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Thread: War of the Dimensions

  1. #11
    Inceptor
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
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    16

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    War of the Craigs!

    "Sorry Inky,” Craig said as he wiped his hands on the front of his tunic. He surveyed the damage to McDonald Park - only a small grove of trees: less than usual. “I’m afraid I busted your cosmic nano-bot death machine. It’s now a cloud of sub-atomic particles bound for the sun.” He huffed, bending over to catch his breath, while the cosmic imp (and prankster supreme) fumed. “Superscience really isn’t your style.”

    “What do you know about style, you Maple Leaf maroon!” the imp bellowed. At 3’0” and dressed like a devil clad in a blue coat, green vest, and blue beret, his anger was a comical sight, at least until you considered what he was capable of doing to you.

    “Please. I root for the Canucks, not the Leafs.” Craig said, wincing.

    “They’re both losers!” Incubus declared. Craig, still catching his breath, ignored him.

    “Okay, let me figure this out,” he puffed. “Yesterday you hit me with the anti-Thundrax brigade and Omnicross the null energy squid. And so far today, I’ve beaten your Jello monster with the voice of Bill Cosby, the giant thunder-crushing truck, and that troupe of super-powered penguins…”

    “Not just any penguins, jackass!” Incubus raged. “Penguins of death! The Penguins Delorum!
    Do you know how much qubbitzium those cost me? Jerk!”

    “Sorry,” Craig shrugged. “I stand corrected. The penguins of death. And the Quasarian Unlife machine.” Thundrax tallied the evening’s combats. He had been even busier than usual!

    "You forgot the giant kangaroo.” The imp protested.

    “Well to be honest, I thought the Balmy Boxing Behemoth was beneath you,” Craig said. “Now can we call it a rest for today? Please?”

    “You’re begging for mercy?” Incubus gasped.

    “I kinda am, yeah,” Craig admitted. “Not out of fear mind you, just fatigue. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired as all get go. I’ve had a rough week, and this hasn’t been the best time for our nonsense. Can we save the next romp for another day? I’ll even say please.”

    “Oooooo!” Incubus shouted, jumping up and down with rage. “I hate you, Thundrax!”

    Craig Carson shook his head, examined the surroundings – not too much damage, for a change -- and looked down on his foe. He was the most powerful of his enemies - virtually omnipotent in fact - and certainly the most annoying. Though Incubus never fought him directly. He always carried the fight against Craig via intermediaries, or with odd transformations, and for his part, Craig had never thrown a punch at the guy. It was almost like play-fighting.

    “Fine,” the hero said. “We’re not best buds. But surely you can wait a few days before the next challenge? Think up a really good one for next time.”

    “I could destroy the earth!” Incubus exclaimed.

    “Oh don’t do that again. That’s just garish.” Craig moaned. “You’re not a common thug, you know. Destroying the earth is so.... Doctor Destroyer!”

    The imp stewed in the face of defiance, crept close to Craig, and poked at his chest with an index finger.

    “You laughing at me? You think this is some sorta game?”

    “Is it?” Craig asked, throwing the question back in the imp’s face.

    “This ain’t over, bub.” Incubus said. “Don’t think it’s over!”

    Craig burst out into a chorus of “We’ve Only Just Begun”. The imp’s beret briefly blew upwards, accompanied by a steam whistle, and his head turned such a shade of red that he might briefly be confused with the Warmonger.

    “Sorry,” Craig said. “But surely you can do something more constructive with your powers than pestering a second rate Canuck.”

    “Constructive?!” Incubus spat. “Why you jerk! Are you trying to reform me?! Me!! The archvillain of the cosmos?”

    “It was only a suggestion.” Craig said.

    “Jerk!” the imp repeated and, thoroughly humiliated, Incubus retreated back to his thinking dimension in a puff of smoke. Craig exhaled in frustration and relief. Of all the weeks to be pestered by him, he thought. Then he, too, returned to his daily routine, unaware that Incubus had decided to spy on his enemy.

    “Your secrets are mine, Faildrax!” Incubus chortled. “You’re history!”

    Craig continued his talk, unaware he was being observed. “And if our asteroid miner launches on schedule...”

    “Come on!” Incubus said. “Get to the good stuff!”

    Twenty minutes later...

    “And our third quarter profit in the oil sector is up 2.3% over last year due to our new drill bit, against an operational expense of 3.2 ...”

    “Hey chump! How about some news I can use!” Incubus howled.

    Two hours later...

    “And our expenses for our homeless fund in Westside here are up 3.9%...”

    “GAK!” Incubus screamed, his eyes literally bleeding from staring at charts.

    “We’re proud of Flux-Carson’s benevolent work, especially with young paranormals. They are truly the future of this great metropolis. But for now, let’s turn things over to Mary. Mary, what’s the status of our orbital railgun satellite launcher...”

    Six hours later, after the third droning business meeting, Incubus was ready to blow up a building. He turned off his Cosmic Camera in disgust. “That jerk must have known I was watching. Why else would he lead such a boring life? I’ll have to go to other means to find out everything I need to know to defeat this chump. I know – comic books! They ain’t boring, and they’ll tell me everything! Everything’s always right in comic books!”

    And so, the diminutive cosmic villain headed for the closest local comic book shop. Ignoring a nerd who was dressed in a god-awful imitation of Defender and was making the lamest anti-geek parody jokes imaginable, Incubus looked for the Thundrax comics. He found a gold leaf anniversary issue with Thundrax vs. Thundrax on the cover. A light-bulb went off over his head, literally.

    “I know!” Incubus exclaimed. “I’ll put Thundrax up against a more powerful version of himself! He’ll never be able to win that fight!” He turned to the shopkeeper. “Yo! Nerd boy! Get your head out of your mom’s basement and answer some questions.”

    “What!” the neckbeard answered, annoyed.

    “What comic has the most powerful version of Thundrax?”

    “Pretty sure that’s gotta be Anime Thundrax. The real Thundrax can only lift a few hundred tons, but anime Thundrax was able to push the earth out of the way of Dr. Ultimate Destructor’s cosmic nova matter train, then pushed the train into a black hole. And then there was Dr. Make War, Not Love’s planet cruncher, which had to weigh…”

    “That’s perfect!” Incubus declared. “I’ll take the entire collection!”

    “We don’t have all the issues,” the comic store owner protested, only to find a stack of the requested manga next to him. They were marked “free to Incubus”. The owner shrugged, decided that incurring the wrath of comic devils was not in his job description, and stuffed them all in a big paper bag adorned with a picture of Ironclad.

    “Yuck!” Incubus said. “What an uggo. Why couldn’t it have been Sapphire?”

    “Ran out of both Sapphire and Witchcraft,” the clerk said, stuffing the bag. “It was either him or Kinetik. And no one chooses Kinetik.”

    “Fine!” And Incubus chuckled to himself. “The big lug won’t know what hit him. This time there’s no escape.”

    And so, Incubus read the entire collection. Five times. “Who would have known that Thundrax came from the Planet Thundraxia!” he told himself as he read his origin yet again. “The noive of that guy! He ain’t even human! Oh well, that’s gotta beat coming from Vancouver!”

    With that, the imp reached his hand into the page and seized hold of the hero as he was doing his daily routine of flexing.

    “Hey!” the Thundraxian shouted. “Exercise is the route that takes us closest to human perfection, our attempt to approach the divine. When you interrupt that, you interrupt my search for the divine, and the thing that makes human beings greater than our mortal selves.”

    “Huh?” Incubus wondered.

    “Though it may tax me beyond limit, still I will tap into the infinite power of the human spirit and become greater than I’ve ever been. For the indignity of interrupting my daily prayer, you shall receive the ultimate punishment. Canadian Rocky Avalanche pun—!!”

    "Wait!” Incubus shouted, throwing up his hands. “I called you here for help!”

    The Thundraxian sighed, in the most manly way possible, and continued to drone. He placed his huge hand on Incubus’s shoulder. “Oh, my friend!” he exclaimed. “If only you learned to help yourself and embrace the ways of peace and beauty, what a better world this would be! For what greater cause is there than this? And what more honorable cause is there to fight for than peace! This is why I hone my body into the ultimate weapon, to aid with all my unmatched might to bring beauty, truth and justice into a world that others would make ugly!”

    “Jeez,” Incubus muttered. “Maybe I shoulda summoned Silver Age Thundrax instead.” He turned to the hero,who was still soliloquizing as he posed, the aura of muscle and truth flaring about his body. “Look pal, there’s an evil Thundrax running around here, and only you can stop him.”

    “Oh?” the Thundraxian said, removing his hand to scratch his chin. His eyes widened to an impossible width. Even Incubus found it disconcerting. “What proof do you have of this?” the Thundraxian said.. “Because it is the way of evil to deceive men’s minds, and trick the champions of truth and brotherhood so they wage heinous wars against each other, in which only the innocent suffer! How wrongly have evil-doers attempted to turn my matchless might into a weapon against good, not realizing that the ultimate superhuman victory move is… love!”

    As discretely as possible, Incubus turned around, pulled out a vomit bag and emptied the contents of his stomach in a long unending stream. “Uh, he paints his toenails?” he finally said.

    “The monster!” Manga Thundrax exclaimed. Incubus turned to the side and chortled. He had the chump. Composing himself, he turned to the anime bruiser.

    “And he’s defaming the good name of Thundrax. Why he’s claiming he’s not even from Thundraxia!” Incubus declared.

    “Then he must be an impostor, and must be dealt with!” The Thundraxian roared. So much for his talk of peace and love. Or pretty much any part of his previous soliloquy.

    “You better follow me,” Incubus said, still chortling. Oh, this was going to be sooooo good!

    -------------
    Craig Carson tried to relax in his jacuzzi, struggling to enjoy the early autumn day in Millennium City. He was, despite the very welcome diversion that Incubus had provided, in a melancholy mood, and the aloneness of the world acerbated the feeling. He had lost people that he loved in the worst way possible, and felt a bit of a wall rise between himself and the people who still remained. He wanted to be alone, but he knew that was the worst thing he could do. On such days, the actions of a cosmic imp, comically overreaching in vengeance, were far better than quietly brooding alone with his thoughts. His thoughts were crueler.

    Incubus sometimes put him through Hell. But it was a better Hell than the one he was currently living in.

    And suddenly, there was a poof, and Incubus appeared next to… Thundrax?!

    The new Thundrax’s eyes quite literally bulged out of their sockets, and strange lines and an exclamation point appeared above his head. Craig’s (that is to say, the original’s) mouth dropped, though not in a comically anime exaggeration.

    “I finally found someone who can beat you!” Incubus announced. He grabbed Craig by the ankle and yanked him out of the water to display his foot. “See! Painted toenails!”

    “Incubus, would you mind not dunking me in my own home!” Craig snapped. He looked up at the new Thundrax, who was scowling at him. “So what dimension did you pluck this guy from?”

    “Would you mind explaining your painted toenails?” the Thundraxian growled.

    “Uh sure. It was pretty stupid though. A college prank that Ravenspeaker pulled in the late 80s back when we dormed at UBC,” Thundrax explained. ”I got drunk at a kegger, and I made a homophobic slur at some guy in a pink tank top. It wasn’t my proudest moment – I was a really dumb kid – and Billy rightly decided to teach me a lesson.”

    “By painting your toenails?” the Thundraxian asked skeptically.

    “We were dumb!” Craig shrugged. “Really dumb! But I learned a lesson that I needed to learn. I needed to learn tolerance. It’s not enough just to help people, you need to be a better person, a good example.”

    “Shame! Shame!” the Thundraxian tsked.

    “Yeah,” Craig admitted. “I was awful. You can’t save the world with hate. We need to hold ourselves to the highest standards. Even a hint of prejudice makes you unworthy to wear the uniform.” He pinched the uniform and shook his head at the memory. How dumb he’d been! And he couldn’t even lay that one on Avenger or Billy - he was the owner of his own dumbness. He turned to the Thundraxian. Was he letting a dislike of the clones he’d met affect his view of the man?

    “Okay, buster. Now, assuming you’re a magical duplicate, clone, or dimensional doppleganger, you’re also me. So feel free to change into your swimsuit and join me in the tub, and we’ll talk through whatever issue you have with me. Unless you’re really jonesing for a fight, which is pretty much par for the course for the week I’ve had.”

    “Oh, if only you would embrace the ways of peace and kindness, and forsook the path of violence for violence’s sake, what a better world this would be!” the Thundraxian lamented. “Oh this is madness, yet there is method behind it. Evil method! Would that I was not fated to pit my matchless strength against such unworthy foes!”

    “Hey! Who are you calling “unworthy”?” Craig asked. “Inky, where the hell did you dig this guy up?”

    “Thundrax, meet anime Thundrax!” Incubus announced. Craig facepalmed. Then he looked up at the Thundraxian, and he double face palmed.

    “Of course,” Craig sighed. “Who else could it be?” He had read the man’s adventures in the manga Max had given him years earlier. They were ludicrous, bordering on the insane. The planet Thundraxia? The thundering moose magnet? Restoring his lost powers by eating timbits? Taking the thunder train from earth to the thunder asteroid? And those villains! Crazy Love… Brutality Beaver…. Maniacal Mind and Manic Mind… Hell, Dr. Destructor, a thinly disguised Albert Zerstoiten clone with a penchant for creating monsters of madness, was the most normal of the lot!

    “This guy moves whole planets!” Incubus shouted gleefully. “There ain’t no way you’re going to defeat this Grade-A specimen of strength and storm!”

    Craig turned and examined his doppleganger, who was grinning like a sheepdog and flexing.

    “Tell you what,” Craig said. “Why don’t we have ourselves a little competition? Instead of the usual lame-ass fight scene, let’s compete against each other in a little decathlon of superheroics instead. Ten events, and whoever scores the most points gets to keep the name Thundrax. We each choose five events, my AI scrambles them and announces them at random. He serves as a neutral referee. Are you game?”

    “I never refuse a challenge. For it is only by challenging ourselves, our cunning minds, our matchless strength, our endless capacity for compassion that we…”

    “Great!” Craig said, interrupting his soliloquy. “So it’s Thundrax vs. Thundrax! May the best vessel of the Living Thunder win!”

    “This is going to be sooo good,” Incubus chortled. “I’ve really got the bum this time!”

    --------------------------------
    The two Thundraxs settled outside Craig’s ranch in Niagara. It was a quiet late summer/early autumn evening, and the air was finally cooling. Kivioq announced the first competition through his comm.

    “You’re history, you big dork!” Incubus said. “I’ve got you by the short hairs this time, Carson!” Craig just shook his head and stared at his opponent, who was still wearing an “I’m really happy and I’m really dumb” sort of grin. Is this idiot really me? Craig wondered.

    “The first event is flexing.” Kivioq announced. “Gentlemen, lose your shirts!”

    “This is pretty ridiculous,” Craig said, removing his shirt and going into a double bicep flex. “After all, we have the same height and physique. This has gotta be a draw…” and then Craig’s jaw dropped as muscle lines exuded behind the Thundraxian, and he glowed with an anime muscle glow. Lightning bolts flashed around the flexing behemoth.

    Ultra-muscle thunderstorm!!!” the Thundraxian shouted, in a voice like He-Man on the old cartoons, but much much manlier. And he grew two feet and became very, very, massive. His pecs and biceps swelled, making Craig look like the proverbial 98-pound weakling by comparison. If there had been any sand on his property, it would have been kicked in Craig’s face. And suddenly bikini-clad women appeared at the swole brute’s feet, kneeling and worshiping him.

    ”Oh, for pity’s sake.” Craig moaned. Talk about overkill!

    “Round one to the Thundraxian!” Incubus said, and he stuck out his tongue at the annoyed Craig.

    “And for the second event…” Kivioq announced. “Junior auxiliary sidekicks!”

    “Huh?” Craig asked. “But I don’t have….”

    Almost immediately the Thundraxian popped up a gizmo on his wrist and bellowed into a communicator. “Junior Thunder Corps assemble!”

    Suddenly a portal opened in the field, and out stepped five masked kids in very odd uniforms, emblazoned with lightning bolts. “Reporting for duty, sir!” they proclaimed with one voice.

