved my sorry ass. The least I can do is go to England and help you with whatever is there.”

    There went my excuse to never have to meet Karen’s father. Two days later I was on a plane to England. Luckily my passport was still current from the one trip I’d taken as a food rep from a now defunct combination restaurant and gourmand food store.
    “Now that The Archers had gone into hiding I’m not sure how to go after the FECC.” This had become our name for the faceless evil criminal cartel. “You think your dad might have some ideas or contacts?”
    “He might but we’re in another country, it seems like a long shot.”
    “I know. To be honest I figure if I talk shop with him it’ll be better then ‘Hi, I’m the old guy who’s boning your daughter.”
    “I've brought home a lot worse than you.”
    “Why does that not make me feel any better?”

    The estate was just what you’d expect, with a mile long, pardon me a kilometer long drive way, a massive house that had front doors big enough to drive a Mack truck through.and an assortment of servants. It was all a bit weird and kind of terrifying. Karen addressed each person by name and did her best to keep me from making a fool out of myself.
    “Where’s my father, Patrick?”
    “He asked that you be directed to your rooms and have a chance to freshen up. Then met him for dinner.” The major domo was not much older than I am but so totally professional it made him seem older. I’d worked with maitre’ ds like him. Not easy people to get along with but they ran a smooth front of house.

    “Thank you, Patrick.”
    “So we have separate rooms?”
    “Don’t start.”
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014
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  8. The transition between the two conversations at the beginning of the chapter seemed a bit awkward. Took a moment to fully realized the scene had shifted.

    Other than that: MORE, MORE!
    • Like Like x 1
  9. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Yea, I working on these two chapters so they are really rough. They need some serious work.
    I figured I'd hammer off the rough edges and just drop them in anyway for the time being.
    Chapter Eighteen

    “Remembering the past always comes with an image or a view attached.”
    ― Orhan Pamuk

    Dinner was in the great hall so named because it was hard to see to the other side of it. We were sitting at a table big enough to float medical supplies down the Amazon and it was just the three of us. The food hit every point, fresh sorrel soup, roast pigeon, spring peas with wild mushrooms and a mixed berry galette topped in whipped ginger cream as a finish. Probably the best part was the 1989 Chateau l'Angelus that went with the pigeon.I really wanted to go back in the kitchen and compare notes with the chef. To bad The Iron Duke was doing his best to make the dinner unenjoyable.

    “So, you were involved in the engagement with the Stoglan. Spent a fair amount of time on your back, from what I understand.”
    “He saved the entire camp, father and destroyed a Stoglan circle by himself.” Karen’s voice had a tone I’d never heard before. I guess it’s true, you never really know people until you see them around their parents.
    “Sheer luck, Charles Walters was a good man. He would never have taken such a fool risk.”
    “I took a risk trying to save Mr. Walters life. As a civilian. Against the Goshawks.” Wow, my voice was absolutely level.
    “Well, it’s not like we should have to expect that much from a street hero from New Jersey.”
    “Sir, with all due respect what have I done to be the brunt of your scorn? I know you worked with Rag. He will vouch for me as will The Archers.” Hey, I can be just as snarky, thank you. Big words and everything. Just don’t let me start talking with a fake British accent, please.

    The Iron Duke was in mostly iron form with some pink along his eyes and lips. He’d been seated when we came in so it took me a while to realize that half his body was paralyzed much the same way as Rags’. He was dressed in an impeccably tailored suit. Not on the level of the ones that Alphonse wore but first class all the same. The red hair gene had come from him along with the ability to become living steel, though his was laced with grey now. The Iron Duke had one of the most impressive mustaches I’ve ever seen

    “You want to know what you have done. You have drawn my daughter into something that you don’t understand. Let me make it clear, you have put everything the Iron family stands for at risk as well as my daughters life.” He pointed his fork at Karen. “You will take him to Heathrow in the morning and say your goodbyes. That will be the end of this.”
    “You trained me to be a hero. A hero who stands up for what is right.” Karen was ironing up and her fingernails were making grooves in the tabletop.
    “No dear, I trained you to be a hero of tradition. There is a balance.” He turned on me, “You realize the hero of this world are outnumbered. Not by villains per se rather by powers that do not intend let well meaning busy bodies meddle in their operations. As long as we focus on keeping the badduns in line and saving people from natural disasters they will put up with us. Push too hard, they could wipe us all out. The civilians people might miss us for a while but then we would just be a few stories and movies..”
    “Nonsense, as long as there is a need for justice people will put on a mask and become heroes.”
    “How very American of you. Would you have, if it wasn’t forced on you?”
    I had an answer, it just wasn’t coming out of my mouth.
    “I rest my case.”

    “My daughter tasered a man who broke into her bedroom. I had to hired the Bullet Bitch to protect her. I’m going to find the people who sent that bastard and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
    I was not going to let The Iron Duke talk down to me or Karen. “If it creates some kind of imbalance, I’ll deal with it but right now there are people out there who let little girls burn alive. I want them stopped. If you can help me, fine. If not, I’m leaving.”
    “You don’t get to protect me from being a hero. If that means our family name gets dragged through the mud, then so be it.” Karen said.
    “THEY HAVE PICTURES OF YOU!” The table cracked when he slammed his fist on it.
    Karen shrank in her chair. I stood up and went to her. There probably weren’t any right words for ‘your girlfriend is being blackmailed’ but I felt like I had to say something.
    “I love you.” The words hadn’t been said between us, there had never really been that kind of moment.
    She looked at me in disbelief, “You’re saying that now?”
    “I wanted you to know that no matter what choice you make, I support it and it wouldn't change how I feel about you.”
    Karen took my hand, “I love you too, and it helps but it doesn't mean sod all when it comes down to that old man over there.”
    “I know. I aim to fight the bastards and I don’t want you to be caught in the crossfire.” I leaned in and gave her what I hoped to be an inspiring kiss but we bumped noses when it ended so I doubt it. “Don’t worry about getting me to Heathrow, I’ll have Patrick call me a cab.” With that I got up and left the table. Yes, it was a stupid dramatic exit but I didn’t think I could sit at the table any longer. Way to be supportive of her decisions, dude.
    Walking down the seemingly endless hallway, I heard The Iron Duke call me. Turning I saw he was using a golf cart to get down the hall.
    “Well, boy was what you said to my daughter true?”
    “That I love her? Yes, most certainly.”
    “Do you have intentions?”
    “Intentions? Oh, I haven’t asked but when all this is over if she wants to, yes.” I had not even been thinking about that but now that it was said, it felt right.
    “You realize that you would get none of this.” He made a gesture at the walls and floor.
    “You realize I don’t care and don’t want it? That I would love your daughter if she the poorest ...traveler?” I grabbed the word from a BBC documentary on Irish gypsies. The look I got from the Iron Duke proved I’d made the right choice.
    “Ellison suggests you might come from Jewish stock. You realize Karen is Church of England?”
    “Yes, I’m Jewish and I have no problem with mixed marriage. Do you?”
    “If it was good enough for Disraeli, it’s good enough for me. You have my blessing.” The Iron Duke turned his cart.
    “If I may ask, why did you change your mind?”
    “She’s never brought home someone who stood up to me, said they loved her and was a hero. You’ll have to do. Now come back to the table, I have a story to tell you.”
    Nothing like being damned with faint praise, as my dad used to say.

    So I walked back. So much for my dramatic exit. Karen looked at me with what I had learned was her ‘what the fuck’ face.
    “Your father wants to tell us a story.”
    “It can’t be one I haven’t heard a hundred times already.”
    The Iron Duke had parked his cart and was pouring himself another glass of wine.
    “That’s where you’d be wrong, love. Mr. Ellison, you said that Rag told you I would be the best one to tell you about our injuries?”
    “He said you were the better story teller or something to that effect.”
    “Well, I don’t know about that but this might give you more of an idea of how The Five operates.” He stared into the wine like it was showing him something. when he started talking it wasn’t to us. More to a spot past us.

    “I’d like to say The Silent One came for me while I was in a game of cards with a member of the Royal family but the truth is I was sitting on the crapper. I barely had time to pull up my pants and he whisked me away. We appeared not on some distant planet as you did but on Earth, a mirror of ours with no Supers and a bit of a kerfuffle. I don’t understand the science and anybody who did was in no shape to explain by the time we got there. A gate had been opened to another realm and the world was being invaded by demons. That’s a horribly unscientific description, I suppose.” He paused again to shudder and drink more wine.

    “What else do you call something that could only be seen out of the corner of your eye? That looked different to everyone who saw it? To me they were octopuses with tentacles that could dig into your neck, attaching to the nervous system allowing them to control your body. Others saw the damnable things as tall black men in suits with long fingers that would attach the same way. Some people saw dead family members trying to hold them. It didn’t matter what you saw because once they had you it didn’t matter. You would watch your body do the worst possible things to your friends and you could do nothing.

    It was quite the group of heroes they brought over that day. Rag and Bone, The Major,The Gold Shield, Het Lemmet, Three Moons, Tiva and of course, myself.

