Writing Comp Hall of Fame!



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Writing Comp Hall of Fame!

Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

29 Nov 2013, 18:17 #1

Hey guys,

All entries that have won the writing comp will be posted here. That way they won't be lost in the clutter when we will on on the 15th monthly comp. Also, it allows other posters to read and enjoy your stories whenever they want.

All entries posted in this thread belong to the writers of the story. I do not own anything.








List of past winners of the Tavern Writing Competition

darktruth (co-winner of November 2013 comp) - 1st win
Feral Female (co-winner of November 2013 comp) - 1st win
Miles_Warren (co-winner of December 2013 comp) - 1st win
Mister_Oz (co-winner of December 2013 comp) - 1st win
darktruth (winner of January 2014 comp) - 2nd win
Big Thunder! (co-winner of February 2014 comp) - 1st win
darktruth (co-winner of February 2014 comp) - 3rd win
Feral Female (winner of March 2014 comp) - 2nd win
darktruth (winner of April 2014 comp) - 4th win
xMatt (winner of May 2014 comp) - 1st win
Big Thunder! (co-winner June 2014 comp) - 2nd win
xMatt (co-winner June 2014 comp) - 2nd win
xMatt (winner July 2014 comp) - 3rd win
Feral Female (winner August 2014 comp) - 3rd win
Big Thunder! (winner September 2014 comp) - 3rd win
Feral Female (co-winner October 2014 comp) - 4th win
GreenScar1990 (co-winner October 2014 comp) - 1st win
Big Thunder! (co-winner November 2014 comp) - 4th win
GreenScar1990 (co-winner November 2014 comp) - 2nd win
GreenScar1990 (winner of December 2014 comp) - 3rd win
ewkada (co-winner of the January 2015 comp) - 1st win
Feral Female (co-winner of the January 2015 comp) - 5th win
xMatt (co-winner of the January 2015 comp) - 4th win
Feral Female (winner of the February 2015 comp) - 6th win
Miles_Warren (winner of the March 2015 comp) - 2nd win
silverspidey4ever (winner of the April 2015 comp) - 1st win
Big Thunder! (winner of the May 2015 comp) - 5th win
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2013, 14:27 #2

This entry was submitted by DARKTRUTH for the November 2013 comp



Violet Avenger Annual #1- Push

Note:- This issue takes place after Violet Avenger #25

Maven Pharmaceuticals, the Laboratory of Dr Yuri Anderson

“Gah!” exclaimed Amira as she quickly pulled her hand away and shook it in the air.
Her hazel eyes narrowed upon the small pad plastic, metal, and wires that lay upon the table before her, which had just sent a sharp jolt straight up her arm.
“Come on Amira, if Tony Stark can do this how hard can it be?” she muttered. “She told herself without the slightest hint of sarcasm.”

She took a deep breath and carefully picked up a pair of tweezers in her left hand and used them to hold a wire in place, then with trepidation she picked up the soldering iron in her right hand and placed it at the point where the wire touched.
After several seconds she pulled the soldering iron away and gave it a quick shake before she returned it to it's place.
Her tongue rolled across her lower lip as she leaned in close and did her final checks.

Every wire was in place and another look over her calculations maintained that everything was correct.
But as her hand moved towards the small remote that lay upon the table she found herself unable to clasp it. She didn't want to press the button, because then she would learn if she'd made a mistake.
“Come on, it's time,” she told herself with a mental slap. “Time to see if you're half as smart as Iron Man.”

She took the remote into her brown-skinned fingers and brushed her thumb against the black button.
She swallowed deep and pushed the button.
In an instant she decided she should have worn a padded suit, when the wave of kinetic energy slammed into her.

Items were flung across the room in every direction as the metal table was crushed beneath it, and Amira was hit with a force that in her mind was akin to being punched by the Hulk.
The blast slammed the air from her lungs and knocked her backwards over a bench behind her.

Her head throbbed and she didn't even want to think about how many ribs she may have broken.
She was almost completely certain she was lucky she hadn't killed herself.
At least it had worked.

“You better be making a mess in my lab,” came a voice. “I want that beautiful mind of yours making messes all over the place! That sounded sexual, which it might have been. Unless you'd sue me over that, in which case I want you to know I consider all of your mind messes purely platonic.”
Amira grabbed the edge of the bench and used it to pull herself up onto her feet.
Dr Yuri Anderson smiled widely at her. “You look like shit.”

Amira quickly moved to fix her light-purple hijab and ensure that every strand of her jet-black hair was hidden beneath it.
As she attempted to regain the oxygen in her lungs her eyes moved over the young woman with short blonde hair that examined the destruction of the lab with a joy akin to a child.
Amira couldn't help but note how little like a scientist Yuri looked in her jeans and dark-grey hoodie, she also had the suspicion Yuri was one of those scientists that may decide building a perfect man from corpses and lightning is a good idea.


“So whatchu workin' on?” asked Yuri as she stepped nimbly over the remains of the table. “Or did you just take a whole hit of heron at once and try to build an atomic reactor? Because trust me, been there and it's not as smart as it sounds.”
“I don't do drugs,” Amira replied.
“Right, the eternal damnation thing,” Yuri nodded. “So what were you working on?”

“Just... stuff,” Amira replied as she pressed her hand against her chest to check for any breakages.
“Pretty impressive stuff. Please tell me this is one of the Iron Man things.”
“Why would it be?” Amira asked. “He's dead.” The last two words caused a ball to grow in her throat.

“True,” Yuri replied with a tilt of her head. “Anyway, I was just coming to say you could go home. Doesn't look like were making any more progress today.”
“The tests didn't go well?” Amira asked.
“Two rats exploded into flames, the third had an aneurysm,” Yuri replied. “Really thought we had it that time too. Extremis is tricky. Asked Coral if we could do some human trials, he seemed to think the rats were a sign not to.”
“Funny that.”

Yuri shrugged. “So now we're back three days. Tomorrow I'll make our next couple of modifications and see if we can't get at least one damn rat to get into the first fucking phase. Right now, we get to go home.”
Amira licked her lip. “I might stay a while longer. Tinker some more.”
“Alright, just don't demolish the entire lab,” Yuri smiled, then as an after-thought added, “or bring down the building. Coral would probably hate that.”

Yuri headed for the elevator as Amira moved to gather what items she could find, at the last second Yuri came to a stop.
“You should try and talk to her. Who knows, you might even forgive her.”
Amira rose her eyes towards the young woman, but the elevator doors had already shut behind her.

It wasn't particularly difficult for Amira to figure out who it was Yuri had meant.
Gavriella, the redheaded girl that still came into Amira's dreams even when she tried her hardest not to let her. The girl that had left a hole in her heart.
The girl she had wanted to be so angry with ever since their fight*, and yet no matter how hard she tried she could do nothing but miss her.

*As seen in Violet Avenger #12- darktruth

Amira exhaled as she gathered up the small pad and wires from the remains of the table, careful with it to make sure she didn't accidentally activate it again and put herself through a wall.
She moved to a new table and set herself to work again.
But now her thoughts were not on proving her intelligence compared to Stark, but instead in building up her confidence to go have a conversation she knew she should have had a long time ago.
–-------------------------------------

The Pearson Residence

Amira knocked on the front door several times and took a couple of steps back.
It felt so strange to knock on the door, she was so used to simple letting herself inside and getting to work cleaning the toilets or polishing the cutlery.
But it felt important that she knock, and so she did.

She adjusted her hijab and swallowed in the hope it may calm the butterflies in her stomach. It didn't.
Part of her mind realized she perhaps should have thought about what she intended to say before she arrived, another wondered if perhaps their problems with Extremis weren't because they had failed to adjust it adequately to their rodent test subjects.
The rest of her just wanted to be anywhere else but there.

The door opened and Amira's eyes fell upon the tall Israeli woman that opened it, her dark brown hair hung loose over the shoulders of her black business jacket.
At the same time she felt both relieved and even more nervous that if had been Gavriella's mother Natlie that answered the door, not Gavriella herself.
“Amira?” Natalie blinked in confusion.

“I... I was wondering if I could speak to Gavriella,” she said.
Natalie stared at her for several uneasy moments. “She's in her room. You know you don't have to knock, right?”
“I know, I just...” Amira started. “I'll go speak to Gavriella.”

Natalie nodded and stepped aside, and Amira moved past her and headed instantly for the stairs.
She followed them up onto the second floor and followed the corridor down until she came to Gavriella's door. The one decorated with images of Taylor Swift cut from magazines.
Amira knocked upon the door briskly.

“It's open,” Gavriella called out from inside the room, and Amira's heart gave a slight flutter at the sound.
With the slightest trepidation she turned the door handle and moved into the room.
“Amira,” said the girl as she sat up on her bed. She was as tall as her mother with long ginger hair, Amira felt blood rush to her cheeks as she noticed Gavriella wore nothing more than a t-shirt and a pair of short shorts. “I thought you were avoiding me.”

“I was,” Amira admitted, there was nothing to gain if she denied it.
“So why are you in my room?”
“I wanted to talk to you.”
“What about?”

Amira opened her mouth but closed it when she had no words to say. She really should have thought about it in advance.
“Are you just here to argue some more?” Gavriella asked sharply. “Because frankly, I could do without it.”
Amira didn't know what to say, but she knew exactly what she wanted to tell Gavriella.

Amira reached her hands up until her finger-tips brushed against her hijab, then she slid them underneath it and pulled it back until her long black hair came free and fell down across her shoulders and face.
Gavriella's hand snapped to her mouth as she rose from the bed to her feet.
Amira let her hijab rest upon the back of her shoulders and brushed the strands of hair from her face.

“Amira...” Gavriella whispered through her fingers as her eyes began to water.
Suddenly the words came to her.
“My faith is important to me, it's part of me and makes me who I am,” Amira explained. “It helps guide me and give me strength. I'm certain I could live without it, but I don't want to. I also don't want to live without you.”

Gavriella rushed forward and t0ok Amira's head in her hands, her fingers slipped through the dark hair.
Her brown eyes connected with Amira's hazel ones for what almost felt to be an eternity before she pressed their lips together. Amira's arm slipped around Gavriella's waist as they kissed, and kept her close when the kiss finally broke.
“I don't want that either,” Gavriella admitted as tears streamed down her cheeks. “I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said those things/ I didn't mean them, I was just... stupid.”

“I don't care,” Amira said as she rested her forehead against Gavriella's. “I always knew you didn't. I was just as stupid as you.”
“I was going to say more stupid,” Gavriella said with a smirk.
Amira laughed. “Yeah, just a bit more stupid.”

“So what do we do now?” Gavriella asked, followed by another quick kiss.
“How about we go tell your parents?”
“You're sure?” Gavriella asked and she gave a small nod. “Okay, but I want a little more time with you alone first.”
Amira smiled and moved in to taste Gavriella's lips again.
–------------------------------------

Short Time Later

Gavriella let out a long breath as she stared at the boiling pot of water.
She felt Amira's fingers brush against her back and she titled her head around to look at the girl who once more had every last strand of hair hidden beneath her hijab.
She had still yet to decide if she preferred Amira with or without her hijab. She started to think she didn't care either way.

“You okay?” Amira asked with a soft smile.
“I'll be better once these damn coffees are made,” she muttered.
“We don't have to make coffee, we could just go out there and tell them,” Amira suggested.
Gavriella shook her head. “No, no, no, no, no. They always take big news with a coffee.”

Amira laughed. “You're more nervous about this than I am.”
“Of course,” Gavriella replied.
“You were the one who always wanted to tell them.”
She nodded. “Yeah, because I always knew you'd say 'no'.”

Amira gave Gavriella a light punch on the arm and moved to grab the sugar.
“You do realize they're going to be totally cool about it right?” Amira said. “You have absolutely amazing parents.”
“I know,” Gavriella smiled. “Still... They're getting coffee with this news.”

“Hrrk!”
The bone-chilling sound caused both girls to snap their gaze towards the door that led through into the living room.

“What was that?” Gavriella asked, her voice and face filled with panic.
Amira's eyes snapped towards the knife block and she the biggest one from it. “Stay in here.”
Amira moved for the door, as she passed Gavriella the girl started to follow.
“Stay!” Amira barked under her breath as she snapped her head towards her.

Gavriella bit her lip as she fell back a step.
Amira continued forward and pushed through the door into the living room.
Her eyes widened.

“Hello Amira,” Mathew smiled at her from beneath his grey hood, a smile framed by his brown beard.
From out of each sleeve of his hooded jacket stuck three long curved blades.
The blades of his left sleeve were embedded in the head of Gavriella's red-haired father, the right her mother.

“No!” screamed Gavriella from behind Amira.
She tried to push past Amira to reach her parents, but Amira turned and grabbed her arm.
“Run!” she shouted as she pushed Gavriella towards the front of the house.
Gavriella tried to run, but Mathew was fast. Fast enough that even Amira could barely keep track of him.

The blades retracted into his sleeves, and Gavriella's parents had barely even begun to fall forwards from the couch they sat upon before he leapt over it.
As he moved for Gavriella he drew the sword the hung from his belt, and plunged it's long steel blade through the girl's stomach.

“No!” Amira shouted and threw both hands out towards Mathew.
A blast of kinetic energy shot forth from the devices she'd fitted into each of her sleeves, the force knocked Mathew from his feet and slammed him into the far wall so hard it cracked.

“Thought you needed your suit for that,” he grunted as he picked himself.
“I've been working,” she snarled as she lunged for the sword that had fallen from his grasp.

In one fluid motion she took the handle of the blade between her fingers and leapt towards rthe man she had once considered a friend.
She wanted to cut that 'friend's' head off.

The trio of blades shot out from his sleeves just in time to block the swing of the sword.
He pushed back as he rose and Amira was forced back several steps.

She pulled the sword back and swung again and again, but each time he blocked it casually with hos blades fashioned after an eagle's claws.
The final swing he reached and grabbed the blade of the sword with his hand, his blood trickled down the metal and mixed with Gavriella's as he held it in place.

“She's dying, killing me won't stop that,” he told her.
“It will avenge her.”
“And yet if you had called an ambulance instead of going for the sword perhaps she could have been saved.”

Amira's eyes widened as she loosened her grip upon the sword enough for him to pull it from her.
The blades once more retracted back into his sleeves, before his fist collided with her jaw.

She hit the floor as her mind spun. Her head turned to find he was already gone.
Then the sound of a gurgle caught her ear and her heart sunk.

She scrambled across the floor towards Gavriella, slipped in the pool of blood that had formed around her. The pool that continued to grow.
She took the girl into her arms and pressed her hand as firmly against the wound as she could.

Her tears fell onto Gavriella's forehead, which she wiped clean quickly before she kissed it firmly.
“No, No you can't leave me,” Amira sobbed. The blood continued to spill forth no matter how hard she pressed.
Gavriella tried to speak, but choked and gurgled on the blood that came up her throat.

“Shh, don't talk,” Amira begged her. “I'll get you help. I'll save you.”
Gavriella's body convulsed in her grasp, and bile began to rise in Amira's throat.
“I'm a hero, I'll save you.”
–-----------------------------------------

Mathew opened the door to the black car that sat out front of the Pearson household and gave one last look back towards the house.
“Was it necessary?” asked a voice from within the dark of the car.
“She needed the push,” he replied before he climbed inside and the car drove off.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2013, 14:31 #3

This entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the November 2013 comp



This is the latest issue of Invincible, the story of my gal Karrie Gabriel Stark who used to be known as Scarlet Talon. In this chapter Karrie and Wade Wilson have arrived in Nepal. Karrie is trying to track down Bruce Banner as a last ditch effort to get her Extremis induced rage problem under control. Deadpool and Karrie run into a rather big situation shall we say? =)

***

Invincible – Issue # 28 – Anger Management

*~*~*

Karrie`s fingers are slick with Wade`s blood. She makes a snap decision.

“Give me your underwear,” she tells Wilson, putting pressure on the nasty stump until his healing factor kicks in the coagulant.

“What`s that?” Wade asks, cupping an ear, “You want to get into my underwear?”

“No, I just want your underwear. We`re going to surrender.”

Wilson sits up quickly. “Uhm, no we are not. Wade W. Wilson does not surrender even when facing an entire squadron of Nepalese army men with automatic--”

It`s the army shooting at us?! ” Karrie squeals. Bullets fly over and around them. “Why didn`t you mention it was the army?! Give me your damn boxers!”

She lunges for his waistband. Wilson giggles like a wee leprechaun as her fingers rake over his ribs.

“Feral, damn it, don`t reveal that I`m ticklish! That`s like revealing Superman is really Clark Kent. Oops.”

“Stop talking stupid and give me those damn boxers!” Karrie tugs upward. Wade`s eyes widen. “Sorry, I didn`t mean to give you a wedgie, but we need something white to wave over our heads so that--”

Deadpool grabs her head and turns it to the left. Karrie`s eyes lock onto the biggest, and greenest, kneecaps she has ever seen. She swallows loudly then slowly looks upward. Rage-filled eyes glower down on her.

“Hi Bruce,” she squeaks. A bullet rips through Hulk`s thick bicep. He grunts but continues to stare at the woman kneeling in front of him with her fingers tightly around Deadpool`s elastic waistband.

“Yo Fugly! Long time no – Blarg!”

A fist rockets outward. Wilson shoves Karrie to the side. The punch glances off Wade`s head and rolls him off the side of the mountain.

“Wade!” Karrie shouts. Hulk turns to glower at her. Karrie scrambles backwards, her shoulder-blades plastered to the boulder. Banner snorts like an enraged bull, looks down at her, blinks, and then is shot with an RPG. Karrie throws her arms over her head. The man/monster comes slightly unglued. His bellow bounces off the Himalayan mountainsides. Her knees are in her breasts. The incensed monster leaps over her. Screams of terror and pain erupt on the other side of her rock hiding place. Cursing herself for being a whimpering sissy hiding behind a rock, she slowly gets to her feet. On tiptoes she peeks around the boulder.

“Holy shit,” Karrie whispers. Hulk is going through the small band of Nepalese soldiers like water runs through a sieve. Men are flying left and right. Banner is sweeping the ground with the hapless military men and women. If she only had access to Invincible! She instantly chastises herself for such a stupid thought. Tony had to build special armor to engage the Hulk. Even with the Hulkbuster and Tony`s skill in said armor, he got his ass handed to him. Her wearing Invincible while trying to battle Hulk would get her dead, end of discussion. Shaking her head at the silly thought she draws back to wait for the inevitable to happen.

It does, and within minutes. All falls silent. She waits, arms locked around her middle. One heavy footfall then another reverberates behind her. She wets her lips then glances over her shoulder. A large hand reaches for her. She scrabbles to her feet. Banner latches onto her arm. Karrie is drug closer. She does not fight back. Soon Hulk`s nose is within an inch of hers. She can smell the tang of his sweat.

Her mouth opens a few times but little comes out. The monster studies her intently; his exhalations blow her hair from her cheeks. She clears her throat and tries once more to speak.

“Bruce, I `d really appreciate it if you let go of my arm.” That was no lie. Her forearm and hand had already gone numb. He does as asked. She smiles shakily up at the beast. “Thanks. So, yeah, I see the army found you before we did.”

He grunts as his sight lingers on the horizon. His breathing slows with each passing moment.

“Listen, if you`d like to hang out so that we could talk, I`d be – Uhm, no, that`s no quite what I had in mind.”

Karrie backpedals when the lumbering green giant reaches for her. Actually, she decides moving slowly in reverse isn`t fast enough. She spins and runs. His arm comes around her waist from behind. Her breath rushes from her as she`s hugged to the Hulk`s massive chest soundly.

“No, no, no, no, no, no!” she screams just before he leaps to the other side of the mountain.


*~*~*

“Huh, you really can touch the clouds here.”

Karrie leans on the side of a dilapidated shack, her shoulder to the bare wood, her mind lost amid the heavy mist that hugs the town of Nagarkot. She reaches out with her right hand to move her fingers through the cloud that clings to Banner`s hideout. The rusty squeak of the weak door pulls her around. Bruce steps onto the rickety front porch, his demeanor that of a man that has been whipped both mentally and physically. He drops a fully-packed duffel bag to the porch.

“Mrs. Stark, I think I should offer you an apology.” Bruce smiles sheepishly. She notices the attempt at humor doesn`t reach his sad, sad brown eyes.

“I`m listening,” she responds, folding her arms over her breasts. Banner reaches up to rub the back of his neck. His clothing is clean but quite frayed. Of course, hers isn`t in much better shape after that mad jump and subsequent race over half of Nepal she notes with a frown.

“The other guy,” Banner mumbles while massaging the base of his skull. His eyes search hers for understanding. She nods for him to continue as gooseflesh erupts on her bare arms. Her eyes well up when she thinks of Wade lying at the bottom of some Nepalese gorge broken into a hundred bits. She had pulled him into this and now . . . “Seems to be rather attracted to pretty women.”

“I suppose I should be flattered?” she asks. Banner smiles softly. It is a charming smile she has to admit. Shy but quirky, filled with the promise of a sharp mind . . . much like Tony, except Tony is – was – the opposite of shy.

“No, not at all. You should be mortified. And you also should not even be here. Are you here for Fury?”

She stiffens. His tone had gone from mildly pleasant to steely stone in a heartbeat.

“I am not here for anyone beside myself. I need help dealing with an anger problem Extremis has given me and-”

“Why not go to your husband for help with an Extremis-based reaction? Or Maya Hansen?” Banner inquires, peeling off a thin grey jacket then placing it on Karrie`s shoulders.

“They`re both dead,” she murmurs as she burrows into the warm covering.

“Jesus, I`m so sorry,” Bruce whispers as a gentle wind lifts the clouds up away from the ground a few feet.

“No more sorry then I am.” Karrie walks onto the porch. “Do you live here?”

“I did, but not anymore.”

“Bruce, how do you control the rage?” she asks, knowing the man would be leaving as soon as he could break free of her. He chuckles at her query.

“You can ask that of me after seeing what you saw? After being kidnapped by – by – by him? Look me in the eye and tell me if you see a man who can control the rage, Mrs. Stark!”

She backs up instinctually. Banner closes his eyes as he exhales.

“There is no control, Mrs. Stark. You will always be angry.”

He bends to grab the duffel bag he had dropped and then walks off into the clouds.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

02 Jan 2014, 00:08 #4

This entry was submitted by MILES_WARREN for the December 2013 comp

Bumblebee Man - Part 1

Dr. Roger Avery was a world-renowned apiologist. If you needed to know something about bees, Dr. Avery was the man with the answer. What the world didn’t know was that Dr. Avery was also the superhero known as Bumblebee Man. Of course, the reason the world didn’t know Bumblebee Man’s secret identity was because nobody in the world knew who the hell Bumblebee Man was.

Apart from preventing a group of kids from vandalising a wall with graffiti, Bumblebee Man had yet to perform any act that could be described as heroism. It didn’t help that Dr. Avery lived in Yellowtown, twice voted America’s safest town to live in and winner of “America’s Tidiest Town” for seven consecutive years running. But dressing up in a costume made from honeycomb and calling himself a superhero somehow justified been a 34 year old single man that had yet to have a proper girlfriend since Jessica Lovato back in the seventh grade. And even then she only went out with Roger for a month because she had lost a bet. Something Roger didn’t find out until he tried to consummate their relationship the week before prom.

But tonight he was determined to change that. Tonight was Roger’s first date with his assistant Lavender O’Brien. Lavender had just broken up with her boyfriend and Roger wanted to be the shoulder to cry on. The plan was that once Roger showed his soft and sensitive side Lavender would instantly fall in love with him and they would have the steamiest night of sex ever.

“Brr cold night isn’t it” Roger said clutching his arms tightly around himself to keep warm. “Would you like my jacket Lav?”

“No thanks” Lavender replied glumly. “I’m not that cold”.

As they walked towards the restaurant, Roger struggled to think of something to say. He didn’t know what to talk about with somebody who had just been dumped.

“Sooooo……Larry was a complete prick wasn’t he?”

“Larry was a nice man Roger” Lavender replied defensively. “It was my fault the relationship ended. I don’t know how to open up to him. I never let him in on anything I was feeling. I didn’t know……I didn’t know how to tell him I loved him”.

That last sentence was like a kick to the balls for Roger. If Lavender loved this jackass then it may take a second or third date before she would rebound with Roger. And what if Larry decides to take her back? Then everything Roger planned will be for nothing. As he was thinking all this to himself, he began to notice Lavender’s legs through her dress. Man, they were long. Very long and sexy. Something began to happen in Roger’s trousers that he didn’t want Lavender to notice…

“Erm….oh here’s the restaurant Lav. I don’t know about you but I am starved.”

The waiter took them to their seats and gave them a menu each to read. Roger began to check the prices. They seemed reasonable. He had only brought a $100 which was to cover both his and Lavender’s meal as well as a bottle (or two) of wine.

“Wow, everything sounds delicious” Lavender said as she glanced through the menu. “I might go for the Fettucine Alfredo”.

“I think I’ll just go for the pizza” Roger said as he threw the menu back onto the table. Lavender laughed.

“What?” Roger asked.

“Who goes to an Italian restaurant and orders a pizza? You need to learn about different cultures. Take a risk. Live a little.”

“Hey, I take risks all the time” Roger smiled. “Just because I don’t know what the heck a toteoillin is--”

“Tortellini”

“--whatever. Just because I don’t know what a tortellini is doesn’t mean I don’t take risks.”

Lavender laughed again. This time harder than the last laugh. “Oh yeah, name one time you took a risk.”

“Just the one? Ha. Easy. How about becoming an apiarist. Working with bees is dangerous stuff.”

“Speaking as somebody who works with bees myself Roger, I can honestly say it isn’t.”

Roger was tempted to tell her that dressing up as a superhero and fighting crime was a definite risk. Even if the risk was been caught and carted off to the mental hospital. But he held his tongue.

“Well…..asking you out to dinner tonight was a definite risk.” Roger held his breath as he waited for Lavender’s response. There was a long silence.

“Roger…look. We’re friends.” Lavender reached out to grab Roger’s hand. “Good friends. Let’s not ruin what we have.”

Roger felt despondent. Not for the first time in his life. But this one hurt a lot more than the others. Just as he was about to say something a loud crash came from the entrance of the restaurant. People began to scream.

“NOBODY MOVE!!!”

Three armed men clad in camo gear and a black balaclava forced their way into the restaurant.

“Where is Mayor Brody?” one of the men shouted. He was the tallest one out of the group. The fact that he was carrying an AK47 made him more intimidating. “We know he is here!”

Damn, I was hoping something like this wouldn’t happen, Roger thought to himself.

“Er….Lavender, I have to go?” Roger whispered.

“Go?” Lavender replied startled. “Go where? Roger get back here?”

But it was too late. Roger had already left the table. He moved quickly to the men’s room, keeping his head down at all times. He didn’t want to be seen just in case he got his head blown off.

“I’ll ask again? Where is Mayor Brody?” The tall guy with the AK47 began to point his gun towards the various customers. Some of the women began to scream in panic.

“Leave these people alone!” a voice came from the back of the restaurant. A small plump man with squirrelly features stood defiantly in the VIP section of the restaurant. “I’m Mayor Brody. I’ll do what you say but you need to leave these people alone”.

Back in the men’s room, Roger began to change into his Bumblebee Man costume. He was nervous. There was no denying it. This was his moment. And best of all, Lavender was there to see him in action. Except Lavender didn’t know that Bumblebee Man was Roger. And the only bit of action he might see was his life flashing before his eyes as a bullet was heading straight towards his forehead.

“Oh God oh God, what am I doing?” Roger began to heave uncontrollably. He was having a panic attack. He looked towards the window in the bathroom. He could make his escape. Was it too late to back out? His mind immediately turned towards Lavender. She was still inside. What if something happened to her? Roger could never forgive himself.

Oh God what should I do, Roger thought….

(to be continued)
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

02 Jan 2014, 00:11 #5

This entry was submitted by MISTER_OZ for the December 2013 comp

I Own Nothing Which Is Not Mine

2013 Holiday Special

The Mall at Steamtown, Scranton, PA:

"Woo! Woo! Mark is gonna love one of these!" a dark haired man dressed as an old fashioned train engineer in striped overalls and matching hat enthused while examining a model train.

"Cool it, man," his teammate, an equally handsome man, though slightly more so at the moment on account of his shape-shifting teammate's current guise, responded. The pair of mutants, known as Variable and Lightning, were taking advantage of some time off from the X-Men X-Pansion team to do some Christmas shopping and were perusing items lining the shelves of a toy store.

"Aw, man, don't be a Scrooge," Variable said and morphed into a rendering of the popular Dickens character.

"What are you doing?!" Lightning exasperated in a hushed, held back yell. Variable looked surprised.

"What? Have some fun, enjoy yourself."

"I'll enjoy myself just fine so long as the public doesn't lynch us for finding out we're mutants. Keep a lid on it ‘til we're back home."

"Fine," Variable pouted and morphed into something that resembled a human being.

The mall itself was decorated for the Holidays with strands of multicolored lights and unbelievably long boughs of garland ringed almost every visible surface. Songs of the season echoed almost unintelligibly from the public address speakers.

As the pair of men walked along, Lightning noticed more and more people began to look at them when all of a sudden a teenaged girl screamed.

"Oh my God! It's him!" and a number of equally excitable shoppers rushed the two pals; the excited girl babbled, "You're Brag Tripp, star of t.v. and movies. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, can I have your autograph?"

"Sure," ‘Brag' smiled broadly and glanced about fondling his chest as if he were searching for a pen on himself.

"You are sooo dead," Lightning said leaning into his friend's ear.

"Jealous," the metamorph teased like a schoolgirl then addressed the crowd, "Anybody got a pen?"

"I got a Sharpie!" one girl answered and held it out in front of her for Variable/Brag. Within seconds he was signing everything from sales receipts to the shirts people were wearing.

"Man, people are crazy," ‘Brag' chuckled to Lightning, who stood by his side barely containing his impatience; that is, until the camera flashes started going off.

"No pictures!" Lightning yelled to the small crowd. His teammate again looked at his friend in surprise, but seeing his stern gaze made Variable recognize the complications which could arise on account of this seemingly harmless impersonation.

"Sorry, folks, my ‘agent' is right. We have to get back underway. Shooting starts..."

Three sharp bangs reverberated throughout the mall, interrupting him.

"Right now!" Variable acknowledged, amending his address.

"Let's do it!" Lightning smiled and met Variable's nod.

"Awesome! Brag Tripp's gonna kick some ass!" one of the young guys in the crowd exclaimed.

"Go get ‘em, guys!"

"Yeah!"

The pair heard behind them as they headed off towards the increasing sounds of confusion from the floor below. ‘Brag' turned to the crowd one last time, "Be good, everyone, love your neighbor and get to safety."

Moments before, a fidgeting, pale looking man in an old blue t-shirt and aged dungarees waited for Santa to finish listening to what a young blonde haired boy wanted for Christmas. Once the child was safely in his mother's arms, the man ran up to Santa's red velvet sack, which was full of donations for the local toy drive, and snatched it from the side of Santa's throne.

"Hey! You can't do that!" One of Santa's festively clothed elves yelled in protest and began chasing the thief in a flurry of jingling from the bells on the toes of her elfin booties and tip of her hat. That's when the pale man clapped his hands together really hard three times, which caused the air immediately in front of him to explode outward sounding like gunshots; the result of which knocked the people closest to him off of their feet.

"Are you crazy?!" the elfin lass yelled and Santa added his own bizarre response; shouting "You're getting coal in your stocking!"

Elsewhere in the mall, a woman with flowing blonde hair and girl next door charm was speaking on her cell phone while carrying a paper shopping bag of clothes when she heard the three loud bangs.

"Sorry, Dad, gotta go," she said into her phone.

"Be careful, honey. There's a lot of crazies coming out into the world now," her dad advised.

"I will."

"That's my Ree. See you for the holiday?"

"Of course! Love you."

"Love you, too. Bye," her Ree's father said in parting. She responded and ended the call, placing the phone in her purse. She quickly found a secluded corner and peeled off her brown sweater and black trousers to reveal her Spangle costume. She had the clerk of the nearest store, a music and movies shop, stow her stuff behind the sales counter and she quickly ran off towards the cacophony.

Upon reaching the atrium a mere moment later, a handful of confused patrons, female elf and disheveled Santa were picking themselves up off of the floor. When they noticed Ree in her colorful red, white and blue costume resembling Captain America the lady elf pointed and called out, "After that toy thief! He's wearing blue and has Santa's bag!"

"On it!" Spangle acknowledged with a salute and ran off after the villain.

From the floor above Lightning and Variable could see a crowd of people regaining their balance and their things, pointing in the direction they were headed. Below them they noticed a vibrantly costumed blonde female running from the scene of the confused shouters.

"She must be who we're looking for," Variable, who'd morphed into his familiar blue and yellow X-Men uniform said to his partner, who also managed to shed his own clothing, despite running, by using his bio-electric mutant ability in a tightly focused manner to burn them off, so that he now matched Variable.

"Bonzai!" Lightning exclaimed in battle cry, swinging down as if Tarzan on an evergreen garland of rope. Not to be outdone, Variable, with his additional power to teleport, bamfed to the running costumed woman's back thus tackling her to the smooth polished floor of the mall.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Spangle admonished the double-abilitied mutant.

"Taking you down, Sister," Variable said proudly as Lightning jogged to his side.

"For what?! I'm trying to stop a toy thief and your tackle means he's getting away! Are you two with him?"

The pair of X-Men looked at each other as Spangle got to her feet.

"Oops," Variable said timidly.

"No. No we're not. I guess we're after him too," Lightning explained facing the heroine, "We saw the ruckus and finger pointing and you running away, we just figured, you know..."

"You're not evil mutants, are you?" Spangle asked, the eyes behind her red mask eyeing the pair suspiciously.

"Not hardly! I'm Lightning. This is Variable. We're X-Men," Lightning introduced. Variable, ever the prankster added, "Well, there was that time with..."

Lightning backhanded his teammate, "You're not helping," then addressed Spangle, "He's really joking. So if you're not who we're after, who are you then?"

"I'm Spangle. Mid-Atlantic Avenger," using her former affiliation sounded weird to her ears and she hoped the two guys in matching costumes facing her hadn't heard about her team's demise but doing so she hoped to sound more professional than she felt, "And if you're good guys like you're claiming you are, you'll help me stop the bad guy who's now got an even bigger head start cuz of you goofs."

"For a pretty maiden, anything," Variable replied and bowed, chivalrously kissing Spangle's hand.

"Come on, Goof, he's getting away," Lightning chastised, "Go scan ahead and let us know where he is."

"Roger!" the shapeshifting teleporter acknowledged and took to flight in sparrow form.

"Holy crap!" Spangle exclaimed in surprise.

"That's nothing," Lightning downplayed, "You should see him in charades."

The pair's eyes met and Lightning wondered, "Where's the rest of your team?"

"Oh, uh, they couldn't make it – and I happened to be nearby – actually..." Spangle groped at an excuse.

Lightning smiled, "Well, are we just gonna stand here or are we after a toy taker?"

"Right," Spangle blushed, her mask briefly blending in with her cheeks.

The X-Man and solo pseudo-Avenger began running down the corridor when the avian form of Variable sped at them, morphing back to his X-Men guise upon reaching them.

"He's in the parking garage, let's go!" Variable morphed into a pterodactyl, pushing Lightning to his back and snatched Spangle carefully in his talons.

"Holy shit! What are you doing?" the relatively novitiate heroine shrieked in his captivity as Variable quickly got them all airborne.

"I wasn't sure if you'd get teleportation sickness. I'll be a little slower flying with both of you riding along, but I think we can still make good time to catch the bastard. He was getting into a white minivan."

The flying trio burst forth from the mall onto Lackawanna Avenue as pedestrians gawked and pointed at the flying three-personed creature.

Spangle noticed a popular model white minivan speeding towards the Central Scranton Expressway and a certain escape.

"Look," she pointed awkwardly, "That might be him!"

"Stop squirming," Variable chided, "you'll make me crash!"

"Sorry, it's just a little..."

"Disconcerting," Lightning finished for her, all of them speaking to be heard over the wind, "It takes some getting used to."

"Right, Thank you," she replied.

Variable swooped low to get alongside the accelerating vehicle, having to pull up often to avoid crashing head-on with approaching traffic. The van made it onto the expressway before the trio of heroes could alight on its roof.

"Be awfully embarrassing if this is the wrong car," Lightning said as they hovered above it when suddenly the driver climbed through the open driver's side window and strongly clapped his hands together.

"Right car!" Spangle called out as the trio was sent flailing three different ways above the busy highway. The blonde heroine crashed into a box truck back first, knocking the wind from her soundly but fortunately carrying her along in the same direction as her prey.

Variable used his large leathery wings to quickly regroup himself and in that split second noted Spangle's disposition. She wasn't road pizza yet, so he set out for Lightning, who'd fortunately landed relatively unscathed on the overhead directional sign, having stabbed it with his broadsword for a hold, "Figures the guy has powers."

Spangle was just getting her breathing back when the pair of blue and yellow fighters teleported to the delivery truck's roof alongside her.

"Let's go. He's getting away and we have toys to save!"

In an eye-blink, Spangle was uneasily perched in tripod position of knees and left hand on the roof of the speeding white minivan alongside the two peas in a pod X-Men. Ree fought back the urge to throw up, especially when the roof of the van exploded outward at them, threatening to toss them to Interstate 81's busy southbound lanes.

"I HATE when that happens!" Variable yelled in mock disapproval.

"At least we have easy access now!" Lightning replied.

"Indeedy do!" Variable smiled and teleported into the front passenger seat, where he grabbed the toy thief's right hand to keep him from clapping; warning the crook, "Even think of anything stupid and I teleport your arm off."

Lightning entered next and climbed into a spot behind the driver, "I'm sure my friend already warned you, so just pull the van over."

Spangle was halfway through the jagged hole in the van's roof when the thief violently swerved the vehicle to the right shoulder, figuring he'd call Variable's bluff. Spangle fell un-ladylike into the out of control van as Variable teleported the driver in his entirety to a custodial position on the steeply sloped bank of the interstate.

Inside the van, Lightning desperately tried to steer over the back of the now vacant driver's seat as cars and trucks barreled around them.

"Cruise control! Shit!" Lightning swore at the realization they weren't slowing down.

"Let me!" Spangle yelled over the noise of rushing air and equally rushing traffic. Then climbed awkwardly over two seat backs as Lightning swerved back and forth in a desperate attempt to maintain control from such a bad position. The patrioticly costumed female managed to reach the steering wheel, ultimately blocking his view. Upon looking out the windshield, she shrieked:

"Tanker!!"

"So do something! You're driving," Lightning remanded.

Spangle slammed on the brakes, which immediately disengaged the cruise control and the pair of heroes could feel the van shudder with the sudden loss of forward momentum, only to be instantly rear ended by a Pennsylvania State Trooper police car.

Many hours later into the evening at the barracks the superpowered thief was being escorted away under guard by the Strategic Hazard Intervention Enforcement Logistics Directorate branch of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the three superheroes had provided their recounting of events, a group of about twenty less fortunate children was escorted into the lobby by their adult volunteer friends.

Spangle, Lightning and Variable, all still in their respective costumes, were brought out to meet with the children and distribute the recovered toys originally destined for them.

"Thank you so much for saving Christmas," a seven year-old girl in a puffy pink Winter's coat and matching bow of yarn in her golden hair said.

"You're very welcome," Spangle smiled kneeling down receive the little one's hug.

"Awesome! Santa, you had some badass help!" an eight year-old boy in blue baseball jacket and black jeans enthused. All of the adults, from volunteers, Spangle, Lightning and Troopers all turned to see a jolly Santa Claus belly laughing and touching his white gloved finger to his nose.

Lightning looked around the crowd, "Anyone seen Variable?"

Hearing his name, ‘Santa'/Variable faced his teammate and made a "shh" gesture.

"Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all boys and girls, young and old!" the shapeshifter's wish trailed off into a hearty "Ho! Ho! Ho!" as each of the gathered boys and girls wanted their own hug from the jolly ole goof.
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Miles_Warren
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Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Feb 2014, 00:12 #6

This entry was submitted by DARKTRUTH for the January 2014 comp

Song of Selwyn

Chapter I- Secret Love

Late November in the Year 3018 of the Third Age

A cool wind swept across the land of Eregion as the sun slowly drifted down towards the far horizon and began to wash the land with an orange light.
Several small birds flitted in and out of the trees, before fluttering low across a small rocky hill, atop of which sat a small fire that crackled away.

Gathered in a circle around the fire sat the Dunedain rangers under the command of Thingol.
They had returned from the border of Dunland to the south, where they had encountered several war-bands of the wild men who dwelt there.
Dunlending war-bands were certainly no concern for experienced rangers who often found themselves hunting and battling far tougher and larger foes, however the glory of victory sat in their hearts and so the men took it upon themselves to enjoy some merriment and recount their personal tales of the battles recently fought.

Good cheer filled the air as each regaled the others with their story.
They would describe the way in which they deflected a near fatal blow, or turned an enemy’s blade upon themself, or the way in which they used clever footwork to trip their foe.
For these men the battle may have been exciting, but to recount those events to their fellows was the real pleasure.

All but a few were deeply engrossed by the tale young Saeragar son of Rustagar, and one of the newest to join the band of rangers, now told of how he fought no less than three of the wild men by himself, felling two with the third being slain by the arrow of a fellow ranger he did not see.
What Saeragar did not realize was that the arrow in question had belonged to Selwyn, one of the few not in the tight circle around him.
Selwyn found little joy in acting as a child listening to the fables their father would tell. She would listen for any information that may be of use in future battle, but would not boost the teller’s ego by going to them as a moth to the flame.

Selwyn was the only woman amongst Thingol’s Dunedain rangers, and in truth she did not contain even a drop of Dunedain blood within her veins.
This auburn haired woman, whom was busy at work cleaning the Dunlending blood from her twin axes with a rag of cloth, hailed from the lands of Rohan. Her family slain at an early age by men not far unlike those they had recently slain, her own life saved only by the arrival of Thingol’s band.
It was difficult enough to earn the respect of veteran rangers when one is a woman, but to be one of the Rohirrim amongst men of the Numenorean blood-line it was all but impossible.
But Selwyn was not a woman in desperate need to prove herself to these men, certainly not for if she was she would have long hence thrown herself to the Wargs as a feast from frustration.

Selwyn moved her blue eyes from her now mostly clean axes up to where Saeragar stood and spoke. He had now turned his tale from a simple recollection of events to a rather boastful display of his skill as he waved his blade about him like a fool.
So, as she had even less a need for boasts than she did pointless tales, Selwyn allowed her eyes to drift over their encampment until they fell upon two men upon the opposite side and quite far from the remainder of the company.

The two that she now gazed upon held unparalleled respect amongst this band of rangers, Selwyn included amongst that number.
The shorter of two, a man shorter than all the rest of the company including Selwyn, was Torthang the Light, so nicknamed by the rangers for his fair-hair. He was the second-in-command of the band of rangers, a man of keen mind, sharp wit, and supreme tactics.
Torthang was deep in conversation with Thingol, leader of these rangers. A tall and strong built man with his long brown hair tied together behind his head.
Thingol was a man who could lead his men into any battle, for he held a dear place in their hearts. But in no heart was he held more dearly than that which sat in the breast of Selwyn.

So strong were her thoughts of Thingol that her hands had forgotten their task within moments of her eyes settling upon him.
It was as if a great warmth had filled her body, as though she had become the target of some sorcery.
But it was not an unpleasant sensation, certainly not. In truth she would instantly sell her skill with bow and axe if it meant she could live forever in the embrace of this sensation.

It was a sensation not far removed from that which she had felt when her eyes had first lain upon him, though intensified by months and years in his presence.
Indeed this feeling had grown a hundred-fold, warming her heart ever more each day.

She swiftly turned her thoughts back to the axes she held and returned to work, wiping from it the last few specks of red.
It was all she could do to stop herself from simply moving to Thingol’s side and acting upon the desires that feeling filled her mind with.
But with her axes cleaned she needed something to occupy herself with, and swiftly.

So she picked up her longbow, carved from ash, and retrieved her bow-string from inside her carry pouch.
She kept her mind focused as she strung her bow, thankful that she had not kept the knots on the bow-string as it gave her another task to focus on as she fully fastened it to the staff.

Once it was fully strung she fastened her two axes to her waist and climbed to her feet, her hand grasped tightly upon the bow.
She allowed her eyes to move to Thingol once more and she inhaled and exhaled a deep breath. She took only a moment more before she moved across the camp and over to where Thingol and Torthang stood.

Both fell silent and turned their eyes towards her as she approached, Thingol’s blue as hers while Torthang’s were as brown as the bark of an elm.
“I…” Selwyn began and cursed herself sharply for faltering. “I would ask permission to hunt, if we plan to move Northward we should ensure our supplies are adequate, should we not?”
Thingol smiled proudly. “Indeed we should! Malchen and myself shall join you!” He turned back to Torthang, “Our talk can wait, cannot it not?”
“Indeed it can, it would even suit me as I would like to clean my blade before the blood begins to eat at the metal,” replied Torthang as his eyes moved from Thingol, to Selwyn, and then back again.
“Excellent!” Thingol said happily, before he turned to the camp. “Malchen! Will you join Selwyn and myself in a small hunt?”

Not long thereafter Selwyn stood with Thingol and Malchen, a Dunedan not dissimilar to Thingol in height and colour of hair but far softer in his features of the face.
Selwyn had had little dealings with Malchen, besides fighting beside him. He seemed to her a nice enough fellow, if not a little too fascinated in the crafts of the Elves for her taste (shown by the Elven clasp that held his brown cloak to him).
Thingol was now fitted with spear in hand and a cuirass of steel upon his chest.
“Let us bring back a feast worthy of us,” he smiled to Selwyn and Malchen.

With these words they moved off across the land of Eregion, Thingol in the lead while Selwyn and Malchen followed behind with their bows carried in their hands.
The wind had changed direction and now brought a colder air down to them from the Misty Mountains.
Selwyn shivered lightly beneath her leather armour, now wishing she had had the thought to bring her woollen cloak along with her.

Her eyes darted about the trees that came to surround them as Thingol led them ever onwards.
Once or twice she would catch a glimpse of a shadow further out, but too far to risk a shot.
Arrows are valuable when one has to craft each themselves, and not to be wasted on a shot that is not guaranteed to kill.

They had reached a large stone in the centre of a small clearing when Thingol came to a stop.
“Our chances of catching worthwhile prey will be increased if we spread out,” he said as he turned to them. “Malchen, you shall move off to the left while Selwyn takes to the right. I shall maintain a course forwards, and we shall return to this stone once the sun is near to completely set.”

A small nod was shared between the three, and each set off on their course.
Selwyn moved off through the trees, the stone swiftly fading from view through their quantity.

Much to her pride it was not long until she found a small shrub that had clearly been crushed beneath the hoof of some beast, and a broken twig lay only a dozen or so yards away from that.
Selwyn shared a smile with herself as she moved along quickly, slightly crouched as she went to help hide her form from her prey.

And then, almost no distance at all from whence she began tracking, she found it, a large stag grazing upon a shrub.
She took a careful step to the left, ensuring herself a clear view straight through to the beast.
Then she slowly slid an arrow from her quiver and readied it upon her bow.

She pulled back on the string as she lifted the bow, the muscles of her arm informing her well of the amount of strength it took to do so.
She counted out two beats, not a moment longer for if so her hand would begin to shake and her aim would be lost, and then released the arrow.

The arrow struck with precision, piercing the neck of the creature, and it fell swiftly to the ground with a loud thump.
The animal still breathed as she drew near to it, though it’s breaths were certainly not healthy as a shaft of wood now protruded from it’s throat.
A swift blow from an axe brought the creature’s breathing to a stop.

She took a moment to wipe the blood from her axe and made an attempt to retrieve her arrow, which had unfortunately shattered just down from the head, as she questioned whether to call for aid with this one or continue her hunt.
She had just come to the decision to search around a little more when cold steel pressed against her throat.

“One would hope you would not be so easy to sneak up upon,” whispered a voice that was familiar to her ears.
“It was only ever you who could sneak up upon me,” she replied as the short sword left her throat and she turned to Thingol. “And it is only you I would have do so.”

Thingol smiled upon her, and that warmth in her breast grew many times as with one hand he sheathed his blade whilst the other took hold of her head and brought it in so his lips met hers.
Selwyn found her mind filled with many thoughts and images, some she acted upon as her hand fell to his hip and pulled his body close to hers.

“I have long missed the taste of you, my fair Selwyn,” Thingol muttered as their lips broke apart.
“As I have missed your touch,” she replied softly as one hand pressed against his clean-shaven face, whilst the other took to exploring as much of his hips as she could through his armour.
There was nothing more she desired than to pull that armour from him and to look in wonder upon the body that was his.

“I would forfeit all that is myself to live forever within your embrace,” he whispered after their lips met again.
“As I would to you,” Selwyn replied, her blues eyes locked to his. “But then why must we not give unto each other more often, why must we wait for these secret moments to show of our love?”
“Is it not enough that we love each other so strongly?” he asked her, though she pulled slightly from his body. “We, all of us who fight together, can only survive and remain strong so long as we feel that each and every one of us is there for one another, that if one is in danger the others shall be there for him. Or her. If our love were to become known would they feel that my loyalty is as much to them as to you, or would they be filled with fear that I would prioritize you above all the others? Such thoughts lead to fear and suspicion and weakness, and we cannot afford to be filled by any of those.”
“But if our love is so strong can it not overcome such concerns?” she inquired. “Can it not conquer those thoughts before they even take root if we reinforce it with our words and assurances?”

Thingol laughed softly and placed a kiss upon her forehead.
“You think of love as a battle.”
“Love is a battle,” she replied with certainty. “It must be fought for like anything else. Just as we fortify a fortress against the metal of an enemy so too must we fortify our love against any threats. And love can be as a weapon, felling any fears or insecurities that may assault us.”
“You will learn how naïve such thoughts are in time,“ he assured her. “Though it may be there is some wisdom in your words.”

Thingol turned his gaze towards the western horizon, the setting sun just visible through the trees.
“We should meet up with Malchen and then bring your prey back to…”

But Thingol’s words were cut short by a shout that echoed through the trees, a shout that brought a chill to Selwyn’s bones.
“Malchen,” Thingol muttered softly.

To be Continued
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

28 Feb 2014, 23:15 #7

This entry was submitted by BIG THUNDER! forr the February 2014 comp

Chapter Three

The present, Antoneid Starek’s quarters aboard the Imperial Missile Cruiser Silkworm


Antoneid gasped and sat up in his bed. The dream had been a vivid one: a review of most of his life, almost as if the ghosts of his past had come to haunt him and remind him of the path his life had been going. He knew he couldn’t blame himself for much of its direction. A lot of it was due to the fat slob of a governor, Moff Borx. Looking back, Antoneid recalled having doubts about what happened to his father, mostly after the Imperials took direct control of the academy where he had done most of his early studying.

The images of the objects falling through the cloud cover. Sure, to an eight year old boy that hadn’t seen anything more exciting than a fireworks display, he could have passed the concussion detonators off as a celebratory display launched by Rock Edge’s townspeople.

As a fifteen year old boy, he knew better. He had seen plenty of demonstrations of Imperial might and ruthlessness in holovids provided by the Isharetti academy he attended. After the Imperials informed him of his father’s death, his first recollection of his father and Rock’s Edge was of the “fireworks” dropping from the sky.

He didn’t want to think of it, blast it! A comfortable bed. Three centimeter thick steak for dinner every night. His mansion on Isharetti. The excursions to the tropical moons of Isolde. Droids waiting on him hand and foot. Live Bith bands during his Isharetti yeared birthdays. And…the girls…

All a smokescreen. All an illusion. It had been established by Moff Borx and maintained by Imperial headmasters, military officers and Admiral Piett, but it was all used to hide him from a naïve idiot. Now he was on his way to the Kuat Drive Yards on his latest project: provide the means for the Empire to slaughter several billion innocent lives.

In the dark of his cabin, Antoneid sat staring at himself in a holograph projected in his mind.

“You’ve been the biggest idiot in the galaxy,” Antoneid muttered to himself.

“I have?”

Antoneid blinked. No, it wasn’t his voice answering himself. It was…female.

He grinned despite himself. Did he forget what happened before he went to bed? He recalled going to bed alone.

Reaching over onto a nightstand, Antoneid felt around until he found a glow projector. Turning it on, he shined it on the bed next to him.

Empty.

“I’m over here, Starek,” the voice said again. This time he recognized it.

“Capt. Biet,” Antoneid said with a grin shining the light in the direction the voice came from. The light illuminated the smiling face of the Silkworm’s beautiful female captain who was standing at the foot of his bed.

“Or…should I call you Daral?” Antoneid asked.

“Did he hear us entering his chamber?” another voice asked. This one wasn’t female…or human.

“Oh, uh…wait a minute…” Antoneid said, pulling his covers up and shining the glow projector around the room. He immediately found the face the other voice belonged to. It was red and hairless, oblong with a long pointed chin and a long pointed head – almost symmetrical.

“You’re a…Ti’i,” Antoneid said in a slight panic. “As in a…”

“ ‘Ti’i Pirate’,” Captain Biet said finishing his sentence. “Lights!”

Suddenly, the lights in Antoneid’s bedroom activated causing him to squint as his irises failed to expand, narrowing his pupils to protect his retinas. Still, as his eyes began to adjust, he realized that Capt. Biet was dressed and in her full uniform. The Ti’i Pirate with her wasn’t alone. There were three others with him. All of them were holding blaster pistols aimed at him. The blaster in Capt. Biet’s hand, of Ti’i design, was evidence that the Imperial captain and her ship weren’t victims of a hijacking.

“Stun him,” the first Ti’i grumbled, disappointed they couldn’t have sedated the genius human engineer. Capt. Biet gave Antoneid a grin.

“G’nite, handsome,” was the last thing he heard before she fired and the lights went off again.

***

The next sound Antoneid heard again was Capt. Biet’s voice again.

“Is he coming around?” she asked.

“Yes,” another voice answered. Antoneid recognized that it wasn’t human and had a moderately thick Huttese accent.

A palm was placed on his forehead and a single finger opened his left eyelid, followed by a bright blue light shining into his eye.

“The sedation is wearing off,” the new voice said. “Pupil dilation is normal.”

“Yeah…” Antoneid said weakly. “And bright lights this early in the morning just don’t appeal to me. A nice duma egg omelet would be nice though. Tall glass of juma juice. A holo of the morning’s market news.”

“Wake up, Mr. Starek,” Capt. Biet said roughly and a hand gripped the hair on top off his head, shaking it. “You’ve got a busy day ahead of you.”

Antoneid’s eyes opened. Capt. Biet was standing in front of him. It was her hand that was full of the hair on top of his head and she was no longer dressed in an Imperial uniform. It was a uniform, just not gray, just not Imperial. It was red with blue striping.

“A Ti’i uniform?” he said in surprise. It hadn’t been a bad dream.

“His brain is functioning normally,” the other voice observed. Antoneid realized that it belonged to a pale skinned Twi’lek. “He has cognitive capabilities.”

“Obviously,” Capt. Biet said still gripping his hair. As the world came more into focus, Antoneid realized he was standing upright. Not standing – more like he was strapped to a vertical bed. The room looked like a medical bay, but it didn’t look like it was designed for humans.

“Oh, the color of that uniform brings out the blue of your eyes, Daral,” Antoneid said with a grin. “I didn’t realize that Ti’i eyes came in blue. I thought they always came in either putrid green or bloodshot. Oh, and, my neck muscles are functioning also, Doctor Twi’lek guy. Could you let your nurse know that she can let go of my hair? I have the sudden foreboding of premature balding…especially in the place on my head directly below the hair she’s holding.”

“The genius’ renowned sense of humor and lack of focus on the important is functioning also, Yinsen,” Capt. Biet said, giving Antoneid’s head one more shake before letting go of his hair, wiping some loose hairs from her hand with her other one.

“Okay, I’ve got a million questions,” Antoneid said. “First: are we not on the Silkworm any more? Second: what’s your price, Biet? I’m guessing these pirates bought you. Hey, I’m rich and I can make a pretty serious counter offer. Third: can you unstrap me from this…”

“Shut up, Starek,” Capt. Biet said slapping him on the side of the face. It wasn’t very hard, but hard enough to leave a little sting. “I arranged to have your lifesavings transferred to a liquid account that my Ti’i compatriots now possess here on this ship. So, the fact is, you don’t own one credit. In fact, you might say that it was you and your money that bought me to begin with.”

“Okay…are we talking about slavery here?” Antoneid said with a crooked grin. “If I’m your slave, I’m thinking worse things could have happened.”

Capt. Biet pulled a blaster from a holster on her hip and pressed it against Antoneid’s forehead. The Twi’lek she called Yinsen gasped and looked at him nervously.

