CCC Entries by cbishop, Part 4

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cbishop

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Edited By cbishop
Intro:
I decided that I wanted all of my Character Creation Contest (CCC) entries in one place. These are the entries as they were posted to the original contest threads, no embellishments, no edits. Many of these entries have appeared individually on the Fan-Fic forum, retitled and edited for better reading (the others will be edited and appear there eventually). I'll update this as each new contest ends. I hope you enjoy them, and as always, thanks for reading. -cb
Last Issue:#46-66: .Part 3.

All of my CCC entries, from CCC #67-82:

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
067Amalgam OC's2,562*31stT

*Not counting the notes at the end.

Note: There's a definite mistake in this version. I named a location "Page Aerospace," when it was supposed to be "Romanova Aerospace." It was originally going to be PA, but I decided to make it to RA, and forgot to make the change in the story.

Man Without Fear

Mojave Desert

The experimental fighter jet screamed across the desert sky, pitching wildly, setting off just about every alarm the cockpit had, and making the stick all but unresponsive. Matthew Jordan was having the time of his life. "WOOOOOOO! I love this thing! I'll trade you my Christmas bonus for one, Carol!"

His headset squawked, "Matt, you can trade me your next twenty thousand Christmas bonuses if you don't manage to land that bird safely!"

Matt sighed as he wrestled the stick with one hand, and punched a few buttons with the other. "Relax, Miss Romanova, I'll get it back to you in one piece."

"You'd better," came the reply. "There's whispers that Bruce Rasputin has taken up an interest in flying. If Rasputin Enterprises gets into the aviation game, we can kiss most of our contracts goodbye. Romanova Aerospace needs this."

"So land this plane, land the contract?" he asked, the sudden vibration in the plane making it almost sound like he was talking through a fan.

"Something like that," he heard in his ear.

"Then boss lady," Matt said through gritted teeth, straining against the stick, "consider...this...bird...lan-- oh, crap."

"What 'oh, crap?' Why 'oh, crap?' Matt! What's happening?" Carol said excitedly.

"Bad news, boss. The stick just broke off in my hand," Matt said somberly.

"What?" Carol said weakly. "Matt, fire the weapons into the desert floor. If you clear the desert before you crash, there's no telling what that agent they're carrying could do!"

"Gee, I'll miss you too, Carol," Matt said dryly. "Hang on, I'm going to try something."

"Your wing walking days are behind you, Jordan! You fire those missiles and eject! Now!" screamed Carol.

"I've got it! I've got..." Matt's radio went silent.

Page Aerospace

From the control tower, Carol saw an explosion in the desert, followed by a thick plume of smoke. With dread, she gasped, "No. ...Matt."

The comm crackled, "Wasn't me, boss lady! I'm not sure what it was! Maybe Rasputin already had a project in the air?"

"Matt!" she cried happily, followed by, "Don't even joke."

"Hey," Matt said glibly over the alarms still sounding, "he's nothing if not imaginative." There were a few seconds of silence, and then, "Uh, boss, I'm out of tricks here, and running out of desert. I'm going to have to put her down."

"Damn," she whispered. "Turn on your beacon. We'll come get you ASAP."

"Carol, if the rumors are true, give Rasputin a call. He only hires the best."

She laughed lightly, "You should have been a lawyer, you silver-tongued devil."

"That's 'Daredevil.' It even says so on my helmet," Matt said jovially. "But a lawyer? Not in this lifetime! Firing the missiles, and punching out," he called, and then his radio was static.

"Scramble the Rescue and Recovery team," barked Carol. "I want Matt found, and whatever's left of our bird brought back to the hangar!"

"Uh, ma'am?" asked a tech. It was Jim Grimm. "The plane hasn't gone down."

"What?" she asked in disbelief.

"It...it started a descent, but...but it leveled off, and its GPS shows it moving."

"What in... OH MY GOD! The missiles! Have the missiles detonated yet?"

Grimm looked at her with alarm. "No."

"That son of a...he's sold out! Jordan's flying my damned plane and its payload to the competition! Or...or to a weapons buyer! Oh, God! Someone get the FAA and Homeland on the phone!"

"Ma'am?" asked another tech. This one was Frank Kalmaku.

"What? Spit it out!"

"I... I don't think that's right, ma'am. Jordan's beacon is pinging too, and moving in the same direction as the plane, but...he's a good quarter mile behind the it!"

The room froze at that info. "Wh...what did you say?" asked Carol.

Mojave Desert

Matt stared in awe. Six green energy beams of some kind had lanced out from the direction of the column of smoke, grabbing the plane, the four missiles, and him in his pilot's seat. Everything was moving towards the smoke like they were in a tractor beam. "Far... out," was the only thing he said.

As the beams got closer to their source, Matt could see the crash site. Whatever it was, it wasn't a plane. It was definitely some kind of ship. Krexamite, maybe? They hadn't been heard from since the invasion though. Everything lowered gently, but landed with a bump. Matt scrambled from his chair, and ran to the ship. A hole was in the side, so he let himself in, only to see a magenta-colored humanoid alien prone on the floor, leaning against the bulkhead.

The alien beckoned a bit weakly, "Welcome, Matthew Jordan."

"H-how--?"

"Save your questions, and listen. I haven't much time. My name is Abin Stick of the Nova Lantern Corps. Formed by the Guardian Watchers of the Universe, only the most fearless are allowed in our ranks. The ring has chosen you as my successor."

"Me?" asked Jordan.

"Take my helmet. Touch the ring to the lantern. Recite the oath. Become this sector's Nova Lantern. Protect it... from... King... Sin," he said with his last breath.

"A-Abin?" Matt gasped. "Stick? Stick!" he shouted, as the alien's body glowed brightly, then fell to ash, leaving the helmet and ring behind on the floor. Astonished, Matt hesitated, then walked forward, bending over with his hand outstretched to pick up the ring.

Instead, the ring jumped from the floor to his finger, fitting as if it were made for him. Matt found himself clothed in the same uniform that Abin Stick had been wearing, and the helmet was drawn to perch on his head. "No way!" he shouted. He looked himself over, and then at the ring, and said, "Great. What the hell's a King Sin?"

From nowhere, a voice said, "King Sin is the Nova Lantern Corps' first traitor, and self-proclaimed king of Korugatriani." With this info, a beam shot out of the ring, projecting pictures on the wall of the ship to go with it.

The ring is talking to me? thought Matt. "That is the fattest alien I have ever seen. Now I've seen everything," he concluded aloud.

"Negative," stated the ring. "It is all muscle. There is more. Sinfiskro was the best Nova Lantern the Corps had ever produced. He was being trained to replace the elder Abin Stick, against Abin's wishes, but could not wait for the natural time. He made a deal with the Weaponers of the Negative Phantom Zone, producing a yellow ring at least as powerful as the power ring of any Nova Lantern. He declared himself King Sin, and attacked Corpsman Abin Stick, gravely wounding him. Too weak to use the ring properly, he fled in a ship, coming here. Having regained some of his strength in the flight, he used the last of his will to find you and bring you here."

"Yeah," chuckled Matt. "Me and my plane! Oh, man! The plane!" He ran to the hole in the ship, and leapt outside, running for the plane. He started running his hands over the plane as he checked, and noticed he couldn't feel anything. "Ring? Why can't I feel anything?"

"Standard protective forcefield is active," replied the ring.

"Can you lower it?"

"The ring can do anything you will it to do."

"Aghh!" growled Matt. "I don't have time for this!" he blustered, and he pulled the ring off of his finger, putting it in his pants pocket as the Nova Lantern uniform disappeared. Finding that he could feel what he touched again, he ran his hands over the entire plane, checking it like he would a car he'd just waxed. Then he moved on to the missiles. He was on the second missile when he ran his fingers over the nose cone. He leaned in to examine a small fissure he felt, and suddenly it hissed and expelled the agent it carried, hitting Matt full in the eyes. "AHHGHHHHHH!" he screamed before passing out.

Later

Matt awoke, but everything was pitch dark. Darker. It was almost like... "I can't see! My eyes! I CAN'T SEE!" he shouted.

"MATT! I'M RIGHT HERE, MATT!" boomed a voice.

"Carol? Why are you screaming?!" Matt winced, covering his ears. "Why can't I see anything?!"

"I'M NOT," shouted Carol, but she sounded confused.

"IT'S OKAY, MISTER JORDAN!" came another voice. It was Doctor Claire Charles- the Romanova Aerospace chief doctor. "HYPER-SENSITIVITY OF YOUR OTHER SENSES IS NORMAL WHEN YOU LOSE THE USE OF ONE!"

"Lose the use of one?" Matt panicked. "What do you mean? Why are you all yelling? Can you quiet down, please?!"

"Filtering sound levels at a lower decibel rate," answered the ring.

"Was that... your Air Force ring?" asked Carol. "Hey. I've never noticed those numbers on the sides before. What does '2814' and '9602' mean?"

The ring must have disguised itself, thought Matt. "Uh...Corps designations. I can't talk about them though," he said sheepishly.

"Oh," said Carol. "But...it talked?"

"Ventriloquism," laughed Matt. "You know me. Always joking in the face of the unknown. Speaking of which, would someone mind telling me why I can't see?"

Doctor Charles cleared her throat. "Um, Mister Jordan, one of the missiles from the plane ruptured in your face, blinding you. I'm sorry," she hesitated. "The damage is permanent. You'll never see again."

Matt was stunned. "Wha--? But...but that means... I can... I can never fly again?"

"I'm sorry, Matt," came the voice of Carol. "You're taken care of, of course. Romanova Aerospace is covering your medical costs, and your pension plan will--"

"Get out," said Matt.

"Wh-what?" said Carol.

"Get out," Matt repeated. "Please, I need some time alone." When he didn't hear any movement, he shouted, "GET... OUT!"

Footsteps receded as Carol and Doctor Charles left the room, and he heard the door swish shut and click behind them.

Matt was silent for several long minutes, then he said, "Ring? Can you answer some questions?"

"Affirmative, as long as those answers are in the ring's database," responded the ring.

"You said you could do anything?" Matt asked quietly.

"The ring can do--"

"--anything I will it to do. Right?"

"Affirmative."

"Can you... can I... will myself to see again?" Matt asked, his voice a bit shaky.

"Negative. Healing is beyond the ring's capability. The ring's forcefield is nearly impenetrable, most often eliminating the need for any healing."

"And I took the ring off," Matt whispered to himself. "It's my own damned fault." He sat with that thought for a minute, then said, "Can I... alter the uniform?"

"Affirmative. State changes."

"Do you know Earth designs?" he asked hesitantly.

"When Abin Stick's ship reached your moon, all Earth databases were accessed. Any designs contained therein are now part of the ring's database."

"The mask," answered Jordan. "Make it look like a pair of early aviator's goggles, with accompanying helmet."

With a soft green glow, they appeared, altering the mask and helmet, and then turned solid.

Matt touched them tentatively. "Feels right. Can you... can you mimic radar?"

"Affirmative."

Tapping his temples, he said, "Give me a second to bite on something, and then feed the radar signal straight to my optic nerves." Grabbing his pillow, he said, "Now," and stuffed it against his mouth. Tiny green beams, thinner than dental floss grew from the edge of the goggles, lanced into his temples, and seemed to set his eyes on fire. He screamed into the pillow, but managed to not pass out.

It took a minute, but images started to form around him, showing him various green shapes. Matt sobbed with joy, tears forming, but not quite falling. "I can... I can see... sort of. Can you put any definition to the images?"

"Negative. Radar is only capable of showing silhouetted images. Video may yield a more desired result."

Matt laughed. "Video? Ha! Of course! Yes! Try that!"

Suddenly, the green silhouettes of the radar images gave way to video imagery, but it was all still green.

Matt gasped. "Can you... can you do... color images?"

"Affirmative," confirmed the ring, and everything came into sharp focus, in full color as it was supposed to be.

"Amazing," Matt whispered. Then at a normal level, he said, "Now to 'make a miraculous recovery,' and get out of here. I've got to learn what all you can do, and how to stop King Sin."

"I can help you with the ring and King Sin," came an answer, but it wasn't the ring.

The surprise jarred him, and his world went black again. "What?! Oh, will power. Right. Ring. Re-establish video to the optic nerves." Pain lanced into his head again, and his sight was restored. Matt took a few seconds to recover, and then looked to the window. Perched on the sill was a woman with the same alien coloring as Abin Stick, wearing what looked like a red ceremonial garb of some kind, and carrying a couple of bladed weapons at her hips.

I think I'm going to have to save the video sight for special occasions, Matt thought. I don't think I can take that pain all the time. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I was Abin Stick's understudy, and chosen successor. When Sinfisko revolted, I was sent to stop him, and reclaim the ring. It appears that the ring has chosen you as the next Nova Lantern though."

"Yeah," Matt said quietly, "but I'm blind when I lose my concentration. Possibly the most powerful weapon in the universe, and I can't see a damned thing it does. I don't think I can represent the Nova Lanterns like this." He bowed his head, looking at his hands through the video-optic feed, and said, "But... maybe?" he wondered aloud, thinking of his flight helmet, the ring causing it to appear in his hands. Looking at his call sign scrawled across the front of it, he turned it towards the stranger, and said, "How does Devil Lantern sound to you?"

"Strange," she said, "but you are allowed to adjust to your world's customs as necessary."

Matt smiled. "Devil Lantern it is then. Ring? You see these two nubs on my flight helmet?"

"Affirmative."

"Put two right here," he said, tapping the flight helmet the ring had made for his uniform. In response, two small green horns protruded from the helmet, just above the goggles. "Great. And there was an oath? To charge the ring?"

"Affirmative," and the ring recited the oath.

"No," said Matt. "That's no good. I need something that reflects what I've become, and reminds me of how I'll exceed my limitations. Let me think," and after a couple of minutes in silence, stroking his chin with his thumb and forefinger, he said, "Let's try this: In harshest din, or hush profound, my ears catch evil's slightest sound. Let those who think they've escaped my sight, beware my power: Devil Lantern's light!" With that, the full Nova Lantern costume appeared.

"Ring. Right here? In the middle of the starburst? Put a 'D L.'" The letters appeared, the L slightly lower and to the right of the D. Matt smiled. "That'll do." Looking back to the alien woman in his room, he said, "Okay, miss chosen successor to Abin Stick, you never did say- what's your name?"

Nodding slightly, she answered, "My name is Elektra Tui. Shall we get started?"

*********

Amalgams:

  • Abin Stick = Abin Sur + Stick
  • Carol Romanova = Carol Ferris + Natasha Romanova (Black Widow)
  • Claire Charles, Doctor = Claire Temple (Night Nurse from the Daredevil Netflix series) + Doctor Sarah Charles (Cyborg's girlfriend in the New Teen Titans 1980 series)
  • Devil Lantern = Daredevil + Green Lantern
  • Elektra Tui = Elektra Natchios + Katma Tui
  • Frank Kalmaku = Franklin "Foggy" Nelson + Tom "Pieface" Kalmaku
  • Guardian Watchers of the Universe = Guardians of the Universe + Watchers
  • Jim Grimm = Ben Grimm + Jim (last name unknown- the Ben Grimm knockoff in Hank Henshaw's group of FF knockoffs)
  • Korugatriani = Korugar (Sinestro/Abin Sur/ Katma Tui's homeworld) + Satriani (a planet named in the Silver Surfer 1987 series)
  • Krexamites = Kree + Daxamites
  • Matthew Jordan = Matthew Murdock + Hal Jordan
  • Negative Phantom Zone = Negative Zone + Phantom Zone
  • Nova Lantern Corps = Nova Corps + Green Lantern Corps
  • Rasputin Enterprises - Bruce Rasputin (batkevin's creation) must be the head of Rasputin Enterprises, right?
  • Romanova Aerospace = Romanova + Ferris Aircraft; Romanova Aircraft didn't feel quite right, so I made it R. Aerospace
  • Sinfisko/ King Sin = Sinestro + Kingpin (Wilson Fisk) [GL & DD's arch enemies combined]
  • Weaponers of the Negative Phantom Zone = Weaponers of Qward + Negative Zone + Phantom Zone

Other Notes:

  • 2814 = Hal Jordan's sector of space (Earth space)
  • 9602 = the Marvel designation for Amalgam Earth.
  • Devil Lantern's oath is a variation of the oath for the Green Lantern known as the F-Sharp Bell. FSB was blind, and had no concept of light or colors, so the oath had to be altered, and he took the name FSB instead of GL. I meshed the FSB and GL oaths a little.
CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
068Smoulder86722ndT

Flaming Angel: Xibalban Avatar on Earth

Guatemala

...that Mayan loony-bird, Fallayershnozl.
...that Mayan loony-bird, Fallayershnozl.

My name is Cali Jente, but most people in Guatemala call me Red-Hot. I'm trying to get the press to accept a name change to Flaming Angel, but I'm having little success. Ever since my parents brought me here from the States, I've had a love of the rainforest. It's quiet compared to the city, although the animals sound unusually agitated today. Still, it's one of the few places I can avoid that Mayan loony-bird, Fallayershnozl. I know right? That's a mouthful. We just call him Toucan the Terrible. Silly bird thinks I'm destined to be his avatar on earth, or something, and dogs my heels at every turn. So here I am in the rainforest again, hiding from a naked red bird-god with four eyes and a giant beak- embarrassing.

As usual, my path through the forest is taking me to the canopy of the Fire Monkeys; a group of spider monkeys that have been bonded with Superbugs- the Hyper-Parasites that seem to have appeared at just about every major meteor crater on Earth. The ones that bonded with these monkeys are thought to have come from the Chicxulub crater, underneath the Yucatan Peninsula. They have enhanced strength, are nearly invulnerable, can fly, and can breathe fire, just like the human Dragon Men that have bonded to the bugs. They have been known to catch sections of the forest on fire with their breath, which they must have done today, because the smell of smoke is wafting through the trees. I know, I know, I sound like a nature show. My parents have had me studying up on everything Guatemala, so sue me.

I like the Fire Monkeys though. Thanks to my fire powers, I'm one of the few people in the area that can get close to them without getting burned. I can also put out the fires they cause, which I suppose I'll have to do today. Since my powers were inherited from my mom- one of the Dragon Men herself- the monkeys seem to recognize me, and let me hang out with them without attacking me. One of them has even taken a shine to me, never hesitating to jump right in my arms when he sees me. I call him Klepto, because he likes to steal things that don't belong to him. Like my jewelry, which I quit wearing because of him.

As I get closer to their canopy, the smoke gets thicker, but seems to be dying down. I enter their domain, and I'm completely shocked to see nothing but burned out trees, and piles of burning undergrowth. I can hear the Fire Monkeys screaming excitedly from somewhere beyond the burned out area, and then I see why. There in the middle of the smoldering section of forest hovers...

"Klepto!" I scream.

"Did you really think I didn't know about these creatures?" asks a familiar voice.

"Toucan the Terrible! Let him go!" I shout frantically.

"No, child," says the red god, "I think I'll use him to burn down all of the rainforest. That would have quite the impact on this pitiful planet, wouldn't it? And when the humans finally have their weapon to destroy the so-called 'Dragon Men,' these Fire Monkeys will be the first they test those weapons on. It won't be pretty," he sneered. "It will kill them."

I was horrified. "If you do that, you'll kill off a major part of the human race! Less people for you to rule! Do you want that?"

