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Thread: War of the Dimensions

  1. #11
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    Mar 2018
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    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
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    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
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    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
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    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; 05-22-2018 at 10:10 PM.

  5. #15
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    “This is boring,” Sean Doerksen complained, his thin voice stretched into an irritating whine. The teenage son of Craig’s former Northern Guard leader was not having a good day. “I thought when you were going to show me your business, you’d show me some exciting stuff!”

    Craig Carson sighed and pulled at the collar of his business suit. His godson had been in a whiny mood all day, it was one of his less enchanting visits. “For pity’s sake, Sean,” Thundrax replied. “I’ve shown you the new drill bit head for the asteroid miner, our new lunar telescope design, and the plans for the rec center we’re building in Westside.” Craig shook his head. “That’s as exciting as it gets here.”

    “It sucks,” Sean said. “It’s boring!”

    “Welcome to being an adult,” Craig snapped back.

    “Being an adult sucks.” Sean groused, and then a light shining in the corner of his eye caught his attention. “Hey, what’s that?”

    A golden portal had materialized in the center of Craig Carson’s normally austere office. It was glittering, from the light and the color, and it sang as it shone. Craig blinked and motioned for Sean to keep his distance.

    “Help! Help!” came a woman’s voice out of the portal.

    Sean Doerksen suddenly stopped slouching. It was almost (but not quite) enough to get him to put down his cell phone. “We’re coming!” he shouted and he bolted for the portal.

    “No Sean, wait!” Craig said, and he tried to grab the nimble young man as he dove into the gateway. But he was too late. Upon touching it, Sean vanished entirely from the world.

    Craig muttered a curse and glared at the portal. “Talk to me, Kivioq.” Craig shouted, knowing his AI would hear it. “What the hell is that?” Craig guessed it wasn’t a stairway to heaven.

    “It isn’t a technological warp of space-time, although there is a tachyon surge surrounding it.” The AI reported. “Temperature and radiation are consistent with the surrounding area, despite the color shift. There’s no sign that it’s actually there, despite the fact my sensors can see and hear it.” The AI paused for a second. “It’s consistent with other dimensional portals of arcane origin, Craig.”

    “Call Billy and Sparrowhawk,” Craig sighed. “Get them to come here and come here pronto. Someone’s in trouble, and Sean’s with them. I gotta go in.” And Craig Carson leapt into the portal and also vanished.

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

    “Uncle Craig?” Sean coaxed, prodding him with his foot. “Uncle Craig! Not that I’m panicking, but could you please wake up before the cyclops eats us!”

    Craig groaned and stirred, but the sound of a woman’s scream brought him to his feet in an instant. Instincts of a hero, even a dated and chauvinistic one. He wondered what Alex would say, and wondered that again as he spotted a twenty-foot-tall cyclops, club in one hand, flailing and screaming woman in the other.

    Craig swallowed a curse, he dove out of the way of the club, catching sight of the white and blue skirt he was wearing. His clothing had transmogrified. Smash! The club fell into the ground, making a small pit, or a hole. Dust flew everywhere. Craig suppressed a cough and focused on the fight.

    Think about the skirt later. He’s winding up for another strike, the woman’s still flailing. Go for the knee, Carson. Take out the knee. Crap, flight’s not working.

    Craig leapt at the knee, falling short in his tracks. The cyclops, already committed to the blow, fell short with his attempt. Craig rolled to his feet, brushing off the dust.

    Damn, can’t fly. Figure that out later. Hit him now and hit him hard.

    Bam! The cyclops fell to one knee, howling.

    Cyclops on one knee. Damn the heart’s racing. Must be the heat. Double-handed fist, get him in the jaw.

    With that, Thundrax took advantage of his opening and, with a mighty crack, felled the monster. The cyclops fell to his back, groaning.

    Woman, first, then club. Okay, got her.

    “You’re not Hercules!” the woman exclaimed.

    “He’s off somewhere doing a labor for Zeus, or something.” Craig quipped, and he pushed the lady toward Sean. He was also clad in a white Grecian tunic, and was still holding his StonePhone. He had a doe-eyed, bewildered expression.