“Starek, let’s get a few things straight, right here,” Biet growled. “I’m not interested in your inane quips. This is not a game. You are completely powerless and are in a perpetual state where your life is just moments from being ended at any given time. If you continue to run your mouth, I will have our resident Twi’lek doctor permanently sow your mouth shut and have your trachea removed and replaced with a feeding tube down the front of your neck. Could you do that for me, Yinsen?”

The Twi’lek looked horrified. What Capt. Biet had just proposed sounded like nothing more than an idle threat, half comical and half gruesome. The way the Twi’lek doctor reacted made Antoneid wonder and worry.

“Answer me!” Biet said, pointing the blaster at the doctor. His hands went immediately up, trembling.

“Y-yes, Major Biet,” Yinsen said. “I-I could do it in possibly two hours time. Sedating him right now wouldn’t be recommended so soon after his last procedure.”

Last procedure? Antoneid thought, his eyes widening in fear. He recalled waking up this last time, not the way a person would after being stunned. More like from recovering from sedation following an…operation.

“How soon?!” Biet asked, jabbing the blaster at the Twi’lek’s face.

“T-two hours from now,” Yinsen said, his voice filling with a mix of fear and sadness.

Antoneid realized by the way the Twi’lek doctor was reacting that she wasn’t joking. She wanted to sow his mouth shut, take out his voice box and install a feeding tube down his throat. He panicked. He would have pleaded for his life, but the first thing he thought of was a joke to calm her down.

“B-but, please let me remind you that you want him to be able to communicate,” Yinsen said. “Even though I might be able to implant an artificial voice box in him, the psychological effects of being maimed even more than he is now…”

“More?” Antoneid blurted out. He wasn’t able to move his arms and legs, but he quickly did a self-inventory of his fingers and toes. He thought he still had everything but he had heard of amputees feeling “phantom pain” in limbs they had lost before having them replaced with prosthetics.

Capt. Biet lowered her blaster and turned slowly to Antoneid, smiling at him evilly.

“I forgot,” she said with a chuckle. “You don’t know yet, do you?”

Antoneid began to tremble in fear as she walked up to him, standing inches from his face.

“Yinsen, put the jar in my hand please,” she said holding her hand behind her back so Antoneid couldn’t see it. She grinned, staring into his eyes as Yinsen put something in her hand.

Pulling her hand around, she put a large clear jar up against her cheek. Her face was so close to his that it pressed against his cheek as well.

“You’re an engineer,” she said with a smile. “A brilliant one. I know this isn’t your field of study, but do you recognize what I have in this jar?”

“It…it’s too close,” Antoneid said. It was brown and odd shaped and sloshing around in a clear, slightly yellowish liquid.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she coyly apologized, stepping back while still pressing the jar against her face. “Do you recognize it now?”

Antoneid’s eyes teared up, despite how much he struggled against it. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the jar but focused on her face, hoping, wishing there was some inkling of humanity left in the monster he realized he was looking at.

She smiled. It wasn’t the smile of a hardened Imperial officer. It was a ‘sweet’ smile, one that he had encountered several times, especially he had gotten back in shape as a late teenager.

“Oh, Tony Starek,” she started to say with a ‘sweet little girl’ voice. He had only been referred to as ‘Tony’ before by his father. Hearing it come out of her mouth sickened him. “So many of the other girls catch your attention. I’ve always stood back, wondering, hoping I could get you to look at me. I hoped I could…win your heart.”

“Oh…oh, no,” Antoneid said turning his face to the side in revulsion. Yinsen was in view of him. He could see the utter horror and remorse on the Twi’lek doctor’s face.

Regret.

Antoneid immediately realized the doctor had removed his heart and probably replaced it with an artificial pump. Despite that, Tony immediately sympathized with him realizing the doctor was as much of a victim of Daral Biet’s as he was.

“D-did you go to…were you a student in the Isharetti Institute?” Antoneid asked Biet. “Did…I do something to hurt you? There were so many girls, I… I never meant to hurt any of you.”

Major Biet laughed. “You whimpering imbecile. No, I wasn’t one of your youthful ‘conquests’. I have heard the rumors about you, though. I just thought I could have some fun at your expense, mostly because I have your heart in my hands. It’s an insurance policy. You will cooperate with us or I will shut down the temporary and artificial one installed in your chest.”

Antoneid looked down as far as he could. Even though he was wearing a medical gown, he could tell that something wasn’t right about his chest.

“Show him, Doctor,” Maj. Biet ordered.

Yinsen walked up to him and carefully lowered the front of the gown on Antoneid’s chest.

“I’m sorry,” the doctor whispered just as Antoneid could see that a circular hole had been cut in his chest and a black device had been put in place filling the gap.

Antoneid strangely found a small bit of comfort in it. Even though he had been ‘maimed’ he was still alive. Even though the diabolical monster he had trusted not long ago had removed his heart in some twisted, sadistic scheme, he had something keeping him alive.

“The machine in your chest has a receiver in it,” Maj. Biet explained to him. “It is pumping your blood through your veins and to your lungs. We can control it – slow it down, speed it up, stop it momentarily…or permanently. You will be compliant with us. You will cooperate with us. You will do everything we tell you to, as we tell you to, when we tell you to, how we tell you to. If you do not…we can do a lot of things to make you suffer before you die.”

Yinsen was standing next to him. His hand, out of her eyesight, reached over and grabbed Antoneid’s arm, gripping it slightly to reassure him.

“Now, I am going to take the little thing in this jar down to the ship’s cook,” Maj. Biet told him. “I am going to hand it to him and…maybe…I’ll have him cook it up. I’m not sure my Ti’i friends might want to snack on it, but if they don’t maybe I’ll serve it to someone…else.[/i]

“We shall stick to salad,” Yinsen spoke up.

The comment angered her, but she didn’t retaliate.

“Clean Starek up and get him in condition to do some work,” Maj. Biet growled. “You have one hour.”

With that, she turned on a heel and walked to a door, opened it and walked out. Through it, Antoneid could make out a hallway beyond where two Ti’i Pirates were evidently standing guard outside the medical center. Unless they had done a quick paint job on the ship, he knew he definitely no longer on the Silkworm.

“That woman is a monster,” Yinsen said, relieved she had left.

“Did you just figure that out?” Tony replied in a trembling voice.

Yinsen smiled at him and put his hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Starek, you need to be strong. These…Pirates – this woman – they are evil.”

“Kinda figured that one out,” Antoneid replied. “What do they want me to do?”

“They want you to build something for them,” Yinsen replied. “A missile of some kind.”

“A torpedo?” Antoneid asked.

“Yes,” Yinsen shrugged. “I guess.”

“Why do they want me to build them one?” Antoneid asked, guessing that Major (her “Ti’i Pirate rank?) wanted another torpedo that he had demonstrated back at Isabov. “According to the inventory I had provided, I think they should still have two of the ones that they want still in their possession. What happened to the Silkworm? It’s the Imperial ship that Daral Biet is the captain of.”

“I am not sure,” Yinsen replied, brushing one his head tails back over his shoulder. “I could not see outside of the shuttle I brought about this ship in.”

“Where did you come from?” Antoneid asked as Yinsen began to unbuckle the straps that were holding him to the bed.

“I was on a private ship,” the doctor replied. “I was returning from Coruscant where I was attending a medical conference and was returning to Ryloth when the Pirates intercepted us. They boarded the ship. They killed the crew and several of the other doctors after they reviewed their files. They spared me when they learned I was trained to treat human patients.”

“How long ago?” Antoneid asked as the Twi’lek doctor unfastened the last buckle. He quickly put Antoneid’s arm around his shoulder and helped him walk to a chair.

“Eighteen standard days ago,” Yinsen replied, helping Antoneid lower himself into a chair. “They kept me locked up in a cell for fifteen of those days. When they let me out, they told me what they wanted me to do: replace a human’s heart with a machine that they designed.”

“How long ago did you operate on me?” Antoneid asked next.

“Fifteen hours ago,” Yinsen replied. “The operation lasted two hours, and it was followed by an intensive bacta treatment that lasted thirteen.”

“They were planning this for some time then,” Antoneid said as Yinsen checked his chest and the device visible in it. Someone knew about the test and set Daral Biet up as the captain that I was going to work with. They’re probably in on it. Someone high ranking.”

“Can any Imperial soldier be that trustworthy?” Yinsen asked. “Forgive me, but I have seen many cruel things perpetrated by them.”

Antoneid thought about the Emperor’s plan for his weapon. He also thought about Alderaan, a world whose population had been wiped out before.

“No…I don’t think any Imperial officer can be trusted,” Antoneid relented.

“No more than any Ti’i Pirate,” Yinsen said. “The Imperials are more refined, you might say. Instead of cutting your heart out, they’d shoot you in the face.”

Antoneid laughed. “Yes. And do it with military precision.”

“There are rebels about the galaxy, though,” Yinsen said quietly. “Forming an alliance from what I have heard. They are growing in number as more and more factions meet together.”

“The Emperor wants to put an end to that,” Antoneid replied quietly. “Using the torpedoes I’ve designed.”

“Out of the frying pan,” Yinsen said walking over to a locker and opening it, pulling a set of clothes from it. Turning, he tossed them to Antoneid who successfully caught them.

“And into the fire,” Antoneid said with a grin. “You don’t know what they happened to do with my suit, do you?”
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

28 Feb 2014, 23:17 #8

This entry was submitted by DARKTRUTH for the February 2014 comp

Song of Selwyn

Chapter II- A Ranger Falls

Trees whipped past, a blur on the edges of Selwyn’s vision.
Her legs felt every impact upon the soil, fighting harder than usual to maintain speed upon the damp soil.

A quick glance over her shoulder told her Thingol was not overly far behind.
He had never been quite as swift of foot as her, and the heavy metal cuirass he wore did nothing to help him in that respect.

If they had been hunting some prey normally she would have slowed her run, to allow him a fairer chance of laying the killing strike.
But her heart feared for Malchen and what terrible fate may befall him with every moment they delayed.
She would not chance any harm be done to him, and so pushed her legs to move ever faster.

Her hand gripped her bow tightly, moving her arm about as needed to avoid it catching upon any branch, tree, or rock that she passed.
She could chance no damage to come to her weapon, not out here far from Dunedain weapon-smiths, nor with Malchen’s life potentially in the balance.

A clang of steel rang just ahead of her, and sliced at her heart and mind.
Was that strike in Malchen’s favour? Or against it?

Her arm reach back over her shoulder and her hand found the shaft of an arrow in the quiver that bounced lightly upon her back.
Flashes of movement just ahead of her. The trees moved out.
Malchen must have moved the battle into more open ground to give himself the advantage of movement.

Selwyn hit the edge of the clearing, and for a moment her body froze at the sight before her.
Almost a dozen orcs and goblins from Moria came at Malchen from all angles, the ranger fending them off with sword and a wooden shield that had been shattered, the arm that held the shield dripping blood upon the ground.

Then Selwyn’s body snapped free of it’s frozen-state, and she let arrow fly.
A large orc with battle-axe in hand let out a fierce, gurgled scream as the head of the arrow slid in through the side of it’s throat.

The battle slowed as all eyes moved to the new arrival.
Malchen barely registered as an orc with a large scar across it’s eyes took advantage of the pause and swung it’s blade, his sword just catching it before it stuck flesh.
“Focus!” barked the orc. “Goblins, kill the red. This one’s ours.”

Selwyn’s eyes moved across the five goblins that moved to encircle her, each clad in thick, spiked armour. Helmets shut across their heads to allow them sight, while barring almost all sunlight.
Her arrows would do little against their thick armour, crude as it was.

She gently tossed her bow into a nearby bush, only just spinning back around to bring her twin war-axes to block the swing of an over-eager goblin.
Daedint and Daenor were the names of these weapons in the tongue of Sindarin, the Shadow Spark and Shadow Flame. So named for the dark tint of their metal, and the way they tore through their foes.

Her boot slammed into the cuirass of the goblin and pushed him back.
She needed room to fight, and this clearing Malchen had chosen did not give enough. Particularly not when filled with foul orcs and goblins.

Another goblin tried their luck, ducking low as they lunged in to thrust with their blade.
This time she did not block, for her axes were not well suited for parrying. Instead she struck.
Daenor impacted upon the side of the goblin’s helmet as she stepped back. The goblin metal fractured beneath the blow, splintering in upon the head cased within.

But she swiftly realized her mistake.
She should have dodged rather than attacked, for the strike left her left side completely open to three of the goblins, and it did not take them long to realize it themselves.

She attempted to move to the right and turn to face them, but Daenor found itself stuck well within the helmet, which had begun to spill foul goblin blood upon the soil.
And then she noticed the trap she had fallen victim to.

While the three on her left moved in, blades ready to strike, the fifth goblin on her right moved in.
Her right arm was still free to swing Daedint, and the goblin knew it. With shield raised it moved in, slowly wedging her between it and its fellows, leaving her with only two options.
She could stay as she was and try to free Daenor from where it stayed stuck, or release the weapon and face the goblins with only a single war-axe and nothing to protect her flesh from their sharp blades.

Neither was an option she favoured.
But, fortuitously, neither did she have to pick.

One of the three goblins fell with a squeal as the thick shaft of a spear slammed into the small gap between helmet and cuirass.
The other two only had time to look at their fellow in confusion before Thingol erupted from the trees with a bellow, his short blade slicing the air and knocking the pair of goblins back.

“I am pleased to see you have arrived,” Selwyn said as she turned her attention back to the fifth goblin behind his shield, his head poking out around it as he assessed his options. “I would have hated to have slain them all before your arrival.”
“Aye, it would have been worrisome,” replied Thingol, staring down his two goblins as he wrenched his spear from the neck of the one he slew.

“Goblins!” came the sudden cry of the orc.
Selwyn and Thingol’s eyes moved towards him as the goblins quickly retreated to it’s side.

Two more of the orcs lay upon the ground, one clutching at the deep gash across its chest.
But no longer did Malchen stand against them, instead he was situated upon his knees; the orc held him firmly by his hair with it’s wicked, twisted blade against his exposed throat.

The orc glanced over its shoulder at its fellow behind it. “Go! Carry out our commands!”
As the rest of the foul creatures disappeared through thick trees, the orc turned it’s venomous yellow eyes back upon them.
“You shall not harm him foul creature!” Selwyn spat as she placed her foot upon the chest of the goblin and finally pulled Daenor free of it’s helmet.

The orc’s mouth slit into a wide smile of sharp teeth.
Then in one motion it’s blade sliced across spilling red blood, as he turned and ran off in the same direction it’s fellows had fled.

Selwyn and Thingol raced over, sliding down next to their fallen comrade as he gurgled through thick blood.
Selwyn’s blood ran cold as she stared down at his twitching form, her mind numb.

“You are swifter than I,” Thingol said as his eyes moved from the still twitching Malchen to Selwyn.
She nodded and raced back to the bush in which her bow lay, then fixed her sights upon the direction the orcs and goblins had fled and began her chase.

Fortunately for her this were not subtle creatures, and she was able to track them even as she ran with all the speed her legs could give her.
The path they took was made of broken branches, drips of blood, and general disturbances. She could follow this lot in the darkest of nights.

But no matter how obvious their path was, she still seemed to gain no ground on them.
She saw only what they left behind them, but did not see nor here any sign of the orcs themselves.
What dark influence gave them such speed?

Panic began to grip at her as the Misty Mountain grew ever higher over her as she neared closer and closer to their base.
If the orcs reached the mountains before she reached them then she would certainly lose them, for they would find easier paths than even a ranger could.

She hit the edge of the forest and exploded outward onto the rocky base of the mountains, her eyes scanning frantically.
Then she found them, several dark forms scrambling over rock and stone further away. Too far now for her to catch them.
But not too far for her to reach them.

Arrow left quiver, and then left bow.
She watched intently and felt warmth in her heart that her aim was true, as a dark shape spasmed upon a rock before it fell backwards.
Its fellows scattered, but she could hope it was the creature that slew poor Malchen that felt her arrow upon its back.

A hand fell upon her shoulder and she spun quickly, her hand reaching for Daedint before she found the familiar and friendly face of Torthang.
“I have lost them, the foul creatures have fled high into the mountains,” she explained with a bowed head.
Torthang nodded and lifted her head by the chin so her eyes met his face once more. “But you did not fail. Now come, we must return to camp.”

It did not take the pair long to return to camp, for Torthang was one of the few capable of keeping pace with Selwyn, though her heart was heavy enough to slow even her.
There they found the remainder of their company gathered around in silence, at their middle lay Malchen with Thingol beside him with head upon his chest.

As Selwyn and Torthang approached their leader raised his head.
“Aragorn bade us to protect these lands,” he spoke softly, slowly rising to his feet. “But also he commanded that all Dunedain protect and aid one another. Our kin lies dead by the hand of those that have now fled beyond the lands we swore to protect, but they shall learn that the Dunedain are not so easily escaped. By our fallen Malchen, son of Taludal, we shall hunt orc!”
A cry of cheer erupted from the camp.

To be Continued
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Apr 2014, 18:33 #9

This entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the March 2014 competition

Heavy Metal - Issue # 3 - Welcome to the Jungle

(I own nothing that isn`t mine.)

*~*~*

Have you ever been really cranked-up nervous, yet trying to look you didn`t give two damns about anything? That was me lounging behind the Aardvark at quarter of twelve at night. I had worn my oldest clothes, let my black hair hang into my eyes instead of pushing it back, and affected a street thug stance of back to wall, foot on said wall, shoulders slumped, lip curled. Or, I guess I should say my stance was what I assumed a street thug would look like. I grew up on Park Avenue. Street thugs were rarer than homeless people on Park Avenue. But, I had seen hellacious amounts of TV, movies, and Vines of people looking badass.

A few strangers walked past as I hung out in the shadowy alleyway. I said nothing as they passed. Yeah. I was down with my badass self. Then my Widget rang. I slipped the sleek silver earpiece over my ear, quickly hiding it behind my overgrown hair. If only I had a cigarette to dangle from my bottom lip. That would look pretty rip. But somehow my mother would know. Don`t ask me how, but she would know and she would not be happy.

"Speak at me," I said into the newest telecommunications device to come out of Stark Labs PAP. The PAP stands for Park Avenue Playpen, a clever witty made up by my father to designate something was made in his shop at home. Yeah, the guy is all chuckles. The Widget was like those old Bluetooth phones, but much lighter, and capable of accessing the Internet by picking up your thought patterns. Or so my father said. This was the prototype. So far I hadn`t been able to hook up to the web, but then again, maybe my brain waves were skewed. My sister would say they were.

"What are you up to, Son?"

Shit. I instantly stood up straight and tossed my hair out of my eyes. Then I remembered where dad was and where I was. I returned to my thug stance.

"Just hanging out," I said. I eyed a dude walking past. Not the guy with the pouty mouth I was waiting for.

"Kind of late to be out on a school night, isn`t it?"

"Not really. I`m cramming for a test." I had to move this along. My father had an uncanny sense of when I was lying. Mom`s was even keener. Sometimes my mother scares me. "So what`s up?"

"Oh, I was just running a virus scan while your mother is off drumming up support for some Democrat she wants on the mayoral ballot."

"Damn Democrats," I mumbled.

Dad chuckled."Yes, well, your mother has excellent taste in all other matters, including her choice of husband. I let her go on being a Democrat. Anyway, Alexander . . ." My jaw twitched. The full first name. Yep. Ass-chewing time was about to commence in three . . . two . . . one. "You`ll be amazed at what I found lying in a subfolder in Bleeding Edge X."

"I swear that was Hunter`s doing." The excuse just rolled out of me. A warm wind blew down the alley, carrying the aroma of exhaust, grease, and cat urine.

"I don`t think so, unless Hunter has booted up Metal."

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Aaaannnndddd Shit. "Oh yeah." Mr. Slick Fabricator was about to show up with a world class lie. "I`m tinkering with Metal for my thesis." Or not.

"Really? But you`re a freshman. I would think your thesis work wouldn`t become an issue until you were a senior with about four weeks until it was due. Or have you matured that much since you left home?"

Man. Having a incredibly smart father sucks at times. "I thought I`d start puttering with it, you know, for something to do at night?"

A hooker walked by, her skirt so high her ass cheeks peeked out. She waved, made some duck lips, called me 'Big Man'. I ignored her. She wasn`t my type. She took her bleached self off with a middle finger as a goodbye wave. Man, I love Pasadena.

"I see." And now a protracted pause until he just came out and said what--"Alexander, if you`re rebooting Metal to use it for something good, then fine. If you`re blowing off the dust for a thesis, also fine. But if you`re playing with that armor for any reason aside from--"

"Dad, it`s good. I might be kind of thinking of using it. For, you know, doing things. Good things. I don`t know. I saved this lady earlier today . . . from a gang rape . . ."

"Dear God."

"Yeah, right?" A car cruised past the end of the alley. Rap bounced off the brick walls that hemmed me in. I ducked my head so the next car, a cop car, didn`t see me. It too passed without incident. My nerves were ragged now. "So, anyway, this happened like completely out of the blue. I was just fiddling with Metal to uhm, you know, use him for a possible robotics presentation."

"You`re not still on this sentience thing, are you?" Dad snapped. I shook my head even though he couldn`t see me.

"I know you`re against that. Trust me. So, can we get back to the gang rape?"

"Sorry, yes, of course. Was the woman alright?" I could hear the concern in my father`s voice. All the way across the country, Tony Stark was worried about some women he had never met. Talk about enormous shoes to fill. My shoulders fell forward as did my head.

"Yeah, I guess. I mean, she looked okay when I left." Suddenly, my heroic moment felt kind of weak. A baby cried somewhere nearby.

"You didn`t stay with her until the authorities came?!"

"I couldn`t. I mean- I had to leave before- no. No, I left her alone. I`m sorry."

"Son." A huge sigh that I could almost feel filled my ear. I had disappointed him. Again. "Alex, never leave the victim alone. Those men could have come back. I`m not sure why you felt you had to leave the scene of the crime in such a hurry . . . did you hurt someone badly?"

I thought back to the couple dudes I had thrown around like weak kittens. "I don`t think so. There was one guy . . . but I think he was okay. I`m sorry. I haven`t had Metal on for years. I forgot . . ."

"It`s okay. Just remember, we do not kill. Ever."

"Right. I know."

"And you must make sure the victim is attended to. Even if you have to hide for whatever reason, you stay with them until help arrives. Got it?"

"Yep. Got it." I felt about two inches high.

"I`m rather tickled to hear that you`re thinking of wearing Metal. He must be rather tight."

I smiled. "Yeah, you could say that. Dad . . ."

"I won`t tell your mother, but you have to promise me that if you decide to use Metal for helping others, that you do so with extreme care. I love you. I don`t want to see you get hurt."

"Yeah, it`s cool. I got that." I looked up when the flare of a match illuminated the alleyway. My contact had arrived. The smell of fresh roasted wafted off him. He smelled good. Lots better than the previous smells coming down the alley. He lit a smoke. Somewhere in Manhattan my mother`s nose was twitching. "I have to go," I mumbled, my eyes moving over his body. He had lost the apron. Jeans, tee, sneaks. His clothes were like mine but far less obvious somehow.

"Got a pretty girl smiling at you?"

I peeked through my bangs at my 'date' for the night. His eyes were dark, hard to read now that he had flipped the spent match aside.

"Not quite," I said then told dad to kiss mom for me. The call ended when I wanted it to. Huh. Maybe dad was onto something with this thought-powered gizmo. Or maybe my brain was wired like his. After all, I was the first child of an Extremis enhanced parent. Yippee for me.

"Yo." Brilliant dialog. Good thing my folks are coughing up the big bucks for me to attend Caltech. Obviously I need to find another English course.

"Yo." His greeting escaped on a cloud of thick smoke. I couldn`t help but watch the foggy cloud slither upward on a tepid California wind. Thin wisps of smoke clung to my clothing as it blew past. I didn`t find the smell all that offensive. I squinted at him. The smoke was a thin cigarillo not a cigarette. That explained the cherry tang that was sticking to me. Nice. I liked it.

"So, about Two Lips?" I asked.

"Man, you are so obviously not from here." The guy snickered. "Where you call home?"

"Caltech."

He snorted. I kind of took offense to it, but I bit down on my lower lip. He stepped closer. The glowing end of the cigarillo was kind of hypnotic.

"No man, before you came out to Pasadena."

"Oh, New York." Damn, I needed to shake this weird feeling. I had to concentrate. I kept finding myself staring at the tiny tattoo by his eye. Then moving my attention to his mouth as he spoke. Yeah. I needed to stop. "Look, does it really matter where I`m from? You said you`d tell me about Two Lips. So, either tell me or let me get back to my dorm."

"There`s a little rich boy sass." He chuckled before offering me his cigarillo. I shook my head. He stepped closer, the glowing orange end an inch from my chin. Our eyes locked. I saw the same thing in his gaze as he did mine. He stepped back. I couldn`t go in reverse, thug wall behind me and all. "Come on, let`s walk. Walls got ears and shit."

He threw the cigarillo into a drain sewer the moment we emerged from the alley. We walked in silence for two blocks, our elbows bumping from time to time as we strolled along hands in pockets, shifting neurotic glances to each other from time to time. How did he know I came from money? Did I sound wealthy? Look it?

"You`re a quiet one," he said. I glanced up from the steady perusal of where my feet were being put down.

"Just a deep thinker."

We had entered a small park. The playground had seen much better times. The swing set was a skeletal structure with no swings remaining. Where once a slide perhaps stood now was a cement pad, the slide long ago gone by the looks. There was a basketball court that was lit up. A couple guys were shooting hoops. My contact led me to a rickety picnic table that sat alongside the court. We climbed onto the table top then planted our backsides down.

"I`m waiting for you to tell me something important." I placed my feet on the bench then rested my elbows to my knees. The guys shooting hoops were good. Lots of net shots.

"Tell me why you`re looking for Two Lips first."

I looked directly at the Jumpy Aardvark worker. His eyes darted from the b-ball guys to me then back to the court.

"I interrupted them trying to rape some woman today."

"Seriously?" he asked. I nodded. I kind of enjoyed the light Latino accent he had. "You think you`re going to track them down then go all Paul Kersey on their asses?"

I had to smile a little. I loved those old Charles Bronson Death Wish movies. Me and Hunter would watch those old flicks for hours, only getting up to use the bathroom and find more food. Chuck Norris, Stephen Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold (aside from Predator for personal nightmare inspiring reasons) and Sly. Hell yeah. Those films got me and Parker through some long weekends when we were too young to go out to find our own asskicking fun. I can still hear Mrs. Parker yelling at us to get up and move before our muscles atrophied. Man, did I miss Hunter. It was a like a gnawing pain inside.

"Do I look like I`d go Paul Kersey on them?" I asked as one dude took a shot that was all air ball. Impressive.

"Not even slightly. I don`t think you could fight your way out of a wet tissue." I felt the slight nudge of my side. That touch made me look at the guy beside me. Nice profile. Strong. Deep brow. "I like you though, so I`m going to tell you--"

"What`s your name?" I asked, the sound of a basketball bouncing off the backboard the only sound at the moment. He turned his head to look at me.

"Snowblind."

I cocked an eyebrow. "Seriously? That`s the name your mother calls you?"

"No, she calls me' Baby-Boy', but I`m not letting you call me that. Unless you buy me dinner first." The corners of his mouth curled up. I shook my head then returned to watching the guys shoot hoops.

"Okay, Snowblind, dinner it is if you ever give me something solid to move on."

"I need to know what you`re going to do with the information," he said, staring down at his ratty sneakers as he spoke.

"I`m going to go in, beat up the guys who got away earlier, then turn them into the police."

Snow rolled that over for a few minutes. The basketball players wrapped up their midnight game with a fist tap, the taller one heading off west, the shorter one, ball under his arm, walking off to the south.

"You see anyone that looks like me?" Snowblind inquired as he rolled a new cigarillo between his long fingers. I looked at him with genuine interest. Did he have family in the Two Lips gang? I pulled up the mental images of the gang members I had tossed around. There had been one Latino guy, but his facial features had been more brutish. Wider nose with thin lips. Snow had a softer, sort of feminine bone structure.

"No, no one that looked like you." That seemed to help him decide.

"Okay, good. You go over to South De Lacey Commons, hang out around the Brewery Arms low income housing building. You stay low, don`t wear such rich clothes." He plucked at the leg of my scruffiest pants. "Keep your head down and you`ll see some Two Lips activity. Generally around noon they start pumping."

"Pumping?"

"Yeah, pumping. Hooking up? You know? Selling drugs?"

"Oh yeah, pumping. Right." I slid off the table trying to not look like such a Stark. Snow chuckled then tapped me on the arm. I reached over to take the card he held out. It had his name and cell number in bold font with a drawing of what looked like a centaur as the background. The lighting was meager so I couldn`t make out much detail about the artwork on the business card.

"You`ll be dead within five minutes," Snow said. "Call me before you head to the Brewery."

"I have back-up," I said, thinking of Tinker and Amy. Well, maybe not Amy. I`d hate to see her get hurt. But if I didn`t take her she`d call me a sexist then kick me in the shin. But if I took her and she got hurt . . . WWIMD? What would Iron Man do? Damned if I knew. I wasn`t calling home to find out either. I`d wing it. That`s the Stark way, right?

"They as rich as you are?" he asked, his amusement bubbling out as his query pulled me from my thoughts. I opened my mouth to quickly deny it, but Tinker and Amy both came from pretty affluent families that could afford Caltech tuition. My mouth clamped shut. Snow laughed hard. I stuffed his card into my back pocket, waved him off, then started walking back the way we had come. Snowblind stayed behind, chuckling it up beside the basketball court. He`d be laughing out his the other side of his face when he saw Metal for the first time. I froze at the broken gate to the park.

"Alex, stop using your mother`s phrases. No wonder you get laughed at. Can I get an 'Amen!' Pasadena?" I asked the city.

It coughed up a cloud of exhaust fumes and disinterest as a reply.

*~*~*

To be continued . . .
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 May 2014, 19:52 #10

The following entry was submitted by DARKTRUTH for the April 2014 Writing comp

Hail HYDRA

Rumekistan, Alnsr Alabdyh Military Base

Sergeant Mathews sighed as he stepped out from the officer's barracks.
The sound of soldiers enjoying themselves caught his ear.
He hated when they got into the alcohol, there would always be at least two that decided to start trouble and he would spend the rest of the night with a pile of paperwork.

He checked that his 'MP' patch was securely fastened to his shoulder and headed off towards the revelry.
It couldn't have been a worse night for it either, when they were going to arrive.
He had no idea why they were coming, nor if it meant trouble was close behind. but he had been given orders to assist them in anything they desired and ensure their visit was smooth.

He found the soldiers all gathered around a large bonfire as they drank, played cards, or generally just relaxed.
He remembered a time when they'd first been deployed that such events were explicitly forbidden, back when they expected heavy combat. Things had calmed down considerably since then, and now they most partook in peace-keeping operations while they awaited word that they would return home.
The word could not come soon enough, as far as he was concerned. He missed his wife and son so badly it hurt.

Near one of the coolers of beer he spotted a woman in uniform with an 'MP' patch upon her arm, her red hair tied back into a ponytail beneath her green cap. Private Catrina Day. With her stood a soldier Sergeant Mathews knew as Private Harris, the kind of soldier that could only be described as a 'meat-head'. It was clear she was not pleased with Harris' presence.
As he approached she gave him a small salute and a smile. Harris barely gave a grunt.
"Everything okay here?" asked Mathews.

Harris nodded slowly. "S'all good, sarge. Just having a chat with Catrina, talking about how warm my bunk is."
"Do I have to write you up?" asked Sergeant Mathews.
"Hey, no," Harris held up his hands. "We're just talkin' about out bunks, ain't we Catrina?"
Her nose scrunched up. "Yes sir, just talking about bunks and how Private Harris' fails to be effective. Given it's diminutive size."

Harris' eyes narrowed and Mathews moved his hand towards his M9 pistol in preparation for an incident.
Instead Harris simply gave a half-hearted laugh and brushed his hand across Day's thigh as he walked away. "We'll talk more later babe."
Day let her body relax. "I hate that pig so much."
"He gets too close again you have my permission to shove a knife in his scrotum," Mathews said with a smile.

She looked Mathews over. "I thought you had the night off, sir," she said with curiosity in her voice.
He grunted. "I did. Just settled in with my book when the call came in. We got visitors on the way."
Her eyes narrowed. "Who?"
"Not here," he muttered as he looked about. "You'll see soon enough anyway, you're going to assist me in giving them the tour."

"I'd hoped for a quiet night, sir," she replied.
He glanced about the soldiers and his gaze focused in upon two men that had taken issue with one another. "You expect to find it here Cat?"
When she didn't respond he turned to find her with her lower lip firmly between her teeth.
"We agreed it was best you didn't call me that in public, sir."

He rubbed his forehead. "It's just a nick-name. But you're right, professional."
She could see the pain in his eyes. He still hadn't forgiven her, or himself.
"Look, I'm supposed to do this alone but I really don't want to," he admitted. "So I decided to drag along someone I trust and who will hopefully make it not feel like such a bum-fuck. Can you just do this for me?"

Cat took a breath. "Okay sir, when are they arriving?"
A black helicopter passed them overhead. "Now," he said and headed in the direction the helicopter had travelled.
"I hate you," she muttered and followed after him.

The helicopter had already landed by the time they reach the helipad, and even in the growing dark of night Cat could recognize the symbol upon the door that slid open.
"SHIELD?!" she demanded with a hiss in Sergeant Mathews' ear. "You should have told me it was SHIELD!"
"Now you know why I wanted someone with me," he replied as they came to stop at the edge of the helipad.

Three men stepped out from the helicopter, one in a dark suit and the other two in tactical gear.
The man in the suit was a middle-aged Hispanic man, his brown hair cut short and clearly waxed back. The other two men were both Caucasian, one with blonde hair and the other dark brown, and both were younger than the suited man by at least eight years if Cat had to guess.
"Welcome to Rumekistan!" Sergeant Mathews shouted to be heard above the engines of the helicopter.

"Sergeant Mathews?" asked the suited agent of SHIELD as he approached.
Mathews nodded. "And this is Private Day."
"I'm Agent Traynor, with SHIELD," he introduced himself. "My two companions are Agents Fuller and Cantrell." He gestured to the blonde agent and then brown-haired agent.

"I was surprised when I heard you were coming," Mathews admitted. "Now shall we begin the tour with the barracks? I'm afraid that tonight our..."
Agent Traynor held up a hand to cut him off. "My apologies Sergeant Mathews. I'm not sure what you were told, but we're not here for a tour. We have a... situation."
Mathews' brow furrowed. "What kind of situation?"

Traynor licked his lips as he glanced to Private Day. "We received intel that there is to be an imminent attack upon the base. Hostile forces have gained possession of advanced weaponry, and this is their first intended target."
"Why weren't we simply informed?" asked Mathews.
"What 'hostile force'?" inquired Day. Both Traynor and Mathews shot her a glance.
"We haven't yet received confirmation on who," Traynor replied. "And that's why we didn't simply inform you. We feared that they may intercept the transmission and detonate prematurely."

"Detonate? What kind of weapon are we talking about?" asked Mathews.
"It's a weapon we know AM were working on before the project was mysteriously shut down*," Traynor explained. "SHIELD took possession of what remained, all blueprints, project notes, and physical remains. The weapon, given only a project title of various characters, is given a specific set of genetics and uses that information to target itself, eliminating those with or without the set genetics. For example it could be targeted to blue eyes and kill every person within it's range that has blue eyes, or kill everyone that doesn't. So it's imperative we find it and shut it down."
"If SHIELD had it how did the 'hostile force' get it?" asked Day.

*See Violet Avenger #1- darktruth

Traynor shot her a look. "Sergeant, I think perhaps you should inform your subordinate of how the chain-of-command works."
"I should, but her questions is relevant," Mathews said. "Answer it."
Traynor exhaled. "SHIELD has had a security leak. Several items for RnD have been stolen and sold. This was the worst of them. But SHIELD has that under control.* All you have to worry about is the current situation."

*To see how 'under control' that is, see Agents of SHIELD- darktruth

"So what do you need?" asked Sergeant Mathews with a nod.
"For maximum effect the weapon will be in a centralized location," Traynor explained. "It'd be damn conspicuous as well, so it'll be hidden. It would have to be in a location that isn't readily accessible."
Cat's eyes narrowed as she thought. "There's only one place like that."
Mathews nodded. "Officer's barracks. But how would they get it in there?"

"The camp may have been infiltrated," Traynor explained hesitantly. "The other reason we were cautious about informing you."
"And you didn't think to tell us that first?!
"I still wasn't sure if you were trustworthy," Traynor explained. "The fact you haven't tried to kill us yet suggests you are. Now, take us to those barracks."

Mathews led the way towards the centre of the camp. Agents Fuller and Cantrell spread out, while Cat fell back into step with Agent Traynor.
"Can you think of anyone who could be an infiltrator?" asked Traynor. "Any of the officers who seemed 'off'?"
She shook her head. "None, sir. But then, that's probably why they're infiltrators."
"It's why I hate the spy-game sometimes," Traynor admitted. "When we find the weapon I'll need yourself and Sergeant Mathews to assist Agents Fuller and Cantrell in securing the area while I disarm the weapon."

"You're sure you can disarm it?"
He nodded. "I was a specialist on the team examining the weapon, I know it inside and out better than anyone."
"Good, because I'd rather not die," she admitted.

"What's going on here?" asked a voice. "Sergeant Mathews, explain yourself."
Cat looked forward to find their way blocked by Staff-Sergeant Collins and a small group of soldiers, all of whom were armed with M4 carbines. Just behind Collins and to the left stood Private Harris.
"We just have a minor situation," Mathews explained. "We'll have it under control shortly. Enjoy a beer."

Collins and the soldiers remained exactly where they stood, Harris glanced to Cat and gave her a wink.
She moved towards Mathews when she felt a hand press against her stomach and hold her back. She glanced to Traynor who gave her a curt shake of his head.
She took a step back and noticed Agents Fuller and Cantrell move up on either side of them.

"You need to move aside," Sergeant Mathews said firmly.
"Or you'll do what?"
"As a Sergeant of the Canadian Land Forces Military Police I am authorized to place you under arrest for interfering with an investigation."

Collins smirked. "Hail HYDRA!"
He suddenly drew his pistol and planted a round in Mathews' face.
The remainder of the soldiers all let out a bellow of "Hail HYDRA!" and raised their weapons.

Cat felt herself knocked aside as Traynor tackled her to the ground.
"Move!" he hissed in her ear as bullets whizzed past overhead.
Despite the numbness of her body and mind, she managed to find the strength to crawl behind the cover of the nearby barracks.

She planted her back up against the wood of the building as Traynor placed himself next to her.
"It's okay," she muttered. "The gun-fire will alert the others. They'll come and they'll bring medics. It'll all be okay."
Traynor tilted his ear towards the sound of gun-fire elsewhere in the camp. "There's always more HYDRA."

He pointed his pistol around the edge of the building and fired off several shots. "We need to get into that barracks now."
She shook her head. "We can't do it. Too many."
Traynor pulled her pistol from her holster and forced it into her hand, then he pulled a small metallic ball from his pocket and pressed down on a small button. It gave a beep and he tossed it around the corner.

"Let's go stop HYDRA," he told her as an explosion went off.
She gave a nod and followed him around the corner.
The traitorous soldiers were all thrown down, those not dead had just started to get back to their feet.

Private Day planted a round in Harris' head as he tried to stand, and couldn't help but smile at the look on his face as he fell back to the ground.
"Cantrell is down," she heard a voice say, and she turned to find Fuller upon the ground with Cantrell in his lap. Fuller's chest and face were splattered with blood.
"Just sit tight," Traynor told him. "His death won't be for nothing. Private Day, I need you to keep me covered."

Cat nodded and spared only a glance at Sergeant Mathews, and the large hole in his forehead, as she passed.
Traynor kicked the barracks door in and they burst inside to find it completely empty.
"Thank fuck," Traynor exhaled with relief. "Was worried things would only get worse. Now we need to find the weapon."

"Try Collins' trunk," Day suggested. "It should have his name on it."
Traynor nodded and moved down across the room as he checked the trunks.
Cat kept an eye out the door. "So... they're HYDRA? All those men... They were HYDRA all along?"

"Possibly," Traynor said as he searched. "Some would have been, Collins definitely. Others they would have recruited while here. Considering their symbol is a skull tentacle-monster they don't lack for willing recruits. Ah."
He fired his pistol three times and the padlock was shot free.
"We didn't expect that," he admitted as he knelt down. "We thought there may be one or two, but not... We should have known better."

"So you knew it was HYDRA?" she asked as she looked at him.
"We suspected," he replied with a glance to her. "We couldn't be sure. It looked like someone was using them as a decoy to hide themselves, apparently not."
"Apparently not," she muttered.

He lifted the lid of the trunk and took a breath as he looked down on a cylindrical item that filled the entirety of the space within.
"That's it alright," he said. "The original filled a room. They miniaturized it. Still, would likely take out the camp. Let's hope they get the basic systems the same."
"If they haven't?"
"Then hopefully you're into the kind of death where your skin falls off."

"Lovely," she muttered. "Does the weapon only work once?"
"No," Traynor replied as he lifted a panel and placed it down beside him. "That's what makes this so dangerous. They could detonate it then go in and retrieve it. Or keep it mobile. Genocide in a can. And you can guarantee there'll be others."
"Others?" she asked.

He nodded. "HYDRA isn't a one-plan group, just in case one fails. It's their damn creed. "Cut off one head..."
"And two more shall take it's place," Cat finished behind him.
There was a bang and Traynor felt something heavy and hot enter his lower back.

He slumped down on the floor, and rolled to look up into the face of Cat as she stood over him with her M9 pistol pointed down at him.
"Hail HYDRA," she smiled, and three more bullets left her gun.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Aug 2014, 15:09 #11

The following entry was submitted by XMATT for the May Writing Competition

Captain America, Invisible Woman, Moon Knight, Crystal, War Machine, Multiple Man, Ares, Yellowjacket and Wasp. They are the Outstanding AVENGERS! But a younger recruit has recently joined the ranks. His name Alex “Zero-G” Power. And he thinks he’s in love.

It wasn’t because she was smart. Or beautiful. Or even an alien princess.

It was because she was, undeniably and unintentionally, funny.

“Make her laugh,” Steve Rogers had said when Alex Power had asked him for advice.

The two of them were gathered around the breakfast table of the Avengers Mansion, along with the scientist extraordinaire, Hank Pym and the ever rugged, mutant detective, Jamie Madrox. The air was one of lively conversation and the soft scent of bacon and eggs and coffee wafted through the air, as it always did on Sunday mornings.

Steve cut up his bacon in small parts as he continued, “I’ve lived just close on ninety years, son. Having a sense of humour is always good, from my experience.”

Alex rolled his eyes as he chewed on the crusty bacon. “Alive ninety years and ‘be funny’ is your only advice? Please. If that were true, then our regular comedian over here, Jamie, would be the most popular guy in the world. Y’know, I thought you’d be, like, an expert on this by now.”

“What, an expert on being funny?”

“No, chicks.”

“Oh, Washington, no,” Steve responded without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m horrible with women.”

“He really is,” Susan chimed, as if she had been invisible. She slid into one of the seats beside Steve and pecked his cheek softly before grabbing his coffee cup and drinking from it. A smile appeared on her face, as she added, “Well, sometimes, he is.”

“Hold on. So let me get this straight,” Alex said, pointing at the two of them with his fork, pieces of bacon still in his mouth. He continued, “A socially awkward ninety year old is bonking Sue Storm and a middle aged nerd is married to Jenna van Dyne, who just happens to be, like, the most popular person on the planet? How does that work?”

“Bonking?” Steve mumbled.

“I’ll show you later,” Sue whispered in response, stealing some of her beau’s bacon while he was distracted.

“Oh,” Hank finally spoke, sipping at a cup of coffee, “and a perverted teenager cannot even get a date. What a surprise.”

“Oops, better get my detective notebook out and solve that mystery,” Jamie chortled, lightly punching Alex’s shoulder.

“Very original,” Alex sighed, pushing the food around on his plate. His appetite seemed directly linked to his sense of humour. Which, at this very moment, was dull. “Pick on the rookie. I’ll have you know, I’ve been on plenty of dates.”

“But you are not married, are you?” Hank asked, rising from the table, having finished his morning drink. He walked over to the sink and ran it under water, as he said, “You do not have a committed relationship?”

“No,” Alex scoffed. But it was fake, an attempt at deflecting from how much he actually wanted one. No one liked being alone. Anyone that said otherwise was a liar. “Which is awesome, by the way.”

“You could not be more wrong,” Hank sighed, shaking his head. He then looked up, as if speaking to the top, left-hand corner of the ceiling, and said, “There is nothing better than knowing someone is fully committed to you in a loving, caring, trusting relationship.”

Once again, Alex snorted indignantly. “Are you a scientist or a poet?”

“You’re like twelve,” Jamie said, matter-of-factly. “You’ll understand what Hank means one day. We don’t call him a genius for nothing.”

Continuing to play with his food, Alex responded, “Whatever. All I need to know is how to make the most of my youth. Clearly, you fossils aren’t going to be much help in that department.”

“More than you realise, actually,” Jamie responded. He then leaned in, focussing on Alex intently, “Why do you ask, anyway? Someone special on your mind?”

It was at that moment that those gathered around the breakfast table were graced with her presence. She wasn’t an early riser like Alex was, or even like Steve was, so her hair was dishevelled, her eyes were droopy and her shoulders were hunched as she shuffled into the room with her favourite pink, fluffy slippers.

Alex recalled her mentioning one time that her body clock had not yet adjusted to the hours of Earth, probably due to the fact that she was used to two moons. Or two suns. Or something to do with two things that didn’t really interest Alex when she was talking about it. What he really recalled was the smile on her face as she discussed her homeland, that energy and passion that emerged in her eyes whenever she was talking about something she had loved and cared about and how Alex realised, at that moment, that he wanted her to be that elated when she mentioned his name.

Because that’s exactly how he felt whenever he mentioned hers.

He also remembered her saying something about her confusion regarding the words ‘sun’ and ‘son’. At the time, she had said, “You title your male offspring the same thing as a large, gaseous, exploding body? Surely that gets confusing. And that’s only the start of it. What’s this business about something’s flammability and losing one’s job?”

“Make her laugh,” Alex said under his breath, ignoring everyone else in the room. “I can do that.”

He then turned to the food on his plate as an idea shot through his mind like a bullet. An idea that was all potential, all opportunity and incredibly awesome. He placed a hand over his plate and let the energy grow within the palm of his hands for a moment. It was a simple process, clearing his mind and relaxing his body, releasing waves of energy around him. Once he managed that, it was the simple task of focusing those waves onto specific things, like his breakfast. Compared to fighting super villains, turning over cars or stopping wreckage from falling on unsuspecting victims, this was easy. Not quite a piece of cake, but more like a piece of bacon.

“Hey, Crystal,” Alex called, catching her attention, “check this out!”

He then lifted his hand up and the bacon and eggs on his plate rose in the air, with a slight glow of blue energy. He then rearranged the pieces of food in the air so that two pieces of bacon became a mouth and the bits of egg resembled eyes. He then rotated them around, giving the impression of a face.

“Get it?” Alex beamed, amused by his own comedic intellect. “It’s break-face.”

“Yes, Alex,” Crystal yawned, as she placed her mug beneath the coffee machine. Hank poured for her, doing his best not to laugh at Alex’s display. “I think I prefer these liquidized coffee beans, however. Thank you for the offer, though.”

Crystal walked out of the room, coffee mug in hand, and Alex’s jaw dropped.

“Smooth, Romeo,” Jamie grinned, punching his shoulder softly again. “Maybe next time.”

Jamie rose from his seat and walked into the other room, followed soon after by Hank. The room was silent, save for the horrific sound of embarrassment between Alex’s ears. He could almost feel the heat rushing to his face and exiting his ears as steam. Still unable to grasp how Crystal had not been amused, he attempted to explain to the table.

He turned to Steve and Sue and said, “But that was funny. It was a break-face. Like breakfast. I made a face with my breakfast.”

“Make it feel natural,” Sue advised, brushing off his statement. “Trying too hard makes you look desperate and besides, Crystal doesn’t quite understand our customs. She may not even realise that you’re interested in her. Give her your attention.”

“I thought my break-face would do that.”

“You could just tell her,” Sue shrugged, as she leaned back in her seat. “It’s a lot easier than going through this song and dance. And besides, you might find she feels the same way about you.”

“How is telling her easier than lifting bacon in the air? Telling her is embarrassing. And besides, if she doesn’t like me, it means everyone will know and then she’ll be awkward around me and I’ll be awkward around her and besides she’s never alone.”

“It all starts with the truth, Alex,” Sue said. “Look at Hank and Jenna. They started dating because they told each other how they felt. Now they’re married. Being honest can take you to amazing places, if you’ll let it.”

“But it can also take you to that horrible place called the friend zone.”

“Friend zone?” Steve asked, confused, once again. “Is that some kind of restaurant for young people? Like that Jolly Holly establishment?”

“Yeah and the only thing on the menu is bitter regret and shame,” Alex grumbled. “And the house special of a double quarter pounder of loser.”

“You want Crystal alone? I can help you,” Sue chimed, nodding her head.

It seemed the mother hen nature of the female Avenger was beginning to reveal itself. Alex didn’t entirely protest. He wasn’t the first person to ask for help, but he certainly wasn’t going to turn it down, especially when it was being offered so freely. It was one of the good things about working with older people, even though he wouldn’t admit it.

With a wry smile, she added, “But first: finish your breakfast. Oh, and you’re washing today as well right?”

“I guess I am now,” he groused, as he shoved bits of egg into his mouth.


xMatt Presents...

The Outstanding Avengers #42


In Peer Review: “To Court a Princess”


With breakfast eaten and plates washed, Alex had finally mustered the courage to approach Crystal. But only after Sue assured him she would provide him the help he needed. Alex had wanted that promise in writing, but Sue merely waved that suggestion away. The plan was in motion and now all that it needed was his confidence, which, at any other time, the heroic youth would have in spades. But there was something about telling the truth that made his heart flutter and his hands shake. Maybe it was because truths exposed him, made him vulnerable and revealed an aspect of himself that he would have preferred to keep hidden.

Lies were easy, because they were fabrications. They were anything but exposure, indeed, they could come from anywhere and reveal absolutely nothing about himself. Lies were what got him through high school, even if most of that time was held in a classified SHIELD complex, a place where lies and secrets seemed to be the currency, especially around people like Nick Fury and Agent Coulson. Lies were a safety harness, a life buoy, a parameter that would not be exceeded in order to sustain whatever level of pride and dignity the teenager had.

He cared so much about himself that caring for someone else to the same degree was frightening.

“Hey Jamie, hey Hank,” Sue said, as they entered the living room.

The two men and Crystal were stationed on the plush, leather couches watching something to do with a young boy wearing a white hat and a dog that could speak and elongate its body. Though they were clearly interested in the show, Sue calling them out managed to get their attention. There was a commanding presence in her voice that had matured over the years. No doubt one that came from a life time of being an older sister.

“Reed just called,” she continued, playing with her hands as she did so. “I think he needs some help deciphering this computational solution. Something to do with binary matrixes and their relation to coded messages across digital boundaries? He asked for the two of you, specifically.”

“Um,” Hank started. He paused a moment, unsure of how to continue, and eventually said, slowly, “You know that what you said makes absolutely no sense at all, right, Sue?”

She nodded, going along with it perfectly, as if she had prepared for this moment her entire life. “Which is what makes it so confusing. A mystery, you could say. Why else would he ask for help?”

Jamie sighed, “I suppose I can’t refuse a good mystery. Come on, Hank. Let’s go save the digital day. Reed’ll owe us after this. Maybe it means he’ll pay for the next round when we go out.”

“You and I both know he will not,” Hank responded, as he rose from the couch. He patted his creased shirt down as he and Jamie left the room, followed soon after by Sue. Alex faintly heard the scientist add, “Besides, it is your turn to pay, is it not, Jamie?”

Without missing a beat, the mutant detective joked, “I think you’re getting me confused with one of the other Jamie Madrox’s running around.”

This left just Crystal and Alex in the room.

The teenager knew that his month-long probation was only five days from expiring. It had been part of the terms and conditions of his agreement, which Alex had not read but had been told, of his joining the Avengers. SHIELD and Nick Fury had believed him to be the strongest candidate and, as such, would go on a trial run to see his compatibility with the team, which would be overseen by SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson. Alex believed he had done a serviceable, if not great, job with the team, but that was up to the others to decide.

This could well be his last week at the Avengers Mansion, which would mean his last week living with Crystal. Alex wanted to say it wasn’t fair, but he knew well enough that the world wasn’t fair and no one had ever told him it would be. Spending his teenage years in a SHIELD facility, fighting crime and injustice with a power he had never asked for wasn’t in his career plan when he was younger, so any time spent conceptualising an idea of fairness time wasted. With that in mind, Alex decided his current situation was inconvenient. It was inconvenient that whatever future or opportunity he would have on this team would be decided by other people. But Alex would take that opportunity in both hands.

“I love this show,” Alex said, suddenly.

Crystal turned to face him and smiled, her eyes illuminated with joy. It was as if Alex could see his entire universe in those eyes and the rest of his life in that smile. Feeling this way was so embarrassing.

“Me too,” Crystal chirped, running a hand through her mess of red hair. It had an immediate effect, making it appear wavier as opposed to knotted and her face was radiant as the sun’s rays dipped against her pale skin. “This one in the pink dress is my favourite. I think she’s crazy. But in a good way. That’s possible by human standards, correct? One can be crazy and good?”

“I think so,” Alex shrugged, slowly walking over to join her on the couch. Each footstep made his heart beat faster and louder in his chest. “I mean, Reed Richards is kind of crazy and good, right?”

This brought a soft chuckle from Crystal, which was like a beautiful harmony of a thousand Beyonce’s. She nodded her head and agreed, “Yes, he is indeed crazy and good. Unlike some of the other scientists we’ve met. That Kragoff? Turning monkeys into soldiers? I think that’s just crazy.”

It was Alex’s turn to laugh. “You’re not the only one. What about some of the people back home? Any mad scientists where you’re from?”

“No,” Crystal shook her head. “Mostly just scientists. But then, nearly everything worth discovering has been discovered in Attilan, already, which means they mostly just spend their time arguing with each other and gossiping behind each other’s backs.”

“Sounds a lot like high school!”

“I have heard this term many times,” Crystal said, facing him once more. Her face was scrunched into an appearance of undignified confusion, which made her look all the more attractive. Was there anything this woman couldn’t do that wasn’t beautiful? “Are these high schools of yours in the clouds?”

“Ha!” Alex chortled, “No, they’re schools for teenagers.”

“Another term I have heard often. There are no teenagers in Attilan, one is either a child or an adult. After a ritualistic ceremony, a coming of age, all children of Attilan become viewed as mature and responsible in the eyes of the rest of the world. No such coming of age exists here?”

“Yeah, high school,” Alex replied, sardonically. The humour was lost on Crystal, though. “But the schools aren’t in the clouds. I guess they’re called high schools because we receive a higher education there. At least, that’s the idea. And a teenager is someone who is in between being a child and adult. All the fun of one and none of the responsibility of the other.”

“Sounds confusing.”

Talking to her felt so easy. He could build a life out of this.

“Crystal, can I tell you something?”

“You’ve already told me many things,” Crystal said, confused once again. “Why is it that this time you need to ask permission?”

“Um...” Alex caught his tongue. He then looked out the window, trying to avoid her gaze, weighing up every thought in his mind.

The sun in the sky was scaring away the last vestiges of the night, the purple and grey disappearing and being replaced with a homely, familiar blue. It was the kind of blue that made the windows on the skyscrapers glow with earnest tranquillity, like an ocean of mirrors in a city of steel and stone. The same kind of blue as Crystal’s eyes, actually. It frustrated him that he could turn the world inside out with his powers, if he pushed hard enough, but telling someone how he felt left him paralysed and mute, as if his tongue were made of adamantium.

“Taking in the sights?” Crystal smiled, turning to the view outside as well. “Attilan is beautiful, but so is New York.”

“I was – um – I was thinking actually.”

“You must have been thinking very hard.”

“I was.”

“And these thoughts are worth thinking over that much?”

“They are, yeah,” Alex stammered. “I just – here’s the thing, Crystal. I think I really like you. I mean, I think I have genuine feelings for you. And I know I’ve only known you for, like, a month. And that you’re an alien princess and that you’re older than I am—“

“If I understand this correctly, you like me? So, you wish to court me?” Crystal prompted, interrupting him. The confusion was still there, but something else. Was it flattery? Was she impressed? Was she embarrassed that someone like Alex liked someone like her?

“I – well – I suppose so. Yeah. If this were, like, the 50s.”

“On my planet, we have a tradition,” Crystal blurted out. She placed the coffee down on the table and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She then cleared her throat and continued. “Yes. A tradition. It is known as the Dresdemona Star Courtship ... Tradition. All males must undergo it, if they wish to court a woman of – of royal blood. Such as myself.”