"I don't care how many people are on this planet, girl. Just that they bow to me. However," said the red god, "you could save them."

I was taken aback. "Me? What do you w--"

My powers flare involuntarily...
My powers flare involuntarily...

"You know what I want girl! Do not waste my time!" he shouted, and then concentrated on Klepto, which made the monkey scream and breathe fire at the same time.

I don't see another choice. "Okay, Toucan," I say nervously. "You win. I'll do it."

"Do what?" he asks snidely. "I want to hear you say it."

"I'll be your avatar on earth," I say quietly, tears rolling down my cheeks.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!"shouts the bird. "At long last! No longer confined to this Mayan territory! Fallayershnozl shall walk the earth again!"

Toucan the Terrible's top set of eyes glow brightly, and just like that, I am his. I hover in the air as if held in some invisible fist, rising to the tops of the trees. My powers flare involuntarily, making the treetops glow red, and then explode. I want to scream, but I can't. My powers, my body, everything now belongs to Fallayershnozl.

As the explosions die down, Klepto settles on my shoulder, also in the grip of the mad, red god. "At last, you are mine!" he shouts. "My avatar on earth! And as you've wished, allwill know you as my FLAMING ANGEL!" My body spewed fire in every direction at his proclamation, Klepto let out another blast with a roar, and Toucan the Terrible seemed to laugh endlessly. If I were able, I would weep for this planet. Instead, all I can do is laugh along with him.

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
069Crossover & OC2,794*61stM

*Not counting the note at the end.

Legion of Super-Heroes/ Aliens

"Urk!" screamed Brainiac 5. "For the millionth time: quit eating my wiring every time I modify something in this lab!" He threw a scanner at the little gray creature, and it bounded off of the round workstation, just dodging the device.

Tenzil Kem clambered out from under the same workstation with a mouthful of wiring, and managed, "Whuf's gun oin?" between chews.

"Matter-Eater Lad! You too?" scowled Brainy.

Tenzil took a big gulp, and protested, "Well, he was having some," pointing a thumb to his right, towards Urk. Urk blew a raspberry at Brainy and ran out of the lab. "This inertron wiring is tasty."

Brainy closed his eyes, and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to calm himself. After several seconds, he started, "Tenzil, y--"

"--Oh my... where did you get that!?" shouted Tenzil, pointing at the table Brainiac 5 had been working at. On it lay an organic mass that looked like some kind of weird cross between a lobster, a scorpion, and a humanoid hand, only scarier.

Brainiac looked at the table, clearly distracted from the rant that he was about to go on, and annoyed that he was interrupted by the very person he was about to rant at. "What? That? Oh, Phantom Girl brought it up. Tinya wanted me to see if I could figure out a way to stop these things. The ship that our lost Legionnaires disappeared on came back with a bunch of these things in it. They're still inside with more of the team, trying to clean them up. There's one that seems to be--"

Tenzil sounded panicked. "There are more of those things? Here?! Has that one implanted its young?"

"Well, no," said Brainy as he turned the creature over with a couple pairs of forceps. Then standing upright suddenly, he turned to Kem and said, "Wait. How did you know it implan--"

"BRAINY! LOOK OUT!" shouted Matter-Eater Lad.

The creature had suddenly leapt from the table, and its nightmarish tail was wrapped around Brainy's throat from behind, the finger-like appendages reaching over his head, trying to get to his face. The appendages suddenly spread wide, about to attempt to spear Brainiac 5's face from all sides, when Tenzil grabbed it and took a bite, making it squeal and squirt green blood. Tenzil continued his attack, taking several bites that removed appendages, until finally, the creature lay dead against Brainy's back, dangling from his throat.

The Coluan unwrapped the tightly coiled creature with some annoyance. "You needn't have worried, Tenzil. My force field belt was protecting me from being choked, being implanted, and fortunately, from the creature's acidic blood that you've gotten all over everything!" he said with disgust, as he used a force field protected hand to wipe the green blood away from himself.

"You're welcome," Tenzil said dryly. "Where are these things? Where is the ship?" he asked quickly.

"Out on the quad in front of the clubhouse," said Brainiac 5. "You know what these things are? Tinya says that one of them is--"

"Yes! And Brainy, if you ever take anything I say seriously, you need to--"

Brainiac 5 held up a finger to shush Tenzil as he spoke into his Legion flight ring. "Tinya, Matter-Eater Lad knows what these things are. How is it going in there?"

"They're everywhere!" screamed the answer. "Kid Psycho is dead! One of things like I brought to the lab! It just...it leapt on his face, and wouldn't let go, and...and...and soon after, this other thing just burst out of his chest! There's one on Supergirl, but she seems to be handling it, but it's actually causing her pain! There are bigger creatures in here too! They're so fast! Oh my god! Jo!" There was a loud, animalistic squeal. "Brainy! We're outnumbered here! We need reinforcements! More than just this one creature! Supergirl just burst through the hull, headed for space! I think she needs more sunlight! Br--"

"--AINY!" shouted Tenzil, punching the Coluan's force field in the shoulder area. "You have to secure that ship now! If Supergirl has punched her way out, now they have a way out too! That can't happen!"

Brainy shrugged away from the affront of being touched. "What are you--"

"NOW, BRAINY!" shouted Tenzil.

Brainiac 5 spoke into his ring again. "Brainiac 5 to ship's computer. Containment procedure alpha- extend ship's force field. Let nothing in or out except Phantom Girl."

"Confirmed," answered the ship, followed by, "Done."

"There," huffed Brainiac 5. "Now wha--"

Tenzil held up a finger to shush Brainiac 5, and spoke into his ring, "Matter-Eater Lad to all Legionnaires aboard the ship in the quad! Respond to those creatures with lethal force! Do you hear me? Lethal force!"

Brainiac 5 spoke into his ring with anger. "That's a violation of the United Planets protoc--"

"They're not giving us a lot of choice, Brainy!" came the shout of Wildfire, followed by the sound of his anti-energy blast. "These things just keep coming at us, and the only way to take them down is to take them down hard!"

"That is the only way," confirmed Tenzil. "And Drake... you have to get them all. Every egg, every facehugger, every soldier, the queen, and anyone implanted with those things. Just one left means disaster."

"Roger that, MEL," answered Wildfire. "Brainy, you good with that?"

"No," came the curt answer, "But I suppose I'll have to adjust. Just bring me samples."

"Don't bring him anything," Tenzil said forcefully. "Burn, it Drake. Burn every bit of it."

"You heard the man, Legionnaires!" came Wildfire's shout over the rings' communicators. "Take these things out!"

The various blasts of powers, and the horrific squeals upped in pitch. Brainiac 5 and Tenzil listened silently for a few more seconds before realizing that the communicators had stopped, and they were hearing the noises from outside of the clubhouse. Clearly, the ship had erupted into all-out warfare.

A sonic boom was heard, and then there was a thunderous crash that shook the complex. "Brainy!" came Supergirl's voice over the ring. "Let me back into the ship!"

"No can do, Supergirl," started Tenzil.

"Kara!" Brainy shouted into his ring. "You're okay?"

"Thanks to a page from Kal's playbook, yeah. I was able to get into space in direct sunlight, making me stronger. I was able to cough up the creature inside of me, instead of it bursting out."

"Did you kill it?" Tenzil asked excitedly.

"What? No," answered Supergirl.

"Go back and get it!" shouted Tenzil. "Go back and get it right now! Burn it with your heat vision! Freeze it with your breath and break it into a million pieces! Throw it into the sun! But kill it, Supergirl! Kill it!"

"Tenzil?" she asked with confusion.

"Kara," Brainy said calmly. "He's the only one that knows what these things are. If he says kill it, kill it. Or bring it back here so he can. This threat is apparently level omega."

"I... okay," was her only response, and then there was nothing more.

Just then, the rings sounded with another voice. "One of these things is not like the others! One of these things does not belong!"

Brainy made a sour face, and started, "Is that--"

"--singing?" finished Tenzil.

"It's one of those monsters," came Phantom Girl's voice. "It took Kid Psycho's ring! It's actually been helping us against these things! They're after him as much as us!"

Brainiac 5 looked at Matter-Eater Lad with raised eyebrows. Tenzil stared back at him in disbelief, and then hesitantly, he told his ring, "May-maybe...um...maybe save just that one."

"WILDFIRE!" shouted Phantom Girl. "NOT THAT ONE!"

"What?" was heard in the background.

"Oh, grife!" Tinya said before the communicator stopped.

"Warning!" blared a the ship's computer over the clubhouse's communications. "Warning! Ship's hull has been breached by Phantom Girl and one of the creatures!"

"Is it...I can't believe I'm going to say this," Brainy sighed. "Is it the one that was singing?"

"Affirmative," stated the computer.

"Clubhouse computer, dispatch containment drones to Phantom Girl's position immediately, and contain the creature that is with her," ordered Brainiac 5.

"Affirmative," stated the clubhouse.

As the vibrational hums of the drones' propulsion systems were heard leaving the clubhouse, the final peals of battle toned down in the ship.

"That's the last of 'em," came the voice of Ultra Boy. "Knock knock, Brainy. Let us out."

"Sit tight," answered Tenzil. "Ship's in quarantine until we get hold of Infectious Lass. She scans everyone, and clears you of having any foreign organisms, then you get off the ship. Call's in now."

"Ah, sprok!" complained Ultra Boy, and the communicator shut off.

Tenzil smirked nervously to Brainiac 5. "He's not going to be happy when he gets out of there."

Brainy just shrugged.

***

The containment drones came into the lab towing an inertron chamber reinforced with a force field. Inside was a sight that made Tenzil Kem recoil like a child. "Oh my... Brainy, it's really them. It's really them!"

Brainiac 5 put a firm hand on Kem's shoulder, and shook him. "Tenzil! It's contained! Get it together! What are these things?" he demanded.

Tenzil gripped the hand on his shoulder tightly, gazed at Brainy for a moment with a look of complete horror, and then pulled himself up to his full height. "Th-they... they're called Xenomorphs. They just...they seem to just exist to multiply, and they multiply by... by killing everything else they come across."

"By implantation," Brainy said in a detached manner which oddly seemed to calm Tenzil a bit.

"Y-yes," he sighed as Phantom Girl and Supergirl entered. Supergirl was carrying the frozen pieces of the creature she'd coughed up in space. She tossed them on the table as Tenzil continued, "Bismollians hadn't had the ability to eat matter for too long when the ship carrying the Xenomorphs crashed on our planet. We were still recovering from the microbial poisoning of our organic food sources, and then these... things swept across the planet. It was a massacre- one we nearly didn't survive. We finally regrouped, and fought back, and managed to wipe them out."

"How many were implanted?" Supergirl asked, rubbing her chest as she remembered her pain, and imagining the pain that anyone less powerful than her must have felt.

Tenzil shrugged. "None."

"None?!" the three Legionnaires balked simultaneously.

Tenzil shrugged again. "We eat matter- Xenomorphs count. They're a little spicy, but it was like a force-fed buffet." He thought about it for a moment, then reached for a piece of the frozen creature on the table, and popped it into his mouth. "Never tried them cold before." He chewed a few times, and said, "Pretty good."

Phantom Girl phased her head through the lab wall, and the sounds of retching could be heard from the hallway.

Tenzil grimaced, and called weakly, "Sorry, Tinya!"

Tinya just waved him off as she phased back into the room.

"Anyway," he continued, "the massacre was just from... well, everything else about them. They claw, and bite, and stab with their tails. They were mowing through the population pretty good when they realized implantation wasn't going to work. We marshaled our forces, grabbed some weapons, and finally fought back. It finally took just about every able-bodied Bismollian and a grid search of the entire planet to wipe those things out. The queen had gone mobile, and made nests in several spots. It took a long time to get them all." Tenzil went silent as he remembered the horrors of that long conflict, until Supergirl put a comforting hand on his back. He smiled at her briefly, then looked back to the containment chamber.

"So, what do we do about him?" asked Brainiac 5, pointing at the containment chamber.

"I don't know," said Tenzil, walking up the chambers window, emboldened by Supergirl's presence. Speaking into his ring, he said, "I've never heard of a sentient Xenomorph. How is this possible?"

"...And he was this big. I asked Herman what happened, and he said, 'I swallowed five watermelons'..."

"What the sprok?" asked Phantom Girl.

"It's...it's a camp song...from the twenty-first century," Supergirl said with confusion.

"Camp song?" asked Brainy.

"It's for kids, Brainy. It's a nonsense song to entertain kids," said Kara.

"Hey!" shouted Tenzil. "What the grife are you?"

"...And he was... Oh, what?" asked the creature, but its mouth didn't move. "Oh, yes! The creature you see before you is just as wild and menacing as all the rest, but I have control of it."

All four Legionnaires now stood at the window, staring incredulously.

"Down here," said the voice, and their attention was drawn to the bottom of the window as the creature's flight ring tapped on the glass. "That's it, look closer. He's not moving while I've got him."

They all four leaned in very close, and just as their noses were about to touch the glass, the voice yelled, "BOO!" and Tenzil recoiled in horror. "Bwah-hahahahaa! I couldn't resist! I'm so sorry! Hey, will this thing hold him if I let go?" the voice asked.

"Without doubt," stated Brainy.

Supergirl leaned in and said, "I see it. It's...a worm."

"Not just a worm!" it said. "You can call me Earworm!"

Kara started "You look like--"

The worm's eyes got big, and it said, "Ah! I see you know my ancestor! Yes! I'm a descendant of Mister Mind!"

"Mister...? Brainy? Can we get him out of there?" asked Kara.

Brainiac 5 motioned to the chamber with one hand, and said, "Tinya? Do you mind?"

Phantom Girl phased her hand into the chamber, and gently lifted Earworm and the flight ring in the palm of her hand. She then phased them out of the chamber, and the Xenomorph immediately started squealing, and clawing at the chamber's inertron glass. Phantom Girl handed Earworm to Supergirl, since she seemed to know what they were dealing with.

"How did you wind up in one of these things?" asked Supergirl.

"Oh, I was trying to take over the queen, and couldn't quite do it. I had to escape to that guy," said Earworm, nudging his head towards the chamber. "I was trying to take command of the entire army, but when it didn't work, I figured maybe I could just use him to make a new army out of you guys." The inchworm-like creature's body almost seemed to shrug.

"You... you were going to use us to make an army of those things? On purpose?" Supergirl asked in shock.

"Well, yes," Earworm said simply. "Still intend to. Think I'll start with you," he said to Supergirl, and just like that, Kara went rigid, now under Earworm's control.

"Oh my god!" shouted Tinya. "He's got--"

Fzzzzt! came the sound of an energy blast, followed by Ssss, as Earworm sizzled into vapor. Supergirl shook herself out of her mind controlled stupor, and everyone looked to the doorway of the lab.

"Someone order a flash-visioned worm?" asked Ultra Boy.

"Jo!" shouted Tinya as she ran across the room and flung her arms around his neck.

"You're supposed to be in quarantine!" shouted Tenzil. Ultra Boy gave him a hard look, and Kem said, "I mean...um...if you don't mind...why are you out of quarantine?"

"Infectious Lass cleared me," answered Ultra Boy, "and I came to see if I could help with anything."

Tenzil sighed with deep relief. "Uh...thanks," he said simply.

"Why 'Earworm' for a name?" asked Brainy.

"It's slang, Brainy. Twenty-first Century slang," answered Kara. "It means a song that gets stuck in your head, you know? One you can't stop singing?"

Brainy thought for a moment, and said, "No, I don't know."

Supergirl patted his chest lightly, and smiled. "I'll explain it to you later. He must have time traveled with me somehow. I'm really sorry, guys." Looking to the containment chamber, she asked, "What do we do with him?"

Jo simply ripped the inertron door off the chamber, caught the creature as it leapt out, and ripped it in half, spraying green blood everywhere. He had switched from strength to invulnerability, and was protected, just as Supergirl was protected by her invulnerability, and Brainy by his force field. Phantom Girl phased and let it pass through her, but Tenzil got splashed by a good amount of it. He wiped his face with his hand, licked it off of a finger, and walked over to the table with the frozen pieces on it. "I'm...um...just gonna..." he threw a thumb over his shoulder towards the door.

Tinya ran towards the opposite wall and phased through. Blarghhhh!

The others looked at Tenzil who shrugged and smiled weakly. "What? they're good."

*******

Note: to credit the songs: "One of these things does not belong" is a song used on Sesame Street, and the other song is "Herman the Worm," a camp song I found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-rg7EIt1x4.

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070Celebrity Superhero OC2,63432ndT

The Top Ten Heroes of All Time

With all the superhero news you need to know, here's Heroes Tonight! With your hosts Sawyer Picture, and Lotta Questionnés. With Chase Leeds in the field. And now, here's Sawyer Picture.

"Welcome to Heroes Tonight for February 18th, 2018, and you're watching HT in HD!" Sawyer declares with a gleaming smile. "I'm here with the lovely Lotta Questionnés," he adds, panning a hand to his left.

"Thanks, Sawyer," she acknowledges with a huge, equally gleaming smile.

"And tonight's top stories," Sawyer jumps back in. "Medea Darling, aka Freebird, is back in the news, and not everyone is happy about it. Find out why some are tagging the Winged Woman's social media pictures as 'Spread Eagle.' Hint: It's Playtime!"

"And speaking of wings, the high flying battle with the high powered lawyers has finally come to an end!" Lotta says in an enthusiastic accent as only a Latina can deliver. "Sports company Nike has won out over the goddess Nike! So how is she claiming Victory? Could it have anything to do with Victor Victorious? You bet it could! And only HT has the scoop!"

Sawyer follows with, "The Major Corporation and The Super Corporation have been in an epic merchandising melee for years! And the profits all go to support their corporate sponsored super teams! But what are those numbers really like? And does it get in the way of the heroes' jobs? We'll take you behind the scenes in our exclusive HT Extra!"

"And finally," says Lotta, "the Solid Gold Boy Band is back! Midas releases another new album from the label of the band's lead singer of the same name. But why is the 'Losing Your Touch' pop star and Touch of Gold Records finding a slight tarnish to their reputation over Midas Well?"

"We'll have all of that on this edition of Heroes Tonight," beamed Sawyer. "But first, who do you think are the top ten heroes of all time? That was the subject of last week's poll, and here to break down the answers for you are Chase Leeds and Lotta Questionnés. Lotta?"

Now standing on a different set next to a video screen, Lotta says, "Thanks, Sawyer. We asked the question, and you answered! We have tallied your votes for the Top Ten Heroes of All Time, and we even caught up with the heroes themselves at last night's Superhero Charity Gala to get them to answer the question too!" Lotta turns to the video screen, and the report on the Gala starts rolling.

***

"Coming in the tenth spot," starts Lotta, "is the Chilliad rap group, Cold Hard Cash. The ice powered Rime and Floe, along with their DJ, Cold Steel, have been cool ever since they got started in the rap game, and that's even without their powers! It probably doesn't hurt that when they got started, Rime was the voice of cartoon rap star Too Nice, aka the ice powered hero Toon Ice. With a huge fan following, Toon Ice made sure that neither Rime nor CHC have ever suffered a chilly reception with fans."

Video now showing Lotta with the rap group, she asks, "Who do you think is the greatest hero of all time?" before turning the microphone towards them.

Rime leans in to say, "Oh, without a doubt, it has to be the man that took Crayniac out!"