    I have to say I’m a little surprised Rag has one kind word for me. I might not have been up on the proper terminology, so we butted heads on what to call a person of color. I was polite of course. You aren’t anything else when somebody might be protecting your back but I wasn’t all that comfortable with the brash young man. To be honest his partner gave me the crawlies in a way that PsyAnnie didn’t. She had learned her place and how to be unobtrusive. Bone wore ill fitting white suits that made his albino skin stand out even more. His only real power was knowing if someone was lying and he would always point it out no matter the circumstances.

    Three Moons was one another case entirely. She stood off to one side looking bemused. She rarely spoke but she did it was to directly contradict The Major. At first I saw a dazzling hot piece of crumpet, all brown from the sun wearing a peasant dress, barefoot and no bra. Than I caught her eye and it was like looking down the barrel of a gun, all dark and shadowy with something that would kill you at the bottom.

    Tiva was another case where I embarrassed myself. He was a major player in Uganda and Kenya. Had taken out Idi Amin and put in a democratic government pretty much on the strength of his personality alone. The people there respected him, it was clear the leaders in the other countries were treading lightly around him. He went to Cambridge and spoke the Queens better than most in our group especially the Americans. He could also talk to Het Lemmet in Dutch. He would quote Milton’s Paradise Lost in the middle of a firefight, snap a mans neck with one blow from his talons and disappear before they could get a shot off. He didn’t fly but teleported for short distances often on top of people. There’s a reason he was called Tiva which means Shrike in Swahili.

    Het Lemmet means The Blade in Dutch and he was sharp as one. The man was seventy if he was a day but he could move faster than any of us. He carried a dozen or more swords and knives. During the war he had led the Resistance and was personally responsible for killing dozens of Nazis, with a sword. We all could learn what it meant to be a hero from Het Lemmet, even if he was Dutch. He saved my life at least three times and when the time came I couldn't help him.

    Gold Shield was such a friendly guy. He always volunteered to go first no matter what the situation. Sure being practically indestructible is nice but you know that practically doesn’t mean completely. We had no idea what was going to happen when he went in, if the shield was going to protect him.

    The Major said no. We all had to go in, that was the only way. Too many people had been taken over and were protecting the portal. We would have to fight our way in and shut it off. Three Moons looked at him and laughed, then walked away. He yelled at her, called her a traitor, that she was disloyal. She said if we had any sense we would let him run in by himself. We didn’t. The Major must know what he was doing right?:

    “We were unstoppable through the first barb wire fence, just like real heroes should be. No demon could get ahold of us. But the demons started running the people past the breaking point. They moved so fast the skin was torn off their feet and held me even when I broke their bones. We knew these people had no choice but there was nothing we could do. There were soldiers and one of them hit me with a phosphorus grenade. Het Lemmet managed to dig it out before it burned through me.” He lifted his jacket and untucked his shirt to reveal about four inches across and almost as deep in his stomach.”

    “Bone was the first to be taken and we didn’t know until he touched Tiva on the shoulder and the boy collapsed sobbing to the ground. OK so the other thing Bone could do was make you feel bad for every lie you've told, every person you've ever hurt, basically every every evil thing you've ever done.
    Since he could teleport and stay ahead of the demons, Tiva was taken.”

    “I guess Rag and Bone had talked about this ahead of time because Rag stepped up behind his partner and broke his neck. We made it to the building despite Tiva attacking us every few feet mostly from the skill of Het Lemmet. The Major was ripping the huge steel door off its hinges when Tiva appeared again and drove his talons through Het’s neck. The Major dropped the bleeding door on him.”

    “It was just the four of us left, The Major, Gold Shield, Rag, and myself. We couldn't use the elevator and the portal was twenty floors down. As we fought our way down we were attacked by more people being thrown away like used condoms. We almost made it. Then on the nineteenth floor they got The Major. He promptly buried The Gold Shield so he couldn't get up, and slammed me through four walls.
    I didn’t see what he did to Rag but by the time I got back he was laid out on the floor covered in blood.,”

    “He bent me so I couldn't stand up. If I wasn’t made of metal every bone in my body would be broken and my organs would have exploded. I lay on the floor, wishing I could die when one of those demons slipped into my mind. It couldn't make me stand up but it was still the most horrible feeling I have ever had.”

    Then I heard a voice, actually three voices. Standing at the door was three woman. One was very old, the second was pregnant and the third was maybe twelve or thirteen. They were all wearing the same clothes that Three Moons had been but none of them looked like her. It was the old crone looked at The Major and said ‘Told you he was stupid.’ The pregnant one said, ‘They did it on purpose.’ and the said, ‘Just look at who died.’, “ He drank more wine, shaking his head. It was like we weren’t even in the room.
    “The Major charged them and the old lady stomped her foot. The concrete floor started to collapse under his feet, first breaking apart then turning to powder, plants started to sprout along the edges as the floor collapsed under him. The pregnant one said something about regressing him to childhood for a while so he’d be safe, The kid talked about the repellent spell wearing off if they didn’t hurry. They went away and came back to tell me the portal was shut off. She didn’t have to tell me, the demon that possessed had made a run for the gate when it realized it was going away. I guess they needed it to be open to stay alive here.”

    “The Silent One came to get us a couple hours later. I've been in this cart ever since. Three Moons stayed there to keep an eye on their science program and as she told me there was less chance of getting set up. Splitting herself up like that nearly killed her, I don’t blame her for staying.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014
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  10. OtherSyde

    OtherSyde Slightly Tilted

    San Diego, CA
    Brilliant so far! Can't wait to read more!

    It reminds me of aspects of Watchmen at the beginning, what with superheroes in regular society and the complications and brutal realities that such a situation would bring and with only a few people having actual super powers while many are just regular people who take up masks. Also, a little of The Hunger Games during the war scenes, with all the gore and people dying, the big domed force-field that has to be shorted out (like the end of Catching Fire), and even the archer twins (like in The Mockingjay, although the similarities end there - your creation is plenty dissimilar so as to come across as original). With all the world-switching and portals and bending time and space stuff, it even bears a vague resemblance in structure to the Dr. Who universe, which is a good thing! It's like a big fun clusterfuck-orgy of all my favorite things!

    Really looking forward to the conclusion of the Stoglan battle, the upcoming fights with the FECC, and he and Lady Ferrum's future! Keep it coming!
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2014
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  11. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Thanks OtherSyde. I really wanted to create a world that made sense even with super heroes.
    Like I said there are some holes left in this and I'm going through stuff that's keeping me from putting the kind of work I need to into fixing things.
    These last couple chapters are really good examples of that.
    The actual war with the Stoglan is over but the long term damage is everybody is still there.

    Thanks to everyone who is reading.
    Hope you are enjoying it.
    --- merged: Apr 18, 2014 at 5:07 PM ---
    With a little help from daddy.
    Chapter Nineteen

    “To be heroic does not have to mean possessing the ability to stand against the evils of the world, either well or successfully, but just that one is willing to stand.”
    - Mike Alsford

    Former Chief Inspector David Quill’s flat was above a halal butcher and kabob house. It was absolutely tiny with peeling olive drab paint and smelled like roasted goat. David Quill made the apartment look even smaller being at least five inches taller then I am and out weighing me by fifty pounds. He had let us in with a nod and put the kettle on.
    “So your da sent you?” his voice had a grating sound that probably had something to do with the scar around his neck.
    “Yes, sir. He said you would have information about a case we are working on.” Karen said.
    “Did he also tell you that case ended my career and put me in Wandsworth for eight years? Or that he told me to keep my mouth shut after I got out?”
    “He skipped over those bits, I’m sorry to say. I can’t defend my father but it does seem like he wants to make things right.”
    “I swore I would catch the people doing this. If it’s happening here too, this is an abomination and must be stopped.” Whose voice was that? It came out of me but it sounded more like El Viento or The Major. I’d been doing that a lot lately.
    ”Fair enough.” The former detective started to make tea. “I could see connections in cases that other people couldn't. The missing girls were all write offs, kids who could have been runaways, trouble makers, fallen through the cracks in the system but I saw the pattern. I kept getting told it was a waste of time, to leave it alone.” He gave us our tea in mismatched tin cups.
    “I had my reputation as a super detective but I was also a bit too plain spoken. Told them all to bugger off. Then one day a kilo of heroin was ‘found’ in my apartment along with 50,000 pounds. A set of dealers testified I’d been cutting in with them for years and bobs your uncle, I’m in Wandsworth. Where, if it wasn’t for these,” He held up a pair of very scarred fists, “I would be dead ten times over. That might be normal for one of your Yank prisons but not here.”

    “Did they try to kill you after you were released?” Karen asked.
    “Not after I went to your da. I told him I wanted to take whoever did this down but they seemed to be a bit above my pay grade. That I could use his help. He told me it would be best to keep quiet and lay low. That he would do what he could. That was almost five years ago.”
    “It’s been that long?”
    “Yes, and I've been talking to people who tell me it hasn't stopped.”
    “Did you have a name, someone you thought might be involved?”
    “There was one. He’s a bit long in the tooth now but I’m thinking he has a hand in it. One of those procurers for the very rich. They called him Blitzen.”
    “Like the reindeer?”
    “Yea, he’s a cute one.”
    “Where can we find him?”
    The detective wrote down an address and smiled. It was the kind of smile bad people had nightmares over.
    “I keep up.”
    “We’re going to take care of this.”
    “Please do that. I’d like to know it was all worth it.”