“I would do anything,” Alex heard himself say, before he could stop himself.

But it was true. He would.

“Yes, well, these are the conditions of the Courtship. You have thirteen hours. Thirteen, because that is half a day on Attilan. During that time, I am to ignore you, while you must impress me and grab my attention. If you are successful in this, you are then allowed to begin courting me.”

“Every male has to do it?” Alex asked, furrowing his brow. “Has anyone ever tried courting you before?”

“Once,” Crystal admitted quickly. “When I was very young. And it was my second cousin. And we were only five years of age and playing a game so I’m not sure if that counts.”

“Someone like you, surely you’d have had dozens of suitors!” Alex responded, indignantly, “You’re too amazing to be ignored!”

“Well, that is how the Courtship goes.” She then looked at the digital clock on the television, before turning back to Alex, a smile on her face. “Your thirteen hours start now.”

With that, Crystal rose from the couch, the programme now finished, and she walked out of the room without another word. Alex went to follow after her, but decided that he needed a little bit more tact. This would not be easy. As he exited the room, he saw three figures appear out of nowhere, as if they had been invisible. It was Sue, Hank and Jamie. They were laughing behind their hands and Alex fumed, glaring at them.

“You were there the whole time?” Alex grunted. Locking eyes with each of them, one after the other, he added, “I thought you were on my team, Sue!”

“I am!” Sue giggled. “Now, what was it you said? Oh, that’s right. You would do anything. That’s very romantic, Alex. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“I can be romantic. And you can watch me, too, I don’t care. Follow me for thirteen hours, Jamie, and you’ll have a master class in picking up chicks. You can walk away with a PhD in courtship. I guarantee it.” Alex then stormed off.

Jamie laughed following after him. “Believe me; I wouldn’t miss this for the end of the world.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“First order of business...” Alex said, as the teleporter brought him to a desert plain, deep in the Serengeti.

Or somewhere like that. Alex had never been fond of geography. He may have been a Level 7 SHIELD Agent (which meant he was important, at least, that’s what Alex told everyone) but he wasn’t the most academic student in the bunch. That probably would have been his sister, Julie. She would have been able to tell him where he was. She probably would have even been able to tell him how to win Crystal, too, but this time, he was on his own.

Well, not entirely.

“Alright, Romeo, what are we doing in the middle of nowhere in one hundred degree heat?”

“It’s because you’re wearing that stupid jacket all the time, Jamie,” Alex responded, as he slowly lifted himself up off the ground. Making himself weightless was one of the first tricks he had ever learnt and doing it now was as simple as lifting bacon off a plate. “I don’t get you old people and your fascination with jackets.”

Jamie rolled his thick, green, jacket sleeves up his arms as he said, “Don’t let my habits, or Hank’s, generalise for the entire adult populace. Not everyone likes wearing jackets. I wear mine for a bunch of different reasons I don’t think you’d understand. One of them being that the coat cloaks my mutant genome from the rest of the world.”

“Well, that’s fair enough, but I don’t appreciate the way you say it, you know,” Alex responded, balancing himself in mid-air. “You guys treating me like I’m stupid and don’t know anything.”

“Then maybe stop pretending you know everything,” Jamie shot back. “And stop making it so easy to make fun of you. You’re the new guy, sure, but you don’t have to act like you have to impress us all the time. Just Crystal. You have to impress her.”

“I know this!” Alex answered. “That I have to impress her. But I don’t pretend like I know everything. When have I ever done that?”

“You made Ares angry on your first day by telling him you could outmuscle him,” Jamie said, ticking off his fingers, “You insulted Captain America by hitting on Sue and your face just irritates me sometimes. It isn’t exactly your fault, but you do this weird thing where you scrunch up one eye and lift up the top corner of your lips. It’s so weird.”

“My face irritates you?”

“I’m a detective,” Jamie shrugged, “so I notice a whole bunch of things other people don’t. Like weird facial tics. You still haven’t answered my question, though, kid. Why are we out here? And why is the ground shaking?”

“Oh, the detective needs something explained to him?” Alex chided, turning to face the older man, with sweat beading on his face. He was still reluctant to take his coat off.

“If you say anything about it being elementary I will punch you.”

“There’s a rare plant that grows underground out here,” Alex started explaining, as he continued to force his powers on the earth around them. Sand and dust lifted in the air around him, a swirl of red and brown that picked up with the wind. “I think it is called pulchra aurea clivora. It only grows in the hottest conditions, in the hilly areas of this desert.”

Finally, after exerting as much power as he dared allow, the ground started to rise. It was a massive pyramid shape, lifting up in front of him. More dust and dirt flew around everywhere and Alex noticed Jamie covering his eyes. Bits of water even trickled off the sides and ends of the ground he was lifting, now weightless. Just as Alex had hoped, there were stems and vines as well, so that means he had found the right spot.

And there it was: a red-petal flower with a dark green stem just slightly protruded from a piece of rock. With his left hand, Alex used a bit of finesse to break it free and it floated toward him, slowly. Jamie had taken a step back now and hid his astonishment poorly. For someone who could recognise other people’s facial tics, he wasn’t particularly good at hiding his own, Alex thought with an internal laugh.

It didn’t take them long to return to the Mansion, after which Jamie sat beneath the air conditioner for about half an hour, as Alex approached Crystal, who was reading an internet page on high schools.

“Crystal,” Alex said, and she didn’t answer or turn his way. But he continued, all the same, “This is a flower I found underground in an African Desert. I’m pretty sure it was an African desert. Those are places where it’s really hot and dangerous. This plant,” he said, as he retrieved the beautiful flower, “can only be found there, underground. I got it for you.”

She still didn’t respond. Instead, she continued to scroll down the page.

“It’s called the Beautiful Red,” Alex said. Whether that was true or not was another thing, but it sounded nice. He held the flower out as he spoke, “And it reminded me of you, because, y’know, you’re a beautiful redhead. You see, there’s a slight brown pattern on the petals. It gets that from the way the water and soil trickle onto the petals, dying it, in a sort of natural way. Each pattern is unique for each petal.”

Still, no response. This was proving more difficult than he had expected.

“Alright, so I’ll leave this with you. And. Um. I’ll be back.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A delectable smell filled the air. Appetites were whetted as soon as their nostrils flared and took in the scent and they could feel their stomachs rumbling as afternoon approached. The smell of salts, spices and curries were sticking to the walls, while the grill was burning with tender meats browning under the glaze of their own oils and fats.

It was a big risk, Alex knew, but it would be one that was worth it.

He had spent the last three hours slaving away in the kitchen, swept up in the heat and smoke of his culinary endeavours. The window was open, letting out any errant steam and smoke, but it wasn’t enough. Even the electrical fans were struggling to blow away the efforts in the pans and grills and stove. Sweat beaded against his skin and his shirt was sticking to his chest and back, truly feeling like Hell’s Kitchen, thanks to the heat.

“Best way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach, right?” Alex said, as he saw Jamie leaning against the kitchen door’s frame. “Well, SHIELD would tell you the best way to her heart is by bypassing her spine. But I think food is the way to go. It works every time.”

“You can say that with absolute certainty, can you?” Jamie asked, reaching over to try some of the glaze that Alex was making for dessert.

Like an agitated and overworked mother, however, Alex slapped at Jamie’s fingers and reprimanded him, saying, “Not for you. This is all for Crystal!”

“Alright,” Jamie said, nursing his fingers, “but some of it is for the rest of us, right? I mean, there are like, eight of us in this building that need to be fed, too. And you’ve seen how much Ares likes to eat. The guy works up a major appetite being the God of War. And I think I overheard him and Moon Knight talking about carb-loading today.”

“Whatever, fine,” Alex said, absent minded. He was far too focused on the beef, making sure he wasn’t overcooking it. He turned it over with his powers and then let it rest on the pan once more. It looked good. It smelled good. It would taste good.

“Is that mint?” Jamie asked, pointing at one of the salads that Alex had cut up and made earlier. “That doesn’t work for Jenna. I’m pretty sure she’s allergic to mint. Or was that Sue. One of them is allergic. So I think I can take this—“

Alex is cooking?” A familiar voice said, approaching the kitchen. Alex, peering through the smoke of his grilled fish saw that it was Marc Spector. Or it wasn’t. Alex found it hard to keep track of the hero’s multiple personalities. Either way, the man they called Moon Knight added, “Maybe we should put his name on the roster more often.”

“Good to see you awake, Spector!” Jamie said, patting the other man on the shoulder. “Sleep well?”

“Didn’t sleep at all,” he shrugged before stealing a piece of chicken from a bowl on the side counter. Alex was about to blast him into oblivion for his sins, but he was gone before anything could be done about it. There was a sheepish smile on Jamie’s face as he shrugged and left the room.

But Alex wasn’t left alone for long as Jenna and Crystal walked by. Both of them looked amazing, but despite Jenna’s perfect figure and angelic face, it was Crystal the teenager was focused on. She was wearing a gorgeous black, lace top that became a skirt, just short of her knees. She was wearing makeup that perfectly complimented her hair and eye colour as well, and it was only the urgency to get her attention that brought him back to his senses.

Alex called out to her once more, but, as she had been the whole morning so far, she was ignoring him. He caught a part of their conversation briefly, only just making out the sound of Crystal’s voice over the sound of the frying meats.

“Hungry, Jenna?” Crystal said, “I’d love to check out that restaurant you told me about. The one where the chefs throw the food at you.”

Jenna threw an arm over Crystal’s shoulder and whooped, “One teppenyaki barbeque, coming right up!”

Jamie soon followed into the kitchen after them, laughing his head off. He had stopped trying to even hide his amusement. In response, Alex’s left eye twitched and his upper lip formed a snarl. The same kind that frustrated Jamie so much.

“Eat your damn salad and shut up, Madrox,” Alex growled, throwing the spatula he had been holding into the sink.

“This is really nice, kid,” Jamie said, digging into the bowl of salad with a spoon. He wasn’t even bothering with a separate plate. He then walked over to the table and added, with bits of green vegetables still hanging between his teeth, “And it is mint! Good thing Jenna isn’t having any of it.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“In faith,” Alex started, holding the book up with one hand and holding a box of chocolates in the other, “I do not love thee with mine eyes.”

Crystal was in the gym now, holding weights on her shoulder as she squatted to the ground. She had changed out of her lace dress and was now wearing loose yoga pants as well as a tight blue top. There were blue sweat bands on her wrists and her hair was tied in a tight bun, so that no loose strands were in her face. She was looking out the window in front and breathing steadily, as she came back up.

The reason why Crystal had gone out to the lunch and then come in to the gym was because of the other man in the room. James Rhodes was using the rowing machine while he stared at himself in the mirror. There was a huge grin on his face. He had heard about Alex’s courtship of Crystal much later than others and had pleaded Crystal to come to the gym so that he could witness Alex embarrass himself.

Well, this wasn’t embarrassing, Alex convinced himself.

Not much, anyway.

“For they in thee a thousand errors note,” Alex continued, trying to focus on the words, despite the fact Crystal’s fantastic body was on display right in front of him. It took all of his energy to not look down.

But the leader of the Avengers, James Rhodes, was not making this easy.

“You’re giving Leo a run for his money, Alex!” He called out from the rowing machine.

“But ‘tis my heart that loves,” Alex said, gritting his teeth. There was an insult on the tip of his tongue, but ruining this romantic poem was not on today’s agenda. “What they despise.”

“Why did you bring the chocolates to the gym? This place is a temple, not a confectionary,” James asked, finishing on the rowing machine and moving over to the weighted barbells. “Unless you’re sharing, in which case, I’d happily have some. Is there one with caramel in that box?”

Crystal had also finished with her squats and went over to her water bottle and towel. She was walking towards the door, so Alex was forced to follow after her. With a wink, he managed to push the door open for the red-headed princess, who walked through without any indication of noticing. So Alex continued to follow her down the hallway, where Jamie was sitting with popcorn. Jamie was probably the only Avenger, aside from Hank, who spent very little time at the gym, Alex knew. So this was certainly a new experience for the mutant Avenger.

Alex did his best to ignore him. He reminded himself that they were just having fun and that they were old people and that they didn’t have any understanding of anything except old people stuff which was boring and lame and who cared anyway?

So he went on, in spite of James’ remarks, “Who in despite of view is pleased to dote, nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted, nor tender feeling, to base touches prone...”

“Never much been a fan of Shakespeare,” Jamie said, now joining in on the fun. “I know that makes me sound like a hipster, but it’s true. I’ve always preferred someone like—“

Alex raised his voice, almost shouting, “Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited! To any sensual feast with thee alone! But my five wits nor my five senses can, dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee!”

“On the other hand,” Jamie said, stuffing his face with popcorn, “when his sonnets are read with such fluency and romantic timing, it’s hard to deny the Bard’s lyrical ability. What is the art culture like on Attilan, Crystal? Do they have much poetry?”

“There is little place for art in a world so fixated on warfare,” Crystal answered, wiping the sweat from the back of her neck. “And poetry is often viewed as a womanly endeavour, especially fashionable amongst the young females.”

“Oh, young females like to read and write poetry, do they? How fascinating,” Jamie said, guzzling the rest of the kernels from the plastic container he had them in. “Hear that, Alex? The young females of her species really like poetry. You may as well be reciting One Direction lyrics to her, Romeo.”

Finally, Alex shut the book of sonnets and turned towards Jamie, still wearing that stupid coat. Alex said to him, “Stop calling me Romeo. It wasn’t even funny the first time.”

Alex sighed, turning away from the poetry. He had been forced to study Shakespeare as part of the academic education program granted to teenagers at SHIELD and even under the threat of solitary confinement he had not been able to bring himself to read or study the works of a man whose relevance in twenty-first century America was highly questionable. He could barely handle reading it now.

“Which would you prefer? Certainly not Macbeth, although you must be crazy to still be going through with this tradition. And certainly not Hamlet, because, let’s face it, you aren’t that misunderstood. Maybe someone like Paris. Ooh, Paris.”

“I’m not Paris!” Alex shot back, immediately offended. But then he realised the name had zero meaning to him. The others he had at least remotely heard of. Somewhere. He was pretty sure Mel Gibson was one of them, in a movie, way back. So Alex mumbled, “Wait, who’s Paris?”

“Paris was this – um – totally awesome guy.”

“Did he get the girl in the end?”

“Um. No. No I don’t think he did.”

Glumly, Alex opened up the box of chocolates and shoved a handful of them in his mouth. This was proving far more difficult than he had anticipated. And, much to his dismay, he had accidentally eaten a piece of dark chocolate, which just made everything absolutely horrible. In a moment of recompense, Jamie placed an arm around the younger Avenger and the two of them headed up the stairs, into the main living quarters, away from the gym.

“Look. It’ll get better. You don’t need a partner in your life to be happy.” Jamie whispered.

“Are you happy?” Alex asked in an equally soft tone.

But this, Jamie didn’t answer. Instead, he curled his mouth into a strange smile and then scratched the back of his head, as his eyes squinted with concentration. For a moment, Alex thought he was going to respond. But he didn’t. Instead, he went down a different road. Equal parts motivational and depressing. Like all the best advice.

Jamie said, “If they’re worth it, this, what you’re feeling right now, is worth it.”

Alex wasn’t sure if this was some kind of ruse, or a trick that would set him up for another epic joke. But while Alex wasn’t a detective, he could see a touch of sincerity in Jamie’s eyes and knew that there had to be at least one genuine bone in his body. Alex looked around; making sure no one else was in earshot before he spoke. He didn’t want them all thinking he was this vulnerable. Besides, he still had that peer review coming up.

“Are you sure?” Alex asked, “I just mean – well. No offense. But. You’re one of the few guys in this building who [/i]isn’t[/i] in a committed relationship.”

“Well, that’s how I know.”

For a moment, Alex felt like young Luke Skywalker and Jamie was Old Ben Kenobi, but that moment was a very short one, for when Alex went to reach for another piece of chocolate, he felt nothing but plastic wrappers. Looking up he saw half a dozen different Jamie Madrox’s eating them up as they walked away. Clearly they were happy with themselves. If Jamie hadn’t chosen a career path as a detective, Alex figured he could’ve gotten away as a ninja, or at the very least, crafty jewel thief.

“Here. Left one for you,” Jamie Prime, at least that’s what Alex thought, said, handing him a piece. It was still in its wrapper.

It was dark.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Alex had all but given up. This would be his last attempt, he thought, as he floated outside the Avengers Mansion, bringing a weightless piano with him. He had nothing but the moon and stars as a backdrop, but that was romantic, right? Girls ate that up – well, normal, Earth girls. Crystal was neither and that was what made her so special. He had spent the last few hours learning on a song on the damn thing and he wasn’t even sure how it would turn out. There was a soft breeze in the higher altitudes of the living quarters and he felt the wind brushing against his exposed skin and blonde hair. He felt his throat constricting and the tips of his fingers were freezing. Maybe that’s why his palms were shaking.

Or maybe not.

“I should have brought a chair,” Alex sighed, as he floated weightlessly beside his piano.

Well, it wasn’t his. He had to borrow it from someone down the street.

He created a small bubble of gravitic energy so that he and the piano weren’t completely weightless, but they were still floating in the air. It was enough to assure that he would get the proper sounds from the strings and hammers as well as having the balance to play how he wanted to. It wasn’t a difficult song and he wasn’t Mozart, but it would do. It would have to. How could he face anyone after today if he couldn’t win Crystal’s attention?

He played a few notes, letting the warmth run through his fingers. A simple scale, ascending the piano and then descending along the black and white keys. It brought familiar sounds back to him, back to that youth where he and his sister would play along together, or when his cousins, Jack and Katie, would come along whacking the drum set or strumming the six strings. Those were the days – simpler ones, before they had gotten their powers. Before everything had changed.

They would understand how he felt.

Then, Alex heard a window being opened and so he jerked his head upwards, hoping Crystal had finally decided to go out with him. It was not her. It was Hank Pym, leaning out with a pair of goggles over his eyes and a tablet in his hands. He lifted the goggles, revealing wrinkle lines around his hazel eyes.

“Not giving up?” Hank called out.

“Well, if this doesn’t work out...” Alex responded, with a weak smile.

“Keep your chin up. I commend you, Alex, truly. Not many people have the patience you have shown today. But if you could keep the sound down, I would appreciate it. I am running diagnostics on Cerebro scans the X-Men picked up. Apparently a mutant surge appeared and it was the kind that showed up when Apocalypse last attacked. Requires a great deal of my attention, you see.”

“I’m sorry, Hank,” Alex replied, scratching the side of his face. “I’ll try to keep this as quick as possible. Wait. Do you know where Crystal’s room is?”

Hank smiled meekly, saying, “One level up, to the left. Oh, and Alex? In my experience, there are far better things ahead than what we leave behind. Never give up hope.”

The teenager nodded, rising to the allocated window and he started playing.

One chord, the same chord and then another. He drew the chords out, holding them and letting them hang in the air. It was as simple an introduction to play, which was why Alex had chosen it. Even if Crystal didn’t understand jokes about breakfast or how beautiful flowers were, the beauty about music was that it was universal. Everyone understood the language of music, because it spoke to them on a deeper, emotional level. It wasn’t about external aesthetics. It was about what was inside. Alex’s second hand joined in on the action, playing the melody of the song. He let his fingers dance along the ivory, let the beat pound in his heart and the music flow through his mind. He didn’t need the sheet music. He could feel it.

Maybe Crystal would, too.

Oh, if Agent Coulson could see him now.

No doubt that stoic man would be laughing behind his clip board. He’d have a few of his cronies with him, too, Ward and Ming and they’d never let him live this down. In fact, if he ever tried something like this back at the SHIELD base, he’d be ridiculed for the rest of his life. He’d have to take a leaf out of Nick Fury’s book and turn to espionage and hiding so no one would ever see his face again. But they weren’t here. No one was out here, not even Jamie this time. He had probably gone to bed, or was chasing a clue somewhere.

He dared not look up, either. He didn’t want to look up and realise that no windows were open, that no one was looking out at him. Or if they were, they’d have a joke ready to tell. Now Alex knew how the people on that Voice show felt when none of the judges turned their seats around. So he just kept playing. If nothing else, today, he had learnt something new. He had gained a skill, he had experienced something different and outside of his comfort zone.

That was worth a pat on the back, right? But maybe not worth the attention of an alien princess.

Finally, he reached the last chord and with it, probably his last chance.

Sighing, Alex said, more to himself than anyone else, “Well, that’s it. That’s all I’ve got. I know it wasn’t that good. I actually hate the song, to be honest, but it sounded nice. I thought it sounded nice.”

There was no response, but Alex still wasn’t looking up. He just kept going. There was no one to hear him, no one to give advice and most importantly of all, no one to judge him.

“Sue was right, of course. The best thing was to tell the truth. And so here it is. The truth is, I’ve forgotten what life was like without you and I can’t imagine a life without you in it. And maybe we’re not right for each other. Maybe we aren’t going to be the best couple. But I have to try. It’s the only way I’ll know if this could have worked out. Otherwise, I’m stuck asking what could have been and what if?”

He pressed his index finger on a black key and said, “You know, Steve told me to make you laugh. That by making you laugh, you’d fall in love with me. But it’s you who makes me laugh and every time you do, I find myself falling more in love with you. But I guess I’m – I’m sorry for wasting your time, Crystal.”

“You didn’t waste my time.”

The youth’s head shot up and met Crystal’s. The stars were reflecting from her bright eyes and amplifying their beauty all the more. She wasn’t as gorgeous as Jenna or as tall as Sue, she probably wasn’t even the prettiest girl Alex had ever seen, which was what confused him even more. But there was something about her, something so innocent and cute and funny and witty and adorable, that none of it mattered. In a building, in a city, in a state, full of amazing women, he had eyes only for her.

“I don’t quite understand how courting works on this planet,” Crystal said, resting her chin on her right hand. “But I believe it starts with a – a date, correct? And not the kind on a calendar.”

“We go out together to some place; I pay for everything and drive you around and then I take you home. That’s what a date is on Earth,” Alex said, smiling like a fool. “But I suppose we both live at the same place, so I just take you back here.”

“Do we eat on this date?”

“Yes. We can, if you want to.”

“Hm,” Crystal said, running the idea through her head. “What is it that we’d eat?”

“Probably ice-cream. Everyone likes ice-cream. And then maybe something to drink. We could head to Starbucks, since I know how much you like liquidised coffee beans. Does that sound like fun to you? If it does, we’ll go out tomorrow. That is, if Mole Man doesn’t attack.”

Crystal smiled, her cheeks flushing red in the moonlight. “It’s a date, as your kind would say.”

Alex cheered and flew around in a circle, before sitting down on the piano keys, which just so happened to play a celebratory chord. He folded his arms, absolutely pleased with himself. He bobbed his head up and down, the blonde mop of hair flapping around the side of his head. Thanks passed his lips before he flew around and said he’d pick her up tomorrow, which really just meant he’d probably knock on her door.

With that, the young man zipped back up to his room, playing the piano all the way. Crystal watched him go, unable to wipe the smile from his face. There was a soft, cool breeze that passed along her arms and so she came back inside, hearing a soft knock at her door at the same time. She jogged over to it, thinking that it was Alex. But it wasn’t, Crystal realised, as she opened the door. It was Sue.

“Your first date, huh?” She asked, smiling at her. “And with Alex Power of all people. I never would have guessed. He’s a bit young for me, but then, I am going out with a ninety year old. Alex is nice. But, y’know, I thought my brother would have gone out with you by now.

“Oh, he tried,” Crystal shrugged.

“Really?” Sue gasped, clapping her mouth with both palms. “But I never saw him do this – courtship tradition.”

“That’s because...” Crystal bit the side of her lip and looked away from her dearest friend’s blue eyes. “Because I made the tradition up. It doesn’t actually exist. I just came up with it because – well, because I wanted to think about something.”

“Oh,” Sue said, dropping her joking stature. She saw a look of concern on Crystal’s face and so she leaned over, resting a hand on Crystal’s shoulder. “Is anything wrong? What were you thinking about?”

“It’s just that I miss home, Sue. I love it here, of course I do. But this is not Attilan. I have not seen my sister, properly, in over a year. I haven’t seen my nieces and nephews in longer and I haven’t – I haven’t had the chance to speak with any of my friends there. I miss it dearly. And I needed time to think if I...” she paused, catching her breath and catching Sue’s eyes.

“It’s alright,” Sue told her, “you can tell me.”

All at once, Crystal said, “I don’t know if I want to be an Avenger anymore.”
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Aug 2014, 15:12 #12

The following entry was submitted by BIG THUNDER! for the June writing competition

Marvel Star Wars: Hulk


After nearly two years of research at an ancient Yuuzhan Skrull bio-weapon facility - a supposed gamma beam weapon - tragedy struck. Due to the weapon's age and a malfunction in the facilities central 'yammosk' (a living brain that served as a bio-computer), the weapon overcharged and the facility exploded, but not before Dr. Bruce Banner (one of the Rebel Alliance's top scientists that was leading the examination and testing of the facility and weapon) had ushered everyone else out. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to escape before it exploded...



Chapter Four


Darkness.

Bruce felt himself floating. He could breathe, so his immediate thought was that he was dreaming.

”Gotta wake up…”

He tried opening his eyes. They seemed like his eyelids were made of permacrete. Lifting them to see the world around him seemed impossible. The floating sensation was soothing him, calming him, lulling him back into deep sleep. He knew he had to fight it.

”Can’t sleep. Gotta wake up. Don’t know where I am or what’s going on but I can’t…”

The extractor. Bruce remembered the ancient Yuuzhan Skrull weapon that he had been working on. It seemed so long ago. He tried to remember what happened. He remembered Beatrice.

”You look sleepy, Doctor Banner,” Beatrice said as she looked up from her datapad. ”How long have you been at it?”

Bruce looked up at her and rubbed his eyes. ”I…uh… He looked down at his datapad and tapped it. ”Thirty-seven hours?”

Beatrice looked at him oddly and walked over to him. ”Bruce, you’re going to kill yourself. You need to get some shut eye. The mountain and the gamma beam weapon are going to be here when you wake up. Come on.”

Beatrice put her datapad down and grabbed his arm, lifting him from the chair. He was so tired he could barely resist.

”What are you doing? No, I gotta run these tests on these neural cords. Please, it will only take a few…”

”Then it won’t be a problem for you after a nice long nap,” Beatrice said, pulling him completely out of the seat and guiding him by the arm toward the bunkrooms.

”I’m not tired. Really,” Bruce protested…lightly. He liked Beatrice Ross. It wasn’t a secret. He liked being close to her. He liked her attention. He liked the fact that she had a hold of his arm.

”If you’re not tired, then why aren’t you fighting me?” Beatrice asked.

”Because…I don’t want to fight you,” Bruce admitted. Maybe it was because he really was so tired, but he felt like he should be honest about his feelings for her. ”I hate the thought of fighting someone so utterly…beautiful…”

”Um…okay,” Beatrice responded with a grin.

”And intelligent. And stunning. And so charming. And polite. And…did I say, absolutely breathtaking?”

Beatrice bit her lower lip to keep herself from grinning. As tired as Bruce was, he still could tell that she was at least amused.

”Yes, the Good Doctor, Brucer Banner, needs his beddy-bye time,” Beatrice said as they climbed a short flight of metal stairs that led to a short row of coral clamshell like doors that led to small bunkrooms where the science staff resided while they worked on the ancient Yuuzhan Skrull weapon.

”Are you gonna tuck me in?” Bruce asked with a smile.

”I don’t tuck grown men in,” she said with a chuckle.

”How about a goodnight kiss?”

Beatrice stopped in front of his bunkroom’s door. He stood grinning at her with eyes that were so tired he could barely keep them open.

”That’s not a very professional thing to do,” Beatrice said quietly but sternly.

”The professional thing to do is to work on getting this weapon analyzed,” Bruce said. ”Being ushered to my bunkroom by my gorgeous colleague, is completely unprofessional. So, if we are being unprofessional, I think I ought to give you a goodnight kiss.”

”I think it’s supposed to be the other way around,” Beatrice noted, trying to keep a straight face. ”If anyone was to be dishing out the goodnight kisses, it would be the one putting the other to bed. Since that would be me, I would be the one handing out the goodnight kisses.”

”Ah, I see.”

”And seeing that the sun came up about two hours ago, the phrase ‘Good night’, is out of the question,” Beatrice said folding her arms.

”Oh, that’s just a technicality. You see, I’m on Coruscant time and its…”

”Its mid-afternoon there, so it still wouldn’t apply,” Beatrice told him as she pressed the soft pad on the coral wall that opened his bunkroom’s door. ”So, again, you’re out of luck.”

Bruce’s shoulders slumped. ”What time zone on Coruscant are we talking about? See, if you look at it… Well, you can’t blame a scientist for trying, at least.”

Beatrice grinned and waved at him, turning to walk away.

Bruce grinned as well, giving a shrug as he entered into the bunkroom. A hand caught his shoulder before he completely entered, pulling him back and around into an embrace as a pair of soft lips found his.

The kiss was short, but it seemed like it lasted for an eternity. When the giver of the kiss withdrew her lips, she held him back at arm’s length.

”Oh…wow?” Bruce said with a big smile on his face.

”Dad told me you’d been asking about me, Bruce,” Beatrice told him. ”He’s been bugging me to spend more time with you, but my experiment schedule has me over on the southern neural conduit stems. I’ve been waiting to give that to you.”

”Your dad…General Ross, put you up to this?” Bruce asked curiously.

”No,” she replied. ”Of course not. I’ve been waiting for you to make a move for months now. I guess…this was the way of breaking the ice.”

Bruce grinned from ear to ear. ”Ice broken, crushed, melted and turning into a big blue ocean of ‘wow’. I’m ready to go for a swim.”

Beatrice rolled her eyes and grinned, gently pushing him into the room before walking back to the makeshift lab. The doors closed before Bruce could tell her “good night”.

As he turned, he suddenly found himself falling face first into a thrashing, boiling vat of green water. He struggled in it but couldn’t find anything to grab hold of. Looking up, he saw the dance of light indicating the water’s surface rising meters above him. Soon, he found himself sinking down so far that there was little light left. Reaching up, he struggled to grasp that little bit of sunlight above him. The vat of water had become an ocean and Bruce found himself sinking to its bottom.

Something wrapped itself around his leg. He struggled against whatever it was and tried to swim for safety before the air in his lungs ran out. The more he struggled, the more the thing latched onto him pulled on his leg. Soon, another and another vine-like thing wrapped around his legs, abdomen and arms. Despite the terror that was now taking him, Bruce had to see what kind of creature it could have been. Heyweh Bah, by all the accounts of all sensor- and bio-scans had been determined to be devoid of native animal life other than a few insects.

In the dimming twilight, Bruce could see the outline of the thing that had gripped him. It was a cephalopod of some sort. Images of Dynlimin squids came to mind. This thing with black tentacles was easily as big as one based on its tentacles reaching up from the darkness. As he struggled against the tentacles, he found himself with the same floating sensation that he had felt earlier. His ability to struggle seemed to wane as the thing pulled him down. As it did, he wished to know what his attacker was, but the dimming light was making it impossible. Then with the last bit of dimming light, he made out the shape of a boney head above the tentacles, with two dark eyeholes and large teeth fixed in an angry smile…

“Bruce? Bruce?”

A voice. It wasn’t Beatrice’s.

“Huh?” Bruce said groggily, barely able to open his eyes. He was no longer underwater. He was in a bed with a 2-1B medical droid next to him. Then, it all came back to him. The malfunctioning yammosk. The overcharging extractor.

The explosion.

The first thought that came to his head that the water sensation he had felt had been a bacta tank his mind must have manufactured the ocean as a result.

“Are you back with us, Bruce?” the voice again spoke. Bruce recognized it to be General Ross’.

“Ahh…” Bruce nearly wheezed slowly looking back and forth. “Where…cough, cough…am I?”

“You’re on our transport,” General Ross said. Bruce realized he was speaking from behind a plexi-steel barrier about two meters away.

“What…what happened?” Bruce asked.

“The gamma beam weapon overcharged, then exploded,” Gen. Ross told him. Bruce noticed that he hadn’t shaved in quite a while. “We evacuated. Most of us. Beatrice and I got to the transport before…”

“How is she?” Bruce asked, suddenly, trying to sit up in the bed before the medical droid put its hand gently on his shoulder to prevent him.

Gen. Ross smiled. “She’s fine. She had to get some sleep since she’s been staying up so many hours keeping tabs on you.”

“Wha…?” Bruce asked, raising a hand to his cheek. It was covered in a thick but short lawn of whiskers. “How long?”

“Four days,” Gen. Ross explained. “We found you out at the edge of the forest, about three kilometers from the mountain. Shockwave took down a few hundred meters’ worth of trees though. We were sure you had been killed in the explosion. The shockwave outside of the mountain killed three dozen soldiers and techs.”

“Oh…no…” Bruce moaned putting his hands over his face.

“Listen, it’s not your fault,” Gen. Ross explained to him calmly. “We were able to get the data recorder from the mountain. We could see that that bio-brain was suffering from some sort of breakdown. None of us had any idea that the thing was going to suffer a breakdown like that. It was an accident.”

“It was too old,” Bruce said sadly. “It had been sitting idle for too long. It wasn’t divulging information like we thought it was, either. I found out that it considered the weapon itself as what we were referring as the ‘extractor’. It was calling the nodule a…what was it…a nursery.”

“That can wait, Bruce,” the General told him. “Our first concern is your health. How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Bruce said, looking up at him. “Exhausted. I had a bad dream before I woke up.”

“Considering the trauma you endured, that is not an unexpected side effect,” the 2-1B droid told him, looking down at him with flickering eyes.

“You were exposed to what Beatrice determined was a massive amount of gamma radiation,” Gen. Ross told him. Bruce looked back at him in horror. “Yeah, something must have shielded you from most of it, because that much gamma radiation would have fried a rancor. When we found you, you were emitting a large amount of gamma. We couldn’t risk getting close to you. A couple of SAR droids were brought in and they brought you here and put you in isolation, where the med droids have been working on you since.”

Bruce looked up at the plexisteel barrier between him and the General.

“The droids say the radiation is back to normal,” Gen. Ross explained. “We’re still being precautious.”

Bruce nodded understandably. “You should. You should.” He turned to the droid. “What have the scans showed regarding cellular damage?”

“Undetermined,” the medical droid responded. “There had been interference with the medical sensors due to the gamma exposure and a resultant EM afterglow. All of your bodily functions are normal. A sonic scan was done in place of a normal sensor scan and it has been determined that your skeletal structure is intact and internal organs are apparently undamaged.”

“Well, that’s good…I guess,” Bruce responded sadly, thinking of the dead soldiers and technicians.

“A few of us have been trying to figure out how you survived,” Gen. Ross explained to him. “It’s a miracle you’re alive. Seriously. That blast took down half the mountain immediately. The other half collapsed in as a result. We’ve had teams working on clearing out the debris before we had to cut transmissions to see if they could salvage anything. They found the data recorder, but the yammosk’s dead and so is the whole blasted facility. The Creeper vines are dying as well – over the entire blasted planet, from what we could tell. Beatrice thinks they’re all part of the same Yuuzhan Skrull bio-system as the gamma beam weapon.”

“ ‘Extractor’,” Burce corrected him. “Wait. Did you say you cut the transmissions?”

“We’ve gone comm silent,” Gen. Ross explained. “A couple of star destroyers appeared in the system a half a day after the explosion. It looks like we got someone’s attention.”

“We’re still on Heyweh Bah?” Bruce asked, sitting up in bed.

Gen. Ross nodded sadly. “Yeah. We took off and landed a couple thousand clicks to the north along a mountain ridge near the pole. The Imperials sent a couple teams down to the facility. Fortunately, they didn’t find much other than the ruined facility and our landing site. They’ve got a couple of Imperator IIs in orbit above us now, though. I think they’re still trying to figure out what was going on. The explosion didn’t leave them much and your data recorder was the only clue they could have found, if we hadn’t retrieved it first.”

“Does the Alliance know what our status is?” Bruce asked.

“They do,” Gen. Ross replied. “We were able to let them know about the accident and that we had company. That’s the last communication we had out. We’re keeping our ears open to any coded broadcasts the Alliance might send our way in the meantime.”

“This whole thing was one big waste then,” Bruce said in disappointment.

Gen. Ross nodded. “Yeah, I’m disappointed. All of this had so much potential. I guess if we can find a bright side to all of this, the Alliance has learned a lot about Yuuzhan Skrull tech. If we find another facility, your research is going to be extremely valuable.”

Bruce smirked. “And then there’s Betty.”

Gen. Ross smiled. “Yeah. It looks like I’m going to get a son-in-law out of this disaster anyway. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Bruce laughed weakly. “Good thing, for me. I hope it’s a good thing for Betty and you, General.”

“I’m pretty confident.”

Suddenly, a tan helmeted member of the transport’s crew rushed into the ship’s medical bay and whispered something to Gen. Ross, unintelligible to Bruce’s ears through the plexisteel. As quickly as the crewman entered the room, he exited, leaving Gen. Ross with an urgent look on his face.

“Watch him,” the General told the 2-1B referring to Bruce as he quickly got up from where he had been sitting. As Ross began to leave, Bruce nearly got out of bed as the medical droid tried to restrain him.

“Wait, General, what’s going on?” Bruce asked, realizing he had the strength to stand.

Ross gave him a quick look. “The Imperials have found us.”

With that, the General left the medical bay, closing the door behind him and leaving Bruce feeling completely helpless.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Aug 2014, 15:14 #13

The following entry was submitted by XMATT for the June writing competiton

It was a ghost of the past given solid form.

And that form smashed into Zero-G’s face before he had time to respond. Alex Power had never fought the Scarlet Centurion when Kang had last attacked New York. But, upon seeing stars and feeling a loose tooth in his mouth, the young hero was very glad he had missed that particular confrontation. So debilitating was the red and silver foe’s attack that Zero-G was still reeling, still trying to regain his balance and focus, when he made out the blur of War Machine and Wasp, propelling towards one of the many robotic androids terrorising Park Slope.

“How is the Scarlet Centurion even back?” Wasp asked, as she drew the attention of the Scarlet Centurion that had just attacked Zero-G. “I thought we defeated him and Kang way back!”

“We did,” War Machine answered, lifting a hand and shooting a magnetic beam of repulsor energy toward the same foe. It lifted him off the ground and presented the Centurion as a perfect target for the massive missiles readying on his shoulder plates. “And we locked up Kang. Guess this is a leftover we have to clean up.”

“I’m really starting to lose track of the bad guys we beat,” Wasp groaned, keeping the Centurion preoccupied so it didn’t recognise War Machine as the true threat. “It’s so exhausting.”

War Machine’s scoff could be heard through his silver-grey face plate. “Keeping track is exhausting? I thought fighting them was.”

“That’s the easy part.”

The missiles burst from his shoulder plates in a smoky blast, aimed straight for the Centurion’s body. It’s eyes widened and it tried to create a large shield to protect itself, but it was cast too late: the missiles slammed against its red chest and he was thrown backwards from the impact. A large red, blue and white shield then slammed on the Centurion’s back, preventing it from crashing through somebody’s window and War Machine then caught the body, dropping its motionless frame to the ground.

Zero-G only just managed to see this, still blurred were his eyes. Their teamwork and timing was impeccable. He had once trained with SHIELD agents and never before had he seen such tremendous ability to reduce collateral damage. It was as if the buildings, the cars and even the road itself were a civilian that was meant to be protected. He had never considered the property damage they might cause – he had always figured it was a part of the job.

But the Avengers proved otherwise.

“Guys,” Zero-G said, picking at his ear, “is there a ringing noise somewhere?”

He stumbled through Eighth Avenue, making out red and silver figures along the same road, or flying above. The Scarlet Centurion had not arrived alone; in fact, it had brought a small party with him to attack. Their objective was uncertain, as far as Zero-G knew, for there was nothing in particular in this street that could have appealed to a time-travelling mastermind. Was there? Maybe Kang and his Scarlet Centurion were just really big Dodgers fans.

“I think Alex has had a screw knocked loose,” Yellowjacket joked, as he rescued a handful of children from the nearby school. He lifted them up in his large hand, carrying at least four of five, before transferring them to the perimeter that the authorities had set up.

“Just the one?” Jamie scoffed in amusement, as two of him caught a Centurion in an arm bar, “I think we can add it to the list.”

Ares, however, was clearly not amused.

“And there will come a day unlike any other,” Ares grunted as he helped a boy off the ground and raced him to the police perimeterbefore turning to the two jacketed heroes, Jamie and Yellowjacket, “when you all cease with your mindless prattle and deal with the conflict at hand!”

“After years of studying the brain and particularly the criminal mind,” Jamie said, creating another dupe to leap onto the arm barred Scarlet Centurion, “I’m detecting a lot of animosity from you, Ares.”

“He’s the God of War,” Moon Knight said in that deep voice of his, descending from a building, slashing his scythe along the Centurion the Jamie-duplicates were all attacking. Its head fell off without the slightest form of resistance and it crashed to the ground. “Animosity is his thing. Kind of like how vengeance is my thing. And today, there is a lot to be vengeful for.”

“You couldn’t have said it any better, Em-Kay,” Jamie nodded in agreement, pointing his duplicates to the next target. “I mean, these Centurions attacked a Jolly Holly!”

“Never get between a mutant and his meal,” Yellowjacket said, as he reached for another group of survivors. But, much to Zero-G’s surprise, he hesitated.

The teen hero, now beginning to regain his vision and lose the stars, observed that it was a small family: a father, a mother and a young boy with blonde hair. The hesitation did not last long and, if Zero-G hadn’t been looking in the first place, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. But there was enough in the giant’s eyes that suggested there was something special about this family, or at least, about their situation. A moment later, Yellowjacket lifted them up and brought them to safety as well.

“Wait,” Zero-G heard the beautiful sound of Crystal’s voice as she doused the flames on a car, “the Centurion attacked on Free Coffee Day?”

“Villains aren’t known for being considerate,” Moon Knight said.

Crystal let out a grunt of frustration, “Now I’m really mad!”

“Forget mutants and their meals,” Jamie chortled, “Don’t get in the way of an Inhuman and her coffee.”

In the same way that their teamwork was faultless, it seemed their camaraderie was as well. There was a connection here, so deep, so affectionate, that it was hard to place whether it was friendship for each other, or love. These were relationships that had formed over the course of at least three years, relationships which had seen countless battles and worldwide, cataclysmic events. These were men and women who had stood by each other’s sides when everyone else had ran. Zero-G couldn’t help but think that while teamwork was one thing, relationships were another. He couldn’t seamlessly flit between warrior and comedian in the same way Jamie could, or hero and scientist like Yellowjacket.

“Guys, really!” Zero-G said, waving his arm and making a Centurion weightless by accident. It turned out a productive attack, for the Captain’s shield beheaded the android a moment later, “I still hear a ringing noise. Am I the only one?”

“That’s the last of them,” Captain America said, his shield returning to his gloved hand.

“Good work, team,” War Machine congratulated them, landing beside the war veteran, “but there’s still work to do. Hank, could you help clear up? And Wasp, there are a lot of cameras out there I need you in front of. And Jamie, I’m going to need you – well, one of you anyway – to investigate how and why this happened. Between the Apocalypse energy signature we picked up a few days ago and now Kang’s forces returning I’m starting to think they’re connected.”

“Everything is connected,” Jamie answered, nodding. “Up for an investigation, Sherlock?” Jamie Prime asked, as he made two duplicates disappear, leaving only one.

“I cannot live without brain work,” the duplicate said, “What else is there to live for?”

“Perfect,” Jamie Prime said, “now follow the leads. Ares and I have a party to catch.”

“Grr,” Ares mumbled, the axe in his hand disappearing, “do I have to?”

“Oh, the ringing has stopped,” Zero-G said, smiling widely and taking his finger out of his ear, “and I heard party? Can I come?”

Jamie Prime smiled devilishly.

xMatt Presents...
The Outstanding Avengers #43
In Peer Review – Part Two of Three: “The Curious Incident of the Centurion During the Day

“Y’know, I heard party and I thought it’d be fun. This isn’t fun. Can we go now?”

There was paint on Alex’s face, on his black and white costume, which now looked like rainbow flavoured ice cream and, worst of all, in his cropped, blonde hair. He could have been a colour wheel; there were so many different kinds of paint on him. One child had tried to replicate the logo of the Avengers on his cheek, but it instead looked like a smudge of green poop. Ares had laughed at him, at least, until a child cannonballed into the pool, drenching him with water. After that, nothing but a snarl rested on the Greek God’s face. All the armour and weaponry in the world could not defend him from a child having fun, it seemed.

“I am no longer amused,” Ares said, squeezing the water from the Mohawk-hair on his helmet.

A young girl raced up to Alex, tugged on his costume and asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Uh, I’m not sure,” Alex said, honestly. “I went on a date, recently.”

“OooOOooh,” the girl giggled. “Was it a good date?”

“It – it was alright.”

She then ran on the perfectly paved walkway, which led to a wide, in-ground swimming pool that had steam rising off the surface, rejoining her friends, who giggled along with her. The waves of the pool were soft and the children within looked like they, at least, were having the time of their lives, even if it were not so for the unlikely trio that had gathered there in celebration.

“Cheer up you two,” Jamie Prime chortled, looking up at the grim Ares as he tied a balloon into the shape of a small dog. “We’re booked for the afternoon.”

“It is now two hours after noon,” Ares argued, jumping at the sound of water splashing in the pool next to him. Having learnt his lesson, he moved away from the water, continuing, “That means their time is up.”

Jamie handed the poodle-balloon to a smiling child, who ran around the garden, woofing along as he did so. The mutant detective then placed his hands on his hips, asking Ares: “How could you deny such cute faces? You’ve got a kid, or whatever, don’t you?”

“My kid is a God. Not a snivelling, squealing child. After centuries, I realise that it is a constant struggle being the God of War. I just never imagined the struggle would be this...”

“Whose party is this, anyway?” Alex asked, juggling a bunch of boys by making them and their toys weightless. They seemed to be having fun. Until a child thought it would be a good idea to pretend a nearby bucket was an astronaut’s helmet, at which point, Alex was forced to intervene.

“One of my old clients has a kid turning eleven today,” Jamie answered, starting on another balloon. This one had the makings of a star, it seemed, “He’s a big fan of the Avengers and you in particular, Ares. Kid’s really into Greek mytho – I mean, Greek history.”

“No one has worshipped War in centuries. At least, not the Greek God of it.”

“Not like that. You inspire him,” Jamie said, before blowing heavily into another balloon. He then wiped the side of his lip and muttered, “How weird are balloons? It’s, like, here. Have a piece of plastic full of my breath and spit...”

Ares, not hearing, asked, “Like how Athena inspired Athens?”

“Uh. No,” Jamie said, louder now, wrapping the ends of the balloon together. “More like how Jason made his Argonauts want to be better people. I think. Jason did that, right? He wasn’t, like, some obnoxious prick behind-the-scenes?”

“Ah, yes, Jason...” Ares chortled, looking skyward, as if remembering some old tale that brought him amusement. “A fine fellow, indeed, if not slightly dim-witted.”

“So these guys actually existed? I thought they were just legends.” Alex questioned, indignant. A child approached him with a paint brush, but Alex, thinking quickly, waved his arm and lifted the child into the air. For a moment, the child was confused, but quickly let out a giggle as he soared through the sky, colouring the air with weightless paint.

“Even legend has its origin in truth,” Ares shrugged, walking over to the food table. He was dismayed to see that they were all finger food, artificial and factory made. It was the kind of food that only a child could enjoy. All the same, he grabbed a store-bought sausage pie and shoved it in his mouth. “Of course, the past was romanticised, but it always is when the concerns of the present become too much to handle.”

“Y’know, Ares...” Alex laughed, as he finally let the children back on the solid earth. They ran away, cheering and whooping to themselves. Where they found the energy, Alex did not know. He continued, “That almost would have sounded deep and meaningful, if not for the fact that you’re chewing with your mouth open. Besides, I thought you were carb-loading?”

“Today is Thursday, is it not? Thursday is my cheat day.”

“You said that on Tuesday, didn’t you?” Alex mumbled.

“You know, I thought you were the God of War, not philosophy,” Jamie snorted, handing off the star balloon. The child who had taken it was wearing a blue mask over his face, with an ‘A’ stitched onto the centre and wings on either side.

“Wars are often started over such things,” Ares answered, ignoring Alex as he reached for another sausage roll. The guilt would sink in later when he was doubled over the toilet. “Wars are often started over much less as well, actually. The Greeks lost Thermopylae and Athens to conflicting beliefs, for example.”

“You were speaking of Greek Heroes,” a young girl said, with dark hair and olive skin. Her eyes were huge and black and they stared straight into Ares’ as he continued to chew on the sausage roll, “What about Ariadne?”

A boy jumped over, crossing his arms as if in some kind of authoritative position. He scrunched his face up and said, “Ariadne is a girl’s name! And girls can’t be heroes!”

“Ah,” Ares replied, kneeling down so he was on the same level as the other children, who gathered around, “it would seem you have much to learn. Allow me to take a leaf out of one of my – many – half-sisters, Mnemosyne, and tell you a story...”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Hank stepped away from the android and finally said, “This is not the Scarlet Centurion.”

“I confess, fellow Avenger, that in the matters of modern technology or even in futuristic technology as is Kang’s modus operandi, that I am as blind as a mole, but I have always believed it better to learn late than never. Tell me, how is it that you came by this conclusion?”

“Well,” Hank cleared his throat, “despite the similar appearance between this model and the original Scarlet Centurion we faced, the technology within is vastly inferior. I studied the real Centurion’s processors extensively and what I found within that android looks like a mannequin in comparison.”

“Interesting indeed,” Sherlock Jamie said, tapping his chin, “such childish, undeveloped technology, but hidden behind a familiar face...”

“What are you thinking, Jamie?” Hank asked, as a gold streaked up and zipped around his face for a moment, before materialising into a full-sized Jenna van Dyne. Though at her full size, she still only reached Hank’s shoulder.

“Someone obviously sent this creation to cause a disturbance,” Sherlock-Jamie said, pacing back and forth, not looking at Hank. “By my calculations it took the Avengers less than a minute to decide to intervene and twenty two minutes to arrive. Whoever sent these machines, one: knew we would come and, two: knew we would defeat them. A distraction, then?”

Hank noticed Jenna was holding something, about the size of a tennis ball, in the palm of her right hand. Instead of immediately addressing it, however, a thought came to the yellow-jacketed scientist when Sherlock-Jamie had said the word distraction. Hank turned to the mutant and lifted his arm, as if he were a child in a classroom, waiting to speak. It caught the duplicate’s attention and his eyes snapped up, a smile forming on his face.

“The last time Kang attacked,” Hank mentioned, “he pulled a similar tactic. “He was trying to bait us out, testing our powers and analysing our tactics. After that first attack, we thought we had won. We were overconfident.”

“Exactly!” Sherlock-Jamie clicked his fingers, “Dear doctor, this is the exact kind of thing Kang would do! I overheard our armoured leader, War Machine, attest that Kang was still incarcerated. For all his power, could he have organised something like this, behind bars?”

“Doubtful,” Jenna finally said, “I’ve seen the prison we’re keeping Kang in. He couldn’t unfold a paperclip in there without drawing attention to himself.”

“Very well. This means our target is someone else involved. Tell us, Wasp, what is it that you found in your miniature expedition into the machine’s mind?” Sherlock-Jamie queried, eyeing the device in her hand.

“Just this,” Jenna held it out. “I found it in all of their heads. It was where their brain should have been.”

“I recognise that,” Hank mentioned. “That middle part, made of glass, looks very similar to the internal processing unit I used to animate U.L.T.R.O.N.”

It was circular in shape, with glowing green and grey wires running along the sides. In the centre was the dull orb, the part that Hank had referred to. It was smoking slightly, as if it had overheated. Sherlock-Jamie took it in his hands and inspected it closely, holding the object just in front of his right eye. What he was looking for, exactly, Hank wasn’t entirely sure.

“Kang’s existence in the future would suggest he has access to such technology,” Sherlock-Jamie uttered, “It would seem you’ve left quite a legacy, doctor.”

“Not exactly one I would like to be remembered for.”

“Indeed, but therein lies the problem: we have no control over what others think of us and even less control over what they remember us for. However, I notice something strange. This doesn’t look like one, coherent piece of technology. Instead, it appears as if someone attached them, one over the other.”

“So it is not entirely future tech. Not entirely Kang’s,” Hank surmised.

“That means someone from around this time period created that? Like a manufacturer?” Jenna asked, looking at the two men. “So, if that’s the case, I’m guessing that means we could find who was selling it and who was buying it?”

“Black markets exist for mad scientists. I know of one prominent tech dealer who monopolises the market by buying out the others. He is actually an old enemy of Tony’s. We could probably follow the trail, yeah.”

“Then to him, we go!” Sherlock-Jamie said walking away; still playing with the object Jenna had retrieved.

“I think I’m going to get really sick of this duplicate really quickly,” Jenna whispered, watching him walk.

“Do not lie,” Hank chuckled, “you love him.”

Jenna shrugged, answering, “Alright, fine. He’s cute. In that weird, eccentric kind of way. Like you, actually. And I think he thinks you’re his Watson.”

“Me too. But I have always wanted to be a detective.”

“Maybe we should buy him the hat. I’m going to buy him the hat.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“It always begins with love. But with all love, there is pain,” Ares started, as the Greek Omega symbol began to appear on the back of his hands, “such is the way of things. Whether it is a love of land or culture, love of religion or each other, the threat of war always looms. But the story of Ariadne and Theseus is not a war of armies or of kings – it is a war of the heart. It was Ariadne’s love for Theseus that saw her help him defeat the Minotaur.

“Ariadne’s father, King Minos of Crete, charged as the Lady of the Labyrinth, a sacred place where sacrifices were made as part of offerings and reparations to my uncles and aunts,” Ares said, and as he did so, a red swirl of light formed around them, a maze in itself. He continued, “But, though many lives were sent to them, there was no greater sacrifice than the one Ariadne had made for her hero. It was the sacrifice of her heart – she surrendered herself to him, in love and faith, as she offered him the necessary guidance to stop the foul creature that stalked the halls of the Labyrinth.

“Theseus pursued good intentions: to save Athens. But it was a far baser goal that spurred the Athenian, a goal that is sought by all men, though they may deny it. Theseus wanted glory. Ariadne’s goals were far more pure, for they were that of love. While she had been party to many sacrifices, it was upon Theseus’ arrival that she saw the error of their ways. She surrendered the world she knew for the world she believed better, a quality which defines all heroes.”

The swirl turned from a maze to two people, the first a woman and the second a man.

The figures danced with each word Ares spoke.

“Hero is not a gendered term. Ariadne, upon assisting Theseus and destroying the Minotaur, left with him, to the beach of Naxos. It was here that Ariadne’s sacrifice was betrayed. Here, a woman who had sacrificed herself for the greater good was left by Theseus and her love was lost. Furious at the betrayal, Ariadne cursed at being left with nothing but the sand before her and the waves at her back. It was then that she was discovered by my half-brother, Dionysus.”

At the mention of the God, the swirls shifted again. The former man exploded in a stunning display of red and gold, quickly replaced with a more lithe looking, respectable man. He bowed his head and offered his hand to the woman, who hesitantly took it. From then on, their hands remained inseparable. They walked together, flew together, danced together and spoke together. It was, for lack of a better word, beautiful: he could have sworn he saw his face on the man’s and Crystal’s on the woman’s.

But surely it could not have been.

“As it had begun with love,” Ares continued, “so too did it end. Dionysus was so impressed and enthralled that a person, who could have had it all in her homeland, would give it all up for love. It was then that his heart called out to Ariadne and, to his joy, Ariadne’s heart answered. They lived a life of immortals.”

There was silence for a moment and the swirls slowly began to fade ... until they were replaced with thin lines of energy. They raced through the air, streaks of gold and silver and red and they quickly formed the bodies of three women, standing side by side. The golden streak had grown wings, like a pixie’s, the silver was translucent and the third had long, streaming red hair that would have put any open flame to shame. Alex recognised these three immediately.

Ares spoke, “Jenna van Dyne, the Wasp, sacrificed much for love. She gave up the world she had to become an Avenger, running both her company and saving the world at the same time. She placed her trust in Hank Pym, and supported him through every ordeal, fighting beside him, with a relentless passion. If she were to leave tomorrow, none could fault her or claim her unworthy, for it was by her hand that U.L.T.R.O.N was defeated and her guile that has earned her spot among the Avengers, a dozen times over.

“Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, is like a Goddess among mortals. So great are her powers that they felled a Celestial, that they turned entire armies away. Never swaying from her values of justice and right, she remains a pillar as strong as the invisible constructs she can conjure. Through sheer fortitude and determination, the kind which would have made Hera herself proud, she was able to protect her charges and unleash a wrath so mighty that it turned the tide of a universal war.