Floe leans against Rime's shoulder and says, "Mike Boom forever, baby! The only man I'd leave this one for! Whooo!"

"Hey!" laughs Rime.

"Doctor Boom for sure, yo," adds Cold Steel.

***

"At number nine," says Chase, "it's the daughter of pop star Midas and the Babe Magnet herself, Lodestar. Carrie Load, aka Load, Lode, California as one of the Statesmen, and Golden Dream- the Girl With the Golden Skin!" Her aliases flash beside her picture, each one stricken out in favor of the next one as Chase lists them. "Eventually shunning the limelight for a heavenly light, Miss Load joined a convent after several years as a superhero, and is now popularly known as Mother Lode or Motherlode, depending on where she's seen." Those names also flash onscreen. "She hurls the habit when her super self is needed, and always shows up to superhero charity functions. She's almost as much of a media darling as the Winged Woman herself! She'll definitely always be golden with us!"

In video for the Gala, Chase turns a microphone to Carrie, and asks, "Who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time? Jesus?" he jokes.

Not laughing at all, Carrie answers, "His powers are certainly documented, but he died for our sins; he was our savior, not a superhero."

Chase's smile falters momentarily.

"But to answer your main question," Carrie continues with a reassuring smile, "for the sacrifice he made- for the way he laid down his life for all of ours- I have to say Doctor Boom."

***

"God, I love her," says Lotta. "And speaking of the Winged Woman, Chase, at number eight, it's Medea Darling! She's been on a few different teams over the years- the latest being in service alongside Motherlode as the first Oregon! With the state motto of 'she flies with her own wings,' they'd have been a bunch of loony-birds not to name her as their representative in the Statesmen! Medea, aka Freebird, can't help but be in the spotlight when she sports a pair of natural white wings and knockout beauty that makes her look like an angel! And with an open-backed dress by Nick Etty to make room for her wings, she was certainly looking heavenly on the runway to the Superhero Charity Gala."

Standing beside Medea on the red carpet, Lotta gushes, "Medea, you are looking lovely as always, dah-ling! I love your dress!"

"Oh, thank you," Medea says cheerfully.

"Who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?" asks Lotta before turning the mic to Freebird.

"I wish I could say Cupid," she pouts, "because he's so darned cute!" She wrinkles her nose at the camera and gives a quick, playful growl. "But I have to say Michael."

"Michael Boom?" Lotta clarifies.

"Yes, of course," coos Medea. "He's keeping us all safe, even now. Hard not to love that," she says, blowing a kiss to the camera as she walks away.

***

"At number seven," says Chase, "it's Heavyweight! Truly the Champion of the World, on the Day of the Dragon Men, it was Heavyweight whose one-man assault on the Accord mothership finally brought them down- paving the way for Doctor Boom's defeat of the crazed computer mind known as Crayniac who had allied itself with the alien attackers. Heavyweight has pretty much dedicated himself to the rebuilding of Detroit, which was lost when the Accord ship came down. Still, he took time to come out for the Gala."

From offscreen of the video, Chase asks, "Who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?"

"That's not tough at all," answers Heavyweight. "Doctor Eight made a great sacrifice to give us final victory against the Accord. It may yet cost him his life. Who can be greater than that?" He smiles awkwardly as he walks away from the interview, continuing down the runway.

***

"Burning up the countdown in our next slot is a true hottie," declares Lotta. "Girls want to be with him, and men... want to be with him! Fire powered Flambé- the self-proclaimed Flaming Homosexual- is coming out in number six!"

"Who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?" asks Lotta.

"I wish I could say Cupid, because he's just so darned cute!" Pausing for a second, he laughs, and says, "I'm kidding! I'm just kidding! I heard Medea say that! But seriously?" asks Flambé. "Call me," he mouths to the camera, then imitates Medea's nose wrinkle and growl, throwing in a quick cat-clawing motion. Laughing, he gets slightly more serious and says, "Who else? It has to be Doctor Boom! We're all pulling for you, Michael," he says to the camera, and blows a kiss as he walks away.

***

"Big Medea fan, that one," chuckles Chase. "We're moving into the Major Leagues now with the Blonde Bombshell! American Beauty comes in at number five, or as she was once known, Superblonde. That's right, you know her from her infamous debut at the Richmond Rotunda, where her fight with Supermodel had tragic consequences! Indicted for her role in the fight, Kay Oz paid her debt to society in service with the Major League. After that, she joined The Sponsors, and has thrived on the Super Corporation's team of superheroes. No stranger to charity, she is perhaps better known for her Razing the Rhinodome charity grudge match with Supermodel."

Video showing her in her trademark red costume with matching red derby, Chase asks her, "Who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?"

Kay's smile is a slight one, showing only at the corner of her mouth, and in the twinkle of her eye. "Well, it took awhile, but this chick is a close second," she says, fist-bumping Supermodel as she walks by on the runway.

Supermodel gives a silent, pretending-to-scream-in-excitement look as she waves to the camera on her way by.

"The greatest though? I have to tell you, I wasn't prepared for this life, and I'm in awe of all the great people I get to work with. Who stands out more right now though than Doctor Eight? I think he's the best among us," she says humbly, and continues down the runway.

***

Lotta comes in with, "From American Beauty to Greek Adonis, our number four- only number four?" she asks incredulously. "Our number four spot is held by the chiseled Archer of Love- Cupid! And mm-mm! How could he not make this list? I mean, just look at him! No way was I giving this interview to Chase," she says with a smile and a wink.

The video starts with Lotta putting a hand on the hero's firm bicep, and squeezing. "Cupid," says Lotta, "who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?"

As Lotta rubs his arm a little, Cupid laughs lightly, and in a charming voice, answers, "Well, Miss Questionnés..."

"Call me Lotta," she says lustily.

"Of course, Lotta. I'm sure a lot of your viewers would expect me to say me, but I'm not so shallow as some would like to believe." He nods seriously, and continues, "I'd have to say that it's Doctor Boom. What he did? It's amazing. Simply amazing." Smiling broadly, he adds, "And I loved his movie too!"

***

"At number three," says Lotta, "It's America's quickest sweetheart! Speediepie! Born Gail Eades, she went from running twelve second hundred yard dashes and twenty-five-point-three two hundred yard dashes to running the mile in ten seconds flat, and being the fist five time winner of the Speedster 500! She even served on The Sponsors for a brief time as Speedo. The Maiden of Motion has found the fastest route to all of our hearts, and we're glad to have her!"

On the runway, Lotta asks, "Speediepie, I have to know- how did you get your name? It's adorable!"

"Aw, thanks," says Gail. "My mom actually gave me that nickname. I ran in the United States Youth Games when I was in seventh grade, and she bought me a tee shirt and had Speediepie put on the back with those felt letters from back in the day," she laughs.

"Oh, my God!" shouts Lotta. "That's great!"

"Yeah," says the speedster, "My mom was always my biggest supporter."

"I just love you so much!" Lotta squeals. "So, who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?"

"Doctor Boom," says Gail. "No contest."

***

"At number two," Chase chimes in, "it's not a shock to anyone that it's the Man From the Future himself- Martin Americana, aka the Super-American! The founder of the Super Corporation, Super-American was the biggest influence on claiming responsibility for the destruction wrought during superhero fights with supervillains. It was his example that led the government to follow suit with the Major Corporation and Major League."

The video on the runway cuts in at, "Mister Americana, I have to ask: is Martin Americana really your real name?"

"No," answers Super-American. "Being from the future, I dare not reveal my real name. So I chose my name from the American marten, or Martes Americana." He shrugs. "It just seemed prudent to protect my true identity."

"With your unique perspective of being from the future, who do you think is the greatest superhero of all time?"

"I can't reveal what I know from the future," Martin says seriously. "But if we have to pick a greatest, we'd be hard pressed to pick a better man than Doctor Michael Boom. His dedication to the world, and his sacrifice in the face of great odds, should be an example to us all." He smiles warmly at Chase, and then at the camera, and continues down the runway.

***

"You heard the heroes," exclaimed Lotta. "Without fail, they all picked Doctor Boom as the greatest superhero of all time! So it comes as no surprise that you did as well! Number One our Top Ten Heroes of All Time is the one! The only! Doctor Michael Boom, aka Doctor Boom, aka Doctor Eight! Now, we obviously couldn't catch him on the runway, but here's why Doctor Eight is the Greatest Superhero of All Time!

"Michael Boom is a born genius- many believe he's the smartest man that's ever lived. So it's not surprising to learn that he has doctorates in multiple fields. It might be surprising to learn that he had earned most of them by the time he was twelve! So, the child prodigy was known as Doctor Boom from early on in his life.

"Wishing to make money for projects he wished to start to benefit humanity, Doctor Boom turned to acting as a way to make big money fast. Unfortunately for him, and maybe for us, the only movie he ever made- The Atomic Brother From Outer Space- flopped hard! Michael blamed himself for overthinking the role, and arguing the director into making changes that hurt the movie.

"Abandoning acting altogether, he turned to government work, where he was given plenty of money for his projects, and managed to make himself over into a superhero. The world didn't get to see the full extent of his brainpower until the Accord invasion, where the rogue artificial intelligence, Cray Z8, aka Crayniac, teamed with the aliens against its home planet.

"Able to jump from brain to brain, and posing the biggest threat, Doctor Boom set a trap, forcing Crayniac to jump into his own mind when Heavyweight took down the Accord ship. Unknown to Crayniac, Boom had stationed himself in a secret base in the Arctic Circle, away from machinery and any other humanity.

"There, an epic mental battle ensued, and Doctor Boom's consciousness merged with the artificial intelligence- perhaps irreversibly- and he became known as Doctor Eight. The Arctic Circle is now popularly known as the Eighth Circle, and is off limits to the rest of the world, enforced by the combined military might of the world's superpowers. There, Doctor Eight remains until Michael Boom can overcome the influence of Crayniac. And the world waits to see the outcome of the greatest sacrifice of the modern day world.

"Doctor Boom is truly the Greatest Superhero of All Time," finishes Lotta.

***

"And that's our Top Ten for Februrary 18th," says Sawyer. "After these messages, we'll be back with superhero birthdays, and the story on the controversy surrounding Midas' new album! Only here, on Heroes Tonight!"

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071Rockabilly2,14122ndT

Greased Lightning

Appalachian Mountains, somewhere in Ohio

The guy on the motorcycles is named Iron Horse. You read that right- motorcycles, plural. He's a Splitter- one of those guys that claims he got his powers from atomic radiation, and now he can split his own atoms, making multiple copies of himself. However he got his powers, Iron Horse is a one-man motorcycle gang.

He likes to steal a bunch of bikes on the East Coast, and ride the whole lot of 'em to the West Coast. Then he spends some of his take from the bikes, has a little fun, and hops a train back across the country to do it all over again. He doesn't get caught very often, because he'll take some bikes one way, and some bikes another way, travelling several different routes simultaneously to get out West. Plus, he only steals fast bikes.

Which is why I'm after him. I've run down eight of his duplicates, which only gets the bikes back, because the duplicates disappear when caught- fading back to energy, and rejoining with Iron Horse. So, he knows I'm coming. I'm catching up to the next guy now. "Engine Injun Number Nine, guess how hard you weren't to find!"

"Aw, why don't you beat feet, greaser!" he yells over the bike's engine. "You're ruinin' my rides!"

"That's Greased Lightning to you," I tell him before throwing a superspeed punch that knocks him off his ride.

He tumbles and skids to a stop along the side of the road. He's mostly okay, because he's wearin' his leathers and dome.

I skid to a stop next to him, and turn to watch his bike slide into a tree on the other side of the road, breaking in half before the pieces go tumbling down a slope into the woods.

I turn back to see that the biker's still here. "Looks like you're the real deal, Iron Horse. Ready for jail?"

"What're you talkin' about, sneaker freak?" he snarls. "You ain't got nothin' on me!"

Pointing a thumb over my shoulder, back the way we came, I say, "Um, nine stolen and damaged motorcycles?"

"Man, that track suit you're wearin's too tight, Greased Pig. Them bikes are legit."

"Yeah, right," I say. "Tell it to the cops."

"Hey, man! It's true! I got a backer!" he shouts indignantly, reaching inside his jacket.

I grab his arm with one hand, and reach for his inside jacket pocket faster than he can blink. Instead of the gun or knife I was expecting, I find, "Papers?"

"Pinks," he says indignantly. "For all forty-seven bikes I've got headin' out West. You owe me for nine, by the way," he adds smugly.

"Who's your backer?" I ask, ignoring him.

"Who do you think?" he spits.

"Chrome Dome?" I ask.

"Of course, Chrome Dome! Who else'd have the bread for all this?"

"Where can I find him?" I demand.

"Screw you, greaser!" he shouts angrily.

I rip up one of the pink slips, and scatter the pieces with the wind from a superfast wiggle of my fingers. "Where is he?"

"Come on, man! You can't do that! These bikes are legal!" he pleads, jumping to his feet.

"Karma's catching up to you, I guess," I say as I rip up another one in the same manner.

"Damn, man! Come on! He ain't gonna pay me back for whatever bikes I don't have the slips for!" Three more of him appear, and the four of them rush me.

I deck them at superspeed, and three of them fade away as they hit the ground. "Stay down this time," I say impatiently, shredding another pink slip. "Where is Chrome Dome?"

"ARGGHHH!" growls Iron Horse. "Alright! He's in Redondo Beach! I'm supposed to be there in a few days! He's got storage nearby for the bikes!"

"He's going to store them?" I ask in surprise. "Shame," I add as I shred another pink.

"Hey, man! I told you what you wanted to know!" he shouted, reaching out without getting up.

"Address?" I ask, holding up the next pink slip.

"Alright, man! Alright!" and he tells me the address. "It's a big beach style house!"

"A 'beach style' house?" I ask.

"You know- looks homey and relaxed, like you might find in the country, but it's too big to be anything but expensive. It's near the water, but has its own pool."

I chuckle. "I get it."

I turn to go, but Iron Horse says, "Hey, man, what about me?"

"What about you?" I say, shredding another pink as I look back his way.

He bangs his fist in the gravel of the roadside. "Dangit, man! I told you I don't get paid for bikes I don't have the slips for!" He breathes hard for a few seconds, then says, "How am I supposed to get there? You wrecked my bikes!"

I shrug, shred the rest of the slips, and throw the pieces in the air. "I don't care. Just make sure the rest of you that have bikes get there. And go back and get those other eight. Don't make me find you again," and with that I run circles around him, landing a few punches and a couple of kicks, and I'm gone, tearing across country towards California.

Back on the side of the road, Iron Horse groans, and grouses, "Stupid greaser and his stupid medallion." He kicks gravel as he gets up. "Jerk." He spits, and starts walking back towards the nearest town.

***

Redondo Beach

Chrome Dome's dressed relaxed in a pair of old jeans, a black t-shirt, black leather jacket, well worn brown boots, and wearing that stupid, open-faced chrome helmet. He's sitting at a poolside table, sipping on some kind of mixed drink with a pink umbrella in it when I skid to a halt, standing directly in front of him. "Greased Lightning," he says with disdain. "I was told you were coming. When are you going to get a better suit?"

"When are you going to quit wearing that disco ball you call a helmet, Chrome Dome?" I shoot back as I sit down.

"You wear a tight, black shirt with an open front shaped like a lightning bolt, and it plunges down to your navel- trimmed in orange, no less," he says with disgust. "Black leather pants, and that gold medallion around your neck- and I'm the disco reject?"

We laugh. "Seriously, why do you wear that thing?" I ask.

Holding the umbrella aside, he sips from his drink as he considers my question. Setting down his glass, he reaches up and removes his helmet, giving me the biggest shock of my life as I see his exposed brain under a clear glass dome. "Because a 'brain bucket' is meant to protect your brain," he says matter-of-factly. Putting it back on, he says, "Any other questions?"

I shake my head slowly, just raising my hands in front of me to surrender this argument.

"Did you make sure Iron Horse knows where he's going?"

"Yeah, he knows," I said. "Lost one of the bikes though."

"And the pink slips?" he asks.

I reach into one of my pockets, and come out with the pink slips, pieced back together with clear tape. I'd grabbed the pieces while giving Iron Horse his beatdown.

"What am I supposed to do with those?," he asks seriously. "They're not legal like that."

"Take 'em down to the Department of Motor Vehicles, sign an affidavit that says your crazy ex tore 'em up in anger, and apply for new ones," I say.

"My ex?" Chrome Dome says with an arched eyebrow.

"I've seen your daughter, Chrome. You gotta have an ex somewhere."

He smiles.

"Speaking of which, is she here?"

Before he can answer, a line of motorcycles roar into his driveway. All of them shut off simultaneously, and forty-six Iron Horses walk up the driveway to the pool. "HEY!" they shout in unison. "THAT DANGED TRACK JOCKEY DESTROYED NINE OF MY BIKES!"

I sprang out of my seat in a blur, decking all forty-five of his splits in pretty much one fluid motion. As they were fading away, I kicked the real Horse's legs out from under him from behind, and landed a solid speed punch as he was on his way to landing on his back.

"I think you mean my bikes," Chrome Dome said calmly. Looking at me, he said, "Destroyed nine of them? You told me only one was lost."

"Eight were damaged, but they're fixable," I assure him. "One was wrecked beyond repair."

"The repairs are coming out of your take," Chrome Dome says dryly.

"His take?" shouts Iron Horse. "I brought you the bikes!"

"Yes," says Chrome Dome with some impatience, "but he brought me the pink slips."

"What?!" demands Iron Horse, jumping to his feet. "He tore up the pink slips!" he shouts angrily.

Chrome Dome waves the stack of taped-together pinks at Iron Horse with a dismissive smile.

Iron Horse looks at me, and now completely loses his temper. "What the hell kind of scam is this, greaser? I'll break every bone in your legs! C'MERE!" he shouts as he lunges towards me.

He's caught from behind mid-lunge, and raised up in the air by his neck. "I don't think you want to do that, Horsey," says a voice like an ocean breeze. "I kind of like him."

"Ah, my dear. Good of you to join us," says Chrome Dome, raising his glass towards his daughter.

I smile. "Classy," I say with a smile, "feelin's mutual." I cross my arms and lean against the side of the house.

Classy Chassis- Chrome Dome's daughter. Five foot seven of beautiful woman with probably as much machinery inside of her as any one of the bikes in the driveway. Makes her super strong, among other things.

Iron Horse kicks and struggles weakly, using both hands to try to pry away the one around the back of his neck.

"You can put him down now, honey," says Chrome.

Classy drops him.

Iron Horse lands on his feet, bending over as he rubs his sore neck with his hands. After a few seconds, he says, "What the hell is this, Chrome Dome? You cheatin' me of my take? Is this how you do business?" he growled.

"Careful what tone you take with me, Horse," Chrome said seriously, as Classy handed him a briefcase. Chrome took out some cash, and handed it to me. "Like I said, he brought me the pinks."

"BUT...!" Iron Horse started, and then kicked the ground, fuming mad, but fearful of what Classy might do if he started shouting again.

"Relax, Horsey," I say, winking at Classy, and then walking over to Iron Horse. I split the cash in half, and say, "You're gettin' half." Then I take several bills off of his stack, and add it to mine. "Minus the repairs, of course," I say, winking at him.