    The next day Karen got an email from her father that had a link to a news article about a butcher shop in London blowing up from a natural gas leak. He also sent a picture with the article of a very singed Steel Duke leaning on his cane, looking proud of himself with the owner of the shop, the shopkeeper’s wife, and the former Chief Inspector David Quill standing next to him.

    “Why’s he making the peace sign?” I asked.
    Karen snorted, “That doesn't mean the same thing here. I think he’s telling certain people to fuck themselves.”
    “What about your pictures?” I was treading on dangerous ground but it seemed like a question that needed to be asked.
    “He quoted The First Duke of Wellington, ‘Publish and be damned.”
    ”How do you feel about them?” Did I really want to be pushing this?
    “I trusted the wrong people but I already know that. It won’t change who I am and if what you said about it not bothering you is true, then I’m going to be fine.”

    The rules for street heroes in England are a lot different than in the US. I was there under the forbearance of the Queen and Lady Ferrum was responsible for my behaviour. Which meant I had no rights and if I screwed up, Karen would pay for it. Knowing all of that we went looking for Blitzen anyway. His office was about as far removed from the burning houses in Camden or the David Quills apartment over the butcher shop, as you could possibly imagine.

    Even Karen who had grown up in a house with rooms as big as my apartment looked around at the rich wood floor and gleaming copper accents with respect. We went in geared up, like we owned the place. When a pair of security guards came at us I played dirty. The portable stunner in my coat coat pocket went off just as I reached out and touched them. The shield didn’t let me get knocked out but it did a number on them. When we got to any locked doors, Karen just punched out the cores. There were probably alarms going off and we would be dealing with the police pretty soon. By that point we planned to have everything we needed out of Blitzen.

    We caught him heading into a safe room behind the wet bar in his office. The door was almost closed so I ran up and jammed my arm in before realizing there was some kind of pneumatic closer and the damn door weighed at least three hundred pounds. On the other side, I could feel Blitzen hacking at my fingers as the door crushed against the shield. Fumbling under my coat I drew the quad-barrel. Yes, the Queen would be very unhappy with me. It barely fit in the crack of between the door and the frame.
    “If I pull this trigger everything in that room will turn to bloody confetti. Now open the door.”

    “I’m going to wait if you don’t mind.” How could a voice be that smarmy through a two foot door with a huge gun pointed in it’s direction?

    Oh, because there are two men in suits with portable cutting torches moving in on Lady Ferrum. She was keeping her distance but they seemed to know exactly how to box her in. I couldn’t move without having the door close but I could be backup.
    “Clear.” She ducked, I pulled the quad-barrel out the door and shot them. I’d lied about it shredding the safe room. It had non lethal rounds but they’d be enough to knock out a couple of guys in business suits. Unless they were Supers, then they would just absorb the rounds and move right in on Karen.
    Well that sucked. So much for being backup. The two closed on Lady Ferrum ready to cut her apart.

    Karen stunned the taller of the two by stepping across the flame of his torch then doing an insane combination of slicing blows to his face and kidneys. Every time he seemed to be absorbing her attack she would scoop in with something even worse. Just as the second one moved in, she ducked out using the first ones torch as cover. With a fingers that had the density of rebar, she paralyzed the second man with a hammering blow to the back of the neck.. All this in the time it took me to reload my gun one handed.

    “Are you done waiting?” I said putting the gun back into the door. “And I’m afraid this time, I’m all out of non lethal rounds.”
    “You’re heroes, you have a code. I’ll wait for the police.”
    “The problem with that is, I’m from America. We have a tradition of vigilante justice. The people you work for tried to kill my family so I have no problem killing you. There will be no waiting. If this door doesn't start opening by the time I finish talking I will pull this trigger. This is loaded with steel balls connected by wire which will cut right through your bones. Do I make myself clear? DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND ME?”
    The door started to open.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2014
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  12. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Things get ugly.
    Chapter Twenty

    “Everybody sins, Francis. The terrible thing is that we love our sins. We love the thing that makes us evil.”
    - Robert Cormier

    Blitzen was every bit the kind of person that his voice had brought to mind. Slick black hair, too dark tan, expensive suit that said “I”M AN EXPENSIVE SUIT” and a perfect smile, all jammed together into something that made you feel slimy standing next to it. I wanted to punch him on general principles but that wasn’t going to get us very far.
    “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” he brushed imaginary lint off the suit. His accent was what Karen called fake-posh.
    “Really? You’re going to start this out stupid?” I put the quad-barrel away and pulled out zip ties. “Come on,” I zipped his hands together, “I want to know where those girls are.”
    “So I’m being kidnapped and I have no idea what girls you’re talking about.” He was talking to the air. Life is always recorded these days, might as well play along.
    “You’re coming with us because you like our company and because you feel bad about all the evil shit you've done. There are hundreds of girls who have been brutally taken here in England and in America. You know where they are and you’re going to tell us. Anything interesting, Lady Ferrum?”

    Karen was going through the desk drawers and was unhooking the minitower for the desktop. She saw a laptop and grabbed it too
    “Not that we have time to look at now. We need to pack this wanker up and get moving.”
    Patrick was waiting for us and we sped away just as the police arrived. Blitzen looked rather disappointed.
    “The girls, what do they do with the girls?” Was I really growling?
    “It is hardly in my best interest to talk to you. Certainly you understand the nature of my employment.”
    “Tell you what, let’s go to the Times. I’ll give them a full story of everything you’re doing to help us. They’ll have it on the internet in an hour. What will your life be worth after that?” I asked.
    “This is getting ridiculous. Lady Ferrum, you don’t condone these constant death threats do you? You come from a civilized family.”
    “Did you miss the two men torn up in your office? I did that. You threatened to put bondage pictures of me on page three, so Aurum Shield can rip your face off for all I care.”
    “If you don’t want to die, I’m willing to do something I swore I would never do. I will ask a favor of The Five to have you placed their protection. Nobody could touch you with them looking after you.”
    “No! What the hell are you thinking?” Karen was pissed.
    “I want him to know how serious I am.”

    The last thing I expected was Blitzen to start laughing.
    “You really don’t understand do you?” He shook his head. “You really are new to this aren’t you?”
    Don’t twist his head off. Don’t twist his head off. Don’t twist his head off.
    “Hey, I've got some computers I need to crack. Can you help me?” Karen was on the phone. “Thanks.” She crushed the phone with one hand and pulled out a new one.

    “Everything on these will be ours in less than an hour so I’d speak up.” she said.
    “I’m going to show you, to make it clear that there is nothing you can do. Oh, keep you little offer of help from The Five. I’ll be better on my own.” He was laughing again.
    “What do you have to show us?”
    He gave an address on Kensington Court that had Karen looking confused.

    “You’re not dressed for it but I’m sure we can find you a coat and tie someplace.”

    The hotel was absolutely beautiful. There were three (three Michelin stars for two of them) restaurants attached to it, one just for tea. I actually stopped for a moment to look at the menu that was posted before I got a serious look from Karen. Still can’t help myself. Blitzen was walking to a set of elevators, pardon me lifts, at the back of the lobby. He took a red card out of his wallet and put it in the scanner.

    “No security?”
    “Plenty, the rich just prefer not to have it in their face all the time.”
    When the doors opened, I was nonplussed. Growing up in New Jersey, I have spent a lot of time in casinos. Having all this build up, to walk into another one seemed anticlimactic. It wasn’t that big compared to the places I’d been in, there weren’t any table games just slots. The machines were all the top of the line, based on the latest movie or TV shows. Some of them were twelve feet high with better graphics than anything I had ever seen but that was about it.

    “Where are we going now?” Karen gave Blitzen a push.
    “Oh, but you've arrived.”
    “What?” she looked around.
    “You wanted the girls that were spirited away? Well here they are.” He waved around the room.
    I looked at the players and servers trying to figure out what he was talking about. The servers were all young, very attractive women wearing black evening wear. None of the men and woman playing were younger than me and most were considerably older.

    “The servers?” It was all I could think of.
    “No, the servers are another story. Watch the players.”
    So, I did. A woman close to me was playing a game based on new show about a family of dysfunctional idiots. As I watched the the son shot the father out of a cannon. The further dad flew, the more zeros popped up on the end of the players counter. Smiling happily she hit the cash out button. Only instead of getting a paper slip, she placed her hands over grids on the sides of the machine. Something that looked like it could have been light or water, poured out of the grid into her skin and she twitched. The woman’s skin smoothed out on her face. She smiled at me and went off to play another machine.

    “What the fuck?”
    “Just what you saw, Mr. Shield. They get their payback in the form of youth. Not a lot, considering how much they put into the machines but enough that they will play every night.”
    “The girls are hooked up to those machines? They’re being drained?” Karen was fighting to keep her voice under control. I didn’t blame her. I hadn’t asked the question for fear of losing it.