“And then there is Crystal,” Ares said and Alex felt his heart skip a beat, “the Inhuman Princess, not unlike Ariadne herself. Giving up all she had on Attilan in the name of love – love for her friends, love for Earth and love for humanity – she has offered herself in sacrifice, so that the rest of us, the rest of you, need not ever sacrifice anything ever again.”

The little girl, the one who had originally asked about Ariadne, was completely lost in the figures above her eyes. Her dark eyes were wide with admiration and if her smile could get any bigger, it’d be running off the sides of her face. Alex knew exactly how she felt. There was nothing more inspiring than the three people Ares had conjured with whatever magical power he had.

“Ah!” Jamie grunted, clutching at his chest.

“What’s up? Are you alright?” Alex whispered, looking over with concern.

“No. No I’m not,” Jamie gasped, to Alex’s horror. “I think one of my dupes just died.”

“Do you think I could be a hero?” The little girl asked, pointing to Susan Storm, not hearing the exchange between the two other Avengers. “Like her?”

“Anyone can be a hero,” Ares told her, “but what makes a great hero is their capacity to love. To love and persevere, despite adversity, difficulty and misfortune. To love, in spite of yourself. If you are able to do that, little one, you can do anything.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The warehouse was empty.

At least, that’s what it would have looked like to the untrained eye. Yellowjacket knew, beyond all reasonably doubt, that Sherlock-Jamie was anything but untrained. The mutant detective, now wearing the deer hunting hat Jenna had bought for him, was hunched over, tapping on the sides of aluminium desks and benches, whipping out a magnifying glass and staring at cracks on the dusty ground and making shapes with his fingers as he looked at the grimy windows along the metallic walls.

Eventually, the duplicate said, “Tony provided us the location of his old enemy’s bases and, after conferring with you, dear doctor, on the whereabouts of many black market auctions, we narrowed our search down to this location. The dust on the floor and the mould on the windows would suggest that it has been abandoned for some time, however, Wasp, I would ask your assistance for a moment.”

“Of course, Jamie,” Wasp nodded, walking over. “What do you need me to do?”

“Could you shoot one of those bio-electric beams of yours onto the grime, there?” Sherlock-Jamie pointed to one of the windows.

Wasp nodded and, without a moment’s hesitation, lifted her arm and a golden streak of energy shot out from the palm of her hand. It shot from her hand incredibly quickly, almost too fast for Sherlock-Jamie and Hank to follow, but the result was as clear as day. The blast had no effect on the mould, the window or even the frame that held it up on the wall. The blast was, essentially, useless. But Sherlock-Jamie could hardly contain the smile on his face.

He said, “Correct me, at any point, if I am wrong. Though I doubt you’ll need to. Now, Wasp, those blasts of yours serves the function of neutralising any biotic, or living, thing, stiffening their muscles and slowing their reaction time. The blasts, however, have no effect on things that are not living, such things as steel or concrete. Mould is a living thing but a window is not. As such, your blast should have destroyed the mould, but left the window intact. The mould survived your attack, the same as the window. This suggests, surely, that the mould is fake.”

“Someone wants us to think this is an abandoned warehouse,” Yellowjacket said, in agreement. “And they have gone to great lengths in order to make us believe so. I do not know what for. They would not be able to hide from us for long.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you don’t use contractions?” Sherlock-Jamie queried, somewhat out of character. “I just – I notice these things. Detective.”

“All the time,” Yellowjacket and Wasp said at the same time, before laughing together.

“Fair enough. Moving on, I’ve noticed weaker spots in the floors and walls, almost as if they were hollow. This was a rushed job, this trick. They were not able to properly disguise whatever it is they wished to disguise. So, Yellowjacket, if you could break the ground over there,” he pointed to the opposite end of the warehouse, “and Wasp, if you could fit between those walls and find out what is behind them? I’ll check this one over here...”

If ever there were any doubt that Yellowjacket was a follower on the Avengers, as opposed to a leader, there could be none now. He relinquished any authority to the superior detective mind and did as he was told, without objection. Wasp did the same, though Hank heard her respond, “Of course I can fit through those walls, Jamie, what are you implying?” as she decreased to the size of her namesake.

In matters of battle, Yellowjacket and Wasp were instruments to be used in the hands of people like War Machine, Captain America and Ares. The only place that Yellowjacket could claim ownership was anything dealing with scientific matters, or engineering. This wasn’t called on too often, but when it was, he had performed serviceably.

As Yellowjacket approached the point Jamie had told him of, he wondered whether he was needed, actually needed, on a team of powerhouses. Ares was stronger than he was, Captain America was a better fighter than he was and, despite being able to grow in height, there was nothing he could do that could outmatch the firepower War Machine had in that incredible suit of armour he wore. Even in the battle today, he had proved little more than a distraction with his great size.

He and Wasp had always been on the outlier of the team, in terms of their responsibility. They loved their time with the group and they loved the Mansion, but Yellowjacket loved Wasp more than both. Now that they were married, now that Wasp’s company was receiving even more attention along with her movie deals and Yellowjacket was being asked to teach in various universities about artificial intelligence, could they spare any more time?

Or was this part of their life now behind them?

“Alright,” Yellowjacket called over, pushing such thoughts to the back of his mind, “I am in place. I am going to – well – rip the ground up now.”

“As am I,” Sherlock-Jamie called out, stamping his feet on the ground. Four other versions of himself appeared and each of them rolled up their sleeves.

The doctor grew in size, calling upon his powers and doubled in height. He felt himself become stronger, become taller and wider. It was a sensation he had strangely gotten used to. His clothes and costume grew with him, assuring he would never feel too tight in this form. He reached down, grabbing parts of the ground and pulled, gritting his teeth as he did so. He looked over and saw Sherlock-Jamie struggling as well, but eventually, the ground started to rise.

“Not pulling a muscle over there, are you—“ Yellowjacket started.

His voice was cut off by the sound of a massive explosion and a burst of red energy shooting out of the ground in front of Sherlock-Jamie. His body was vaporised and the dupe disappeared in that stunning flash of red light. Yellowjacket roared in denial at the top of his lungs and raced over to check if there were any remains of the body or any evidence of where the blast had come from. But there was no need to, for the monster that had caused it burst out of the ground, shooting up the tiles and dirt all around it.

It was half the size of Hank, but it looked horrific and ominous all the same.

Though it was clearly made of a dark metal, its body appeared malleable and elastic. It had two arms and two legs, though no hands or feet. In fact, where its right hand should have been was a massive gun, glowing bright red, the same colour the blast had been, while its left hand would have passed as a huge hammer. Its feet were like fins and as it rose to its full height, it stood on the tips of its legs, as opposed to any kind of heel or sole. And there was its face, nothing but a large, red orb, with smaller lines stretching down its neck and chest.

“Power at full capacity,” it said in a robotic voice, “ready to destroy.”

“I do not know if you know,” Yellowjacket snarled in response, “but robots have a really bad time against me. The last one ended up being broken into tiny pieces.”

“I am not a robot,” the monster replied, “I am the Fury.”

Yellowjacket charged forward once more, unrelenting in his assault, slamming both of his hands into the creature’s metallic hide. But it was as he had feared – despite having an incredibly tough exterior, each hit seemed to stretch its skin around his fist, like he was punching putty. As he threw another right hook, its left arm stretched around his arm, while the gun on his right focused on Yellowjacket’s face. It shot a streak of red energy and the Avenger only just managed to shrink down in size in time, escaping the Fury’s grasp as he did so.

But what he saw next shocked him.

There was another Fury. And then another. And another. One of the four grabbed his massive left leg, while the second jumped on his back, tackling him to the ground. One brought its foot forward and slammed its fin-like leg into the side of Yellowjacket’s face, while the final one prepared another beam of red energy. As he was down on the ground he saw a familiar piece of clothing – a hat.

It was Sherlock-Jamie’s. As he saw it, the first thought that came to mind was that there were multiple Fury’s, which could only indicate that it had, somehow, mimicked Jamie’s ability. He couldn’t let himself get hit by the blast, Yellowjacket knew. A monster that could duplicate itself and grow to the size of skyscrapers?

“Step away from him or I’ll shoot!” Came a woman’s booming voice.

Yellowjacket managed to look up and as he did, he saw a massive stream of blue energy blast the main Fury, the one preparing to blast him. The blue blast smashed against the creature’s head and it stumbled backward, gripping at its now electrocuted face. After that, one of the creatures tried to tackle him from the side, but Yellowjacket grew more than three times his original size, his head almost scraping the ceiling and turned his knee, smashing it against the Fury’s head.

“Actually, I think I’ll just shoot anyway!” Wasp growled, as she shot another streak of blue energy towards another Fury. It smashed against its chest so hard that it was knocked off the ground and Hank was granted a few moments of reprieve.

“So you boys found a big scary monster and I found a big scary gun,” Wasp said, nodding towards the huge weapon in her hands. There was a battery inside and several wires that attached to a bag on her back, which also looked battery powered. “Where’s Jamie?”

Yellowjacket was silent. He lifted his hand to reveal the deer-hunting hat.

Wasp bit her lip. “He was a duplicate, but he was still one of us. An Avenger. All the more reason to blow these things to hell.”

“Forget the Fury duplicates,” Yellowjacket told her. He then lifted his index and finger and pointed to the Fury in the middle of the group. “Aim for that one. See how its head looks different? There’s a crack in that orb. The others do not crack at all.”

“So Jamie’s dupe wasn’t the only one with an observant eye.”

Hank clenched his fists as he said, “When it comes to machines, I am particularly observant.”

“You’re cute when you’re angry.”

The male Avenger couldn’t help but smile at this. “What am I when I am not angry?”

His wife replied with a quick wink, “Really, really hot.”

With that, they both braced themselves and charged into battle as they had so many times before.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“Hey Ares,” Alex called out, noticing the Greek God helping with the clean up by eating the leftover food, as the party wound down.

“Yes?” Ares asked, making sure he had a firm grip on the bowl of fried chips, his eyes suggesting he was suspicious of Alex. “What is on your mind?”

“I have a question for you.”

“Ugh,” Ares groaned before pointing towards his helmet. “The children have been asking me all afternoon. Very well. If you must know, then, yes. They are real bits of hair, plucked from the tail of a Pegasus. They were a gift from Heracles, my half-brother.”

“Right. OK.” Alex then cleared his throat, before scratching the bottom of his chin. “I actually wasn’t going to ask about your helmet. But that’s. Y’know. That’s nice to know. What I actually wanted to ask you about was what you mentioned earlier. When you were telling that story.”

“What of it?” Ares said, this time not reaching for conclusions. Instead, he reached for more chips and threw them into the back of his mouth. He then revealed a bottle of tomato sauce in his other hand and sprayed it in his mouth as well.

Ignoring this, Alex pressed, “Did you mean it?”

“Of course I did,” Ares said, still chewing the chips. He then swallowed it down and wiped stray bits of salt and sauce from the corners of his lips. “I meant all of it.”

“If that’s the case,” Alex said, as the two of them walked through the backyard and out the side gate, so that they were on the front lawn, now. There were a few children left, waiting for their parents on the sidewalk as the host entertained them. “What do you love? What do you fight for? Or is it fighting that you love?”

“I enjoy fighting, of course,” Ares shrugged, handing the bowl of chips and sauce to a child. He took it gratefully and starting eating as if he were a vacuum cleaner. “But do you think that, just because I’m the God of War, that I enjoy war? Of course not. War is a deplorable thing. I fight for the end of all wars. But my love? I believe I love my son, Phobos. I fight for him.”

“What do you mean?”

“While there is no denying your world is dangerous, it is also ripe with opportunity. I love my son and wish him only the best. But there are those who would wish to take that from him. So I fight and continue to fight, so that those opportunities remain available. I fight so that he need never fight in his life. I fight so that there is no title ‘God of War’ for him to inherit from me. Now do you understand?”

“I think so,” Alex answered, meekly, as a small Peugeot appeared. A father stepped out of the car, waved at the host and picked up his daughter, leaving only two children. “But what about before you had your son?”

“At that time, I was a shell of who I am now. I could barely be counted a God. I was a thug. It was the love of my son that gave me purpose. But what of you, Alex? What is it that you love?”

Alex stumbled over his words, trying to use his hands to help him reach some form of answer. It didn’t help. “Well, that’s easy, I love – I mean – I don’t know. I’m not sure I can even say I love myself.”

“What about Crystal? How did your date with her go?”

“It – it was alright.”

The God then reached over and put a massive arm around Alex’s shoulders. They both watched as a Corolla picked up the final two children. They waved at the host and he thanked them graciously for having them at the party, while the host thanked them for coming. Alex noticed that the two children were the two who had fought over the idea of female heroes. The girl waved at Ares who waved with his free hand. The boy did so, as well.

“Once you find your love, it is then you will find your peace, for it is in love and peace that you find your purpose. Men and women who claim war their purpose know not the true meaning of their words: their purpose is peace. Or justice. Not war. There is no greater serenity, Alex, in knowing that you have a place in life and a reason to live. This purpose may not be known to you now, but I assure you, you will find it eventually. Do not doubt that for a second.”

As it was, however, those two siblings were not the last children who needed to be picked up.

A dark van, with massive tyres and a silver insignia with an eagle in a circle on the side door. As the van pulled up near them, Ares withdrew his arm and tensed.

“I smell a suit,” he said.

“Two, actually,” Alex responded, as the door opened. “Only difference is that one of them looks better than the other.”

Their arrival brought the truth of Alex’s situation crashing down on him. As much as he enjoyed spending time with the Avengers, he knew that that time was borrowed. Two agents stepped out, one a male and the other a female.

“Agent Coulson,” Alex said, shaking their hands. “Agent May.”

“Good to see you again, Agent Power. We have the evaluation form for your time at the Avengers,” the stern-faced Agent explained, “so I guess it’s time we headed back to the Mansion and start running the final tests on your peer review.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“You did a great job, Wasp,” Yellowjacket said, catching his breath.

Wasp shrugged, “I usually do.”

“Too bad it is only the Fixer,” Hank sighed, placing his hands on his hips. “I was hoping it would be someone with a higher pain tolerance. So what do we do with this guy? Think he has any information we need?”

“He doesn’t look like it. You know, if he doesn’t, we can leave him to Ares. I heard he figured out this new trick with a pickaxe, a battery and two elastic bands...”

“Oh, you mean the one that goes between—“ as soon as Yellowjacket pointed to his crotch, the man in the Fury armour spoke up.

“Ah, you’re trying to scare me,” he laughed. His half-metal, half-organic face formed a sneer, as he spat, “It isn’t going to work. You two are the nice Avengers. Besides, I’ll tell you everything I know. The big, bad boss told me to.”

“Damn. I really wanted to see what he was going to do with the battery,” Wasp said. “Fine. Tell us.”

“His name is Immortus, a Disciple of Kang. He is from the future and he would see this world burn, so that he may build the new one on its ashes. This Fury was merely a prototype, but it performed exactly as I had hoped. It mimicked the power of that filthy mutant and it would have mimicked yours, as well. Imagine it: a villain who can take the hero’s gifts. No one will be safe. The Fury will be the destroyer of heroes and the agent of this world’s apocalypse.”

Once called, it didn’t take the authorities long to pick up the Fixer and cleaned up the mess the Fury prototype had left, Yellowjacket and Wasp were left at the front of the warehouse. They held each other’s hands and he felt her clench tightly, as she usually would, just before she was about to say something. Yellowjacket looked down, just as she looked up. He smiled and said, “What are you thinking?”

“I was thinking that, in place of the duplicate,” she started, “that could’ve been either one of us in there. The blast could’ve taken you or me and it would have been over. Just like that. And that – that makes me—“

“Afraid,” Yellowjacket nodded, squeezing her hand. “I know. It makes me afraid too. It makes me think that, just like that, this future we have worked so hard to build for each other, could be gone. That everything we have worked for—“

Wasp nodded, agreeing, “Could be taken so easily.”

“It put things into perspective for me. This is a dangerous lifestyle, we have always known that. But it made me realise that—“ Yellowjacket started.

“The things I want in life are different now. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Yellowjacket. We promised each other that much. A long and beautiful life. And the goals I want to achieve, the things I want to do—“

“Do not involve the Avengers. Not anymore.”

It was then that they both stopped speaking and just looked into each other’s eyes. They didn’t need to speak. Not anymore, not at this point in their relationship. They just looked at each other. It was a brief moment that passed between them that was wholly silent. Yellowjacket saw Wasp bite the inside of her lip and she would have, no doubt, heard him sigh heavily. Though these non-verbal actions gave away their thoughts, the only thing that remained was that they continued to hold each other’s hands.

With that, they both walked off, leaving the authorities to their work.

NEXT: THE FINAL TEST!
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

02 Aug 2014, 16:24 #14

The following entry was submitted by XMATT for the July writing competition

“Good night, Cammi.” Alex heard a voice say, as he reached the front doors of the Avengers Mansion that night.

Coulson had distributed the Peer Review Forms that afternoon, right after the party. The instructions had been given on how to fill them out and how to return them and, after dinner, the team said they would do so. But Alex had other plans that night. After all, he had felt things had gone alright with Crystal on their first date and so the two of them had agreed to meet up a second time. While they were tired from the fight with the Scarlet Centurions that day, Alex and Crystal felt they would make the most of the Free Coffee Day at the Jolly Holly nearest the Mansion.

Crystal had returned early, though Alex had lingered behind. In doing so, he met up with a fellow Avenger.

Moon Knight approached, wearing a simple, white collared shirt and brown khaki pants. He had a large, muscular frame and a grizzly looking face. With large bags under those dark eyes of his and scruffy hair, it appeared as if the man had stepped out of bed, as opposed to stepping out of a taxi cab. But Alex knew better.

“You really don’t sleep, do you?” Alex asked, checking the time on his watch. It was half an hour before midnight.

The man’s voice was deep as he answered, “It isn’t a matter of do or don’t, but will and won’t. Would you sleep if it meant every time you dreamt you saw the faces of people – friends, soldiers – whose sleep is eternal?”

“I suppose not,” Alex sighed, somewhat surprised at the intensity. “Spector, then?”

“There is only Spector.”

“Right. That’s my bad.”

Speaking with Moon Knight was like navigating a minefield – but don’t tell him that. Alex had been part of the team for roughly thirty days now and though he didn’t know much about the vigilante hero known as Moon Knight, he knew enough. Jamie had told Alex that there were three personalities to the man, each completely different. One moment you could be speaking the haunted war veteran Marc Spector and the next, it could be the cab driver, Lockley, or even the ex-stock broker, Stephen Grant.

“You’re a SHIELD Agent, right?” Spector asked, as they walked through the automatic doors. The fresh, minty smell of the foyer met them, distinct from the smell outside. “I saw you arrive with that other one, Coulson, this afternoon. Have you ever fought in a war, Alex?”

“No. I haven’t.”

“Pray you never have to.”

Alex considered for a moment, as the approached the interior elevator. “But – I suppose – what we do here. This is a war, isn’t it? The war against crime, that whole idea.”

“Ha,” Marc chuckled, though there was little amusement in it. “No. This is not a war. Not even close. These people, apart from Steve, Rhodes and Ares, are not soldiers.”

“But, couldn’t you say we all have our own wars? Our personal, internal wars?”

Marc was silent for a brief moment, as he pressed one of the buttons on the elevator. It flashed red for a moment and then there was the noise of the tube descending the building, coming towards them. He then shrugged and said, “Yes. I suppose that’s fair. Wars are fought on all fronts, not just a battlefield. And your war, Alex? It seems like your greatest battle is trying to win Crystal’s affection. How was that date of yours with her the other day?”

“It – it was alright.”

“And you went out with her again tonight, I presume?” Marc asked, as the elevator doors slid open and they both stepped inside.

“Yeah. This one went alright, too...”

“You’re lying,” Marc cut him off. The older man then turned on the younger and folded his arms. “You don’t have to lie to me.”

“Why?” Alex questioned. “What makes you different from the rest of them?”

“For one,” Marc told him, lifting his index finger, “lying is a crime worthy of vengeance, in many cases. So you couldn’t lie to me if you tried. Second, I’m different from the rest of them because I understand, Alex. More than Hank. More than Steve. More than Jamie. Those dates. They didn’t go well, did they?”

But Alex was confident. “They were alright. I’m not going to say they were the best dates ever, but we enjoyed each other’s company, y’know? It wasn’t horrible. I mean, my tongue turned to lead a few times and even though my powers are to make things weightless, I couldn’t fix that particular problem. And, admittedly, I forgot everything interesting in the world. Ever. Like, y’know, when someone asks you what your favourite song is? And all of a sudden you forget every song you’ve ever heard? That’s what it’s like when I try to talk to her. Nothing – and then everything all at once. But she didn’t seem to mind. She’s just – just so—“

“So much better than you.”

“Well. I mean, that’s not how I would put it exactly. But. Yeah. She is.”

“See? I understand. It’s how I feel about Cammi. All the time.”

“She seems nice.”

“She is. And I don’t deserve her,” Marc said, as the doors opened. He strode out and Alex was forced to follow after his large steps. “I don’t deserve her, but for some reason, she seems to have settled on me. I’m so lucky. She’s one of the few people in this world who truly knows me and is not afraid of me, not scared away, when she has every reason to be.”

They walked into the living quarters, where most of the rooms were situated. They passed a large set of windows overlooking the city and Marc paused for a moment, staring outside at the buildings and the streets. But his eyes seemed most intent on the moon, almost at full size. It was the end of the month, after all, a few days before summer.

“What about the Avengers?” Alex asked, offering a smile. “They like you. And unless I’ve been missing something this past month, they aren’t exactly running for the hills. Although there aren’t many hills around here...”

Still looking at the moon, Marc responded, “They like me now. They are comfortable with me now. But there was a time when they weren’t. When they were afraid of what I might become. And do.”

“Why?”

“My therapist, incorrectly, thinks I have dissociative identity disorder. My doctor, incorrectly, thinks I’m an insomniac with post-traumatic stress disorder. And I’m not even sure I believe in the Egyptian God I’m the Avatar of Vengeance for. Do you know what that’s like, Alex? To be unable to identify with anything –even yourself? It made the God’s thirst for vengeance take over, once. You weren’t here when it happened. It was one of the first missions we went on as a team. As Avengers. I was losing control and the team was so scared of me, they locked me up in this Mansion. Furious, I broke free and almost killed War Machine.”

“Wow. I’m impressed. I mean, I know I should be like ‘What? That’s crazy scary’, but really – yeah. Impressed.”

“Looking back, I’m not. Like I said, the vengeance consumed me,” Marc told him, finally turning around. Alex had never seen him quite so haunted as in that moment. “I must always be in control. Those were ... dark times.”

“Well, look. It got better, right? I mean, the Avengers are cool with you now. And you’ve got Cammi, too, which is great!”

“Relatively better. But still dark. Being an Avenger, an Avatar of Vengeance for Khonshu, it is difficult remembering the connections. Yes. I believe Cammi is my connection – my anchor. There are many things I would die for. But it is her that I would live for.”

This struck Alex the most. He bit the side of his lip and folded his arms. The thought of Crystal flashed in his mind and he wondered why. There was something resolute about the way Marc spoke. It’s what set him so far apart from the other two personalities he seemed to refuse to admit existed. But it was difficult to not notice it. He was the most damaged of them all, even of the Avengers, for he had lived through so much. And lost even more.

“Do you think that’s enough?” Alex asked, earnestly. “To live not for yourself, but entirely for someone else?”

But if Alex was expecting an answer from Marc, he wasn’t going to get one. Because that tone he spoke in was gone with his next line, immediately tipping Alex off that Marc was no longer in the body. Someone else had stepped in.

“Alex? What was that?” The voice carried the air of a more modest, simpler man. He was scratching at his eyes, as if he had woken from a deep sleep. He then cleared his throat and added, “I remember what we were talking about, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch your meaning. I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be,” Alex said, smiling. He then patted the man he knew as Lockley on the shoulder.

“Wait!” Lockley said, darting back around to face the street. As he did, Alex had heard it: sirens. And the streets were flashing with red and blue, chasing a fast moving vehicle. “Do you sense it? Come, we have to stop that van!”

And without a moment’s delay, whether it was Spector, or Lockley, or even Grant it didn’t matter – for now, the man was Moon Knight. And Alex was Zero-G. It was his last night as an Avenger – it would be a betrayal to every teenager’s hopes to spend it doing something as mundane as sleeping.

xMatt Presents...
The Outstanding Avengers #44
In Peer Review – Part Three of Three: “Last Night

“They went left!” Zero-G called out from behind the racing Moon Knight.

But it seemed for naught, as Moon Knight had already changed his course. He was leaping from rooftop to rooftop, or running along fire escapes. They had moved away from the sky scrapers now and into smaller, apartment blocks. If he couldn’t make the jump to a rooftop, he would extend that impressive scythe of his and catch onto a window sill or a ledge and continue on. If Zero-G didn’t know any better, he’d think the man a machine.

“I know,” Moon Knight called out, with any indication of exhaustion. “I can feel it. He’s a criminal. And this is not his first offense. It’s strange ... I don’t think I’ve ever felt a sensation like this before. But it feels as if I can follow the crime. Khonshu is spurning me on...”

“Where’d you get that athletic skill?” Zero-G questioned, as he flew over a building and crossed a corner. The van wasn’t far now. “I thought you were cab driver, Lockley!”

“Yes, I was. I am,” he responded as his powerful legs took the impact of a landing. His cape fluttered behind him as he continued to run. “But I am no ordinary man. Being the Avatar of Vengeance isn’t always convenient, but it does have its perks.”

It was immediately noticeable that Zero-G was talking to someone other than Spector. For some reason, the teenager just couldn’t imagine Spector saying ‘perks’ the way Lockley did. Because of this, Alex took the chance to ask a question he probably never would have dared asked Spector. Because when a guy like him was holding a scythe, there was very little you’d want to ask him in the first place.

“Lockley, you – and I hope I’m not offending you or anything – but you don’t have a partner – a girlfriend – or anything, do you?”

Zero-G heard laughter from beneath the white mask Moon Knight wore. “Why, are you offering?”

“It’s just that – well – Spector has Cammi and I’m pretty sure Grant mentioned something about a family. And if you don’t have anyone how does that – you know, how does the split thing – work?”

“It doesn’t,” he answered, glumly. “I can feel what they feel. It is different for me than the others, I think. I know what they think and feel and I remember what happens between them. And so their love for their partners, the pain they feel when they miss them – everything. I can feel it. But I can’t – I can’t relate to it, if that makes sense.”

“It kind of does.”

“It makes you an outsider, looking in. There’s nothing easy about being lonely. There’s even less easy about being alone.”

Moon Knight jumped across once more and this time landed, intentionally, on the road. The van was on the opposite end of the street and was beginning to swerve. He readied his scythe and stood firmly in front the oncoming van as the headlights began to illuminate the street he was standing on. He looked like a Grim Reaper, except he had bleached his black robes and turned them deathly white.

“So how do you manage it? Deal with it?”

“Like this,” he said, before he charged straight towards the van.

Zero-G had only arrived in time and was finally able to, figuratively, lock on to the van. He made it weightless and, though it was travelling incredibly fast, the front end lifted up off the ground, leaving the roof vulnerable. Moon Knight then let out a guttural roar as he leapt through the air, brandishing his scythe with expert precision. There was a slashing noise, metal tearing through metal, and Zero-G was amazed to see the scythe cut straight through the roof of the van.

The teen hero returned the weight to the vehicle and let it crash onto the street, skidding on its side. Moon Knight landed gracefully on the pavement, holding his scythe in his right hand. He then turned his neck so that he was facing the van and, without a moment’s hesitation, ran straight back towards it, swirling the scythe.

The backdoors flew open and a man leapt out, roaring at the top of his lungs. At first, Zero-G thought him mad to go running headfirst into Moon Knight. But it was when a blast of red energy emerged from his body that Zero-G realised that he was armed – and dangerous. The red blast caught Moon Knight by surprise as well and, even though he tried to leap out of the way, it struck him on his left thigh and his flip turned into a painful crash on the side of the road.

The police cars pulled up just over a hundred metres away, their sirens still flashing. They recognised Moon Knights armour and were staying well clear of the gun the criminal had.

“You like that?” He roared, in a distinct, Manchester-like accent. The only reason Zero-G knew that was because his favourite football club was Manchester United and one of his favourite bands was the Smiths. “There’s plenty more where that came from!”

He then blasted again, tearing up the ground and destroying the pavement. Moon Knight was caught once more, forcing him into the side of a building. Zero-G leapt into action, using his powers to increase the weight of the gun in the madman’s hands. It fell to the ground and the red blast exploded upwards, shooting him off his feet. As this happened, Zero-G had a better chance to examine the man’s face. He was older, with greying hair and a toothbrush moustache, the kind that wouldn’t look out of place in a Charlie Chaplin video.

But there was a distinct scar that ran from the bottom left of his chin all the way to the top right eyebrow.

“You’ll pay for that kid!” He snarled. He then revealed another weapon, a handgun, and shot out another burst of red energy.

This was easily avoided, but it was a ruse.

The man was already running away, the van now totalled and un-drivable. Zero-G spared a look at Moon Knight, who was only now beginning to get up off the ground. Noticing, Moon Knight waved him off. Zero-G turned on the man and gave chase, propelling himself forward with his gravity-based powers.

What happened next, though, was something Zero-G was most certainly not expecting. The massive rifle had been holding – and the pistol – began to move. It was as if they were made of some kind of goo, or elastic skin, stretching around the wrists of his hands and becoming one with it. Soon enough, his hands were gone and were now the guns themselves.

“That’s cool. But – like – totally disgusting. Gives a whole new meaning to handgun.”

He continued to run, shooting the beams of red energy from his new weapons. After having seen what the blasts had done to Moon Knight, Zero-G avoided them like the plague. But just as he was about to round a corner, Zero-G saw a yellow and black vehicle race out and block off the exit. The man ran straight into the side of the car and collapsed to the ground, with both of his guns falling to the side. He tried getting up, but as he did, the passenger door flew open and caught him on the side of the face.

“Sorry, mon ami,” a Frenchman said, exiting the cab, “but I’m afraid your meter is up.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Sleep at the Avengers Mansion, it seemed, was hard to come by.

“What’s on your mind, Crystal?”

James Rhodes was looking at a massive white board, one they had borrowed from a conference room on the lower levels. On it was neat hand writing, curved and tidy, with barely any smudges. Here and there, Crystal could make out a few graphs and images, probably drawn by the same person who had written so neatly on the board.

“That’s really pretty,” Crystal said, admiring the work. She had never seen Earth English written in such a way. “Who did it? It looks like art.”

“It was me,” James chuckled, turning to face her. “Most people are as surprised as you are. Just because I’m a guy, doesn’t mean I can’t write neat. But it’s late. I know you and Alex spent time together tonight, but I imagined you’d be in bed by now.”

“It is difficult to sleep at a time like this.”

“I know what you mean,” James answered. “I heard from a few pilots back at my old stomping grounds just after Coulson got here. They wanted me to look over some of their notes and reports and this is the only way I can think. I spend all day looking at a computer through a helmet; sometimes I need some clear writing. Guess that makes me old. What about you?”

Crystal shrugged, “I’m not old.”

This brought a smile to the man’s face. “No, I mean, why is it a difficult time to sleep for you?”

“Oh. Well, it’s why I’ve come to talk to you. I’ve just received a message from one of my cousins, back in Attilan. They’re having trouble with their transmissions, which made it difficult to get to me. But I’ve heard news...”

“Go on.”

“My planet is at war.”

Her words hung in the air between them. It was enough to make them both sit. James felt his jaw clench and his fists tighten as he saw Crystal let out a heaving sigh and turn away. She sniffed once and then righted herself. James leaned back in his seat, looking for the right words to say. Considering they were both Avengers, they had seen their fair share of battle. But war meant something else entirely. It meant loved ones were imperilled, it meant homes could be lost and values forgotten.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Crystal,” James managed to say. “But I remember seeing their forces when they fought back the Celestials. They had some seriously crazy firepower. And you’ve said it before, anyone would have to be crazy to attack the Inhumans.”

“Attilan is strong. But we are not the only military minded planet in this universe. It was only a matter of time before someone else made a bigger gun or a stronger bomb. And from the message ... it sounded bad.”

“You want to go back to them.”

“I haven’t seen them in years. This is difficult for me. And I wouldn’t ask unless it was important.”

“I understand. You want to be with the people you love in their time of need. You don’t know if you’ll ever get the chance to see them again, to tell them how important they are. You don’t need my permission to leave, Crystal. You’re the Princess, here,” James added with a chuckle.

Crystal hesitated for a moment. “It’s just that – you and the others have been so kind to me. I didn’t want to leave without making sure it was the right decision.”

“I can’t tell if you it’s right or wrong. But, look. If that’s where your heart is...”

“But then there’s Alex.”

“He’ll understand. At least, I think he will.”

“I don’t know. And I’m not sure if that’s fair on him. Because I’m not sure I feel the same way about him. I can’t leave him thinking that there might be a chance I’ll return ... because I don’t know if I will.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Zero-G watched as Moon Knight pilfered the van.

“This is some expensive looking stuff. It’d look great on my wall,” Moon Knight said. “That is, of course, if they weren’t crazy powerful guns of mass destruction.”

So he had changed again. Gone was the humble, single Lockley, replaced instead by the ex-stock broker, Stephen Grant. This Moon Knight was making sure to move the weapons out of the van and into the police trucks with the utmost care. But he had lifted up his mask now and the awe in his features was clear to see, despite the dark street. The scythe he used was to the side as he examined a chest piece with a red circle in the middle of it.

“Do we know anything about the guy?” Moon Knight asked, as he put the chest piece into a crate and then gave it to another police man. “Or what he wanted?”

“His name’s Jim Jaspers,” one of the officers said, checking the tablet he held in his hands. “He’s a tech smuggler, among other things. We’ve caught him up on robbery, once or twice. But he has friends in dark places, which makes him hard to keep in prison for too long. He’s clearly important to somebody. These items we’re indexing are incredibly similar to the ones you Avengers found earlier today. Yellowjacket and Wasp. Gee, she’s great, isn’t she?”

The two Avengers responded at the same time, but with different answers.

“Not as great as my wife,” Moon Knight said.

“Not as great as Crystal,” was Zero-G’s answer.

“Imagine,” Moon Knight chuckled, “if a mad man such as this could get access to weapons as powerful as those. In the wrong hands, this city could be in a lot of danger. It’s a good thing you stopped him, Frenchie!”

The taxi driver bowed his head and responded, “Pas de soucis. It was a pleasure.”

“You can’t stop me!” That booming, Manchester voice cried out, still struggling against the authorities. The guns had been removed from his hands – courtesy of Moon Knight’s scythe. He hadn’t actually cut them off, but the threat of it seemed enough for the guns to fall out of his skin. “You can’t stop any of this! This world is over! And I will have my vengeance!”

“Mad,” the officer grunted, shaking his head. “Why can’t these bad guys just go into the car? Seriously, they only make it worse for themselves.”

“Our work is done here, Officer,” Moon Knight, said handing over the last crate of equipment. “I’m sure you’ll know what to do with this. If you don’t then feel free to send it to the Mansion. Our resident scientist will have so much fun with it, I’m sure.”

“Ha,” Zero-G chortled, “you send it over and you’ll see one of those guns hanging from the walls, I assure you. This one has an eye for expensive decorations.”

But Moon Knight seemed unsatisfied with this answer. He shook his head and said to them both, “It’s my wife the expensive eye. I’m the one with the empty wallet because of it. And now with Junior, we have to get only the best.”

“You’ve got a family?” The Officer asked, as he put the tablet away. The last crate had been packed and the truck was ready to go. “How do you find the time for that in between all of the – well – beating down super villains? It’s hard enough for us guys and girls back at the station to keep steady relationships...”

It was then that the tone shifted. Moon Knight’s smile slowly faded and his shoulders began to hunch. He placed his hands on his hips and said, “Well. I’m not going to say it’s easy.”

“Ah,” the Officer said, nodding in realisation. “Sorry I asked. I’ll leave you two Avengers to it. Uh, Frenchie, was it? We’re going to need you for a statement.”

“Want a lift?” Zero-G asked, as he begun to float off the ground, watching the authorities leave.

“Sure.”

“Have you seen them, lately?” Zero-G asked, as he made Moon Knight weightless and dragged him along for the ride. “Marlene and Junior?”

“No,” Moon Knight said, as the two of them began to float back to the Mansion. “I want to. But it’s – it’s difficult. I never know when I might be Lockley. Or Spector. Or fighting Bushman, or whatever.”

“Wait, you have a bad guy called Bushman?”

“Yes. What of it?”

“Nothing. It’s a weird name.”

“No weirder than Moon Knight. Or Zero-G. I mean, seriously, kid?”

“That’s fair. So how do you deal with being away from them for so long? Like you said, it couldn’t be easy. And, like, it’s your kid.”

“I hold on to what I have of them. The memories. The experiences I’ve shared. They know I’m busy and they don’t hold it against me. I hope. But the thing is they know I care for them. But sometimes, duty calls people away from each other. It’s love that brings them back. I don’t know about the others, but they’re why I’m doing this. They keep me ... going. They give me a reason, more than anything else. A purpose.”

“Do you ever – y’know – regret it? The powers? And the whole Avatar thing?”

“Of course I do,” Moon Knight answered. “I regret a lot of things in my life, I think. I lost my job as a stock broker because I made bad decisions. I lost a lot of friends because of it, too. And I regret ever stumbling upon that Egyptian artefact that made me this way. But there’s no point lamenting these things. It happened and bad things, unfortunate things, will continue to happen. You can either deal with it, or you can’t. For my family, for myself, for everyone I care about – I’ve decided to deal with it.”

Having a family seemed to have had a huge impact on Grant and he spoke about his son in a detached way, focusing more on his wife, Marlene. But if Spector had the most haunted of the voices, and Lockley had the brightest, Grant most certainly sounded as if he had the saddest.

“I don’t know if I could do that,” Zero-G sighed. “I like to think I’m a strong person, but really, growing up in a SHIELD facility doesn’t exactly make you the most caring person in the world. Being an apprentice to Nick Fury makes that even more difficult.”

“When the time comes, I’m sure you’ll make the right decision, kid,” he said, eventually. “And even if you don’t, you have the rest of your life to make up for it. You’re only young. If there’s a right time to make mistakes, it’s when you’re young.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

They both saw red.

Crystal was standing on the rooftop, her arms behind her back. She was wearing a simple blue dress, with a long, red shawl thrown over her shoulders. There was a soft, timid smile on her pale face. Moon Knight turned to Alex, bowed his head in thanks and the young hero let him go. He waved to Crystal and then descended the elevator without another word. Moon Knight had his own relationship troubles to deal with – he didn’t need Alex’s as well.

She smiled at him, still clutching at the shawl tightly.

“They look beautiful, don’t they?” Crystal said, looking upward.

To him, they were just stars. But for her, they must have looked like home. He joined her side and looked up, atop the Avengers Mansion, their ceiling the night sky, while the moon, bulbous and luminescent, as if overflowing with light, was one of their few sources of illumination. It was difficult to spot it out at times, along with the stars, for the fog and clouds smothered them in their misty embrace.

“What’s it like up there?” Alex couldn’t help but ask, turning to face her.

She didn’t return his gaze. Instead, she seemed entirely occupied with looking at the sky above. It was stiff competition, Alex figured. How could he compare with the beautifully infinity above?

Crystal said, “It is like needing to throw up in a tight elevator on top of the greatest height you could ever imagine.”

“Oh. Right. I – I wasn’t expecting that.”

Her voice was full of reverence, carrying an otherworldly softness to it. “But once you can move beyond the sickness, the closed spaces? That’s when you can truly experience it.”

“I suppose that’s what I want to hear about. It feels like everyone this team has been to space except for me. The closest I’ve gotten was that movie with Sandra Bullock.”

“The thing about space isn’t so much about what you see, or even how you feel weightless. It’s about what you experience.”

Alex, though he had never flown out, for some reason, knew exactly what she was talking about. He could relate to the idea that experiences were the point from which things could be measured, not sensory images or tangible things one could see or touch. Beauty was subjective, senses were limited – but experiences could prove transcendental. For Alex, Crystal was proof of that: while it was unfair to compare her to Jenna van Dyne, or anyone for that matter, Alex wasn’t going to claim she was the prettiest woman in the world, even worlds. But to him, she was gorgeous.

But it was being with her that truly brought him joy.

“I imagine,” Crystal continued, “that it is different for everyone. A very personal experience, the kind that puts everything else into perspective.”

“What do you experience up there?”

“A kind of ... fullness. As if I’m complete. It’s such a vast, humbling view, I know, a blackness that stretches on forever. It would be so easy to lose yourself in it, to lose sight of your significance. But for me, it reminds me that I’m part of something. Something larger and important.”

“That’s exactly how I feel when I’m with you.”

Crystal recoiled as he said it. It was a minor action, but due to their proximity it was impossible to hide. Alex reached over, wanting to take her hand and, for the briefest moment; Alex felt a fear greater than any he had felt in his life. Holding hands was simple. He’d done it so many times before: but because it was someone he cared about, truly cared about, it made all the difference in the universe. And so, when Crystal moved her hand away from his, it hurt even more.

“Alex, I really enjoy the time we’ve spent together,” she said, “but do you really feel all these things for me?”

“Well. Yeah. Yeah, I think I do. Don’t you?”

“I’m. I’m not sure. You’re a very nice person and very funny. I also appreciate your interests and your kindness, but—“

“But what?”

Everything else in the world was gone. The buildings had disappeared, the stars were forgotten and the wind was insignificant. All that he saw and knew was standing right in front of him. And the fear that he was going to lose it loomed threateningly.

“Our worlds have different customs, especially when it comes to – this – but one thing we share is the idea of attraction. And I – I’m not sure I feel that way about you. Attracted to you.”

“But our dates they – they were alright. Weren’t they?”

There must have been something he’d done. Something that must have turned her away from him, offended her, or made her feel bad. He couldn’t place it. He tried thinking about it, but there was nothing there, nothing to hold on to. There was just this moment. A moment that was rapidly pushing him under and holding him there.

“They were alright, but I don’t know if that’s enough. I don’t know if we can build a relationship out of it. Alex, I think it’s better we end this – whatever it is – now, before you start thinking of it as something else. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.”

“I don’t understand: why’d you come out with me tonight if you didn’t like me?”

Crystal hesitated for a moment. She tugged at the red sheet over her shoulders and then said, “I wasn’t sure how I felt. But I know now.”

“Is there something I can do to fix this? Is there something—“

“I’m not sure that there is,” Crystal responded, softly. Her lower lip was beginning to tremble, her eyes beginning to shimmer. “I’m not sure that I want there to be.”

“Then I can’t be around you,” Alex said, forcefully. “I can’t live without you but I – I can’t be with you, if that’s the case. I can’t live in this place and feel all of these things and see you and know that I have no chance and that all of these things I’m feeling are for nothing.”

“Alex, please—“

“No. And you y’know what? Forget the peer review. Forget Coulson and forget the Avengers. I don’t belong here. I think I’ve known that the whole time. I think I’ve known that this was a club that I had no place in being. I don’t fit in. I don’t get the jokes or the fighting or anything like that. I’m a distraction to the rest of the team. And I’m not – I’m not good enough. For you or for the Avengers.”

“None of that is true! We want to you on the team! Don’t you see? The Avengers, we, don’t think any of that about you—“

“But it’s what I think of myself!”

Jamie Madrox’s words, Ares’ words, Moon Knight’s words, they were all making their way into his mind, now. Crystal was disappearing. All he could hear was ‘purpose’ and ‘love’ and ‘life’. And all Alex knew, in that moment was that he had none of those things. Not right now. Everyone had claimed he would find it, eventually, but where was the solace in that? What good was it that he would get something eventually when he wanted it now? Jamie had said this was worth it.

Alex disagreed.

Fighting for what you love is easy when you have something to love. Alex couldn’t even love himself. Calling on his powers, Alex made himself weightless but his heart was so heavy he felt as if he were exerting more and more of his powers just to move. He started floating through the air, turning away from Crystal. She whispered something, but he couldn’t hear her. Didn’t want to hear her. All he wanted to hear were the waves of his sadness. It reminded him he was human. The pain was something he could hold onto – especially now that he couldn’t hold on to Crystal. Lockley had said there’s nothing easy with being lonely and there’s even less easy with being alone.

Alex had never had it easy. Why should that change now?

And so, like Perseus and Ariadne on the beaches of Naxos, he left her ... and the Avengers.



END.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

02 Sep 2014, 07:34 #15

The following entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the August 2014 writing competition

Heavy Metal - Issue # 7 - Haunted

(I own nothing that isn`t mine.)

*~*~*

"Dude, you keep doing that you are going to kill brain cells."

I picked my forehead up from the kitchen table. Tinker and Amy were seated at the tiny round table, their breakfast pretty much untouched, as was mine. They both looked like they had been up half the night trying to counteract the failures in communications in a certain suit of armor.

"I have written four words. Four." I held up four fingers for emphasis."Nano-To-Macro begins in an hour. Four words. No sleep. Stale Pop-Tart. My life truly sucks." My brow met the table yet again. Yes, it was starting to hurt. I blindly pawed around until I found the stale cherry Pop-Tart then pulled it under my arm to my mouth.

"You`re lucky you have four words written. Do you realize that the loss of communication with base last night could have resulted in you being dead?"

"You`re 'base' now? When did that happen?" I asked groggily. "I thought you were just my buddies who were helping me work out the kinks."

"Yes we`re base! We`re your emergency back-up for when Metal screws up," she argued.

Amy was nagging again. Nagging still was more appropriate, I guess. I chewed my breakfast pastry and nodded. She had been nagging since I appeared on the dorm roof last night, looking a little worse for wear while New Kids on the Block blared out of my helm. That stuff, that 80`s music, was not conducive to proper thinking, or any kind of thinking. My mind, generally a pretty sharp thing, was dull as a doughnut.

"I`d like a doughnut," I said, sitting up straight in my chair. "And something to get me moving." The idea of possibly running into Snow was the highlight of the morning hours so far. My friends blinked at me as if I`d just said I wanted to kiss a warthog.

"How about I kick you in the ass? Will that get your blood moving?" Amy asked, the lack of sleep making her slightly cranky. Crankier.

"Why don`t you get off the guy`s ass?"Tinker sounded off, his long arms folded over the same wrinkled shirt he had worn yesterday. We were all in what we had been wearing last night. Well, I had peeled Metal`s under-sheathe off in favor of shorts and a tee, but the underwear? Yep. Still yesterdays. "He saved lives last night! That alone should get him a PMS-free zone for the day."

Oh man. That was the wrong thing to say. I knew it the moment the words left his mouth. Amy slowly rose from her seat, dark bags under her almond-shaped eyes, her pigtails askew, her clothes rumpled and stained with what looked like grape jelly. I thought to interject but opted to keep my mouth shut. I recalled Dad saying once that it was wisest to let the woman vent then try to make your point because, more times than not, a woman can outtalk a man. Unless that man was him, and even he conceded to Mom when she was venting. Since Dad knew more about women than I, or half the male population, ever would, I figured this time it would be prudent to follow his advice.

The woman came unglued. Tinker, who towered over Amy by a good foot, was humped-up in his seat, his thin shoulders up around his ears, as Amy tore him not just a lone new one but several. When she stormed out of our dorm room I stared at Tinker. I think he was shell-shocked. The explosion had been pretty bad.

"So, yeah, uhm, how about a doughnut?" I offered after two full minutes of utter silence.

"Yeah, that`ll be good. Damn." He and I gingerly stood up, leaving the mess on the table. We grabbed our backpacks then headed out, still stinging from the feminine twenty-three kiloton bomb being dropped on our heads. "You know that PMS comment was just a joke, right?"

We were at the corner, waiting for the traffic light to change. "I don`t think Amy knew it was a joke," I called over my shoulder as I stepped off the curb. We jogged across East Del Mar Avenue, Tinker a few steps behind me. The Jumpy Aardvark beckoned. I picked up the pace as Tinker was shuffling his big feet.

"She should have. I mean, it was said in a joking manner. I don`t get chicks at all. Oh! We`re on for this Friday night."

I paused with my hand on the Aardvark`s doorknob, the smell of coffee leaking out from between the door and the jamb. My nervous system kicked up a notch for some reason.

"Friday night?"

Tinker nodded, his dark eyebrows beetling in confusion. "Yeah, Friday night. Tell me you don`t remember. Shit, you don`t. Alex, the double date? I got you all lined up with Linda`s friend, Doreen. Doreen is friendly." He drove his elbow into my ribs.

Tinker was so proud of himself. The thought of going out with Clingy Linda and her buddy Friendly Doreen was about as appealing as soaking your feet in a piranha-filled tank. I smiled anyway, hoping my false face was a good one.

"Job well done, my friend. I give you my claps." Ugh. The lie tasted really bad.

"Hey, you and me are roomies. It`s up to me to make sure you shuck that virginal state as soon as possible. Doreen will take care of you, my man. She`s—"

"Friendly, yeah, I`ve heard," I mumbled then pushed into the Aardvark. The smells of simmering coffee, fresh beans, and stubby candles on the counter instantly put me in a good mood. I scanned the two servers working but neither were Snow. I felt kind of deflated but the guy was probably sleeping. He had worked, then been swept up into some crazy shit last night. If I were smart, which I`m touted as being, I`d be sleeping too. Or at least wrapping up this paper. I ordered my usual caramel macchiato then padded off to find a table to work at. Tinker followed when his coffee was done.

"Okay," I said as I yanked my laptop out of my Caltech duffel," I am going to do this paper. I am not doing anything else."

"No way you get a paper done in an hour." Tinker yawned, his face settling back into a worried expression.

"Want to bet?" I asked, sipped my caramel macchiato, then hacked into the Stark Resilient mainframe. It wasn`t much of a hack. Dad had given me the password when I moved out to California just in case I ever needed to access the database for homework. Well, I was accessing alright. It took no time to tug up a paper that my father had written about the Nano-To-Macro process. Yeah. So simple. A fast cut, copy, and paste and I would tug in a certain A. Just a click or two.

"Hey, you think I should apologize to Amy?"

I looked up from the elaborate words my father had written a few years ago for a speech he had given at his alma mater.

"Yeah, probably. She was really offended."

Tinker nodded, his eyes growing melancholy as he sipped his get-up-and-go, as Mom called coffee. My sight returned to the paper on my monitor. Yep. Such an easy out. Just copy and paste and change the name at the top from Anthony Edward to Alexander Steven. The professor would never know. Dad would never know. No one would know. Except me.

*~*~*

"I just need another day," I begged. My professor for Nano-To-Macro was not pleased. The rest of the class had filed out, after handing in their papers, the suck-ups. "I was sick last night. Just another twenty-four hours. I promise I`ll have it ready and on your desk when you walk in, Sir."

Professor Dewberry studied me over the top of his glasses. I felt pretty small under his gaze.

"Just because you`re the son of Tony Stark . . ."

I kind of zoned out for a few minutes. If I had a dollar for every speech I had ever gotten from any educator or person in authority that started with that line I`d be rich. Richer. You get the point.

"No later than tomorrow. Do you hear me, Mister Stark?"

"Yes, Sir, I do. Thanks, I really appreciate it," I gushed, threw my backpack onto my shoulder then raced from the computer lab. Okay, so, no messing around. I had a light day today. Just Multivariable Analysis, which was a graduate math class, but was pretty much remedial math for me. We were covering fundamental theorems of multi-variable Calculus. You know, Green`s Theorem, Stoke`s Theorem, Divergence Theorem? Easy stuff like that. That class I could nap through and still tug a ninety-right.

After math it was a free period. I`d sit my ass down in the library and crank out the paper for Dewberry. That plan sounded good. As I made my way from the computer technology building I tried to find the number for Utopia. It wasn`t listed in any California phone book. Huh. Well, I guess that stands to reason. After all, the mutants living out in the coast don`t want telemarketer`s calling them during dinner. When I entered the mathematics building I found my class, took my seat, smiled at the Professor, a tall woman with frizzy brown hair, tiny black eyes, and a pointy nose that twitched constantly. She reminded me of a mouse. So I called her Professor Mouse, although not to her face. To her face she was Professor Murphy, and she was pretty cool. I laid my tablet on the top of my desk, nodding at the things she was saying while pulling up some old, old files from back in the day.

I had kind of lost touch with the rest of the Defenders, aside from Hunter, of course. There had been a time that the mutants had split into two groups. Scott had stayed out here on the West Coast, and Logan had gone back to Xavier`s in upstate New York. Shit kind of took a bad turn for Scott, and according to Mom, the one man she never thought would turn to the dark side had. I frowned at my own lack of sympathy. I wondered how Adam had handled all of that. I should have made the effort to get in touch.

I still remembered how impressive Adam Summers had been back then. Huge mo-fo he was, with white hair and blazing blue eyes like his father, Nathan. He also had the same powers that Cable had. Kickass guy, to be honest. The old file flickered to life, the download slow due to the crappy student Wi-Fi. Chalk up another victory for the Stark archives. I glanced around. Everyone was working on theorems, so I lowered my head, slid my headset on, slapped on a studious face, then watched a conversation that Scott Summers had taped in his office close to five years ago. Why he had taped it no one knows. How my father had gotten access to such secretive mutant affairs, I did not want to know.

“Was it that difficult a question?” Summers asked his daughter Rachel over a cup of coffee.

“Not really difficult, you just caught me off guard is all,” Rachel replied, "I wasn't expecting student evaluations until after finals and, well, his is the most . . .trying?”

“These three are required to be more closely monitored,” Scott said. The man looked glum.

“And why is that?” Rachel wanted to know. “Never mind," she snapped throwing a hand up." I'm tired of pabulum. We're up to Adam. Adam is quickly becoming James Dean with telekinesis.”

"Meaning?” the headmaster asked.

“You know how Adam is. He is the consummate loner. His resentment of Nathan is a simmering cauldron that's going to blow someday. Frankly I'm not sure how much longer you'll be able to keep a rein on him. His mind is closed off to me. That tells me his telepathy is a secondary mutation and that he already has enough knowledge to shutter any mental probe out effectively. He's brimming with resentment and suppressed animosity. He has the typical sixteen year old male mindset with a potential for becoming as powerful as his father. We all know that Adam has no T.O. virus chawing up his mental powers to keep it in control. Need I remind you of the fiasco when Nathan's powers grew so exponentially he ended up having Wilson lobotomize him? Adam is on the verge of something that, unless we get him to release some of his hostility in an acceptable manner, will make Providence look like a Sunday afternoon tea party. Oh, did I mention he's rather angry at you as well?”

“I was aware of that fact but thanks for adding it to that uplifting evaluation as an afterthought,” Scott informed her tersely. "Another wonderful vignette of the dysfunction that seems to grow in our family tree like elm fungus.”

“Something like that,” Rachel openly replied with a sad sigh."He really needs someone to talk with. It's not me, I can assure you of that. Every overture I make is met with that cold, distant look that reeks of Nathan's supremacy-tinted sneer. I can't reach him.”


What did reach Adam was a combination of things. Having to step up to lead a scared group of kids, maturing far too quickly because we had to save the world, and Rhianna Wilson. He had been pretty cool back when we had been defending earth. What was he like now at twenty? How had he taken the news about his grandfather, Cyclops? And people said we Stark`s had issues. I peeked around, saw the rest of the class acting like they were done, so I scrabbled a few theorems on a blank page, did the quick calculations, then sent an email to the last know I had for Rhianna. If Adam were in a mood, and he got into them rather easily, Rhianna Wilson would at least respond. If the email addy was even active anymore. The last I had heard Utopia had been destroyed after that Dark Phoenix fiasco. Maybe I`d be making a flight to New York State.

I got a hit back on the email within ten minutes. A bubbly note that instantly made me smile as I recalled the pretty daughter of Wade Wilson`s big brown eyes, long auburn hair, and sweet disposition. Talk about the acorn falling miles away from the tree. Rhianna was everything her father wasn`t.

ALEX!! So good to hear from U. Would love to C U! Come 2 Utopia. Adam is goofing with it. Excited to see you!! Hugs! Rhi

Oh-kay. Well, I guess someone had dredged the one-time stronghold out of the Pacific. That should be worth checking out. I stopped walking, looked from my cell phone to the library with longing. Shit. Well, if I got back to the dorm, suited up, flew out to the mutant isle, got what info I could about Two Lips, and hurried back, I would still have all afternoon and night to whip out that paper. Cake.

I sent Rhianna a fast reply informing her that I would be there in fifteen. I could almost hear her bouncing around in the response text she sent. Always so cheerful. I smiled at the thought of touching base with my old teammates. Then I paused in my sprint to the my dorms. Adam was goofing around with what? Utopia?