He doesn't like it, but he takes the money anyway. "This is bull, Chrome Dome. That was mymoney that paid for those bikes."

"Yes, it was," acknowledges Chrome Dome. "Your stake, to prove that you're worth doing business with in the long run. You're losing part of that, because you let Greased Lightning mess up nine bikes, and get the slips away from you. Next time, mail the pinks."

Iron Horse perked up. "Next time?"

"I'll call you," nods Chrome Dome. "You can go. Take one of the bikes."

Horse doesn't like being dismissed, but the prospect of future business convinces him to walk away. He gives me a hard look, and I smile. He narrows his eyes in anger, but stalks out to the driveway. He takes the bike nearest the road, and roars off down the street.

I turn to Chrome Dome, and say, "What about the other part of our deal?"

"I haven't forgotten," he says, tapping the side of his helmet.

"So?" I say expectantly.

"Go ahead and ask her," he says with resignation.

"Alright!" I say happily. "Classy, would you like to go out with me tonight?"

Classy smiles. "Well, sure," she says. "Daddy, can we take a couple of the bikes?"

He smiles. "Of course you can, sweetheart." Looking at me seriously, he says, "Don't keep her out too late, and if you hurt her, I'll kill you."

I'd have laughed at anyone else, but I knew he was serious. "Don't worry, Chrome. I've been wantin' this date for a long time. Shall we?" I asked Classy.

She smiled. "Bye, daddy. Don't wait up."

"Have fun, dear," he says pleasantly.

"We will!" she calls out as we run for the driveway. We hop on two bikes, and head for the beach.

Yeah, I did all this for a date. I mean, have you seen her?

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
072Dragon Warrior1,54722ndT

The City of Dragons

"Are you sure this is the right way?" my companion asked for the seventh time in an hour.

"Are you sure this is the right way?"

"Without doubt," I said tersely.

He persisted, "I only ask, m'lord, because this cavern hardly seems like the way to the City of Dragons. Are you sure they don't live among the Floating Rocks? It seems like creatures what could fly would live on floating rocks, don' it?"

I stopped then. I stared ahead at the birds circling one of the giant twisting roots we would have to traverse to get to our destination, and sighed. Taking a deep, slow breath, I turned to the man carrying my supplies, and asked, "What did you say your name is again?"

He smiled nervously, but answered, "You never asked my name, m'lord; only if I would carry your pack on this journey." He smiled wryly, but added, "My name is Kaseem, m'lord."

"Something else lives on the Floating Rocks, and even the dragons go there."

"Well, Kaseem, I keep telling you that the dragons do not live on the Floating Rocks. They don't live here in the Roots of Yggdrasil. Only the God Squirrel does, and he is not concerned with our presence, although he will surely let his master know that we have been by this way. They don't live in the Cloud Realm. That's the heavenly hosts. They don't live in the Volcanic Flats. That's the phoenixes. They don't live in the Dark Waters of Wy. We don't know what lives there, but dragons don't hide... although they do like their solitude at times. But they do not live on the Floating Rocks. Something else lives on the Floating Rocks, and not even the dragons go there. If you ask me about the Floating Rocks again, when we get to the City of Dragons, I will throw you from the city bridge as we enter."

He cowered only slightly, not quite sure if I was serious or not. He gulped as if his mouth had gone dry, then plucked up his courage enough to say, "I was jus' askin' m'lord. I suppose it doesn't matter to dragons how we get to their city. They probably get there by air anyways." He nodded approvingly at his own words, but still asked, "Don' you think?"

I forced a thin smile. "They have wings. I suppose it would be foolish if they did not." I turned and continued up the next long root, and he followed.

We traveled in silence until we reached the birds I had seen circling in the distance. They were circling a pile of the God Squirrel's dung. It wasn't a pleasant smell, but the birds seemed to like it. Kaseem complained only mildly. I remained quiet, preferring to concentrate on breathing shallowly.

We had navigated another seven roots when Kaseem said, "This path is treacherous, m'lord. Are you certain they don't live on the Floating Rocks?"

I stopped and glared at him.

"I'm sorry, m'lord. I've just always wanted to go there. I've heard tales from my youth, and it just seemed so fantastic that such a place could be real. You seem like someone who would know such a place, and I had hoped..."

I said nothing, only raising an eyebrow.

"...I had hoped that was where you were going."

"And yet, you did not ask me where I was going."

Kaseem chuckled. "Well played, m'lord," he said cheerfully, and we continued on.

We had entered the Living Jungle a few hours later, when Kaseem asked, "Do you mind me askin' what your business is in the City of Dragons, m'lord?"

Just then, the jungle trembled so violently that it threw us both to the ground. It was the frequent quakes that gained it the name the Living Jungle; some local tribes believed it was trying to wake from a long slumber. When the quake subsided I helped Kaseem up, and handed him back my pack.

"The Tournament of Dragons," I said in reply to his earlier question.

"The Tour-- you're going t'fight, m'lord?" he asked, plainly astonished.

I smiled genuinely. "No." I pointed the direction we needed to go in, and said, "No, my days of fighting dragon warriors is long over. I go as a guest of the king."

We entered an overgrown temple area
We entered an overgrown temple area

Kaseem stopped as I continued on, but then ran to catch up. "M'lord! You... you know the Dragon King? You've seen him?"

I balked. "Don't be absurd! No man has ever seen the Drachenkönig. I have dealt directly with the royal Escort many times."

Almost to himself, Kaseem repeated, "The 'Drachenkönig.'" Then to me he said, "I have not heard him called that in many years, m'lord. You must be an old friend of the dragons indeed."

We entered an overgrown temple area, and I said quietly, "We've known each other a long time, yes."

Paying more attention to our surroundings now, Kaseem ventured near one of the doorways, and I jerked him back. "Stay with me if you want to see the City, man."

Something growled from within the darkened space, and Kaseem nodded, practically walking in my footsteps after that. "I saw the torch, and I assumed--"

"--As you were meant to," I said calmly. "Our doorway is the one at the end."

We entered the doorway I mentioned without incident, and it was only a few minutes before we emerged on the other side to a tremendous stone wall and gate. It had a series of waterfalls cascading over its sides into the deep gorge between us and the wall.

...we emerged on the other side to a tremendous stone wall and gate.
...we emerged on the other side to a tremendous stone wall and gate.

"It's... it's magnificent, m'lord," was all that Kaseem had to say.

"Yes. Isn't it?" I replied. I pointed to a rough path, and said, "That's how we get to the bridge."

"That is the bridge?" asked Kaseem.

"Yes," I said. "What's the problem?"

"It hardly looks safe to walk on, does it? I think those are planks dangling in the middle!"

"It is as you said, Kaseem- the dragons get there by air. They don't care how we get there." I smirked. "Come on, man," and started down the path.

We reached the bridge after a short while of careful treading down the path, and it was remarkably taught- it hardly swayed at all as we crossed. A little over halfway across, we had to step one-by-one over the large hole created by the dangling planks Kaseem had seen earlier. I crossed first, then held my hand out. "Give me the pack. You'll have an easier time crossing then."

Kaseem handed over the pack.

I set it behind me, and then held out my hand for him. He took it, and hopped across. As his foot touched down on my side of the hole, I punched him in the stomach. Then I grabbed him by the back of his neck and the belt of his pants, and swung him over the edge of the bridge. As he screamed to his death, I said, "I did warn you, Kaseem."

Then I hefted the pack, and continued to the gate. The Escort was waiting for me there. "I thought I might have to kill you for bringing an uninvited guest."

I chuckled. "Good to see you too, Heironymous."

"The king will be pleased to know that you are here," he said, motioning for me to enter the city gate.

"Ho! Have you come to fight, dragon warrior?"

We had not gone very far at all when a young woman with bright red hair and scant, bronzed armor descended before us on the back of a purple dragon. "Ho! Have you come to fight, dragon warrior?" she barked hopefully.

I nodded at the honorific, and responded, "Not this year, dragon warrior, but I wish you well in the Tournament."

"Your wishes are not needed!" she scowled.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Heironymous narrow his eyes only barely. Nodding at me, she added, "But I appreciate the sentiment, warrior. Welcome to the City of Dragons." Then she nodded at Heironymous, and said, "Escort."

He said, "Princess," and she flew away, further into the city.

"She has grown."

"Yes, she has. Being her Escort has been a privilege," said Heironymous.

"And being your daughter makes no difference at all, I suppose?" I said under my breath.

Heironymous stared at me seriously, and said, "Careful how you wag that tongue in this city, Saint George. You owe me a fight yet."

"Not until my sword is found," I said simply.

"That again? I'm not the one who lost it. That meddlesome boy will resurface, and if you don't find him first, I will help you get Ascalon back."

We seethed at each other only momentarily, and then I sighed. "This is not what I am here for, Escort," I said, emphasizing the title. "Let us enjoy your beautiful city."

...we headed towards the Alabaster Castle.
...we headed towards the Alabaster Castle.

Heironymous lingered on his anger only a moment more, and then smiled accomodatingly, if not quite friendly. "Yes, you're right. Come. Enjoy the City of Dragons once more. Tomorrow, we attend the Tournament together, and see how the Princess fares!"

I clapped him on the back. "You don't want to face me again anyway," I prodded.

"HA!" bellowed Heironymous, and we headed towards the Alabaster Castle. "How are the Floating Rocks?" he asked.

"Ah. You know," I said. "There's no place like home."

"Yes," he smiled. "On that we can agree."

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
073Sleepy Hollow1,21404thT

Sleepy Hollow Revisited

Alleyway

A man and a woman approached the crime scene tape stretched across the mouth of the alley, showed their detective badges to the uniformed officer on watch, and ducked under the tape as she lifted it. Walking up to the face-down body, they noticed the large chunk taken out of the victim's left side, the blood, and what appeared to be pieces of pumpkin near the alley wall. An officer stood nearby taking a man's statement. Walking over, the male detective identified himself, "Detective Crane. This the man who called it in?"

The officer, whose nameplate read "G. Chaffin," nodded. Through a thick beard, he answered, "Witness too. He says it was a supervillain."

Hearing "supervillain," the female detective walked over, and said, "That would explain the pieces of pumpkin then. Detective Paulette, Mister...?"

"Uh, Bones," the man said nervously. "Dom Bones."

"So we're dealing with the Green Goblin?" she asked Bones.

"He was, uh..." Dom took a deep breath. "He was on a glider-thing like the Goblin rides, but I don't think it was him. His head was on fire."

"On fire?" asked Crane. "You saying the Ghost Rider has taken up flying?"

Bones laughed nervously. "No," he said quickly. "This guy... his head was a..." he hesitated.

Detective Paulette looked at him expectantly.

"It was a... uh... a pumpkin," he said finally.

Paulette said nothing. She merely got wide-eyed as she made a note on her pad.

Crane spoke up. "A pumpkin?" Pointing his thumb over his shoulder towards the victim, he asked, "So this Flaming Pumpkin Glider Guy- he threw his head at the victim?"

Mister Bones shook his head. "No. They were smaller... like the size of softballs, I guess?"

Paulette looked up suddenly, eyes still wide. "Pumpkin bombs?" she said seriously. "You're sure it wasn't the Green Goblin?"

"I'm sure!" Bones said in frustration. "Would the Goblin have left me alive?"

Paulette shrugged, and made another note.

"Officer Chaffin, do you have Mister Bones' information?" asked Crane.

Flipping a couple of pages back on his pad, Chaffin skimmed, and shook his head. "Yep. I've got it."

Offering his card, Crane said, "Mister Bones, you're free to go. We may contact you again if any questions come up with the case. In the meantime, if you think of anything else, please don't hesitate to call."

Taking the card, Bones nodded stiffly. "Thank you, Detective." Nodding at Paulette, he walked to the front of the alley, the officer lifted the tape for him, and he disappeared around the corner.

The detectives looked at each other before Paulette turned to the body, "Anyone get an ID yet?" she asked Chaffin.

"No one's touched the body," he answered. "I wouldn't let 'em. You hear 'supervillain,' and you don't know what might be important. CSI got pics though."

"Thank you, officer," said Crane. Squinting slightly, he asked, "Your sergeant lets you keep that beard, Officer Chaffin?"

He chuckled. "I'm usually undercover."

Crane and Paulette both looked at Chaffin. "You're a detective?" asked Paulette.

Chaffin nodded. "I'm just filling in for Starsky tonight; extra work." Nodding towards the front of the alley, he said, "That's his partner, Hutch up by the tape."

Crane nodded. "Alright, detective. We'll take it from here. Have a good night."

Chaffin tipped his pen to his hat, saluting with it as he closed his notebook. "I'll get a copy of these notes to your box at the Two Seven."

"Thanks," said Paulette.

Chaffin waved over his shoulder as he walked away.

Turning back to the body, they both knelt down beside it. Feeling the pockets at the back of the victim's pants, and checking his ankles, Paulette said, "No wallet. Help me turn him over so we can check what's left of his jacket."

They took hold of the body carefully, turning it over gingerly so that the hole in the victim's side didn't become larger, ripping the body in half. As they got it over on its back, Paulette was reaching for the jacket when Crane jumped up suddenly. "Oh my God!"

"What the hell, Crane?" groused Paulette.

"It's... it's my cousin," he said, a bit shaken.

Paulette looked up at him wide-eyed. "You're related?"

The detective said nothing for a few seconds, then nodded. "His name... his name's Holden Crane."

"HUTCH!" shouted Paulette as she jumped to her feet. When the officer looked her way, she shouted, "Call Chaffin back here now!"

Hutch waved and started talking into the mic of his walkie talkie.

Looking at Crane, she said, "You're off this case right now," she said sternly. Crane started to protest, but Paulette fixed him with a glare that said there would be no arguing. "I'm not asking, Crane. I'm pulling rank. You're related to the victim. Your objectivity is compromised, and it's not going to jeopardize this case. When Chaffin gets back here, he'll work the case with me. What I need you to do is get me any information you can about your cousin, and bring it to the captain. I'll get it from her."

Crane stood with his hands on his hips, and took a few deep breaths. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah, you're right. I'll have the info to the captain in the morning."

"Good man," said Paulette. "Crane."

He looked at her.

"I'm sorry."

He bit his lip for a moment, then nodded, and walked away. Hutch lifted the tape for him as he left.

Paulette squatted back down next to the body, and said, "What is going on here?"

***

Next day

Detective Paulette strode through the detective bullpen about Nine AM. She walked as straight and upright as possible, trying to get her posture to make up for what she lacked in height. Knocking on the captain's open door as she entered, she said, "Good morning, captain. Has Crane been in here this morning? He was supposed to drop off some info on his cousin; he was our victim last night."

The captain looked troubled. "No, he hasn't been in. Crane was related to a victim?" she asked.

"His uncle. I took him off the case immediately, but he was supposed to bring some info in this morning."

"Mary, who's working with you on this?" asked the captain.

"Gragg Chaffin from uptown."

"Take him with you, and check on Crane at home," she ordered.

"You got it, cap."

***

Crane Home

When Paulette and Chaffin arrived, two black and white units were already there, lights flashing on top of the cruisers. They exchanged looks, and got out.

"Detective Paulette!" called out an officer with a wide smile. "You guys got here fast! We just called it in five minutes ago."

"Poncherello," acknowledged Paulette. "Called what in? We're here to see Crane."

Poncherello looked uncomfortable as his eyes searched the ground for a few seconds. Looking back at Paulette, he said, "Mary, I'm sorry. It's Crane that we're here for."

Mary looked stunned. "Wh-what?"

"Yeah," said the officer quietly. "Someone killed him in his kitchen last night. Wife found him this morning. Baker's inside with her now."

Mary looked at Chaffin. "Gragg, do you mind checking with Baker? I... I'm going to need a minute."

"You bet, Mary," he said, patting her shoulder before walking towards the house.

******************************

annnnnnnnnnnnnnd I ran out of time.

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
074Professional Wrestler3,50131stM

The Death of Sun Tzu

The stadium was all but empty now, but an hour before, it had been chaos. The glorious, fan-filled chaos of the Planet of Wrestling- POW to its fans. Now however, it was the scene of a homicide. Officers had cordoned off the area around the ring, and cleared out any stragglers. CSI was attending to the scene around their victim, and coroners were standing by for the okay to take the body. Ringside, two detectives were just arriving to talk to POW president "Dowdy" Dotty Viper, dressed in her trademark plaid suit with checkered blouse.

"Ms. Viper, I'm Detective Paulette. This is my partner Detective Chaffin. Can you tell us what happened to..." she hesitated as she looked at her pad.

"Sun Tzu," Ms. Viper finished for her.

Paulette raised her eyebrows as she looked up from her pad.

"You know... 'The Artist of War?' He's been our biggest hit since last season." She looked at the detective with confusion; baffled that she hadn't heard of the star.

"Uh, Mary," said Chaffin. "Sun Tzu came on the scene last year. He spent the entire season systematically dismantling every wrestler the POW had. There wasn't a single signature move he couldn't counter."

Dotty smiled. "Oh. You're a fan, Detective Chaffin?"

Mary looked at her partner dubiously.

Chaffin shrugged. "It passes the time. Anyway, it drove fans nuts- some loved it, some hated it- but he took it all the way to the title. He was the world heavyweight champ."

"Was?" asked Mary.

"Well, the former champ, 'Bone Cold' Cleve Fraustin, didn't like the change," Dotty sighed. "He signed a contract just like everyone else though," she added hurriedly. "The signature moves were getting stale with the fans," she said. "Sun Tzu was scripted to beat them all so that we could come up with something else for this season. Bone Cold and The Doc beat us to it though."

"The Doc?" prodded Mary.

"My," said Dotty with real dismay. "You're really not a fan, are you Ms. Paulette?"

"Detective Paulette," Mary corrected, "and no. Do you know how many bar fights I've had to break up over Rebel 'Restler wannabes?"

Dotty closed her eyes and smiled. "Ah. The Rebel 'Restler. That takes me back," she said wistfully.

"The Doc?" Mary said again.

"It was great," chuckled Chaffin.

"Gragg," snapped Mary. Chaffin looked at her questioningly, and she said, "Do you mind letting Ms. Viper tell it?"

"Oh, please. Call me Dotty," she said with a wave. "Cleve waited until the Monday Live Lockdown, and went off script. He came down to the ring unannounced, and challenged Sun Tzu to a Battle for the Belt. We were live, so we had to roll with it. Bone Cold was relentless. He fought like he had never fought before, and he was more than holding his own. The Doc ran out from backstage though, jumped in the ring, and they brutalized Sun Tzu- nearly put him in the hospital." She nodded at her story to emphasize the severity of it.

"Yeah, The Doc finished it off with a double-haymaker," said Chaffin. "Then he grabbed a mic, stood over Sun Tzu, and waving a fist in the air, yelled," imitating the wrestler, "Take TWO, and calllll me in the morninnnn'!"

Dotty smiled. Mary silenced her partner with a look, turned back to Dotty, and waited.

"They used all new moves," she shrugged, "and that's what we were going for this season, so we let it slide." Mary looked incredulous, but Dotty assured her, "It's in their contracts, sweetheart. Adrenaline gets going, you can never be sure of anything, so these guys have to waive their rights to sue POW or their fellow wrestlers. That's why grudges get settled in the ring so often.

"Anyway, the Sun Tzu story was always meant to be a two-season rise-and-fall. He comes out of nowhere the first year, dominates the ring, defeating all the moves, wins the belt at the end of the season. This season, he comes back, and gets a bunch of comeback bouts."