    “Yes they are and we go through them rather quickly.”
    “Where are they? In the back?” I started to walk toward some doors I saw opposite us.
    “Oh no, dear boy. I said they were here. They’re here. Why do you think we need little girls?”
    Karen let out a strangled sound and grabbed the front of the closest slot machine, ripping it right off. Inside was a child wreathed in wires. Her body barely fit in the box that was the slot machine. There were feeding tubes and an EEG attached to the girl but she was emaciated. The shunt that allowed her to be drained of life was screwed into her head and a plume of beaded wires poured from it.

    “DO. YOU. SEE. THIS! THESE. CHILDREN. ARE. DYING. FOR. YOUR. GAME!” Karen punctuated each word by tearing open another slot machine. That anyone could hear her over the buzzing and ringing of the machines was testament to just how loud she was yelling.
    Some of the braver players came forward to look while the rest had huddled in the corner by the cashier cages. This was enough for security and a lot of them came running from all corners.
    “No, no boys and girls. Allow me to introduce myself, I’m bulletproof and you’re not.” In one hand I held the quad-barrel and in the other a stun-grenade. “Look, you try to go through me you’ll get killed. If by sheer luck you get past me, you’ll have to deal with her.”

    From the looks on the guards faces as Karen let out a snarl every time she tore opened a machine, I got the feeling the quad-barrel was just an excuse for not stopping us. Then there was the point when it looked like Blitzen was going to ooze away into the crowd while I wasn’t looking. I’d hit Stoglan with it but never a human, the quad-barrel will drop a person (if that’s what you want to call Blitzen) with one thump.

    I saw the lady who had won at the penguin game. She was staring into an opened slot machine with horror in her eyes.
    “Do you have the card to get in here?” She nodded, not at all happy to be called out of the crowd. “Good, If you want to make up for the life you took from that little girl call 999, tell them to send a lot of ambulances. Then go up and help them get down here.” We stared at each other for a minute, then she took out her phone.

    Karen had finished ripping the fronts off the machines and we got Blitzen to his feet. He wasn’t too happy about my clonking him on the head and I had to point out to him that he didn’t get a choice in these matters. The police were showing up and it took a promise from Lady Ferrum with the family name in play to get them to let us leave. We had given Blitzen the option of staying with them and explaining his role in the seventy five wired up little girls or coming with us. He decided we were the lesser of evils .

    We stopped by Karen’s hacker friend. For the price of fish and chips he made the computers roll over and beg for a pet. His words, not mine. From there we found five other locations around the world in China, Singapore, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo and Sun City. If we knew heroes in those cities we might be able to shut them down and save the girls but if we waited too much longer it would be too late. They would just do the same thing they did in Camden only on a massive scale.

    “Patrick can you take this piece of sewage back to the estate and have my father sit on him until we get back, please?”
    “Yes, mum.”
    “So, it’s our only choice.” Karen hit send on the text.
    “It’s worth it.”
    “It is.”
    We kissed. I’d forgotten how good it felt, how warm her lips were and great it felt to have her tight up against me. The Silent One did his usual pop out of nowhere but we were ready and when he swept us up we were holding hands.
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  13. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    The Five.
    Twenty one

    “There are no heroes...in life, the monsters win.”
    - George R.R. Martin

    The Five’s headquarters were every bit as weird and disquieting as I remembered. I still wanted to get a closer look at the kitchen but that wasn’t going to happen.. The Major and PsyAnnie were there to meet us when we arrived but not the other two as I had requested.
    “Thanks for taking out call.” I held out my hand for a shake, not really looking forward to having my hand pulped but it was polite. The Major just looked at me.
    “You’ve been busy, haven’t you.” The Major didn’t sound at all impressed with our work.
    “Uh, yea. We’re about to save the lives of hundreds of girls but we can only do it with your help. We need to act fast, that’s why we asked for the favor so we could hit all the places at the same time.” Karen slammed her metal hand into her palm for effect.
    “You've done quite an impressive thing already. You will go back and settle for that.” The Major was giving orders.
    “What the fuck are you talking about? We know the location of hundreds of other missing girls who need to be freed and brought home. They’re being used as prizes in games of chance.” Why do I keep having to repeat this?

    PsyAnnie stood up, straightening her suit. “Let’s get a few facts out of the way first. These casinos are in other countries, one of which doesn’t allow heroes of any kind.”
    “Wait, we didn’t say where the girls were.” Karen shook her head. “What are the rules about reading peoples minds? That seems pretty rude to do without asking. But since you did, you know we’re willing to do anything we can to save those girls.”
    “I didn’t have to read your minds. We've known about the casinos for years. We just choose not to do anything about them for the very reasons we’re trying to explain to you.” PsyAnnie had developed the tone I had used on Sara when she was five. “This world is much more complex than you want to see it. This operation is owned by people who are very powerful. In fact if they were a Fortune 500 company they would be in the top 10.”
    “And that’s an excuse to let it kill thousands of children every year?” Karen’s voice was shaking and I know she would have been screaming if she wasn’t facing two of the most powerful people in the world.

    “Your father said that he tried explaining the situation and you refused to listen. I suspect he gave you information that made your London accomplishment possible but he insists that isn’t true. So it has fallen to us to make it clear to you both. You need to back down.” The Major had advanced on me until he was in my personal space and I could smell his Aqua Velva.

    “How could I live with myself knowing they are doing this and I didn’t do anything to stop them?” I asked.
    “There are children dying in countries all over the world due to the actions of dictators and evil people. I don’t see you fighting them.” PsyAnnie seemed to be moving in on Karen.
    “You have to pick your battles. Maybe they’ll be next.” Karen stepped closer to me.
    “There aren’t enough people who have the kind of powers we do to fight the entire world. We can’t take on the entire civilian population if they decide to wipe us out.” The Major hovered over me.
    “That was the argument The Iron Duke made. I still think taking out a criminal cartel is not going to bring down the wrath of the world on us.” I said.
    “You are a fool. Why do you think we are down here? This is to guarantee that countries of the world do not try to take us captive or kill us.” The Major said.
    “So, we are going to let you return. Accept credit for saving those girls in London but don’t say a word about the other casinos. You’ll go back to handling street criminals and people who run red lights.” The Major was nose to nose with me. It was pretty nasty, he spits when he’s trying to be intimidating.
    “And if we don’t?” Karen was full on Lady Ferrum.
    “The Silent One will be teleporting you back. Only it will about thirty feet that way.” PsyAnnie pointed to the lava.
    “He can do that?” Or would do that? I wasn’t sure which question to ask. He was hero for gods sake.
    “Yes, he can. Yes, he will.” PsyAnnie arched her eyebrows. Talking to a psychic was not fun.

    The Silent One appeared behind us and his cloak wrapped around us. Since I’d expected to come out someplace in London when we popped into pitch darkness I ran straight past fear. Karen grabbed my hand and we went back to back while I unlimbered the quad-barrel. Suddenly, there was light and I could see The Silent One standing next to a portable camp table. He had turned on a lantern.

    We were inside a small cavern. There were stalactites and stalagmites. The walls had a luminescence that reflected the light. Looking closely I could see bits of crystal embedded in the rock. Along with the table there was a captains chair, air mattress with bedroll and a butane stove. Since I didn’t see any way in, this had to be the exclusive camping spot for The Silent One.

    Holding out one finger, The Silent One vanished.
    “What the fuck?”
    “You’re asking me?” Karen made a dash for the one chair.
    “You’re going to have to give it up when he gets back.”
    “If he does. Do you think The Major told him to leave us here? Let us starve?”

    Her gruesome question was left unanswered by the The Silent Ones arrival. With him was a very angry Pinkie Lee. She was wearing Wonder Woman pajamas. The half mask covering the damage to her face might have looked like The Phantom of The Opera if it wasn’t pink and covered with Hello Kitty.

    “WTF! Lady F, I thought it was going to be The Five.”
    “I don’t know Pinkie. You’re probably the last person I expected.”
    The Silent One held out his hand to Pinkie Lee.
    I remembered what PsyAnnie had said the very first time I was at The Fives headquarters.
    “PsyAnnie is the only one who can talk to him. I think he wants to talk to us so he grabbed you to be interpreter.”
    “I don’t know if it’ll work.” She was backing away from The Silent One like he had just coughed all over her.
    “Please Pinkie, it’s really important.” Karen took her friend by the shoulders and gave her a hug. Then firmly moved her towards the cloaked man.