To be continued . . .
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

30 Sep 2014, 07:47 #16

The following entry was submitted by BIG THUNDER! for the September 2014 writing competition

After a harrowing escape from Muan Hutta, the damaged Black Falcon fled to the swamp world of Dagobah where it crashed. There Peter Parker, also known as "Spider-Man" and his companions encountered an ancient creature known as Xyoda, a Genoshan and his secretive school that sheltered many more of the mutated creatures of various races. The choice of coming to the planet was no accident since the ghost of Peter's Uncle Ben had urged him to do so in order to be instructed as a Jedi from Xyoda...


Chapter Twenty-Nine

Dagobah, early the next morning…


Peter and Xyoda stood in the morning’s thick mist outside of a cave formed by the gnarled roots of a large tree that had grown on the edge of a rock. From his point of view, Peter could see that the cave led down under the swamp’s floor for several meters. The night before, Peter and Xyoda had slept in the branches of a tree not far from the cave. If sleeping in a tree had been a test for a prospective Jedi that hailed from a desert planet, Peter had passed it with flying colors since he easily clung to the tree’s bark with his hands and feet.

There was something unsettling about this cave, though. From everything Peter had encountered so far on Dagobah, he could tell that there were potential dangers around every corner whether it was a snake slithering through the grass, large things swimming beneath the surface of the many lakes they had encountered or mud filled pits that obviously would spell certain death to anyone that stumbled into them. This cave, though, unnerved him.

“I feel cold,” Peter said staring into the cave’s darkness.

Xyoda looked up at him. “Strong in the dark side of the Force, this place is. Into it alone you must go.”

Peter blinked. It was obviously the last test that Xyoda had mentioned. For some reason, it seemed like the most dangerous. That was probably due to the fact that he couldn’t tell what was within it and the fact that his “spider sense” wasn’t giving him any warning of what might be in it.

“What’s inside it?” Peter asked.

“Only what you bring with you,” Xyoda replied quietly.

Peter picked up the stormtrooper belt that he had been carrying since the escape from the garrison on Muan Hutta. Attached to it were his lightsaber and a blaster.

“Your weapons,” Xyoda said with a sudden sternness. “Need them, you will not.”

Peter knew he should trust the diminutive Genoshan. If he were to be trained as a Jedi, trust in Xyoda’s judgment was imperative. According to his Uncle Ben’s ghost, Xyoda had trained many more Jedi before.

Still, Peter’s fear had the best of him, even though he knew fear was something that could drag him down the wrong path. Instead he rationalized clasping the belt around his waist as being properly cautious.

With a deep breath, Peter plunged into the cave’s darkness. The early morning light, as dim as it was still managed to illuminate enough of the cave’s entrance that Peter could see that its edges were thick in spiders’ webs. The irony caused him to smile as he continued deeper into the cave. Before too long, it became so dark that he could barely see his hand in front of his face. His spider sense seemed to be failing to reveal the details of the cave’s interior. To gain his bearings, he turned and looked back toward the cave’s entrance.

As he did, a light suddenly shown behind him from the cave’s depths. Quickly turning, Peter could see that someone had activated what looked like a thermal generator, giving off a sickly yellow light. The light illuminated what looked to be a bedroll and a portable food canister, typical of someone who had set up a temporary campsite.

Movement.

Peter turned and saw the face in the darkness, partially lit by the camplight. The twisted, gnarled nose was unmistakably owned by the man that had killed Uncle Ben.

“No!” Peter said, grabbing his lightsaber from his belt as the man fell backwards onto the cave’s floor.

*snap-hiss*

Raising the lightsaber’s glowing green blade, Peter readied himself to plunge the blade into the man’s chest even as he looked back and forth vainly for a way to escape. Before Peter could act, the man turned to his side and caught sight of something that caused him to smile in relief.

Peter turned and saw that another figure was in the cave, now visible in the green light emitted by Peter’s lightsaber. It was the Green Goblin! In a fraction of a second, Peter guessed that somehow and for some reason, the Mandalorian bounty hunter had left Muan Hutta with the Hutt’s thug in tow and that they had camped out in the cave.

The Green Goblin raised his fist and pointed it at Peter. Instinctively, Peter raised his lightsaber to block an incoming laser shot but was shocked that instead a tongue of flame spurted out from a nozzle on the side of the side of the bounty hunter’s forearm. Peter had to quickly dodge, dropping his lightsaber to the ground as he did. His spider sense and reflexes seemed to have left him. Peter reached for the lightsaber, visible in the light of the now burning webs around them that had been ignited by the bounty hunter’s flamethrower.

“No!” Peter said, remembering as Gowan Skali’i plunged to her death from the rock bridge in Muan Hutta’s Jundland Wastes. It was because of him – the Goblin!

With a sudden burst of anger filled energy, instead of grabbing the lightsaber, Peter leapt up and caught the Green Goblin throwing him against a part of the wall that wasn’t covered in burning flames. Quickly he webbed the bounty hunter’s arms, hands and feet in case of more concealed weapons.

Before he knew what else was happening, Peter found his fists pounding and battering the Goblin’s Mandalorian helmet, throwing the man’s head from side to side as he did. He continued until the helmet finally cracked and a punch shattered it revealing the man’s face underneath.

In a curious hesitation, Peter was surprised that the man’s face was completely black almost as if he had been wearing a black mask underneath his helmet. The Goblin, realizing Peter had stopped his fists’ assault lifted his head and stared at Peter with eyes hidden behind the mask.

Then, Peter noticed that the mask must have had a seam built in around the man’s mouth and, as the man grinned mockingly at him, his white teeth stood out against the otherwise featureless black mask.

Peter lifted his hands again, ready to punch that mocking grin, but the effort seemed to completely drain him and soon he found himself panting due to the exertion.

And then, silently the Green Goblin faded out of existence. Peter blinked then turned and looked at his Uncle Ben’s killer who also faded along with the items from the small campsite.

For a moment, Peter stood in the light cast by the burning webs, wondering what the apparent illusion had all meant. Grieving at his loss of self control he looked up and notice that there was one last part of the illusion remaining – the burning webs that continued to illuminate the darkness around him.

Peter gasped and closed his eyes tightly, calming himself. For a few moments he breathed deeply until he opened his eyes again only to find that the cave was completely dark again. He also realized that during the illusion, despite the flames and the thug’s thermal heater, the cave still felt dank and cold. Reaching down, he found his lightsaber right where it had fallen and walked out of the cave to find Xyoda waiting for him outside.

The expression on the creature’s face made him realize that he had failed this last test.

---

Meanwhile, back at the Genoshan school several kilometers away…

“Y’know for a bunch of kids without any food processors or protein synthesizers, this food’s not too bad.”

Mara Jane looked across the table at Wohl Varin who was eating from a bowl of something she couldn’t identify. It looked like oatmeal, but its color wasn’t quite right. Hank was eating a plate of what looked to be strips of cooked meat which she guessed had been from a creature the Genoshan students had hunted in the swamp. She gladly had a breakfast that she could identify that comprised of fish and a tasty salad.

“What are you eating?” Hank asked.

“Don’t know,” Wohl answered. “But it’s really chewy.”

Hank leaned over and sniffed it. “Doesn’t smell like oatmeal.”

“It’s not,” Wohl replied. “It’s kinda salty.”

“Hmmm…it might be grubs,” Hank theorized rubbing his chin. Mara put her fork down and winced.

Wohl looked up at him and frowned. “Ya gotta be kidding.”

MA1-B9 had been sitting with them, watching the trio eat silently until then. “There are many notable species of insect larvae that are very high in protein and have other nutritional benefits. Seeing Xyoda’s Genoshan school is ‘cut off from civilization’ as you might say, they have learned to get by with the tools and the means to survive that this world provides.”

Hank looked at the droid then at the others. “I might not normally eat lizards, but the ones I’m eating right now are quite palatable.”

“Lizards, huh?” Wohl replied looking at the strips of meat Hank was eating. “And, I’m eating grubs?”

Mara looked at Wohl and wrinkled her nose. He shrugged and started eating his meal again.

Just then, Guren Bohs and Keurt Vaugg-Nar entered the students’ torch-lit dining hall and approached their table.

“Master Xyoda has contacted us,” Keurt announced to them. “He is concerned that the Imperial probe droid sent to this planet may be drawing dangerously near to us.”

“I’ve been keeping tabs on it,” Guren added. “It’s been moving in a search pattern north of here, sweeping back and forth through the swamp. The landscape’s going to force it to move its search pattern close to here within days.”

“You guys gonna do something about it?” Wohl asked curiously.

“We are,” Guren told them. “Taking the droid out isn’t a problem, at least for me. The problem is whether or not it sees us and sends a signal back to the Imperials. I was thinking that since you guys were part of the reason why the Imperials came to Dagobah that you might want to help us.”

Wohl looked at Hank. “Guy’s gotta point. Things were getting boring around here anyways.”

Hank shrugged again. “If I recall correctly, the Imperial Mk III probe and scout droid is fitted with retractable primary sensor comm antennae on its upper surface. I might be able to hit them with my rifle if I have a clear shot. The secondary antennae is located under a panel in its main body. It would deploy it only in an emergency and probably from a higher altitude. Once the droid’s main antennae is destroyed by a hostile force, it would fight for its survival until it can deploy the backup. If that is the type of droid out in the swamp, it should be noted that it’s most likely armed with a class three blaster mounted above its main repulsor unit and a pair of less powerful blasters on its opposite side. And then there’s its manipulator claws…”

“Well, if we can get the Falcon off of that log in the lake, we’d fly you close to it,” Wohl told them.

“Guren here can fly,” Keurt said with a grin, something unusual for a typical Rodian. “But I can get the rest of us three there by teleporting us.”

“Yeah, I heard you could do that,” Wohl said with a doubtfully upraised eyebrow. “I guess breakfast’s over. Here, Red, you can have what’s left of mine.”

He non-chalantly pushed it over to her as he and Hank stood to leave, not realizing that Mara was slightly shrinking back from his bowl.

“Here, hold onto my arms,” Keurt said holding them out to Wohl and Hank. Looking over he noticed the bowl sitting in front of Mara. “Oh, you’ll love those Bak-wan. They’re hard to come by and very delicious. Don’t let any of them go to waste.”

*bamf*

Mara took a look at the bowl imagining the Bak-wan wriggling and moving. Sheepishly, she looked around at the Genoshan students eating around them torn between the guilty feeling knowing how hard it must have been for them to get the…grubs or whatever they might have been and the thought of eating something she potentially thought as being disgusting.

“May, can I ask you a favor?” Mara asked, looking at the droid sitting next to her.

“Of course,” the droid responded looking at her with her large glowing yellow eyes.

“Could you ask someone what Bak-wan are?”

---

Nearly a half hour later, four kilometers to the north…

Wohl and Hank simultaneously dropped to their knees in the grassy moss lining a relatively large lake. Around them, the trees were wide spread, unusual for the swampy planet. At the same time, the hazy sky above them was clear of tree branches that in most places kept the most of the planet’s land mass in perpetual twilight.

The trip for the pair had been hair-raising. Keurt Vaugg-Nar had the bizarre ability to teleport himself and anyone in physical contact with him within line of sight. Since the droid they were hunting was a few thousand kilometers away, the Genoshan had to make several dozen teleports to span the distance. With each teleport, the two smugglers found themselves looking at the flash of several different surroundings which lasted not more than a few seconds each. Sometimes the trio would rematerialize in the trees or next to a swamp and on a few occasions nearly in the lap of some ugly swamp creature. After not too many of the “leaps” from one place to another, the two had become disoriented.

“We are here,” Keurt announced after letting the pair go.

“Okay, remind me not to do that again,” Wohl said shaking his head and rubbing his eyes. “So where are we? Kinda bright here.”

“We are in a clearing,” Keurt answered breathing heavily as the trip had taken a lot of effort from him. “The droid is near. Guren will be with us soon.”

“I would like to talk to you about how you can teleport,” Hank said getting up and sitting on a large rock nearby, blinking his eyes in the comparatively bright light. “That is an amazing skill and the science behind it must be even more amazing.”

Suddenly, Guren Bohs landed in front of them showing no signs of the exhaustion they were exhibiting. It was apparent to Wohl and Hank that Guren’s ability to fly was much more effortless than Keurt’s ability to teleport.

“No time for any discussion,” the reptilian Surr told them quietly, hunching over and looking over their shoulders. “The thing’s nearby.”

The three others all turned and looked in the same direction. Hank rolled off of the rock and crouched as low as he could in the grass. Before they had made their multi-segmented trip across the swamp, Keurt had brought the two to their temporary quarters where they had stored a few weapons they had with their other gear recovered from the downed Black Falcon. Hank had chosen a high powered rifle with a self adjusting scope for the “hunting trip”.

“Hank, you should be in a tree at the edge of this clearing,” Wohl told him. “Off to the side would be a good place to take a shot at the thing’s main antenna from a distance. You’re knowledgeable about these buckets and maybe you can damage something else on the thing as well. Keurt, take him there if you would.”

“I would make a good decoy, if that was needed,” the teleporter suggested.

“Good idea,” Wohl said with a smile. “When the thing’s antenna is down, we need to take it down and keep it preoccupied before it can use its backup.”

“It’s going to want to get a higher altitude,” Guren reminded them. “I can block its path since I can fly.”

“Makes sense,” Wohl said.

“What about you?” Keurt asked.

“Don’t worry about me,” Wohl replied with a smile. “Just draw it over the water.”

A few minutes later, the probe droid emerged from the trees, hovering with its metal clawed limbs hanging beneath it and began scanning the clearing for humanoid life signs. In the last few days, it had encountered several creatures, but none of them were humanoid. Several of them had been hostile, but were easily pacified with the use of its blasters. After an analysis of the topological data relayed to it from the star destroyer that had launched it, the droid decided that a southerly patrol would be the most logical area to search next.

Suddenly, it detected movement from the tree line.

* Movement in the trees at 263degrees, range 250 meters, altitude 35 meters.
* Thermal scan at core ranges from 26 to 66 degrees Celsius. Magnetic and visual scan.
*Two targets detected: Subject1 – thermal signature of 27.2 degrees Celsius and 0.3 square meters in size – conclusion, avian. Subject2 – thermal signature of 28.5 degrees Celcius and 2.8 square meters in size – conclusion…

Hank’s shot expertly hit the top of the probe droid striking the top of both of the cylindrical antennae. From his range, it was inconclusive whether or not the shot had done any damage. The droid responded quickly, pivoting in mid air and lining its heavy blaster up with him and firing several blasts that turned the tree limb he was crouched on into splinters and sending him leaping for cover to a nearby tree branch. Before the droid could fire its weapon again, another humanoid came into view running along the ground, leaping over rocks and fallen tree trunks a dozen meters away. The droid switched its designated primary target to the runner and fired its secondary blasters. The shots missed, hitting the ground and causing various amphibians previously hidden in the tall grass to leap and run for their lives.

After a few seconds, the running humanoid disappeared from the droid’s scanners.

*Diagnostic: Main antennae – conclusion: damage to main coils and housing, irreparable for the time being.
*Analysis of targets: hostile; Subject 1 (in trees): weapon: heavy blaster rifle with scope (main threat); Subject 2 (on foot at last sighting, sensor contact lost): no scanned weapon (minor threat, possibly acting as a decoy to divert attention from Subject 1)
*Conclusion: likelihood that Subjects 1 and 2 are primary search targets: 91%
* New Main Objective: deploy secondary antenna and send Conclusionary data to Imperial contacts
* New Secondary Objective: protect self at all costs until New Main Objective is met

As the droid began to rise, it turned in Hank’s direction and began firing into the trees again, sending birds flying and other creatures scampering for safety.

*bamf*

Keurt, who had been hiding in another set of trees after gaining the droid’s attention, teleported just above the droid and fell onto it, covering its main optical sensor with his hands. In response, the droid reached up to grab him with one of its claws just before he jumped off again.

*bamf*

* Diagnostic: All sensors [regarding erratic appearance and disappearance of Subject 2] – inconclusive

*bamf*

As the droid turned to scan for Keurt, he reappeared again on top of the droid and immediately leapt off as the droid, again, reached for him in vain. By then, the droid had risen to an altitude of 25 meters. This time it visually followed Keurt as he fell only to see him disappear in what visually appeared to be a dark cloud of smoke that immediately dissipated.

*WHAM*

Suddenly, Guren appeared diving out of the cloud bank from above and slammed into the top of the droid forcing it to lose a dozen meters in altitude before Guren struck it again, forcing it almost down almost onto the grassy ground. The droid quickly moved to the side to avoid another attack and began spraying blaster fire in the levitating reptilian’s direction.

*bamf*

“Here I am!” Keurt called out as he reappeared on the shore of the small lake at the center of the clearing. The droid ignored him and continued to fire at Guren who had to rapidly maneuver in order to avoid getting hit by the blaster fire.

*bamf*

Keurt teleported and, again, landed on top of the droid, this time leaning over and grabbing the main blaster’s barrel.

“Having troubles, my friend?” Keurt asked as he pulled on the blaster, preventing it from aiming properly.

* Analysis: Subject 2’s tactics are increasingly threatening; Subject 3 has exhibited strength capable of doing this unit harm, but does not share Subject 2’s ability to avoid harm; Subject 1 has not fired its weapon in the last 73 seconds
* Assessment: Subject 1 is either dead, incapacitated or no longer a threat; Subject 3 is now primary threat; Subject 2 must be eliminated before its threat level increases
* Tactics: Deploy secondary antenna at earliest convenience; Prevent Subject 3 from doing physical damage to this unit; Maintain wariness of Subject 1’s presence; Attack Subject 2 at every opportunity

As Keurt held onto the blaster, the droid suddenly aimed it toward him.

“Yikes!”

*bamf*

Guren swept in toward the droid only having to fly skyward again as the droid responded by peppering blaster fire in his direction. It the meantime it increased its altitude again.

*bamf*

“Over here, stupid droid!” Keurt said as he reappeared on the ground just beneath it. In response the droid dropped, extending its claws toward him.

*bamf*

“You are too slow,” Keurt said, reappearing in the air less than a meter away from it. The droid snapped at him with some of its claws, but he disappeared again before he had even fallen a meter.

*bamf*

“Here!” the black skinned Rodian shouted as he reappeared again nearly in the same place, but slightly farther away. Again in lunged for him with its claws.

*bamf*

“Too slow!”

*bamf*

“Try again!”

*bamf*

* Analysis: Subject 2 is exhibiting luring tactics; direction is toward last position of Subject 1
* Assessment: Subject 1 is likely not incapacitated and is likely setting up an ambush on this unit
* Counter tactics: Resume effort to deploy secondary antenna; remove Subject 2 from threat list and ignore its luring tactics

What the droid failed to realize was that in its efforts to catch Keurt it had drifted over the lake and that it hovered so its manipulator arms dangled less than a meter over the water. Suddenly, Wohl Varin emerged from the water and caught hold of one of the claws.

*snikt*

As the droid began grabbing him with its other claws, Wohl began slashing them with the extended adamantium claws on his free hand sending bits and pieces of them falling into the water. It suddenly realized that it had fallen into a trap and Guren Bohs accelerated down on top of it. Wohl, in the meantime continued to slash the claws that attacked him until all that remained was the one that he dangled from. Before it could shake him loose, Wohl climbed up the arm and plunged his claws into the droid’s underside tearing through its armored hide before the droid ejected the arm in a last stitch effort to remove the new threat.

*bamf* *bamf*

Keurt had intercepted him, even before he hit the water and the two of them reappeared on top of the droid. Wohl lifted his free hand.


*snikt*

“Yeeaaagghh!”

The droid could do little as the Genoshan smuggler assaulted its upper surface, ripping and tearing at its armored hull. Just before he plunged one of his claws into its main optical sensor, Guren Bohs landed next to Wohl and began ripping apart its damaged armor exposing the droid’s vital components within its interior which soon began to be battered by reptilian fists and adamantium claws.

* Damage assessment: fatal
* Overall Assessment: drive systems’ power are at 68% and dropping; altitude for deployment of secondary antenna no longer attainable
* Conclusion: mission failure
* Remaining tactic: self-destruct

The exploding droid sent the two flying in different directions. The tachyon field that provided Guren Bohs’ ability to fly and his strength also provided him protection from physical harm. Wohl, on the other hand, was partially shredded by the explosion and, if it hadn’t been for his adamantium skeleton, would have been blown to pieces before he landed on the lake’s shore.

*bamf*

“Wohl! Hold on, my friend!” Keurt cried out in horror, rushing to his side. “I’ll get you back to the school in a few moments. I…”

As he reached for him, Wohl pushed his hands aside.

“Agh! No, don’t bother,” Wohl grunted in pain as his body began to heal itself. “Oh, that always hurts.”

Hank came running from the tree line with a damaged rifle in his hands as Guren landed next to the two.

“I might have failed to mention the standard self destruct charges common in these Imperial probe droids,” Hank said as he knelt next to his friend. Wohl grimaced and scowled at him.

“Yeah, thanks, pal.”
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2014, 19:23 #17

The following entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the October 2014 comp

Heavy Metal - Issue # 9 - Haunted

(I own nothing that isn`t mine.)

*~*~*

"Get them in the air," I shouted to Adam as my armor threw up a temporary energy shield. Fire roared over us. Logan, for whatever reason Logan does things, leaped through the safety of the glowing blue cone and proceeded to get his backside fricasseed. "Okay. Get Rhianna into the air, " I corrected as a roaring, flaming Wolverine took out (aka beheaded) the dude with the flamethrower.

Guess feral type people didn`t read the Avengers rulebook even though they were on every Avengers team ever invented. Removing heads is discouraged. Energy punches to the ground, though, are quite encouraged. As soon as Adam lifted off with his girl, I could divert all the energy the shield was using into sending enough voltage through the ground to knock all the humans, and Logan, into spastic seizures.

"Idiots," I heard Adam mumble just before the slew of attackers all grabbed their heads, except the beheaded one obviously, screamed in abject misery and then fell over with blood seeping from their ears. I dropped my shield and threw Adam a dark look over my shoulder. Pity he couldn`t see it. My visor opened with just a thought and I gave him another glower. He saw this one.

"Showoff," I muttered. Adam quirked an eyebrow at me then strolled over to pat out a small fire still smoldering on Logan`s heaving back. "So, who are theses jokers?"

"Friends of Humanity," Wolverine said. It was disconcerting to talk to a man with no skin left on his face, so I focused on Rhianna hurrying over to tend to Logan. His eyes fluttered in pleasure when she placed her hands to the steaming flesh of his face. I looked from the healing to Adam, who was now prodding at a convulsing man with the toe of his boot, kind of like one would a dead animal found along the road.

"The Friends of Humanity are the largest anti-mutant group in the state of California," Adam said, nudging the man over to his back. Summers dropped down to pat the man down. "At one time they were quite powerful, back before any of us were born."

"I was there," Wolverine interjected. Rhianna shushed him. I watched Adam intently as he moved from one man to the next, rifling through pockets and lifting wallets.

"You were everywhere, Logan," Adam said after stealing another billfold. I had to say something. I mean, I know that mutants are considered filthy abominations, kind of like gays, but swiping wallets seemed a step down for them, even if the world reviled them.

"Why are you clipping their wallets?" I asked. Adam carried his bounty back to Logan who, it seemed, had had enough TLC. His face being partially healed must have been enough, despite Rhianna chattering at him to let her finish.

"Don`t use up all them powers on me, darling," the squat man said as he started pulling IDs from billfolds one by one. I looked from him to Adam to Rhianna. She looked pasty. "We ain`t stealing from them, kid, we're getting identification. Knowing your enemy is half the fight. Which makes me ask, what the hell is the Stark heir doing slumming around with the likes of us?"

I took offense instantly. "I know you and my father had moments, but don`t get all holier than thou with. We all have shit to deal with, Logan."

"Yeah, being rich and pretty is a real problem. Try being number one on the hate mongers hit lists for about a century then come tell me you got shit to deal with."

"Alexander contacted us about a new mutant," Rhianna slipped in gracefully. Logan's raised lip lowered. The girl always did have a calming effect on those around her. Just look at Adam. Four years ago, he probably would have made FOH heads explode like ripe melons. "According to him, this new one has incredible powers."

Logan looked around Rhianna to me after removing some sort of ID from an unconscious man's wallet.

"We would have known. I ain`t heard nothing from Skippy about any massive surge in mutant powers being picked up by Cerebra. He's filling you kids` head full of bullshit. We all know where his father stands in his political beliefs," Logan sneered. I got even more offended.

"Go to hell!" I threw at the stumpy singed mutant. He smiled a smile filled with fang. Talk about a gruesome sight. People without lips should not smile. Ever. "My dad has been fighting for mutant rights for years. Just because he sides with the conservative party on some other issues is no—"

"Who you preaching to, Junior?" Logan asked, stepping around Rhianna to get what was left of his nose as close to mine as he could. The smell of burnt flesh made my eyes water. I came close to gagging but stalked away instead. I could hear the man chuckling behind me as I swallowed several times to push the bile back down my throat.

"His intentions are good, Logan," Adam spoke up. I glanced back at Summers. Our sight met. "He may be hiding something deeply personal, but there was no malice towards us. Actually, he was quite happy to be in our company."

"Would you please stay the hell out of my head?" I said. Summers raised a thick shoulder. This little group of X-gene carriers was getting on my nerves. "As for Two Lips," I said as I turned to face the three mutants looking at me, "I know what I saw. I also know what my scans showed me. This guy is for real. He's got to be a mutant."

"Not necessarily," Rhianna said as a strong warm gust of wind lifted her long hair from her face, "There are lots of reasons people have superpowers. Gamma radiation, spider bites, interstellar space storms—"

"Extremis," Logan said, his eyes pinned on me.

"Okay, granted, there are other ways to attain powers," I pointedly ignored the jibe from the snarky man with claws," but let's at least rule out mutant powers, okay? Let`s just check with Scott about any pings that Cerebra might have—"

"Shut up, "Wolverine snarled, his burnt head tipping to the left. My lips flattened. "Cops are coming."

"I don't hear any—"

"You questioning what I can and can't hear, Junior?" Logan asked. I shook my head then pulled up the S.F.P.D. police radio transmissions. The man was right. Several units were on the way, called, I imagine, by people passing by the scene of the fight.

"Let`s just get moving," Rhianna interjected. "You can be rude to our guest later, Logan."

The peal of a siren got us airborne. I offered to take Rhianna and was shocked when Adam consented. Maybe he didn`t think it was prudent for me to carry Wolverine across the country. I might drop his smart ass somewhere over Idaho. I could imagine telling him to just lay there, stop ragging on my father, and heal. Nice imagery that would never happen, even if I had the opportunity, because like it or not, Logan speaks the truth as he sees it. Those statements about dad, and where his loyalty lies, I have heard many times. I guess some people can't grasp that a man can have differing viewpoints then his party does.

Taking off with a passenger is usually tricky, as they tend to freak out when their feet leave the ground. Not Rhianna. She was calm and collected as we lifted off. Flying tucked around her boyfriend had obviously dulled the fear.

We were closing in on New York State when I hit a slight glitch. My armor was trying to adjust my set course from upstate New York to Manhattan. Looking at the marker on a small map glowing in my HUD, my stomach flipped over. Man, it would be nice to go home. I missed my parents and Hunter. It was tough to command my navigational system to override the default coordinates. With Rhianna Wilson snug to my side, I banked a sharp left over Pennsylvania. The time to visit the folks and my bestest would come, it just wasn't now. Now I had other things to attend to, things that preceded going home to be kissed all over the face by my mother, or being slugged into the wall by my older sister, or even spending time tinkering with my dad. Two Lips was number one on my 'Got to Take Care Of' list. In addition to that damned paper for Nano-to-Macro.

The mansion that the mutants call home appeared beneath me. My scans ran the burnt-out shell of the Xavier School for Gifted Children repeatedly, but could not locate any signs of life. Adam and his surly passenger dropped down onto the rutted grounds. I fell awkwardly from the sky, my left knee catching the brunt of the unbalanced landing.

"Sorry to throw off your thrusters," Rhianna said with a smile as I slowly got to my feet.

"No problem. So, what happened here?" I waved a gauntleted hand at the ruins.

"About two years ago the Army stormed in, citing some sort of rhetoric about mutants having terroristic ties, "Adam explained as we walked across overgrown and swampy grounds."We had a choice, fight or surrender."

It was obvious which course the mutants had picked.

"I didn`t hear anything about it," I murmured keeping my shock and dismay inside my helm. We stepped around a water-filled divot in the ground. One of several that I picked up. "Run a scan for any traces of active armaments." I did not wish to step on a landmine or some other sort of undetonated device.

"The government buried it," Logan informed me. "Didn`t want the liberals to get their panties in a twist over the slaughter of poor, persecuted mutants. I ain't sure which I hate more. Being called an abomination or being pitied."

"We had already made provisions for such a thing. Professor Xavier had actually, years ago, or so we've been told," Rhianna explained. We skirted around what remained of the front doors, my HUD active but calm. Adam helped his woman over the ruins of a wall. Logan scurried over the debris like a bomb-sniffing dog. I flew over the mess, feeling sicker and sicker inside. It really is terrifying what hatred combined with fear brings out in some people.

We stopped clambering over the debris and stood in front of the burnt-out shell of an upright freezer. Logan kicked the old thing twice then jerked on the mangled handle. The door opened with a squeal of rusty hinges. My scans went all sorts of ape-shit.

"The entrance to your secret underground base can be entered through a freezer?"

"Bob Drake come up with the idea. It's been working so far to keep your pappy's friends in the military, and their zealot friends, off our backs. Look at me, Junior." My visor popped open and I stared right into Logan`s blue eyes. It was scary as hell, I won`t lie. If you looked close, you could see just how cold his soul could be. "I'm taking Summers' word that you ain`t here to spy. That is a courtesy for you because I think so much of your ma. You screw me over, and even the respect I got for Talon ain't going to save you. Got it?"

"I got it."

He spun from me then stepped into the freezer. I glanced at Adam then Rhianna.

"My father is not behind any of this anti-mutant hatred. You have to know that," I said to my old friends. Rhianna gave me a soft smile.

"We know. But, sometimes, it`s hard to forget past transgressions. I don`t think the old guard has quite forgotten about your fathers stand during the superhero war. Don`t let him upset you. Logan has a long memory that's tinged with the many horrors he's seen."

I nodded. Adam waited for Rhianna to step into the freezer. A soft green glow swallowed her. Quite the impressive cloaking shield if I did say so myself. I hoped it didn't incinerate anyone without an X gene.

"I know your heart embraces the battle for equality," Adam said, clapped my shoulder and then motioned for me to enter the weirdly glowing Frigidaire.

"You'll keep what you plucked out of my head to yourself?" I asked. He inclined his white head. I had no option but to take him at his word. I had never known Adam Summers to lie, even when he should, he didn`t. "Okay then. If I get reduced to ashes, send my remains back to Park Avenue," I said, inhaled, then stepped into the emerald light.


To be continued . . .
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2014, 19:26 #18

The following entry was submitted by GREENSCAR1990 for the October 2014 comp

The Balance of Power

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

Chapter Five

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

Discoveries

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


Gamma World, New Mexico

Base of the Hulks



Korra focused on the man who used to be the Hulk, her arctic-blue irises taking in every detail of the being. The color of his gentle eyes, like his short hair, was that of a dark brown. He is, like the others, Caucasian-white and his six-foot tall frame, while neither muscular nor scrawny, was well-toned and fit. He appeared to be in his mid or late thirties, if she were to take a guess at his age. She watched as he retrieved a pair of glasses from one of the large pocket-like pouches on his utility belt around his waist before gently placing and adjusting them on until they rested comfortably on his features.

"I believe introductions are in order. My name is Dr. Robert Bruce Banner. I imagine that you've already met my other self, haven't you? And before you ask, I must state that, yes, we're kind of the same person and yet very different. I am to the Hulk as Yin is to Yang. It's complicated, sometimes more than either of us like it to be.", Bruce said, calmly introducing himself to the multi-elemental young woman.

She couldn't believe it. Never had Korra seen such a diverse change, both in a physical and personality sense, in regards to another living entity. The Hulk was so massive, intimidating, powerful, aggressive. The green goliath's presence alone practically commanded fear and respect from all who would look upon him. Dr. Bruce Banner, on the other hand, was completely different. He appeared calm, reasonable, understanding, intellectual and non-threatening.

However, she had to admit, there was some traits that Hulk and Banner possessed that she noticed. She sensed a deep cunning, an unshakable confidence and an unconquerable will from each of them. Besides these and a few other traits, Banner and Hulk were seemingly two unique entities. Similar, yet different.

"This is my friend, Rick Jones, who goes by the codename: A-Bomb.", Bruce informed, gesturing towards the person who once was covered in azure armor plates.

"S'up, Kor.", Rick greets with a warm smile and a slight wave.

When Korra looked upon the man who used to be A-Bomb, she couldn't help but be reminded of her loveable best friend Bolin. In some ways, Rick Jones reminded her of the earthbender. The exceptions being that Rick had long golden-brown hair that went to his shoulders, was clearly about a decade older than the earthbender, and instead of the emerald-green eyes that Bolin possessed Rick's were of a light brown in color. However, other than those few differences, Bolin and Rick shared many of the same personality traits.

"This is my cousin, Jennifer Walters, who goes by the codename: She-Hulk.", Bruce stated, briefly making eye contact with his cousin who gave him a friendly smile before locking eyes with Korra.

The Avatar's arctic-blue eyes traveled to the woman who was once the green-skinned She-Hulk. Her hair, much like her own, was long and dark brown in color. However, unlike her cousin's brown-hued eyes, hers irises were of a lovely shade of green. Despite herself, Korra couldn't help but compare Jen to an older version of Asami Sato. She appeared friendly and easy-going, much like her feminine friend while also possessing a strong, independent aura that let others know she wasn't one to be intimidated by anyone or anything.

"Nice to meet you... again.", Jen greets awkwardly, letting out a brief chuckle.

"This elderly gentleman is General Thaddeus Ross, codename: Red Hulk.", Bruce continued as he walked past his former enemy, ignoring the glare that the old man gave him.

He was an old soldier, in his late sixties or early seventies at most, but his physique was solid and fit. He supported a thick, bushy white mustache upon his upper lip; his pair of eyes were a cool, sky-blue in color. And the hair atop his head, buzzed off like a solider's, was also white with age. It wasn't surprising that Korra thought of and made comparisons between General Ross and Chief Beifong... and Tenzin when he was really angry at her. They're both so serious, both in appearance and personality. She could only imagine what would happen if Thaddeus Ross and Lin Beifong would ever meet face-to-face.

"Hmph!", General Ross grunts, focusing his glare towards the Avatar for a brief couple of seconds before averting his attention elsewhere.

"And this lovely lady is his daughter, Elizabeth Ross, who's been given the codename: Red She-Hulk.", Bruce said, concluding the introductions of all those individuals within the room.

She had long dark hair, a pair of blue-hued irises akin to her elderly father, and possessed a lithe build similar to that of Jennifer Walters. Despite her beauty, Korra sensed that she definitely wasn't helpless. She appeared so strong and capable, reminding Korra of her mother Senna. Thoughts like these, when she looked upon them, made her realize how deeply she missed her loved ones. She could only hope that she would return to see them again soon.

"So... all of you are human?", Korra inquired after a few seconds of silence, briefly arching an eyebrow as she glanced at the surrounding individuals.

"Besides a few noticeable variables, yes.", Bruce confirmed, a gentle smile gracing his features.

"Okay... I'm a bit confused. All of you can change into... monsters?", Korra said, struggling to find the right words to describe their unique forms.

"Hey, easy on the "M" word, young lady!", Rick said, feigning to be offended by her remark.

"We're not monsters. We're just different.", Jen stated calmly, locking eyes with the multi-elemental young woman for a moment before she averts her gaze downward.

Turning her head, Korra focused her attention towards Skaar, who's slightly taken aback by her expression and the gleam in her arctic-blue orbs. She appeared confused, hurt, or lost at discovering this revelation about them. When she looked at him, staring intently into his eyes, as if seeking or pleading for him to help her, he couldn't help but feel an intense pain enter his chest. Fear and guilt. Guilt for not having the courage to tell her the truth, and fear that she wouldn't accept him once she discovered that he wasn't completely human.

"Skaar?", Korra speaks, her voice barely louder than a whisper, managing to get his attention as he meets her gaze.

"The Hulk... I mean, Dr. Banner is your father, right? You're one of them. Does that mean... that you can change too?", Korra said in inquiry, staring directly at the son of Hulk.

"Yes.", Skaar answered, shifting uncomfortably on the cot as he remained seated beside her, not even daring to look at Korra.

"Why didn't you tell me when we first met?", Korra asks, placing her hand on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort her friend.

"I... I didn't know how to tell you.", Skaar responds, still refusing to make eye contact with her.

"What do you mean?", Korra inquired, confusion evident in her voice and features.

"Isn't it obvious? He's afraid that you wouldn't like him, that you'd only see him as a monster. I mean, look how you reacted to meeting us. We're just monsters to you. Freaks of nature. Nothing more, nothing less.", Betty interjected, her words not only striking a nerve with Korra but also that of a certain female lawyer.

"Betty!", Jen scolded, narrowing her eyes at her fellow She-Hulk.

"That's not true! I mean, I'll admit at first I might have thought that, but now I see that I was wrong. And I'm sorry. I, of all people, should know by now not to judge by someone's appearance.", Korra exclaimed, rising off the cot and firmly standing her ground.

"There is no need for apologies, Korra. You did nothing wrong. It's a lot to process for anyone, and even more so for someone who isn't from the same Earth, let alone the same universe.", Bruce assured, speaking to her like a parent would to one of their children.

Setting herself back down on the bed, Korra releases a heavy sigh. For a few moments she doesn't speak, instead she merely glances at each of the human beings within the room. They weren't monsters, they're just different. She accepted this. Still, she couldn't help but wonder what caused them to be who they are. It was a subject that she was determined to find out.

"So how did all of you get like this?", Korra finally asks, summoning her courage in order to satisfy her curiosity.

"Very long story. I'm talking really, really, really, really, really long. And it doesn't help that each of our stories are different yet connected in some way or another. Bruce can let you read through the data files when you get the chance. They could probably explain everything better than any of us probably could.", Rick answered, offering Korra an easier option than what he could possibly explain himself.

"No, Rick. She deserves to know now. She deserves to hear it from us.", Bruce proclaimed, knowing that the young woman deserved to know about them.

"Bruce is right. That's why we're here. She's told us about herself, therefore it's only right that we return the favor.", Jen replied in agreement with her cousin.

"Before you tell me, can I ask what exactly causes you to change?", Korra interjects quickly with an inquiry.

"Usually pain or anger.", Rick replies, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant manner.

"Ooh, I see.", Korra said, a devious smile of mischief spreading across her face as she turned to look at Skaar.

"Korra, what are you...", Skaar began to speak, only to be silenced before he could even finish forming his question.

BAM!

"Argh!", Skaar growls after getting punched in the arm by the multi-elemental teenager.

"Hey! You didn't change.", Korra exclaims, disappointed that her tactic didn't work out as well as she expected.

"I think Rick should have mentioned that sometimes we can control our transformations. Only during times of intense anger, pain, or stress can it occur without our control.", Bruce informed, much to the embarrassment of Avatar Korra who began rubbing the back of her neck in a nervous gesture.

"Ooh! Sorry. My bad.", Korra apologized with a quirky smile, unaware of what would happen next.

BAM!

"Ow! Hey!", Korra nearly shouted, rubbing the arm in which Skaar had punched while she wasn't paying attention.

"Heh.", Skaar chuckled, satisfied with his sneak attack and getting some payback for Korra's earlier jab.

"Oh, so that's how it's gonna be?", Korra said with a playful yet competitive smirk, cracking her knuckles as she got herself ready for a little rough and tumble fun.

"Ahem! I hate to interrupt your bonding with my son, but wouldn't you like for me to continue?", Bruce suggested sternly, eyeing the two teenagers that were sitting on the cot.

"Fine. But, later, you're so going down!", Korra groaned before making her last mock threat to Skaar, disappointed that she couldn't teach the son of Hulk a lesson and have some fun with him.

"We'll see about that.", Skaar shot back, unaware of Jen & Rick's whispers and chuckles of amusement.

Reaching within one of the pockets of his brown utility belt, Banner pulls out a tech-based device that looks similar to an iPhone. Pressing a button on the device, activating it in the process, large holographic images soon appeared. Korra was instantly in awe of the incredible images, reaching out to touch them only for her hands to go right through them. She remembered the moving pictures back on her world, but they couldn't compare to this! It was all so new, so different, so exciting and incredible! It made her wonder what else this world has to offer.

"I'm a scientist, one of the smartest men on the entire planet. A nuclear physicist, to be more precise. I was working on a new weapon, a gamma bomb. When the day came to test it out, there was some... complications. I seen a teenager, Rick Jones, out on the test site where the bomb would be detonated. I managed to get him to safety, but I wasn't as fortunate.", Bruce began, telling his story as the device in his hand began to reveal more images.

"I was engulfed by the gamma rays that were unleashed during the bomb's detonation. It should have killed me... but it didn't. All it did was release a part of me that I didn't even know existed. Now that I think about it, I believe that he's always been within me. Watching through my eyes. Seeing, hearing and feeling everything that I endured in my life. It was on that day... that the Hulk was unleashed upon the world.", Bruce continued, the images revealing the gamma bomb explosion that bombarded Dr. Banner with gamma radiation, thus resulting in his numerous transformations into the Hulk.

"For years I've tried to rid myself of the Hulk, only to fail countless times. I feared and hated the Hulk, because I knew that his power was capable of. He could tear entire worlds asunder with his bare hands. But as time progressed, as I overcame my fear, I've learned to accept and embrace the Hulk. After all, he is much a part of me as I am a part of him. He's fought alongside the world's heroes, saved the planet more times than I can count, and protected the universe and the multiverse from the greatest threats imaginable. He's a hero, a protector... not unlike yourself.", Bruce said, concluding his story, the last image being one of Hulk standing beside dozens of Earth's mightiest heroes.

"So that's your story?", Korra asks skeptically, wondering if there wasn't more he was leaving out.

"The abbreviated version, yes. There's quite a bit that I left out on purpose in order to avoid confusion. However, I believe I've summed it all up quite nicely. If you want more details, then as Rick suggested, you're welcome to read through my data files.", Bruce answered, admitting it and easing the female Avatar's suspicions.

"What about them?", Korra inquired, gesturing towards the other human beings within the room.

"You assumed I've forgotten?", Bruce inquired, a knowing yet teasing smirk forming on his lips.

"Well, I... no, not really.", Korra muttered, fidgeting with her fingers.

"Oh, Bruce! Stop teasing the poor girl.", Jen chided in a teasing manner.

"Very well, Jen. Would you like to tell her your abbreviated origin?", Bruce offered.

"My pleasure, cuz. Just keep those holographic projections going.", Jen replied evenly.

"You see, Korra, I was Bruce's closest friend when we were kids. But where as Bruce became a scientist, I decided to take a much different career path. I went on to studying the law, becoming a lawyer in order to see that justice is served to those who've been wronged, to maintain a sense of balance. I was working on a case when Bruce came to visit. A group of thugs hired by Nicholas Trask tried to kill me. They almost succeeded. If it wasn't for Bruce giving me a blood transfusion... I wouldn't be here right now. He saved my life. He was taking a risk by giving me that transfusion, but he couldn't bare the thought of losing another family member again. That's what gave me my powers, and ever since that day... I could become the Sensational She-Hulk.", Jen explained to the young woman, telling her abbreviated version of the story.

"Okay, that's two down. What about them?", Korra remarked before making her next inquiry, her gaze gesturing towards Rick, Betty and General Ross.

"Ah, well, I think Bruce can fill you in on that.", Jen responds, allowing her cousin to take over once again since it was obvious that neither Betty or her father were about to talk, and she doubt that Rick could explain it without confusing Korra further.

"Yes, and I will. Rick was captured by two of the world's most dangerous villains, old enemies of mine and the Hulk: M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader.", Bruce said, revealing an image of the two villains.

When Korra looked upon the image, she couldn't suppress the shudder of disgust that coursed through her. These two man-monsters, these creatures were beyond creepy. The one known as the Leader, while as green as the Hulk, was scrawny and tall with a large, vein covered, pulsing skull and dark facial hair. The other villain known as M.O.D.O.K., an acronym that means Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, was even more monstrous and disturbing in appearance. The freakish villain appeared to be nothing but a giant head with tiny arms and legs seated within some advanced, tech-based device that floated above the ground through some means of propulsion.

"Whoa..! Eww. Talk about the bad and the ugly.", Korra said, cringing upon viewing the holographic projection of the villains.

"Yeah, they're even more grotesque in person. Trust me on that one, Kor.", Rick remarks, trying to lighten the mood.

"Anyway, Rick was their first experiment, their first attempt at making a being who could take on the Hulk. General Ross involved himself in the project with the villains, wanting revenge against me for all the times that the Hulk defeated him. What he didn't know is that they brought his daughter Betty back as a potential test subject, a back-up plan to use against me and the Hulk. By combining gamma and cosmic energies, they turned them into two crimson-skinned Hulks.", Bruce continued.

"M.O.D.O.K. and the Leader were defeated, their plans for world conquest ended. But not without a price. Leonard Samson lost his life... and now Rick, Betty and her father have become the very thing that I am. Jen is right. We're not monsters... we're Hulks.", Bruce concluded, finishing the origin of how Rick, Betty and General Ross became A-Bomb, Red She-Hulk and Red Hulk.

"Wow... that's incredible. But it still doesn't answer something that I want to know.", Korra responds.

"Oh? And what would that be?", Bruce questions, arching an eyebrow as he stared curiously at the young woman.

"Who is Skaar's mother? And where is she?", Korra inquired, determined to discover the truth.

Bruce Banner's face contorts into one of pure sorrow and tragedy, for remembering Caiera made him experience the pain all over again. Within his psyche, Banner could swear that he heard the Hulk. His cries of rage and despair echoing in his mind like thunder, roars that could make worlds quake. He still loved Caiera, he would always love her, but nothing hurt more than the realization that, despite all of his power, he was unable to save her from her fate.

"Skaar's mother is no more.", Bruce finally confessed, his voice as low as a whisper.

"Her name was Caiera the Oldstrong. She was my wife; the Hulk's Queen on the planet Sakaar.", Bruce informed, pushing a button on the device and activating a holographic projection that revealed a life-sized image of the female Oldstrong.

"She's beautiful.", Korra utters, in awe of the female Shadow Warrior's beauty.

The holographic image was accurate, displaying every single detail of her size and appearance, allowing Korra to take everything into perspective. Caiera stood at least 7'2", silver-hued armor covered her lithe Amazonian body, which appeared feminine yet still extremely formidable. Her flesh was of a gray-white, while her hair was very long and pitch black in color. She had dark markings etched on her head above her eyebrows; her eyes were an alluring green, the sclera around them black, reminding Korra of Skaar's own unique orbs.

"Yes, she was.", Bruce replied with a heavy, sad sigh.

"What happened to her?", Korra asked, looking at the downcast nuclear physicist.

"She died in the fiery explosion that engulfed all of Crown City, an explosion that nearly destroyed planet Sakaar.", Bruce answered, revealing a set of images, including one of the Hulk holding Caiera in his arms as the massive explosion consumed all of Crown City.

"She was pregnant when the explosion occurred. If she would have accessed the Old Power, she would have been able to survive the blast. However, Caiera wanted to save her child more than herself. That's how Skaar survived and lived. I didn't even know he was alive. It was only when Skaar came to Earth was this revealed to me and the Hulk.", Bruce said in conclusion, going more in-depth, the holographic projections aiding him in telling the tragic story of his wife's demise and Skaar's birth.

This startling revelation brought Korra on the verge of tears, her sapphire-blue irises leaking tiny droplets of moisture that managed to escape from her eyes and slowly stream down her cheeks. She looked directly at Dr. Banner before averting her gaze to Skaar. Slowly, almost hesitantly, she reaches out to rest a hand on his shoulder, causing him to turn and face her. She could sense the pain, the sorrow, and the anguish that reminiscing the past had brought upon father and son. It was then that she couldn't take it, that she couldn't keep herself at bay any longer as she lunged forward, encircling her arms around Skaar and pulling him in close.

"I'm sorry.", Korra whispered, holding him in a comforting embrace that he meekly returned.

They remained like for what seemed like hours, neither making the attempt to break the embrace. This did not go unnoticed by any of the individuals within the room, least of all Dr. Banner and Jennifer Walters. It would be a discussion for another time, for there are more important matters to attend at this point. Eventually Korra released Skaar from her embrace, a gentle smile on her face as she watched the son of Hulk run his hand through his long hair while avoiding eye contact with her.

"Ahem! Now that we've told you a bit about ourselves, perhaps you could inform us of how you came to our world? How did you manage to cross over from one universe to another?", Bruce suggested, wanting to quickly advance past these memories that brought him only pain and sorrow.

"It all happened so fast. There was this freak storm. The skies were split asunder, torn apart by some kind of powerful energies. A bolt of energy smashed into the earth within Republic City. I was helping the people get to safety when it all began. At the site of the blast... that's where I first seen him, where I faced him. His skin was a gray-white... it was like yours, Skaar. And half of his face... it was heavily scarred.", Korra began, her mind trying to piece everything together.

"I fought him. But he tricked me. Then, he cast me off of my world. He launched me into a sky and through some kind of portal. After that... it all went black. And then I woke up here, where I met all of you.", Korra finished, telling her tale of how she arrived to this world.

When Korra looked at those gathered in the room, watching their reactions, she couldn't help but sense that something was definitely wrong. It felt like they knew something about the villainous being, something that she didn't. What could it be? And why did it seem to make all of them on edge? Little did she know that the knowledge she possessed to the identity to the villain would cause instant havoc among the individuals within the room.

"Korra, what was his name? Did he tell you who he was?", Skaar questioned, his attention solely focused on her.

"Yes, he did. He called himself... Hiro-Kala.", Korra answers, recalling the name of the villain.

"What?!", Banner shouted, rising out of his seat.

"It can't be!", Jen exclaims.

"Should of killed him when you had the chance, Banner!", General Ross snarls, instantly putting the blame on the nuclear physicist.

"Ah, man! I thought we already dealt with him!", Rick groaned, falling back into his chair and slouching against the back of the seat.

"That freak is loose?!", Betty hissed.

"That's impossible, Korra! He was imprisoned. He couldn't have escaped!", Skaar stated quite clearly.

"What are you talking about?", Korra demanded, narrowing her sapphire-blue eyes.

"Hiro-Kala was defeated. We fought him, saved the world before he could crash planet Ka'i into Earth, and imprisoned him forever.", Skaar answered.

"Well, I hate to break it to you, but he's free now! And he's back on my world! What is he, anyway?! What does he want?!", Korra inquired in exclamation, demanding to get some answers.

"Korra... Hiro-Kala is my brother.", Skaar said in confession, wishing that she didn't have to discover this dark secret.

"What?!", Korra gasped, bolting to her feet instantly and taking a step away from the cot.

"Yes, it's true. But he isn't like me. He's evil. Insane. A real monster.", Skaar replied uneasily, rising to his feet and reaching out to rest his right hand on Korra's shoulder in an attempt to comfort her as she had done when they spoke of his mother's demise.

"But what does he want with my world?", Korra asks, glancing from Skaar to the rest of the occupants within the room.

"I'm not certain. Whatever it is that he's seeking... it's nothing good.", Skaar answers truthfully, locking eyes with his feminine multi-elemental friend.

"No, it can't be! That little monster...", Bruce snarled, clutching his head tightly in his hands, trying to suppress the rage that he felt building within him.

"Take it easy, Bruce. Calm down.", Betty urged in a gentle, soothing tone of voice.

It was too late. The memories of Caiera, the trauma caused by her unfortunate demise, the reemergence of a son that was thought to be imprisoned forever and destined to die, all summoned forth a rage and sorrow deep within Banner that could only be equaled or dwarfed by the Hulk's own. The transformation was instantaneous, the mild-mannered nuclear physicist Dr. Bruce Banner becoming the raging, indestructible, unstoppable green goliath known as the Hulk! Unleashing a thunderous roar of primal fury, the Hulk sets his sights on the individual whom was responsible for these memories and feelings resurfacing. And unfortunately, it would appear that particularly person was none other than Avatar Korra.

"YOU!", Hulk growled between clenched teeth, his voice sending a chill down Korra's spine.

"You come to my world, wanting our help to kill one son... while seducing and hurting another!", Hulk snarled, advancing ever closer towards the multi-elemental empowered young woman.

"What? I-I don't understand! I mean, yeah, I'll do whatever it takes to save my world and stop Hiro-Kala, but I'd never hurt Skaar. He's my friend!", Korra proclaims, finding herself trapped between the cot against the wall and the raging Jade Giant.

"Liar!", Hulk bellows, pulling his fist back as he advanced forward to crush her with the first blow... only to have someone get in his way.

"Father! Stop!", Skaar pleads, stepping in between Korra and his enraged father.

The tactic manages to make the Hulk cease his advance, stopping directly in front of Skaar and Korra. His emerald irises glance from his son to the female Avatar, taking everything into consideration. He sensed that Korra was sincere in her response, yet it was difficult for him to trust anyone or anything. His entire life has been wrought with betrayal and deceit from others, so trusting another individual wasn't something that he or Banner would take lightly. But if his son trusted her, if he was willing to defend her against his wrath, he was willing to give her a chance.

"Skaar, take her to the medical bay. Then show her to her room.", Hulk ordered, releasing a heavy sigh.

"Follow me, Korra.", Skaar utters, gently coaxing the Avatar to walk towards the door.

Korra did as Skaar requested yet even as they walked onward, she couldn't stop herself from sending a sympathetic look at the Hulk as they exited through the door. She could only begin to imagine or understand what he was going through physically and psychologically. If only she could help him, if only she could provide him some form of peace that could ease his troubled mind. If only...

"Are you okay, Bruce?", Jen asks, feeling genuine concern for her cousin.

"Leave me alone.", Hulk rumbled, his voice like thunder that proceeds a lightning strike.

"Bruce...", Betty whispered, walking towards him.

"Don't call me 'Bruce'!", Hulk growls, causing Betty to stop dead in her tracks.

And with that last sentence, the Hulk marched out of the room, not even bothering to glance back at his assembled comrades. Old wounds have been reopened. Only time would tell if new ones would be created, or if those old wounds would be healed.

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


Gamma World, New Mexico

The Medical Bay



Korra found herself resting on a metallic slab of some kind of machine, her body lying still as a bright light scanned her body from head to toe in various angles. She was beginning to grow restless, feeling as if she had been going through this process for hours when in fact it had only been mere minutes. It was only when the machine became silent and the scanner extinguished its light that she let out a heavy sigh of relief.

When she and Skaar first entered the Medical Bay, they were greeted by a lovely young woman with wavy red hair who was wearing a lab coat over her casual clothes. What Korra soon discovered was that she wasn't human at all. Technically speaking, she was very human-like in appearance, but under it all she was a machine, an advanced LMD android to be more precise. Her name was Annie. She appeared human and was friendly, so that was good enough for Korra.

She couldn't say the same about the second android, who monotone voice made him appear cold despite being quite attractive in appearance. He reminded Korra of an older, more mature, and even more handsome version of Mako. Short black hair adorned the top of his head; his eyes were completely crimson-red in color; and his body was covered in ebony attire with glowing violet markings. His human name was Aaron Stack, but to most he was known as Machine Man.

The last person she was introduced to was a woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. She really stood out, even in the presence of the two androids Annie and Aaron Stack. Her skin tone, like that of Skaar's, was of a pale gray-white in color. Her eyes were a radiant blue, not unlike Korra's very own, with the only difference being that the sclera was pitch black like that of Skaar & Caiera. And her dark raven hair transcended down her neck to settle on her shoulders, just managing to touch the fabric of her white lab coat. She's a close friend and love interest of Dr. Bruce Banner, a former agent of SHIELD known as Kate Waynesboro.

"All right. You can sit up now, Korra. Your x-ray scans should be complete.", Kate informs the young Avatar.

"Finally.", Korra huffed, sitting up on the slab.

"Her blood tests are also complete. And I can confirm by these statistics that she's 100% healthy.", Annie added in an optimistic tone of voice.

"Now, all that is needed is to administer some antibiotics.", Machine Man said in his usual monotone.

"What's that?", Korra inquired, her eyes widening ever so slightly as she noticed Kate approach her with a needle nestled in the fingers of the woman's right hand.

"It's nothing to worry about. Just some antibiotics. You know, medicine.", Kate Waynesboro informed in a nonchalant manner, taking the alcohol swab in her left hand and gently rubbing it on an area of Korra's arm.

"Why do I need that?", Korra asks, looking uneasy as she glanced from the needle to the female scientist.

"It's to make sure you stay healthy. Wouldn't want you to get sick, now, would we?", Kate responds with a friendly smile, hoping that it'd ease the tense teenager.

"I guess not.", Korra admits somewhat reluctantly.

"Good. Now, hold still. This won't hurt much. It'll be over before you know it.", Kate assured, inserting the needle into Korra's arm, though not without some difficulty as the girl's skin was thicker than that of a normal person.