Mary rolled her eyes. "I can't believe I'm having to learn this stuff. 'Comeback bouts?'" she asked.

"Sun Tzu looks like he's winning the first half of the match. Same reason as always- he knows their moves. The second half, his opponent throws a move of another wrestler. Sun's not expecting that, falters, and they fight a little more. Then they unveil new moves. Sun doesn't know what to do with it, and they wipe the mat with him." When Mary said nothing, Dotty added nervously, "The fans have really been eating it up. The new moves were just what we needed to put some life back into the POW."

Looking back to the body of the wrestler, Mary said, "Well, not for everyone."

"Yeah," said Dotty, disheartened. "It wasn't supposed to go like this." She shook her head as she bit on a long fingernail.

Turning back to the Planet's president, Mary said, "What is Sun Tzu's real name?"

"Oh. Kung Pao," said Dotty.

Mary took a deep breath, and twisted her neck to one side until it popped.

"Uh, Ms. Viper," started Chaffin.

"Dotty."

"Dotty," he repeated with a strained smile. "We need his real name."

"That is his real name," she said assuredly. "He had to change it legally as part of his contract. He thought it would be funny if this 'master of war' was a 'chicken' in his 'real' life. I tried to convince him to go with General Tso- more in keeping with the war theme- but he thought Kung Pao was funnier. We were paying him a lot of money to be a two-season throwaway, so I figured I'd give him that. It was a good move too," she said, nodding. "Since 'P.O.W.' is also known as 'Pow,' Kung Pao as the rising star played very well with them." She smiled, clearly pleased at the unintentional boon to the company. "And an Asian champ?" she asked. "Just the shot of diversity we needed in these times." She nodded again.

Mary blinked at her a few times, and then turned her neck in the other direction until it popped again.

"Ms... Dotty," said Chaffin. "Here's my card. Call us if you think of anything else. We may be in touch with you again."

"I can go?" Dotty asked.

"Don't leave the arena," said Mary, "but we have to tend to some other things here at the moment."

"Oh. Okay," Dotty said agreeably. "Thank you, detectives. I'll have my assistant bring you one of my cards," she added, and walked away to find her assistant.

They were just about to turn towards the body when a man stood up a couple of rows back from the ring. "Excuse me, detectives," he said leaning over the row in front of him, holding out a card. Mary leaned over the front row to take it from him. "I'm Dayton Thyme, the assistant Dotty just went to look for. Here's her card in case you need to reach her."

Mary nodded.

"If you'll excuse me, I've really got to go catch her. She's more upset than she's letting on." He smiled politely, then hurried down the row and to the aisle, rushing after his boss.

Both watching him hurry away, Gragg said, "You really don't like wrestling, do you?"

"It's not that," she said, jutting her jaw a little bit.

"Then what is it?" he asked.

Pointing a finger in the direction Dotty had gone in, she groused, "She called me 'sweetheart.'"

Gragg couldn't completely stifle his chuckle. Mary punched him in the arm. She handed the card to her partner, who put it in his shirt pocket. "Who else we got?" she asked.

"The Doc, over there," he said as he pointed a couple of rows away from the turnbuckle; about twenty feet from the body of Sun Tzu. "Real name Wayne Ronson."

Mary couldn't see the wrestler as a few people were gathered around him. As they walked over, she told her partner, "My nephew used to like Rulk Rogan when he first started."

"Oh yeah? He was a Rulkaradical, huh?"

"Nah, he just liked comics. So he liked Rogan because he was called Rulk."

"Ah," said Gragg with a grin.

They gradually heard sobbing coming from the direction of the group. As the detectives reached them, Mary said, "Excuse me? I'm Detective Paulette. Is The Doc here?"

The small group parted to reveal a tall, muscular man who seemed to barely fit in the theater style seat. His face was covered by his hands, and he was crying aloud while a member of the POW medical staff wrapped his ankle in a bandage.

"Are you The Doc?" asked Mary.

"Nope. Just a medic," replied the staff member. "Doc's in the training room. I'm Jimmy Palmer. How--" he stopped as he looked up at Mary. "Oh. You... you meant The Doc, didn't you? It happens more often than you think. Why, there was this one time that--"

"Hey! Palmer!" barked another wrestler. Palmer looked at him, and the wrestler growled, "She gets it! Are you done?"

Palmer looked at the wrestler nervously, then at The Doc's ankle. Putting the clip in the bandage, he said, "Yeah, Cleve, that'll do it. See the doc later, Doc. That is... y-you know what I... I'm going to go now," and Palmer grabbed his medical box and retreated up the aisle.

Looking back at the injured wrestler, Mary pushed her glasses up her nose, and said, "So you're The Doc then?"

The man drug his hands down his face until his fingertips were just below his eyes, barely quieting to blubbering sobs as he looked at the detectives.

"You don't recognize The Doc?" said Cleve rather gruffly. He wore his wrestling trunks, boots, and a leather jacket that wasn't zipped up, exposing his bare chest.

"She's not a fan," said Gragg, sticking out his hand, "but I am." The wrestler shook it firmly. "Mister Fraustin, I'm Detective Chaffin. Can you tell us what you saw here tonight?"

"Hell no, I can't tell you!" barked Fraustin. "I was backstage!" Slapping The Doc on the shoulder, he said, "Time to dry it up, you pansy ass! Tell these folks what happened."

The Doc looked up at Fraustin momentarily before his face completely dissolved into more crying and tears.

"Aw, come on, Wayne. I was only messin' man. We're all gonna miss Kung," said the wrestler.

Wayne cried harder.

"Oh, for the luvva..." Going to one knee, Fraustin put one hand on the sobbing wrestler's shoulder, and gently pulled The Doc's hands away from his face with the other. "Wayne, hey. Come on, man. No one's blaming you for this."

Wayne took a few quick breaths, then said shakily, "J-just a few million fans! Did you hear the things they were yelling as they left?"

With true compassion in his eyes, Fraustin said, "Heat of the moment... It was fresh... Hell, fans are fickle, Doc. The truth comes out about how this happened? They'll forgive you. You'll see," he said, shaking Wayne's shoulder lightly. Doc calmed visibly, and Fraustin smiled and patted his cheek.

Doc sniffled a little bit, took a few deep breaths, then looked at Mary and Gragg. He bit his lip momentarily, and clearly trying to hold back more tears, he asked, "H-how can I help you, detectives?"

"We need to know what happened tonight," answered Mary.

"Folks, we're going to have to ask you to step away while we speak with The Doc," said Gragg. As the people started up the aisle, he said, "Mister Fraustin, can I speak to you over here, please?"

Bone Cold turned back in surprise, then stepped a few rows down from The Doc, where Chaffin had indicated.

***

Up with The Doc, Mary listened to his version of the events. "It was a Round-the-Ring match," he said quietly, no longer crying, but his voice still shaking from the adrenaline of it. "Th-that's our term for it behind the scenes. It means the match is going to spill out of the ring into the walkspace around the ring. We bounce each other off the outside of the turnbuckles, the edge of the ring, and even off the steel stairs."

"That's how Sun Tzu wound up at the stairs?" asked Mary.

"Y-yeah," The Doc said, looking at the body a few rows below. "I'd bounced his head off the stairs... choreographed, of course," he said. Then I went in for the back stomp. You know- bring the foot down on him, but mostly stomp the mat- or the floor in this case- to make it sound bigger. It's a precision move- it has to be timed right." The Doc squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, then shook his head sadly. "Sun Tzu- h-he... he wasn't supposed to get up."

"I'm sorry?" asked Mary.

***

Looking at a replay of the match on a cellphone with Detective Chaffin, Bone Cold said, "Ah, man. Why'd he get up?"

"He was supposed to stay down?" asked Chaffin.

"Wayne was doing the foot stomp," said Fraustin. "That's a precise move. Ronson has to make contact with his back, but bring most of the weight down on the floor at the last second. Sun flops like a fish to make the contact look brutal. Doc's going to do it twice though, because--"

"--Because 'Take TWO'--"

"--Yeah, I heard your impersonation earlier- not bad- but yeah, because of that. Sun tried to get up after the first one though. That would've messed Doc up, and more of his weight would come down on Sun's back. We're fit and strong and all, but a blow to the back like that can still break it. Sun Tzu didn't have a chance."

"Could The Doc have stopped it?" asked Chaffin.

"It's fake, but it's still athletic," answered Fraustin, "which means adrenaline and all that. Plus we have to put on a show- we're thinking about a lot when we're mid-match. Kung wasn't supposed to get up, so Wayne wasn't expecting him to. I don't see how he could have seen it in time to stop himself mid-stomp."

"Is that how he hurt his ankle?"

"Yeah, it's easy to sprain an ankle if you make contact sooner than you're expecting to," said Bone Cold. "That's going to put him out of action for awhile. I'm sure they'll write him some backstage story while he recovers though. He'll probably have to take a beatin' from some of the guys though."

Chaffin looked at him curiously.

"You're a fan- you know how it is," said Fraustin. "It's As the Ring Turns backstage. That soap opera crap gives the matches some context." Smiling foolishly, he waves his fingers in front of him, and says, "It's all smoke and mirrors, my friend."

Chaffin chuckled.

"What?"

"It's just weird, man," answered Gragg, shaking his head. "You on TV, and you in real life seems completely different."

Fraustin scoffed. "We're playin' characters, man. Who the hell walks around calling themselves 'Bone Cold,' y'know? But it sounds better than just 'Cleve Fraustin.' Like I said, smoke and mirrors."

"Yeah, about that- 'Cleve?'"

He laughed. "Short for 'Cleveland,' where I was born. Gotta represent," he said, pounding his chest twice, then winking at the detective.

"So are you guys really enemies off camera?" he asked, indicating The Doc.

"Nah, it's mostly scripted. We have to fight each other, so sometimes real tempers flare, just like any job. We have to trust each other not to do any permanent damage though, so we're actually pretty close."

"Yeah, I noticed when you were talking to him earlier. How close?" asked Chaffin, just being nosey at this point.

"Don't be disrespectful, son," Fraustin said. "Wrestlers can't have compassion? Wayne just killed a guy. He's going to have to carry that for the rest of his life... and his career. It's going to haunt his storyline for a long time."

"Yeah," said Chaffin. "You're right. Hard to separate the fan from the detective here. It's almost like you guys aren't real."

"We're real," said Bone Cold, patting the brace on his elbow. "And we break... one way or another."

Chaffin said nothing. He just nodded.

***

"That-that's all you need, Detective?" asked The Doc.

"Yes, Mister Ronson, I think that'll do it," answered Mary.

"So... so what's going to happen now?" he asked nervously.

"It seems pretty clear that this was an accidental death," she said with a shrug.

"Th-that's it?" he asked, almost crying.

"They're not all murders," she said. Handing him a card, she added, "In case you need to reach me. We have some paperwork to file with the D.A., but this should all be cleared up in a couple of weeks."

Shutting his eyes, The Doc answered, "If only."

Mary tapped her pen on top of her pad a couple of times before sliding it into the spiral binding. "Yeah. I wish you well with that," she said quietly. They made eye contact, Mary nodded, and then started up the aisle. She'd only taken a few steps when she turned and called out, "Chaffin! Let's go."

***

"Right behind you, partner!" Chaffin called back as Dayton Thyme walked up to him and Bone Cold.

"Detective," said Thyme, "here's my card. I know I gave one to your partner already, but they're easy to lose."

"Yeah," said Chaffin, reaching into his pocket for the one his partner had given him. "And it'll be my fault if it gets lost too," he chuckled. "Thanks." He shook the assistant's hand, then the wrestler's, and said, "It was great meeting you, despite the circumstances."

"You bet, Detective," answered Bone Cold.

Chaffin jogged up the aisle to catch up to his partner.

"Dotty's already on damage control," said Dayton as he and Fraustin watched the detectives go. "The script guys are going to be busy tomorrow, and The Doc's going to be out for awhile. What a night." Looking at the wrestler, he asked, "Are you okay, Cleve?"

Apparently lost in thought, he didn't answer for a couple of seconds. Then, he turned his head, and said, "Hm? Oh, yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." As he sauntered away with a smile, Bone Cold added, "I'm going to be the champ the rest of the season."

"Damn. That really was bone cold, Cleveland," said Thyme. "Sun Tzu died tonight," he added angrily.

Cleve spun on one heal and came back angrily, thrusting a finger in the assistant's face. "Yeah! And why is that, Dayton?"

Taking a couple steps back from the finger, Dayton stuttered, "Wh-what do you mean?"

"Kung knew his stuff! He sure as hell knew all our moves! He had to! So why the hell does he get up when Wayne's giving him the Take Two Stomp?"

"It-it was an ac-accident," said Dayton with confusion.

"Like hell," Cleve hissed. "You wrote this match. You told him that was the start of the comeback, didn't you? That The Doc would be using my Kayo Kick, and then they'd get into the new moves! But you didn't tell Wayne, did you?"

"Is that true, Dayton?" Dotty asked from behind him.

Dayton spun to face his boss, momentarily at a loss for words. "I... it was an accident... I just forgot. I..."

"You son of a bitch!" growled Bone Cold. He grabbed Dayton's shoulder, spun him around, and broke his nose with a punch that sent him to the floor. "I'll--"

"Fraustin!" called Mary from the other side of the ring. "That's enough!"

Cleve backed off as the detective and her partner made their way around the ring.

"Did you get it?" Chaffin asked Fraustin.

Pulling his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, Fraustin hit play on a recording. "I... it was an accident... I just forgot. I..."

"Dayton Thyme, you're under arrest," stated Detective Paulette.

"But I didn't kill him!" protested the assistant.

"Sun Tzu died through your negligence," she answered as she cuffed him. She read him his rights, and they started up the aisle.

Guiding Thyme by the elbow, Mary stopped next to The Doc, looked at him and said, "Sometimes it is murder, but it wasn't you."

Dayton and Wayne looked at each other for a long few seconds, and Wayne finally said, "You bastard."

Thyme said nothing. He only looked away.

"Come on, let's go," said Chaffin, taking Thyme's other elbow.

***

Watching the detectives leave for real this time, Dotty said, "This needs to go away, Cleve. You're not going to be champ the rest of the season. We're going to have to come up with something else."

"Oh, yes I am," Cleve said as he walked away, "and you're going to make sure of it, Dotty."

"And why's that?" she called after him.

"Because Bone Cold said so!" he called back. "You didn't know?"

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
075Super Drug w/optional villain3,30712ndT

The War on Wishes

Norfolk, Virginia

Dylan Smack held the capsule with the pale blue light between his thumb and forefinger, and brought it up level with his wide eyes. "Whoa," he whispered. "What is this, homes?" Then remembering that his guys were watching, he became sterner. He shrugged, and said, "XLR8R? Firewater? Frost? Blanks? Evo? Why should I push this instead of Vig?"

The man clad in grey plate armor and dressed in blue leaned forward, his mask only revealing his smile, but they would have known he was smiling from the glee in his voice. "Because this is Wish! You'll be able to charge more for each hit, and your customers will pay it... guaranteed."

Rolling the pill between his fingers, the light flickered inside. Watching it play across the walls of the dark, nearly empty warehouse, Dylan said, "Legit? Just how addictive is it?"

Standing up straight again, the man said, "Oh, it's not ...at all. But I promise you that once your customers get a taste, they won't be able to stay away. They will come back for more. And you won't have to solicit anyone after the first few. When others see what it can do, they'll come to you."

Smack scoffed. "Wack. Who ever heard of a non-addictive drug catching on like that?"

"Maybe you'd like to try it?" asked the masked man with a smirk.

"I'll stick to Vig, man." Dylan flipped the pill back to the man like a coin, and the man caught it in his fist. "You're selling dreams."

Smiling smugly, the man said, "No. I'm selling wishes."

Scoffing again, Dylan said, "You stupid, homes." Snapping a finger at his gang, he said, "Let's go, guys."

"Actual wishes," the man said louder. "In a pill."

Dylan stopped, and turned back slowly.

"How much would you pay for that?" asked the man.

"Bull," challenged the dealer.

"Again- maybe one of you would like to try it," said the man, offering the pill on an outstretched palm.

"Yo, Smack," said one of his boys. "I'll try it. Just if things get stupid, don't let my moms see me until I'm right again."

The two bumped fists, and Dylan said, "A'ight, C-Note."

C-Note strutted back over to the armored man, looked at his inscrutable mask, and swore he saw light dance behind the white eye lenses. Sniffing once, he picked up the pill, looked at it, and said, "How's this work?"

"Just take the pill, and wish for something," the man said, sounding almost threatening.

"Wish for something?" asked C-Note, looking slightly confused. "Wish for what?"

The man pinched his fingertips together next to the pill in C-Note's hand, and flicked them open, pulling his hands outwards in an exploding motion, and whispered, "Anything!" The whisper seemed to echo around the warehouse, making the other gang members look around nervously.

C-Note snorted once. "Anything," he laughed. "A'ight, homes, we'll see." With no ceremony, he popped the pill into his mouth, and swallowed. He felt no different, but he looked at his chest, and watched the blue light shine from inside him, working its way down to his gut. He laughed aloud, and turned towards his homies, all of whom- even Smack- got wide-eyed. "Will you look at this?" declared C-Note. "A'ight! Aight, homes!" he declared, pointing back at the man. "You want a wish?" Turning back to the gang, he nodded, smirked, held his arms wide, and said, "I wish I had twenty million dollars and some bitches to celebrate with!"

His boys started to cheer their approval when a stack of money appeared between them and C-Note, along with ten mutts of varying breeds. The cheering stopped, and the gang jumped backwards before inching forward slightly. "Yo, what the--?" said C-Note. "What's with these fuggin' dogs, dude?"

"You asked for bitches," stated the man. "Bitch: a female dog, wolf, fox, or otter." With a sinister chuckle, he wagged his finger, shrugged, and said, "You could have wound up with wolves, you know." Crossing one arm over his chest, and resting the other elbow on it, he curled a finger against his lip, and said, "The otters might have been cute. Never foxes though. No. Foxes are trouble."

Dylan, having moved no closer to the money and dogs, called out, "Yo. Peeps don't get what they wish for, they gonna start beef."

"Then I suggest you tell them what they should already know: be careful what you wish for," growled the man.

C-Note did a slow walk around the money, and the dogs jumped around him happily.

Dylan looked at the pile of money, and stared at the man for a long minute. Finally, he asked, "How much?"

The man waved his hands, and oil drums of the glowing pills appeared before him. "I'll give you all that you want," he said with a bow.

"Huh," Dylan scoffed. "What's the catch?"

"You have to give away the first hit, and you can't sell anyone more than three," said the man, holding up three fingers for emphasis. "A person only gets three wishes, after all. Remember: you can sell the second and third hits for as much as you like, and they're going to pay."

Dylan narrowed his eyes. "You're pretty sure about this."

"I am."

"Anything else?" Smack asked.

"Just two more things," said the man, holding up a finger. He suddenly disappeared, and reappeared right in front of Dylan, making him flinch. Motioning with his finger for Dylan to lean closer, he leaned to the dealer's ear, and whispered. Then aloud, he said, "And remember: you must tell them this before you sell them the third hit."

Dylan looked shaken, but covered it with a deep breath. "I got one more thing too," he said. "I don't work with no one that I don't know."