    “Junior Thunder Cadet Thunderbird, report!” one shouted.

    “Junior Thunder Cadet Thunderblade, report!” shouted the second.

    “Junior Thunder Cadet Thunderbolt, report!” shouted the third.

    “Junior Thunder Cadet Thunderhammer, report!” shouted the fourth.

    “Junior Thunder Cadet Thunderstorm, report!” shouted the fifth.

    “Together we are the Lightning and the Storm!” they shouted together, making some odd motions like a martial arts kata. “Junior Thunderforce team, go!”

    “Who forms the head?” Craig wondered aloud.

    “Well done, pupils!” the Thundraxian shouted, and he dismissed the teens back to their home dimension. He turned to Craig, smirking. Do I really have that smug expression? he wondered.

    “Your turn,” the extra-dimensional challenger said, patting him on the chest.

    “Kivioq, put me through to the Progeny,” Craig said, calling the Protectors’ teenage affiliate team, who were under the tutelage of Razira and Captain Adamant . He heard a click as a connection was made. There was what sounded like party music in the background. Thump. Thump. Thump.

    “Hello, Lash speaking,” Lash was a young girl, a spitfire known for her not-always-cooperative attitude. Among other things. “Um, who is this?” she asked.

    “This is Thundrax.” Craig said.

    “Oooo! Oooo! How are you doing, Mr. Carson?” he heard Terrific Tiger’s voice in the background, followed by a shushing sound.

    “How can the Progeny help you, Mr. Carson?” Lash asked, a little more mellow than usual.

    “Well, I kinda need you to make an appearance at my penthouse. It’s a little competition….”

    “Umm, is this a life and death situation?” Lash asked. “Like, is anyone in real danger? Or is this just fake danger?”

    “Lash!” Tiger objected, and he was shushed again.

    “HANK! REALLY! FOR PETE’S SAKE! I am NOT interrupting the last party of the summer just for this jerk. He never spends any time with us… why should we do him a solid?” she spat at her teammate, then switched to a more subdued tone of voice to speak to Craig. “Well, sir?”

    Craig sighed. “I guess it’s not really important,” he said. “You just have a good time, okay kids?”

    “Look what a villain just “gave” me!” shouted Kid Ballistic. “I call her Tilly!”

    Bang! Bang! Bang!

    “ARGH! Knock it off Sid! You’’re scaring Miss Pussycakes!”

    The line was disconnected without even a goodbye. Craig lowered his head in defeat. The worst part about it was that she was absolutely right, Craig never did spend time with the kids. The Thundraxian again performed his victory flex, complete with his muscle halo. Craig’s jaw dropped. He was clearly in the presence of a flexing master. If he could be as flexible in sex as he was in showing off his muscles... no Craig, don’t go there, he thought.

    “Round two to me!” the living embodiment of flexing and more flexing shouted.

    “Yay!” Incubus cheered. “Ha ha, you jerk!” Craig fumed, and muttered obscenities under his breath.

    “Third event: Man’s best friend!”

    Craig nodded, and they moved to a section of the ranch where Craig’s German Shepherd Hobo was playing in the field, or would have been if he hadn’t been busy sniffing for rabbits. He looked up at the two Craigs and was indeed bewildered. Two masters? Does this mean twice as much food?

    “Here boy! Here boy!” Craig called out. Hobo turned his head, looking at his master. This one was in the bag.

    “Uh, come here, dog,” the Thundraxian stammered. He was not at all good with animals. But then again, when a huge juicy porterhouse steak suddenly appears in your hand – courtesy of a butcher named Incubus – you don’t need to be very good. Hobo turned and bounded at the other Carson as if he were Ryan O’Neil in Love Story.

    “Betrayed by my own dog!” Craig spat bitterly as Hobo, in the highest of the high heavens – “Dog with a steak” heaven – rapturously savored his prize.

    “Ha! Ha! Ha!” Incubus guffawed once again, merrily. “The score is My Boy 3, Loser zippo!

    “No more interference, or the bet’s off.” Craig snapped.

    “But I’m having so much fun cheating!” Incubus protested. Craig stood his ground, scowling, interrupted by the shirtless Thundraxian yet again flexing. Lightning appeared behind him, making a dramatic silhouette.

    “I guess even an animal knows the genuine article,” the Thundraxian said, still flexing his plump muscles. “For it is the simple creatures of this world that most relish the brutal yet refreshing honesty that an honorable soul brings to life, sensing in their innate being the honor that is in the heart of champions, honor that keeps us pressing onward in the bleakest…”

    “Shuuut uuup!” Craig snapped intensely. “Okay Kivioq, what’s the next event?”

    “Event four: Feats of strength.” The AI announced.

    The pair relocated to the ranch’s gymnasium, where Craig’s cosmic weights were currently being stored. He had obtained them from a cosmic gym long ago. While most of them had been dissected in the name of science, a few of them had been left intact for Craig to use in training. He could alter the gravity field around the weights so they effectively weighed thousands of tons, more than his capacity to lift. Craig, still shirtless and in full vascular splendor, started near his limit, just over 500 tons.

    “Your turn,” he huffed, slapping the Thundraxian on the back. The other Craig smiled and set himself into position.

    Atomic Thunder Strength!” he shouted. “Maximum Muscle!” And, after a long series of special effects marking the transformation, accompanied by a pulsing theme song, the Thundraxian pressed well over ten thousand tons overhead, crying: “Supreme Thunder Strength Omega!” An omega symbol flashed in the air. overlaid on the man’s Promethean form.

    “What the Hell--” Craig stammered, dismayed and yet a little bit impressed.

    “Not bad!” the Thundraxian smiled, and he sniffed the air. “Ah, the pungent smell of manly sweat! Truly the perfect tonic. Bracing, is it not, worthy but overmatched opponent?”

    “Stupid overpowered over the top anime...” Craig muttered to himself.

    Incubus again roared with laughter. “Hey Craig-o, how about changing your name to Captain Loser? Or Thunder Failure?”

    Craig was in the blackest of black moods. “Next event.” Craig growled, ignoring the taunt.

    “Event five: Thunder Control.” Kivioq announced.

    The result was the same. Craig had just begun exploring uses for his thunder powers in the last three years, whereas the Thundraxian had “Glorious Thunder Gamma” and “Stormwatch Hyperstorm” modes. Surrounded by storm and fury, the dimensional storm star lit up the region as everyone from Millennium all the way to Toronto was treated to one of the most spectacular lightning displays they had ever seen, punctuated with anime Thundrax signing “the Real Thundrax” with his final bolts as the storm ebbed.

    “5-0.” The Thundraxian chortled, high-fiving Incubus and flexing. “It’s a good effort, Mr. Painty Toes,” he told Craig patronizingly. “But when it comes to matchless might, my heart and my muscles have no rivals across the dimensions. That is the way of peace, and all good...”

    “Let’s just finish this.” Craig groaned.

    “One more victory,” Incubus rubbed his hands gleefully. “One more, and no more Thundrax, Carson!”

    “We’ll see,” Craig snapped back at the imp.

    “Next event: wrestling!” Kivioq announced.

    “Oh great!” the flexing behemoth gave it an extra flex. “MY event.”

    “Not without a fight, Blundrax.” Craig smirked, using one of his old villains’ favorite put downs. His event, ha!

    “Bah!” Incubus blurted.

    They moved the competition to the big ring at Carl’s in Millennium. The Thundraxian donned a costume that resembled a posing pouch or a jock strap more than actual tights. Craig simply shrugged and changed into his own pair of skimpy wrestling trunks.

    “Destroy him, Thundraxian!” Inky shouted. He pulled out a folding steel chair and handed it to the confused Thundraxian. He set it down and invited Incubus to sit down. The imp facepalmed.

    “Guess the big schmuck ain’t seen real wrestling.” Incubus muttered.

    The two men locked up, the Thundraxian’s supreme confidence matched only by Craig’s supreme determination. The ring thundered as they tossed each other around like ragdolls, Atomic Thunder Driver! Jet Turbo Rocket Spin! Manitoba Grizzly Bear Chinlock! Paladin Superplex from the top rope! Moss Handled Three Handed Family Gradunzle! The word epic did not begin to describe the match.

    The Thundraxian was winded by the third hour. He was not used to wrestling such a skilled opponent – he easily outclassed Craig in strength, but not in focus, skill, or endurance. By the fourth hour he was badly sucking wind – and that’s when Craig knew that he had him. Spitefully, after five defeats and a dog betrayal (no more snacks for you this week, Hobo!), Craig sadistically prolonged the punishment. Moose stampede lariat! Tasmanian Torture Rack! Kermode Bearhug! Tokyo Monster Neckbreaker! Spider-King backbreaker! Indomitable Armbar!

    “You give up?” Craig asked, finally locking his opponent’s legs in the dreaded Cloverdale Cloverleaf with a BC Dogwood deathlock twist.

    The Thundraxian screamed and cried a river of anime tears.

    “I said, do you wanna give up?” Craig repeated

    “Are you kidding?” the Thundraxian replied between sobs. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years! What a match!!” And then he started bawling again.

    Craig almost laughed. His opponent meant it too! After all, he was still Craig Carson at the core of his anime being, and loved a good fight. So Craig continued to give the big guy the time of his life, torturing him for another twenty minutes, grinning now that it was his turn to beat up Incubus’s champion. The cosmic imp was hysterical, openly sobbing.

    “My monster! My monster!” he lamented. “I shoulda grabbed Goku! What was I thinking?!”

    Craig finally set his exhausted opponent on his back, rested a pinky finger on the Thundraxian’s massive pecs, and pinned him for the three count. The anime hero’s eyes were replaced with x’s, and his tongue stuck out of his mouth. He moaned from the beating.

    “I guess this is my comeback,” the hero said. “Next competition?”

    “Uh, wrestling again.” Kivioq said. “I guess you both picked it!”

    “Not again!” Incubus moaned. Anime Thundrax hardly had a chance to recover from the previous beating, and Craig knew it.

    “Oh well,” Craig grinned, and he grabbed the Thundraxian and tortured him for an additional two hours before ending his screaming and crying by pinning him again. The challenger returned to his dressing room, coming out in a full body cast. “Guess I’m on a roll.” Craig said.

    “Oh no you don’t,” Incubus yelped, handing the Thundraxian a vial labeled “super thunder recovery tonic”. “Not against the rules,” Incubus snorted as the other Craig flexed out of his bandages. “Not on the list of banned substances.” Non-anime Craig shot the imp a dirty look that could’ve slain Grond on the spot. “He still needs just one more victory, loser,” the imp chortled.

    “Event Eight: Charity work,” Kivioq said.

    “Who thought up that stupid category?!” Incubus complained. Craig grinned.

    The two men gathered to have a contest to do good deeds. Craig picked up his phone and made a call. Meanwhile, the Thundraxian flew outside and came back with a kitten in his arms. “Rescued this cat from a tree,” he said, holding up a very annoyed black Persian short-hair. Craig scratched it on its head. “What did you do?” the Thundraxian asked.

    “Donated thirty million to the Millennium children’s fund.” Craig answered.

    “Winner: Thundrax!” Kivioq declared, not hiding his satisfaction at the outcome. The Thundraxian lowered his head in defeat, and then was surprised when Craig slung a big arm around his doppelganger’s shoulders.

    “Actually, Kivioq,” he said, “that one was a draw. No act of kindness, no matter how small, should make any man a loser.” He chuckled. “Especially helping out such a darling little frisky kitty. You’re a winner in my book, Craig. Not to mention a heckuva wrestler.”

    “Aw…” the Thundraxian said, blushing. And when anime characters blush, they really blush.

    “But Craig, if that competition’s a draw, it’s mathematically Impossible for you to win the contest!” Kivioq exclaimed.

    “Then I guess the big guy here is Thundrax.” Craig shrugged. “Your work’s done here, pink toes,” he told the man. “Now go home and be the best Thundrax you can be!”

    “Golly,” the Thundraxian said. “I guess the lesson we can learn today is that, no matter what the color of your toenails, men of peace and brotherhood can unite to overcome the forces of darkness! Men of might and good intention can crush even the wickedness of this cruel world gone mad…”

    “Shuddup, you bum!” Incubus said, and he shoved the Thundraxian through the suddenly reopened portal, still soliloquizing.

    “Bye!” Craig said. “Thanks for everything Thundrax!”

    “You got bigger fish to fry.” Incubus said. “You have to pick a new name now that you can’t be Thundrax anymore. Now what’s it going to be, Craig-o? I suggest Loser McChumpStain.”

    “Nope. I’m still Thundrax!”

    “What!” Incubus shouted. “You gave your word! We had a deal!”

    “The deal was the winner would keep the name. We said nothing about the loser losing the name.”

    “But—but.”

    “Never assume. Inky.” Craig said. “Because you make an ass of you and me!”

    “Why you smug bastard!” Incubus roared, so angry he was unable to think of anything horrible to turn him into. “You out-weaseled me! You got anything else to say, Carson?”

    “Yeah, I got one more thing to say.” Craig replied. “The most important thing I’ve ever said to you, so listen carefully.”

    “Oh yeah? What’s that?” Incubus snapped.

    “Two words. Thank. You.” Thundrax said. Incubus’s jaw dropped. “Inky, I’ve had one of the worst weeks of my life,” Craig explained. “I lost a very old friend in the worst possible way imaginable.” He shook his head, remembering Rory, remembering how the elder worms had warped the man who set him on the path of justice long ago, transforming him into a monster. He could perpetuate Rory’s legacy, not by wallowing in self-pity, but by being kind in his place. He set a hand on the imp’s shoulder. “All this silliness was the best distraction I could hope for. I’ve been through Hell this week. You kept me from drowning in pain and suffering. And if I’m to learn anything from “Manga Thundrax”, it’s not to take myself so damn seriously. The guy was a riot. I owe you a lot for that, Inky.”

    “I helped you?” Incubus asked.

    “You sure did.” Craig grinned. “Once again. thanks man. From the bottom of my heart.”

    “Golly,” Incubus said, shocked. He should be mad at his archenemy, but suddenly all that anger had evaporated. No one quite had mood swings like Incubus.

    “You know, you’re a pretty good friend, all things considered.”

    “Uh, gee Thundrax, no problem, I guess…”

    “Now if you could head back to your home dimension, I probably should be alone. Figuring my next move, getting back in the fight. I’ve had it rough lately, I need to pick myself off the floor. But you and I aren’t finished. Think of something special for the next time we have one of our romps.”

    “Uh, sure,” Incubus said, and he vanished.

    Craig Carson sat alone in his apartment, listening to the quiet, struggling to find peace. He’d have to rejoin the Protectors soon of course. His battle had not ended. But a few moments of peace and solitude at the right moment, that was something that made life worth living.

    And Craig couldn’t help himself. He flexed into a mirror, a double bicep pose, then burst into laughter and a badly sung chorus of “We are the Champions”.
    Last edited by Thundrax; 05-20-2018 at 09:16 AM.

  2. #12
    Inceptor
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    16

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    The Return of Vanguard

    July 18, 1992. Jeffrey Sinclair felt the ground beneath his feet congeal as Binder’s glue gun ensnared him. “Finally,” the young villain snapped. “We’ve brought the high and mighty Vanguard down to earth at last. Take him ‘Star!”

    “My pleasure,” Blackstar growled, and he closed with the titan. He landed three punches on the hero, but the man in red shrugged them off, and blocked the fourth even with his hands bound in a globule of glue. Blackstar was strong and tough, but he was no…. Vanguard.

    “Pour it on, Ultimates!” Binder shouted, and the team laid waste to the hero of heroes with a desperate display of powers. Vanguard grunted.

    “It’s not that easy, gentlemen.”

    “Safeties off…” Black Arc said, and the skies lit up around him, and then darkened. However there was something else in the air, something hostile to everyone in the area. Blackstar yelped like a scalded dog. Above them, dwarfing them in a spectacular vortex, the sky congealed around them. The battling superhumans found them surrounded by an impossible funnel cloud, and purple and blue bolts lightning was dancing everywhere. And the sky screamed.