"So... what's your story? Are you an Oldstrong like Skaar's mother?", Korra inquired, gesturing towards the woman's gray-white flesh.

"No, I'm not an Oldstrong, actually. I'm just an ordinary person. Or at least I was at one time.", Kate answered with an amused chuckle, setting the needle on a metal tray before placing a bandage on the spot where the syringe pierced Korra's flesh.

"Then... how did you become an Oldstrong?", Korra asks, her curiosity intrigued.

"A warrior named Hiroim bestowed the Old Power to me as a gift. He died in battle to save us all, to save the world from a madman. That's where I inherited the Old Power, through his noble sacrifice.", Kate answered, recalling the events as if they had transpired yesterday.

"I wish I could've met him. He sounds like a true hero.", Korra remarks, a part of her mind wondering what he would have been like to meet in person.

"Your test results and x-rays show that you're in perfect physical condition, Ms. Korra.", Machine Man said, informing the young woman immediately upon receiving the results.

"In other words, you've got nothing to worry about.", Annie adds, giving the young woman an honest smile.

"Interesting. Your bone density is greater than that of normal Homo sapiens. And I believe your skin is also far more durable and resistant to injury. Fascinating.", Machine Man remarked absentmindedly, seemingly intrigued by her unique physiology.

"Uh... thanks, I think.", Korra replies, not sure what to make of his remark in regards to her physical condition.

"That'll be all for now. You're free to go, Korra.", Kate states, offering the multi-elemental empowered girl a hand.

"Uh, okay. Thanks. It was nice meeting all of you.", Korra responds, grasping Kate's hand and hauling herself off the metallic slab.

"The feeling is mutual, Korra.", Kate assures with a light chuckle, giving Korra's hand a brief shake before releasing it.

"Well, c'mon, Skaar. Let's go get something to eat. I'm starving!", Korra exclaims, calling her friend and partner in crime who was seated in a chair on the opposite side of the room.

Rising out of the chair, Skaar waited until Korra reached him before they both left the Medical Bay, their destination being made quite clear by Korra's previous statement. One could only hope that there would be enough food to satisfy their large appetites. Once Skaar and Korra were out of sight, and out of hearing range, that's when a new topic of discussion was brought up amongst the three extraordinary individuals.

"Is it me, or do they seem close?", Annie suggested, arching an eyebrow as she glanced sideways at the former agent of SHIELD.

"Now, Annie, don't go jumping to conclusions.", Kate responded, knowing full well what the android was implying.

"I have to agree with her, Ms. Waynesboro. Skaar's pheromone levels suggest that he's attracted to Ms. Korra.", Machine Man stated, keeping his usual monotone despite the topic of this conversation.

"Regardless, I think it's best if we stay out of it. If it's meant to be, it will happen on its own accord.", Kate said, resuming to move on to her next activity.

"So... if you were to bet on if they'd get together or not, what would you choose?", Annie inquired with false innocence.

"Nice try, Annie, but I'm not answering that one.", Kate chuckled, not taking the bait.

Still, despite herself, Kate couldn't help but wonder about the relationship between Skaar and Korra, and how far it could potentially develop. It also made her contemplate something else. What did Banner and the Hulk think? How are they reacting to the bond that his son and this young woman are forming? How accepting are they of her and of this relationship, whether it be platonic or amorous?

Only time would tell.

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


On another World, Within another Universe

An Ancient and Forgotten Isle



Mists shroud the forgotten island within the seemingly endless ocean, an isle created long ago by the Oldstrong and the Avatar who saved this world and restored balance. Few beings knew of its existence, let alone of its exact location. Only the Shadow People and the Avatar knew of it, only they could find it. Hiro-Kala knew of it, of this world and its connection with the Shadow People, through the knowledge given to him by the very being who freed him from his imprisonment.

He didn't know why the ultimate nihilist freed him, or why he willingly told him of this world and its connection to the Shadow People, or what is it that he wanted with this particular world. All that was known to Hiro-Kala was that he demanded that death be brought to this world. If he succeeded in bringing death to this world and its people, he would be given this universe. However, the mad tyrant also warned Hiro-Kala that, if he were to fail in bringing death to this world, he would ensure that Hiro-Kala would suffer and beg for something as sweet as death's cold embrace!

The threat was made clear, the task before him set. But in the end, when his conquest was complete, Hiro-Kala would turn this to his advantage and seek to strike against the being who freed him from his imprisonment. He entered the cavern, the Old Power energies that radiated from his right hand providing the light needed to see and travel within the vast passageways. There was statues, paintings and markings from a bygone age that decorated every square inch of this ancient place. He paid little attention to these, continuing to walk onward, seeking out the chamber that contained the second amulet.

The main passageway opened up, revealing the chamber in which Hiro-Kala had been seeking since arriving on this world. This was the tomb of the Oldstrong and the Avatar. It was they who fought against the darkness; it was them who defeated and contained Aku-Tonrar; it was the Avatar and the Oldstrong who united against this evil and brought peace and balance to this world. It was them who wielded the Heart of this world.

"Hiro-Arin.", Hiro-Kala said in an icy tone of voice, glaring up at the entombed form of the Oldstrong that stood watch over the stone coffin and the chamber itself.

"Avatar Kira.", Hiro-Kala hissed with mere contempt, glancing down at the sarcophagus.

"You loved her greatly, didn't you? So greatly that you couldn't stand the pain... so greatly that you couldn't bare to live once she had passed. Once you left your blessing to this world, to its people, to the past and future incarnations of the Avatar, you created this tomb and then used the Old Power to turn yourself to stone for eternity. All done out of love for her and this world.", Hiro-Kala said in a voice devoid of any emotion, speaking as if the Oldstrong could still hear him.

"Love. A weak and useless emotion. A treacherous feeling that blinds one of their senses.", Hiro-Kala snarled, ripping open the stone lid of Avatar Kira's sarcophagus.

Inside rested the form of Avatar Kira, her body turned to stone by the Old Power upon her death by Hiro-Arin. But Hiro-Kala could care less about her lifeless body. It was the item that encircled her neck that he sought. The amulet adorned the necklace that was still draped around her throat.

"I assure you... love is something that I neither desire nor possess the capability for.", Hiro-Kala, reaching inside the sarcophagus to rip the necklace that held the amulet from Avatar Kira's neck.

"I am a being of Power... of Conquest!", Hiro-Kala proclaimed, ripping the necklace from its resting place and holding it high above his head for a brief instant.

"And this world, this universe... will be mine!", Hiro-Kala said, a sinister smile forming on his scarred visage.

Taking the first amulet out of his pocket, Hiro-Kala brings it closer to the second amulet resulting in a blinding flash of light. Then, just as the brilliant light is extinguished, it is revealed that the two amulets have combined to form one singular piece. If any other being, besides the Avatar or an Oldstrong, had attempted to combine the amulets into its true singular form, they would have been met with failure. This was the knowledge that Hiro-Kala possessed, knowledge that only the Avatar or an Oldstrong could achieve access to the amulet.

With this amulet Hiro-Kala could open a portal to a distinct location, one that was only known by the Shadow People and the Avatar. The spiritual temple where the Heart of this world rested. It was where an endless army of Dark Berserker Spirits lay in wait, contained until they were needed. And lastly, within the temple, imprisoned eons ago by the combined might of Avatar Kira, Hiro-Arin and the Heart of this world, rested an entity of darkness, chaos, destruction and death. An entity formed by a 100,000 dark spirits, gods and demons... Aku-Tonrar!

Raising the amulet in the air, Hiro-Kala begins to summon forth the energies needed for the task. Once the power has been summoned, the blast of energy is released from the amulet, opening/creating a gateway to the intended spiritual location. Without the slightest hint of fear or hesitation, Hiro-Kala walks through the gateway. Everything was going as planned. His time of conquest was now.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2014, 19:29 #19

The following entry was submitted by BIG THUNDER! for the November 2014 comp

Marvel Star Wars: Arsenal - Chapter Seven


After being captured by Ti'i Pirates, having his heart removed and replaced with an explosive device and forced to build them his design for a hyperspace capable torpedo, Antoneid Starek and his Twi'lek co-prisoner Yinsen have managed to free themselves after the genius engineer sprung a surprise on those guarding him turning his torpedo into a makeshift exoskeleton. Meanwhile, the Pirate leaders wonder why there is a delay from hearing from those attending to the captives...


The bridge of the Ti’i star destroyer, The Hand of Yregith

“What is taking your people so long, Chieftan? They should have reported back by now.”

The Ti’i Chieftan eyed his human ally, Danal Biet angrily. Not that he was angry with her, but because he knew his soldiers were, as she was saying, taking too long in assessing why the sensors in the lab holding Antoneid Starek had suddenly gone silent. He walked over to his comms officer.

“Contact that blasted security team and have them…”

Suddenly, a clarion began to sound and warning beacons began spinning flooding the bridge with red pulsating light.

“What is the meaning of this?!” Y’tere’ete growled, eyeing the startled officer. The Ti’i man looked down at his console and read the alert.

“Systems show a breach in the main power drive line in the D-section of the ship, Chieftan,” the officer reported. “The resulting explosion cut into the atmospheric transfer pumps. Diagnostic sensors are showing a toxic level of particulates have contaminated the ship’s main atmospheric processors.”

Danal Biet slapped a fist into an open palm. “Blast it! How did this happen?”

As Maj. Biet and the Ti’i Chieftan eagerly waited for an answer, the comms officer urgently searched the ship’s sensor logs.

“Data is indicating that five minutes ago, there was an explosion in the lab…where the prisoner…”

“Starek!” Y’tere’ete screamed as Maj. Biet turned away angrily. “He sabotaged his work! He must have killed himself and the guards in the explosion. That must be why we lost the sensor feed.”

“Most exhalted Chieftan,” the comms officer interrupted. “I am showing numerous escape pod launches.”

“They must know about this type of ship’s main weakness,” Danal said, slowly turning to look at her Ti’i partner. “Hundreds of years ago, the old Republic lost thousands of their troops due to ruptured drive lines that contaminated the ships’ life support systems.”

The Ti’i Chieftan nodded. “I do recall reading that when we salvaged this ship and researched its reconstruction. My men wisely read the historical…”

“Not your men, fool!” Maj. Biet screamed. “Starek and that tentacle headed doctor of his! That lab is heavily shielded. We would have felt any explosion big enough to tear through that shielding here on this bridge. Give the order to tell your men to return to their posts. Have search teams look for Antoneid Starek because I am sure that he figured out a way of escaping!”

---

Moments earlier…

A dozen members of the Pirate warship’s security team waited as the heavy door to the lab slowly opened. Less than a minute earlier, they had received a report that the room’s single vis sensor had gone down. Under orders from their Chieftan, they had gone to the room to investigate the sensor’s malfunction.

As the door opened sufficiently enough, the security team’s commanding non-com ducked down to see that a large droid was casting a shadow through the doorway.

“EgWa-Ye9, has this lab’s security feed stopped working?” the sergeant asked. “Have you noticed an irregularity in its…”

The door continued to open enough for him to get a better view and he realized that EgWa-Ye9 was standing behind the mechanical figure waiting just inside the doorway.

He turned to the corporal just behind him. “Did the Chieftan assign a second droid to watch the human?”

Before the corporal could answer his non-com with a “no”, a hand reached under the still opening door and grabbed the sergeant by the neck, dragging him into the room. As the corporal blinked his eyes in surprise, there was a muffled scream followed by the sound of a Ti’i’s neck breaking.

“The droid’s lost it!” the corporal said lifting his rifle. “Get a restraining bolt down here!”

“Too late!” was the first answer that came from a human’s voice made tinny by the helmet he was wearing. The second answer came in the sound of a spray of tungsten rods from a rail gun.

*BRRRRRT* *BRRRRRT* *BRRRRRT*

Before the door opened completely, the corporal and the rest of the security team on the most part had nearly been cut in half by the makeshift gun in Antoneid Starek’s exoskeletal suit that he had designed from pieces of one of the two prototype torpedoes that had been stolen by Danal Biet and her Ti’i coconspirator Y’tere’ete.

“My, that certainly worked,” Yinsen, the Twi’lek doctor that had kept Antoneid company for nearly two days commented, noting the pile of Ti’i bodies and entrails just outside of the lab as he followed Antoneid out into the hallway followed by the droid.

“This gun’s got too high of a rate of fire,” Antoneid commented as he began picking up the dead Ti’i Pirates’ rifles from the floor along with a few other items. “I used up a quarter of my ammunition already. EgWa-Ye9, go to that droid socket station and do as I told you. We need to lessen the number of these Pirates on board this ship or we’ll never make it.”

“May I remind you, Starek, that I am doing this out of protest,” the droid growled and turned to walk down the hall. “I will make it, because my desire is to see you and this Twi’lek dead!”

Yinsen gave his armor encased human friend a nervous smile.

“Don’t worry about the droid, Yinsen,” Antoneid told him as he handed him a small communicator that he had pulled from one of the dead Ti’i’s belts. “That restraining bolt I put on him’s not coming off and while it doesn’t come off, he’s gonna do everything that I tell him too. Remember the plan.”

“Everything you say?” Yinsen said with wide eyes and a nervous smile, noting that Antoneid was attaching rifles to his armor’s forearms and shoulders.

“Right,” Antoneid said and looked at the droid that was still walking away. “Hey, droid. You have to do everything that Yinsen says, too.”

“Fine! You human sack of entrails!”

“Can you feel the love?” Antoneid joked to his friend. “Now, go. Remember, he’s your bodyguard. Don’t listen to his insults. Be safe.”

“And you as well, my friend,” Yinsen said with a smile. “I shall see you on the bridge.”

Antoneid turned and began making his way down the hallway in the opposite direction that the droid and the Twi’lek doctor had gone. According to his timing, after a few turns in the corridor and a short ride on a service elevator, he would be on the bridge.

After his first turn around a corner, he was met by two dozen Pirates. By the looks of the tools and equipment in most of their hands, he could tell that they weren’t expecting to run into their Chieftan’s human prisoner. By the shocked and confused looks on their oblong, red skinned faces, he could tell they weren’t expecting to run into a guy wearing a suit of mechanical armor either.

“Pardon me gentlemen, coming through,” Antoneid said as he, as best as he could, tried to nonchalantly walk by them.

“Droid?” one of them asked another.

“Wearing a human’s clone trooper helmet?” the other responded.

“Human?”

Antoneid tightened his eyes closed. The ruse didn’t work.

Some of the Ti’i workers dropped their tools and picked up blasters that they happened to have waiting nearby. The ones without blasters lifted equally dangerous rivet drills and arc welders, looking as if they were ready to take his armor apart.

“Get him!”

“Blast it…” Antoneid said, swatting the first Ti’i that came to him from the right sending him flipping end over end into a wall. The rest of the Pirates with blasters opened fire. The ones without blasters charged him.

Antoneid inwardly thanked himself for designing his torpedoes with moderate armor. He knew it could withstand a substantial barrage of fire coming from hand held blasters but also guessed that the Pirates had more than hand held blasters in their arsenal.

As the Pirates continued to attack him, a claxon sounded, echoing through the hallway. For a fraction of a second, Antoneid surmised that one of the Pirates he was being attacked by had activated an alarm until he remembered the orders he gave to EgWa-Ye9.

“Ha, ha!” Antoneid said, pointing each of his arms in different directions. “That’s the dinner bell, fellas! Time to eat!”

Antonied bumped his left elbow against his side where he had positioned a switch. The switch activated a couple of controls that caused a series of wires to tighten which in turn pulled on clamps that held sections of torpedo casing together. In their present configuration, the clamps were used to attach blasters to his armor. When the clamps tightened, triggers were pulled and the blasters fired.

Quickly, Antoneid mowed down six of the Pirates then proceeded to punch and swat three more that were attacking him with a pair of drills and a welder attached to a pair of fuel lines. Turning his head, Antonied spied a pair of tanks the lines were attached to. Aiming the blasters on his right arm at the tanks, he bumped his left elbow against his side.

The explosion wasn’t rattling, but it created a significant fireball that engulfed all of the combatants in the skirmish. Antoneid, inside his armor, knew he was safe only for the moment. While the Ti’i Pirates around him screamed in pain and did their best to escape the flames that covered them, Antoneid continued down the hallway. Indicators in his helmet showed that external temperatures rose then fell after he exited the area of the hallway that was engulfed, leaving behind a couple dozen blackened Ti’i corpses.

Down the hallway, he could see that every door was opening and that Ti’i Pirates were scattering this way and that. Some took notice in him, but were too preoccupied to care since the thing they thought they were running from was imaginary contaminated air coming through the ship’s vents.

“Pardon me, coming through,” Antoneid said as Pirates flowed around him, eager to get to the ship’s escape pods. “Remember, folks: women and children first. Please do not exceed your escape pods’ recommended weight allowances. Be sure to extinguish all flames and to securely fasten safety harnesses within your escape pod. If your fellow evacuee needs help securing his safety harness then be a pal and help him out. Inside your escape pod you will see a pair of emergency beacons. By activating these beacons you can be located in either deep space or if your pod lands on a nearby moon or planet. In case of a water landing, several flotation devices can be found…”

Suddenly the claxon stopped and was replaced by the voice of a human woman.

“That was a false alarm, all of you idiots!”

It was Danal Biet’s voice. Antoneid noted that she didn't sound very happy.

“The human that we captured has escaped! Any of you pinheaded idiots that are still on board need to find him immediately! Bring him to me alive! If you can’t bring him to me alive, bring me his severed head!”

Antoneid continued to make his way down the hallway, despite the fact that there were nearly a hundred Ti’i Pirates all around him and that they had stopped in their tracks to listen to the announcement. Without turning his head, the escaping prisoner could see that all eyes were turning on him.

“What are you waiting for?!” Antoneid roared. “Find the human!”

They weren’t fooled by that ruse either.

As he found himself under blaster fire again, he returned fire and battered any Ti’i that got in his way.

“It was the helmet, wasn’t it?” Antoneid asked as he began running in the direction that would lead him to the elevator that would bring him to the bridge, running into and over as many Pirates as he could on the way.

As he turned the last corner he found himself face to face with ten more Pirates that were all pushing a large piece of equipment on a hover cart. From the looks of it, Antoneid guessed that they had been in the process of moving the heavy thing to the ship’s dorsal hangar to escape with it. After Maj. Biet’s announcement, it was obvious that they were pushing the equipment back to where they had gotten it.

Now what could have been so important to these guys that they’d want to take the time to get it on a ship when their lives were in danger. Uh,oh…

When the Pirates saw the armored figure coming toward them, they stopped and began turning the thing on the cart so that it’s stocky barrel was pointed toward him.

Antoneid recognized it. It was a huge plasma cutter, obviously used for breaching ship’s hulls. These guys were Pirates and often raided ships using plasma cutters like that would allow passage of raiding Pirates onto the captured ships by cutting large holes in those ships’ hulls. Their heavily armored hulls.

“Blast it,” Antoneid blurted out as he ducked to the side as someone pushing the plasma cutter managed to activate it in an attempt to stop him. A long, blinding blue tongue of flame shot out twenty meters cutting through a cabin wall at the point where the hall came to an end and the twenty Pirates that had just turned the corner to chase after the escapee.

“Turn it off! Turn it off!”

Realizing their mistake, the Pirates that had been pushing the plasma cutter shut it down and reached for slung blasters right before Antoneid cut them down with the quartet of blasters attached to his makeshift armor. A stray shot from one of their blasters hit one of the two blaster rifles attached to his left arm, putting it out of commission. That left him with only three since the blasters attached to his armored shoulders weren’t working.

“Gotta figure out why they aren’t,” Antoneid said walking past the plasma cutter and over the dead bodies of the Pirates that had tried to kill him with it. Grabbing a hold of the cart, he pushed it down the hallway from where he had just come. While it didn’t stop any more of the half dozen Pirates still chasing after him, it made them duck for cover, slowing their pursuit.

Soon, Antoneid found himself at the service elevator. Clumsily he fumbled with its controls using mechanical fingers at the end of his left arm.

“Note to self: next time make smaller fingers,” Antoneid told himself just before the door opened. Two Pirates were inside and carrying heavy blasters. They barely had time to raise them before Antoneid punched one in the stomach, shattering his spine and crushing the other against the wall with a shoulder block. As that one sunk to the floor, Antoneid repeated the agonizing process of fumbling with the door’s controls.

“Come on, come on,” he grunted as he listened to the sound of Pirate feet outside in the hallway. Finally, after he entered the command to send the elevator to the bridge, the doors began to close but not before the six remaining Pirates in the hallway began firing in between them. Antoneid fired back with his railgun splattering four of them before it jammed. The two remaining Pirates jabbed their rifles through the door in a last ditch effort to try and damage Antoneid’s armor enough to hurt him.

“ Door’s closing guys,” Antoneid said as he grabbed their rifles and hands. “Here, let me help you.”

The escaped prisoner yanked on the Ti’i’s arms just as the heavy service door closed on them in a sickening crunch. Looking down, Antoneid fliched and dropped the two severed arms and the rifles still in their hands.

“Disarmed. What a shame.”

The elevator rose and arrived at the bridge seconds later. When the door opened, Antoneid found a half dozen Ti’i troops and officers lying on the floor with blaster wounds.

D-section again? Antoneid guessed but before he returned to the elevator, he checked the chrono in his helmet. Five minutes! Blast it! I’m late.

“Yinsen!” Antoneid yelled and entered the hallway. Across from the service elevator was a standard personnel elevator with two pair of bloody footprints leading to it. As Antoneid turned, he could see another trail of Pirate bodies leading toward the ship’s bridge.

“Starrrrek.”

The voice was weak. It was Yinsen’s. Antoneid ran as fast as his mechanical exoskeleton could carry him. As he reached the bridge, he found what was left of EgWa-Ye9 lying face first on the floor, the scraps of his legs and arms riddled with blaster holes. The droid was still active yet running on limited power.

“I…did as you told me…to…human garbage,” the droid muttered. Looking around, Antoneid couldn’t see Yinsen anywhere.

“Hey, buddy, where are you?” Antoneid shouted again.

“Heeere.”

Antoneid followed the voice and found Yinsen lying on his back in one of the control pit stations set in the bridge’s floor. Yinsen’s hands were covering a blaster wound in his abdomen. Another was in the left side of his chest.

“I’m not human,” the Twi’lek said with a weak laugh.

“Your heart’s not there,” Antoneid said, tearing his helmet off and dropping it on the floor, exchanging a sad smile with his friend. Because of his armor, he couldn’t get down into the pit to help him. He needed to get out of his armor in order to become more mobile.

“You have a bad choice of girlfriends…” Yinsen said with a weak grin, referring to Danal Biet. “She should have…known better.”

“Listen, Yinsen, hold on,” Antoneid told his Twi’lek friend. “I need to get out of this before I can do anything to help you. It’s too bulky. Just hold on and I’ll…”

“I entered the hyperspace coordinates…*gasp*…in the navicomputer…” Yinsen said weakly, lifting one of his hands to point toward a bank of controls near him. “All you have to do is activate …the …hyper …drive.”

Antoneid looked at the abdominal wound. He could see into a blackened hole deep into him. There was little doubt as to how fatal a wound it was.

“Yinsen, I’m so sorry, I…”

“No…thank you…” Yinsen told him. “I died…a free man…”

Yinsen died with a smile on his face. Tears in Antoneid’s eyes mixed with dirt and sweat making them sting. A quiet alarm sounded and Antoneid stood in time to see that it indicated the ship’s long dorsal hangar was opening and rising from it was a single small ship.

“Danal Biet and Y’tere’ete – you cowards,” Antoneid spat as he watched the ship accelerate away before disappearing as it entered hyperspace. He then noticed all of the specks of light reflected from a nearby white dwarf indicating the positions of hundreds of escape pods containing most of the The Hand of Yregith’s crew.

“Freeze and starve to death, Pirate scum,” Antoneid said walking over to a command station on the empty bridge. On one of its control panels, he found the single command lever that would activate the ship’s hyperdrive and send it to the destination that Yinsen had entered into the ship’s computer. Just as he was about to pull the lever he noticed that the Ti’i Pirates hadn’t gotten around to painting over or removing a metal plaque with the star destroyer’s original name.

“The Avenger,” Antoneid told himself, noticing that next to the name were concentric red and white circles and a white star surrounded by blue within them. It was the Crest of Alderaan. “Well, isn’t that fitting, Yinsen. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure your family knows you died as free man, a hero and as my friend.”

Antoneid managed to get his mechanical hand on the hyperdrive lever easier than he could press buttons. When he pulled down on the lever, stars around the ship became long streaks just before the ship entered hyperspace abandoning the Pirates that had abandoned it.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Dec 2014, 19:31 #20

The following entry was submitted by GREENSCAR1990 for the November 2014 comp

The Balance of Power

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Chapter Six

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The Bonds that are Formed

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Mists.

Cool.

Mysterious.

Silent.

Korra remembered the last time she was in such similar surroundings. It was when she first noticed the two individuals, those whom she knew nothing about. If she had to take a guess, the woman was one of the Avatars from the past and the man was of the Shadow People. But what did they have to do with her? What connection did these two share? And most importantly... who are they? And what did they want?

Suddenly, out of thin air, the elegant woman and the towering man appeared directly in front of her. Korra took a few steps back, her sapphire-blue irises focused solely on the two individuals. She didn't expect their arrival to be so sudden, yet it did grant her the opportunity that she'd been waiting for. It was her chance to finally seek the answers to the questions that have lingered in her mind.

"Who are you?", Korra asks, briefly arching an eyebrow in curiosity and apprehension.

"I am Avatar Kira.", The Female Avatar answered, bowing her head slightly in greeting and acknowledgement of her descendant's presence.

"And I am Hiro-Arin.", The Oldstrong Shadow Warrior said, following forth with an introduction of himself.

"Are you the ones who saved my life? You know, when Hiro-Kala banished me and I lost consciousness?", Korra said in inquiry, referring to the moment she was cast out of her universe by Hiro-Kala and left stranded in the airless void of space.

"No, it was not us who insured your journey to this world would be a safe one.", Hiro-Arin answered.

"Oh. Then, was it Raava?", Korra probed, briefly taking on a contemplative pose before inquiring again.

"No, it wasn't. Your savior is not connected with Raava or any of your past lives.", Avatar Kira informed in reply to Korra's inquiry.

"Then, who was it? Why did they do it? Why did they save me?", Korra demanded, determined to discover the truth of how she survived and the identity of the being who selflessly saved her from dying.

"Patience, Avatar Korra.", Hiro-Arin replied calmly.

"All will be revealed in time. There are more important matters to discuss.", Avatar Kira said in a gentle, assuring tone of voice.

"Like what?", Korra asked, wondering what Avatar Kira meant.

"The threat that your world faces.", Avatar Kira responds, her gentle voice taking on a stern, serious tone.

"Hiro-Kala is set to unleash dark forces upon your world.", Hiro-Arin states, his voice as serious as it was grim.

"He will capture the Heart of your world. It is the very energy, the very life force, of your world. With it in his possession, Hiro-Kala will be able to wield the elements to his whim.", Avatar Kira explains further.

This revelation shocked Korra to her core, her sapphire-hued eyes widening in disbelief. This wasn't possible. Only one who was gifted with any of the four elements could wield them to their will. Only the Avatar could wield all four elements at once. And this would be virtually impossible if not for the spirit known as Raava, who became one with Avatar Wan many, many millennia ago.

"That's impossible! Only the Avatar can do that!", Korra exclaimed, almost unwilling to believe what she had been told.

"With the Heart, Hiro-Kala can achieve this. But it is not all that he can do.", Hiro-Arin replied.

"There will be no end to the horror and destruction Hiro-Kala will create. He will be able to summon an endless army of Dark Berserker Spirits, travel to the physical and spiritual worlds whenever he desires. And then, when the time is right, he will be able to awaken the Celestial Darkness: Aku-Tonrar.", Avatar Kira informs, her voice remaining calm and serene despite the foreboding circumstances.

"How do you know all of this?", Korra asks.

"Long ago, it was Hiro-Arin and I who used the Heart to contain the Dark Berserker Spirits. And with the Heart and our combined might, we imprisoned Aku-Tonrar forever. Or so we believed. Now that Hiro-Kala is destined to unleash these dark forces, it is up to you and your allies to stop him and restore the balance of power.", Avatar Kira stated, telling the young multi-elemental young woman of the story.

The visions of this conflict appeared before Korra's very eyes, showcasing the battle against the army of Dark Berserker Spirits. They were monstrous, hulking brutes made of darkness that towered anywhere from seven to eight feet tall with four to six glowing eyes and had two to four arms and a pair of legs, reminding Korra of the stories of demons and kaiju from legends that the elder watertribe people told on cold nights. The image faded, only to reveal another, one of Avatar Kira in the Avatar State and Hiro-Arin fighting alongside her.

The vision changed again, this time revealing Avatar Kira and Hiro-Arin holding a glowing, oval-shaped object that was unleashing blinding energies against a gigantic, demonic entity that towered above and amongst the mountains of the landscape. Form as dark as shadow, eyes as fiery as hell, power cable of destroying and consuming worlds in darkness and death. The Celestial Darkness... Aku-Tonrar!

"But be wary of one of your allies, Korra. He is a threat to your world, perhaps greater than the dark forces that Hiro-Kala will unleash. He is known by many names, but it is his terrible might and wrath that gave him the name... World-Breaker.", Hiro-Arin added in a serious monotone voice.

Upon hearing those last two words, Korra remembered something from Bruce Banner's data files. It revealed something about the Hulk, something frightening about the Green Goliath, something that was powerful beyond comprehension. A Cosmic Force of Nature. Rage Incarnate. World-Breaker.

"The Hulk. He's... the World-Breaker, isn't he?", Korra inquires, her voice as faint as a gentle fall breeze.

"That is something that you must discover for yourself. Our time with you is short. It will be soon time for us to depart, and for you to awaken.", Avatar Kira said in response.

"But how do I get back to my world?", Korra inquired, sensing that the two spiritual forms of Hiro-Arin and Avatar Kira were about to vanish.

"Do not worry, Korra. You're allies will provide you with the gateway that will return you to your world.", Avatar Kira answers, a knowing smile gracing her lovely features.

"But, for now, young Avatar, you must remain on this world and rest.", Hiro-Arin adds, reassuring the young woman.

"Farewell, Avatar Korra. I can only hope to see you again.", Avatar Kira bids farewell, bowing before her descendant.

"No! Wait! Don't leave! There's still some things I want answered! Please, don't go!", Korra proclaimed, pleading with the two spirits to remain.

But it was of no use. When she finished her protest, Avatar Kira and Hiro-Arin were gone. Vanishing in an instant, neither leaving so much as a trace. It was then, seconds later, that Korra awakened from her deep slumber.


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Gamma World, New Mexico

Base of the Hulks

Korra's Room




"No! Wait!", Korra shouts as she bolted up from her bed, unaware of the door to her room opening ever so slightly.

"Korra?", Skaar utters, his voice just loud enough for her to hear him.

"Skaar?", Korra replies, her arctic-blue irises gazing towards the door of her room.

Sure enough, there he was, standing just outside her room before he proceeded to fully open the door and enter the room, not even bothering to close the door as he did. Skaar approached the bed in which Korra rested, his eyes, which seemed to stand out in the darkness, revealing the concern that he felt. A few seconds passed before he settled on the cot, taking a seat directly beside Korra, his attention remaining solely on her.

"I sensed that something was unsettling you. You okay?", Skaar said, inquiring her about her dream and following outburst.

"It was just a vision, the first in a long time. One of my past lives. They told me what Hiro-Kala is planning. He's going to raise a dark army and a being of Celestial Darkness.", Korra responded, releasing a heavy sigh in order to calm herself.

"Are you sure?", Skaar asks, his voice becoming more edgy and serious.

"My visions never lie. They tell only truths.", Korra deadpanned, almost glaring back at the son of Hulk, as if daring him to challenge her.

But he didn't. All he did was listen to her. He didn't judge her, he didn't condescend her. He just listened.

"Don't worry, Korra. We'll help you get back home, we'll take back your world, and we'll defeat Hiro-Kala.", Skaar assured, gently placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"You seem pretty sure of yourself.", Korra chuckled, a smile forming on her face as she felt the weight on her shoulders begin to lessen.

"Myself? Not really. You? Yes.", Skaar replied in monotone, a ghost of smile gracing his features.

"Yeah, well, how do you know I'll ever get back to my world?", Korra inquired, arching an eyebrow momentarily.

"My father is one of the smartest there is. He'll find a way.", Skaar answered.

"Heh, you've got a point there. I just hope it's in time.", Korra muttered, running a hand through her long hair.

"You doubt yourself?", Skaar asks, sensing this emotion and several others within the multi-elemental empowered young woman.

"What?! Pfft! Nah! What makes you say that?", Korra denied, feigning confidence and bravado in an attempt to full the teenage Oldstrong Warrior seated beside her.

This response was met with an intense glare from the son of Hulk. The way Skaar looked at her, the way his two green orbs seemed to pierce through her façade of false bravado, made Korra feel that he truly understood her. She couldn't hide anything from him, not even if she wanted. She's only been here for two days, a very short span of time, yet already the bond that's been formed with him was strong. It was incredible.

He trusted her. But did she trust him? She barely knows anything about him, with the exception of what's been revealed to her. Still, here he was, by her side, listening and comforting her as if they'd been friends for years. It was uncanny, yet it felt natural.

"You shouldn't doubt yourself or your abilities, Korra. You're more powerful than you believe yourself to be. That's why I'm certain we'll take back your world and save its people.", Skaar said, his words holding no trace of deceit, only sincerity.

"Is that a promise?", Korra asked, her voice as low as a whisper.

"Yes, it is.", Skaar stated in proclamation.

She felt a smile make its way across her face, her sapphire-blue eyes gazing at the teenage Oldstrong who befriended her, who trusted her without any cause or reason to do so. Without hesitation, Korra pulled him into a tight hug, her strong arms encircling him. She kept her hold on him for a few moments, unaware of the surprised look in his eyes and the light crimson hue that briefly colored the gray-white flesh of his cheeks. She only let him go once she realized that they were like this for a bit too long, much to her embarrassment.

"Thanks, Skaar. I needed to hear that.", Korra said, a sheepish laugh escaping her as she tried to ignore the heat rising to her face.

"Don't mention it.", Skaar replies, trying to look anywhere but at the young woman, his mind uncertain of what to think of these strange emotions and feelings that coursed through him whenever he came into contact with her.

"So... what do we do now? I mean, it's the middle of night and I'm not feeling sleepy. Any suggestions?", Korra stated in inquiry, arching an eyebrow as she stared at Skaar, hoping that he could come up with something.

"We could go watch TV and get something to eat.", Skaar offered with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Sounds good to me! Let's go!", Korra accepted exuberantly, grabbing Skaar by the hand and leaping off the bed cot in an instant.

Korra raced out of the room and towards their intended destination, almost pulling Skaar along with her as she did. This was something he was going to have to get accustomed to if he would be spending more time with Korra. Then again, would that be such a bad thing? Would it hurt him to become closer to her? Would it cause him harm if he were to befriend her?

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After gathering and clearing out half the food from the kitchen, Korra and Skaar carried it to the entertainment room. Within the room was a massive couch, several recliner chairs and stands, a towering bookshelf filled with books, a pair of lamps and a gargantuan digital television complete with speakers and access to thousands of channels. Taking a seat on the couch, Korra and Skaar began munching down the food as they watched on, their attention solely focused on consumption and the John Wayne western 'True Grit' for the time being.

It was only when their hunger was satisfied, and that most of the snacks had been depleted, did Skaar undertake the situation by starting the conversation. There was questions on his mind, questions that needed answers. But he would not force her to answer these questions. He would give her that choice. It was only right, for she was bound only by the bonds she wished to build.

"Korra.", Skaar spoke in order to gain her attention.

"Hmm?", Korra muttered, glancing at her friend as she remained relaxing against the comfort of the sofa.

"There's something I want to know.", Skaar stated quite bluntly.

"Oh, yeah? What?", Korra questioned, sitting up slightly from her relaxed position on the opposite side of the sofa.

"Why didn't you tell us everything about being the Avatar? What is it that you wish to keep hidden from us?", Skaar asked, getting directly to the point without hesitation.

"How... How did you know I wasn't telling you the whole story?", Korra replies, knowing it would be futile to lie to him after her earlier social interaction.

"I can smell when people lie. And even if I couldn't, your hesitation would have gave it away. It was then that I could tell that you were hiding something. I sensed that there was more to the story of being the Avatar than what you told us.", Skaar informed evenly enough.

"Okay. Then... why didn't you tell them?", Korra questions, her tone almost demanding that he answer her and explain himself.

"Because I wanted you to tell me. I want to know the whole story, but only if you choose to tell it.", Skaar answers, offering her a choice in the matter.

"So... you're giving me a choice?", Korra inquired.

"Yeah, I am.", Skaar answered nonchalantly.

"Let's say that I do tell you, what do I get in return?", Korra counters, wondering what he could possibly have to offer her in exchange for the information she possessed.

"I'll use the Old Power to show you my memories, and those of Planet Sakaar. It will reveal everything to you, from the moment of my birth to the destruction of my world.", Skaar offers, a sly smile forming on his features, knowing that Korra wouldn't be able to resist his offer.

Korra seemed to consider his offer, resting her chin within the palm of her right hand as she began to contemplate on the issue further. His offer did interest her, the mere thought of getting the chance to witness all of his memories of the planet Sakaar enticing her curiosity greatly. But there was something else that she wanted from him, something that the others have shown her that he has yet to reveal.

"Hmm... sounds interesting. I'll take you up on your offer... if you will also transform into your 'other self'. I've seen everyone Hulk-out. Except you. And I think it's only right that I see you. All of you.", Korra responds, adding another stipulation to their agreement.

"Deal.", Skaar quickly accepts, much to the disbelief of the female Avatar.

"Really? You're not gonna back out of it?", Korra inquired, taken aback by his immediate acceptance of their deal.

"No. I intend on keeping my promise.", Skaar assured her in answer.

"Well, okay then, where do you want me to start?", Korra asks him, stretching out on the couch.

"At the very beginning.", Skaar answers.

It was then she began to tell Skaar the story of the first Avatar, Wan, who would bring peace to the world by bonding with the light spirit Raava and imprisoning the evil spirit Vaatu. She then went on to tell the tale of her predecessor, Avatar Aang, who ended the One-Hundred Year War and united all the nations. And lastly, Korra told of her battle against Amon and the Equalists, then of her greatest challenge to date, one that was still fresh in her memory. It was when the fate of the world was endangered by her power-mad uncle Unalaq who manipulated her and freed Vaatu to cover the world in eternal darkness, merging with the evil spirit to rule the world for 10,000 years.

Everything that Korra spoke of and told in her stories, everything about her world and its people, intrigued him. Her world was one filled with wonders and dangers. He wanted to explore this world of hers, to test himself against the challenges this world presented. Her world... it reminded him of Planet Sakaar. Despite adopting Earth as his home, there was still a part of Skaar that dearly missed his home-world, for it was as much a part of him as his deceased mother.

"I don't understand. If Wan could overcome and imprison Vaatu, if Aang could save your world and end a war that lasted a hundred years, and if you were able to surpass your own obstacles, why do you continue to doubt yourself?", Skaar asked, finding it hard to believe that someone as headstrong and fearless as Korra would become wrought with uncertainty.

"An old habit, I guess. And to be fair, all the threats I faced were of my world. Hiro-Kala isn't of my world.", Korra retorts.

"Korra, I've fought demons, gods and monsters. Some were from different worlds, different dimensions, and different universes. But it didn't matter where they came from, 'cause it didn't stop me from fighting against them. And it shouldn't matter to you, either.", Skaar shoots right back, blunt and right to the point as usual.

"Yeah, well, now that I upheld my end of the bargain, I think it's about time you did the same.", Korra stated, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.

"Not yet.", Skaar said in a low voice.

"Come again?", Korra almost growled, scrunching up her nose and narrowing her arctic-blue eyes.

"I'm not going to transform, nor am I going to show you my memories. Not yet.", Skaar states once again, sensing the burst of outrage that would soon follow from the multi-elemental empowered young woman.

"What?! But I told you everything I know about being the Avatar! I've told you the story of Wan; I've told you nearly everything about Aang, not to mention everything I've done; and now you're going back on your promise?!", Korra shouted, her outburst thankfully contained within the sound proof walls of the room.

"I'm not going back on my promise. I intend on keeping it. But it will be of a time of my choosing.", Skaar replied, keeping his cool despite having to deal with an angry young woman yelling at him.

"But that isn't fair!", Korra exclaimed, stomping her feet on the floor and slamming her fists on the couch cushions as she did.

"Korra, do you trust me as I trust you?", Skaar asks, staring directly into her eyes.

"I... that is... I mean... Yes.", Korra finally answered after a few moments of deep contemplation and hesitation.

"Then, when I'm ready, I'll reveal everything to you when the time comes. Until then, Korra, you'll have to be patient.", Skaar responds evenly enough, much to the chagrin of the Avatar.

"Hmph! Whatever. It still isn't fair. You tricked me into telling you almost everything I know, including the story of Avatar Wan, and I don't get anything out of it.,", Korra scoffs in complaint, crossing her arms over her chest before resting back against the comfort of the couch.

"You'll get what you want. Until that time, you'll have to deal with it.", Skaar reassured, not even bothering to glance at the female Avatar.

"Oh, yeah? Deal with this!", Korra remarks as she strikes Skaar in the face with one of the cushions, the unexpected impact of her sneak attack sending him toppling to the floor with a mighty thud.

"Not so tough now, are you, Son of Hulk?", Korra said in smug tone of voice, rising from the couch to stand over her fallen friend, her hands resting on her hips.

"You tell me, Puny Avatar.", Skaar said with a devious smirk, lashing out and sweeping Korra's legs out from under her, thus sending her crashing to the floor.

"Oh, you're so going down for that!", Korra exclaimed, lunging at Skaar who was ready for the Avatar's next move.

What ensues is a bout of rough and tumble wrestling between Skaar and Korra, neither really harming each other which is more than can be said for one of the lamps, stands and the rest of the furniture. Eventually, over half an hour later, the rough and tumble battle ends in a stalemate, despite Korra claiming to be the victor of the contest. The two settled on a truce before resting back on the couch and returning their attention to the television screen.

The hours passed on in to the dark of morning before the dawn. Still awake, if only by a small margin, Korra looked away from the television to that of Skaar. She discovered her friend fast asleep, his body resting closely against her form. She watched as he gently inhaled and exhaled oxygen in quiet breaths, a smile gracing her lovely features as she gently brushed a few strands of his dark hair away from his face with her fingers. Resting back against the couch, Korra slips her arm around his shoulders, giving him an affectionate squeeze before closing her eyes and resting her head close to his own, allowing herself to drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Unknown to Korra, a lone figure stood silently at the entrance of the room, watching the scene with deep concern. The concern of a father. That individual was none other than Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, and he was quite certain that nothing but pain, sorrow and loss would come of the bond that is being formed.

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When Korra awakened from her restful sleep on the couch, she discovered that Skaar was gone. He most likely didn't want to get caught in the act of being so close to her, knowing full well that she would tease him without mercy. And she did harass him a bit once she went to have some breakfast in the kitchen, which is exactly where she found him. She loved watching Skaar's reactions to her teasing, taking amusement in seeing him so flustered and attempting to change the subject only for her to eventually go right back to it. Seeing him act like that around her, so timid and utterly flustered, was priceless and kinda cute.

It was when Skaar and Korra started talking about the others did she get a brilliant idea, one that she thought was honestly perfect. She wanted to make amends to all the other Hulks for how she initially perceived them, to befriend them and gain their trust just as she had done with Skaar. It certainly wouldn't hurt to try, especially considering that she was going to be here for quite a spell until Dr. Banner finished working on the device that'd get her back to her world. And Korra knew exactly who would be the first that she'd make amends to, if only because he'd most likely be the easiest to appease and accept her offer of friendship without a second thought.

That individual was Rick Jones, otherwise known as the azure-armored A-Bomb. It was in the afternoon when she found him in one of the gigantic gymnasiums, shooting hoops and listening to music. He was in his human form, much to Korra's surprise. Then again, she figured that a lot of the Hulks probably spent a bit of time in their human forms, transforming back and forth as they pleased or whenever it benefits the situation. It was when she approached him closer did he take notice of her, a warm smile etching itself across his face.

"Oh! Hey, Kor! What's up?", Rick greeted with a wave before throwing the basketball up in the air, looking on as it went through the basket hoop.

"Oh, nothing much.", Korra replied, shrugging her shoulders a bit.

"Are you sure? 'Cause if you wanna talk, I can listen.", Rick offers with a charismatic grin, one that reminded her why she loved Bolin so dearly.

"Well, I... I wanted to apologize for screaming at you, and punching you in the face when you were just being nice to me.", Korra confesses, her face becoming akin to that of a scolded puppy.

"That's it?", Rick chuckles.

"Yeah, that's it.", Korra admits, rubbing her upper arm in a nervous gesture.

"Ah, don't worry about it! I've taken a lot worse beatings than that. Trust me.", Rick said in an instant, forgiving her without so much as a second thought.

"So... apology accepted?", Korra asks with a hopeful smile.

"You bet, Korra! No worries.", Rick assures her, giving her a playful wink that caused her to chuckle.

"Great! So, what are you doing?", Korra replies as she inquires about her friend's activities.

"Well, I was going to play some music on my jukebox, maybe dance a bit. Just for some fun. Wanna join me?", Rick answered, walking over to his personal MP3 boombox player and popping in a CD.

"Sure!", Korra accepted enthusiastically.

"Great! I'll teach you some of my moves. Now, when the music starts playing, follow my lead, okay?", Rick responds, getting ready to bust some moves.

"Got it.", Korra said, getting into a stance beside him.

"All right then, let's rock this joint, Kor!", Rick exclaimed as the music began to play.

And so the dancing began, rock music echoing throughout the gymnasium as Korra followed Rick's initiative, mimicking his moves while throwing in her own. She was no stranger to dances, having been to plenty of festivals and celebrations in her life, so in some ways this felt perfectly normal to her. It was only when Rick Jones transformed as he was performing one of his dance moves did she realize that this experience, while familiar, was totally unique.

"Oh yeah! Ladies and gentlemen, the A-Bomb is in the house! Wooo!", Rick cheered, raising his clawed fists high above his head.

"This is really fun! You're really good at this!", Korra laughed, continuing to dance alongside the Hulked-out Rick Jones.

"This is nothing. You should see me and my Marlo in action. We always steal the dance floor.", A-Bomb remarked, recalling all the clubs that he and the beauty would visit on a daily basis.

"Marlo, eh? She's your girlfriend?", Korra probed almost teasingly.

"Uh, actually we're married. She's cool. You'd like her.", A-Bomb replied only to get an unexpected surprise.

"Ricky!", Marlo's voice calls out to him from across the gymnasium.

"There's my babe right now.", A-Bomb said with pride and the utmost affection, his gaze shifting in the direction that her voice originated from.

Korra averts her eyes in the direction that A-Bomb's gaze was currently focused on, her sapphire-blue irises discovering a stunningly beautiful woman advancing towards them. She was very tall, easily 6'1" in total height, possessing a lithe build with luscious curves and an ample bust. Her hair was long and a natural red in color, while her eyes sparkled like lovely gems. She was currently wearing a black tank-top t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, while a pair of sneakers adorned her feet. Her name is Marlo Chandler Jones, the wife of Rick Jones and a close friend of the Hulks.

"Hey, Ricky, what's going on?", Marlo greeted with a warm smile.

"Oh, just having fun. Teaching a friend some of my moves.", A-Bomb responds, ceasing his dancing for the time being.

"Uh-huh. If you can call those moves.", Marlo teased, temporarily resting her hands on her hips.

"Oh! By the way, Korra, this is Marlo. Marlo, this is Korra. She's the kid I told you about on the phone.", A-Bomb remembered, introducing the lovely redhead to the teenage Avatar.

"Oh, so you're the girl that Bruce found, huh?", Marlo inquires with a friendly smile.

"Yeah, that's me.", Korra admitted, extending her hand out to the beautiful woman.

"Nice to meet you, Korra. Now, move over a bit, girlfriend, so that I can show you how to really move.", Marlo said, giving Korra's hand a brief shake before pulling her out to the dance floor and twirling her around, spinning Korra like a top, causing the female Avatar to cheer and laugh with pure joy.

"You have moves? I would have never guessed.", A-Bomb remarked, dancing towards the two ladies, his mouth twitching into a playful smirk.

"Ha ha ha. Very funny, Mr. Jones.", Marlo replies, feigning offense at her husband's bad joke.

It was exactly a few moments later that Skaar entered the gymnasium, arching a perplexed eyebrow as he watched the three individuals dance to the beat of the music playing from the portable MP3 boombox. His presence was instantly noticed by Korra, who quickly raced over to him and grasped his wrists within her hands. It was quite obvious that she wanted him to join her, but this kind of activity wasn't something he would normally partake in. Fighting monsters and barbarians was one thing, but dancing with a beautiful young woman was something else entirely. It was so foreign to him, not just dancing, but being accepted by someone other than those whom he considered family.

"Hey, Skaar! Wanna dance?", Korra smiled, practically grinning from ear to ear as she locked eyes with the teenage Oldstrong.

"I... Uh... don't know how to...", Skaar stammered only for Korra to interrupt him before he could finish his sentence.

"Time to learn!", Korra stated, giving him a strong tug as she proceeded to make him race back the dance floor alongside Rick and Marlo.

"I'm not...", Skaar mutters, trying to disengage himself from this particular situation and failing miserably.

"C'mon! Dance with me! There's nothing to it!", Korra almost pleaded, giving him her signature pout, attempting to persuade her closest friend in joining in on the fun.

"Okay... I'll give it a shot.", Skaar caved with a groan, joining Korra as he began dancing awkwardly alongside her, unaware of the redhead looking at them from a short distance away.

"So... Bruce's son likes Korra?", Marlo inquires, looking up into the face of her Hulked-out beau.

"Oh yeah. Not that he'd ever admit it.", A-Bomb answers with a chuckle.

"But does she like him?", Marlo asks, glancing from Skaar and Korra back to Rick.

"You tell me. But if I had to guess, I'd have to say that the feeling is probably mutual.", A-Bomb retorts, gesturing towards Skaar and Korra.

"They do seem to get along. And they do look good together.", Marlo admits, staring at the two teens for a couple of moments.

"I guess time will tell. I mean, look at us.", A-Bomb reasoned, encircling his massive arms around his love, his hands gently grasping her waist.

"You always know what to say, don't you, Ricky?", Marlo questions, reaching up to wrap her arms around his thick neck, a girlish giggle escaping her throat.

"What can I say? I'm one of a kind.", A-Bomb said in a confident manner.

"You certainly are.", Marlo agrees in a low, seductive tone of voice as she leans up to kiss her beloved Ricky.

"Hey! Get a room, you two!", Korra shouted before bursting out in a fit of laughter, her remark managing to make even Skaar chuckle in amusement until he was dragged back into dancing with the energetic Avatar.

"See? They'll be fine.", A-Bomb chuckled lowly, holding Marlo close as they continued to dance slowly.

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Several days, almost a week in fact, has passed since Korra's arrival to the base. And it was on this day she decided to undertake befriending one of the other Hulks after having success with making amends with A-Bomb and She-Hulk. However, unlike Rick and Jen, this person wasn't going to be as accepting of her offer, especially given her fiery temper and the fact that Korra unleashed a torrent of flames point-blank in her face upon their first meeting. That person was the headstrong and fiery Elizabeth Ross, aka Red She-Hulk. In her mind, Korra knew that this wasn't going to be easy.

When she set about her task, Korra found Betty and Jen in the training room across the gymnasium. They were both in their Hulk forms, sparring with one another inside a reinforced boxing ring. Despite it being just practice, their blows were nevertheless thunderous, the impact of their individual strikes making the surroundings tremble with aftershocks. It was only when the two female titans of crimson and clover ceased their sparring did Korra enter the ring, unaware of the intense glare that Red She-Hulk gave her before she averted her gaze elsewhere.

"Hi, Jen! Betty!", Korra greeted, stepping into the boxing ring.

"Hey, Korra. What's up?", Jen greets, welcoming the young woman with open arms.

"Nothing. Mind if I work out with you? Do a little sparring?", Korra asks in reply, throwing a few jabs at the empty air.

"Shouldn't you be hanging out with Skaar or Rick?", Betty inquired, her tone harsh and blunt as her fists.

"C'mon, Betty, cut the girl some slack. Give her a chance.", Jen said, attempting to persuade and urge her crimson-skinned female counterpart.

"Fine. Just don't get in my way.", Betty almost snarled between clenched teeth.

A solemn, almost sad expression made its way across Korra's face as she watched Red She-Hulk advance towards the opposite corner of the ring. She wanted so badly to make amends with Betty, but what could she do? The last thing she wanted to do was to start a fight with Betty. If only there could be some peaceful solution to all of this. That's it! And with that thought in mind, Korra walked across the ring to confront Red She-Hulk directly.

She came to a stop right in front of Red She-hulk, lifting her head to gaze up into Betty's fiery golden eyes, standing her ground despite knowing the risk she was taking. She could almost sense the anger that Red She-hulk was emitting, her Amazonian body maintaining a solid stance in the corner of the ring. But Korra wanted to make amends, to make peace with this woman in hopes of forming a bond. After all, she's the Avatar, so peace and balance should be something that she'd be able to accomplish, right?

"What the hell do you want?", Red She-Hulk hissed, narrowing her eyes to glare down at the multi-elemental empowered teenage girl.

"Look, I know we haven't gotten off to a good start, and it was mostly my fault. I was... bewildered. I'm not great at apologies, but for what it's worth, I just want to say that I'm sorry.", Korra said with the utmost sincerity.

"And if that isn't good enough, I'm going to give you a free shot at me. I won't dodge or run. I'm going to get what I deserve. So, go ahead, Betty. Hit me with your best shot. I can take it.", Korra offers willingly, standing firmly in place as she awaited the coming blow.

This gesture seemed to take Red She-Hulk aback for a second, a perplexed expression making its way across her features. Slowly, she raised her right hand and tightly clenched it into a fist. But when she pulled her fist back and prepared to strike, she seemed uncertain. She bites her lower lip before trying again, this time launching her fist directly at Korra only for it to come to a stop several inches away from her face. She pulls her fist back slowly, bringing it close, gazing at it for a few seconds before focusing on Korra. Then, much to everyone's surprise, Red She-Hulk's fist unclenches and falls to her side.

"Damn it, kid. How am I supposed to hit you when you come in here and apologize, let alone offer me a chance to knock your lights out?", Betty muttered, transforming back to her human form right in front of the young woman.

"Listen, I know I might be asking a lot, but I was wondering... can we set aside our differences? Because, honestly, I would like to get to know you, Betty. I would like to be your friend. But only if you want to be.", Korra said, reaching out to rest her hand on Betty's shoulder.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Betty stares at Korra for what seems like an eternity, as if taking everything about the teenager into perspective. The girl seemed sincere and determined to make amends, determined to make peace with her. That was something Betty could understand and respect. It was then she made her decision.

"Yeah, sure. Let's give it a shot.", Betty accepts, taking her hand and running it through her hair.

"Yes! Thank you! Er, I mean, thanks, Betty.", Korra cheered, pumping her fist and launching herself forward to hug Betty tightly, only to then realize that she may be acting a bit too overzealous.

"You're welcome. Now, go and get changed into a pair of work-out clothes and meet us in the ring. Jen and I are gonna teach you a few things about self-defense.", Betty responds, grabbing a tank-top t-shirt and a pair of shorts and throwing them to Korra.

"Yes, ma'am!", Korra obeyed, jumping out of the ring and racing to the changing room to get into her clothing.

"See? Now, was that so difficult?", Jen remarks, crossing her arms over her chest as she locked eyes with the human form of the feminine scarlet smasher.

"Shut it, Jen.", Betty replies evenly, walking past the lawyer and cousin of Bruce Banner.

"Oh, drop the act, Betty. Admit it. She's starting to grow on you, isn't she?", Jen probed, a knowing look etched on her visage.

"Maybe.", Betty replied, a slight smirk forming on her lips.

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A little over a week, perhaps closer to two weeks, has passed. Korra has made amends and formed bonds with nearly all the Hulks with the exception of two. The first was Skaar's father, Dr. Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, but that was mostly attributed to him working on a device that would be able to get Korra back to her world. The second was Betty's father, General Thaddeus Ross, aka Red Hulk, but this wasn't attributed to him being busy or absent. He was always in a bitter mood, regardless of his form, and so distant from everyone else.

Every time that Korra would attempt to communicate with him, Ross would either ignore her or give her a glare that was colder than the blizzards her people endured in the Southern Water Tribe. She didn't understand why he acted this way, nor why he treated her with such apparent disdain. He was an old soldier, who fought long and difficult battles through the years. But that wasn't the reason, because she knew many others who fought their entire lives and yet they were quite fun to be around. There was something else, something personal, something about Korra that made General Ross feel on edge.