"Ah, a wise decision," said the man, sounding pleased. Bowing slightly, he said, "You may call me The Wishing Demon," and a guttural growl seemed to come from the masked man.

Smack hid his fear, but began sweating. "You said you had two more things. What's the other one," he asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

"Oh!" exclaimed the Wishing Demon, suddenly standing bolt upright. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder, and growled, "Make sure you clean up after your bitches before you leave." With that, he disappeared.

The gang looked over towards C-Note and the money, and saw that three of the dogs were peeing on the cash.

"Damn, C-Note! Clean that crap up, and meet us back at the crib!" shouted Dylan.

"Why me?" complained C-Note.

"Because you're the one that wished for dogs, stupid!" Snapping a finger, he ordered, "Everyone else get those barrels on a truck."

"Yo, Smack," called C-Note, petting one of the dogs as it licked his face happily. "What'd he whisper in your ear? What we gotta tell junkies before they buy a third hit?"

Dylan looked at C-Note uncomfortably. Then he told him.

***

Richmond, Virginia- Three Months Later

"What?" Detective Paulette barked angrily.

"Mary, I'm not any happier about it than you are," Captain Swayfer said calmly. "It's a joint investigation now though. Orders from the top."

"Since when does the Secret Service need to get involved in a drug ring?" Mary seethed.

"Since it threatens to destabilize the value of the dollar," came a voice from behind her.

Mary and her partner, Gragg Chaffin, turned to see a tall man in a black suit and tan trench coat, followed closely by a woman in a grey suit. He was bald with a handlebar mustache, and she had short blonde hair.

"Captain," acknowledged the man. "I'm Agent Heironymous with the Secret Service. This is my partner, Agent Crystal Salt."

"This is Detectives Paulette and Chaffin," said the captain. "Now, how is Wish destabilizing the dollar?"

"You get a wish," he said, pointing at Mary. "What do you wish for?"

"For you to get off my case and out of my hair," Mary answered sarcastically.

Heironymous just chuckled. "How about you?" he asked Chaffin.

"Probably to win the lottery," answered Gragg.

Heironymous nodded. "And if that's how buyers state their wish, that's not as much of a problem. Winning the lottery means their answered wish is drawing from real, existing money, and if they don't specify the lotto jackpot, many are finding that they only win a few dollars."

"It's the ones that just wish for a million dollars that are hurting us," continued Agent Salt. "That money's coming out of thin air without the Treasury. Most people can't hold onto that kind of windfall. They spend it, and it's gone."

"Looks like that would ultimately strengthen the economy," said Chaffin.

"It might," acknowledged Heironymous, "but there's that old idea that if you redistributed the world's wealth to everyone equally, after awhile it would wind up back in the hands of those who were rich originally. That's what's happening here, and that money's getting spent on corporate mergers, investments overseas, and such."

"There's also the criminal element, given that this problem is stemming from a drug," said Salt. "Some of that magic money is going into the drug trade, spreading Wish beyond its starting point, not to mention old standbys like cocaine. It's getting to the weapons trade too. It could end up arming terrorists, or even purchasing nuclear materials for countries like Pakistan or North Korea."

"Okay, so you guys are trying to solve a Treasury problem," said Mary. "We're trying to stop bodies from dropping. Wish is killing off nearly everybody who takes it."

"Only after their third hit," said Heironymous. "Dealers have been telling their buyers that when they use the third hit, they lose their souls."

Mary rolled her eyes, and looked to the captain. "Really?"

"You can't really believe that, Agent Heironymous?" asked the captain.

"Do you have another explanation for the dead in this case?" he asked. "The dealers are very careful to give this warning. They seem almost scared not to. Wish is magic in a pill. It's not a hard stretch to imagine it's created by a jinn. Jinns are about enslavement; either the jinn are enslaved to those that make the wishes, or those that make the wishes are enslaved to the jinn. It seems that here, we're dealing with the latter. Instead of souls on a one-by-one basis, the jinn's reach has been multiplied exponentially, taking souls by the hundreds as this drug spreads. It continues to spread, because the word is out that it's non-addictive, and most don't believe that it can actually take their soul."

"We know it started in Norfolk, but like you said, it's spreading," observed Mary. "So where do we start?"

"We start at the beginning," answered Salt. "Norfolk, like you said. We had some info coming in from Death's Head Moth, but he's been silent for about six weeks now."

"Wait a minute," laughed Chaffin. "The super hero guy? That's your informant?"

"He's been the boots on the ground," Crystal answered, "and he has a network that we don't. He was supposed to be bringing in help."

"Help?" repeated Captain Swafer.

"Aw, crap. Really?" complained Paulette. "He's bringing in more of those clowns?"

"Norfolk PD isn't too interested in dealing with the Liberteens," Heironymous said quietly. "We're going to need help."

Chaffin laughed again. "The Liberteens? Really?! We have to deal with the Slang Gang?"

"Who?" Mary asked in a tone that said she really didn't want to know.

"I know them from my days in the Norfolk narcotics unit. The Liberteens operate from an underpass on West Liberty Street. It's part of a parking lot. They have super powers, and they're nicknamed the Slang Gang, because they're all named after a slang term that goes with their powers. Like their leader, Dylan Smack, aka The Pusher. He's telekinetic, aka he can push things with his mind."

Mary groaned.

"Oh, that's just the tip of the iceberg. It gets worse," Chaffin assured her.

"Great," sighed Mary. Then, looking to Heironymous, she said, "The sooner we get to Norfolk, the sooner we get this over with."

"Right," he said. "Captain," he acknowledged as they headed for the door.

"Keep me informed," Swafer called after them.

***

Norfolk, Virginia - Three Days Later - The West Liberty Street Underpass of the Liberteens

Agent Salt and The Crimson Fist stood back-to-back, taking swings at Flipside as he teleported around them. They had landed a few punches, but mostly they were missing.

"This is getting us nowhere!" Crystal shouted in frustration.

"Stay focused," huffed Fist. "We'll get him eventually."

Just then, a wild swing by Salt clipped the teleporter. Flipside fell back into one of his own portals, tumbling out in front of The Crimson Fist, who decked him with another blow.

"Finally," said Fist as he dropped to his knees.

"Amen, brother," sighed Salt as she sank to a sitting position, and leaned against his back. "Where the hell is Death's Head Moth? We haven't seen him yet."

Heironymous was busy with Solid- a hulking juggernaut with a smooth, stone exterior, and super strength. They had been trading blows that were shattering car windows all over the lot, knocking each other on their butts, and destroying cars when they landed on them.

"I can do this all day, grandpa!" taunted Solid.

Heironymous tossed his trench coat aside, and began rolling up a sleeve. "Son, I'm about to show you your limits."

Taking a deep breath, the humanoid dragon let out a stream of fire that caught the rock-bodied teen full in the chest. Solid kept advancing on Heironymous, his torso starting to glow a fiery orange. He slowed some, and as he got within arm's reach, the agent punched him full force in the solar plexus. It sent Solid tumbling, and bits of rock flying off of his body. His body landed hard in the dirt and dug a trench for several yards before he came to a rest, unconscious.

Heironymous picked up his coat and snapped it in the air once to shake off the dirt. Grunting, he said, "Damn. That boy's tough."

Detective Chaffin was mostly getting tagged by the invisible woman they called Fade. Phantom Zero was using all the illusions at his disposal to try to trick her into showing herself.

"Your tricks are useless against me," came a voice that seemed to float on the air.

"Are they?" asked Phantom Zero as he dropped some smoke pellets.

In the smoke, the outline of Fade's body appeared. Gragg smiled as he moved in. "Now we're on an even playing field."

Hot Sistah began glowing red hot, and started to advance on Detective Paulette. "I'm gonna burn you, pig."

Mary gritted her teeth. Realizing that her baton was only going to melt against Hot Sistah's heat, Mary dropped it, pulled her gun, and shot Hot Sistah in the chest four times. She dropped, scorching the grass around her, and immediately started to cool to normal. "I'm getting really sick of this," she said as she holstered her gun, and picked up her baton.

Soundwave gave off a sonic scream; the sound wave crashing into C-Note's slightly more powerful scream. The sound bounced around them, shattering windows out on the street, and causing small cracks in the support columns of the overpass. C-Note suddenly grunted and fell to the ground. Soundwave stopped screaming when she saw Detective Paulette slapping her baton in her open palm.

"Thanks," she said in a small voice.

"You're welcome," Mary said brightly. "Good job."

Jetstorm was chasing Coolbreeze all over the lot, the two speedsters ducking and dodging various projectiles being thrown by the other. Rocks, old window handles, a rear view mirror, broken bottles, and even a car door.

"Even a race car can't beat me!" called Jetstorm. "I'm going to catch you!"

"We'll see about that, brat!" shouted Coolbreeze, just before he was clotheslined by Super Hero.

"Cool your heels, 'Breeze," said Super Hero, a grin spreading across his face. "God, I love this!" he called out, high fiving Jetstorm as he ran by.

Mutinous Angel and Geist were in a full-on hand-to-hand battle with Throwdown and Freestyle. It was like watching a ninja and a Forties pulp hero trade blows with a couple of acrobatic gang bangers. In the end, it was no contest. Throwdown and Freestyle lay defeated. Mutinous Angel pulled out a pair of handcuffs, and Geist produced a long ziptie. Securing their opponents, they shook each other's hand, and dragged the teens over to the pile of Liberteens being made by the group of officers and heroes.

"That wasn't fun at all," Gragg muttered aloud.

"Speak for yourself," said Super Hero, clapping him on the back.

"How did you two get powers?" Heironymous asked Soundwave and Jetstorm.

Soundwave looked at the ground for a second, then looked up and winced. "We're really not supposed to tell," she said.

"Yeah, it's our secret origin!" chimed Jetstorm.

Mary half-grinned, but then groused, "What I want to know is where the heck is Death's Head Moth? We haven't seen him the entire time we've been here!"

"And where's the Pusher?" asked Salt. "He's the only one that seems to be missing."

A voice that seemed to come from everywhere answered, "The answer to both of your questions is above you."

The group looked up, then quickly stepped back from the piled gang as a the body of the Pusher fell from the shadows of the underpass. Attached to a climbing cable, he decelerated safely to just a few inches short of the pile before the cable snapped off his belt and dropped him onto the heap. Then Death's Head Moth appeared from the same shadows, sliding gracefully down the cable, and making the small jump from the top of the pile to the ground.

"I was busy rounding him up," he said to Salt, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at Dylan Smack.

"'Bout time you showed up," Heironymous said gruffly.

"I was complying with a wish," said the black-clad hero. "I was busting a Liberteen drug deal, and that Freestyle kid popped a pill and wished for me to disappear. So I dropped smoke pellets and did just that. I granted his wish, but wasn't able to reveal myself again until one of you knocked him unconscious."

Mary nodded at the hero's explanation. "Great, so we got them all. Now what?"

Heironymous sighed. "Now comes the hard part- rounding up the Wish supply, and taking out the other networks that are springing up. Unfortunately, the Liberteens aren't the only supply of this anymore."

"Not hard at all," came the voice of Death's Head Moth.

The group looked around, and the hero was gone. Looking up, they saw a pale blue light shining in the shadows, barely illuminating the dull metal mask, and almost lighting up the stylized skull and crossbones on his chest. "I wish," he started as they all gasped, "that the pill I just took was the last pill of any supply of the drug called Wish, and that no more could ever be made."

***

Norfolk, Virginia - the Warehouse of the Wishing Demon

There was a bright blue flash as the barrels of Wish that the Wishing Demon had conjured all evaporated into nothing. Stomping his foot, he yelled, "Nooo!" Jumping up-and-down angrily, he shouted, "No! No! No! No! No! No! No!"

He fumed over his loss as he cast his gaze around the empty warehouse. Then he sighed, which turned into a light laugh. "Oh, well," he said with a wave of his hand, "it was good while it lasted. Back to doing it the old fashioned way." With that, he disappeared. And then so did the warehouse, leaving only a windblown lot.

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
076Train Robbery1,46032ndT

The Last Ride of The Freedom Train

The light-haired woman with the taser moved carefully through the abandoned factory, stalking her latest quarry. Close behind her were Brian and Maurice, her partners in the chase, and Tabby, the camerawoman. Currently, the view from the camera was just the back of their heads, and little else in the darkened space. The camera was filming with a night lens, so everything looked a pale, glowing shade of green. Suddenly the leader held up a fist, signalling for everyone to stop. "Shh! Do you hear that?"

The group went silent, and they looked all around, though clearly not seeing anything specific. "All I hear is a dripping sound Dani," said Brian.

"Yeah, that," she confirmed. "That's City Slicker! It's coming from the tank in the corner. Let's--"

"--We interrupt this episode of Danika Sedova: Bounty Hunter Babe for this special report." The announcer's words are accompanied by the logo for the Larsen Channel Seven News.

"Good evening. I'm Phillip Thyme..."

"...And I'm Paige Webb..."

"...And we're bringing you this special report following the progress of the journey home for the body of the fallen hero known as The American Guardian, or as he called himself, The Crossing Guard," says Phillip. "He of course became known as The American Guardian when the President recognized his role in stopping the Cyborgorillas- cybernetically enhanced sentient apes seemingly bent on the destruction of humanity- also known as Silverbacks due to those metallic enhancements. Dedicated to protecting America from interdimensional threats, The Crossing Guard drove them back into their dimensional space known as Gorilla Grotto- the highlight of a career spent criss-crossing America via railroad.

"His train, the Guardrail- also known by its popular nickname of The Freedom Train- served as a mobile headquarters for the hero for decades. It may not seem like the fastest way to travel the country, but thanks to a teleportation system called a tesseractuator- or more commonly the Rail Pass- the Freedom Train can be virtually anywhere in the country in a blink of light, and the blink of an eye, by passing through a system of tesseracts."

"The Freedom Train will be taking a somewhat slower route today," reports Paige, "making stops across the country, allowing mourners to view the body, currently laid out in repose in a special funeral car. It's reported that the Crossing Guard's daughter and former sidekick, known as The Guardian Angel, will be travelling with the train to escort her father to his final resting place.

"Driving the train of course is The Conductor- the android intelligence that directs the Freedom Train, communicating with GPS satellites and sensors specially commissioned for the International Space Station to ensure that its travels via Rail Pass don't interfere with other trains."

"Paige," Phillip says calmly, "We're now receiving word that the Freedom Train is pulling out of the station in San Francisco Bay."

"Oh, look at that!" Paige exclaims happily. "The Freedom Train departs with the fanfare of full brass bands and a red, white, and blue balloon release! Wow, look at that! You might be interested to know that the balloons used in this farewell ceremony are made of a special material derived from the skins of potatoes. As they ascend into the atmosphere, they will gradually begin to shred, and fall back to Earth. They are completely biodegradable, posing no threat to soil, waterways, or wildlife."

"That's good to know," Phillip says somberly. "The Freedom Train is of course the third train to bear this name; the previous two having operated in the 1940's and 1970's, displaying items of national importance to the public. Freedom Train Three will only travel a quarter mile before making its first jump via Rail Pass, and... oh, there it goes now," he says as the screen shows a bright flash of light on the tracks that swallows the short, five-car train. "We now switch you to Cheyenne, Wyoming- the first stop for the Freedom Train on this funeral tour for an American hero. Standing by on scene is Mike Rofon. Mike?"

Cheyenne, Wyoming

"Phillip," Mike responds, "using the Rail Pass, the journey from San Francisco Bay to here in Cheyenne will only take about ten seconds. As you can see on the track behind me, the tesseractuator is already opening a portal- known as a tesseractuality- so the Freedom Train will be arriving in moments," Mike says with a smile as he turns to watch the track.

As the Freedom Train roars into view at the end of the train station's platform, a second tesseractuality opens at the platform's opposite end. Flashes of light can be seen through the windows of the train's middle car, and as the second portal receives the train, a body crashes through one of the windows. It is severed cleanly just below the shoulders as it passes over the edge of the portal. The body disappears with the train, and the head and shoulders crash and roll on the platform, producing screams from people nearby in the crowd.

"Phillip, we're not sure what's going on here," shouts Mike as he shoulders through the fleeing bystanders, closely followed by his cameraman. Panting with the exertion, he says, "As you saw, the Freedom Train blew through this stop, and what appeared to be a body was ejected from the train. We're getting through now, and it's--"

The camera focuses on the head and shoulders, and Phillip says, "It's a gorilla."

"Not just a gorilla, Phillip," reports Mike. "This ape has a cybernetic eye. Phillip, it looks like Cyborgorillas are aboard the Freedom Train!"

Strasburg, Colorado

As the Freedom Train roars through a tesseractuality, a battle rages inside between the red-white-and-blue form of The Guardian Angel, and a group of twenty gorillas with various cybernetic enhancements. She's managing to keep them off of her using a forcefield generated by sensors on the train, and an energy weapon the press commonly calls her Flaming Sword. Speeding past the platform, and into another portal, the young heroine shouts, "Conductor! Whatever you do, don't stop! We can't allow these Silverbacks to endanger the public!"

Denver, Colorado

"Already on it Angel," came the even voice of the android intelligence. "Passing through Denver now. May I suggest 'shock and awe,' Miss?"

Looking at the floor beneath her feet, The Guardian Angel saw a handle recessed in the floor. Quickly squatting to grab hold of it, she said, "I'm grounded. Do it!"

Kansas City, Missouri

As the train raced out of one portal and into another, an electrical charge surged through the train car, incapacitating many of the Silverbacks. One had grabbed another grounding port before the blast.

Bluefield, West Virginia

"What do you want?!" shouted Guardian Angel as the last gorilla pounded against the forcefield protecting her from his grasp.

The ape grunted, "The Conductor. Its control of the tesseractuator network will allow the Cyborgorillas to appear anywhere in the country; not just at Gorilla Grotto."

"Over my decommissioned body," The Conductor said, sounding offended.

Washington, D.C.

"Conductor! Final Stop!" commanded the Angel.

"Are you certain?" asked the Conductor.

"Meet you back at the Guard Station," she said. A circle of light appeared at her feet, and the Guardian Angel dropped through. She would reappear in the secret headquarters of the American Guardian.

"Preparing download," said the Conductor. "Cargo secured," it added, and in the funeral car, a flash of light swallowed the Crossing Guard's coffin, sending it to the Guard Station.

International Space Station

"Sir," said one of the astronauts aboard, "We're getting strange readings from the AMS-02 and the BEAM."

"Are you certain?" asked the commander.

"Yes sir. The readings are like--" but before the astronaut could finish, a tesseractuality opened up outside of the station, and ejected the Freedom Train into space. It sailed as straight as if on a track for a few seconds, then began silently twisting and tumbling, the cars tearing free of each other as they went. "Sir? What the hell is that?"

"Something you'll only see once," said the commander. "Keep watch- make sure it continues away from us."

"Yes, sir."

The Guard Station

"Download complete," stated the Conductor. "Are you here, Miss?"

"I'm here, Conductor," answered Guardian Angel. "Contact the National Cemetery. We need to finish this funeral."

"Yes, Miss."

Gorilla Grotto

"Our agents have failed, Alpha," grunted an ape.

Sitting on a stone throne, the right half of his chest and right arm covered in cybernetic metal, The Alpha let out a low growl. Crushing the right arm of the throne in his grip, he huffed angrily, and said, "Then we wait. The Cyborgorillas will have our day. We will conquer Earth. And America will be the first to fall."