    “Get us out of here!” Binder shrieked. Frightened out of their wits by the sudden storm, yet reacting with an envious level of training, the Ultimates quickly engaged their teleport protocols, fleeing the rapidly growing energy maelstrom as quickly as tech would allow them.

    “What about him,” Blackstar yelled, pointing at Vanguard.

    “Leave him!” Binder crowed, and they faded from view. The world around Vanguard became even more volatile.

    “You pack of rats,” Vanguard sighed.

    The teleport went awry, scattering the villains to the four winds, but the energy storm focused and in intensified on its center, on Vanguard.

    Then the sky shuddered, and Jeff found himself on a strange pavement, cracked in the ruin of the storm. His first thought was that someone tried to kidnap him, again. But who? Then the mightiest man on earth picked himself off from the ground, brushed himself off and muttered the mildest of curses. He found himself in a park, unfamiliar, but tranquil and beautiful, except for fountain that sat directly in front of him. A hologram projected out of the center of the fountain, slowly rotating in front of him, its sensuous movements a majestic mockery.

    “No,” Vanguard gasped. This was not possible.

    The hologram was a depiction of the helmet of Doctor Destroyer. Albert Zerstoiten had finally won.

    ********

    Some days are more somber than others. New York had its 9/11, and Millennium had its 7/23. In 1992, as every man, woman, and child in the great city was keenly aware, a group of journeymen heroes (kids, really) stumbled on the lair of Doctor Albert Zerstoiten, aka Dr. Destroyer, the most notorious supervillain on earth. As heroes had destroyed his island stronghold in the previous year, the good doctor was not in the best mood for guests or charity. He accelerated his plans. Raging as an angry god, he brought thunder from the heavens, a terrible apocalypse. Heroes died, almost a score. The city cracked open, and death walked freely, including, or so it seemed, the Doctor himself. And always at the head of the list of the 40,000 mourned dead was Vanguard. Jeffrey Sinclair, archeologist, who in 1959 discovered an alien artifact and was transformed into the mightiest of the mighty. Jeffrey Sinclair, who protected the world in years of agony and despair, bringing hope and freedom and salvation as a gift. His red suit and Elvis hairstyle, so often ridiculed by villains, were ubiquitous, recognized across the entire planet for over thirty years. They were known to people around the world. In the 1970s, Muhammed Ali liked to muss it, while grinning and landing mock punches. Vanguard laughed, called him “chum”, and bore the man’s insults with the best imaginable humor.

    More importantly, they were also fixtures of young Craig Carson’s bedroom. As a kid, Craig’s room was a shrine to three great superheroes. The Red Ensign. Beowulf. And in the place of honor on the door, next to the poster of a despairing kitty hanging from a pole and Farrah Fawcett posing in a bathing suit, was the big guy. Jeff Sinclair, the Vanguard. The greatest superhero on the planet. A mountain of muscle and perfect teeth, hands perpetually on his hips. What a man.

    When Craig received his powers in 1983, one of the things he most wanted to do was meet Vanguard in person. He worked two summers to save for a trip to New York. In 1986, after the Princess Diana incident, when someone from the British government shoved a cheque with a lot of pounds sterling in front of him, Craig took a leave of absence from SUNDER and flew to New York. By jet (at the time, his flight powers lacked the sustained range for cross-country travel). He remembered staring up at Justice Squadron’s (short-lived) tower entrance in wonder, breaking out into a sweat. He was sweating as he swung the revolving door. He almost turned back from nerves. His heart raced as he crept to the reception desk, eying the portraits of the legendary superheroes that surrounded him.

    “I’m Thundrax, a hero from Vancouver!” he awkwardly blurted, forgetting his own peculiar prohibition about calling himself a hero. “I’ve come to see Vanguard!”

    The receptionist had been a woman, smart, attractive, and very no nonsense. “Sorry sir,” she said, raising a jaded eyebrow. “They’re out fighting a monster in Dimension X at the moment. You’ll have to come back another time.”

    Two years later, after a summer breaking his back at a logging camp, Craig returned to New York once again to make the pilgrimage.

    “Sorry, sir,” a different receptionist said. “Doctor Basilisk just conquered the island nation of Mysteria. Army of supervillains. We don’t know how long they’ll need to take it back.” Craig was so dejected that he didn’t think to leave a message. Again.

    Two years later, he returned to New York. It was the same receptionist as on the last occasion; she even recognized him this time.

    Sorry, Thundrax,” she told him. “There was a dimensional storm yesterday. The big guy just vanished. We can update you on his whereabouts as soon as we learn anything. If you leave a message, I’m sure he’ll get back to you.”

    He did return, though months later, after finally defeating Shadow Vanguard and the Injustice Army. “Hi Craig,” the message had said. “I’ll be at Henderson’s little shindig in San Francisco later this year. Let’s meet up! ‘I’d love to have coffee with you, and there are some great cafes on the bay.”

    But Vanguard had to deal with another threat, and cancelled at the last minute. Although Craig did meet one of Vanguard’s closest acquaintances at that conference. Unfortunately this acquaintance was none other than Doctor Destroyer, Vanguard’s arch-nemesis. That was the time that Destroyer negated every superhuman’s power on earth, reversing May 1, 1938 for one terrible hour. When the dust settled and was all said and done, Vanguard sent Craig a thank you note, and he promised to fly some time to Vancouver so they could finally meet in person. But the next two years provided plenty of distractions for both men and, understandably meeting a fanboy from Canada (even a superhuman colleague) was hardly worth a special trip for the world’s mightiest hero. They did agree to meet in late summer 1992, sealing the promise with those most sacred of words: “scout’s honor”.

    But then, on July 23, 1992, Vanguard gave his life to stop Dr. Destroyer. And Thundrax’s brother Jack was murdered on the same day in Detroit. For awhile, Craig felt very hollow inside. Everyone did, but especially Craig, brotherless and heroless. Even the weather felt like a special brand of numb.

    *******

    Twenty years passed. Craig had promised to show up and speak at the Memorial. He had done so for the last two years, but the twentieth was special. It also reopened the old wounds as the previous ones had never done. He managed to give a brief somber message – he supposed it was moderately respectful and inspiring – and then he flew away northward, to think. To brood. Though he did maintain a radio and visual link with the proceedings, to watch the speeches, he found that he couldn’t remain. He needed to get in motion, and the skies were a perfect place for reflection.

    Until the skies over Millennium turned pitch black in the middle of the day, an eclipse without a crowned sun, and lightning fell over Memorial Park.

    “Mayday,” Craig blurted over the public channel. He might not make it to Millennium, but heaven help them, he could raise an army to defend it. This was a sacred day. Twenty years since Vanguard. Twenty years since Jack (even though Jack had returned two years earlier, thanks to a temporal paradox). Twenty years since 40,000 people died in fire and ruin. Craig had been stuck in Vancouver the day Detroit died, watching along helplessly on television with the rest of the planet. No one would desecrate the day.

    “I saw it Craig,” Wolfgirl called over the comm. Sarah Jumping Deer was Craig’s occasional partner, in a loose alliance along with her fiancé Zarek (the world’s most broody superhero!), a very powerful lycanthrope from a Montana native reserve. Sarah was a Crow werewolf with an enormous chip on her shoulder, and the chip seemed heavier today.

    “Thanks Sarah,” Thundrax said, though it was odd calling anyone but her fiancée Sarah. That other Sarah was in Japan, doing Sarah things, working Sarah miracles with technology. “I’ll see who else I can raise.” Craig added.

    “I saw it too!” Faye exclaimed, appearing on the comm in a crackle. Ah, Faye. Faye Carrano was known to the world as the Cosmic Glory, a teen powerhouse who shared many of Craig’s own gifts (flight, superstrength, invulnerability, the usual package) as well as the very subtle but extremely useful power to give people hope. Even when doing something as despair-inducing as writing a high school algebra test. Sometimes, given her tragedy strewn life, it seemed as though she was in greatest need of her power. Yet Craig was as impressed as hell with her; for a young woman to endure so much, and yet to maintain her ideals, now that was special.

    "Any ideas on what it is?" the American Dream blurted on the channel. Kris Forrester was a mutant, binding the forces of the universe into a magnificent package – a new Vanguard, though not nearly as powerful (this no one on the planet save Destroyer could reasonably make that claim), and recast as a girl from Jersey. She was also blonder than Craig (a formidable feat) and was known, for all her self-proclaimed American values and patriotic peacock splendor, to swear like a sailor when things went against her. Definitely a Jersey girl.

    “No clue.” Craig said. “The video feed is crap today.”

    “And here I was hoping that today would pass without incident.” Razira sighed. Razira was another of Craig and Wolfgirl’s closest friends, a werewolf mutant who controlled fire. Like her good friend Wolfgirl, she had also fought alongside with Craig and Zarek on numerous occasions against the Nightwood Brothers’ many mystical enemies. Zarek was elsewhere today, perhaps wandering the dimensions, or perhaps pub crawling in Vibora, waiting for a legion of enemies to pounce on him. Razira was more sensible and had far fewer enemies, and she was one of the few people who could calm Wolfgirl when she was in a bad mood.

    “Thanks folks,” Craig said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

    “Likewise. Be there shortly. Be careful, everyone.”

    A new voice came over the comm, less familiar to Craig: a man’s baritone, rich and British and measured. Craig knew very little about the man, save that he was on the side of the angels.”I was just about to leave town,” Druid reported. “I'll come by and investigate.”

    ”I'm getting a report on something happening at the Battle of Detroit museum,” Craig said. “Someone's attacking it. The reports are very confused. Male, maybe 6’9”, red suit, and… sideburns?”

    “Well,” Glory muttered. “At least it’s not a Destroid.” And so the five heroes converged on the museum. Glory heard the pounding of what sounded like a fist on concrete, a very very big and powerful fist. She poured it on, flying as fast as ever. She thought she passed a sasquatch along the way, bounding in the direction of Memorial Park.

    O, Millennium. Such a city of a city.

    The heroes arrived in the park next to the museum to witness an extraordinary sight: a muscle-bound behemoth tearing apart the fountain, his appearance identical to the legendary Vanguard, who had died 20 years ago on this very day. "Menton!" he shouted. "You scoundrel! You pulled this exact same illusion on me last month! Did you think it would work twice?"

    The sasquatch halted beside the American Dream, slightly out of breath. "I couldn't help but notice some sort of ruckus in this general area,” he said in a remarkably erudite tone. “I thought I'd lend a hand as part of my integration into society."

    “Just...eh, stand over there." The Dream replied.

    Sarah also arrived, the hot July sun was uncomfortable, and she was in a bad mood at the best of times. “Uh. Hi?” she said, waving at the man.

    “Huh?” Glory added as the man continued his rampage. He seemed to be taking satisfaction in slowly dismembering the monument. She stared at the fella for a good long while. “Is that a cosplayer?” she asked. “Really?"

    "Mary motha of Jesus..." the Dream said, also staring at the man. "Mary motha of Jesus..." she repeated. Meanwhile, the Druid landed in a billowing gust of wind before he, like everyone else, stood up and stared at the man.

    “I hope you have a good explanation for the property damage,” Wolfgirl said curtly. “And why you’re desecrating a memorial.”

    "Sir, you should stop what you're doing before I call the police." The sasquatch, whom nobody knew, said. Druid looked at the sky above them, and frowned in thought.

    Vanguard finished tearing apart the Destroyer tribute with frightening ease, almost playing with it, working out years of frustration with his archnemesis. His gaze fixed upon the heroes, and his eyes briefly flashed red. "Great,” he moaned at the gathered heroes. “You're supposed to be Zerstoiten's future minions?"

    "Wait, what?” Glory stammered, astonished by the accusation. “Why would we work for that guy?" She tilted her head to the side.

    Arc Thunder, an UNTIL agent who had received electrical powers, and maintained his rank and service, arrived on the scene in a flash of lightning followed by a thunderclap. He gasped at the sight of the long dead hero. He was dressed in UNTIL Captain’s fatigues, blue and white and urban camo, and he had a well-trained commanding voice. “Hrnn, another one alr-“ and then he paused in a rare moment of shock. His voice was barely audible. Surprise? Anguish? Maybe a little of both.

    “Bloody hell it can't be...” he intoned.

    "Sir,” the sasquatch interjected. “You're clearly not well right now. Perhaps we could get you to the local hospital and help you out a bit..." He turned to the others, and asked in a low voice. “Who's Vanguard?"

    There were multiple facepalms. Wolfgirl, who had temper issues at the best of times, crouched and looked almost ready to pounce. “Okay. I have two questions,” she growled. “One. Do you think this is funny? Because it's really in bad taste.” Vanguard pointedly ignored her. "Two. ...HEY!” Wolfgirl snapped her fingers. “Over here, buckaroo!” Vanguard continued to pay her little to no heed.

    The hero’s concern was directed skyward. "I've had enough of your games, Medina!” he shouted, referring to Menton by his actual last name. He remembered how the telepath had once helped subjugate the earth back in 1984, had made him Destroyer’s puppet for three months. “Why don't you show yourself and we'll finish this!" he called out.

    The scene was interrupted by the rev of a motorcycle as it wheeled and came to a stop, and a woman dismounted. Doffing her helmet, a long cascade of blond hair rushed out. She was clad in a black and blue catsuit, lightly armored, practical as well as beautiful, and she wore the insignia of the GLOBE agency, a Canadian based security firm that often associated with the Silver Age Sentinel team. Sparrowhawk was only a recent arrival in Millennium. “Late to the party, it seems,” she said. “Why don't we ask him what date it is... or what he thinks the date is.”

    "Please be gentle with him..." the sasquatch said, unaware that even if the assembled heroes got as rough as they could possibly get, Vanguard would likely be standing tall at the end of the fracas. “He’s clearly confused.”

    "He's not Vanguard. He can't fucking well BE Vanguard.” Wolfgirl snarled.

    Vanguard rolled his eyes, sensing which way the conversation would go. His eyes trained on Arc Thunder, on his uniform. It was the one point of familiarity he had, the UNTIL uniform, even though it required special sanction for them to operate Stateside in his day. But he could sense where the conversation was going. “Oh please,” Vanguard told the heroes. “Please don't give me the whole time travel shtick. I've done that. It’s been done to death."

    Druid sighed and stepped forward, making a sign to quiet the heroes down and calm the entire situation. He plotted his next move carefully. Nearby, the other white wolf-woman, Razira, was frightened. She had seen the devastation that Thundrax could wreak if his temper was not held in check. If this was the real Vanguard and he lost control – Vanguard was at least an order of magnitude more powerful than Craig. When people are walking forces of nature, what happens when the person is overruled by nature?

    “If he is Vanguard, and this turns violent,” she mouthed without breath. “We are all so very, very screwed.”

    "Why don't you land for a moment,” Druid called up in a more subdued voice. Let's talk for a little."

    “The best way to get an illusion is to find the source,” Vanguard declared. “You're probably innocents overlaid on illusions, so I better not fight you. I bet the answers are in there...” he glared into the museum, destruction obviously on his mind.

    “Menton's been in Stronghold for years. ...” Wolfgirl informed him. “Okay, look. Assuming that you -are- Vanguard. Maybe you'd like to explain why you're destroying the Detroit memorial?... Hey!” But Vanguard had slipped out of their grasp.

    “This is going to go bad. Very quickly. Come on!” Razira shouted.

    The arch-hero had flown into the museum, and his first sight was not encouraging. Draped by red cloth, standing in magnificent serenity, was a portrait of Albert Zerstoiten, as large as a man. Vanguard had seen him use the armor in the portrait only once. It was a significant upgrade over the one he used when he briefly conquered the world in 1984.

    “I knew it!” Vanguard hissed.

    "I should have stayed in Vibora,” Druid moaned. “At least the oddities THERE are relatively straightforward." Vanguard proceeded to rip the portrait out of the wall and smash it to bits.

    This is what you did to despots, old school.

    "It’s just a museum, Mr. Vanguard. It’s harmless." Cosmic Glory said.