    Guess the kid still needs to get used to fights breaking out all around him.

    “Get her to safety!” Craig barked.

    Sean said something in reply, probably something like “Look out!”, as the cyclops was regaining his footing, his face a mask of pain and rage. Craig saw it. Even his other, normal , non-superhuman body, which needed contacts, could have seen that one. Craig, moving as usual with the grace and skill of an NFL halfback, dodged the blow. He tried to grab the club and wrench it out of the giant’s grasp. It was a struggle.This shouldn’t be such a struggle.

    The cyclops, bellowing with a gorgonous growl and giving a mighty heave, swung his club with the hero still pulling at it, and he flung Craig thirty feet. The hero tumbled in the dust. The landing, much to his surprise, scraped his skin. He had landed hard and awkward, hard enough to break bones if he was unlucky. Groaning, he gauged the damage, testing the shoulder he had landed on. He could still roll it, though it hurt like hell.

    It’s not dislocated, good. At worst, it’s a sprain. But that *hurt*. That hurt way more than normal.

    “Roar!” the cyclops roared, which Craig decided was cyclops for “I’m going to kill you.” He was not the best conversationalist.

    Down comes the club again. What an odd motion, almost as if it were frames from a movie? So slow and almost staccato. And swing it like a golf club, you idiot, not straight down! You’re exposing your jaw, again. Better hit it when he drops the hammer. Let’s end this.

    With a great leap and a mighty swing, Craig slammed his fist into the cyclops’ jaw for a second time, this time harder than the first. There was another crack and with surprising, almost comic quickness, the cyclops was on the ground in a prone position. Craig did not give him a chance to recover. He barreled into the center of the monster’s chest – the cyclops was clad in rags cobbled together out of animal skins, and bowled him onto his back, like a well aimed medicine ball felling someone too clumsy to catch it. Punch after punch rained down on the cyclops’ face until at last the monster was beaten.

    “There you go, ma’am.” Craig said, wiping the sweat off his face. He looked down on his arm. It was bronze, a good healthy tan. He was nearly fifty, and he had never had such a tan in his life, either in Craig form or as Thundrax. He stared at his arm in disbelief.

    “If only you had your sword!” the woman gasped. “That brute will awaken any minute! Quick, take a rock and smash in its skull!”

    But Craig shook his head and closed his eyes, briefly remembering the past. Incidents that had gone wrong. “I won’t kill him, ma’am. I don’t kill.” he declared.

    “Won’t kill!” the woman declared with a gasp and a shocked expression. “Why-- what kind of a hero are you?”

    “I’m not a hero, ma’am.” Craig answered. “I’m just a stupid muscle-bound oaf who likes to do the right thing. These days, doing right seems to be heroic in and of itself.”

    “But what happens the next time it tries to kill?” the woman protested.

    “Hopefully, it’ll just attack an animal and leave people alone,” Craig shrugged, but he was frowning. For some reason, Sean was finding this conversation incredibly funny, and could barely contain his laughter. “In the meantime, we should get you to some civilization. Can you walk? I see that the cyclops tore your dress.”

    “Why thank you.” the woman said. “By the way, the name is Paulina.”

    “Craig—“ Craig blurted out, and then Sean pushed him aside.

    “Actually, it’s Kratos.” Sean interjected.

    “Oh thank you, Kratos!” the woman exclaimed.

    “Kratos?” Craig winced and he pulled Sean aside for a private conversation. “Isn’t he that big jerk from that stupid video game you’re always playing?”

    “Yeah, he’s awesome,” Sean beamed. “Just like you, uncle Craig.”

    ‘Stop buttering me up.” Craig scowled. “And how do we know the portal didn’t lead into your videogame? And that once your immortal Kratos finds out that he’s being impersonated, he’ll kill us both?”

    “This can’t be a game. There was no intro movie,” Sean shrugged. “If we were in a videogame, we’d have seen some sort of intro movie to waste time setting up the plot!” The hero’s son beamed, consumed with his own cleverness, barely looking up from his phone. “It sucks that I don’t have access to the net, but I have enough programs in RAM that it shouldn’t be too bad. And I still have tunes.”