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
077Your Sign Is What?!?1,45421stT

The Search For Shēngxiào

A warehouse in Norfolk, Virginia:

"Heironymous... This could get messy."

Agent Crystal Salt edged up to the roof's broken skylight with her gun drawn, aiming it inside as she looked for any sign of attack. Seeing none, she noticed the catwalk directly underneath, and jumped down. Seeing a group of people at the far end of the warehouse, and noticing a pyramid of crates below the catwalk, she jumped down to the top crate, and made her way down for cover. "Heironymous, there's a bunch of people here. This could get messy," she whispered.

"I see 'em," she heard the agent drawl into her earpiece. "It's important we apprehend the suspect before this becomes a hostage situation."

"A shape changer that prefers animals versus that whole group?" Crystal asked. "Why would they take her hostage?"

"I wasn't talking bout them," was Heironymous' simple answer. "We don't know what all this shape changer can become."

"True," acknowledged Salt. "If she can become a rat, we're going to have a problem finding her," she whispered, noting a few rats on a nearby crate. She blinked, and one of them had become a rabbit, and started hopping along the tops of crates. "I see her. She's a rabbit now, moving fast towards the front," she warned as an eerie blue light played along the warehouse walls.

"Be on the lookout for a Tibetan Mastiff."

"Stop her before she gets to those people!" hissed Heironymous. "Something's going on there that we don't have time for."

"On it," Crystal whispered. "Crud! Now she's a dog! Be on the lookout for a Tibetan Mastiff."

"A what?" asked Heironymous in surprise.

"What? I can't know something about dogs? A large brown-and-black dog with a shaggy mane."

"Right," the agent grunted.

A commotion could be heard from up front. There was an audible pop of air, and then someone shouted, "Damn, C-Note! Clean that crap up, and meet us back at the crib!"

"Why me?" complained C-Note.

"Yo! Where'd this danged chicken come from?"

"Because you're--" the rest was lost as there was another audible pop and rush of air behind Agent Salt. She spun to see a man clad in grey plate armor and dressed in blue, all but his mouth hidden behind a mask of like colors.

"Ascalon?" she gasped.

"You're not supposed to be here," the man chided. Before Crystal could respond, the man waved his hand dismissively, and she disappeared. Spinning to his left, he caught the hand reaching for him, and growled low, "Neither are you, dragon." The surprise was evident on Heironymous' face before the man snapped, making him disappear as well.

The man gritted his teeth as he heard a loud squawk from up front, followed by, "Yo! Where'd this danged chicken come from?"

He made a grabbing motion in the air, and there was another pop of air up front, followed by one in front of him. Up front, he heard, "Aw, man! Get this stuff loaded up, and let's get the hell out of here!"

"Come back here, and you will face the wrath of The Wishing Demon."

Floating in the grip of his magical force was a rooster that quickly became a pig, and then a goat, and then an ox. "If your next change isn't into your human form, you may not live to regret it," he warned.

The ox tilted its head, then lowered it, and then morphed into a human female in red leather. There was a white Chinese dragon design coiled around the right leg, extending up the back, and wrapping over the left shoulder, the head and front claws on her chest, looking as if about to attack. She wore a red leather mask that covered her neck and head, leaving only her eyes and mouth exposed. There was a Chinese symbol on her forehead that the man recognized with some surprise.

"Another one?" the man asked. "You are interfering with my business," he said angrily. "Come back here, and you will face the wrath of The Wishing Demon." With that, he raked his hand to the right, and the woman disappeared in the same manner as the agents before her.

Across the Elizabeth River:

"What the hell?" gasped Salt as Heironymous appeared beside her. "That was Ascalon!"

"Shen?"

Straightening his trench coat, Heironymous said, "It looked like him, but I don't think so. Ascalon doesn't have that kind of power. If he did, he'd have used it by now."

"Well, what are we going to do about him?" Crystal demanded.

"Nothing. I told you, we don't have time for that right n--"

Heironymous was interrupted by a pop and a rush of air as the woman in red leather appeared before them. Seeing the symbol on her forehead, Heironymous' eyes went wide, and he gasped, "Shen?"

"Shēngxiào, cretin!" she hissed as she shrank into the form of a snake.

"Shin-shaw?" asked Crystal.

"Close," acknowledged Heironymous. "It's the Chinese word for their zodiac."

The snake transformed into a capuchin monkey, and clapped its hands. Raising its arms above its head, it became a horse, rearing up on its hind legs, then coming down into a stance where it turned into a tiger.

"Aw, hell," complained Salt, drawing her gun. "I really don't want to tangle with a tiger today."

"Then you're really going to hate where this is headed," Heironymous deadpanned. Salt just looked at him, and he continued, "The animals she's turning into are part of the Chinese zodiac."

"So?" prodded Salt.

"So there's one I haven't seen, and Shēngxiào's name is a bastardization of her real name- Shen- a shapeshifter. But her real shape is--"

Before he could finish, the tiger let out a loud roar and became a gigantic, crimson-scaled beast.

"A dragon," Crystal said in defeat. "Another dragon," she said looking at Heironymous. Waving her gun in the air, she asked, "Why do I even have this? I may as well throw rocks at her."

"Yeah, maybe you better let me handle this one," said Heironymous. He shrugged off his trench coat, and then he turned into a great, golden dragon.

"Weren't you purple before?" asked Crystal as the two dragons roared at each other. She quickly ran to the edge of the river.

She reared... then spun and ran in the opposite direction...
She reared... then spun and ran in the opposite direction...

The two dragons circled each other, roaring, stomping, and scratching the ground. They breathed fire at one another, neither flinching from the great heat. The golden-scaled Heironymous flared his wings upwards, and the crimson Shēngxiào bowed her head and scrambled backwards. A ripple went through her body, and she became the horse again, the form appearing where the tip of the dragon's tail had been. She reared on her hind legs, then spun and ran in the opposite direction from Heironymous. He roared, and returned to human form. His clothes having shredded when he transformed, he picked up his trench coat and put it on to cover himself.

Crystal's shock at the outcome turned to anger. "Hey! What the hell? We were supposed to apprehend her!"

"We're following the money, not the dragon."

"That wasn't going to happen," Heironymous seethed. "I'd have had to kill her, and I didn't want it to come to that."

"She was our only lead to the funny-money flooding the economy!" shouted Crystal.

"No," Heironymous sighed, "she wasn't. That blue light in there? That was Wish. And the Ascalon look-a-like? The way he made us disappear? I'm pretty sure that was a jinn. Shēngxiào just led us to what we were looking for."

"So what? She gets a pass?" balked Crystal.

"She does," Heironymous said with a nod. "We're following the money, not the dragon. She just led us to the source."

"What now then?"

"Now we report it back to the Secret Service. Drugs are a different jurisdiction. We need to see how they want to proceed."

Crystal sighed. "And our Jeep? It's on the other side of the river."

Just then there was a pop and a rush of air, and their Renegade appeared before them. They stared at it for a few seconds, then stared at each other, then turned and stared across the river.

"I'm tired. Try not to kill us."

"Someone really wants us to leave," said Crystal.

"And we're going to give them what they want," said Heironymous, reaching into his pocket for a set of keys. "We don't have the time or power to fight this kind of magic. Let's go," he said, clicking a button on the keyring, then throwing them to Crystal.

"You want me to drive?" she asked with a laugh.

"I'm tired," grunted Heironymous. "Try not to kill us," he huffed as he got in the passenger side.

Crystal smirked. "We survived magic and a dragon tonight, partner," she said as she got in the driver's side, and closed the door. "I think the ride'll be just fine."

Leaning the seat back slightly and closing his eyes, Heironymous just chuckled and said, "Here's hoping."

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
078Villains Wanted1,56761stT

The Path of the Paper Tiger

Greenville, North Carolina

"Connor? You here? Yo! Angry Midget!" called Crystal Salt, as she walked in through the rollup door opening of the gym.

"Crystal! I'll be right out!" came a voice from an office off to the side. This was followed by a hushed exchange, and then out came a short, muscular man with a thick goatee, close shaved head, blue shorts trimmed in orange, and a black "Autism Awareness" T-shirt. "Salt!" called Connor. "'Bout time you came around!" he said with a smile, giving her a hug. "Long time no see, agent! I see the Secret Service is keeping you well."

Nodding towards the office, she asked, "I catch you at a bad time?"

Before he could answer, a man of about six-two stepped out into the open, holding a sword. "As a matter of fact, you did," he said with menace.

"Connor?"

"Salt, meet Armand Dangerous, also known as--"

"--Paper Tiger. Yeah, I've read the file," she said as she took the man in with a practiced eye.

"A file?" said the man with a nod. "Files are always so..." he stopped, trying to think of the right word, then, "lifeless. Can I clear anything up for you?"

"Yeah- 'Dangerous?' Really? What is that? You an action movie junkie? Too many Van Damme flicks?"

"It's Danjeroos," the man said with contempt.

"Doesn't matter. I think 'Paper Tiger' is more accurate anyway," Crystal said with a dismissive wave.

The man raised an eyebrow.

Crystal just waved him forward. Pulling her gun out of her holster, she held it out to one side. "I'll toss this if you toss the sword."

Giving a slight nod, he obliged.

Tossing her gun, she held up a hand, and said, "Wait. You don't... like... turn into a dragon, or a tiger, or anything, do you?"

Cocking his head to one side, Armand said, "No. That's a very odd question, Miss Salt."

"Agent Salt. And that's my life now. I had to know." She got into a stance, and they began circling each other.

"Uh, Salt," said Connor. "I don't think you want to do this."

As they circled, she shook her head and smiled. "Hell yes, I do. I have had it up to my damned blonde roots being sidelined because of foes that turn into dragons, have electrified swords, or some other nonsense. I've been itching for a good old hand-to-hand for months. Armand here is an assassin and occasional arms dealer wanted by the Japanese, the Chinese, India, Interpol, Scotland Yard, Mossad, MI5, MI6, the Secret Service, and most of the other Alphabet Soups and foreign intelligence agencies."

"This guy's as dangerous as his name," warned Connor.

"Then make it even," offered Paper Tiger. "I'll fight you both."

"Whattaya say, Midget? You up for it?" asked Crystal.

Pulling off his shirt, Connor said, "He's not really offering a choice." Tossing the shirt, he said, "At least he's not using the sword." Joining in the circle, he waved the man forward with both hands, "Come on, brother. Bring it."

The man nodded, then smirked, and then they were all three a tangle of motion. Paper Tiger threw a powerful kick towards Connor's head which the man just managed to get an arm up to block. Crystal threw a sharp punch to Armand's jaw, but he rolled with it, then threw an elbow that connected with her chin. She connected a heel to his knee, and as he buckled, the Angry Midget ducked into his waistline, lifted, and then body slammed the assassin, immediately grappling with him on the floor, and landing a punch that bloodied his mouth. Crystal kicked at Armand's head, but connected with Connor's fist. The distraction gave Dangerous the chance to throw Connor off of him, and then he did a spin kick that knocked both opponents away, giving him time to get up. Both Connor and Salt rebounded quickly, but it was already over. Armand struck Crystal just short of the temple, knocking her out, and although he took punches to the gut and hip from Connor, he countered with one knee to the gut, the other knee to the face, and then a triple kick to the chest and face, knocking him not quite out, but down enough to not be getting up quickly.

Walking over to pick up his sword, he came back to Connor, put the tip to his chin, and said, "You're lucky, Connor. I was ready to kill you for interfering with my contract in Iraq. This was a good fight though." Picking up Connors' shirt with the end of his sword, he dropped it on the fighter's chest. "Tend to your more important fights though, if you know what's good for you."

Connor said nothing, but glared. Armand growled angrily, and kicked him in the jaw, laying him out cold. Then he walked out of the gym. "Now to find Mister Rand," he said to himself.

***

Manhattan - New York City, New York

Iron Fist stood in the middle of an ornate office that looked like it had been decorated by a wood chipper. He was just dropping Steel Serpent to the ground when a man in a pale brown costume with dark tiger stripes walked into the room, a sword unsheathed and resting on his shoulder. "Very good, Mister Rand. Just out of curiosity, how come you don't just kill him?" he asked, pointing his sword at the fallen Steel Serpent.

Fist just stared for a few seconds, then asked, "Who are you?"

"Most call me Paper Tiger. You might remember that from a recent trip you took to India. A man I was contracted to kill had fled there from Iraq, after another hero got in my way there. I have already caught up to the Angry Midget though, and squared accounts."

Iron Fist gasped. "Chris Connor? You--"

"--He's fine," assured Paper Tiger, holding up a hand to stop Fist from saying any more. "We fought. He was... challenging; even hampered by a pretty Secret Service agent. I could not let his interference go unanswered though. Or yours," he said with a shrug, pointing the sword at Fist. "Time to settle accounts, Mister Rand." With that, he drew the sword back, assuming a fighting stance.

"I don't have time for this," warned Iron Fist. "I will gladly face you at another time of your choosing, but I have to--"

"I don't care what you 'have to,' Mister Rand. You interfered with my business. Now, I'm interfering with yours. Besides," he said smiling, again pointing his sword at Steel Serpent, "he was working for me."

Danny Rand lowered into a fighting stance, and said, "Then you are my business." Stretching one hand forth, he beckoned Paper Tiger forward.

The assassin smirked, and then they threw themselves at each other. Armand slashed at Fist, and Rand smacked the flat of the blade with the back of his hand, knocking it off target. The assassin swung it back again, and Danny caught it between his palms and twisted, temporarily tying up his foe's arms as he refused to let go of the sword. It gave Danny time to spin his body upwards, kicking both feet across Paper Tiger's jaw, knocking him to the ground. The assassin did not let go of the sword though, and it cut into the heel of Danny's right hand.

Moving back quickly as Armand struggled to his feet, Danny's hand began to get warm. He looked at it as it began to glow, and the focused chi healed the cut. He sensed Paper Tiger start towards him. He heard the light swoosh of the blade through the air as he raised it to strike. His hand glowed brighter as he focused his chi, and became like unto a thing of iron.

Paper Tiger brought the sword down as Iron Fist threw his punch. Sword and fist met, and the blade shattered like glass on a wrecking ball. Armand's surprise allowed Danny the opening he needed to deliver the final blow, laying Paper Tiger out cold. He stood over the fallen assassin as the glow in his hand died down.

Suddenly, the room was swarmed by dozens of agents, and a feminine voice called out, "We'll take it from here, Mister Rand."

"Why do I wear this mask?" asked Iron Fist. Turning towards the source of the voice, he said, "Fine, Agent Salt. If not for your warning, I might not have been as ready for him anyway. How is it that you got here ahead of him?" he asked.

"We're the Secret Service, Fist. We're everywhere," she winked. Eyeing his chest, she groaned, "That symbol- you're not a dragon, are you?"

Iron Fist chuckled. "No, but I had to kill one to get my power."

Crystal looked kind of shocked, "You'll have to tell me how you did that."

Bowing slightly forward, he whispered, "He got better," and winked back.

"Hm," Crystal hummed as agents carried Paper Tiger and Steel Serpent past on stretchers. "Later, Mister Rand. Wrap it up, boys!" she ordered the men in the room, and almost as quickly as they had rushed in, they were gone, leaving Iron Fist alone in the war torn office.

Looking around the devastated room, he sighed. "It was time to redecorate anyway."

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
079Villain For Thor26222ndT+

White Lightning dropped the charred, smoking corpse of the banker he had just electrocuted for no other reason than the color of his skin. He took a sip of a clear liquid from the mason jar in his hand, and eyed the third teller. "Your turn," he sneered.

Thor was enraged as he landed, having responded to the distress call relayed from the bank to the police to Avengers Mansion. Knocking the bank doors out of their frames with one mighty blow of his fists, he roared, "What is the meaning of this!?"

"Thor!" declared White Lightning. "At last! The very symbol of the Aryan ideal! Have you come to join me on my quest to cleanse this planet of the foul waste in the human gene pool?" he asked, as he dropped to one knee, bowing before the god.

Thor raised an eyebrow. "Indeed I have," he said, motioning for the electrically powered bigot to stand. "I've only met a group with an agenda such as yours once before. They were called the Marauders, and they strove to end the 'mutie' population that swelled below these very streets."

White Lightning chuckled. "Sounds like my kind of people."

"Yes? And dost thou know what I did for their cause?" asked Thor, as he held his hammer out to his side, electricity crackling across the uru metal.

"What's that?" the man snickered.

Thor swung his hammer, caving in White Lightning's chest, and throwing him across the bank into the stone wall. As he looked on the fallen man, he seethed, "I ended it."

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
080Vampire1,03504thT+

Family Drinks

It was Halloween, it was time for me to find some blood, my family was up to their usual non-inclusive bull, and I just thought, "You know what? Enough." So I drained every last one of them like you might a twelve-pack after a shitty day of work, lopped off their heads, put them on spikes in the front yard, and handed out candy to the neighborhood kids all night, raking in the compliments on how "gross" and "lifelike" my Halloween decorations were. All of 'em: dad, stepmom, first brother, second brother, his wife, her sister (she was tasty), all five of their bratty ass kids, and that yappy little dachsund.

After all the trick-or-treaters had gone home, I siphoned the gas out of three of their vehicles, soaked said vehicles, the garage, the house, the corpses, and torched the whole shebang. Except for the heads. I left those for the cops so the bodies could be identified, because the sooner they identify them, the sooner they put the mess to bed. Oh sure, the news'll bring it up the next few Halloweens, but whatever. Maybe it's just that I'm a vampire, but I was honestly surprised that it didn't bother me. It was like just wiping away a bad memory. Even when it played all the next day on the news, I didn't regret it... much. I just turned the news off and went to the bar.

You wouldn't know the place. You know those miles of tunnels and built-over old city structure they talk about being under newer cities, where the homeless and junkies live? It's great for vampires trying to avoid the sun too. It's about two stories underneath the actual city proper, with a cop bar-and-grill at street level. So the bar I'm headed to is known to us Pipe Dwellers as Under Arrestaurant. Yeah, I know, it's terrible, but when you're living in a shithole with jerry rigged fans trying to move the air, you take your laughs where you can get 'em.

As I push through the swinging saloon-style doors and slink up to the bar, the bartender flicks his tongue and hisses amiably, "O Negative, Russsssel?" He hisses because he's a lizard man- the kind you hear about in conspiracy theories. He got his name from a comic of The Terrific Whatsit that hangs above his bar- his favorite comic character because he's a reptile like him, and a hero- the first that he knows of.

"Nah, Whatsit," I say with a wave as I reach the bar. "I'm full; killed the family last night. I'll just have a beer."

Whatsit just stares at me for a few seconds, tongue flicking in and out several times, and that scaly hide of his making his reaction inscrutable. Finally, his eyelids blink sideways, and he says, "We only have Zima."

"So you're out of beer then," I deadpan. "Just a Coke."

Whatsit puts a glass and a cold can of Coke on the bar for me, and a highball glass at the edge of his side for his tip. Both glasses are impeccably clean. How he does that in this inherently dirty atmosphere is a mystery, but not one anyone is interested in solving. I crack the top on the can, pour it into the glass, take a swig of the soda through the foam, and sit back and think about my night.