    “A museum to Destroyer does not deserve to stand!” Vanguard declared, and he continued with his rampage.

    “It's not a museum to him, you dolt!” Wolfgirl snarled. “It's a monument to those he killed!”

    “Having a picture of Zerstoiten in a museum for his victims makes as much sense as a picture honoring Hitler in a Holocaust museum!” Vanguard countered.

    Cosmic Glory stared back at the others. "He DOES have a point." She said.

    Wolfgirl, who had less patience than most of the others, was having none of this. “Okay, I'm voting crazy hobo who thinks he's Vanguard,” she told the assembled heroes. “Anyone else?”

    “Did you see that strength?” Razira countered.

    Arc Thunder, an UNTIL agent who had received electrical powers, and maintained his rank and service, arrived on the scene and held up his hand to interrupt. He was dressed in an UNTIL Captain’s fatigues, blue and white urban camo, and he had a well-trained, commanding voice. It was firm enough to pause a room full of angry gods, at least for a few seconds. He cleared his throat. “Please step away from th' Battle of Detroit Memorial, pal. If ya give us a minute I'm sure we can explain this, sir.”

    Druid raised his hands and gestured towards Arc Thunder. "THANK you. Voice of reason over here." He said in an exasperated tone.

    “Just how the hell did that happen?” Vanguard asked.

    "Orbital cannon." Sparrowhak replied in a blunt, formal clip.

    Vanguard glared at the big gun in the center of the room. "That one?"

    "No, I believe that's the Meteor Magnet thing." The American Dream explained. Vanguard eyed it warily.

    Arc Thunder’s voice didn’t hide the sadness he felt. He had lived through those times. “Twenty years ago today, you foiled an attack, sir.” He gestured at the destroyed portrait. “He activated a self-destruct feature, levellin' most of th' city. We thought ya died in th' process of savin' th' Earth.”

    “Over two dozen heroes lost their lives twenty years ago, Vanguard.” Sparrowhawk explained. “Twenty. Years.”

    Vanguard was still not having any of it. He turned to the destroyed meteor magnet, bending a piece of superstructure out of frustration. But he was calming down at last, paying attention to the fear and horror and pity in the heroes’ faces.

    “You were one of them. Or so we thought.” Razira said in a more subdued tone. Vanguard ignored it, or perhaps it did register, and he shelved it as a secondary concern.

    “That makes as much sense as having John Wilkes Booth's gun at the Lincoln Memorial,” he said. “This has to be the most stupid museum of all— wait. You said over two dozen?

    'Yeah." Cosmic Glory said.

    “Who? Aside from me,” Vanguard asked. And he was told the names of the dead, so familiar to Millennium on Bloodmoon. The great hero’s face fell as he heard the names of the dead, the ones he knew as friends hit him like a sledgehammer. “Tiger?!” he gasped at one, leader of the Sentinels.

    Arc Thunder nodded and folded his arms. “Ya can see if ya step outside, sir. They're listed on th' memorial statues. There are memorials all around the city.”

    "For what it's worth, Drifter is still alive." Druid said. “And Black Rose.”

    “But it wasn’t just heroes who bit it. A lot of emergency personnel.. cops, coast guard, fire fighters, EMTs," Arc Thunder added.

    Vanguard pondered what had been told him. "Shadowboxer's a Detroit native..."

    “Detroit's gone, Vanguard." The American Dream reported.

    “Okay. Then where the hell are we?” Vanguard asked.

    “This was Detroit.” Sparrowhawk declared. Vanguard shook his head.

    “And they honor the dead here?” he asked.

    Arc Thunder cleared his throat. “If it wasn't fer them, and yerself, most of us wouldn't be here. Th' city was rebuilt, it's called Millennium now.”

    “How many died?” Vanguard asked.

    “Too many,” Wolfgirl intoned under her breath.

    Vanguard shook his head. “I've got to stop it...” the hero vowed.

    Arc Thunder closed his eye and bowed his head, sighing. “Would that ya could have, sir.”

    “You DID stop it!" the American Dream insisted.

    Vanguard made a quick scan of the room. “I can see that you’re concerned. Maybe you think I’m worried about my life. Maybe some of you think I’ll want to change history to save myself. My fate doesn't matter. But those lives, this city, they do. 40,000 lives is too big a sacrifice.”

    “No one said how many." The Dream noted. Vanguard pointed at a plaque on a far wall.

    “Supervision. Shoulda used it earlier. Too distracted to read.”

    “Crew,” Razira spoke up. “I just realized something. If this really is Vanguard, which it seems to be, where in our timeline did he get pulled out of?

    “Okay.” Vanguard said. “Let's humor you. It was July 18, 1992. A Saturday.”

    “Oh, shit.” Wolfgirl muttered. She realized this was only a few days before the Battle of Detroit. They were asking him to go back – to die in under a week. She slumped backward.

    "...Oh crap." The Dream said, realizing the implications. "We gotta get him back."

    “I was in New York, fighting the Ultimates.” Vanguard explained.

    "Oh dear...oh dear, oh dear...” the sasquatch moaned. “What'll happen if we don't get him back?"

    “An asteroid connects with Earth. that’s what.” Sparrowhawk said.

    Arc Thunder sighed and glanced up at Vanguard. “Sir, I'm a Captain with UNTIL, perhaps I could take ya ta th' HQ so we can properly brief ya. I'd appreciate it if ya did, sir.”

    “UNTIL?” Vanguard snorted. “Why would I want to go to Canada?’

    “It's just a few blocks that way sir.” Arc Thunder replied, pointing eastward.

    "After the Battle of Detroit, The US opened up its borders to UNTIL. Extra protection against supervillainy." Druid explained.

    “Fine.” Vanguard sighed, “Let's go to the UNTIL base in Detroit.” His voice was dripping skepticism.”Lead the way.” He gestured at Arc Thunder. “After you, soldier.” He said.

    “Millennium City now, sir,” Arc said, visibly relieved that the situation had a non-violent resolution. “Thank ya.”

    “I can't believe Zerstoiten actually did it.” Vanguard said. Arc Thunder flashed the big hero some odd looks as they walked. He had met Vanguard in the old days, before the destruction of Detroit. He had resigned himself to never meeting him again.

    It was one of the oddest walks that Millennium had ever seen. A host of heroes, spandex clad, casually strolling through Memorial Park on a sunny July day, led by the greatest of their number, a dead hero walking. A few others joined them, chatting and bickering and thinking reflectively as they walked. The heroes rounded a corner and the UNTIL sign, blue and white and polished, reflected back at them, as if the brightness of the day heralded the return of an ancient and powerful hope. Vanguard was truly a servant of the people. He always had been. Upon sighting the sign, Vanguard stopped in his tracks, and the host stopped with him. “Holy crap.” he muttered, visibly gaping in disbelief.

    “Are you all right?” Sparrowhawk asked. “I know this is a lot to take in.”

    “Just a sight I never expected to see.” Vanguard said.

    “I don't think anyone expected to see this twenty years ago,” Sprrowhawk remarked.

    “I sure the hell never did.” Vanguard said, his eyes briefly flashing red in anger. “I always felt we should've done that after the Gadroon attacked. But no. Remember the one officer that turned against them. A single stupid traitor was enough it took to bar thousands. Congress didn't listen. Stupid Reagan.” Vanguard muttered.

    Jeffrey Sinclair had been a New York Democrat. A loyalist. He had even voted for Carter the second time. And even McGovern in ’72.

    “Things have changed, sir.” Razira said.

    ",.. I feel so weird,” Glory muttered. “I was not even born when this all happened..."

    “You mean we voted out Bush?” Vanguard piped up, looking hopefully at Razira.

    Arc Thunder studied the group that arrived ahead, cleared his throat then turns and stepped up to Vanguard “I'll ask th' base commander ta come out 'm sure he'd be happy ta make yer acquaintance, sir,” the UNTIL agent said.

    "If he's not from here, we can't give him too much info." Druid frowned at the whole exchange. "There's a continuum to worry about here."

    At this point an UNTIL Commander and a small team strode out of the headquarters, walking with military precision even when not on a formal march. They couldn’t help but stare at Vanguard. The Commander blinked at the huge red clad hero.

    “Situation, Commander?” Arc Thunder interrupted.

    The voice and the inquest were sobering. The Commander, his face full of wear and concern – it had been a long, long day, did not hide the fact that the very long day had just gotten worse. "We know what the problem is, sir." he said.

    “What's wrong?” Druid, coming to Arc’s side, asked.

    “It was us,” the technician admitted. “We were trying to return Captain Carson's brother to the past and was doing a test run of the machine we'd impounded.”

    Thundrax’s brother Jack had been transformed in the 80s into a demon by Zorasto, a way to leverage Craig into giving his powers to the hell fiend. But Jack broke free of the demon’s control and became the superhero Two-Fist, a UNITY member of the early 90s. On the day Detroit died, Jack Carson had defied orders to sneak into the ruined city. He had gone to help the early relief efforts, but had been murdered in the aftermath of the battle. Except…

    …that he was also scooped up by a temporal vortex and brought to the future, to 2010. Jack had spent two years living in a time traveler’s paradox bubble, effectively a prisoner inside UNTIL HQ, while the world passed him by. Jack was tired. UNTIL made him as comfortable as possible. He even regularly “saw” a few of UNTIL’s more attractive female agents. But that wasn’t the point. He was tired of confinement. He needed to live free or die. So he asked UNTIL to find a way to send him safely back to the Battle of Detroit, and also end the threat to the timestream that his continued existence was causing. UNTIL responded to the challenge with both caution and relish. It was also, in an agency defined by secret projects, one of its most secretive ventures. Even Thundrax, who retained an acting captain’s rank from his days in UNITY, didn’t know about it.

    Clearly the caution was warranted.

    “So if it’s really him and if those rumors are true about Doctor Destroyer....” Glory mused.

    “If it's him, we can't keep him here. But... have you heard the rumours about how badly Destroyer would want time technology? Druid said. He leaned in quietly, so Vanguard couldn’t hear. “What if this man is a ruse? I'm not saying it is, but... Destroyer’s servant Rakshasa is a SHAPESHIFTER.

    “Rakshasa?” Vanguard wondered. “The Indian mutant?”

    “Oh well,” Druid sighed.

    “Our paths have crossed,” Vanguard said.

    “Super hearing. I suppose that does absolve him a little.” Druid said.

    “... Crap.” Cosmic Glory’s swearing had nowhere near the intensity of some of the others. ”Why don't I have superhearing!? Man!”

    “I thought a Rakshasa was a snake..." the sasquatch said.

    Meanwhile, Arc Thunder continued to talk it out with UNTIL, growing more puzzled with each passing minute. “Sir? You're sayin'.. .ya believe he got yanked through? Hrnn...”

    “We do indeed,” the technician explained. “But this shouldn't have happened. This was just a light probe. The test didn't have enough juice to pull at the tear, let alone rip it.”

    "But what if Vanguard wasn't the one triggering the time travel?" the sasquatch asked, demurring when some of the people shot him a questioning look. "Uh, sorry...Didn't mean to interrupt."

    "My question, Commander,” the Dream asked, “is why is UNTIL playing around with the timestream?"

    The technician began a halting explanation, when the sky suddenly changed. It turned black again for a split second. Vanguard disappeared and the city was replaced by a frozen, ruined landscape.

    “Wh—“ Wolfgirl gasped.

    "...FUCK!" the American Dream snapped.

    “Lovely.” Sparrowhawk sighed.

    "I fucking KNEW IT!” Kris added, and she poured into a sailor-like sequence of obscenities. Then the sky went black again, and the heroes found themselves standing in front of UNTIL HQ, with Vanguard. The heroes looked at each other, aghast by their brief glimpse of an altered reality. Wolfgirl was shaking. Earth after the meteor struck? The meteor that Vanguard was destined to stop, at the cost of his life?

    "FUCKING SEND HIM BACK NOW!" the Dream shouted.

    “Time anomalies.” Sparrowhawk noted. It wasn’t the first time she had encountered the phenomenon. Or maybe it was, and she just was that unflappable. “Charming. Vanguard... did you see us blink in and out?

    “See what? Blinking out? No...” the very confused hero said.

    Arc Thunder blinked, took a deep breath and frowned at the general panicked response. The Dream was responding with more and more creative obscenities. The soldier let her vent; Vanguard was clearly the keystone of this event. “Sir,” he told the savior of the planet in measured tones. “I believe it best we get ya in ta see th' Major. Now.”

    But a sneering voice from behind the heroes snickered. "Of course he has to go back now. How unfortunate that I am the gatekeeper."

    And that’s when Zorasto the Defiler, demon lord and ne'er do well, appeared, the eight foot tall demon’s sadistic smile as broad as if he had just kicked a puppy to death.

    “YOU!” Cosmic Glory exclaimed. She and Zorasto had almost as storied a history as the demon had with Thundrax.

    "Who's that?" the sasquatch looking fellow asked.

    Arc Thunder sighed at the sight of the demon. The UNTIL operative was all too familiar with him. He gestured at UNTIL headquarters, clenching a fist. “Knew tonight was gonna be a long night.” He sighed.

    “Why hello, child of the auspicious aspect.” Zorasto said to Glory, grinning evilly. All teeth and horns.

    Razira gestured to the crowd. “Everyone back away from that...thing. Now.”

    Zorasto exalted in the palpable hatred of the heroes around him. "You're going to send him back, you stupid demon!" Cosmic Glory snarled. Boy did she hate Zorasto! As only an angry, righteous teenage girl can hate, bordering on comic petulance.

    “Not now, short stuff.” Arc Thunder told her.

    Vanguard barely recognized the demon, only from reports that had drifted onto his table from time to time. Drifter had mentioned him in one or another threat reports. Red skin, ivory horns, a face like a misshapen horse’s skull. Pretty typical of the demons he had encountered over the years. Zorasto stank of brimstone and corpses and human misery. The great hero also noticed that the number of flies had increased around the area: irritated, he casually used his plasma vision to shoot them out of the air. As for the demon, he balled his fists and was paying very close attention.

    “Who is he?” one of the heroes asked.

    "Only a lowly demon lord, attempting to get what's rightfully his." Zorasto explained.

    The Druid stepped forward, his face as sober as an AA meeting. "Speak your peace, demon." He said.

    Arc Thunder tapped at his right temple, calling for an escort to take Vanguard inside and notify the base command staff of the appearance of Zorasto. Distractions had their advantages, especially since Zorasto seemed to be exalting in the attention. He was going into full theatrical villain mode. He raised his wings with a dramatic flourish. How very Night on Bald Mountain.

    “I am the one called Zorasto the Defiler and here is my peace. The second born Carson will surrender his power, now, as promised by ancestral pact. Then I will keep your world from dying.”

    "I...I'd like to call in a lawyer on his behalf!" one of the heroes exclaimed.

    “It's been to arbitration. I won.” Zorasto smirked.

    “You seriously think we'd do that!? We can always find another way to get Vanguard back! We don't need you!" Glory hissed.

    Wolfgirl had had enough. She knew of Zorasto, and she hated what he knew. She loaded her bow with a cold iron arrow and let it fly. With a fluster of his wings, however, the demon deflected the arrow. "Please,” he laughed. “Do I look like an Unseelie?"

    A demonic hero glared at Zorasto with a frown. "And what is so disagreeable about this deal?" he asked.

    “He wants the souls of the entire Carson family. That's what's disagreeable.” Wolfgirl snarled.

    We can't just give him some poor soul. That'd be wrong..." the sasquatch protested.

    “You'd sacrifice the entire world for just one soul? Heroes so suck at math...” Zorasto mocked.

    The druid was also frowning at Zorasto, but he was in a contemplative mood: "I don't think he brought him here." He said. "He's taking advantage of a situation."

    Zorasto shook his head. “I've been manipulating that time tear since it formed two years ago.” He boasted. He was indeed a true supervillain’s supervillain, an artist who always signs his work, then spends a semester teaching anyone who would listen how he did it. “Oh, I can see the defiance in you. The assembled heroes’ fighting juices were starting to bubble. “You might be able to pull that on one of the eight thousand posers calling themselves Azrael and Azazel in this city, but I assure you I am far less vulnerable and deluded.”