Korra didn't know. And she didn't care. Because she was determined to speak with General Ross, determined to make amends to the elderly gentleman by any means. That's why, on this day, she marched through the base until she came upon his room. Raising her fist, she knocked on the metal door, knowing that he was within his room. She heard the sound of footsteps approaching from inside the room. The door opened, revealing the solemn and hard-nosed individual known by the infamous moniker of 'Thunderbolt' Ross.

"What do you want?", Thaddeus Ross demands, his voice as cold as it was stern.

"I just wanted to talk. You know, so I could apologize.", Korra answered, her voice sounding frail and small in comparison to that of the General's.

"Don't want your apology. Or need it.", Ross replies in a rough tone of voice.

"Doesn't matter. Like it or not, I'm not leaving until you let me talk.", Korra shot back, determined to have some choice words with the elderly soldier.

"We had our talk. Now move along, young lady.", Ross retorts, not at all interested in continuing this discussion.

"I'm trying to be reasonable here!", Korra proclaimed, almost shouting in the General's face.

"So am I. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to finish something.", Ross responds evenly enough.

"Oh? What exactly?", Korra asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

"None of your business.", Ross states, glaring at her coldly.

"Okay. I'll just keep coming back here until I find out.", Korra replied defiantly.

"What are you trying to prove?", Ross demanded, his patience with the young woman faltering with each passing second.

"Nothing! Why do you have to be so stubborn and grumpy all the time?", Korra answers in retort, getting right in the General's face.

"I'm not interested in making friends. Do you understand?", Ross growls out.

"No, I don't! All I want is to apologize to you, and hope that you'd give me a chance! But instead you're pushing me away!", Korra exclaimed, not backing down an inch, the volume of her voice increasing with each passing word.

"Listen, young lady, I'm old enough to be your grandfather!", General Ross thundered, pointing a stern finger directly in Korra's face.

"Yeah, and if you were my grandfather, you'd probably push me away just like you're doing now!", Korra exclaimed, her arctic-blue irises narrowed and glaring at the man standing in front of her.

This response appeared to strike a chord with General Thaddeus Ross, not that he actually expressed it as he slowly averted his gaze away from that of multi-elemental empowered young woman. Silence prevailed for several long intense minutes. However, it was Korra who broke the silence, releasing a heavy sigh as she did.

"You know what? Forget it. I don't even know why I bothered. You're just a bitter, old, angry man who doesn't care about anyone.", Korra muttered, turning and slowly walking away, her footstep echoing along the metal halls of the base.

"Wait.", Ross called out in a low, gruff tone of voice, causing Korra to stop dead in her tracks.

"I'm sorry.", General Ross apologized, shocking Korra who turned to stare at the old man.

"Come inside. Just don't touch anything.", Ross ordered, his voice remaining stern despite what had transpired.

Inwardly, Korra smiled as she entered General Ross' private quarters, pleased by her unexpected success in gaining entrance to this place. Her eyes traversed the entire room, taking in everything from the framed medals to the pictures that adorned the walls. She then focused on General Ross, whom she found sitting in a chair at a table, his hands occupied with constructing something.

"What you working on?", Korra asks, her curiosity intrigued.

"It's a model of a plane, a P-40 Warhawk, to be exact.", Ross informed, attaching another piece to the nearly complete model.

"Cool. Did you ever fly one?", Korra asked, temporarily taking a seat in one of chairs in order to better examine the details of the model plane that Ross held in his hands.

"As a matter of fact, yes, I have. But I was a lot younger then. Now, I'm just a weary old soldier who continues to fight on because he doesn't know any other way... or when to stop.", Ross replied, setting the now finished model on a nearby shelf with other aviator models of its kind.

"And build little planes for a hobby.", Korra added with a smile.

"Yeah, that's about right.", Ross chuckled gruffly.

"Listen, I know that it isn't any of my business and all, but I was wondering... would you mind telling me some of your stories? You know, what were you like when you were younger, why you became a soldier, what kind of things you did in the army, and stuff like that? I mean, I get it if you don't want to talk about it, but it's just that, you know, I'm really curious.", Korra requests, shuffling her feet as she nervously fidgets with her hands, awaiting Thaddeus' response to her request.

"All right.", Ross agreed after a couple moments of tense silence, a small smile forming on his mustached face.

Korra listened intently to his stories, mesmerized by everything that the General experienced in his long life of serving in the military. Even as Ross told his stories, he couldn't help but smile as he looked at the young girl. It made him regret not spending more time with his daughter Betty when she was growing up. He always wanted what was best for her, yet he couldn't stop blaming himself for not being there for her more often, especially after he lost Betty's mother, his beloved wife, to cancer.

Could that be the reason why he treated Korra so harshly? Could that be why he pushed her away? Because she reminded Thaddeus so much of his daughter, Betty?

In some ways it made perfect sense. But after today, that would change a little bit. It was hard to believe, but General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross was becoming sort of fond of this young girl who reminded him so much of his little Betty. It was surprising what the determination of one young woman could accomplish in such a short amount of time.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Feb 2015, 18:38 #21

The following entry was submitted by GREENSCAR1990 for the December 2014 competition


The Balance of Power

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Chapter Seven

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Emotions and Revelations

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On another World, within another Universe


The Nexus of the Spiritual and Physical World


In a blinding flash of energy, a gateway opens and Hiro-Kala steps forth, exiting the portal created by the amulet and his Old Power energies. His glowing eyes scanned the surroundings, taking in the gigantic, extraordinary temple that he found himself within. All of the worlds elements and energies, everything that is physical and spiritual, formed this place and merged. The very fortress itself was composed of these elements and energies, from the ancient markings to the towering pillars and vast walls.

But none of that mattered to Hiro-Kala. For he was here for a reason, an intricate purpose. A destiny that would be fulfilled once he would obtain the Heart. Everything that he's lost, all that he's suffered and endured, would be extinguished from his mind, body and soul. In the end, this world and its people would yield and kneel before him.

A sinister smile crossed his features as his eyes noticed a brilliant, glowing, oval-shaped object situated atop a short stone column in the distance. Slowly, almost menacingly, Hiro-Kala advances towards the radiant Heart of this world until only a space of four feet is left between him and the relic. He stares at the Heart for a few seconds, almost sensing its powerful energies as it glowed with a brilliant azure-white radiance. Cautiously, perhaps somewhat hesitantly, Hiro-Kala extends his arms and opens his hands as he proceeds to claim the Heart. But something, or rather someone, causes him to stop dead in his tracks.

"Do not do this, Hiro-Kala. It will not end well for you.", A gentle, feminine voice spoke, causing Hiro-Kala to cease his advance to claim the Heart and turn to face the being who garnered his attention.

Indeed it was revealed to be a woman, one of extraordinary beauty, dressed in royal Fire Nation clothing. It was none other than the spiritual form of Ursa, mother of Firelord Zuko and Princess Azula. She had come to speak with Hiro-Kala, to reason with him in hopes that she'd be able to persuade him to end his quest for power and vengeance. She knew what would happen if he would undertake this path, she knew of the consequences, of the fate that would befall him if she could not make him see.

"What do you hope to achieve by speaking to me directly? Seeking to reason with me is a futile gesture.", Hiro-Kala responds, narrowing his eyes at the beautiful spirit of the former Empress of the Fire Nation.

"I act as a mother who cares for her child. And while you may not be my son, nor I your mother, I pray that you will listen to me as if I were. And I hope that by listening to me, it will save you from your fate.", Ursa stated, her face a mask of kindness and concern.

"My fate is none of your concern.", Hiro-Kala hissed, glaring at the mother of Firelord Zuko and Azula.

Taking a few steps forward, Ursa slowly reaches her up to gently cup the scarred, right side of Hiro-Kala's face with her hand. There was no trace of fear or disgust on her lovely features, only kindness and compassion as she gazed at the tortured Oldstrong. She could sense his rage, his self-loathing, his desire for redemption and conquest. If only she could convince him to see, to show him that there was another way that would save his life and prevent further pain and anguish.

"I knew of a young man, whose face was scarred like your own, who sought to reclaim his honor and find his purpose in this world. It was only in time, through the experiences and challenges that he faced, did he find his purpose, his destiny, in this world. You must also take all of your experiences and challenges into perspective, for only then will you realize your true destiny and purpose... before it is too late.", Ursa spoke in a gentle voice, telling the abbreviated tale of her beloved son's quest of finding himself and discovering his true destiny.

For a moment it appeared that Hiro-Kala considered her words, his mind delving into his memories to seek out these truths that were supposedly hidden. But all he could find was a life of pain, sorrow, misery, rage, and utter loss. The death of his mother and the destruction of his world, the murder of his beloved Lihla by his own hand and his imprisonment within the planet K'ai by his brother Skaar. All of these memories, so painful and filled with anger, so much that he could barely contain it. He tightly closed his eyes and proceeded to swat away Ursa's hand from his face, his expression taking on a twisted mixture of hatred and anguish, rage and pain.

"Leave me.", Hiro-Kala whispered, turning away from Ursa's spirit.

"Please, Hiro-Kala, listen to me.", Ursa pleaded only to look on as the Oldstrong continued marching back towards the stone column in which the Heart resided upon.

"Silence!", Hiro-Kala hissed, not even sparing a glance at the spiritual embodiment of the woman.

"It will not bring back your world, your mother, nor the love that you slain with your own hand.", Ursa proclaimed, tears of spiritual essence slowly trekking down her face.

"Leave me alone!", Hiro-Kala commanded, the volume of his voice rising.

"Don't you see? You act out of anger and pain, sorrow and loss. Let it go, Hiro-Kala... let it go before it consumes you!", Ursa cried, urging him to turn away from this dark destiny.

"You know nothing of my mother & father! You know nothing of my brother! And you know nothing... about me. Not of the pain I endured, not of all that I have lost, and not of the sorrow that fills my being every single waking moment of my existence. YOU. KNOW. NOTHING!!!!", Hiro-Kala snarled, bellowing at the top of his lungs as his eyes began to glow and radiate with the Old Power.

The spiritual embodiment of Ursa could only look on in pity, a lone tear of spiritual essence streaming down her cheek. She had tried to make him see in hope that she could save him. But despite her best efforts, she had failed. There was nothing else she could do, nothing she could do to save him from a dark fate. And with this in mind, she spoke to Hiro-Kala one last time.

"I want you to know this, Hiro-Kala, to know that no matter what path you decide to undertake, no matter what horrors you intend to control and unleash upon this world, know that I forgive you. And I hope you will find the peace that you desire... and that the path which you choose will not lead to your death.", Ursa spoke in a voice that was gentle, sincere, and full of pity.

A second later the spirit of Ursa disappears right before the eyes of Hiro-Kala, vanishing in a star-like burst of light. Turning back to the stone column that the Heart was stationed atop of, Hiro-Kala reached out for it with both hands... only for a force-field of energy to surround it. A defense mechanism, a very clever one designed to protect the Heart against those who would wish to steal it. However, there is more than a mere force-field protecting the Heart.

Guardians made of earth, fire, air, and water materialized around Hiro-Kala, their very forms brought to life by the energies of the Heart. Dark golden, silver, and black armor adorned their towering forms, each standing an imposing twenty-five feet tall. These guardians protected the Heart from all intruders who were not the Avatar or those who would seek to use the Heart for evil and conquest. They were summoned to battle Hiro-Kala, to send the sinister Oldstrong into retreat. But could their formidable might compare to that of a being who wielded the Old Power?

"Guardians of the Heart? How intriguing.", Hiro-Kala mused, settling into a fighting stance.

"Don't disappoint me!", Hiro-Kala sneered, an evil smile adorning his features.

With the Old Power surging forth from his body, Hiro-Kala leaps at the towering guardians, a roar of rage and war echoing forth from his throat. He would never surrender, for he had come too far and endured too much to be denied of his conquest of this planet now. May he who dies... die well.

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Gamma World, New Mexico


Base of the Hulks


Banner's Lab


Patience wasn't one of Korra's strongest attributes. And she knew it. Still, despite this, it didn't stop her from marching into the lab of Dr. Bruce Banner unannounced. Nearly three weeks have passed since her arrival to this world, and since then she's been confined to the base and the surrounding landscape made up of several thousand acres of desert. There wasn't a second that passed by that she didn't think about her world, her family and her friends. She wanted to go home, she wanted to save everything she loved, and she really wanted to take Hiro-Kala down for good!

"Is it done yet?", Korra asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

"No, it isn't.", Banner answered calmly, keeping his focus on working on the mechanisms of the device.

"Ugh! It's been over two weeks! And you're still not done?!", Korra exclaimed in exasperation.

"If you think you can do it faster, better and more accurate, then be my guest.", Banner replied evenly, walking away from the large metallic device and towards one of the stands to retrieve a few pieces of equipment.

"At least I wouldn't take as long.", Korra muttered under her breath, unaware that Dr. Banner had heard her remark.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Banner walks back over to the mechanism, setting down the pieces of equipment that he retrieved before focusing his attention on the teenage, headstrong, multi-elemental empowered young woman standing on the opposite side of the room. He wasn't used to dealing with teenagers, especially not of the female variety. His own experience with his daughter Lyra, who didn't want anything to do with him, was very limited. Still, being the mild-mannered and reasonable man that he is, Bruce figured that he would be able to rationally speak to Korra.

"Look, this isn't as easy as you think it is. It's not like taking a class in quantum physics. This device I'm working on, the one that'll help you return home, is designed to tear open portals into other dimensions and universes. There is much that has to be done. Not only do I have to make sure it'll work accordingly, but I must also pinpoint the Old Power portal which you came through and manage to synchronize our universe's time with that of your own. Everything has to be precise and extremely accurate, with little to no margin for error.", Banner explains, hoping that this explanation would please the young Avatar as he went back to working on the tech-based device.

"Fine. Whatever. Just get it done and over with.", Korra said in a huff, leaning back against the wall.

"It will be done. You have to be patient.", Banner assures, adjusting a few pieces within the mechanism.

"I have been patient. But while you've been taking your time tinkering, Hiro-Kala has been walking around on my world unchallenged. My family, my friends, my world are in danger!", Korra shouted, her tone of voice rising with each sentence.

"You think I don't know that, Korra?! Do you think I, of all people, don't realize what's at stake here?! Your people, your world, are all threatened. But you have to understand that I deal with these kind of problems and worse on a daily basis. So unless you can contribute anything worthwhile in assisting me, I suggest that you walk out of this room and leave me alone to work in peace.", Banner yells, his last sentence coming out like a low, savage snarl that one would expect more from the Hulk than that of the mild-manner nuclear physicist.

Dr. Banner's angry outburst not only surprised himself, but it also seemed to have caught Korra off guard as well, her expression revealing how taken aback she was of his verbal backlash. Tension could be felt within the room as silence reigned for several long moments, neither Dr. Banner or Korra speaking so much as a word to each other. Piqued and frustrated with the entire situation, not to mention slightly perturbed after being yelled at, Korra turns and storms out of the lab, leaving Bruce Banner alone with his thoughts and his work.

"Excellent way to handle a situation, Bruce. What's next? Are you going to start smashing stuff without thinking things through?", Banner chastised himself, pinching the bridge of his nose.

It was then at that precise moment that Bruce Banner received a response to his own condescension, one that he didn't expect... even though he should have. He was always there. Watching, feeling, and listening to everything that Banner said or did. He was bound to make his presence, his thoughts, known to Bruce Banner. It was incredible that he didn't make his thoughts known sooner.

"It's better than just sitting around doing nothing.", Hulk's voice rumbled in response.

"I see that you were listening... as always.", Banner remarks nonchalantly, staring at the psychic projection of his raging alter-ego that only his eyes could see and acknowledge in the nearby mirror.

"And I see you've finally grown enough of a backbone to tell her off.", Hulk retorts, his tone retaining a serious edge.

"She's just concerned and frustrated. Everything she holds dear is at stake. You and I could relate to her and the situation that she's in.", Banner stated, taking a seat.

"Don't care. We take her home, save her world, and leave it at that.", Hulk replied evenly, narrowing his eyes at the very being whom he reluctantly accepted as a part of himself.

"It isn't that simple, Hulk. I know that we're both aware of how close she is to Skaar.", Banner clarifies, adjusting his glasses as he did.

"She'll end up hurting him, Banner.", Hulk growled, his teeth bared in a savage snarl while his massive hands clenched into fists.

"Maybe she will, maybe she won't. But don't think that I don't know what you're really concerned about, Hulk. And it isn't that she'll hurt him. In fact, it's not about Korra hurting Skaar at all, is it?", Banner countered.

"Believe what you want, Banner. It doesn't change anything.", Hulk said in a low tone of voice, like thunder from a distant storm.

"No, it doesn't. And it certainly doesn't make it any easier for either of us to accept.", Banner said, his voice just loud enough for his alter-ego to hear him.

And with that last response, Banner resumed working on the device as the psychic personification of the Hulk disappeared, continuing to watch on within his/their psyche. It wasn't easy being one of the smartest men on the planet, nor was it easy being a father. He only hoped that in this particular situation, the one involving the bond forming between his son and Korra, would not end in tragedy.

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

Outside the Base


Several Miles Away


Angry and frustrated, Korra decided to take out her emotional tension on the vast, surrounding desert landscape with her bending. Massive chunks of earth were ripped from the dry soil and either sent flying off in the distance, smashed against one another, or used to shred the landscape with shards of stone. Bursts of fire torched the ground, melting sand and scorching the already baked earth. Lightning streaked across the skies, striking land and earth with incredible ferocity. Gusts of air created miniature cyclones and hurricane force winds, ravaging the landscape made of sand and stone.

However, Korra's aggressive activity did not go unnoticed, as it had garnered the attention of Skaar. He felt genuinely concerned for his friend. If she needed him, which he felt she did at this particular point in time, Skaar would do everything in his power to help her. He approached her without fear or hesitation, baring witness as she lashed out with such ferocity and fury that it'd make even his father smile with pride.

"Korra.", Skaar spoke in a soft tone of voice, announcing his presence to his friend.

"Go away, Skaar. I'm not in the mood to be around anyone. Not even you.", Korra responds, ceasing her attack yet not bothering to turn and face her friend as she kept her narrowed, focused gaze on the horizon.

"I know what you're feeling. I was like you once. I was filled with rage and sorrow. I hated everything. I blamed my father for everything that happened to me, to my world, and to my mother. I wanted to kill him. But when I learned the truth... I changed. I learned that I alone control my destiny, that the choice to save or destroy is my own to decide. In the end, I made peace with my father and found a new world to live on and call home.", Skaar stated calmly, reaching out to rest his hand on Korra's shoulder.

It was then that Korra turned to face him, her face a mask of pure frustration, anger, and sheer outrage. She was right in his face in a second, unrelenting as her arctic-blue irises glared intensely into the green eyes of the Son of Hulk. But he did not back down, nor did he flinch as her words bellowed forth with an intensity that could match the blows she unleashed upon the landscape.

"Is that little story supposed to make me feel better?! Well, it didn't! You don't understand anything I'm going through!", Korra shouted, her hands clenching tightly into fists.

"Yes, I do. You're angry and frustrated. You feel weak and helpless. You think you've lost your world, you think you've lost everything and everyone that you ever cared about. But you haven't. Not yet.", Skaar replied, his tone remaining calm and determined as he once again tried to reason with the female Avatar in an attempt to sooth her raging spirit.

"Just leave me alone, Skaar.", Korra grumbled, turning away from him as she stood in silence.

"Korra... listen to me.", Skaar said, trying to reach out and assure her that he was capable of understanding what she was feeling and going through.

"Get away!", Korra screamed, causing her to unexpectedly enter the Avatar State as her eyes illuminated an eerie white glow.

When the elemental energies began to swirl around Korra's body, the sheer force of entering the Avatar State sends Skaar soaring through the air. He violently crashes against the jagged, dry earth, his back cut open by the sharp rocks. The pain and adrenaline was too much, he couldn't stop the transformation, he was going to change. Gray-white flesh turns green as it morphs and grows painfully in a matter of seconds, transforming Skaar's teenage form into a seven-foot-nine, one-thousand-five-hundred pound hulking being of muscle and bone.

Standing up to his full height, Skaar's long raven hair was whipped around by the hurricane-like winds that Korra created. Focusing his attention on her, Skaar knew what had to be done. He wouldn't let her be consumed by rage and despair, he wouldn't let it turn her into something that she's not. He must show her that all was not lost, that there's still hope.

Advancing until he was directly in front of Korra's hovering form, unfazed by the vortex of elements that lashed out against him, Skaar reaches out with his massive right hand and gently grasps Korra's forearm. This physical contact causes Korra's glowing eyes to avert downward and widen with recognition as she looked upon Skaar in his Hulk form for the very first time. Slowly, he manages to pull her down until her feet settled on the scorched desert soil. Leaning his head down until his forehead rested against Korra's own, Skaar made sure never to break eye contact with her.

"You wanted to see me. All of me. And so I have revealed myself to you. But it's time for me to complete my promise, to show you where and how I became to be. With the Old Power, I reveal to you, Korra, my past, the last days of planet Sakaar, and my journey to this world.", Skaar said as he began summoning the Old Power, his dark green eyes becoming lightning azure-blue in color.

The Old Power energy that coursed through the planet and within Skaar began to fuse with the earth, fire, air, and water elements that Korra's Avatar State had summoned forth. Suddenly, without warning, Korra's head jerked back as she unleashed a horrific scream, her glowing white eyes widening as she felt the Old Power surge into her mind, body and spirit. In that instant, she witnessed all of his memories, each one flashing through her mind as if they were happening right before her very eyes at this very moment. It was as if she were a spirit, a ghost who could only watch on helplessly as these events occurred.

A hellish world of fire and death, a planet known as Sakaar. From a lake of molten lava rises a child, his screams of primal fury and pain echoing across the vast, fiery wilderness. It was a nightmare, one that her mind couldn't even begin to comprehend. A world overrun by monstrous beasts, savage barbarians, and insane shadow priests. She couldn't imagine what it must have been like to go through this hell, to fight every single waking moment for survival, to endure such trials and face such terrifying nightmares. She bared witness to it all through the Old Power.

Then came the silver herald of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds, who sought to offer this nightmarish world to his master. Even against such omnipotent might, Skaar would not back down. He was determined to save his world, to protect his people, to preserve the spirit of his mother: Caiera the Oldstrong. But it was her very spirit who cast Skaar off the planet and through a portal before offering her soul and that of the planet to the World Devourer. The spirit of Caiera sacrificed herself and her world, allowing the people of Sakaar to get to safety as the mighty Galactus proceeded to consume the vast energies that this world had to offer.

In mere moments, Skaar had lost his beloved mother again and his entire world. Tears of sorrow began to leak from Korra's glowing eyes, trekking slowly down her cheeks even as the memories continued rushing through her mind. Full of rage and grief, Skaar was determined to exact revenge on the one being whom he hated the most. The one who abandoned him in the fires of Sakaar, the one being whom he blamed for the loss of his mother and the destruction of his world: The Hulk.

Their confrontation was inevitable. Skaar helped Bruce Banner, his father's human form, to save the world and its heroes from a terrible threat. In exchange, Skaar would finally get what he desired so very much. He would finally challenge the Green Scar... the Green King... the World-Breaker.

The battle was fierce, the very planet quaking from the sheer ferocity and magnitude of their blows. It would seem that the world would be destroyed, completely and utterly shattered asunder. But something happened, something that made Skaar and the Hulk cease their titanic clash. In the end, father and son embraced one another in forgiveness and acceptance.

It was then that Korra realized that what Skaar had told her was true. He lost his world and his mother, but he had found a new world and his father. He regained what he had lost. He found a new world to call home and a family that was, in many ways, very much like him. By overcoming his trials and tribulations on Sakaar and on Earth, Skaar discovered that his fate, his destiny, was in his own hands and that it was his alone to determine and control.

Seconds later, the memories ceased. It was only then that Korra reverted out of the Avatar State, her glowing white eyes turning back to their original shade of sapphire blue. If it were not for Skaar grasping her shoulders and keeping her form stable, she would have fallen to the desert earth, her body and mind exhausted, a low groan escaping her throat. Then, she heard Skaar's voice, only this time it was different... slightly deeper and more mature than the voice of the teen she had come to know and befriend.

"You don't have to do this alone, Korra. And you don't have to be alone. Not if you don't want to be. Let us help you... let me help you.", Skaar said in a voice just short of a whisper.

She lifted her gaze to stare up at Skaar, locking eyes with him. It wasn't long until her resolve faltered and tears began to well up in her eyes. The tears she sheds proceed to slowly streak down her face in watery trails. Skaar was a bit taken aback when Korra unexpectedly lunged forward to embrace him, her arms reaching up to encircle his thick neck as she nuzzled her face against his cheek before resting it in the crook of his neck. He could feel her sobs, her chest heaving and quaking in her cries as her body trembled ever so slightly. He could not summon any words of comfort. All he could do was hold her, even as he began to transform back into his Human-Oldstrong form.

"I'm sorry... I'm sorry.", Korra sobbed in a hushed tone of voice.

She wouldn't release him from her embrace, her arms holding on to him as if out of fear that she'd lose him and everything else that she cared for in an instant. But in truth, he couldn't let her go... not even if he wanted. She needed him now as much as he needed her. She is his friend, and he would never leave her.

For the longest time, what felt like an eternity, Skaar and Korra held each other in their arms. He gently caressed her hair and back with his hands in order to soothe her, seemingly unaware of the few tears that managed to leak from his eyes and fall down to the dry, barren soil beneath them. He would always be there for her.

One thing was certain. They were not alone. And as long as they would have one another, they never would be.

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

Banner's Lab


Four Days Later


Entering the lab unannounced, the Jade Giantess known as Jennifer Walters walked in to discover that her cousin was still hard at work on the device. She couldn't help but smile as she looked on, remaining quiet as her cousin continued tinkering. If there was one thing she knew and could take solace in, it was that once Bruce was determined to solve something, he wouldn't stop until he succeeded.

"How's it going with the gizmo, Bruce? Making any progress?", Jen inquired, surprising her cousin with a quick hug from behind before walking over to lean against the neighboring wall.

"Yes, I am. But the components that I need would take me some time to build. Time that we don't have. Luckily, I've contacted Reed Richards. He has the components that I need to finish it.", Bruce responds, continuing to stand and focus his attention on the machine.

"That means traveling to Manhattan.", Jen stated.

"Yes, I'm aware of that. And your point would be?", Bruce replied with an inquiry.

"Nothing. But it would be a great chance to take Korra and Skaar with you. Spend some time together, view the sights, let her see the world before she returns home.", Jen suggested with a smile.

"Hmph.", Bruce snorts, brushing her suggestion aside without a second thought.

It wasn't difficult for Jen to sense that something was wrong with Bruce, his reaction to her suggestion involving Korra only providing her further proof in the case. And being the strong, independent, female attorney that she is, Jen wasn't going to stop until she determined what it was that's actually causing her cousin to act in the manner that he's been displaying since Korra's arrival to the base. She had a pretty good idea of what it truly was that was offsetting Bruce, but she wanted to be certain.

"Okay, what's with you?", Jen demanded, crossing her arms over her chest as she stared at her cousin.

"I don't know what you're implying, Jen, because there is nothing wrong.", Bruce said, not even bothering to meet her stern gaze.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. I noticed that these last few weeks you've been intentionally avoiding Korra. I mean, it's almost like you want nothing to do with her, yet you're going out of your way to help her get back to her world. So, tell me, Bruce, what's going on?", Jen asked, her tone of voice deadly serious yet strangely calm.

Releasing a heavy sigh, Bruce reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose before removing his glasses and setting them down on the table. He should have known that he couldn't hide anything from Jen. She always had a sixth sense about these things, especially whenever he was involved. It certainly didn't pay for him to deny it any more, let alone try not to acknowledge it.

"She just makes me so angry, Jen.", Bruce said, almost growling out the answer.

"You, or the Hulk?", Jen inquired with a small smirk, arching her eyebrow ever so slightly.

"Both of us.", Bruce confirmed in answer.

"Why? What is it about her that makes you and Hulk so angry?", Jen questioned further, unrelenting in her pursuit for the truth.

"Why do you ask questions to which you most likely already know the answers to?", Bruce retorts in a deadpanned tone.

"Maybe it's because I want to hear it directly from the source. But I have a feeling that the reason you're so against Korra is because it concerns your son. Am I right?", Jen counters, her voice insightful as one would expect from an attorney.

She did not get a response, not that she was really expecting one. She knew Bruce too well, and she could tell that this topic of conversation wasn't one he was eager to talk about with anyone. Nonetheless, Jen remained persistent in her effort, trying to get her cousin to see the positives that this unique bond that had been formed by Korra and Skaar presented for the two teens.

"Bruce, you should be happy for him. Skaar finally has a friend. A lady friend, I might add. He deserves to have someone other than his family to comfort and connect with him. I think it'll be good for him. Both of them.", She-Hulk said within reason, hoping that she could somehow get her cousin to understand.

"I know, Jen. It's just that... I'm not sure that it will end well for Skaar. I've never seen him take such an interest in anyone before. He cares about Korra. He cares about her a lot. He's already been through so much in his life. And I... I just don't want to see him get hurt.", Bruce reluctantly responds, tightly closing his eyes and clenching his hands into fists.

"And what about Hulk? What is it that he's hiding? What is it that he's afraid of?", Jen probed, wanting to know what both sides were trying to conceal.

"He doesn't want to lose his son. Skaar is all that he has left of Caiera. All that there is to represent Hulk's memory of her and the love they shared.", Bruce confessed, seemingly unaware of the single tear that escaped the corner of his eye and slowly began to tread down his face.

For what seemed like an eternity Bruce merely stood there, his mind lost in the memories of the past. It was only when he felt a pair of comforting hands reach out and gently rest on his shoulders did he respond. He opened his eyes to look upon his cousin Jen, her expression one of compassion, understanding and patience. He knew that she was going to be direct with him, that she wouldn't hold back the truth from him regarding the matter of his son. He was only surprised that it took this long for her to confront him about this.

"You can't protect him forever, Bruce. And neither can the Hulk. Sooner or later, you're both going to have to let him choose his own fate and make his own decisions in life.", Jen stated, knowing that he needed to hear the truth.

It was then that the door to the lab suddenly opened again, this time revealing the very two individuals who were the subject of Bruce & Jen's discussion, Korra and Skaar. The two were dressed in summer clothing attire, with Korra wearing a blue tank-top and a matching pair of shorts, while Skaar adorned a white tank-top and a pair of black shorts. They seemed to be their usual selves, playfully shoving, wrestling and laughing among themselves. It was quite apparent that their bond was becoming stronger with each passing day, their friendship getting to the point that the two were nearly nigh-inseparable. It certainly didn't go unnoticed by either Bruce or Jen, who watched on as the teens came to a stop in front of them.

"Hiya, Jen!", Korra greeted with an almost impish smile.

"Hey, Korra. You seem to be in a good mood. Any reason why?", Jen asks, sensing that something was going on between the two teenagers.

"Not much. Me and Skaar were just having some fun. That's all.", Korra replied with a devious wink towards her partner in crime, further proving that the two close friends were up to mischief as usual.

"Heh.", Skaar chuckled with an almost evil smirk.

"Korra.", Bruce greeted in a stern tone of voice, causing the young woman to turn her attention towards him.

"Heh... What's up, Dr. Banner? By the way, if this is about the bookshelf and the pitcher of water, I just want to state that... it was all Rick's idea!", Korra proclaimed, unintentionally ratting out one of her friends.

"It's not that.", Bruce responds, somewhat amused that she'd just revealed that Rick was one of the leading culprits in one of the pranks that occurred a couple of days ago that resulted in Bruce getting soaked to the bone.

"Oh! Well, then, what is it?", Korra asked, regaining her composure.

"How would you and Skaar like to take a little trip to Manhattan?", Bruce offered in inquiry.

The excitement in Korra's sparkling sapphire-hued eyes and bright smile spoke volumes. She was finally going to get out of the base, she was finally going to venture out and see the world! She was going to Manhattan! She was more than ready to explore the world. But would the world, or more precisely Manhattan, be ready for the fiery-tempered, headstrong, feminine Avatar?
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Feb 2015, 18:43 #22

The folloing entry was submitted by EWKADA for the January 2015 writing comp

my story is unfortunately long (don't ask how long did it take to translate it...), I am sorry for that but I couldn't find the right way to shorten it, even in Polish

my remarks: Nameless it is Thanos, but I personally prefer him under the first name, it is more terrifying to me

and: I own nothing that is not mine

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


ANT-MAN ?


A long time ago our universe became dual, in consequence every single particle had been given its antagonistic counterpart. And with time this dualism begun to develop in bigger forms, in the living ones as well. Everyone has its own antagonist - it seems, somewhere deep in our heart we know it is true, but generally we do not even imagine this could really happen to us personally. Other people - well yes, especially those living far away from us, but YOU and ME being antagonists? Oh, it means we would inevitably end up fighting off each other, and this is what we actually would eagerly watch in a movie, but for sure we do not want to make it happen as our own experience.


He had at least three of them, he knew about or he had encountered; moreover I would not be able to point them out.

Who’s this? Most probably his name’s Sergi. And he’s always been fond of machines, such machines you can drive or steer. But what would you say about steering them using only one’s own mind – wouldn’t that be too much to accept?

Sergi, whatever he could or couldn’t do, is like us: a Midheimer. He has lived on our Earth since he was born and is now twenty eight. And he has nothing in common with Asgardians or with Jotuns or with any other beings of intelligent races. In consequence his untypical ability is prosaically earth-like: it is steering things by using electricity.

When he was a small boy, Sergi was told by his grandfather a story about him trying to save his colleague during WW2, who came across one of the Soviet KW-tanks in the middle of the road. The KWs, weighing 65mt were accurately brand new and therefore unknown, so grandfather’s colleague, engaged until that time only in partisan actions against Germans and not Soviets, just stopped rooted to the ground, admiring that colossus and with it his own inevitable death. But Sergi’s grandfather was a different kind of a man: always positive, even about hopeless things he believed that everything was possible, that life, if it showed its worst face in the form of massacring children with bare fists, could offer unexpected redemption as well. He just didn’t accept his colleague dying after so many successful actions they performed with their unit in the last two years, so he imagined that he was embodying into the Soviet tank and making it turn left to let his hypnotized colleague be spared. The tank really turned left and grandfather’s colleague threw one of the Molotow cocktails into it… The soldiers inside the tank didn’t survive such explosion, making Sergi’s grandfather loose the only proof of his influence into this scene, but until end of his days he repeated stubbornly, that our kind was never meant to face situations without a right way out. Well, he could be right, but to be honest Soviet soldiers could have just acted so typically for them: facing their enemy they were merciless, but meeting a simple peasant just in the middle of their passage, they simply wanted to spare him as they knew nothing of Soviet occupation and of Polish partisan army of that time.

But what about Sergi? How did he get to know his untypical powers? It was this way:

This time in the middle of the street there was Sergi’s older sister and a car rushing directly towards her. Sergi wanted to save her, so following in his grandfather’s footsteps he imagined he was embodying in that car. In fact he entered the car’s main computer, and felt himself wandering through all the parts of the car and infecting them with his will like with a virus, but he didn’t change any functionality there, he was just uniting himself with the car, until he felt and understood all its running processes, he felt the electrical power steering everything there, this incredible speed of the particles, that influenced what was going inside the car’s computer, it seemed to him like new music, a secret language, that he still could not use by himself, nevertheless he tried to think in the same rhythm, in the same tones – I am in the car’s heart… - he thought really surprised by his achievement – And it is mine now! – but the computer couldn’t yet translate Sergi’s thoughts into orders. The distraction was so serious, that the car’s fuel tank caught fire and exploded. It was the driver who died this day, not his sister: the force of the explosion threw her away by some meters straight onto a huge pile of construction sand and she ended with broken spine in the hospital. And Sergi realized his mind could be a deadly tool.
---


See Kasia: I am already scared. Because someone like Sergi in our world can influence (or destroy) everything. Even if he wanted only to do good, would there be always a pile of sand for us? And who would like to play the role of that car-driver?
---


Well… but not only on our Earth are there beings with untypical powers coming to life. Nevertheless it is our planet only, that has been made unusual as here, and only here, those untypical abilities can be released from a cover of typicality: they appear seemingly out of nothingness but in truth they are activated by an intense urge for evolution that is working on Earth.

How to start? Let’s try it this way:


- Be greeted Hetwo, the Chosen – one of their omrals sung in front of him – Go now, show yourself to your people – he encouraged him noticing Hetwo’s surprised face.

Hetwo in fact didn’t expect it, he thought himself be the most hopeless of the Candidates, and to that he always had bad luck. But running to the main tube leading upwards he gained both: his speed and his sense of success so that he flew out above the gathering thundering loudly.

They welcomed him with their song, a beautiful one and lively in its original form – the same liveliness as himself who was now allowed to marry the queen. The sounds of the song poured above and around him in tight circles, they embraced him caressing like happy rays of a rising sun, and Hetwo was dancing to their rhythm flying higher and higher towards their main palace. Then he entered the heaven’s gate.


The only obligation of the Chosen is to take care of the cocoons, of all of them, not only those of the queens. It is hard work usually lasting every day for the whole three years. Hetwo, together with adult omrals prepared first firm places that were big enough for the growing cocoons, then they put them there, one after the other separately, and in the end connected them carefully to the maternal breeding matrix. Of course all the time they also had to feed the matrix and supervise the condition of the cocoons that were more advanced in their growth and maturation. Well… and as typical for Hetwo’s bad luck there was always something not in the right place or order: for example most of the new cocoons were irregularly shaped, which meant that they were heedlessly wrapped up by their omrals and therefore difficult to connect to the matrix. Then the break downs in moistening of the matrix came into the light, once it was so serious, that the whole breeding process was endangered by overheating. To that omrals were all the time quarrelling with each other. Hetwo had never heard before, that during any reign of previous couples omrals would be fighting, this time however those who by birth tradition were supposed to be gentle and quiet acted as a perfect material for Candidates, but… well it could be that Hetwo was never informed about omrals’ aggressive behavior, his life as one of the Candidates was filled with an intense learning broken only by hunting for snakes in their seas. Hetwo, “the prince of the bad luck”, as he used to call himself, ended up each time being pulled by his snake into the water; and snakes were very dangerous and at the same time extraordinary tasty.


After three years had quickly flown past Hetwo became an experienced Chosen, and he knew, that unless he didn’t control everything by himself personally, there would be constantly messed up by the omrals. Despite such great responsibility Hetwo didn’t develop into an ill-humored type. Anyway even to such a luckless fellow as him, accompanied so often by singing omrals, even though they quarreled from time to time, it was relatively difficult to think badly about his life. To that the queen, his queen was amazing, and she waited for him every night… Three years – it was about the time for the cocoon of one of the other queens to be matured for the crushing; maybe in one year’s time it would be her who would decide, whom from the Candidates to choose, and Hetwo and his lady queen will be released for a peaceful life in the palace.

Although everything was ready, Hetwo didn’t kneel next to his queen, he remained standing aside, where there was a better view of the end point of the breeding matrix with the already matured and therefore spicy red cocoon of the youngest queen. Hetwo was really happy and proud: someday their own cocoon with a beautiful queen will be also ready for crushing…. This is why he checked again the crushers by himself, first of all their calibration formula. Yep… this task he would pass to no one, anyway none of the previous Chosens gave such credit to the omrals.

But then everything started to go wrong, just at the moment when the lasers had been activated, the red mud covering the cocoon suddenly hardened and became a shiny metallic color. The lasers of the crushers, instead of penetrating deeper into the layer, that had been naturally hardened in the maturing process, were reflecting from the cocoon and therefore hurting and killing all those who were standing close all around. The same happened to Hetwo: before he understood what was going on, he was seriously injured. But he didn’t pay attention to it anymore, he quickly jumped towards the steering consol of the crushers and switched off all the lasers. This way the cocoon of the young, tiny queen died so unexpectedly. Well, it had already happened a couple of times before, but never during the ceremony. That moment Hetwo believed that his destiny was to fail, to be gifted extra bad experiences – Misfortune is my mum… - he thought feeling the growing anger against himself and against the world he had to live in. He turned towards his queen, she lowered her head clearly to avoid looking at him. He was ashamed, many eyes were set exactly on him. But he didn’t feel guilty. He was sure he’d done everything to make the ceremony perfect, even those omrals who were quarrelling at least once during his reign, were refused permission to watch over the crushing – Harmony? What for, when there could have never be a perfect ceremony for the malformed cocoons. I should have known it from the very beginning – he continued to grumble in his mind kicking angrily the ruined area of the matrix. But then one of the hardened pieces, that he was kicking, sprang into the air and then landed right in the middle of the steering consol. And for a while the hellish harvest burst out again. The lasers even cut some omrals, who hadn’t managed to escape them, they were cut into thin slices, and the same way part of the breeding matrix. Hetwo threw himself towards their consol again. In his head there were only short cries of the ones who were dying, the consol turned back toward Hetwo, who quickly used his chance and aimed all the lasers in the direction of their moon and turned them off.

- I’m done! – he realized watching with a broken heart the pale and thin body of the young queen, that was still lying in embryonic position in the crushed red cocoon – This should have never happened… Not to me… Not to anyone… - pain and shock were dimming his mind from all sides. The longer he stood there hoping to hear a low whining from pain, caused by wings being stretched out for the first time, the more the terrified omrals were eyeing him. And then Hetwo took his decision: he activated the lasers, their beautiful, colorful bunch of separated rays shot out making a bright light column and Hetwo in one slap rose into the air, covered himself with his wings and rushed directly into the center of the light. His life broke apart.


At least it was what he expected.
---


- Well, well, welcome to the hero from the hidden part of the universe – Hetwo noticed at once that incredible throne, that looked like it was molded as one piece together with the man sitting on it. He had no wings, no tail either. And he was alone. But Hetwo led by his sharp hunter’s instincts was pretty sure, that guards of the owner of such a throne should be count in higher numbers – The queen’s husband, busy with all the cocoons, didn’t notice, that he’d got enemies among his own omrals… - the one on the throne continued.

Hetwo’s sight darkened, in his memory he was quickly searching in a hurry, who could that be, who knew the winged ones so well. And in which part of the universe they could be in now.

The Nameless produced a low grin, but Hetwo heard this laughter in a form of direct explosions in his mind, so he quickly concentrated on the mind’s blockade.

The face of the Nameless didn’t change, as if he didn’t notice, or he didn’t feel, that he’d been just thrown out of Hetwo’s mind – And he didn’t notice, that young queens are not interested in having another, who would decrease their chances of taking over the throne – the smile of the Nameless was to these words even broader, as if he was playing with Hetwo’s surprise.

Hetwo, although just a while ago he was feeling much better, could not hide his surprise again. Maybe he was really blinded by his love for his queen. And now she’s been left alone to deal with the obvious problems… - How is it, that that you know so much about the winged ones, oh nameless king? – he asked quite openly forgetting to keep his attention on his own mind’s blockade.

The Nameless had immediately sent a small piece of the Shadow towards the newcomer. As a result the aura of the winged guest has changed its color. But it hadn’t reduced in intensity. Nevertheless the Nameless didn’t give in: - And do you think, the election of the current queen, your queen, was as peaceful as it was presented to the gathering? The candidates hunt the snakes in the deep sea, but young queens hunt… each other -

- Nooo! – Hetwo protested in his mind. But the Shadow’s seeds started to bring the first results of their influence: Hetwo unwillingly admitted, that the Nameless could have been right about the queens – And I was so sure about my bad luck – he thought bitterly.

The Nameless laughed again.

This time Hetwo reacted with a total blockade of his own mind. He decided never again to let anyone dominate his life.

The Nameless wondered again; this winged fellow had really a very strong will, quite difficult to break – Nothing is impossible – he thought – If it comes to the Shadow… - I have however to upset you – he said it aloud bowing slightly his head so that the Shadow resting on his shoulders could get a better view and a wider influence area – The universe has been divided so that it is not possible to go there and back again. Your attempt would lead you to the nothingness without any chance for returning -

- But I have gotten here somehow – Hetwo argued bowing down under the radiation coming out of the Shadow.

- Yes, you have. Because the rulers can accept lost souls to their dominance areas -

- Why then do you suggest, I would not have been able to go back? – Hetwo, even before he finished this sentence, knew it already, what would be the answer – I am so sorry, I understand it now – he whispered trying to control his growing panic. He was breathing with difficulty.

- As you see, I saved you. Because I have respect for great minds. In your world you would not get it from… -

- From the Blackeyed – Hetwo mumbled embarrassed – Thank you – he added bowing down to the Nameless his head, pulsing from pain.
---


Ori, the first one after the Nameless, was an excellent leader. So thanks to him Hetwo, despite all the inconvenience and fear, that he felt during his rare audiences in front of the shadowed Throne, engaged himself eagerly into the preparations for a war on the far Midheim: a planet, on which stubborn and unsubordinated humans lived, who ignored any rules, even if they were previously settled internally by them, just as if they enjoyed denying everything to everyone. Hetwo couldn’t understand it, those Midheimers were to him a million independent parts of chaos, who all the time were struggling to dominate each other by building coalitions aimed explicitly on getting power over other ones, but then as soon as one of the coalitions achieved it, all its successful members threw themselves immediately into an internal conflict looking for new allies among the beaten ones. Yes, they needed a strong dictator, who could tame their chaos, who could prevent their chaos to be spread onto other worlds – it was what Hetwo thought of the Midheim and it also made him help Ori with the preparations for the war. And because he had wings and disposed of solid, technical, engineering knowledge, he was able to construct an army of winged robots. The Chitaurian and Midheimian lack of wings was a serious disability in his eyes, while his winged, mechanical omrals were beautiful to him and at least partly they smoothed his desire to see his home planet again. He didn’t miss his queen so much anymore: here, where Ori ruled (the Nameless sat all the time on his Throne and seemed not to be interested with Chitaurian matters) the women have been given the status of omrals and this actually Hetwo liked very much.
---


When the portal opened Hetwo immediately threw his first winged robots for reconnaissance: they had to search for strategic defense areas sowing little wasps, that were actually small detonators ripping apart all what was moving, number of explosions had to attract attention of Midheimian defense forces.

And Hetwo again got the possibility to admire Ori’s knowledge and strategy. Ori was well oriented in types of armors of those Midheimian contributors of the chaos, hell, even about their numbers: so when Hetwo’s robots were checking the areas and luring the enemy’s forces, he regrouped his Chitaurian fighters accordingly and then with one move engaged them all. He knew that the faster and more unexpected the attack was, the easier and with limited losses only the end of this war could be.

But those living for their chaos didn’t give up without fighting. Within a fraction of a second they started to gather around the portal as if they knew in advance, they should have been watchful. Hetwo was so excited, so happy, the same as was when he was elected the Chosen. So he tried to control everything at once: here the winged ones got rid of the wasps and were fighting against the Midheimers, who had only little smaller mechanical wings attached to their shoulders; there some bigger winged robots came, with Midheimers hidden inside them; the same way the transporters, but without wings, were engaged in a direct battle with Ori’s worms. To that those Midheimers disposed of their own extended versions enriched by new abilities: some of them controlled light in different ways, some just disappeared and became visible after a while, some changed into other, stronger beings, but Hetwo didn’t care about the war anymore: he looked for someone like himself with naturally developed wings. And he found no one. Then he smiled with full satisfaction – so it was true what they were told by the Blackeyed: Of all the intelligent species in the universe only his kind possessed wings and a tail to fly. This made him proud, even if he knew there was no going back home for him.


Hetwo watched one of his robots fighting against the Midheimian one, quite close to the portal. The difference was significant: his mechanic omrals were collecting all the enemy’s trumps and transferring them directly to the centre, from where the information was immediately redistributed to others so that they could adapt themselves accordingly. The Midheimers were falling far behind in technology, so that Hetwo carelessly, even disrespectfully, smiled to Ori who was busy in the centre. Hetwo knew his robot would win, his robots would win, because this time everything was perfectly prepared, and Chitauri were not the quarrelsome omrals from his planet, they were far more obedient, and to that his own winged robots just did what they were told.

Hetwo tempted by his obvious success decided to join his fighting robots. He jumped right into the middle of the portal. But then for a fraction of a second the blue energy overheated by his ill joy, shone up and then rapidly collapsed changing into a red light. Nothing actually happened to the robots or to the Chitaurian worms, but the portal changed its place.

And Hetwo was falling down. He sensed that it was him who attracted all that portal’s energy and this gave him additional speed so that he could not control his body. Finally after a few seconds he plunged right into the centre of a big lake. The energy of his impact was so huge, that waters made their way out of the lake and turned half-full into a steam.
---


Sergi opened his eyes. His sister came to him in a dream again. She used to come when something very important was about to happen, important and dangerous. Antie belonged to the past for two years already, but he still could smell her, especially in the kitchen – she loved to cook… He inhaled the air through his nose. Oh yea… pancakes. Most probably this was the reason why he created his ants, although through all the years he was keeping his promise given to Antie in the hospital and fixing things, only fixing, nothing more. But temptation to make use of what he most enjoyed was especially strong after she was gone so quickly, leaving him with an empty kitchen and with a huge disorder in the whole apartment. Finally Sergi gave up his resistance and constructed ants, so that they could do all Antie’s work. He had ants-servants, who he taught to clean up, I mean, he learned to steer them so that they collected all the impurities (well actually to be aware of what to do, he had first to clean up by himself, which was his first serious work he had ever done). He had also an ant-cook, who waited only for his instructions and the rest was done automatically thanks to the program using his best recipes (Sergi had to prepare them first on his own too, what was his second serious, but not always tasty, work. And he had ant- sun burners, who’s task was to absorb sun’s energy needed in great numbers for his already many little ants. Sergi right from the beginning treated them like real human beings, like many multi-copied versions of his sister Antie.


In his dream Antie was sitting in Marcus’s restaurant, and behind her there was that famous view of their biggest and most beautiful lake. She was smiling as usual, but soon she put away the teaspoon and started to explain something to him, it took her a long time, unfortunately Sergi had no idea what she was talking about. In the meantime the sun lowered closer to the lake and golden sunrays started to glide on the water. The lake waved suddenly like a sea and Antie stood up and pointed at him – Be today there, where they gonna be tomorrow – she said firmly to him.

- Antie – Sergi thought when he awoke from his dream – What have you meant by that?! Should I go to Marcus? – he made a deep sigh as he actually was leaving his apartment only to go to his garage. And generally he had little to do with people, besides Marcus and his sons. Sergi smiled – They make for the best example of antagonism! – he laughed – M. and his three sons… - Marcus had always been his best friend since he was able to remember anything, an older one friend, but… well… not very wise. Already for several years he’s been washing dishes in that big restaurant by the lake. Sergi, recently gave Marcus a robot, that was shaped like a marten, or a rat, maybe let’s call it rat-marten as he simply made a conclusion, that such mixed form should be the best in water and for sneaking into the kitchen as well. His friend however made little use of this gift as all he had learned about electronics was using simple machine functions only. But there were his three sons who had enormous fun while working with “uncle Sergi” on that rat-marten. Anyway Sergi had to keep them busy so that they wouldn’t crush everything in his garage, well at least they learnt a lot about engineering from him and didn’t have to listen their father telling them how lazy and useless they were at home.

And Sergi dressed up, swallowed some pancakes and encouraging himself by making deep breaths he went out. He had at least a two-hours walk before he could reach the restaurant. He could take the bus, but had no idea how to buy a ticket. And he didn’t want to use his ants for action outside, anyway most probably he would have to work on fixing the bus after that.

The two hours were lasting for Sergi: he saw nothing interesting, only tired people with empty and emotionless eyes – My man will have shiny and happily pulsing eyes – he decided and concentrated on this new idea of a bigger robot.

In the restaurant Sergi sat down helplessly at one of the tables. He was there two years ago and in the meantime its layout had been changed into an old style. It didn’t make him feel relaxed though. Luckily the waiter recognized him, so he was served at once with mineral water mixed up with lemon. Then, waiting for Marcus to call him during his break, Sergi started to work on the construction of his new human-like robot. He was so concentrated, that Marcus had to go to him personally: Sergi simply didn’t react to the waiter, who three times tried to inform him, that Marcus was waiting outside.

Sergi and Marcus, although they were really good friends, didn’t talk much. Marcus’s world was very simple, and Sergi’s turned around machines, which he fixed, then around his own robots, so for Sergi the real world was also simple: it almost didn’t exist.

Marcus hasn’t changed a bit, he only called for the rat-marten and Sergi charged it at once, but he couldn’t check its system, so they agreed that Marcus’s boys should bring it someday during the next holiday.


Sergi said farewell to Marcus and headed home. It was a rosy sunset, but Sergi as usual with his thoughts deep in the idea of his new robot didn’t care about it and didn’t feel he should better hurry up. He walked not heeding the scarce passengers on the walkway. And then he saw her, with the sun shining from behind her shoulders. It was HER. She was in her silk summer dress that covered softly, parts of her body. Sergi, who’d never seen silk, looked at that dress like he was hypnotized, and at that what was under it also. With great effort he fought back the desire to touch the girl. At that moment he realized he knew her, but she had already passed by him smiling slightly, being satisfied about the impression, she had made on him. This is why he didn’t remember how he got home.
---


Sergi belonged to people who are not satisfied about their today; such types always look forward, into the future, which should be better. This is why he was remaking and fixing his robots again and again so that each ant had its own name and a growing number of improvements. Sergi, more like a father than a hegemon, analyzed their functions, corrected them, then checked, whether the newly applied function was correct. But his new robot didn’t look like a man at all, it was more an ant, a huge one, of almost his size.

And he never, even for a moment, stopped thinking of that girl. He had found her of course thanks to the Face. She enjoyed to sparkle wherever she went, yes she was at least a little egocentric, but for him she was the one, and she liked him too (as well as many others), so open and so honest… this was why Sergi decided to give her his first “big-ant”.
---


She didn’t let it in into her small flat, so Sergi’s robot stood like a guardian at the main door to the building for more than a half year. People made photos with the big-ant, and Darcy from time to time enjoyed showing them, how to use it. Sergi as its creator was happy, he reserved the anonymity for himself, as otherwise the crowd would stand now in front of his block. But the biggest fun for him started when Darcy intending to protect her robot, took it upstairs with her. The big-ant radiated with Sergie’s feelings for her, and Sergi, who of course couldn’t resist steering it by himself, realized that he really wanted to be with her. In the end Darcy looked bravely into the from time to time blinking eyes of the big-ant (what made it more human actually) and said – I’d like to meet him! -

- My Lady, I do not understand who do you mean. Enter his identification data, please -

- Hey, Ant-man?! Are you there? – Darcy came closer the robot – I’d like to meet you… personally! -

- My Lady, I do not understand your instruction – the big-ant repeated after Sergi.

- Don’t play you’re artificial! I assure you, there’s no reason to feel uncomfortably – she smiled into the robot’s eyes – Look, I’ve let you into my small flat, and I’ve trusted you with my life. I do really mean nothing bad with you -

But the robot was only starring at her and repeated stubbornly after each her demand: - My Lady, I do not understand your instruction -

Darcy chewed over her failure for a while, then declared – I’ll find you, you’ll see! -
- My Lady, I do not understand your instruction – the big-ant answered, and Sergi smiled under his nose.
---


She didn’t succeed in finding him, despite her numerous contacts. Sergi moved many, many years ago to another place, his sister wanted it this way to help him forget they were left alone. And even Sergi’s current neighbors couldn’t be sure, they had only seen him a few times, and only a few had ever talked to him. But he was discovered by someone else.
---


Sergi was warned by his ants, that someone had been standing for five minutes in front of his garage and was gazing towards the closed and soundproof door. Sergi after a short reconnaissance had also been assured by them, that the whole building was surrounded.

Soon a big-ant went out of Sergie’s apartment and blinking madly with its eyes it came nearer to the intruder.

- Good Afternoon Ant-man! I’d like to invite you to join us – said Nicolas Fury – But first switch off this blinking, please – he finished enfolding a holo-transmitter.

This time there was no smile on Sergi’s face, but his robot kindly nodded.
---


Hetwo got out of the water in a hurry and immediately unfolded his wings to get rid of all the water drops. He really hated that feeling, the water reminded him about degrading smiles of other Candidates, when exhausted from his fight with snakes he was weakly climbing up the boat. Luckily he never released his identification rope holding the dead snake around its head, otherwise those smiles would be followed at least by spicy comments and in worst case by kicking him off of the boat. Yea, the losers had no chance to be the Chosen.

And he immediately knew, something was wrong, terribly wrong. He closed his eyes and took some deep breaths, that hadn’t lessened his growing anger at all. He tried again to unfold his wings, but dropped to his knees shortly after that – This is the end – he thought bitterly. In the meantime, in the sky above, his winged robots shone with Tesseract’s energy like falling stars; all the nightly darkness was enlightened by them.