    Pinkie Lee reached out, hand shaking and touched The Silent One. After five minutes she turned to them, looking scared.
    “You guys are in deep scat.”
    “Pretty much.” I said.
    “Cy wants to help. He doesn't like what they’re doing, especially making him put you in lava.” So it’s Cy now?
    “That’s something upon which we can agree. Isn't PsyAnnie going to know we’re doing this?” Karen asked.
    “She can’t read us. Cy thinks that the crystals in the wall block her out.”
    “Why’s he doing this? He’s one of the major Supers. The Five wouldn't exist without him.”
    Pinkie Lee reached held his hand again.
    “He was twelve when it happened. He found this cave, you can see the rockfall that blocked him inside.
    In the corner of the cave was a body just like what you see before you. As he slowly died of dehydration and hunger, his spirit was absorbed into the body. He discovered he could teleport out of the cave but he couldn't talk to anyone. Of course, none of his family recognized him and were terrified of him.”
    I remembered my own first impression of him and understood his families reaction. What I couldn’t imagine was the pain the kid trapped in that body must have felt. I looked into his eyes for the first time. The smooth features that I always thought was a mask was actually skin and his eyes were a deep blue.
    “Thank you.”
    “He says, you’re welcome.”
    “So we need to take out the FECC from down here. Then keep The Major and PsyAnnie from fucking us up when they figure out what we did.” I said.
    “Pinkie, you didn’t really sign up for this. If you want to bail I understand.” Karen had left the chair to go to her friend so I snagged it.
    “No, it’s cool. Cy told me about the girls. I want to help.”
    “Thank you. I like the mask.”
    “Thanks, I've been making them to sell on Etsy. I’d pretty much decided to not be a hero anymore.” Pinkie Lee looked over at The Silent One. “It’s so sad, the only person he has ever talked to is PsyAnnie. There were a few other people who might have been able to talk to him but she kept it from happening. Cy comes here to get her out of his head. Even if it reminds him of his death.”

    We talked for a couple of hours with Cy eagerly jumping into the conversation. It was easy to forgive him. He was still a kid in so many ways and had been so terribly isolated. Not only that he was a very good observer and had a lot of useful information. Then we started to doze off. Karen and I hadn’t slept since the plane and Pinkie had been about to go to sleep. Unfortunately, I had another one of my screaming nightmares only this time mixed in with the friend killing monsters was little girls being sucked dry by puppets operated by laughing super heroes. Nobody was happy with me when I woke them up thrashing and yelling but they were interested when I told them I might have a way out.

    “I think I might have an idea but you’ll need to find out some things from Cy. We’re going to need some more people. Will he be able to grab them without PsyAnnie noticing and if we get a bunch of heroes involved in this, what will the consequences be? They can’t dump all of us in the lava.”
    While Pinkie was talking to Cy, Karen started quizzing me.
    “What’s your plan?”
    “It’s more like an outline with holes that other heroes will have to fill in. That’s why we need the others.”
    I heard a strangled sound and saw that Pinkie was crying. Karen got to her first and was hugging her so she didn’t see what I did. The Silent One’s blank face mouthing ‘I’m sorry’.
    “What did he tell you?”
    “The Five agreed to limit the number of heroes. They do it with the favors and putting us places where we are sure to die. Your dad was in one of the groups.”
    “Agreed with who?”
    “Governments, I guess. They don’t tell Cy much about that stuff.” She touched the pink mask that covered half her face. “They did this on purpose. I just got lucky and lived.”
    “I wonder if some of the governments know? I don’t think Norway would be happy. Datter Av Brann is a national treasure.”
    “Can he get Captain Science, Alphonse and El Viento?”
    Pinkie touched The Silent Ones hand again. When they were together, I could actually look at him without feeling twitchy and having to look away. “He can feel Captain Science and El Viento but there is nothing of Alphonse.”
    “Could he be dead?” I didn’t want to do this without him.
    “Cy doesn't know but he says we have to move fast. There is little time.”
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  14. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    The plan takes shape. Pear is a shape dammit.
    Chapter Twenty two

    “A society gets the criminals it deserves.”
    - Val McDermid

    “You took me from my home, why?” El Viento was not impressed and I didn’t really blame him. I’d tried passing off the presentation to Karen but she refused as it was my ‘brilliant’ idea. So here I was stumbling over my words and backtracking when I should have been making my point.
    “It comes down to this. We can’t hope to take down this entire operation. From the computer files we grabbed and what PsyAnnie told us they are huge. My thought is to play their game, a hostile takeover.”
    “Gang warfare? I will have no part of such a thing!”
    “No, they are way beyond that. This would be more like corporate board game but we will need a villain, someone with street cred and a personal code.”
    “Which is why you called on me.” Captain Science was bemused.
    “Yea, I wanted to see if it was a totally crazy idea.”

    “You mean putting my brother in charge of a worldwide criminal cartel?” Captain Science asked.
    “He might make a machine that created a mini tsunami to destroy Tokyo but he wouldn't sell little girls for sick games.” I said.
    “Did you listen to that sentence?” he asked.
    “Look your brother has been trying to take over the world for as long as I can remember. He wants to do it on his own terms and doesn’t play well with the other criminals.”
    “So you think by giving him an empire and saying pretty please, he’ll be a good guy. It doesn’t work that way. My brother is a sociopath.”
    “I understand that. But, he has a code that he sticks to, lines he won’t cross. He gave Tokyo enough time to get the kids out. He figured out the math to the minute.”
    “And the Japanese did exactly that. I’ve always wondered if other countries would have been as organized and willing to follow instructions.”
    “The FECC doesn’t care. They will do the most evil things possible for money.”
    “Breaking him out of prison will be an interesting challenge.”
    “The part where The Major and Brynhilde beat us to death is another issue.” Karen added.
    “That’s why I brought in El Viento. Logistics are his specialty and he’s had more experience taking down governments.”

    Pirtuk and Man Mountain were happy to see us. I launched into the story and got to the part with the girls in the slot machines when Man Mountain held up his hand.
    “Breaking Dr. Ruin out of jail and putting him in charge of the FECC because the rest of The Five won’t help.” Let’s try short, simple and to the point.
    The Inuit man pulled on his hair. “I’m in. Who do you want me to freeze?”

    My effort to find Alphonse was not so positive. Cy said that he couldn’t get a read on either of The Archers so we went to Kenneth. The driver looked up from his Dean Koontz novel and nodded.
    “He said you would come.”
    “I’m sorry to bust in like this but we really need him.”
    “He can’t help.” He beckoned us to follow him to a door, then down into a basement and a sub basement. There were two huge coffin shaped containers with all kinds of tanks and wires attached.
    “She has brain damage. It put her in a coma. Together, they are twice as strong, twice as fast. By himself, he could barely function.”
    “He froze himself?”
    “Until they can fix what’s wrong with her.”
    “Why does it feel like they died?”
    “It’s close. We have lost them for a long time.”
    I touched one of the coffins. “This just doesn't seem right. They should be here for this. I just do this without them.”
    Kenneth looked at me appraisingly. “I think you will do just fine.”
    “Thank you.” Coming from the man who helped create The Archers that meant a lot.
    “Alphonse left you a gift. Something told him that you would need it.”

    “Once we free Dr. Ruin there will be very little time.” El Viento was scribbling notes on a moleskin pad he always carried with him. “ We have to assume The Major will understand our plan, so we must make sure we carry it out without flaw.”
    “Everything will have to go like clockwork.” I said.
    “You don’t understand. We don’t have the time or opportunity for clockwork. This will be lighting the fuses on a bomb and throwing it. We know how long the fuse will take but we have no idea how it will land or what will happen when it explodes.”

    The top floor of the penitentiary where Dr. Ruin’s cell was had a force field that kept Cy from teleporting inside.The closest we could get was the floor below. Cy dropped Pirtuk with me as his blocker first and because he had a mass limit, Man Mountain by himself. All the cameras were frozen over and the guards unconscious in less than four minutes. We found a key card on a guard and opened the door to the next level. Behind us, Karen and Captain Science appeared.

    The next floor wasn’t as easy. The guards were armed with armored exoskeletons and rail guns. I took dozens of rounds while Pirtuk launched ice balls that froze the joints on their exoskeletons. Man Mountain was wrapped in a net charged with thousands of volts. They weren’t fooling around, the net burned into his skin and caught fire. Captain Science sprayed Man Mountain down with a foam of fire retardant chemicals and the big man kept going. It took about twelve minutes to clear the hallway.
    Captain Science applied more chemicals to the door of his brothers cell. Man Mountain and Lady Ferrum ripped it off the hinges. Because I’d never seen Dr Ruin without his trademark mask, I didn’t realize how much he looked like his older brother. The super villain had the same long face, Roman nose and high forehead. The only difference was a series of long scars that bisected his face. Dr Ruin stepped out of the cell and pointed to a thick collar around his neck.

    “Hello, Nine. If you are here for more than a visit than we need to do something about this.”
    “I’m perfectly aware of that, Eight. After all, I did design it.”
    “We need to leave now!” Karen was standing next to Cy.
    “Take Man Mountain, then you and Pirtuk go.” I said.

    Standing between the door and the brothers, I could hear them bicker at each other. I could also hear the pounding feet of more armored guards coming up the stairs.

    “Catch.” I turned around just in time to see the collar coming my way. Of course, I missed it. There’s a reason I was picked last for every sport in school. It blew up at the same time I felt bullets hitting me. I started moving towards the brothers to cover them and Cy appeared, then disappeared with the brothers. Now all I had to do was keep the guards busy until he got back. I fired a round of depleted uranium flechettes from the quad-barrel. When they saw the holes I put in the concrete wall next to them, they backed the hell up to wait for support. If you had told me a month ago I would be happy getting sucked into that nasty grey cloak, you would received a very rude response. Now, when he appeared, I dived in without a thought.