    But Vanguard had seen enough. The hero’s hero finally took a step forward and spoke to the horde of his colleagues as if they were a new Justice Squadron. “I’ve had enough of this idiot,” he said. “I say we take him down and find some other way to open that tear after we kick his butt."

    "You will not attack me! I hold the key!” Zorasto protested.

    “Okay heroes.” Vanguard grinned. “Who wants to throw the first punch?"

    The area abruptly exploded in what might have been a stock frame of anime mayhem. The combination of blasts, blades, and bashing bare knuckles overwhelmed the great demon, who suddenly and violently found his position less secure than he had imagined. Zorasto cried out something unintelligible, clutching an amulet which dangled from his neck. Then, with a hellish scream, his body crumpled into dust, forming a pentagram of ash on the ground. The sasquatch sat in the center of it, stunned. There was an awkward silence.

    “Damn straight...” Vanguard acknowledged with a satisfied nod. “By the way, I think I’ve heard of a Thundrax. He was active in my day. Isn’t he that guy from that Canadian team over on the left coast? Not the Guard, more of a second tier squad. Got a few letters from him. Seemed like a nice kid! Now what was that team’s name?”

    “Craig is far more than that, Vanguard sir.” Razira said.

    Glory’s attention, however, was on the remains of their foe. "An' this time, STAY in hell where you BELONG! Jerk!" Cosmic Glory shouted, and she gave a raspberry at the ashes with a huff. But Sparrowhawk was all business. As usual.

    “The amulet.” She instructed. “Get it.” When no one complied, she scooped it herself. Hopefully it could be contained.

    “That was too easy. Even with the numbers we had.” Razira spoke with prudent suspicion, as later events would prove. Vanguard looked at the scattered ashes and sighed.

    “I didn't even get to throw a punch....” the hero’s hero mourned.

    “Agreed. Far too easy.” Sparrowhawk agreed with Raz. “And nobody dare destroy the amulet.”

    "I don't think he was in the mood for a serious fight." Vanguard opined.

    “I've seen what he can do, too. First hand.” Razira said, eyes narrow. Her thoughts echoed the rest of the host.

    “Hey!” shouted an UNTIL agent at the Druid, whose hands making sigils in the air as he performed a rite. “What the devil are you doing?”

    “Nothing diabolic,” the Druid answered. "I am trying to magnify the apparent potency of the "Time-Tear" with a magical storm. It's a long shot, but it might be possible to actually turn it into a beacon for those that have time travel capabilities.” He pointed upward at a swirling, gathering vortex in the sky above them “It’s a timestorm,” he further explained. “Temporal thunder and lightning, as Mr. Carson might say.”

    Vanguard scrutinized the amulet in Sparrowhawk’s hands. It stank of the demon, of sulfur and suffering, the echoes of the lamentations of the damned. “I'd suggest giving that amulet to a magic expert, Wouldn't want Archimago getting his hands on that.”

    “Archi-...eh?” Wolfgirl wondered. A young werewolf raised in a native American tribe in Montana wasn’t necessarily well-versed in the magical villains of the 80s and 90s, even one with Archimago’s grisly reputation. Nothing is a greater
    enemy of celebrity than the passage of time.

    "Archimago's dead, thank God." Druid answered, completing his ritual.

    “He is?” Vanguard questioned. “Well, I won't be mourning.”

    “I don’t like the looks of that rift,” an UNTIL agent said, chattering with Arc Thunder.

    "It's not exactly a rift. It's more a... signal to people that might be able to help." He sighed, seeing that he would have to explain himself further. “I take it you’ve heard of Captain Chronos.” There were nods. Chronos was a time traveler, given to inexplicable actions and apparently insane motives as he guarded the timestream. He had interrupted the world’s communications several days earlier to earn people of a pending catastrophe. Now his prophecy seemed fully in motion.

    Wolfgirl glanced upward at the gathering storm and then at Vanguard. The hero was looking upward himself, lost in contemplation. “Hold on.” she said. “...Look. We all know what happens. But what happens when he knows what happens?” She pointed at the hero.

    "Nothing." the American Dream firmly stated. “He's the Hero. He'll do what's needed."

    “And he's going back a day before Destroyer's attack starts.” Wolfgirl tried to confirm.

    Vanguard wiped his palms on his costume, visibly uncomfortable with the twist in the conversation. “So... have the Giants won the Super Bowl lately?” he asked, uncomfortable laughter in his voice. One of the agents affirmed they had, much to Vanguard’s surprise. “And Brawler... did he ever marry, or did he come out of the closet?” he inquired. “Always had my suspicions about the guy. Anyways, always hoped he'd find happiness.”

    And then a flash of electrical, blue light heralded a new arrival, accompanied by a single majestic chord. He was a short man, clad in an aviator’s uniform, composed of shining silver. He looked up at the temporal rift and then at the gathered heroes.

    "And now, show time." The American Dream said, smiling.

    "Is he going to make people make out again?” Cosmic Glory asked, referring to a very strange adventure when Chronos had sent people back in time and made them reenact historical – and highly embarrassing – events. “Please I hope not."

    “Make people do what? When did I ever do tha-" Chronos said, and he turned to Vanguard and gasped.

    “What... is that?” Vanguard asked.

    Chronos could hardly keep himself from jumping up and down at the sight of the arch-hero. They had never met. He grabbed the hero’s huge hand and shook it wildly, almost dancing. "Oh my God,” he shouted. “It's you! "It is such a pleasure, I am a HUGE fan! I read all about you!"

    "Holy crap, we have a fanboi." The Dream muttered.

    Razira brought out a camera and began to take snapshots. "...wait." Chronos said, and he paused and frowned. "What year is this again?"

    “2012.” Razira said.

    “Yes, Chronos,” Druid said. “Captain, you have to save the entire universe from decaying by bringing Vanguard back to his time.”

    “No pressure,” the Dream added.

    “Oh. Well! I was wondering why my little wrist beeper here was saying it was nine thousand and ninety nine." He looked up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the light.

    “It may need to go back to the shop, Captain.” Vanguard said.

    "But they're all closed at the apocalypse."Chronos added, mulling the eye in the sky. "Yes, looks like what you have there is a Class Five Temporal Rift. And WHO'S been poking at it with evil hoodoo?"

    "Zorasto." Glory said.

    "Chronos!” the occasionally high strung Dream shouted. “Concentrate! If we don't get him back, Dr. Destroyer WINS."

    Chronos waved off the remark. Hm? Oh, well, "Win" is a silly word when you wipe out almost all life including yourself."

    "Still, You Equals Not living, if you don't get Vanguard back." The Dream snarled back.

    “Ok,” Chronos explained, putting aside the Dream’s outrage. “Let's see, Vanguard, I'm going to need a little help from you. The temporal rift up there is causing some hefty Tachyon interference. This is stopping the ability to get any sort of accuracy with-this thing. It's kind of like a big Time-funnel. Any movement through time and it sort of... scoops you up."

    Vanguard sighed. “So what do I do, Doctor Chronos?” he asked, getting the villain’s name wrong.

    "Alright, this is going to sound silly, but I need you to fly as fast as you possibly can." He paused, almost dramatically. “In..." The time traveler nodded, licked the top of of his glove and put it to the wind."Mmmm that direction."

    Vanguard nodded and took off. Chronos turned to the assembled heroes. "I need the rest of you, now." He said.

    "You do?" Glory wondered.

    "Yep.” Chronos said, pointing upwards. “We're going to collapse that rift."

    “And how exactly will we do that?” Razira and the sasquatch asked at the same moment.

    "Pumping it with energy. Pulson will do if you don't have any powers." Chronos said. "The thing is..."

    “Pulson?

    “I use normal guns!"a vigilante said. ”Do I just shoot it a lot?"

    "Well, you're right next to an UNTIL base." Chronos said, waving his hands vaguely.

    "Arc." The Dream turned to the man in the UNTIL uniform “Get every gun out here."

    "Oh! Oh!” the sasquatch blurted. “I'll carry them for you!"

    Arc Thunder rolled his one working eye and tapped his temple. “Can we bring out th' reserves from th' armory?” he asked an UNTIL agent. “Yes I'll sign it out. Now. Please. Thank ya, pal.” The hero tapped his temple again to end the conversation. “Bloody paper work.” He muttered.

    Chronos’s attention again turned to the group. "Now, this is very important, we have to time it exactly right! At Vanguard's top speed, he should be making his way near Russia by now."

    Thundrax, listening on the comm, moaned. He practically worshipped Vanguard, but he was as jealous as hell of the man’s flight speed. Oh, to be able to go from Millennium to Vancouver in minutes…

    “This might be a dumb question, but... what happens if we don't get the timing right?” Razira asked.

    "If it works, we rubber band back to normal. If not… Black hole, SCHLOOP!"

    “Oh Christ,” the Dream moaned.

    "Do black holes make schloop sounds?" the bigfoot asked.

    “Those are our only choices, pal?” Arc Thunder asked, eying Chronos levelly.

    “Well, it's either all life as we know it ending suddenly, or the timeline as we know it ending suddenly. Sounds like a great set of choices.” Razira said.

    "Oh, plenty of other choices, all too time consuming." Chronos replied in a chipper tone. "By the time we'd be near finishing, we'd be bones in a big pile of frozen ash and that's not pleasant!"

    A sonic boom shook France as Vanguard reached the two-third mark of his final orbit of earth. The hero’s face was stoic, and he did his best to push out any thought out of his mind that didn’t have to do with duty. If they were right, these future people, he would make one last trip into space. One more flight, to certain death. One more flight, for duty. But he lived such a life, he told himself. Such a life.

    A Parisian on the Champs dropped a croissant as the streak shook the city of Lights. Sacre bleu! indeed.

    Back in Millennium, Chronos examined his wrist-device and nodded. "Ok, start pumping in 5...4...3...2. 1. Bazinga."

    At that moment, Vanguard passed over his beloved New York City one last time. He couldn’t help but sigh at the Statue. When Destroyer had him by the balls, years ago, mind controlled, it was the command to destroy Lady Liberty that had pushed him over the edge, had set him free. Farewell, Sweet, sweet lady. Then, bazinga indeed. The sky crackled with a sudden burst of bluish lightning, thin and spiderwebbed as the energy collided with each other like dancing pinballs. “It's almost as though the sky is cracking like glass.” Chronos observed.

    "Happy travels!" Bigfoot shouted with a wave.

    “Good luck, Vanguard. And thank you.” Sparrowhawk said, slightly under her breath.

    “It was good ta see ya one last time, big guy.” Arc Thunder muttered to himself.

    The noise rumbled over the sky as clouds dispersed from the power and new ones formed in the time storm’s wake. Just as Vanguard entered. The crackles of lightning and all the clouds convened on the spot where Vanguard disappeared and everything was silent for a short moment. And when it was all done it exploded. A shockwave erupted over the city and everyone was given a windblown hairdo for free. As the cacophony of echoing noise disappeared into the distance, it was replaced only with a slight ringing and the sound of car alarms all over the city.

    "...Diiiiiid it work?" the sasquatch asked.

    “We are here,” Sparrowhawk answered.

    The American Dream sighed: "It takes a real hero to march willingly to his own death," she said.

    Chronos stood there, holding his hands over his ears. The Dream shook her head at him. "Errr. No one told him he was going to end up a zombie, right?" she asked, referring to Takofanes’s annual desecration of the bodies of those who fell in the battle of Detroit, where the arch-lich coalesced dark energies to create a mockery of the hero. No one answered. They didn’t want to think about that desecration. After ten seconds, Chronos lowered his hands and looked around cautiously. "Is it over? Are we alive?"

    “Yep!” the Cosmic Glory answered.

    At this moment, there was another crack of thunder. This time it was Thundrax.

    “Evening folks....” he said, and then he took notice of the temporal intruder. “Chronos? He blurted. “What was that message you sent the other day? “The greatest hero of them all has to be stopped or he'll destroy…."”

    “Did what now?” Chronos asked, slightly bewildered.

    “You sent a message... or you're going to send a message to the past.” Thundrax explained.

    “I am?” Chronos wondered. “Oh. I guess I'll probably do that in an hour ago then."

    "Thanks for the help, Chronos! You saved our lives! Again." Glory said.

    The Dream watched Arc Thunder, who was already ensconced in paperwork. “You know we have to classify the fuck outta this, right?"

    “Category J, Dream. Other. Other is your friend.” Craig answered.

    "Ya." The Dream confirmed.

    “Craig,” Wolfgirl said. “You didn't know Vanguard was here. And this went through without a hitch.” She pointed at at the sky. “Or it seems like it.”

    “Wait...” Thundrax said. “Wait! Vanguard– THE Vanguard – was HERE and I missed him?! Again?”

    ‘Thundrax...we have one heck of a story for you.”

    Craig’s face suddenly took on the despondent expression of a dismayed five year old “I finally had a chance to meet with one of my childhood heroes, a man who’s been dead for twenty years, and I— Oh bloody hell!”

    Some meetings were never meant to be.

    "Can I go now?” Chronos asked. “I have to send a message an hour ago, apparently.”

    Craig was too despondent to answer. The American Dream strode over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I know. He was my hero too. One of my first." Thundrax nodded back. Arc Thunder looked up at Craig, a pained expression on his face, which seemed, for a second, almost haggard. Then the men traded a knowing glance, and he focused again on the paperwork.

    "I don't see what the big deal is." Chronos stated. "I travel through time on a daily basis. Sometimes a yesterdaily basis."

    “Chronos, when you call... sound frantic, okay?” Thundrax instructed.

    "Oh. Sure thing boss." Chronos replied. “Like... "YOU HAVE TO STOP THE WORLD'S GREATEST HERO OR HE'LL DESTROY THE WORLD!" "Like that?"

    “Yeah.” Craig said, still very very glum.

    "Oh,” Chronos interjected. “Can I... Can I be a real bother and... Well… Get some autographs? ONLY I'M MAKING A COLLECTION!"

    “Sure?" Cosmic Glory said, a little puzzled. Chronos looked down bashfully.

    “Hey, you should have been there when Baron Nihil stole his time apparatus.. or has that happened yet?” Craig asked.

    "That was a REAL pain! That stupid Nazi." Chronos replied. “Honestly, so 1940s and 2089." He paused for a second. "I mean- ignore that second bit."

    “But I got to see Game 8 of the Summit Series – live and in person – so it's all good.” Thundrax chirped, and he feigned a weak smile.

    “That’s nice.” Chronos said, as he pressed a button on his wrist and... blurred. He now held a clipboard and pen." Arc Thunder shook his head as he flipped to the fifth page and began checking off the form, occasionally glancing at up the agents collecting returning the reserve weaponry.

    “Ohmygod, who do I start with...” Chronos mulled, looking over the group and went about getting autographs from EVERYONE.

    Glory signed along with the others, and then flashed a grin at Craig. “By the way, Zorasto really stinks at hostage stuff.”

    “Uh, sure.” Thundrax blurted, and he sighed. “Zorasto?”

    “Long story.” Glory reported. “Let’s just say he isn’t coming back for a long while.”

    Meanwhile, Chronos collected the autographs and flips through them, seemingly satisfied. “Oh. Thanks!” he told the last one, who was also a reporter.

    “Great, that’s perfect! You’ve all been marvelous and thank you for not trying to arrest me.” The time traveler exclaimed. He could get used to this whole “not being arrested” thing. “The way you guys shot that time rift, very similar to the time when you have to take down that spaceshi-” He paused and thought for a minute.”Wait. Two thousand and twe- Oh right, okay, forget that! No spaceshiiips!”

    The Dream threw an arm around Craig’s shoulder. “And thank you all for kicking Zorasto’s butt!”

    Chronos gave a salute and pressed a button on his chronometer, disappearing in a crackle of bluish lightning.

    “Guy...Talk about a day. Now we just need a Destroid attack, and even I might be looking to take a day or two off.” The Dream stated.

    “.... MAN. What a day.” Glory agreed.