    “Movies from home?”

    “Yeah. Messages from mom and dad. They kinda suck, but I’m glad I have them now.”

    “How much charge do you have?” Craig asked.

    “Unlimited.” Sean answered. “Solar charger. My own design,” he added boastfully.

    “Good.” Craig said. “We have something even the gods don’t possess. By the way, keep your eye out for anything suspicious,” he whispered. “For example, have you noticed Paulina’s lips?”

    “Yeah, she’s wearing an awful lot of makeup.” Sean said.

    “Not that.” Craig replied, though Sean was not wrong about the makeup. “Watch when she talks. Her lip movements don’t match her words,” continuing to talk furtively. “It’s like she’s being badly dubbed.”

    “Maybe somebody’s running a translation program?” Sean wondered. Craig nodded.

    “Or a spell,” the hero said. “I’ve seen them before, but they’re usually not so obvious.”

    “Maybe we’re in a Japanese anime dimension!” Sean exclaimed.

    Craig growled. “Don’t even suggest it,” he said.

    They returned to the woman, who seemed almost oblivious to their presence. “What are we going to do now, Kratos?” Sean asked. Craig flinched at the name. He was still going through with this name crap. And enjoying it, too.

    “Look for an oracle.” Craig said. “If whoever pulled us here doesn’t show up first and tell us the reason.”

    “The gods are always so vague.” Paulina stated, not seeming to care about the context of Craig’s remark in the slightest. “I guess that’s what makes them gods.”

    “I thought their ability to turn us into a pile of mush was what made them gods.” Sean remarked. “Or beating up a cyclops.”

    “Yes, that was magnificent.” Paulina said. “A feat worthy of Hercules!”

    “It didn’t feel like such a feat,” Craig said. “And I don’t feel anywhere near my full strength. Let’s try something.”

    Craig moved over to a large boulder, close to man size, and placed his weathered hands on it, testing its solidity. He discovered that he couldn’t dig his fingers into the surface, and frowned. “How much does a boulder weigh? 150 pounds per cubic foot? A little heavier for granite?”

    “It scares me that you know that.” Sean blurted.

    “Part of the trade,” Craig answered. “Reliable information beats a good right cross any day.” Again, he turned his attention to the boulder. “This is probably 4’ by 4’ by 5’. That puts it in the 6 ton range.”

    Sean nodded.

    “Hope you know how to treat a hernia…” Craig said, and he struggled to pry the boulder from the ground. He strained, and groaned, and grunted, and he braced himself, and he put his back into a perfect arc. If there was one thing Craig Carson knew how to do, it was lift. It strained his body to its limits, but shaking and screaming, Craig managed to get the boulder high overhead, and even managed to throw it six feet.

    “Ow!” Craig said, wincing as his back spasmed. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” He had definitely lost a lot of his superhuman strength. But not all of it. Why?

    “Oh my!” the woman said. “You must be as strong as Hercules!”

    “Not really,” Craig said, shaking out his arms. “Ow.” He repeated. “Hercules held up the heavens, at least according to myth.”

    “Oh, he’s no myth!” the woman exclaimed. “He’s very real! Why I bet he’s competing at the Olympics right now!”

    “Olympics?” Sean wondered.

    “Why, they’re being held just down the road!” the woman said. “You can’t miss it! Right below Mount Olympus!”

    “But the ancient Olympics were held at the village of Elis. In the region of Olympia, nowhere close to Mount Olympus…” Craig blurted, still shaking out his arms and rolling his shoulder.

    “Uncle Craig… I mean Kratos… I think the lady knows her own country.”

    “But—but—” Craig continued to stammer.

    “Hercules is wrestling there!” the woman said. “I wonder if you could beat him?”

    “Maybe that’s why you were brought here, Uncle Kratos. To wrestle Hercules!” Sean exclaimed.

    “No, no, no!” Craig sighed, and he suppressed an urge to sob. “Not again! Not yet another stupid gladiatorial combat! Please tell me I haven’t been pulled out of time and space by some second-rate god, yet again, just to play Gene Kiniski!”

    “Who’s Gene Kiniski?” Sean asked.