    “You let her do it to me, Nine. PsyAnnie went into my mind and pulled the ideas out by the roots.” Dr Ruin said.
    “I didn’t know about it until later. What she did was appalling to me.” Captain Science replied. They seemed to have a rhythm for their arguing. They didn’t raise their voices, didn’t cut each other off and didn’t curse. It was all very civilized, until you realized that both men carried the blueprints for weapons that could destroy cities in their heads.
    “The math is gone and will have to be relearned. Physics I have known since I was twelve, just cored out of my brain.”
    “You threatened to give the world the transporters. They said those plans would have crashed the economy. You scared them, more than you did with the tsunami machine.”
    “The transporters would have ended world hunger and possibly global warming.”
    “True but you didn’t care. You just wanted out of prison. You wouldn't have made them blow up if someone tried to open them and burn up when they arrived if you truly wanted to share.”
    “I didn’t want a corporation or government getting rich off my work. You won’t work for companies or governments, why should I? I just wanted to be free.”
    “Now you’re free and for what it’s worth I’m truly sorry about what she did to you.”
    Dr Ruin looked closely at his brothers face. “I think you really are sorry. Not, that they practically lobotomized me but that the science was lost.”

    “So their real names are Eight and Nine?” Karen leaned against the wall of the cave. I was next to her holding her hand.
    “I think so. What kind of parents would name their kids Eight and Nine anyway?” You know how when you’re in a room and everybody is talking but at the very moment you say something embarrassing everybody stops talking? Try doing that when what you've said is about a super villain you want to ask a favor.
    “Actually they were loving, smart and rather, what you might call, geeky people. Even when they realized that my brother and I had very different perceptions of the world, they still did their best to raise us fairly.” Dr Ruin moved in on me and everybody cleared out of his way.“So I gather you are the mind behind my early release.”
    I dragged myself up and held out my hand. I was going to take a risk and hope it paid off.
    “Daniel Ellison also known as Aurum Shield.” Giving him my name would probably come back to bite me but we needed Dr Ruin on our side. “I would like to ask for your help.”
    “So Nine tells me. You want me to be the lesser of two evils.”
    “That’s one way of looking at it. I see it more as replacing lawful evil with chaotic neutral.” I was lying to myself on that one but hey, don’t we all? “Will you help?”
    “Sure, why not? I don’t have anything planned this week.”
    “Do you have any henchmen you can call in? We’re going to need a few more bodies.”
    “Henchmen? Nobody calls them that. They’re independent contractors.”

    Cy picked up three independent contractors recommended by Dr Ruin. The first to come through was a husband and wife team, Joe and Lara Elliot. They usually worked for the southern mafia but had subcontracted to Dr Ruin and he thought highly of them. Joe looked like a middle aged biker and I got the same vibe from him I had from the Wolfgangs. I couldn’t say what age Lara was, just thin, pale and goth. As crowded as the cave was, everybody gave her plenty of room.

    The third was a Super known to everyone in the cave. He called himself The Somnambulancerbut most people just called him Sleepwalker or Hypnoman, which he really hated. His power was to make anyone he touched go into a sleep state where they would follow his instructions. People would rob banks, do his laundry, or beat up anyone who called him HypnoMan. The Somnambulancer looked like a retired college professor but was much better dressed. I didn’t shake his hand.

    They calmed down when they heard Dr Ruin's offer of a million dollars apiece. Even standing in a cave full of heroes, they trusted the villain to take care of them. It was made me both more sure of and more worried about my choice.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2014
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  15. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Dealing with the FECC.
    Chapter Twenty three

    “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer; nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”
    - Fyodor Dostoevsky

    The cave was crowded and it got worse when Cy brought Blitzen. The weasley criminal was not happy. His hands were cuffed and his mouth was covered with tape.
    “Looks like father got tired of listening to you.” Karen said, dragging him by the shirtfront to where Dr Ruin was working out plans with El Viento.
    “Let me introduce you to your new boss. Dr Ruin this is Blitzen.” She tore the tape off. “Blitzen this is Dr Ruin.”
    Dr Ruin looked closely at Blitzen, “Why do I need you?”
    “I have no idea.” Blitzen was getting back some of his attitude.
    “Have The Silent One release him in the bottom of the ocean.” Dr Ruin turned back to his work.
    Cy appeared by Karen's shoulder. The cry of terror from Blitzen brought the entire cave to a momentary halt. When they saw who it was, everybody went right back to work.
    “I can help! I know things!”
    “Do you know where the members of the board of directors live?” El Viento asked.
    “A couple, I’ve been to parties. Not most of them.”
    “Do you know where they meet and when?”
    “There aren't full meetings but sometimes they will get a group together. The others will attend by video conference.”
    “They have a fortified building in Singapore.” He gave the address.

    “We don’t have time to do any reconnaissance. It’s not like the prison where Captain Science had been inside.” El Viento was so much better at presentations. “We have addresses on four other members of the cartel. We will have to split up the team to make sure their votes go our way.”

    “These are a beta test. We don’t know if they will work.” Captain Science held up what looked bulky half helmets that glittered in the lantern light. “They are made from the stone of this cave. It’s possible they will keep PsyAnnie from reading you. Of course, that won’t stop her from reading the people around you, so it’s only a stopgap measure.”
    “They weigh a ton but it was the best I could do.” Karen said. She’d been carving the stone using her fingers She was right, the helmet weighed so much I had to be careful about overcompensating. My shield wasn’t happy with situation I could tell. I hoped it was worth it. The only person it looked good on was Man Mountain. She had made one for Eight that looked like his Dr. Ruin mask.

    Everybody's place in the plan was laid out. Dr Ruin was going to be in my care, which worried me. I hoped it went better than some of my past attempts to protect people. My flashbacks to being coated with my friends blood were still hitting me at inconvenient moments. Everybody shook hands or gave hugs and got into place. I held onto Karen as long as I could. However this turned out, The Four were going to make us pay and this might be our last chance.

    Cy dropped us into the Singapore building right behind El Viento, who had cleared the hallway and was using tornadoes to open doors. When he blew a set of doors off their hinges to reveal steel shutters, we knew we’d found what we were looking for. When I reached out to touch it, the shield kept me from being fried by a huge charge of electricity.
    The steel held up to the quad-barrel and a windstorm that would have killed two witches. Dr Ruin took some wires out of his pocket, attached a small box, then he poured a yellow powder on the shutters.
    “I suggest you stand well back.” he said to El Viento as he stepped behind me and cranked the dial on the box. The shutters went boom. I hoped the people inside didn’t go the same way. Sure, I would be happy under other circumstance to shoot them into the sun but it would be much easier if they were alive.

    The board of directors had bodyguards inside with them. Four men with .45 Glocks stood in front of their charges, firing well grouped three round bursts into my center mass. They found themselves whipped off their feet and slammed against the wall. I heard one mans neck snap when he hit. A very fat man sitting in the corner rolled to his feet and started taking his shirt off. I brought up the quad-barrel.
    “Stop, now!”
    Something came shooting out of the mans belly. A chunk of white, putty like crud hit me and drove the quad barrel up in the air. The air was full of the disgusting pellets and everything they hit was coated in the crap. It had went down the barrel of my gun, so I wouldn't be using it any time soon. My shield was keeping the clay from incapacitating me but I could see one of the bodyguards choking to death because he had it plastered over his face.

    “Enough!” El Viento looked grim and I had the feeling he was seeing images from his past here. The wind around him was keeping the pellets from hitting him or Dr Ruin. With a roar the Columbian hero started gathering mini cyclones. The fat man was backing away still shooting pellets but they were getting smaller. With a flick of his wrist EL Viento drive all of the pellets directly back into the fat man.
    Everything was quiet. The Super was buried in clay. Then the pile started to move and I realized he was absorbing them back into his body.
    “Excuse me.” Dr Ruin took a clasp knife off the body of the dead bodyguard and cut the cord off a lamp to expose the wires. He plugged the cord back in, jammed his hand into the pile of pellets, yanked out a foot and touched the wires to it. There was a wet scream from inside the pile.
    “Give me a hand here.” I grabbed the leg and we tugged the man out. When Eight drove the knife into his ear I realized I was in the wrong place.

    The four men and two women were an interesting assortment of ethnicities. The only things they had in common were extremely expensive clothes, good grooming and soulless eyes. Dr. Ruin walked over to the board members.
    “In case you don’t recognize me I’m Dr. Ruin. I’m here to make a hostile takeover bid for your company.”
    “So you plan to kill us?” A middle aged Indian woman asked.
    “Let’s get the rest of the board here first, I don’t want to repeat myself.”

    Karen and Captain Science were dropped in the compound of a Russian oil mogul. She tore through the bodyguards in no time only to get dropped in a cage with genetically altered bears. She had to wade through a dozen bears weighing over 1200 pounds equipped with steel implanted claws to get out. Captain Science was able to hack the houses security system to keep the man from escaping and destroying the building. She told me it felt like fighting the Stoglan again. Which explained why when the mogul came on screen, he had lumps all over his face where Karen had flicked him with an iron finger.