    “Excuse me, folks.” An UNTIL agent said, carrying a briefcase.

    Vanguard did not know the names of most of the heroes he had met, but he had spent a little while before his death, writing a “thank you” note for each hero, with instructions to hand them out at the appropriate time on July 23, 2012. He had sent them to UNTIL before he died and asked them to hold them until after the date. The pathos of time travel.

    Dream held her package like it’s the most precious thing in existence. Thundrax smiled. His had been personally addressed. And yes, corny as it sounds, a tear ran down his cheek while he read it. “That’s one for his trophy case...” he said.

    “Mr. Carson,

    “In my time, I only knew you as Thundrax, an obscure young Canadian hero punching out VIPER agents on the west coast. I knew you as a name, knew that you addressed the United Nations once, knew you had saved Princess Diana from a villain, that you had been in that gathering in San Francisco with Marksman and Quasar that Destroyer attacked, and that VIPER liked you even less than they like most people. What that name didn’t tell me was that you were destined to become an outstanding man and a fine hero. I could tell that by the love and respect on your colleagues’ faces when your name was mentioned, as well as by their iron defiance of the demon.

    “Thank you, Craig Carson (forgive me if I mess up your real name, so many people were chattering there) for taking the baton from my generation and flying with it so proudly and capably. Thank you for training the ones who’ll come after you. Thank you for showing me that decency and heroism will not die with me. I should have known that, of course, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

    “We’re a rare breed, Mr. Carson. Most people are heroes at heart, but it does take
    something just a little extra, almost unique, to tear down the wall between common sense and the lunacy we subject ourselves to everyday. Our lives are marathons, and sometimes the ends don’t seem very attractive. Keep running, Craig. You’re very very good at it, but the race is so damn hard. Every step of the race requires a special brand of courage; fortunately you and your friends have it by the truckload. So again, thank you.”

    “Be a Hero.

    “Yours in the utmost respect – your friend you’ve never met, Jeff Sinclair, that Vanguard guy.”


    The baton was passed. One day, it would be Craig’s turn to pass it to another. Although, Craig chided himself, there was no comparison between the two men; Craig’s career spanned Vanguard’s in longevity, but not in power or acclaim. Any parallels that might be drawn were vanity. There was only one Vanguard.

    The Canadian folded the letter, his solitary souvenir of his great boyhood hero, and left it on the desk.
    Last edited by Thundrax; 05-21-2018 at 08:20 AM.

  3. #13
    Inceptor
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    16

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    Night of the Thunderbolt

    Craig, you coming?” the manager bellowed. “I want to get home.”

    Craig sighed and shouted back. “We still need to clean the restrooms!”

    “Leave them for the morning crew!”

    Craig sighed and quickly put away the mop and bucket. The Dairy Queen at Broadway and Lakewood had a reputation for being one of the most rundown restaurants in the city, largely because of the neglect of the managers. In many ways, it was an extension of the misfortunes of much of East Vancouver, a lower middle class and ethnic portion of the city that had been hit hard by the current economic crisis. 1983 had not been a good year so far, though the mayor and the province were already working toward the extravagance of a world’s fair that was due in 1986. A chance for the rich folks in downtown to have a moneygasm, Craig thought in disgust while he packed the supplies. They promised jobs and influx of capital: Craig doubted anyone he knew would see it. He did a quick inspection of the grill, when a sound from the boss’s office caught his ear.

    “Hey! We may be new on the scene, but I assure you that we’re on top of the situation. There’s no room for terrorists in the city of Vancouver.”

    Through a snowy picture, Craig’s boss was listening to the late news on a small color television set. A few weeks ago, a new superhero team had formed in the city, SUNDER – Craig wasn’t sure what the acronym stood for, probably something ridiculous like “Superheroes United to Neutralize Destructive Evil Renegades” or something. Led by the enigmatic Shamus (who reminded Craig of the rock star Sting, if Sting dressed up like Sam Spade) the team had gone to war with VIPER almost as soon as it was formed. Tonight, the green-clad terrorists had tried to retrieve something from the foundation stone of an old, demolished building. The “snakes” (as they were popularly called) had been soundly defeated, but even Shamus’s telepathic prowess couldn’t pry the location of the local VIPER base from the captured agents.

    “What a ridiculous outfit,” the boss sneered, snickering at the television. Craig wasn’t sure which of the heroes had elicited that response, nor did he care. The posters of Beowulf, Vanguard and the two generations of Red Ensign on Craig’s walls spoke to his love of superheroes, despite mockery from his big brother Jack, six years his senior, who was openly contemptuous of the “fricking muscles and ballet tights club”.

    Craig finished the job hurriedly, a little disgusted with himself. He continued to think about the heroes. He had never actually seen a superhero. He had never even seen a VIPER agent, despite all the headlines that implied they were hiding in every nook and cranny of the city. Supervillains avoided the east end of Vancouver; there was no money there, so why would they ever come here? Craig had been at the Pacific National Exhibition that time Sleeper stole the cars from the big wooden roller coaster as part of some “riddle crime”, but he had never seen that villain either, just angry kids and parents who walked away from disgust from a roller coaster that no one could ride. What a jerk.

    “Craig, are you done yet!” The manager’s tone was no longer questioning.

    “Yeah,” he answered with a sigh, making sure the lock on the back door was working and the alarm was on. He had worked a few morning shifts on weekends where they hadn’t been turned on. He knew why it hadn’t: who would rob this dump? Even the druggies wouldn’t find many valuables here. The manager turned off the television and trotted out of the office with the day’s receipts. He didn’t offer Craig a ride, of course.

    It was four kilometers from the Dairy Queen to Craig’s house, on a clear cold March evening. Craig arrived at a bus stop only to spot the Number 9 speeding away: the clicking and sparking on the trolley lines almost seemed to mock him. At this late hour, it’d be a half hour wait before the next bus showed. “I’d better hoof it.” Craig muttered to himself stoically, and he began to run home.

    Running was therapy for the young man, therapy for long days of work and more work. Since his mom’s death, times were tough enough that Craig expected to drop out of school to help his brother as soon as he turned 16. But that was still two years away, in a hazy unforeseeable future, so Craig worked for sub-minimum wage at the DQ and gave his brother the money to bolster their income and help pay the mortgage. It was the responsible way to live, but why was being responsible so damn hard? He wondered whether superheroes had to be responsible, whether Shamus had made enough money as a psychic detective to retire on, or whether Avenger, terror of local criminals, kept the money he took from his raids (as one of the mayor candidates alleged) or whether they were honest and true. He wanted to think they worked as hard as Jack or himself. Heroes aren’t lazy, right?

    He had worked up a good sweat by the time he’d finished climbing the low hills around Commercial Drive, and pushed himself into a sprint. He ran through one red light – the corner was deserted – and continued sprinting until he reached Nanaimo St., where he turned north to face the lights of the North Shore, the lights of the ski lift of Whistler and Grouse Mountain visible as dots on the dark mountainside. Vancouver was a claustrophobe’s nightmare, surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth side by Burrard Inlet, itself sheltered from the sea by the great mass of Vancouver Island.

    The avenues passed swiftly as Craig pushed himself: 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th.... He stopped at the red light at 1st avenue, bypassing the 7-Eleven and the temptation of a Coke Slurpee, and continued running down Nanaimo. A few blocks north, he could hear the banging sound of very loud percussion music, coming from a nightclub. It was a small punk club. Craig wasn’t a punk rock fan: at best, he was a metalhead, and AC/DC was about as close to punk as he wanted to get, as the charms of bands like DOA, the Dead Kennedys, and I, Braineater were utterly lost on him. Still, Craig was a tolerant man at heart, and willing to let the punks enjoy their music, as long as they kept a safe distance and didn’t insult his precious cache of Led Zeppelin albums.

    She’s buying a stairway to heaven? I wonder how much that cost? Craig wondered. And who is she?

    The music from the nightclub answered with a series of obscenities. He sighed. If he wanted to hear that kind of language, I’d loiter around certain hallways at high school. Certain as in “most”. Too often it seemed like the official motto at Templeton was “F.U.” Craig didn’t particularly like swearing, but once in awhile he did it too when he was stressed. Mom would’ve had a fit.

    Craig was prepared to run past the club, but something caught his eye. There was a four story commercial complex right next door to it, and several drunken patrons from the club had spilled out and they were making a ruckus. A fight? Normally, the young man would have ignored it, but one word shouting over the din caught his attention and wouldn’t let go.

    “Jump!”

    The word was repeated by several of the other drunken rowdies, until it was taken up as a war chant. Jump! Jump! Craig slowed to a walk, slightly winded, and crept over to the area to see what was happening. By chance, a light at the top of the building illuminated a woman, standing nervously on the edge of the roof, looking down four stories to the pavement. She looked young, though in the darkness it was almost impossible to make out any facial details or tell her age with any certainty. She wasn’t swaying, so she didn’t look like she was drunk or overdosing, though some of the onlookers thought she was “high”. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” repeated the chant, led by a huge man with an out of date (even for 1983) Mohawk hairstyle who looked like he had a trace of First Nations blood and an “X’ tattooed to his face; the other ringleader was a younger, smaller but still athletic man of Chinese extraction who had the letter “Z’ tattooed. Craig wouldn’t have known they were bouncers at the club, nicknamed “Punk X” and “Punk Z”. Their paths would cross again, but not here.

    The chant came as a hammer blow to Craig’s stomach: how can anyone, even stoned or drunk, want to see someone plummet to their death? Some might argue he had an overly charitable view of the human condition. This charity no longer applied to the punk sub-culture; muttering an uncharacteristic obscenity, the kid surveyed the area, hoping to see a pay phone. There would be one in the Club, but something told him he might not be well-received there, and that it would take too long for the cops to arrive even if he could use it without being hassled. He was tired, but there were a series of fire escapes, and Craig was pretty strong, especially for someone with his lanky build. He did work out, of course! Getting up to the first story was just a leap and a chin up, and then he was scuttling like a spider up a web. It almost made him feel like a superhero.

    It was an easy climb to the fourth story, but jumping up onto the roof, gripping the edge with his hands and kicking his feet up, now that was a trick. Nonetheless, the possibility that he would fall never occurred to him. The woman needed help, and he was the only one who could do it. Who would do it. He would show them all. This is how you’re supposed to treat people, with compassion. Craig’s feet gripped the ledge and with hands and feet secure, he struggled to roll himself onto the roof. He caught a glimpse of the pavement below and nearly froze – you don’t quite realize how far off the ground you are until you’re dangling with one wrong move away from a thirty to forty foot drop beneath you. Man, that would suck. With a hard puff and a strained hoist, Craig shifted onto the roof and rose to his feet. He cautiously approached the woman as if she were an easily frightened deer, holding out his hands to either side.

    “Don’t listen to them,” Craig said, the words just coming into his mouth seemingly without conscious deliberation. “I don’t know your problems, but it’s a big world out there. I’m sure if you look hard enough, you’ll find something to live for.”

    “You’re sure about that?” the woman asked, her head bowed and her gaze fixated on the pavement and the fall.

    “Absolutely,” Craig said, becoming increasingly nervous by the second. Does he get close enough to grab her if she tries to jump? Or will she jump if I get too close? It didn’t occur to him that he was in danger too. Craig decided that it was better to talk, at least for now. “I –I’m real sure. There are a lot of good things out there, especially for someone who’s...”

    The kid’s speech faltered as he found himself about to say things that were awkward to say, especially a shy fourteen year old boy. “...for a woman like you.”

    “You’re barely a teenager,” the woman said. “What do you know about life?” There was an odd lack of emotion in her voice, in the back of his mind, Craig expected anger or bitterness. Instead she seemed serenely calm, and that frightened him more than anything.

    Craig gulped but tried not to show his nervousness. “I may not be a grown up, but honestly, I’ve had struggles. And maybe yours are worse than mine. I’m not living on the street, I don’t do drugs, and i still have one family member who I get along with who’s raising me. But it isn’t easy. School could be going better, and my job sucks, and I’m too busy to have time for friends. But I’m real certain about one thing.”

    “What?” the woman asked.

    “That life is worth fighting for,” Craig answered. Even if you don’t win, like mom. She looked like a mummy on that bed in her final week and she still fought for every breath, every heartbeat. And every time Craig looked at her, he had burst into tears. Some son he was! And yet, all mom did was smile.

    The woman smiled too, and looked at Craig, and for an instant, her eyes changed and even on the poorly lit roof on a dark evening in late February, Craig could see them clearly. They were his mother’s eyes, bright and proud as they looked up--on her gangly son, blue as Burrard Inlet on a sunny summer day. Craig gasped, and the eyes went dark, dark as storm clouds, and a flash of electricity passed through them.

    “You are worthy, Craig Carson, to command the power of Living Thunder,” she proclaimed.

    Without even lifting her hand, there was a flash out of the open sky. The first lightning bolt caught the roof ten feet from Craig, and the flash nearly blinded him. The second one caught him squarely, ironically not in an extremity, but dead center in the chest. The world became an explosion, the sound of thunder, and ears and eyes became useless. There was a strange feeling inside of Craig, an unbelievable surge of strength and manhood that overwhelmed even the pain of being electrocuted. The world was fire, but a good, strengthening fire, and his body was singing. It was the greatest feeling of Craig Carson’s young life, and his face bore a wide smile as it plummeted. The fall barely registered on him. His body – or was it his, for it was now swollen and naked – fell to the ground like a stone. Punk X and Punk Z cheered and high-fived each other and a few others followed their lead in celebrating what at first glance looked like a fatal fall, but the majority was suddenly silent. It was not just because of the sound of a thud and a crack on pavement, and not because of the miraculous lack of blood (the head had hit the pavement first) but the body itself. Craig’s form had been replaced by something else. At 6’7”, what was once Craig Carson was now nearly a foot taller, and at 280 pounds of very powerfully packed muscle; he looked like he belonged in some bodybuilding competition. Mr. Vancouver. Craig lay still and naked on the pavement below, the fall shocking him into unconsciousness. Or perhaps it was the shock of new birth.

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

    Craig awoke in a hospital ward. Two rings, a swinging door, three swings, and a departing nurse in white, quickly rushing for the exit, panic in her stride. The air smelled of sweat, despite the room’s enforced hospital sterility. If the windows had been cracked open, he might have identified it as a ward secured for prisoners in Vancouver General Hospital. He flopped his head quickly from side to side, taking in his surroundings. His breaths were as heavy as drama. Trays of medical instruments rested on either side of him; something cold and metal had been crudely hooked inside his mouth and he was tightly strapped to a bed. He didn’t realize that every attempt to prod him with a needle or an IV had resulted in the quick breakage of each needle they had tried.

    “Mom,” he moaned, vaguely remembering the eyes, his vision a doubled blur and his skull ringing like the bells atop Westminster Abbey (the ones from the abbey out in the Valley, not the big one in England. Craig had never been off the continent).

    The young man’s vision finally cleared, and a member of the Vancouver Police with a pistol trained on him, came into view. He had never had a gun pointed at him in his life.

    “Don’t shoot!” Craig shouted, the hook spitting out of his mouth. It registered as a stranger’s in his ears, two octaves lower than it had been. Is that my voice? The hell? This was accompanied by another sound: the casual motion of his arm snapping the heavy leather straps which were securing him as easily as if they had been rotting kite string. Suddenly Craig realized just how massive his arm had become – or was that his arm? It looked like it was attached to his body, but— Damn, that’s a fricking tree trunk. Looking down, he could see his bulging pectorals straining against the fabric of the loosely tied hospital robe. A few days ago, he would have killed for pecs like those, but now? He mouthed an obscenity over and over again. What the fuck had happened to me?

    "Freeze!” the cop shouted. Outside the room, the man’s partner readied a shotgun. “Calm down or you will leave us no choice!”

    “I’m freezing!” Craig said, inadvertently snapping his entire upper body loose from the straps as he held up his hands. It was insane, how easy it was. “This is me freezing, see?” Craig called out, shedding panic tears, “Don’t shoot! You might hurt someone!” The cop was cocking the trigger, but Craig’s position of surrender managed to dissuade him from firing. Barely. It was taking visible effort for him to keep from shaking. “See!” Craig sobbed. “I’m not moving! I didn’t do anything, please don’t kill me!”