- Where were you off to? – Ori barked in his ear-set, and his voice evidently wasn’t far from streaming with even a bigger anger than Hetwo’s own one.

A whole minute passed on before Hetwo decided to answer – On a lakeshore – he said shakily, still not believing that all of it was really happening.

- Then gather your robots and go back towards the portal; it has changed its position and we have to strike the other continent -

- I can’t – Hetwo chattered through his teeth – I‘m missing one of my wings; it got broken when I was falling enforced by portal’s retransmission energy -

- You haven’t gotten yet, what an order is! – Ori barked again impatiently – Move the winged ones to the portal! Now! -

- Yes, sir! – Hetwo puffed noticing a man gliding every now and then on a terrace, both: the man and the terrace were covered with the mud from a lake – Argh! Awful! – Hetwo thought and shuddered with dismay. And the man did exactly the same…
---


The rat-marten rushed thundering into Sergi’s garage and made several circles around its creator. But Sergi totally concentrating on the monitors, glanced quickly at the robot – Under the shower, right now! And be sure we won’t clean all the mud you’re leaving now! – he shouted irritated. Sergi, although he ordered his robots mentally, couldn’t get rid of speaking to them, especially when he had already so many of them in action, well actually it were the centrals, he was controlling now, as his role was to coordinate them, the rest, I mean, the fight using all the big-ants they did on their own.

- And now sit down in line and wait patiently for your turn. I suggest you switch yourself into the save mode – Sergi barked to the rat-marten.

The robot followed his instructions, and soon it looked like a sleeping marten with its tail covering its nose, but before it really deactivated itself it sent out its last view, that could suggest to Sergi the reason of its damage – this way Sergi made all the repair work easier and faster.

This time however Sergi didn’t bark at the rat-marten, and mentally quickly switched himself to check it. The robot registered a meteorite, falling down right into the centre of their lake. It happened before, and it could be expected, especially when there is a hole in the sky spitting out aliens. But this meteorite was unusual: shortly before it hit the surface of the water it unfolded its huge wings.

Sergi, at first, stopped breathing from astonishment, but soon he ordered some of his robots to find that winged fellow. He had a helmet that didn’t look to be steered with Tesseract light, which meant it could be electronic. Sergi smiled: if it was true, there was no power on this Earth that could prevent him taking control over it - Hunny for the Pooh Bear! - Sergi thought happily. He would finish this war on his own and Fury - kneel down impressed by his achievement. That’s the right way of things!

And Sergi concentrated again on the centrals, the fight was done now in two places: one - close to the portal, that opened again above the Iberian Peninsula, the second one – close to his hometown. Sergi for any price wanted to prevent the enemy to enter the town, he wanted to protect the people, especially her. As soon as he thought of her, he decided to tell her, where he was living. The big-ant should bring her to his garage. He would feel by far more comfortable if he knew, she was safe sitting next to him…
---


She looked as if she was totally surprised, she actually gazed at him making big eyes, which made her similar to a frog with a stupid look on its face. First after a minute or so of that silent gazing at Sergi, she smiled and exclaimed suddenly – You’re really the best in hide and seek! Even now I can’t recall how I got here! -

And Sergi, proudly, invited her into his garage.

She seemed to be very embarrassed, actually all her confidence and pride disappeared, when she was confronted with Sergi’s centre of the centers, central of the centrals. And she was shocked to see how many places were engaged into the current, bloody war.

But Sergi had no time to make her impressed. He sat again at the steering console and concentrated on coordination and constant improvements, this is why he at the last moment bowed down to avoid being hit. She attacked him. SHE intended to hit him!. Sergi recovering from the shock tried to put one of his big-ants in-between them, but the girl was fast and aggressive. Finally she caught his face with both her hands, pressed it tightly and started to gaze steadily as if she wanted to hypnotize him. Sergi still couldn’t figure out, what was going on, so he let his big-ants surround her. Iron hands blocked her wrists and the girl, screaming loudly, was detached from Sergi.

Sergi worked on catching his breath, when the garage door opened and Marcus rushed in – I am looking for my boys. There’s war everywhere and they seem to be gone for… - he looked at the girl - …good – he finished pointing at her – Everything’s all right? – he asked in a changed voice, and some of Sergi’s big-ants turned their blinking eyes right towards him.

- Jesus! What’s that? – the girl lamented.

- I… think it would be better if I went out – Marcus said carefully.

- What?! Nooo!!! – she whined pleadingly being still held by one of the robots, by her big-ant actually. Watching Marcus leaving despite her protest, she desperately tried to free herself.

Sergi got up rapidly and went closer to her – Who are you really? – he asked massaging his cheekbones.

- What? What the fuck should I be? Let me out, you freak! You lured me here! – she took a deep breath – Help! Can anybody hear me? – she started to call aloud with all her strength.

- Me? Luring you? No! I mean… yes, but I wanted to keep you safe here, while you intended first to give me a sound trashing and then you nailed me with your eyes as if you wanted me to be your medium! – Sergi recited somewhat slowly being still nervous. He’d never been accustomed to talking with people, not to mention quarreling with them.

The girl stopped struggling for a while. She blinked several times, then looked around – I don’t know, what you’re talking about. I don’t remember the big-ant catching me, and why… I can’t recall the way here, to this fucking garage… What’s going… - she turned her eyes at Sergi – Yyyy… It’s you… - she clenched her teeth maliciously – You’re trying to talk me into… No! I could not have been able to attack you and I won’t let you fool me now! – she paused before bursting out again – Oh, how I hate you! I really do! -

Sergi watched her cautiously while she was speaking – Medium… - he repeated in his mind and felt suddenly cold – Dammit! – he thought – I don’t know, what could that be, the mind had never been of my interest – but then suddenly he recalled Marcus quickly leaving his garage – Medium… - he whispered in panic – Search for Marcus immediately! – he ordered his robots going back to his steering console – All who haven’t been engaged yet into the battle, start searching right now! – and he connected Fury – We’ve got an intruder, sir. It can switch from one man or woman to another – he hesitated – But not to everyone. I’ve already sent my robots after it -

- Wait a moment! - Fury shouted into Sergi's ear-set - Do you want to tell me, that those big-ants turning aside are your work? Sergi! Sit down at the console and take care of Iberia, people are dying there in hundreds! -

- The centrals have been properly synchronized, sir, they don’t need me, at least at the moment. While the one here… we don’t know, what its strength and abilities are. It can steer people minds, just like… - here Sergi hesitated realizing what he wanted to say - …like me steering all the electronic – yes, he knew it was true. And he was sure that this alien being was somehow close to him, like father or brother, like his other him, because he would do the same if he were supposed to attack the Earth – And what if he is not only able to jump between people, but also to steer more people at once, in a similar way as I do with my big-ants? – he thought and felt his hair stand on end from fear. He didn’t listen to Fury’s protests, but concentrated explicitly on his robots looking for the stranger.
---


- The closer to the centre, the fiercer they defend it, because they protect the one, who enslaves them. Do I also enslave my ants? – he wondered - Maybe I should let them free to act on their own? – Sergi tried to occupy his mind as much as possible, but in truth he was terrified when he saw how many people started to attack his robots, who just a while ago were their main defenders against alien invasion. And on the terrain under the portal, there were real infernal scenes being performed: the enslaved people there having no robots as enemies attacked each other in the most cruel way he ever imagined – Who are you? – Sergi searched in a hurry for a solution. And he was already tired, he would gladly switch himself into the save mode. Suddenly he recalled that meteorite with wings – Search for that angel! – he roared to the robots and looked with compassion at the girl, who was still being held by her big-ant – I can’t release you… not now… he can come back to You – he saw tears in her eyes – It is better this way, otherwise I could hurt you. For sure you’ll never forgive me… -
---


They had found him, those big-ants that were sent at the beginning towards the lake. And he was not in the centre of their battle, but in Marcus’s flat. He was fixing something in the kitchen, it looked like a huge crystal disk. Marcus was nowhere to be found, but in the bathroom someone was knocking at the pipe – Well, it’s not so far… – Sergi thought of going there personally, but cast aside this idea, as he still felt obliged to protect his girl. In the meantime his big-ants prepared for breaking into the flat and Sergi decided to have a look at that crystal again: the stone was incredible, and the winged guy… yes, Sergi for the first time noticed, that guy had only one wing – Got you! You want to fly again! – he thought – Maybe this disc is something like Tesseract? - the one-winged man lifted up the crystal disc and looking intensively into it he left it hanging in the air. And then Sergi noticed something else: that man had his face, but he was a little bit older.

A fraction of a second and the robots were in the flat, some were struggling to capture the man, others to take over the disc.


But Sergi busy with the action in Marcus’s flat hadn’t noticed, that one of the big-ants left in the garage was constantly sending him its warning signals. And for some things it was too late then. Enslaved people entered the garage. Sergi had to fight with his big-ants against people, the girl was trying again, to make herself free, she was howling and trying even to bite her robot, luckily with no success – Hide the disc in the King’s Cavern! – Sergi ordered his big-ants, who were running straight away from Marcus’s flat. And then Sergi realized that his alien "brother" was standing at the front door of his garage.


Sergi had to go out. He called his nearest robots, by the way he noticed that people had organized an effective defense from the enslaved ones; luckily plenty of them kept weapons… while the enslaved overloaded with their own anger were not able to handle any weapons. Sergi if he only was given enough time, would discover the strategy and abilities of his twin-brother. Alas, he wasn’t. Finally the winged man was stopped in his tracks from advancing, so he desperately threw several enslaved ones towards Sergi, one of them succeeded in reaching him, but soon after that he was hit by a thunderbolt.


This was the way Thor the Mighty returned to Earth. And the winged one immediately rushed away from him. Thor meant to follow him, but was stopped by Sergi’s remark:

- For sure he’ll be searching first for his disc – Sergi whined looking a little terrified at his broken leg. He didn’t feel any pain, only coldness, and the blood leaking out of the open wound seemed not to be his own – Maybe he has enchanted me as well? – such suggestion suddenly appeared in his mind – It is in the King’s Cavern, in our system of natural underground caverns, partly underwater – he finished aloud, noticing a questioningly look in Thor’s face – I’ll give you my big-ants, they’ll lead you there. As you see, I have now other matters to deal with -

Thor turned towards the girl, who was lying with hands and legs restrained by her big-ant close to the garage door – What have you done to her? – he asked suspiciously.

- No! Don’t touch her! – Sergi warned him.

The girl started to laugh wildly, so that even Thor lost his tongue – Why do you defend the Midheimers? – she asked – Most of them are just blind tools, they don’t even realize this. They are worth nothing – she said a little artificially.

- Well, I know at least some who aren’t – Thor barked to her – Including you -

- It’s not her… oh, now it is… - Sergi commented looking at the girl who cuddled herself suddenly – That winged one enslaved her. If you can, keep him in that cavern; dense materials dim his power, maybe that stone there would finally isolate him from the people -
---


Hetwo felt that the coming of that thundering giant was marking his end. The man was resistant to any mind suggestions and disposed of an unknown technology – Maybe Ori knows him? – he wondered. No, he didn’t wonder actually, he understood that he was used by Ori, that the Nameless didn’t tell him everything about their invasion. So finally he realized that he had been deceived by them both. It didn’t matter now, that he had again the disc in his hands, it was useless underground. And Ori for sure would leave him to his fate here on Midheim. There was no coming back for him, nowhere.

At that moment Thor stopped just in front of the line of the big-ants blocking Hetwo in the underground cavern – How do you know the Chitauri? How did you find them? – he asked looking carefully at Hetwo – Tell me, and I’ll guarantee you a fair trial and punishment -

But Hetwo knew it already, that he was done – You speak of Chitauri?! You don’t even know, what lives among them. It is a power, that even my mind, so well trained, cannot be helpful against it -

- Yea, so why haven’t I met it yet? – he was asked by Thor not without any irony this time.

- Because your mind is blind to it, you and these dim Midheimers, you’re all unable to understand the wrath, that is defining its identity -

Thor shook his head at that, but he wasn’t given time for answering, because Hetwo threw his crystal disc right into Thor’s face.

Thor instinctively lifted his hammer and the disc broke into pieces. So did Hetwo’s head.
---


Some weeks later, in the hospital Sergi was visited by Fury, who was his only guest there.
---


Some years later, in another town Sergi was walking up the street. It was a rosy sunset, and he wasn’t in a hurry. And then he saw her. She was dressed in a silk dress. Sergi smiled painfully.

This time however the beautiful Darcy stopped in front of him. And smiled casting worried glances at his metal foot.
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Feb 2015, 18:45 #23

The following entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the January 2015 comp

Heavy Metal - Issue # 11 - Haunted

(I own nothing that isn`t mine.)

*~*~*
In the previous issue, Alex Stark awoke to find himself surrounded by less than amiable mutants. After relaying his reasons for contacting Rhianna Wilson, Scott Summers gave Alex his armor back. A briefing with Cyclops, the leader of the beleaguered X-Men, occurred. Alex, now back in Metal, Adam Summers, Rhianna Wilson, and Wolverine have left the underground mutant base to track down Two Lips, a drug-peddling, highly powered mutant that Alex had a rather unpleasant encounter with.

*~*~*

The flight back to Cali was a silent one in terms of communication with the others in our little X-gene posse. I'm man enough to admit that I was smarting a bit from being so easily stripped of my armor by the mutant faction. Also, I was not real happy about being treated like a pile of dog poop that the X-Men had to scrape off of their boots. Add to that the irksome idea that two people that I thought had my back didn`t really have it at all. Being played by Adam and Rhianna hurt worse than the ego spank waking up nude in a lab with nothing but a white paper gown to cover your junk did.

So outside interference was kept in check. Inside my HUD was another thing. As soon as we had stepped out of that teleporting Frigidaire, Tinker appeared in a pop-up window.

"Dude! Where the hell have you been?"

" What would you say if I told you that I had stepped into a magical deep freeze and awoke to find myself surrounded by blue cats wearing spectacles and mind-readers?"

"I`d say you`ve been sniffing the formaldehyde frogs in the biology lab." Tinker leaned close to the camera atop his laptop. I could see up his nose. It wasn`t a pleasant sight. "Alex, you need to drop a note if you're going to just disappear."

"Sorry, it was a spur of the moment decision. I'm just hanging out with some old friends," I said then gazed down at Rhianna smiling up at me. She looked so innocent, and yet, she had flat out lied to me. I wrapped an arm around her then took off slowly, easing off the ground. Her vitals appeared on the lower left of my visor. She didn`t seem the least bit upset about things, even flying with a teenager in a wildly overpowered and slightly wonky suit of armor.

"You're with old friends in Metal? What did you do to that suit? Your readouts aren`t calibrating at all," Tinker frowned as he pulled up my schematics. "Man, you really hosed things up. Let me see what I can do."

"It`s fine. The SNAP`s are completing the reboot. I should be at one hundred percent by the time we land in San Francisco. Get your homework done and I'll be home before dark."

Tink did not look convinced but he acquiesced and logged off. It wasn`t that I didn`t want my buddy on my wing, far from it. I just needed time to mentally hash things out before we found Two Lips. Flying was tricky with a passenger but not impossible so I concentrated on that. Just as I got my mind settled into my rumination mode, another pop up window appeared. This one I didn`t think I could wiggle out of so easily.

"Hi," I said to my mother. Note to self: disconnect the direct line from incoming cell signals to Metal. Having Mom appear if I were in a scuffle would not be good. It would be the polar opposite of good. " You look pretty. Did you do something different with your hair?"

Hey, it worked for dad on occasion. It just might work for me.

"Don`t try to sweet talk me, Alexander Steven Stark."

Or not, and three names as well. What had I done to warrant three names? Mom looked good, you know, considering she was my mother. Her hair was different, a little more layered than usual. It made her look younger. My mother said that her peasant genes kept her looking good for her age. My father said she looked good for her age in jeans. My folks are so funny it hurts. There was no way around the fact that for a woman who was closing in on forty she still had that all-American beauty that had snared my father, the world`s most sought-after bachelor.

"Are you in a car?"

"Nope," I replied earnestly.

"You sound like you`re in a tin can."

"Dad was probably tinkering with your cell phone again. So, what`s up?" I didn`t want to be rude to my mother, but we were closing in on the west coast.

"Mm, he did have my phone last night. I'm calling to make sure that you`re coming home for Thanksgiving. Guri said she would be here and with a new boy she`s dating."

I so wanted to roll my eyes but didn`t dare because Mom would see me.

"Yep, I plan on flying home the day before and staying until the Monday after. Glad to hear Guri dumped that dimwitted football player." My sister had dated quite a few jocks, always looking for dudes that were bigger and tougher than she was, which, you know, is impossible since she`s from Asgard.

"Alex, that isn`t nice," Mom chastised as a smile played on her lips. "This new young man is an Asgardian, so that`s something. At least when she slaps him on the back it won`t knock him from the dining room chair. I'm glad you`re coming home. I miss you. Do you need anything? How are your socks and underwear holding up? Are they filled with holes yet?"

For the love of Gaussian frequency shift keying. She did not just ask me about my underwear, did she?

"Mom, please, stop. My underwear is fine. I have to go. Class starts in five minutes." Actually the coast of California was now below us and Adam had already dropped down to the streets of San Francisco. I saw her face fall just a bit before she covered it up with a smile. Ugh. Now I felt like crap for cutting out on my mother.

"Oh, okay. I don`t want you to be late. Dad and I are so proud of you. Talk to you next week. Love you, baby."

"Love you too, Mom. Talk to you later."

The pop up flickered out and I descended slowly downward, my landing a moment later a touch awkward. Rhianna pushed her hair from her face then gave me the oddest look.

"What?"

"Your talk with your mother, that was nice," Rhianna said her hand on her flyaway hair to keep it from her face. Her brown eyes grew misty for a moment. It stung more than a bit to think that I was ditching my mother when this young woman had never even known hers. "My dad talks about my mother a lot. I feel like I know her. He says she was the only woman who could overlook how ugly he was because she was blind. I think she just looked deeper than most people."

My mouth opened to reply but the words stalled as Wolverine shoved between Rhianna and me, his hairy face right in my visor. I stepped back. He smiled then plowed forward. Ugh. That little shit and I were going to have a few words before this mission was over.

"Don`t engage him, Alex," Adam said as we fell in line behind Logan who was being none to gentle as he pushed through the crowded sidewalks. "Logan will appreciate you showing him instead of telling him. I'm tempering their thoughts so that when they look at us they see four normal humans and not three X-Men and an Iron Man cosplayer."

"Okay, for the last time, stay out of my head ." I was a bit snappy and probably more than a little rude.

"Just for your understanding," Adam stepped right in front of me. Even in Metal, I had to look up at him. The dude was just ginormous. Dad had told me that Cable was massive in size and sheer pain-in-the-ass skills as well. Acorns and trees. "Rhianna and I did not play you. Despite how it appears, we genuinely wanted to see you. We just had to proceed with caution. You of all people should understand that."

His blue eyes snapping with indignation Adam spun around then caught up with Logan easily, his legs twice the length of Wolverine`s. I stalked along at the rear. Iron Man cosplayer. Pffft. Ugh. My mood was rapidly degenerating into a funk. I really hoped we found Two Lips. I wanted to punch someone, and despite how tempting the back of Wolverine`s fat head looked, slugging him probably wouldn`t earn me any brownie points. So, I flattened my lips and followed the world`s greatest tracker.

And followed. And followed. And followed. We walked up and down those San Fran hills until my legs felt like overcooked pasta. Three hours we had spent sniffing the air, walls, and every nook and cranny Wolverine could cram his nose into. I was now tired, thirsty, and in dire need of a men`s room and a shower. Adam turned to glower at me and I was close to firing something cutting at him when Wolverine stopped dead. Adam plowed into the short man`s wide back then danced in reverse, apologizing quickly.

"I got his scent." Man of few words our Wolverine. I called up every scan I had. We had meandered into the bad sections of the city. San Fran was weird in that way as things changed dramatically over the course of a just a couple of blocks. We were in the Mission district area according to the map blinking steadily in my upper left. The people we were passing were sketchy and growing more interested in us, and Rhianna, with each step deeper into the Mission we went. I opened my visor for some fresh air as well as to avoid sounding like a robot when I spoke.

"Is there any way to make us look less like tourists?" I asked the mind-manipulator. Adam nodded. Some of the intense stares we had been drawing dropped off. I didn`t ask what the natives were seeing us as. Logan stopped outside a building that stood three stories high and was covered with murals, as were most of the walls we had passed for the past block or two. I studied the hotel with a wary eye. Then my visor dropped into place and I began scanning the crap out of it.

"He`s in here," Wolverine grunted then entered the hotel, Rhianna and Adam tight on his heels. There was not a flicker of energy coming up on my scans so I walked inside the old hotel as well, my sight locked on the glowing red infrared forms milling about. The hotel seemed to be in good condition despite the ancient exterior. We took the stairs instead of the old-timey elevator with the accordion-type of door.

"Place stinks of piss," Wolverine announced. I was suddenly glad that I had closed my visor. "Probably was a flophouse back in the day," Logan whispered over his shoulder.

"What`s a flophouse?" Rhianna inquired from behind me. The stairwell was dingy and poorly lit. The stairs creaked and moaned. The second floor seemed devoid of anything suspicious so I focused my scans to a more refined search of the third floor. Instead of a damn scan the SNAP`s, or whatever demon possessed Metal, brought up some stupid video of two Eighties dudes, one working a disturbing porn-worthy mustache, singing about private eyes. The volume routed through the armor and hit the airwaves at ear-splitting decibels. Wolverine freaked the hell out, took one wide swipe at me with those damn claws extended, and then dropped to the top riser like a stone, his eyes rolled back into his head. Adam and Rhianna hit the stairs like sacks of wet barley, hands over their ears.

"NO! No! Stop all feeds now!"" I shouted at Metal. Everything stopped, and I mean everything . Every scan I had been running powered down. The life support shut off and my visor flew up like a Pop-Tart leaving the toaster. Adam and Rhianna slowly lowered their hands. I smiled down at them feebly then rushed over to tap Wolverine with the tip of my boot. "He's okay, just passed out. Probably because he can hear better than most," I explained to those who needed no explanation. I felt like a real idiot. "So, how about those Seahawks?"

The door flew open behind me. Wolverine`s head acted like a doorstop. I spun around as the two younger mutants shot to their feet. The three of us looked down the barrels of several formidable looking guns, most trained on our heads.

"Can you make us look like Girl Scouts?" I asked to the side right before the first hundred or so rounds began to fly. As bullets pinged off Metal, I turned my back to shield the mutants behind me. Wolverine was on his own. I was fairly certain that Adam and Rhianna didn't possess healing factors. I can guarantee that the SNAP`s coursing through Metal`s programming were going to wish they recuperated like Logan did. They were being extracted and reprogrammed before one other thing was done to this suit.


That is if I didn`t get shot between the eyes or SNIKT`d by my own teammate when he came to.

To be continued . . . .
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

01 Feb 2015, 18:47 #24

The following entry was submitted by XMATT for the January 2015 writing comp

I’m not Central City’s first hero – and I definitely won’t be its last.

“To the Flash, our very own Scarlet Speedster,” Mayor Bates said, reaching over and wrapping an arm around the hero’s neck.

That’s not what the people want to hear. It’s not what he wants to hear, either.

Among the crowd, he spotted an elderly man there with a soft smile on his face. It had the features of an old glove, faded, leathery and wrinkled in all the places it’s been used most. Mostly the forehead, from all the frowning he’d done. The Flash met his gaze and returned the smile.

A moment of silent consideration, amongst the thunderous whoops and cheers of the gathered crowd.

This city’s first Flash and my mentor, Jay Garrick. Also, a dear friend.

The mayor’s voice was loud, jovial and vibrant, matching the mood of the day perfectly. “Though, we do not know the identity of the man behind the mask, we most certainly trust him with our lives!”

So while I’m not this city’s first Flash, I’m pretty sure, right now, I’m its favourite. But I think if my cheeks get any redder from the embarrassment, it’ll match the colour of the mask I’m wearing.

“With that said, I award, on behalf of all of the citizens of Central City,” he continued, to the whoops and cheers of the massive crowd, “the key to the city!”

The accolades are great, even if they do make me feel a little nervous. It’s not why I put the boots on, though. It’s not why I run the way I do.

“Thank you, everyone,” the Flash said, accepting the key with a grateful smile. The Mayor took a step back and the Flash placed his hands behind his back, his best attempt at hiding that they were shaking. “Thank you all so much.”

Two years ago, in a freak chemical accident, I came in contact with something known as the Speed Force, granting me the power to run at incredible speeds.

The cheer went up once more. The speedster scanned the crowd and picked out his close friends. It would be easier to speak that way, even if they didn’t know it was good, ol’ Barry up on stage. Focusing on the five of them, Iris, Caitlin, Patty, Cisco and Leo, made his heart beat just that little bit slower.

Unfortunately, Lisa hadn’t been able to make it.

“This means a lot to me,” Flash told them. “And I appreciate everyone who helped put it together.”

Today, I use my position as a forensic investigator in the Central City Police Department and my unique powers as the Flash, to fight crime.

“Central City has been a home for me,” Flash added, keeping his eyes on his friends. And one set of eyes in particular, big and brown. So beautiful, they could only ever belong to Iris West. “It’s met me with open arms and I can proudly say I’ve found many friends among you.”

My name is Barry Allen and I’m the fastest man alive.

“So you keep making Central City a great place,” Flash said, deciding it was about time to wrap it up. If he didn’t, he’d probably shake himself right through the stage. “And I’ll keep fighting for it. Oh, and go Cougars!”

The cheering, somehow, became even louder.

Central City is my home and I will do my best to protect it.

Not for the applause, the awards or even keys to the city. I’ll protect it because it’s the right thing to do.


xMatt Presents…
Ultimate Flash #1
A New Kind Of Enemy – Part One of Two: “Red and Blue”

The day before…

“Come on, Barry!” A familiar voice called, arriving at the door of his old office. “Or you’ll be late! For your own party!”

Barry looked up from his table and saw only sheets of paper, old manila folders and stacks of books. Then, of course, there were the dozens of USBs and hard drives that he’d used over the years. So, in order to see the person he was speaking to, he had to swivel around so that Leo could see him behind it, his blonde hair a mess over his exhausted face.

“Oh, hey, Leo,” Barry said, flashing a smile before returning to his documents.

“What are you doing behind there?” Leo asked, placing his hands on his hips. “We’ve got the cake and everything downstairs, ready and waiting! Patty wanted that red devil one, but Iris insisted on double chocolate.”

“Sorry,” Barry said, beginning to place the stacks of paper onto one part of the desk. “Just been clearing up the office. Whoever gets it after me wouldn’t want to deal with all the mess.”

“Mess?” Leo snorted, throwing his hands up into the air. “This place is more organised than the morgue. Seriously, how do you have all the time to do stuff like this?”

Barry let out a soft laugh. With a shrug, he said, “I do it mostly after hours. I tend to work fastest when no one’s around. Give me a couple of minutes and it’ll be done. And hey, you’re one to talk. You spent all of last week pent up in your lab, doing research!”

“My thesis isn’t going to write itself. Now,” Leo shook his head, adamant. “Come on, moving some of your old folders to new USBs can wait another night. Promotions like this one don’t come around very often!”

“Alright,” Barry surrendered, finally moving away from the stack on his desk. He feigned a huge sigh, much to Leo’s amusement. “Leonard Snart. There’s just no convincing you, is there?”

“Not really, no,” Leo chortled, patting Barry on the back. “Not when chocolate cake is involved. Or any kind of chocolate … and any kind of cake, too, to be honest.”

In all truth, Barry probably could’ve gotten it done within seconds and had planned to, though Leo had arrived before he could. But also, Barry wasn’t exactly a fan of being in the spotlight all the time. He didn’t like being the focus of attention – mainly because he didn’t really view his achievements as being worth recognition.

“Here is! El hombre el momento!” Cisco cheered, as Barry and Leo walked upstairs. “I Google translated it.”

“Good thing you arrived when you did,” Caitlin said begrudgingly, before rolling her eyes, “because Cisco was about to start playing FIFA before you came in. And you know how he gets when he starts playing FIFA.”

“Only when I play against you,” Cisco defended himself, his dark eyes narrowing on his lab partner. “And that’s only ‘cos you cheat.”

“I don’t cheat,” Caitlin replied, matter-of-factly. She then narrowed her eyes at Cisco, who did the same in return. She then dropped her gaze, speaking softly, “I just used to play a lot, back when…”

“Come on, you two,” Patty chimed in, before Caitlin had a chance to finish. She held a smile on her face, the kind of smile that came with years of experience of having to pacify the two of them. “It’s just a game.”

In unison, Cisco and Caitlin said, “It’s not just a game!”

“Why do you say that, Patty?” Leo chortled, as he positioned himself right in front of the cake. “You know it only encourages them.”

“Hey, Barry!” Iris said, walking over. “What took you so long to get here?”

Barry felt his legs weaken as he replied, “I was just cleaning out my office. I had stuff there that needed to be moved.”

It started with her eyes. It always did. They were a light brown that caught the reflection of the lights, making them seem as if they were sparkling. Barry found it very easy to look into them, whenever they spoke, as he did now. She brushed a strand of her auburn hair, almost the same colour as her eyes, from her face before turning to the others.

“This guy, right?” Iris joked. She looked back at him, a smile on her face. “Gets promoted to field investigative work and he’s still the one cleaning out his boxes. I’m pretty sure you have minions to do that for you now, don’t you?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call them minions,” Barry shrugged, as Patty came over.

“Move, you,” she said, shooing Leo out of the way. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him down into the chair in front of him. “Caitlin, did you get the drinks?”

“Six ciders, coming up. Strawberry and peach. My personal favourite, though not exactly my first choice,” Caitlin said, as she dipped her hands into cooler bag, retrieving the bottles. “Cisco – bottle opener.”

In a single, fluid motion, Cisco reached down to his keys, grabbed the bottle opener and swiped it across the lid just as Caitlin brought the drink up. The lid popped off and Cisco caught it, mid-air.

“You’re way too good at that,” Leo chimed.

Cisco looked over at Caitlin, who had pursed her lips. In silence, she handed him another cider to open.

“Yeah, well,” Cisco said, shrugging his shoulders and speaking with his usual nonchalance, “Basically the same as opening a closed test tube, yeah? Caitlin will line them up and we see who can open them the quickest.”

Caitlin handed the cider to Leo, who accepted it. In a dull tone, she responded, “I cheat in that game, too.”

“Is there anything you two agree on?” Patty wondered, tapping her chin with a finely manicured finger. Tonight was one of the few times she wasn’t wearing her white, latex gloves at the blood analysis table and had clearly made the most of it. “Like, at all?”

Caitlin and Cisco looked at each for a moment, before shrugging.

“That the sun will rise?” Caitlin concluded.

“But that’s pretty much it, yeah,” Cisco replied. “I’m Messi, she’s Ronaldo. I’m Kobe, she’s James. I’m Kirk, she’s Picard. Pre-Abrams, though. Obviously. You kind of get the drift, right?”

“I heard messy in there, but otherwise, those are just names to me,” Patty answered, flicking her blonde fringe from her eyes. Once she received a cider from Caitlin, she held it up, “Anyway. A toast, huh? We all know hard you’ve been working for this promotion. All those busy days and sleepless nights have finally paid off. Maybe you can start having a social life, now. To Barry!”

Everyone had their drinks by then, and they imitated Patty’s gesture. Their bottles held up high, they all cheered, “To Barry!”

“Thanks guys,” Barry said, before they all took a drink. “I’ll still be the same cool guy you all know and love. Just because I’m out there in the field, doesn’t mean I’m forgetting the little people.”

“Well, when you start calling the little people the little people, you’re already too far gone,” Iris said, shaking her head with feigned dismay. “I’m sorry to say, we’re already working on a replacement for you, Barry. My nephew is interested, actually. He’ll probably start off as an assistant, but we’ve got the interview tomorrow, after the key ceremony.”

“Oh, please,” Patty said, meeting Barry’s eyes before taking another sip, “no one could replace you.”

Iris nodded once, her bright orange hair bobbing along with her. She said, in agreement, “That’s true.”

“Oh, hold on, it’s my sister,” Leo said, as his phone started to ring. He answered it. “Yeah, we’re all here now. Managed to pull Barry out of the office for one last drink before he goes all CSI on us. Yeah, I’ll put you on loudspeaker.”

“Hey guys!” Her soft voice came from the other end. “Awesome work on the promotion, Barry. You totally deserved it. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it tonight.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Barry replied, leaning in so he could be heard. “And you don’t have to be sorry, Lisa. I completely understand. How about this, I’ll make sure Leo doesn’t eat all the cake so I can come over and share some with you. Maybe we can even go ice-skating, once you start feeling better.”

“Sounds great,” she replied and Barry could almost hear the smile on her face. Her voice was still faint, as she asked, “So, you’re a big shot, crime scene investigator now, huh? When’re you gonna get your own TV show?”

“Hopefully never,” Barry laughed. “I’m just doing my job.”

“He’s always so modest, isn’t he, Lisa?” Iris called out, hovering over the phone. “Could save the city and he’d still say he’s just doing his job.”

“Wouldn’t be Barry if he didn’t,” Lisa giggled. “I guess I’ll leave you all to it, then! Enjoy the rest of the night. Maybe I’ll see you all tomorrow at the key ceremony.”

They all sang their goodbye, before Leo took the phone back.

“She’s sounding better,” Iris said, once he’d hung up. Her voice was tender, once she saw the almost somber look on their friend’s face. “A lot stronger than last week, at least.”

“Yeah,” Leo said, somewhat reservedly. He then cleared his throat, before continuing: “Come on, we gonna eat this cake, or what?”

“Ah, Leo,” Cisco said loudly, lightening up the mood once more. He placed a hand on Leo’s shoulder and said, “Always the man with the bright ideas, huh? It’s why I like it better here, then when I’m interning at STAR Labs. Come on, Barry, cut the cake!”

And though they ate and drank through most of the night, Leo’s attitude had gotten that little bit colder. He still managed to smile and converse with the others, but Barry had known Leo for a long time. He could tell when his friend’s heart was no longer in the festivities, though he often put on a good show.

He had been like that since they were teenagers and, considering what Leo had gone through in his childhood, Barry didn’t entirely blame him. If Leo weren’t such a good scientist, Barry reckoned the man could’ve been an award-winning actor.

When the night eventually came to a close, Barry walked over and caught up with Leo before he left.

“Hey,” he said, “how’re you holding up?”

His response was short. “Good.”

“Are you really?” Barry asked, walking in front of him, now. With his powers, it was easy to keep his pace. “This is me, Leo, you don’t have to pretend.”

“It’s nothing, really,” Leo brushed him off. “It’s Lisa, that’s all.”

“Do you need any—“

“You don’t have to worry about it, Barry,” Leo said, before he even had a chance to finish. “I’m taking care of it.”

Barry wasn’t entirely convinced, but he didn’t want to press the issue any further. He got like this when it came to his sister. “Well, you know I’m here for you. We all are. If you ever need—“

“Got it,” Leo said. Whether it was pride or frustration, at this point, Barry couldn’t tell. Perhaps a bit of both. “Thanks. See you tomorrow?”

“Uh, the office, you know,” Barry sighed. It was the best reason he could come up with on short notice – though his reflexes were super fast, his wit wasn’t. And telling the truth about his identity, even after all these years, wasn’t exactly an option.

“You really don’t like this Flash guy, huh?”

“Well, he’s no Jay Garrick. The original is always the best,” Barry replied. “I’ll watch the key ceremony online while I clean the office up, or something. Just a key, right?”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now…

Turned out to be a little more than a key. Once the ceremony had finished and he had a moment after being swarmed by his fans and taken pictures, after signing shirts and magazines, after answering a few questions for the reporters, he had a few moments to himself.

He’d run the key through his fingers, finely made and shining as bright as gold. There was even engraving in it, just two simple words and a comma: Thanks, Flash. There wasn’t a full stop, but Barry didn’t think too much into it. And there was the certificate they’d given him too, congratulatory and mostly aesthetic.

He wouldn’t be able to frame it and hang it on his wall like he had with his diploma, nor could he show it to his parents and friends and tell them all about it. No, instead, this would go into a small box, hidden in the very back of his wardrobe, with the rest of his Flash paraphernalia.

If there was one downside to be a costumed, masked hero, it was not being able to share the experience with anyone.

An old man’s voice said, “Hey, Flash.”

Well, there was one person.

Flash turned, already recognising the voice. With a grin, he answered, “Hey, Flash.”

“Nope, not anymore,” he said, waving his hands in refusal. “More than ever, you’ve earned that title.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you,” Flash replied. “Any of it. So, really, half this key is yours.”

“Half? You kidding me?” Jay chortled, folding his arms. “I’d say at least three quarters, with all the work I put into training you!”

“Three quarters sounds fair,” Flash nodded, in agreement. “So long as my quarter has at least one decent bar.”

“That’s a done deal! But on one condition,” he said, holding up his index finger. “You have to take that girl of yours, Iris out on a date there.”

“She’s not my girl, Jay,” Flash said, feeling those red cheeks beginning to return.

“Well, not yet, she isn’t,” Jay chimed, “but once you take her out on that date, she will be. Gee, do I have to teach you everything?”

For a moment, the speedster dropped his smile. In a serious tone, he asked, “Even if I’m the Flash?”

“Sure, you’re the Flash now,” Jay responded, in an equally serious manner. That mentor, teacher voice came back to him easily. “But you won’t always be. You’ve got a future you need to take care of, as well as the present. It’s the only thing guys like us can’t outrun.”

“We can’t outrun the future.”

“We can’t outrun life,” Jay responded. He then held his hand out and tapped the Flash’s head, just like he used to when he first started training him. “And that makes it official – I’ve taught you everything I know.”

“Thank you, Jay,” Flash said, earnestly. “For everything.”

“Trust me,” his mentor replied, “I should be thanking you. You gave me a few years to relive my glory days. But now I can happily pass on the torch.”

They started walking, moving out of the side street Flash had used to hide himself in. He lifted his hand up, retrieved a ring from the inside of his boot and placed it over his finger. Jay wore the same on his own hand, though most people thought it simple memorabilia.

“Glory days?” Flash chuckled, “Yours are just starting, I’d say!”

Then, Flash pushed the ring’s centre and from it, came a beeping noise. Immediately after, in display that Barry would never get sick of, he saw clothing emerge from it. A simple shirt and jeans, along with some shoes, even formed themselves over his body, just as his crimson costume disappeared into it.

It was a form of 3D printing, mixed with hard light holograms and just a touch of a shrinking generator, thanks to a friend over in Ivy Town. Jay had made the original tech with an old friend of his, decades ago and had passed it on, just like the title. Barry, a child of the twenty first century, however, couldn’t help but make a few adjustments.

“I wouldn’t put the costume away just yet, Barry,” Jay said, his eyes squinting as he peered into the distance. “I think we’ve got trouble.”

Curious, Barry followed his gaze. There were still dozens, probably a hundred people, still milling about the stage, waiting eagerly for the Flash to make an appearance. But past them, he could see what Jay could see: panic. The Mayor had chosen the city square for the big presentation, which meant they were near the business district of town. Several people were rushing down the street yelling and pointing, as they raced toward the police officers.

Barry could only faintly make out their voices: “—a gun – we saw him through the window!”

“He’s in the bank!” The second said, breathing heavily, trying to catch his breath. “I think it’s a robbery—“

Jay turned, asking, “You need – oh.” Barry had gone. He then started walking down the street, smiling contently, knowing the city he loved was in good hands. “Probably already there.”

He was.

The red blur was mostly decoration. In truth, he generally moved too fast for the human eye to even see. When in public, when trying to rally the people and inspire them, he would vibrate his costume in a special way, which generated that familiar blur. A simple gesture like that was enough to bring hope to the people. Every now and again, he’d do it; just to remind them he was there – protecting them.

But not now. This was a delicate situation. As Barry Allen, he’d been privy to few investigations at bank robberies. But as the Flash, he’d arrived on many scenes such as this and was able to stop them before the criminals had a chance to get away. If he alerted the criminal in any way, there was the chance the people inside, potential hostages, would get hurt.

Or worse.

So no blur. No red and gold streak. Instead, he left that to the cops. Let the lights of red and blue reassure the people, because for now, the job was simple: get inside and save anyone being held hostage. It took him few seconds to reach the bank and his ring projected his costume back over him, unshrinking and draping itself over his body.

He ran around the building twice, three times, getting a good view of the area before finally stopping at the back.

“Doors are locked,” the Flash said, as he knelt down and chose his spot, “windows are reinforced and the cameras are off.” He then knocked against the wall a few times. “Concrete, with steel reinforcements. I can get through.”

His body started vibrating. Placing a hand against the wall, he began moving so fast that everything in his body, right down to his molecules, began to shift. And then, the wall began to shift as well, letting him pass through as if he were a ghost. Though his body moved quickly, this was a somewhat slower process – slow for someone who could race around the world in less than two minutes, that is.

But it allowed him to pass through the wall and move into the building.

From here, he could hear the voice of the man holding the bank hostage. He’d seen him wearing a blue and black hoodie, dark glasses and a mask over his eyes and, as the witness had claimed, armed with a gun. The robbery was already in process. As quietly as he could, he zoomed over to the place of the crime.

“Stop!” He called out, confronting the robber. Immediately, he turned and trained his gun on the Flash. “You don’t have to do this!”

“You!” he said, venom dripping from his lips. Though his face was covered, the Flash could see the hostility and frustration in the criminal’s body. The mask muffled his words, but he said, “You don’t understand.”

The criminal pulled the trigger and, expecting a bullet, the Flash started running.

But it wasn’t a bullet. Instead, there was a wave first that ran through the air. It was unlike anything the Flash had ever felt, for the wave wasn’t warm and didn’t resemble any kind of energy. Instead, it was cold. No, freezing. And then, as the wave rippled through the air, ice formed all around him.

“Ah!” The Flash grunted, as the wave and ice pushed him to the floor. He rolled along the ground, momentum carrying him forward. “What the hell was that?”

“A theory,” the man snarled. “Confirmed.”

The gun shot out once more and, just like last time, the wave preceded the ice. The Flash only just managed to avoid it, moving up and ducking underneath the pillar of ice. It smashed into the ground where he had been, only nanoseconds before, destroying it. He knew immediately that it was a distraction, a lazy, but deadly shot that granted the criminal a few seconds. The Flash, more than anyone, knew that in his line of work, seconds were all that mattered. The criminal managed to finish transaction over the computer.

Thanks to incredible, wireless Internet connection, stealing money had never been faster. Whatever happened to the days of moneybags?

“Alright,” the Flash said, watching the man’s hand and gun very closely. “You have what you came for. No one has to get hurt.”

“Wrong,” the man said, through the mask. “You do.”

Before he’d even finished speaking, the ice was upon him. Incredibly, it moved faster than any bullet. Whatever the gun did, it seemed to work on some strange wave of energy that dropped the air to subzero temperatures to create rock-hard ice. Not only that … it slowed him down.

It was the moment between the wave and the ice that hindered the Flash. It seemed to interrupt his connection to the Speed Force, reducing his pace. Because it only lasted a short time before the air turned to ice around him, it didn’t stop him for long. But then, there was that additional problem of being hit in the face by a pillar of ice, which was extra threatening.

There was no barrel on the gun, which meant no reload. So the wave continued to pulse through the air, blasting torrents of ice towards him that travelled along a spiral path. As the criminal escaped, he held his finger down on the trigger. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was looking, for if he were, he would have noticed that he was aiming at the hostages.

“Look out—!” He still said it, mostly as a basic, human instinct.

The Flash, of course, travelled faster than the words he spoke, so by the time he’d ran over to move the man out of harm’s way, his warning fell on deaf ears. The ice smashed against the floor once again, leaving a huge, web-like crack where it had before frosting the area around them.

“You alright?” The Flash asked, looking at the man in the face. From his four years of police training and then the added two years of working in investigative, forensic science, Barry could tell the man was in shock. He mumbled incoherently, but he was otherwise, unharmed.

The Speedster tried to move, but found that his legs had been frozen to the floor. In trying to move the man, his ankles had been hit. It was a delayed moment of pain as, slowly, his skin started to feel as if it were on fire. But they weren’t burning – they were freezing. Knowing he could force his way out, he had to vibrate his legs through it. Precious seconds, lost. Once they were free of the ice, he felt his body lurch – the waves and the ice were doing more than slowing him down.

He got that same feeling he got whenever he ate his Old Aunt Bertha’s sponge cake: throwing up.

Moving as quickly as the situation would allow, he went for the door. Just as the Flash got there, the car zoomed off. The criminal peered out the window, one last time. But before Flash could follow, he felt that wave cool the air and the door glazed over with a massive wall of ice. It wasn’t enough to come to a skidding halt, as the momentum carried him through. He lifted his arms to brace himself as he ran into the wall of ice.

It cracked upon impact and staggered the speedster.

By the time he regained balance and focus, the criminal had driven away.

“The police are on their way,” the Flash announced to the panic-struck hostages. “You’ll all be fine.”

Before they had a chance to respond, he zoomed out of the room. The problem with finding a bank robber in the twenty first century was that, unless you knew exactly who you were looking for, they were generally unnoticeable. He’d have gotten rid of the hoodie, taken off the mask, stashed the gun and dispersed in the crowd.

No moneybags, just a digital trail.

All the same, he did a lap around the immediate area, but came up with little clues. He’d found where the hoodie and masked had been dumped, but there was no sign of the gun. He’d seen tire tracks that could potentially relate to the criminal, which he would share with the authorities as Barry Allen. But, for all his power and speed, he couldn’t exactly examine each face in the street.

As he ran, he saw that Cisco and Caitlin were nearby, having a coffee. Well, Cisco had a coffee and Caitlin had what looked like a cocktail. Patty was having an argument with her boss, a man the Flash recognised as Dr Singh, not far from the ceremony. He also saw Leo, sitting on a nearby bench, a phone in his hands, while Iris had met up with her nephew and a friend of his. She wore a STAR Labs coat, with a badge saying ‘INTERN’ on it.

“Flash!” A police officer said, as the speedster returned to the scene of the crime. The Flash recognised him as Officer Kanigher. “Where’s the perp?”

“He…” the words felt strange as they came out of his mouth. He rarely, if ever, had to say them. “He got away.”

“He – what?” Officer Kanigher asked, his face contorting into confusion. “Got away? From you? But how?”

“I’ve been here two years, now, Officer,” the Flash sighed, looking through the crowd. “That’s two years these guys have had to find a way to stop someone like me, someone who can run as fast as I can.”

“So what’re you saying?” The Officer asked, as a group of investigators rushed into the building. “That this guy…”

Apologetically, the speedster met Officer Kanigher’s eyes. No one had been hurt, but the criminal had gotten away. “I’m saying that after two years, someone’s figured it out: a way to beat me.”

The Flash had failed. That meant Barry Allen could not.

NEXT: CATCHING A COLD!
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Miles_Warren
Eternal
Joined: 24 Feb 2013, 00:05

04 Jun 2015, 17:29 #25

The following entry was submitted by FERAL FEMALE for the February 2015 writing comp

Heavy Metal - Issue # 12 - Haunted

(I own nothing that isn`t mine.)

There is adult language in this issue. If that offends, do not read any further.

*~*~*

You know what is beyond super cool? Having a suit of armor that can do amazing things like fly and shoot rockets at bad guys. Know what is even further beyond super cool? Being able to do everything a suit of funky black and silver armor can do with your mind. I hate to admit it, but I've always been a bit jealous of Adam Summers. When we were younger and he led the Defenders, he seemed larger than life. I spent many a night cursing my, as I saw it then, inferior brain.

Now that I had grown a little older, my envy wasn`t about him being taller, better looking, more muscular, and steely-jawed. Well maybe the steely-jawed part still got to me a bit. No, what really made me a bit jealous was how hard Dad and I had to work to build suits and Adam simply had to think it. That was why my father coveted Extremis so, even if it generally seemed to be a curse. It made him more than human. It amped him up, and it made his body and mind as close to a machine as it could get and not be a T-1000. I had yet to see what his Extremis-infused genes had done for me. They certainly hadn`t given me any insight into getting the SNAP`s working any better.

I glanced over my shoulder when the barrage of bullets stopped. Adam stood up, helped his woman to her tiny white boots, and then stalked around me.

"You need to get that thing a tune-up," Summers said as he checked each unconscious hood by booting them in the ribs. "I don`t remember it being so dangerous before."

" It sat in moth balls for a couple years." That was about the lamest excuse ever. It was true, but lame. "I'm still working out the kinks. Is he going to be okay?"

Rhianna nodded then continued to gently pat Wolverine`s stubby cheek. The surly mutant grumbled something about beer and hockey then sat up as if someone had crammed a cattle prod into the back of boxers. Those brutally cold blue eyes latched onto me.

"You're a fucking menace," Wolverine snarled.

"Logan!" Rhianna gasped then fell back to her rump when the short man pushed to his feet.

"He's trying to help," Adam piped up, planting his formidable self between Logan and me, which instantly pissed me off. I shoved the wall of muscle aside.

" I don`t need your help, Summers. This little shit doesn`t scare me."

Wolverine rolled a lip to show some fang. Pfft. Fangs don`t scare me. Peke-A-Poo`s have fangs and they`re not particularly scary. My reboot fired to life. All my scans came online. My HUD began showing me a video of some dude named David Lee Roth dancing on a beach in a blue tuxedo as he waxed poetic about California girls. Where was all this crap music coming from? My eyes darted from Roth to the glowing heat indicator that was spiking up at an incredible rate. I turned to look at the door. It had drifted closed. Two Lips was on the other side powering up.

I did what I had to do. I threw my arms around the three mutants, prayed for a shield that would withstand the explosion that was about to take place, and then put my shoulder to the wall. The impact jarred the fillings in my teeth. Short incredible bursts of speed tend to do that. The cinderblock crumbled. Logan peppered me with expletives as we exploded out of the wall then tumbled down to the street. A flash of light followed our hasty departure. I watched our shadows racing at us. Logan wiggled free. Adam did as well. I flipped to my back, holding Rhianna close, then hit the sidewalk with force. My brain bounced around inside my skull. I opened my eyes, saw the side of the hotel falling down over us, then rolled to the left, tossing my arm and leg over Rhianna.

Mayhem ensued. A wave of nausea overcame me and I scrabbled to get away from Rhianna. Her brown eyes were wide, and her cheeks covered with plaster dust. I crawled to the curb then prayed that my visor would open in time. It did, thank God.

"Alex!" I heard Rhianna somewhere in the distance. My head was pounding. Logan was shouting to Skippy about needed back up and a clean-up crew. I emptied my stomach into a storm drain as screaming people raced past. "Adam!" Rhianna shouted, closer now. I lifted my head, the motion causing my vision to blur terribly, and drug the back of my gauntlet across my mouth.

Adam wrestled with a fiery ball of mutant energy that had to be Two Lips. Or a small super nova. I opted to think it was Two Lips. Rhianna slapped a hand to my brow. The shock wave of pain nearly caused me to pass out. The concussion that I assumed I was nursing sucked. A warm wave began to seep into my head, the white hot agony of the world`s worse headache easing up Then it stopped. Rhianna left my side. I winced as the thumping resumed but staggered to my feet. Her touch had helped a bit. Not much, but enough to get a bearing on Adam and Two Lips about fifty feet above us, exchanging meaty punches as the civilians went bat-shit nuts.

I raised my right hand. It swayed side to side, as my body did. If I could just get a shot in without hitting Adam . . . the repulsor disc on my palm hummed. It was a nice sound. I liked it. I didn`t like seeing two blown-up buildings where there should only be one, but you know, we deal with what we have to deal with. Adam`s big body blew away from the glowing orb that was Two Lips. His wide back slammed into the street. I fired off three short blasts then fell off the curb, my balance shot in the ass. I dropped to one knee and tried to get a couple intelligent thoughts lined up. Rerouting all power to flight, I streaked skyward. I hit the round mass then bounced off it, flipping around in mid-air. It took several harsh swallows to keep from hurling inside Metal. A white-hot blast of energy streaked past me. I fired up the boots and streaked into the clouds. Two Lips followed, his energy sig nearly blinding me as it lit up my HUD.

My first priority, aside from trying not to toss my cookies again, was to get Two Lips away from the masses. The fastest way to do that was head out over the ocean despite it being kind of cliché. He was fast. The distance between us kept shrinking. Maybe if I concentrated on Roth singing, it would help keep the bile in my gut. My vision was a mess. Reading the scans was nearly impossible. That`s what I'm going to blame my collision with a large black jet on. Granted, they were cloaked as tightly as a virginal Klingon, but if my brains hadn`t been scrambled, I would have probably seen a blip. I clipped the wing of the black bird, did a rollover, and then sort of cascaded toward the ocean.

Actually, cascading isn`t the right word. Cascading would be a leaf caught on a breeze as it tumbles and cascades to earth. Metal and I fell like a freaking rock out of the sky, my warning bells chiming as I lost altitude. I jerked inside the suit when something grabbed me out of midair before I hit the sea. Things went black for a moment as my ears popped with a loud "BAMF!" sound. My armor sucked in a vile cloud of acrid air then the lights came back on.

"Try not to fall asleep, Meister Stark."

"S-kay," I replied then lurched from the arms cradling me. I face planted inside the X-Men`s jet, gagged a time or two, and then looked up to see Nightcrawler crouched in front of me, a worried look on his unique face. "I'm good," I lied. "Bad nachos for breakfast, " I added when the mutant didn`t seem to buy the first fib. With a bit of assistance I got to my feet. My goal was the cockpit, but I never quite made it that far. The jet slammed into a cement wall, or so it felt. The blackbird lurched upward and I rolled backwards, tumbling down the walkway, head bouncing off seats and floor. Passing out sounded like a good idea. I would have if not for the fact that something big, bright, and angry was melting a hole into the side of the ebony jet.

"You certainly know how to irritate a villain," Kurt snarled then disappeared in a noxious cloud.

"It`s an inherited gift," I groaned as papers and a candy bar wrapper flew past me out into the wild blue yonder. Whoever was flying the jet sounded a great deal like Scott Summers. Who knew a headmaster could talk like that? I sat up slowly, trying to get my brain fluid to stop spinning. My scans announced a large energy presence incoming. I dove to the left. A gaping hole appeared in the floor where I had just been, the metal liquified as if it the sun had reached out to touch that spot with a fiery finger.

"Shit," I mumbled. The glowing ball entered the jet. Red and blue lights were flashing. Cyclops was shouting from the front and I was shimmying between padded seats to try to avoid being melted like a butter pat on a hot griddle. "Shit. Shit. Shit." The seat behind me evaporated. Bits of flaming fluff swirled around the jet. I pushed my back against a seat, braced my legs and lifted my hands. The jet dove sharply. My shots hit a little wide, so I fired off another couple of rounds. My repulsors didn`t seem to have any effect. Two Lips absorbed them then added the energy to his star/nova/whatever-the-hell-it-is power.

Someone pushed on the top of my head. It hurt really badly. I swatted at the hand jamming my helmet down into my skull. A brilliant ruby red light filled the interior of the rapidly falling jet. Two Lips left the building. Cyclops grabbed at the back of my neck, shouting words at me that I couldn`t understand because my head hurt so damn much.

"Fly!" he barked as he hauled me to the gaping maw that Two Lips had created. I turned to look at him. He shoved me out of the jet. It took Metal a full second or two to calibrate and correct my positioning. The world dimmed then brightened. The blackbird raced downward, smoke and fire trailing behind it. I looked for life signs on my scans. There were several, some in the ocean, some in the air. One massive energy sig was streaking away from the area. I thought about a speed boost to catch Two Lips, but the thought got muddy. I got my sorry backside over the beach. My landing scared a couple of seagulls who had been pecking at a discarded hot dog. I think I passed out on that half-eaten hot dog. Talk about a slap to the ego.

*~*

When I came around, I did two things. Groan and whimper. Then I forced an eye open, wondering if I'd be looking into the face of a blue cat with glasses. Nope. No blue cat this time, which was, you know, kind of a letdown. It would beat the clinically cold cubicle I was in now. The sounds of a busy hospital filtered through the steady thump-thump-thump inside my skull. I patted myself down. Armor gone. Again. I sat up. Then fell backwards faster than I had gotten upright. My stomach roiled in anger. A hand rested on my shoulder, gently pushing me back to my pillow.

"I won`t move again," I croaked. Squeaky shoes hurried past the green and blue privacy curtain. The air was thick with the aroma of sickness and disinfectant.

"Good. The last time you tried to sit up you vomited all over the nurse."

I rolled my head gently to the right and saw my father seated in a chair that was equally as ugly as the privacy curtain.

"Hi Dad," I forced out. My mouth tasted like a cat had used it for a litter box. My throat was arid. My head hurt, and my father was here, looking at me in that way that father`s do when they can`t decide if they want to shout or hug the stuffing out of you.

Let`s hope he was here for hugging. I didn`t think my head could handle shouting.


To be continued . . . .
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