    Man Mountain landed in Belize and came back very depressed. He had walked through a dozen cyber enhanced attack wolves, an equal number of men with machine guns and a man who turned into a giant snake. The wolves figured out quickly he didn’t taste good, the men with guns ran away after he got shot a few dozen time and took their guns away. The giant snake man took a little longer but eventually Man Mountain punched a hole in a concrete wall and threaded the snake into hole until he stuck, then snapped his head. The software king who owned the compound was in a drugged stupor with six preteen girls, when the big guy broke into the bedroom. As my friend was dragging the board member out of bed, a little girl stabbed him in the leg. The blade didn’t hurt him but slapping the little girl away as she kept attacking did. When the screen came up in Singapore, Man Mountain was on first. “I REALLY WANT HIM TO MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE.” he said

    Pinkie Lee complained that her and Pirtuk’s trip was boring compared to everybody else. I didn’t see how sending them against a compound guarded by a militia armed with light armor, machine guns and helicopters was an easy mission. Considering it was the base for a warlord who controlled the heroin production in an area that provided a third of the drug to the world, their mission was the one that worried me the most. I shouldn't have been. Pirtuk brought down directly on top of the compound a sleet storm complete with 120 mph wind gusts, rain that froze on contact, slivers of ice, and a 50 degree temperature drop. When the militia who survived that crowded indoors, Pinkie made them see each as the people they had killed in the past. Ten minutes later she convinced the drug lord that his safe room was filling up with water and he surrendered. Easy peasy, she said.

    Through Pinkie Lee we had asked Cy to keep an eye on the Elliots. Dr Ruin might trust them but they were a white trash hit team complete with the southern accents and casual racism. Cy dropped them in the New York penthouse of the owner’s self named building but unlike the other teams stayed to watch. Joe moved at inhuman speed down the hall with his wife right next to him but they weren’t fast enough. Slicing out of holes concealed in the hardwood floor, two inch round steel spikes came at them from different angles. One passed the point where Lara had been a moment before, punching through her leather jacket and Heavy Red dress. Mrs. Elliot was gone, only her clothing remained shredded by the spikes. Joe howled, jumping through the air grabbing the spikes and ripping them out of their mounts as he went. The buildings owner made it to his safe room, hitting the button that brought a huge slab of steel down covering the wall. Cy prepared himself to port into the safe room when the slab rumbled back and the door opened. Inside a very naked Mrs. Elliot was holding the developer with two fingers inside his nose. Which explained why when the screen came up, Joe insisted on coming on first to say that we owed Lara a new dress because it was one of her favorites.

    “So now that everyone’s here, this is my offer. You have three options. The first allows you to be bought out for one billion euros cash each. The funds are currently being held in the form of precious gems and gold but can be converted. The second is to let you stay on the board with myself as the chairman and controlling shareholder. I can guarantee your investments will be considerably more lucrative than they are now.”
    “And the third?” It was the New York real estate tycoon..
    “Do I need to spell that out? You have five minutes to decide.”
    “PsyAnnie should have been on us by now.” I said.
    “I gave them something else to worry about.” Dr Ruin smiled.
    “What? We didn’t discuss a diversion!” El Viento was beginning to crack. I felt bad about dragging him into this.
    “I had a spare tsunami machine set up to hit Hawaii that was never found, so I activated it. Don’t worry your little heads. The machine sent a warning to Honolulu and if The Major stays focused nobody will get hurt.” He turned back to the board, “Well, boys and girls, do we get to do business?”

    “You’re a madman.” It was the land developer in New York again. “Why should we deal with you?”
    “Lara, please let’s show him why they should deal with me.” Dr Ruin said casually.
    I’d never seen someone's jaw unhinge like that before and I never want to see it again. The tabloids said it was a mystery what happened to his body. I had the unfortunate opportunity to see about half of it get eaten. I kept telling myself, this is a man who knowingly let little girls be stuffed in slot machines to be used as prizes. It didn’t make it easier. I had to wonder how the developer could have so much ego that he would backtalk somebody who had put a pair of super powered stone killers in his house. No answer came to mind, some people just run things for so long they don’t realize when they are over their head. The question was how far am I over mine?

    The rest of the board voted to put Dr Ruin in charge. Now for Stage Two.
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  16. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    Stage two.
    Chapter Twenty four

    “Some actions are even baser than the people who commit them.”
    - Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria

    I was sitting in the back of the board room looking at my phone. I had texts from Sara that were scaring me. Only my kiddo could send something like “they tried again - were OK - dont worry” and think I wouldn't worry. During the vote wasn’t the best time to be calling but there might not be another chance if things went pear wise.
    “Hey kiddo.”
    “Hey Daddy-San, you got my text?”
    “Yea, your mom’s OK?”
    Yep, her and Bebe are making the flower garden a bit bigger though. Thought that would be better than dealing with the police again.”
    “Oh, how’s Slight doing?”
    “She’s fine. We’re working backstage on the production of Midsummer's Night Dream.”
    “Slight’s going to school with you?”
    “It was the easiest way for her to stay close. Fake ID, a system hack, and she was in.”
    “What about the attack?”
    “It was six men this time. They didn’t make it very far. Bebe got four and Slight took out two. Mom and I stayed in the bathtub.”
    “Well, you can tell them, they can go home now. It’s fixed.”
    “Wow. Hey, Dad-”
    “You really are a super hero.”
    “I don’t feel like one right now, kiddo. I’ve gotta go.”
    “Papa-San, One more thing and you can’t tell Mom.”
    “You know I don’t like doing that.”
    “I’ll tell her just not yet but I want you to know. It’s important. Part of that thing I wanted to talk to about when I came down but I couldn’t because you were off fighting aliens.”
    “Thanks for the guilt. Go ahead.”
    “Slight and I are really close.”
    “That’s good. I’m glad, Slight’s good people.”
    “No Dad, I mean we’re really close. We’re dating.” Had I suspected about Sara? A little but I always knew she would come to talk to me at the right time. Just didn’t expect it to be in the middle of a firefight.
    “Oh, I thought she was transgender so she would like …”
    “Dad, gender identity and sexuality is a little more complicated than that.”
    “Sorry, I know. Thank you for telling me. I wish we could talk more but things are a bit tense right now.”
    “I love you Dad.”
    “Love you, too. Give Slight a hug for me and tell her thanks for keeping you alive.”
    “I will.”

    I hung up just as El Viento was walking towards me.
    “I hope that was important, we have to go.” he said.
    “I’ll be staying. It’s time to test The Major’s little speech about the untouchability of this operation.” Dr Ruin said.
    “Remember the girls.”
    “Don’t worry, the girls will be released by this afternoon. There are other operations that will be shutting down as well.”
    Cy was just about wrap us up when I turned to Dr. Ruin and said, “Thank you.”
    He laughed, “I hope we can work together again, soon.”
    When hell froze over.
    Dr Ruin turned to the board. “We have work to do.”

    It was just the heroes in the cave now.
    “It is time to deal with the other part this problem.” El Viento was biting off his words.
    “WHAT’S WRONG?” In the cave Man Mountain was deafening.
    “We just put a man in power who thought nothing of using the destruction of a major city as a diversion!”
    “I told you who my brother was but if it’s any consolation I think you made the right choice. I checked the news feeds. The Major got the tsunami machine before there was any kind of problem.”
    Looking El Viento directly in the eye I said, “We will take him down when this all over. It was a bad choice and never want to make it again. So step two?”
    He nodded, “Yes, we can do this.”

    Cy took Captain Science and El Viento first. While we were waiting for them to get back I hugged Karen.
    “They tried to kill my kiddo again but they’re OK.”
    “Oh, that’s wonderful news.”
    “She also came out.”
    “Came out?”
    “Told me she was gay.”
    “That’s brilliant.”
    “Yea, but her Mom is going to freak out.”
    Cy scooped us up.

    We were in the middle of Time Square. Maybe having people around The Major would be less likely to try anything. Too many cameras, too much bad press, if we could just reason with them, make them understand that we had the same goals. When Man Mountain arrived people recognized him and came up for autographs. We took off our helmets and waited. It didn’t take long.

    They didn’t need Cy to transport themselves around the world. The headquarters had a matter transporter that they had taken off of some off-world traveler. It required them to transport back to the headquarters before they could go anyplace else and there was a time factor that Cy didn’t have. He could find people as long as he had met them before and go to specific places while they had to settle for a general area. Times Square was no problem for them.

    It was The Major, Celeritas, and Brynhilde all looking very shiny. They were mobbed by people looking for autographs and I was a little shocked by the way The Major knocked people out of his way. I’d never seen him treat his fans with such disdain and brutality. They were nothing more than obstacles to him. Brynhilde could be aloof but the fans expected that and she was a huge supporter of feminist causes. Celeritas just raced through the signings sometimes doing people who hadn’t asked.

    When he came to us The Major was focused on El Viento, “I would expect this kind of behavior out of them but not out of you.”
    “My family died because people chose to do nothing. You chose to do nothing.”
    “When the time came we played our role.”
    “When did your role become to kill heroes to keep governments happy?” I asked.
    “Those people died saving the world! Nobody regretted that more than me!”
    “You put them in unnecessary battles with monsters much more powerful so evil people won’t get caught.”
    I didn’t expect the fist in my face and without the shield my head would have exploded.