    The cop almost called in a Code Violet, but something was kicking in. That old RCMP training, helping him to cope with the adrenaline. It might also have been helped by the expression of abject terror on Craig’s face.

    “What’s your name?” the cop demanded. Craig was too scared to answer. “Your name?” the officer repeated. Craig was hyperventilating now. “Calm down, Mister Muscles. Let’s talk.”

    Craig managed to comply; though he was still terrified but he wasn’t completely out of his wits. Breathe. 1,2,3, breathe. Slow your breath down. Slow the hell down, and think. It’s the only way out of this mess. And stop swearing, asshole.

    “Jack. Jack Carstairs,” the boy answered with a lie. “What happened to me?” he added.

    “You got high, Jack,” the officer said. “You fell naked from a four story building.”

    “I wasn’t high. I don’t do drugs, honest!”

    “When the doctors tried to take blood samples, they couldn’t. So they called us in. Vancouver Metahuman Unit.”

    “I’m not a superhero. I’m just a kid,” Craig protested and he analyzed his voice again. No the first time wasn’t a hallucination. He really did sound like an adult. Why did he sound like an adult? What the hell had happened to him? And look at the size of his forearm, and then there was the glimpse of his bicep. He looked at it again. God, how big was that thing? “H-How old do I appear?”

    “Mid-to-late 20s,” the officer said, gun still trained on him. It took everything Craig had to keep from panicking.

    “Oh my God! Oh my God!” He began to sob, but the sight of the officer’s gun sobered him.

    “Let’s stay calm, okay mister?”

    “I don’t do drugs!”

    “If you say so, sir.”

    “I didn’t do anything!” Craig insisted. “I only wanted to help the woman.”

    “Woman?” the officer asked. “What woman? Witnesses said they saw you – and only you – naked on the roof throwing around lightning bolts.”

    “That’s impossible,” Craig countered. “She was there, I swear, they wanted her to jump...” he sighed and then he paused to consider his circumstances.”This is crazy. I’m no supervillain, right? You looked in the files, and you didn’t see any supervillains who looked like me.”

    “No,” the cop said, weapon still trained.

    “Then please let me go. My brother will be worried sick, and I have school tomorrow,” Craig begged.

    “Not until we’ve confirmed your ID, and you’ve taken some tests,” the cop said. “UNTIL is on its way. We would like you to cooperate, and we’re sure we can handle this without anyone being hurt. Just remain calm.”

    Craig shook his head. “I’ve done nothing wrong!” he insisted.

    “Public nudity, trespassing onto the roof of a commercial establishment, and causing a public disturbance,” the officer replied, gun still trained. “Damage to public property from those lightning bolts...”

    Craig took several deep breaths and then looked the officer directly in the eyes. Craig had no idea how intimidating that was, not yet. He swallowed hard to collect his composure. “Okay. I have muscles on top of my muscles, needles won’t penetrate my skin, and I survived being hit by lightning and falling fifty feet,” he said, slightly exaggerating the distance. Honest mistake. “That makes me a superhero. And bullets bounce off superheroes, right?”

    In his moment of crisis, he turned to thoughts of his hero, Vanguard. Craig visualized him as he had seen him in the pages of Unbelievable Action Tales. Hands on his hips. Those pecs and those biceps. That smile. Hurtling through space like a speeding rocket. Bullets, bombs, nothing could stop him! Only the thought of a bad guy getting away with his crime gave him pause, or that’s what the comic books had said. Craig had stopped buying them a few years back – Jack had mocked them one time too often – but he had never stopped idolizing the man, or taken down the posters. “What would Vanguard say?” That was his favorite poster. Use your noggin and everything will work out for the best.

    “The mob tried to shoot Vanguard how many times?” Craig argued.

    The officer twitched, but steeled himself. “You wanna bet your life on that? That’s pretty stupid, Jack.”

    “Maybe, maybe not,” Craig said. “Look, this just happened to me, and you’re pulling a gun on me? You want to stick me in a lab? I can’t deal with this, not yet. Could you?”

    “This isn’t some government conspiracy,” the officer claimed. “But we have to protect the general public whenever a new meta appears,” he added. Clearly he was still nervous, even Craig could see it. The young Vancouverite found the argument unconvincing. “We can’t be too careful until we’re sure you don’t represent a threat to the general public. You do understand that, don’t you Jack?”

    “Tell you what,” Craig said. “If you let me go, I’ll get back to UNTIL on my own, once I’ve dealt with this, I promise. And I promise not to break any laws, and I’ll use these powers to help people and fight crime, honest!”

    The officer shook his head. “Rules, Jack,” he said firmly.

    “...are made to be broken, right?” Craig asked. He could see from the expression on the man’s face that he was unconvinced. “If I was a threat, I’d have done something by now. Thrown a lightning bolt at you or something. But I haven’t, okay?” Craig argued. He wondered if he could throw lightning. That would be cool. “Have I acted like a threat to you at all? Even once?”

    “You did break the straps,” the officer noted.

    “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t know what was happening, and I still didn’t hurt anyone. If I didn’t hurt anyone when I was shitting mys— when I was scared out of my mind, am I gonna hurt you now? You asked me to calm down, so I calmed down, okay? Situation’s good, okay?”

    The officer looked Craig in the eyes and nodded, One wrong move, one bad reading of the situation, and people could die. Innocence could be faked. It could be an act. But then, he thought, looking into his eyes, what if this was my kid? It was a question a cop should never ask.

    Sighing, inexplicably, he finally holstered the weapon. Both of their hearts were beating madly, but the calm that came over the kid’s face was a relief to both men.

    “Thanks,” Craig said. He never felt more relieved in his life.

    “Just be warned, my partner is outside, and if you try anything...”

    “I get it, Craig said, and he gave the officer a long look. “You’re in the meta unit. You’re trained not to take risks. Not to mention that you must have had some real crappy experiences with supervillains,” he said.

    “A few,” the officer affirmed.

    “What happened?”

    “Can’t talk about them,” the man replied, “Rules. Or I shouldn’t...” and then the expression on Craig’s face changed his mind. Maybe, he thought, the kid needed to hear more about what he was getting into. Rules be damned.

    “There was an operation a few months back. It went south in a real bad way. We weren’t ready for him.”

    “Who’s him?” Craig asked. There was a tinge of fear on the man’s face just thinking about him.

    “Black Spectre. The Black Spectre. We thought we were going in just against Talon, and that would have been bad enough. But no. He was there. Green and glowing and smiling like a son of a bitch.”

    “You tried to run?”

    “Yeah. There wasn’t much point. He just toyed with us. We kept retreating, he kept teleporting in front of us just when we thought we were safe. Didn’t break a sweat. Fried two members of my unit without even trying, and two of the people who did survive… well, they were diagnosed with cancer last month.”

    "At least you didn’t get hit.”

    The officer pulled up his vest to show off some scar tissue, a hideous burn on his stomach which had only just begun to fade. “He got me. The jury’s still out on just how bad it’ll be.”

    Black Spectre was a Soviet supervillain, a radioactive mutant. Craig had heard stories about him. But cancer, that touched a nerve. “God, I’m sorry,” Craig said. “My mom died of liver cancer. It was—it was really bad,” he said.

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” the officer replied.

    “She used to tell me everything had a purpose. Cra— Even when she was dying, she told me there was a reason behind it. God knows what it was. I’ll never fucking understand. Sorry. Need to watch my language.” Craig said. It suddenly occurred to him that it was unwise to divulge such personal information to the cops, at least, not until he had proven himself. It was at that moment that Craig realized he was going to become a superhero. He broke free of the leg straps and rose to his feet, the gown barely covering his front section. The officer gave a hand signal to his partner to stand down. God, he felt strong with solid ground beneath his feet. He was beginning to appreciate what he had become.

    “My belief in what she’s said is what has kept me going. I don’t know what my purpose is, but I don’t think it’s to stay in some lab and go through tests like a fricking gerbil. And I don’t think your purpose is to shoot someone who wants to help.” Craig said.

    The officer lowered his head in dismay. “I’m throwing my career down the toilet,” he muttered.

    “My brother’s a plumber. He taught me how to fix toilets,” Craig responded, smiling. “If I become a big superhero, then maybe I can put in a good word. The police listen to superheroes, right?”

    “You have a lot to learn about police,” the officer stated, knowing how little respect SUNDER had with Vancouver’s PD. Oh, the jokes they made! How many members of SUNDER did it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they’re too busy screwing your investigation. Police humor. The only hero who got along with the cops was a masked vigilante named Acrobat, and even that relationship was strained.

    “Well, Captain East Vancouver will not forget you,” Craig promised with a grin.

    The officer shook his head. “Can you do me a favor? Pick another name, please? One that’s a little shorter?”

    Craig sighed. “Fine,” he said.

    The officer nodded. “I don’t know why anyone would become a superhero, but after eight years on the force, I keep wondering why anyone would become a cop too.”

    “You help people,” Craig suggested.

    The cop sighed. “You say that you have ideals now and I believe you, but you’re going to be dealing with the scum of the earth day in and day out, making more life and death decisions than God Himself, and the media and the government will be breathing down your necks every step of the way. On a good day, you’ll be convinced that three-quarters of your colleagues are fricking insane, and on the bad days, you’ll think you’re the only sane man left alive. You’ll come home from work incredibly bored because you had to stake out a place for twelve hours in the vain hope of dredging up one piece of information that will lead you to the bad guys, or you’ll come home battered, beaten, unappreciated and betrayed. Being a superhero has to suck. You know what I’d do if I woke up looking like you?”

    “What?”

    The officer looked at the huge, perfectly sculpted man-god who was standing in front of him, and then down at his own somewhat less toned arms and stomach. “Get laid,” he said. “Every fricking day. Hell, every waking moment,” he added, chuckling. “And don’t tell my wife I said that. That’s advice for you, I’m off the market!”

    Craig pondered this statement. Pick up girls or be a superhero? He considered how he acted around girls at school, how their comments could sting him at times, and how the ones he most wanted to date were the ones least likely to say yes, or who had permanent boyfriends among the “cool” set. Superhero, he decided. Superhero would definitely be easier.

    Craig nodded at the officer. “Uh-- thanks for your advice, mister,” he said, walking out.

    “You really gonna leave here in that hospital gown?” the officer asked.

    “I’ll need to find clothes,” Craig said, looking up and down his body. He probably would be spending the rest of the day just staring at himself. The wave of thoughts that bolted through his mind was almost overwhelming: he was drowning in a sea of questions now that the panic had subsided. What do I tell Jack? Can I ever change back, or is this what I am forever? Did I just lose fifteen years of my life? How am I going to go to school looking like this? How does a person become a superhero? What’s my superhero name going to be?

    The officer nodded and pulled out a business card. “Ernest Weston” it read, along with his home address and telephone. The man wrote down a second address. “I have an apartment, but my sister has a house with a back yard and some privacy,” he said. “Meet me there in an hour. I’ll have some gym clothes for you. And if you need to talk or even a place to stay for a few days, I guess I can offer it,” he said. “In the meantime, I really urge you to consider UNTIL. They’ll have a place where you can see what you can do, and you’ll be able to talk with others who’ve been through the exact same thing you’re dealing with. They’re the good guys. We’re all the good guys.”

    “I’m a good guy too!”

    “Time will tell,” the officer said.

    “I promise,” Craig’s voice was painfully earnest. “Only and always a good guy.”

    “Life’s not always that simple for guys like you.” Weston said.

    “You’l see,” Craig promised. “But thanks. I will check out UNTIL later, you have my word. For now I want to see what I can do myself.”

    “I’d probably feel the same way,” the officer admitted. “And if I can tell the force I’m keeping an eye on you, I may get out of this with only a demotion or two. I can keep an eye on you, can’t I?”

    Craig nodded. The next step he took would be the start of a walk down a very long road, the road of heroes. It wouldn’t be easy. Aside from sparring with Jack (or serving as the victim of occasional brotherly bullying), Craig wasn’t a fighter. And there were so many supervillains in the world. Black Spectre! The Overlord! Plague! Deathgrip! Professor Muerte! Rictus! Leviathan! And the worst and deadliest villain of them all, Doctor Destroyer!

    Craig hoped he would never have to face that guy.

    Eventually the young man would become one of the most famous superhumans in Canada, respected around the globe and far beyond for his strength, fairness and character, compassion toward the weak, courage in the face of impossible odds, loyalty to friends and teammates, and humility despite possessing the powers of a god. He would be one of the few who usually held true to the tenets of his trade without becoming a cliché or an embarrassment. But for now he was a gawky fourteen-year-old in a body that defied reason, a man who could move mountains. He had a lot to learn, real fast.

  4. #14
    Inceptor
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    16

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    Day of the Tornado

    Dark clouds had settled over Millennium, a summer storm, searing heat meeting the last trough of a cold winter, fueled by the Lakes. Craig Carson knew it was going to be a bad one. It was perhaps the least useful of his powers, his storm sense. It wasn’t as showy as throwing a tank at VIPER or hurtling across the sky at Mach 2, or throwing thunderbolts. But on a day like today, it was useful.

    “Guys,” Craig said, contacting UNTIL. “We have a situation.”

    The officer on duty was Agent Catherine Shaw, a two year UNTIL vet, if a mere two years of service allowed you to call someone a veteran. Comm duty in the Millennium office was a far cry from her previous tenure serving in Afghanistan, but Ms. Shaw was able to find a challenge in anything. As soon as she received Thundrax’s signal, she instructed the nearest drone to intercept.

    “I copy, Captain,” she said, quickly tracing the rank through the signal. “It’s not the best signal. There’s a lot of bad weather.”

    “I know,” Craig said. “That’s the situation.”

    Craig patched his HUD into the UNTIL signal, and Catherine Shaw gulped as she found herself staring at a large funnel cloud, about to make touchdown.

    “I believe the words that come to mind are: “Oh shit.”” Craig said.

    “Protocols, Captain,” Shaw stated. “No cussing on duty. Except in Gaelic.”

    “And what’s Gaelic for “Oh shit”?”

    “O cack,” Shaw answered.

    Craig shook his head. “I was expecting more of a tongue-twister,” he quipped.

    The agent chuckled and turned her attention to the storm. “Taking a radar snapshot,” she announced, and she frowned. “It’s an F4.”

    “What does that reset on my keyboard?” Craig asked, joking.

    “It means it’s almost the worst kind of twister we can imagine.” Shaw answered. “Three hundred kilometers per hour in the vortex. Three hundred meter radius, moving...”

    “Sounds like the tornado that hit Edmonton in ’87. SUNDER had to help clean it up.” Craig said. “And I can sense its path. Extrapolating...” Craig overlaid its path and his eyes widened in horror. “It’s going to hit five apartment buildings’. That’s possibly hundreds of casualties. I’ve got to stop it...”

    “But what can you do to stop THAT, Thundrax?”

    Craig considered the problem for a minute. “I’ve been developing new powers lately. Weather control. I was able to use them in my last battle to save people when the bad guy summoned a localized hurricane. If I can reach the core, I may be able to take control and get it to calm down...”

    Agent Shaw looked into the virulent storm as it raged. With its wide base of destruction, ascending into the crown of stormheads, blacker than black, lightning flashing as it raged, it resembled nothing less than a nuclear explosion that would not go away. Craig Carson was a two meter man, 6’7” tall. The storm was well over a kilometer in height and the funnel was hundreds of meters wide. What could one man do against that?

    As it turned out, little, at least at first. Craig Carson charged into the storm, got caught in the funnel, and like an inconvenient house, was whipped around in the vortex and came shooting out the other side. He slammed into the pavement in a nearby park, upending asphalt and turf and groaning as he pulled himself from the ground, which was wet and slick from the storm that had accompanied the tornado.

    “Well, this sucks.” Craig moaned. He had to slap below his ear to get the comm implant to work.
    “Do you have any recommendations?”