I really wish I hadn't had to kill my family. I mean, it's not like I'm going to miss them. They never called, never let me know about anything involving the kids, and were generally the least family-like family I could imagine. It was like draining any other nobodies as far as I'm concerned. Except for dad. He didn't deserve that, but he would have tried to stop me, because he was a good man like that, and I just wasn't having that last night. Plus sometimes I just get really pissed off at him for not standing up to that shrew of a second wife. Yeah, I regret killing him, but at least he'll have some peace from her now. Now, we all will. I just wish I hadn't had to kill them, because it's not the kind of vampire that I want to be. I was warned it might happen eventually though.

As I'm watching the foam finally subside in my glass, someone sits down beside me, and Whatsit slides him a drink without having to ask what he's having. "My friend," he says in some Old Country dialect that no one is quite sure of, "I see the news. You finally cut tides with family Stane. Is good." Vlad Oprica is the owner of Cafe Oprica- AKA Under Arrestaurant- and a vampire himself. Head of the Clan Oprica- all of them vampires- he's also rumored to be the one-and-only Dracula, mostly because his name is Vlad, like Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. No one knows for sure, but as I watch him concentrate on pushing plastic swords through olives, I think that maybe they're right. His son, Romulus Oprica, is my sire. Only reason he did it was because I was interested in his sister, Adriana. I never have decided whether I should thank him or not.

"It's 'cut ties,' Vlad. Ties. And yeah, I guess it is good. Beats having to watch them die off over the next few generations." I raise my glass. "To the end of family lines."

"To the end of family lies," Vlad misquotes, raising his glass.

"That too," I say, clinking his glass with mine.

"Salud," he says, and we both knock our drinks back.

"Whatsit," I say, shaking off the melancholy, "give me a Zima."

After a long, stuttering hiss that passes for Whatsit's laugh, he says, "Ssssilly Sssstane, nobody has Zima anymore. I wassss pulling your leg. "Bud Light?"

"So you really are out of beer," I deadpan again. "Another Coke."

Vlad laughs loudly. Whatsit sets up another can and a backgammon board, and Vlad and I roll the dice to see who goes first, ready to wile the night away. Nice thing about being a vampire? You get to choose your family.

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
081A Talk With the Creator2.32412ndT

The Bar

Two guys walk into a bar. One's me- a five-foot eight vampire P.I. in a red leather trench coat and hat, with a cheap dark suit underneath. The other's a six-foot something old guy with a bald head, a handlebar mustache, a tan trench coat, and a rather expensive charcoal grey suit. The bar is dark, smokey, and filled with bikers playing pool. The group of four at the table closest to the door decide our looks need rearranging, and come stalking towards us.

"You two smell like pigs," says the first as the room goes quiet. "We don't like pigs." He swings and I mist, flowing around and between the group, solidifying behind them. They're startled, but too dumb to stand down.

They turn on my companion, two of them swinging pool cues at him simultaneously. One breaks across his chest, and the other breaks across his nose. He doesn't even flinch. Instead, he grabs a fist of each biker in his hands, and just squeezes. I'm honestly not sure if it's the bones or the pool cue handles I hear splintering as they go to their knees. The bald guy snorts smoke from his nostrils without having taken a drag on anything, and then lets out an inhuman growl that causes the other two bikers to grab their companions and haul them out the door.

The rest of the bikers in the room suddenly become very interested in their games, and the room climbs back to a low buzz as they mutter to each other and start clacking balls across the tables again. I see the guy I'm looking for sitting at the bar nursing a rum and coke. I nod to the bald guy, and we head over. I stop at a respectful distance, and say, "Are you Chris Bishop?"

The guy looks tired, and rather than turn around, he just glances at us in the mirror that's behind the bar. "Who's askin'?"

"The name's Solomon Seal. I'm a P.I.," I say, tipping my hat slightly.

"Hmph," the guy chuckles. "And a vampire."

Okay, he surprised me. "How did you--"

"--And you are definitely Heironymous," he says to the suit.

"Special Agent Heironymous," he corrects. "Buy you another drink?" the special agent asks.

"Nah," he says. "I just drink the one so the bikers don't harass me."

"Why not go to another bar then?" asks the agent.

He shrugs at the mirror. "Because I thought the biker fight would be more interesting?"

"More interesting than what?" I chime in.

He finally turns towards us, but looks no more interested than before. "Would you guys really have wanted to have this chat in my bedroom?" That's when I notice the laptop sitting in front of him, the light at the top indicating that he's recording with the webcam.

I'm not really making any sense of his answer, but "Guess not," I acknowledge.

"No," confirms Heironymous. Pointing at the laptop, he adds, "You mind turning that off?"

"I do," Chris says with a firm tone. "You don't like it, there's the door." Heironymous doesn't respond. "Look, guys, this is weird, and I'm tired. What the fug do you want?"

"Heironymous hired me to find you," I say to explain my presence.

"I just have some questions," Heironymous says gruffly.

"Psht," Chris huffs. "You have questions? Kevin," he calls to the bartender as he grabs his laptop. "I'm moving to table nine. Send me an unsweet tea, will ya?"

"Sure," says Kevin, flipping him off.

Chris ignores it. "You guys want anything?"

"You got Kentucky whiskey?" Heironymous asks evenly.

The bartender nods.

"Straight double then."

Kevin nods again and grabs a bottle, and points at me.

"Manhattan," I order. "Vermouth, Kentucky whiskey," I say in deference to Heironymous, "and your choice on the rest of it."

Kevin nods, rolling his eyes when he thinks I'm not paying attention. The three of us head over to the table, and a cute redhead with "Amy" on her nametag arrives with our drinks just after we're seated. Heironymous tips her a twenty, and says, "If you see our drinks run out, bring another. Otherwise, we need a little privacy, okay?"

Amy smiles at the twenty, and winks at Heironymous as she turns to walk away. "Sure," she says over her shoulder in an almost-sultry voice. The agent pays her no mind.

"You mind if I get right to the point?" Heironymous asks Chris.

Chris sets the laptop at the end of the table against the wall, the light still shining from the camera. He smirks. "Please do. There's only a little less than two hours until my deadline."

"Deadline?" I ask.

Chris just looks at the agent. "Seriously? You didn't tell him anything?"

"What?" I ask, now completely lost.

The agent's mustache twitched, which I think was him glowering at Chris. He cut his eyes at me, then definitely glowered at Chris. Chris just looked back at him patiently, but clearly still tired. The two said nothing for a few seconds, then Chris just shrugged, and reached for a couple packets of Sweet & Low. Ripping them open, he dumped the contents into his tea, and stirred it with his straw, giving Heironymous a bored but expectant stare. "You know I'll win," he said. "Weren't you getting 'straight to the point?'" he mocked dryly.

Heironymous growled in mild frustration, then looked at me. "Solomon Seal, meet our maker."

I craned my neck back sharply. "Say what?"

"Look, we're characters. Created by this guy," he says as he points at Chris.

Chris just gives me a mirthless, closed mouth grin.

I look back at Heironymous like he's lost his mind.

"Your life's just 'one bad joke after another,'" he says, quoting me. "Before you became a vampire, how much do you recall?"

I open my mouth to answer, but close it again, looking at the ceiling as I realize I don't remember anything before Jeanine Fairchild bit me, other than vague memories of a flirty history between us.

"How many cases do you actually remember?" he asks me.

I look at the table while I wrack my brain for an answer. I can only remember hiring a few doctors to try to find a cure to vampirism, and then having to immolate them after things went south. That was over a course of months though! Between that... I look up at Heironymous. "I've got nothin'." Then I look at Chris. "What the hell?"

He just looks at Heironymous.

Knocking back his whiskey, he says, "That's pretty much where I was going to go with this too. So," he says as he leans forward slightly, "what the hell?"

Chris gets defensive. "Whattaya mean? You've had several stories!"

"The damned things are all over the place!" countered Heironymous. "First I'm an Escort for a princess in some vague location. Then I'm fighting some former president lizard man in Chicago. Then I'm in Indigo City with a partner that was never mentioned before, fighting a ninja in high tech samurai armor. Then I'm in New Vegas giving Roulette the lay of the land. Then I'm in the City of Dragons, and I'm the princess' father. Then I'm in Norfolk fighting another dragon and a jinn!"

"You forgot your fight to save Lincoln, and the excursion with the Vikings," Chris says with a smirk.

Heironymous ground his teeth so hard I could hear it from across the table. "I decided to omit the ancient history," he said testily. He calmed when Amy brought over another whiskey. "Thank you. Go ahead and bring me another, please," he requested, knocking back the second drink.

Chris shrugged. "Look, I know- your continuity doesn't flow well. You were an experiment on Comic Vine!" he protests.

Heironymous cocks his head, looking unamused. I just took a sip of my Manhattan, and listened.

Chris sighs. "At first, I wasn't going to name any of my characters. Partly because I wanted to keep my ideas to myself, and partly because it makes the writing harder. I wanted an exercise in writing without names, but eliminating 'he said/ she said' as well."

Amy brought the agent's third drink, and walked away again. Chris looked over at the bar, and Kevin was typing on his own laptop, and laughing. Chris' laptop dinged, and he checked the site he had mentioned. "Damn. He's posted again?" He looked at Kevin, the bartender laughed, and they flipped each other off. Kevin went back to typing, and Chris just shook his head.

Thinking for a few seconds, he said, "I gave that up pretty quickly, and decided to give you a name."

"Why Heironymous?" the agent asked pointedly.

"It sounded old," Chris said flatly, "like something out of Lincoln's time. Which is what I needed. And there was this story I read as a kid- my first story about dragons, I'm pretty sure- and it said that no one could ever know a dragon's true name, because then they could control it. That's been in the back of my mind, so I've always figured Heironymous probably isn't your real name."

Heironymous grunted.

"I kind of ignored your first two 'no-name' stories, and decided you'd be my crossover character. So you had stories with Terminator, Predator, Savage Dragon, some time-travelling Vikings I made up, the post-apocalyptic Fallout, the world of 5th Column Comics, and even some Real Life Super Heroes." He shrugged. "It just seemed like fun." He fidgeted nervously, then said, "But I kept thinking of bits of continuity, and I tried wedging them in there, and... agh," he trailed off in frustration. "I don't know. It's not really working. I keep thinking I need to go back and tighten it all up. Make your story your own- get rid of the crossovers that have others' copyrighted stuff, and rework them to make them all mine. I've got so much more story in mind for you."

"Do tell," said Heironymous expectantly.

Chris wagged his finger, "Now now. No spoilers."

Heironymous growled.

"Nice try though," Chris said, not worrying about the agent's frustration. Then he looked at me. "What about you?"

I just raised my eyebrows in surprise.

"Any questions?" he prompted.

I laughed. "Yeah. Lots." Taking a big gulp of my drink, I sat it aside and thought.

"Look, I'll give you two," said Chris. "The deadline's getting close, alright?"

"That deadline again. Is this a story?" I ask.

"I'm trying. One question left," he said tiredly.

"Oh, come on," I protest.

"Okay, fine," he says, waving me down. "Get on with it then."

His computer dinged, and he checked the site. He rolled his eyes, and looked across the bar. He and Kevin flipped each other off. "Guy's a damned machine," Chris muttered before looking back to me expectantly.

"Okay, why the red hat and trench coat?" I ask, waving a hand over my coat. "Kind of conspicuous for a private investigator, don't you think?"

"Yeahhh," Chris sighed. "I can't get the danged color out of my head. I haven't mentioned it in a story until now, because I'm trying to let sense win out, but I think we're going to have to go with it. In my head the tone of your stories is really a cross between Hellboy and Dick Tracy. So as much as I've tried to fight it, we might just have to roll with the matching hat and coat."

I started to say, "That's it?" but I didn't want him to count it as a question, so I just nodded instead.

"Simple as that," he answered anyway.

"Hmph," I chuckle. "Okay. Then what about my name? Why 'Solomon Seal?' Alliteration from a writer I get, but 'Seal' just seems like an odd choice." Before he can can say anything, I add, "Let me guess, you like the singer?"

He gives a non-committal look, but says, "It didn't hurt, but actually, your name has more to do with my grandmother."

"Come again?"

"She liked flowers, and often spent hours reading the dictionary. I kind of picked that habit up as part of my search for character ideas. I ran across 'Solomon's seal' in the dictionary. It's a kind of plant in the lily family, and the dictionary I had at the time described it as having 'circular scars' on the stalk, if I'm remembering it correctly." He shakes his head, and says, "Anyway, 'circular scars' made me think of 'vampire's bite,' and 'Solomon's seal' - alliterate, as you pointed out- sounded like the down-to-earth type name a private eye of the forties or fifties would have. So," he shrugged, "that's how you got to be a vampire P.I."

I grunted. "Well, how 'bout that?"

"Alright, guys, I hate to wrap this up, but time's wastin'. What's the point of all this?" he asks, finally taking a pull on his straw, draining about a third of the tea.

Heironymous knocks back his last drink, and when Amy starts over, he holds his hand up, and makes a check mark motion in the air. She nods and goes back to the bar. "I just want my damned story straightened out," he says gruffly.

"Oh, wah," says Chris. "I'll get to it, okay?"

"When?" demands Heironymous.

"When I get to it," Chris says, now clearly annoyed. "Don't make me write a mystical weapon through your heart, okay?"

The agent grunts, but decides to leave. He stands, reaching in his coat for his wallet as Amy approaches. When she gets to the table, Chris snatches the bill before Heironymous can take it. "Dude, I've got it. Your money's not real," he says, making a shooing motion.

Heironymous glowers, then nods at me before heading for the door. I look at Chris, and say, "Don't get up," before misting my way out of the booth, and falling in step behind the agent. As nights go, this has been a weird one.

CCCThemeWordcountVotesRankingRating
082Monkeys & Dragons?999n/aDisqualifiedE

Note: I wrote this as a funny segue from the previous contest. I was going to continue it with the actual story for the contest, but didn't get back to it in time. When I did the voting thread, I decided to disqualify my entry, because as is, it didn't actually meet the contest criteria.

***

The tall Special Agent with the thick, white, handlebar mustache stood at the man's desk. His name was Heironymous, and he was a dragon in human form. When he wasn't busy being a dragon, he worked for the American Secret Service, but he was super strong, could breathe fire, and pretty much nothing could hurt him. Right at that moment, an orange-haired spider monkey stood on his left shoulder, hugging his bald head, and affectionately rubbing her head against his. He was not happy. "Chris, you're kidding," he said gruffly.

"Heironymous," the man at the desk smiled, "I'm not kidding."

"I am not getting hitched to a..." the man breathed deeply as he reached up with his left hand, plucked the monkey off of his shoulder by the scruff of the neck, and held it up to the man at the desk. "To this."

"Yeah, you are," the man said, still smiling, and clearly tickled at the idea.

"Mister Bishop--" started Heironymous.

"Dad's here?" Bishop said, looking around quickly.

"--What on God's green Earth makes you even think I'm going to get married to this... clingy... little... banana peeler?" he asked with clear disdain. The monkey grabbed hold of his arm with her feet and hugged his wrist. Heironymous growled low, a slight puff of smoke coming from his nostrils.

Leaning back in his desk chair, Bishop said, "The latest contest, actually. A little girl named Emma wants a monkey to marry a dragon and have adventures, and oh... look at that... I already have a dragon." He makes an exaggerated happy-surprise face, and shrugs, pointing at Heironymous.

"You're certifiable," Heironymous complained. "You're out of your addlepated, harebrained--"

"Ah, ah, ah!" tsked Bishop, wagging his finger. "This story's for kids. Keep it nice."

Heironymous' mustache twitched. "Chris Bishop, what do I care about some girl named Emma that I've never met? Girls..." he made a face as he realized what he was about to say. He was clearly struggling with himself not to say it, but as Chris typed away on his computer, he muttered, "Girls smell funny."

"BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAA!" bellowed Chris. "We are going to have so much fun!"

"Why?" asked Heironymous sternly. "Why would you make me do this?"

"Because Emma's the daughter of a friend of mine, and I like her."

Heironymous snorted like he didn't care.

"She takes great pictures," said Chris, turning his laptop towards Heironymous. The Internet was on, and he had pulled Facebook up to the screen.

Heironymous made a dismissive puffing sound. Looking at Chris' Facebook, he saw pictures that Emma's dad had posted. He started to smirk at the cute little girl as he sat down across from his writer, but then pushed the laptop away so he could continue scowling grumpily instead.

"She knows a martial art." Chris nodded at Heironymous, knowing this would be something that he liked.

Heironymous raised an eyebrow at that, smiling in approval, despite his best efforts to hide it.

"And all she wants is a story about a monkey that marries a dragon, and has adventures with fairies and stuff."

Heironymous sat in the chair, stubbornly quiet, clearly trying to come up with a reason why he shouldn't do this.

"Commme onnn, Heironymous," Chris said playfully. "You know you want to do something nice for the girllll."

The Secret Service agent who was really a dragon drummed his fingers on the arms of the chair. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, crossing first his right leg over the left, then his left leg over the right, then putting both feet firmly on the floor. He growled. He threw his hands up in the air. He banged a fist on Chris' desk, leaving a dent. He blew smoke from his nostrils again. Finally, he leaned forward, and said, "Why should I?"

"You know how you've been wanting me to straighten out your stories?" asked Chris.

"What!" barked Heironymous. "You're going to hold my stories hostage? What kind of writer are you?"

"The kind that can straighten out your stories, and maybe make you into something worth reading." Chris sniffed as he looked off to one side, and added, "Provided you first get married to a monkey and have an adventure."

"Oh, come on!" bellowed Heironymous. "That's not going to help my continuity at all! And you know it!"

Chris shrugged, looked at Heironymous like he was dumb, and said, "That's why I fix your stories after you marry the monkey and have an adventure." He rolled his eyes, and added, "Duh."

Heironymous' shoulders sagged in defeat. "Fine. I guess she is kind of cute."

Chris perked up happily. "The monkey?"

"The girl!" Heironymous yelled.

"So you'll do it?" Chris beamed happily. "As if I didn't know," he added cheekily.

"Yes, fine, I'll do it," Heironymous said. "I'll marry the monkey."

Chris clapped happily.

Thrusting his finger towards the writer, Heironymous said, "But no long, silly wedding scene, and we better have a grandadventure!"

"Agreed!" said Chris, standing up and holding out his hand to the dragon in the shape of a man. "Let's get started!"

Heironymous stood and shook Bishop's hand. "Fine. Let's do that," he said.

"See? That wasn't so hard," said Chris. "Aren't you sorry you said that girls smell funny?"

"You made me say it!" Heironymous accused the writer.

Quickly closing his laptop so it would turn off, Chris said, "No. No, I didn't. That wasn't me. You can't prove it." He scratched the back of his neck nervously while he tried to think of something to change the subject. Finally, he shrugged, opened the laptop back up, and started to type.

"By the way," said Heironymous, "as long as I'm getting married to the little varmint, does this monkey have a name?"

"Oh, heh-heh, yes," Chris laughed nervously. "It's, uh... Swingy-Dingy," he said quickly, then bent very close to his computer screen while he typed.

Heironymous' mustache twitched again, and then his eye. "WHHHAAAAAAT?!" he roared in anger.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my entries. Participate in the next Character Creation Contest- we always love having another writer compete! -cb :^D

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*This was posted 03/20/18. The earlier date at the top of the blog comes from this being a recycled blog page. -cb

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