    Then out of the crowd a dreadlocked white man in a PETA T-shirt ran up and splashed a bucket of blood on Bynhilde’s armor.
    “Fur is death. Heroes don’t wear fur.” he yelled.
    Just like the first time Brynhilde grabbed the man and launched him down the street.
    “Ohdamnnotagain.” Celeritas was off to catch the poor slub just as The Major turned to yell after him.
    “No, don’t …” Brynhilde punched him in the face.
    Celeritas caught The Somnaulncer, carefully put him down and raced back to help Brynhilde beat on The Major. The battle seemed pretty even. They were the two most powerful Supers in the world but The Major outclassed both of them. If we stood here too long, he would wear them out then come for us and it wouldn’t be pretty.

    “Major, I know you can hear me.” I pulled out the crossbow that had replaced my quad-barrel. “One of the people you hurt was an Archer. The Stoglan put her in a permanent coma. Her partner can’t live without her so he put himself into a coma as well. They were my mentors, they left me a gift. Remember this arrow?”

    And that’s when the crossbow got yanked out of my hands. PsyAnnie had joined the battle.
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  17. OtherSyde

    OtherSyde Slightly Tilted

    San Diego, CA


    • Like Like x 1
  18. This chapter a day pace fits my schedule perfectly. I look forward to my daily fix.:)
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  19. OtherSyde

    OtherSyde Slightly Tilted

    San Diego, CA

    This "chapter a day" drip-feed keeps hooked, but also keeps me from OD'ing :cool:
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  20. redravin

    redravin Cynical Optimist Donor

    The battle continues.
    Chapter Twenty five

    “No matter how much you hate or how much you suffer, you can't bring the dead back to life”
    - Nobuhiro Watsuki

    “Not this time, cunt.” Pinkie Lee screamed. The party girl was gone. She had taken off her mask and I could see the stark ruin that was half her face.
    “Go away, little girl.” PsyAnnie had created a wall we couldn’t pass through and was disentangling her teammates. Her eyes glowed bright but it didn’t seem like she was putting out a great deal of effort.
    “You don’t know me.” Pinkie started to push her way through the wall. She was leading with her face and the skin was pushing back from the bone. “It doesn’t hurt, bitch. You want to feel the pain I did when it happened? Here.”

    PsyAnnie looked visibly shocked and her control over her teammates dropped. I was able to scramble to get the crossbow where it lay on the ground. When Pinkie Lee said she could distract PsyAnnie we had been unsure if it would work. This was more than I had expected.
    “Do you want to know how The Teacher felt? You can have that, too.”
    This time I saw and felt what Pinkie was projecting, the crushing fear, anger and pain of being surrounded, of fighting to the survive but knowing you would certainly die and screaming resistance with your final breath. Looking around I realized that everybody in Times Square could feel it too, but not as intensely as PsyAnnie. What had Pinkie Lee been hiding all these years so she could be thought of as the pretty party girl? The Silent One appeared behind PsyAnnie and they vanished. Pinkie Lee dropped to her knees, tears streaming from her good eye. Karen ran to her and hugged her close.

    Just at that moment, The Major clotheslined Celeritas and turned his full attention to Brynhilde. He was enjoying beating the hell out of his former partner. Having managed to disarm her, he was punching her in the face repeatedly. With his back turned, I pulled the trigger on the crossbow. Of course, he whipped around and grabbed it out of the air. Which is why Alphonse had put plastique in the tip. I don’t know how he discovered the spring in Arizona but I’m sure it helped to have millions of dollars at your command.

    The arrow exploded and The Major looked confused. He stared down at the stump of ragged flesh that had been his hand and started to scream. He was still screaming when Cy appeared and took The Major away. We had just defeated the most powerful Super on Earth but there was a lot more to do.

    Brynhilde rose into the air heading for the The Somnabulancer. He still had her under his control and was trying to take off with his prize.
    “I don’t think so.” Pinkie Lee glared at him and his eyes went wide in pain. Man Mountain took six running steps and punched him unconscious.
    This left one major problem and she was looking for her ax. Brynhilde didn’t have a clear idea what had happened but she could see Celeritas unconscious, The Major was gone and she was badly beaten. It was time to fight. She was going to be ready for Cy unless we could really distract her. Maybe Pinkie Lee could do something but she looked burnt.

    “Lady Brynhilde,” Karen stepped out. “You heard our charges against The Major. We learned them from Cy, The Silent One. The Major and PsyAnnie also told us not to try and save hundreds of young girls because it would cause problems. I know you stand for woman around the world. Did you know this?”
    Brynhilde found her ax and floated over to us but didn’t attack. When Cy appeared, she looked at Pinkie Lee, “You speak with The Silent One?”
    “His name is Cy but yea.”
    “Ask him what movie we last saw.”

    Pinkie touched Cy’s hand. “Aliens, for the seventh time.”
    “I appeals to me.” she said defensively. “What has been said of The Major purposely having heroes killed, is there truth to this?”
    “Yes. There was an agreement with certain governments and organizations that there had to be a minimal number of heroes at any one time. The Five used favors to bring heroes into situations where they were totally outgunned and The Major knew they would die.” Pinkie said.
    “And these girls you speak of?” Brynhilde looked shaken.
    “The other part of the agreement was to stay out of politics and business with the international criminal cartel. They kidnapped young girls and drained their lives away for a game.”
    “I would never made any such agreement, nor would he.” She gestured to where Celeritas was lying on the ground.
    “I noticed you were never around when they talked to us.” I said. “We just assumed you knew.”
    “Where have you taken them?” Brynhilde asked.
    “We couldn’t hold them anywhere on Earth. There was only one place where they wouldn't be able to escape.”
    “You left them on Suess World?” She snorted.
    “Yep, seemed like the best option. We had a choice between that and killing them.”
    “You are more forgiving then I.”
    “Not that much, we told the Puddleglums who was responsible for the Stoglan coming to their world. Even if they are able to flag a passing space ship the Puddleglums won’t let them leave”

    “There is truth that you freed Dr Ruin and gave him an empire.”
    “Well, that was more like replacing evil with a …” Oh hell, I didn’t believe that anymore. “We put in a devil we know, the lesser of two evils. He’s going to let the girls go and will stop them from trying to kill my family. We will take him down later.”
    “Are those not the same actions as The Major and PsyAnnie?”
    Karen broke in, “Not going to split hairs, you’re too close to right but they made that choice necessary. We’re getting company, this is a conversation for someplace else..”
    Looking around I realized the civilians had gone from the well learned duck and cover, to wandering out curiosity.
    Brynhilde held up the transporter, “We can go back to the headquarters.”

    We woke up Celeritas and had a bit of a dust up when Man Mountain went to pick up The Somnabulancer. We had found he couldn’t control MM, so when the big guy picked him up he played possum until he was close enough to another person to touch them. Unfortunately for him the person he touched was me. The shield decided the psychic attack was the same as an energy bolt and blasted it back at him. We couldn’t wake him up after that. Cy dropped him on Suess World, with instructions to the Puddleglums not to let him touch them. We didn’t know if he could control them but why take the risk.

    I went straight to the kitchen, checking to see what was in the fridge and pantry. It ran heavy to red meat, potatoes, frozen diet meals, twenty cases of protein bars, and some good coffee. I could work with that. I ground the coffee Turkish fine mixed in some sugar, paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, ginger and red pepper flakes. Then rubbed it on the beautiful rib eyes and heated up the grill.

    El Viento proved to be handy with a paring knife. He started peeling and slicing the potatoes, then layering them in a cast iron pan with olive oil and sea salt. Man Mountain squeezed a bag of oranges we found, with his hands. He added assortments of booze to the juice, crushed ice and we had Man Mountain punch which had the same effect as having him slug you in the head. Celeritas had recovered quickly and ran around keeping everyone's drinks filled. Karen, Pinkie and Brynhilde were having an intense conversation on the couch.

    As we ate, Karen explained what they had been talking about.
    “We want to form another group.”
    “Like The Five, only not so sucky.” added Pinky with her mouth full of potatoes. She had put back on her mask.
    “We’ll get all the hero’s who want to join. Access threats, make sure that we have people going out to meet them who are capable and stand up to the real bad guys.” Karen used her fork for emphasis.
    “What about the groups that The Major was working with? They won’t like this, there will be retaliation.” El Viento had every reason to be cautious. He knew better than the rest of us what it meant to stand up for your beliefs.
    “That’s why we’ll have to make it clear to folks what the risks are to joining.” I thought of my family.
    Celeritas had finished his plate and was working on his second box of protein bars.
    Ithinkwecandothis.It’swhat’sright.” I think we can do this. It’s what’s right.
    “Absolutely.” I said. “Can’t say I’m not worried about my family. Sounds like I’d have to put Bebe on full time retainer and I couldn’t afford that.”
    “We’ll figure something out.” Karen said.
    “So what do we are going to call this group?”

    One thing I can say is do not try to come up with a name for your new hero group when you’ve had more than five beers and multiple glasses of Man Mountain’s punch.
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