    “UNITY is finishing up an assignment, Captain,” Shaw said. “I would recommend waiting for them.”

    “I don’t think we have time,” Craig stated, and he brushed himself off. “Well, let me try this again. This time I’ll thundercharge myself.” Craig brought a small storm around himself, clouds and energy bristling at his fingertips, lightning overlaid on his form, a coursing electric fire. Having ignited the torch of his challenge, Craig Carson screamed and shot himself into the storm. Three times he tried to reach the core, and three times he was given the bum’s rush, being unceremoniously deposited over the landscape in less than dignified positions. Craig mouthed an obscenity.

    “I’m soaked to the bone,” Craig said. “Some plumber I turned out to be.”

    “Plumber?”

    “The Carson family trade.” Craig answered. “Plumbing and superheroics.”

    “Are you hurt?” Shaw asked.

    “Yeah,” Craig replied. “I’ve got a very sore ass, and I took a mortal wound to my pride. Gonna need surgery when this is over. By the way, miss, what’s your name?”

    “Catherine Shaw, sir,”

    “That’s Catherine Shaw, Craig,” Thundrax corrected, “You ever meet my brother?”

    “No sir,” Shaw replied.

    “Good,” Craig nodded. “That means I don’t have to apologize for him. Well, Ms. Shaw, I did feel a connection on the last pass. I think in a couple more tries, I may just figure this thing out.”

    “Captain, it’s only a minute away from the first apartment building at its current ground velocity.”

    “I know,” Craig said, and he charged again into the fray.

    I’m not used to this, he thought as he approached the sky horror. I’m a Man vs. Man guy, or on occasion Man vs. Himself. Man vs. Nature isn’t in my line of work.

    He was bounced again and lay on his back, staring into the black sky. “Well, what do you know,” he
    said as he composed himself for the next attempt. “I actually found a use for the crap I learned in Elementary school.”

    The storm continued to rage, as if mocking him. Craig charged again; this time he held himself in the storm’s edge, screaming as the vortex battered him. The winds pounded every inch of him, black rain washed him, soaking him to the bone, and soon the winds were swamped with debris as it reached the first of the apartment buildings.

    “STOP!” Craig screamed. He may as well have remained silent.

    The stormhowl laughed at him, and there were snapping sounds, numerous snaps and groans and crunches. The demolition had begun. Four stories filled with lives, human lives, people about to have their evening meal, kids playing on their cell phones, a man, having gotten drunk early, who was arguing with the weather channel. Many, living in apartments that faced the storm, screamed as the shambling abyss swallowed them.

    “No!” Craig shouted at the storm. “No! No! No!” But the twister was merciless, and soon Craig was swamped in a sudden cesspool of death and debris. Lives were destroyed. Lives were ended, thrown like an angry child hurling blocks. And Craig, a ragdoll in the maelstrom, a lowly little thing, was buried in the debris. And yet, for one terrible second, Craig felt something awesome and awful and unexpected.

    He felt, for the briefest of instants, like he belonged there.

    The hero shuddered, looking at a dead body lying torn in the detritus. How could he feel at home in that?

    Craig sighed, closed his eyes, and thought of the person who lay dismembered next to him. A middle-aged African-American woman, probably a mother. The apartment was occupied by the lower middle class: the working poor, struggling community college students and families with single parents. Nobody cared about them. No one would miss them. They were the people who held no worth in society, no status, the disposables.

    “No fucking way,” Craig said, his voice a quivering sobbing tremolo expressing anger that was as heavy as grief, and he vowed that no one else would die that day. He also knew that he would probably not keep that promise.

    “Captain!” Shaw shouted, her voice not hiding her alarm. “Captain!”

    Some captain he was. Captains were leaders of men, saviors of those under their charge. The hero rose to his feet and moaned. “I’m alive. Not even all that hurt. But the building’s completely destroyed. We’ll need a team to sweep for survivors. It looks bad.”

    “I’m trying to get some help for you, Captain,” Shaw reported.

    “Most of Millennium City’s heroes are engaged in a battle downtown,” a voice said, coming through the intercom. “The Champions are dealing with an extra dimensional threat. You are alone, Craig.”

    Thundrax sighed. “Welcome to the party, HUGIN.” He said, recognizing UNTIL’s AI.

    “HUGIN?” Shaw wondered. HUGIN was UNTIL’s AI. It was the closest thing UNTIL had to a big boss, short of the Secretary-Marshall. It was as though the President took over the line from a 911 operator.

    “You may assist,” HUGIN said. ”Craig, I’m aware of what you’re attempting to do. But need I remind you that you were only partially able to mitigate Primordo’s winds? And the winds in this storm possess an energy level four orders of magnitude higher than that you faced on that occasion. And these new abilities of yours are untested.”

    “I know,” Craig said, catching his breath and staring at the funnel.

    “We should think of a new strategy,” Shaw said.

    Craig looked beyond, to the nearest apartment building, an eighteen story tower. “No this is our best shot. Last time, I felt something when I was in the storm, a connection. If I can get to the funnel again and connect fully, I think I can just nudge it,” he said. “No more deaths,” he added, and took off again into the vortex.

    Craig found that the tornado, having touched down, had captured a great deal of debris. Craig was struck by the carriage of an SUV and the front of a pick-up truck, along with a lot of loose jetsam. In seconds, Craig was rebuffed, lying on his back, groaning again.

    “Well, that didn’t work,” Craig said. The comm was barely functioning. “I need to try something more drastic. Time’s almost up.” The storm cloud was only a few hundred meters from the second apartment.

    Eighteen stories. Hundreds of lives. When Craig first got his powers, decades ago, the woman who gifted them, the goddess with his mother’s eyes, told him he was worthy of the gift of Living Thunder. Living Thunder. What did that even mean? He could feel storms, he always could, he sensed them with an eerie intuition. He could always guess when they arrived, how strong they’d be, knew their path and intensity. That sense was what brought him here in the first place, to the unexpected apocalypse. But what if could he do more?

    “I need to fully integrate myself into the storm before the debris can hit me.” Craig decided. “Give myself to it completely. Become the storm.”

    “Craig,” HUGIN asked. “Have you ever done anything even remotely like this before?”

    “Once. It didn’t go so great. And that time I had an anchor.” He remembered the incident with the Hobbled Man. He had barely survived. And there’s no one to pull his ass out of the fire this time.

    “I strongly advise against this,” the AI warned him. “Total integration could mean the complete loss of self.”

    There was no time to argue. Craig took a few precious moments to compose himself. The storm had reached the steel gating around the complex, tearing it like an energetic child pulling on hot taffy. “No,” the hero answered. “I’ve got to do this. I know I can do it, or at least I’ve got a chance of doing this. And as long as I have a hope, they have a hope.”

    “Craig,” HUGIN said. “You will likely die.”

    “I can’t die,” Craig quipped. “Who’d look after Hobo?”

    “Take this seriously, please Craig.” HUGIN said.

    Craig sighed. “Fine, if you want serious, here’s serious. My death is over thirty years overdue, UGIN. People who get hit by lightning and fall off buildings die, they don’t get powers. They don’t become gods,” the hero replied. “I’ve been in debt to the world ever since the night I first became Thundrax. This might be the day I finally pay off that debt at last.”

    That had always been his attitude. He remembered when it began, the night of the thunderbolt, that woman’s eyes – his dead mother’s eyes – and the pain as the lightning bolt sheared him, transforming him. He should have died, but instead it started the ride of a lifetime. What a ride it had been. Decades of punches, acclaim, colorful costumes, long speeches and tragedy. And the people, oh, the people. He remembered those who had been close to him: Shamus. Avenger. Ravenspeaker, David. Ann. Jim Exington. Sarah. Gabe. Faye. Chivalry., Ted. Inde. Cord. Arthur. Lucy. Rune. Amber. Hunter. Zeph. Keio. Max. Flynn and Aeva. Dan. Arnie. The Protectors. So many damn people had touched his life. Fuck it, he wanted to hug them all.

    And then there was Jack, bouncing through the time stream. I love you, big brother. I’m sorry for everything I ever said about you. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. But I can save them.

    “If this is how I go out,” Craig said, a lump in his throat. “Tell my friends I love them. There’s got to be a list somewhere.”

    “I will,” HUGIN promised.

    “Just make sure someone takes care of the dog.”

    “I will,” HUGIN promised again.

    “I always wondered how Vanguard felt when he saw the asteroid, back on the day Detroit died. I bet he said: “to hell with it, I’m going out at full speed.” I bet it felt something like this...”

    And with those words, Craig Carson launched himself into the heart of the twister.

    As he approached the funnel, Craig slowed, and he concentrated, gathering the storm around him,. Again the winds buffeted him, and again the debris battered him. But this time, Craig let himself go. He attuned himself to the storm, made it a part of his thunder. He became its lightning and was shot into the cloud to rage. His voice was lightning. His touch was lightning, and the thunder became his will.

    And the voice screamed: “STOP!”

    His Spirit made the heavens beautiful,
    and his power pierced the gliding serpent.
    These are just the beginning of all that he does,
    merely a whisper of his power.
    Who, then, can comprehend the thunder of his power?


    Of course, his thunder was only the merest reflection of the One spoken in the book of Job — nonetheless, it would have to do. He screamed STOP! with a voice of thunder, over and over again. He rode the apocalypse, and the storm bristled like a horse that was only starting to calm. He sent his thunder into the storm, extending his will into storm fingers, following the lines of pressure and velocity, taming the devil winds. His senses blackened, and even the howl was no more.

    “UNTIL, are you reading me?” Craig signaled UNTIL. He repeated the message three times, and on the third attempt, the message went from a crackle to a scream that nearly blasted everyone on channel.

    I don’t understand this signal gain, sir.” Agent Shaw said.

    “He’s tapped into the storm,” HUGIN said. “No, he IS the storm now. Is there any sign of his body?”

    Shaw quickly played back the footage, and to her horror, she saw Craig flayed alive, his physical form disintegrating and being swallowed by the funnel. She replayed it several times and each time the horror mounted.

    “I see it,” HUGIN acknowledged.

    “The storm’s changing.” Agent Shaw noted. “Slowing down...”

    “AHHH!” Thundrax screamed through the comm, almost breaking the receivers. “Damn! This hurts!” He shouted a series of obscenities. And even profanity, which Craig never used.

    “Craig,” HUGIN said. “You’re feeling the entire storm now. Its turbulence is your psyche.”

    “I can’t feel my body, HUGIN,” Craig said, and he screamed again, as if you could torture a thunderbolt. His screams rattled the room, his raw, unchecked pain shaking it like an angry mother admonishing a child. So much of his life had been pain. And people dared to call this a glamorous job!

    “Craig,” HUGIN admitted coldly. “There’s no sign of your physical form. You’re already dead. And what’s left of you is dying with the storm. As soon as that twister goes, you’re gone.”

    Already dead. Craig wanted to laugh. He should have laughed. Why wasn’t he laughing?”

    “Things are starting to slip, HUGIN,” Craig said. “I think I just lost my sense of humor. Literally.” He paused to consider this. The storm was slowing around him and the pain had ebbed; the wild dance in which he had become entangled was ending, the last notes were fading, and with them, Craig also faded. “I- I can’t remember my mom’s eyes. Or Jack’s face. Or the color of our old house.”

    Is this it? A fleeting thought came into Craig’s mind. He’d beaten a host of villains: Invictus, Borealis, Zorasto, Necrull, the Black Paladin, and so many others. He’d broken the top twenty on VIPER’s “Kill on sight” hit parade. He’d help kick the Warmonger into the far reaches of space. His company had led the green revolution in energy and space development, fostered hope for a brighter, cleaner future, equitable for all. And now he was about to bite the big one because of a big bag of wind?

    HUNIN would have nodded, if he had a head. “You’re dissipating in the storm. Your memories. Parts of your personality. Your brain’s processing centers were transferred into the storm, stored in electrical impulses, and now they’re fading as the storm fades.”

    This was always the case of the Living Thunder. Craig could never stay long in the same place; how many people had he annoyed, over the long years, by arriving in a place and then leaving almost immediately? Stillness was death, and the serenity that should have brought peace only awakened a growing horror. “I’m- I’m frightened.” Craig said. “I think the p-part of me t-that’s brave is gone.”

    “You need to hold on. To everything.”

    “I don’t know how to do that.” Craig admitted.

    Shaw shook her head, projecting the latest data on screen. She needn’t have bothered. “The storm’s winds are down to an F2, dropping rapidly. And you’ve changed course away from the apartment. The people are safe now.” She reported.

    “You won, Craig,” HUGIN said.

    “I’m losing it!” Craig cried, his voice wobbling in obvious fear.

    “Craig,” HUGIN said. “You need to hold yourself together just a little while longer. I’ve gotten through to UNITY. We’re almost clear for teleport. Quasar will be there in only a few more minutes. His energy form will absorb you and we can reconstitute you from there. Just a little longer, Craig.”

    "I can’t! I’m falling apart!”

    “A little bit longer, Craig, please!” No one had ever heard HUGIN beg before. But the monitor only showed the storm abating, the funnel withdrawing into the clouds.

    “The storm, it’s just vanishing.” Shaw said. She needn’t have spoken.

    “Help me!” Craig shouted. “God help me!! Please God!”

    “Winds have dropped below an F1. The funnel has completely gone...”

    “HELP M—”

    Then there was silence. An absolute and sudden silence, a tomb-like absence of noise and life. For a moment, the room fell as silent as any room that Catherine Shaw had ever been in.

    “Did we just lose Thundrax?” she wondered in disbelief.

    After a long silence, as those in the room held their breath for a seeming eternity, she had her answer. “Attention, UNTIL,” HUGIN’s voice resonated in every UNTIL installation on the planet, and even on Gateway in orbit above. Twenty-one minutes later, they would be spoken on Marsbase. “Captain Craig Alexander Carson has fallen. He gave his life as he lived it, in service of others, never wavering from his ideals, never giving into fear. All flags are to be lowered to half mast for three days, effective immediately, and a minute of silence will be observed, effective at the top of the hour.”

    “Never giving into fear?” Miss Shaw observed. “But you heard him at the end. He was terrified.”

    “Ms. Shaw,” HUNIN informed her. “The Craig Carson I knew faced down against Destroyer without powers and did not flinch. He walked into the flames of Firewing willingly, and entered the Qliphotic realm. What you heard at the end was not Craig Carson, it was a shard of his persona. A shattering. An echo. I intend to honor him as he deserves.” HUNIN paused. “There are only a handful of individuals that I’ve ever called my friend. Craig was one of them. No one must ever know what he said at the end. Ever.”

    “Aye sir,” Ms. Shaw answered. He had not phrased it as an order, but she knew it was one. She had no desire to share what she had heard. Death had a way of destroying one’s dignity. Fuck death.

    Catherine Shaw, keeper of secrets, rose from her chair, asking to be dismissed. She would need to take a leave of absence, a long one. She, like the rest of the planet, would have to go on in a world with one fewer Canadian. Dr. Scott, the super powers expert from Duke, speculated that Craig might yet be alive, his psyche held in scattered storm particles, and many clung to those words. He was only “comic book dead”, people said, and that brought comfort and hope to them. Who could blame them? Yet even with that hope, Canada was stunned, close to shattered, and many whose lives he had touched were in tears. A superhero lives a thankless life until they die, and then the census comes in, the lives they saved, the people they made better. Craig was better at making things better than many, and he had been in the game a long, long time. A pity it took death to get people to start counting.

    Craig Carson went out screaming at a storm, saving lives. That made him a hero. Craig Carson went out terrified of death. That made him a man.

    Thundrax had emphatically insisted that no memorial service be held for him – a request that was widely ignored, even for one who was only “comic book dead”. He was the Man Who Made Tomorrow Better, and more tomorrows needed him. But Agent Shaw, who had heard the screams, heard the storm whimper, and saw the tornado disappear like magic before her eyes, knew otherwise. There wasn’t a shadow of doubt in her mind.

    Craig Carson was dead. And he wasn’t coming back.
    Last edited by Thundrax; Yesterday at 10:10 PM.

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