    “He was a wrestler, okay? Canada’s greatest athlete. Allegedly. Like Hulk Hogan, only he talked faster. And didn’t call people “dude”.”

    “Oh!” Sean said, suddenly understanding Craig’s remark.

    “I’m afraid Hercules has gone mad!” Paulina explained. “The gods drove him insane, and he killed his wife and children, and now he waits at the Olympics threatening to kill any man who tries to best him!”

    “But why would they let him…” Craig sputtered. “Oh, never mind! This whole stupid fiasco has been set up so I can fight Hercules, or my name’s Donald Trump!” Craig shouted and he stomped off to the side, to privately curse and fume.

    “Dude, you don’t have to go over there. That’s nothing I haven’t heard dad say,” Sean called out.

    “He seems irritated,” Paulina noted.

    “Nah, this happens to him all the time.” Sean replied. “Once he gets it out of his system he’ll be fine. It may take awhile, though.”

    It took twenty minutes, though the cursing had turned into sullen brooding after five. Eventually, Craig returned to the group. He said nothing, but immediately started walking down the road in the direction of the Olympics. The others followed.

    “Cheer up, uncle Craig,” Sean said. “You may have to wrestle a mythic figure to the death, but at least you’ll look good doing it. That’s an awesome tan!”

    “You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?” Craig retorted.

    “Just looking on the bright side.” Sean shrugged, almost running to keep up with Craig’s walking pace. “Wait for the lady!” he shouted, and Craig sighed and slowed his pace. “C’mon, uncle Kratos, you’re Thundrax. How many times have I seen you kick someone’s ass? No one can touch you.”

    “Thanks for the hero worship, but you need to face facts. I’m stronger than most, but there are still plenty of folks who are way stronger than me.” Craig sighed. “Durak, the Landsman, Brawler, Viperia, Grond, Super Fortress….”

    “Der Westgote?”

    “Nah,” Craig said. “I’m stronger than that Eurotrash pretty boy.”

    “Here,” Sean said. “Let’s get you ready. We’ll start by bringing up your opponent’s theme tune.”

    “Theme tune?”

    “I think I still got my collection of terrible old cartoons. We were just laughing at them a couple of nights ago…” And with that, Sean’s StonePhone gave a fanfare and began to play its song:

    “Hercules, hero of song and story.
    Hercules, winner of ancient glory.
    Fighting for the right,
    Fighting with his might,
    With the strength of ten, ordinary men.

    “Hercules, people are safe when near him.
    Hercules, only the evil fear him.
    Softness in his eyes,
    Iron in his thighs,
    Virtue in his heart,
    Fire in every part,
    Of the Mighty Hercules.”


    “Sorry if I insulted your favorite cartoon, uncle Kratos,” Sean added when the song was over.

    “Oh my!” Paulina exclaimed. “A magic box!”

    “That was never my favorite cartoon,” “Craig replied. “It was crap. I even knew it was crap back when I was 5, and I was never the most cynical kid. Especially the annoying centaur. It made even “Speed Racer” and “Vanguard and Friends” look good. Now, as for Hercules… I’m not fighting him. Not unless I need to. We look for an oracle, and we try to find a way home. Hopefully one that doesn’t involve taking you through the Underworld.”

    “The Underworld? You mean…”

    “Hell.” Craig said. “Not that I want to take you there. First time I visited, I was younger than you are now. But it’s not a pleasant memory, and subsequent visits have gone… badly.”

    “Stupid demons.”

    “To infinity,” Craig said, remembering his archenemy Zorasto, now banished. I may have been brought here for a cheap brawl – yet bloody again – but I don’t have to dance whomever’s jig this is. The best way to win a god’s games is not to play.”

    “Look, we’re coming into Olympia now!” Paulina exclaimed.

    “We are?” Craig wondered. “That was fast.” He pondered their travel time. They had only been on the road for a few minutes, barely time for conversation. “Too fast. And you had better leave, miss. The only women allowed at Zeus’s games were vestal virgins. And a few chariot owners.”

    “How do you know all this about the Olympics?” Sean asked.

    “I read,” Craig answered. “And while I don’t have a photographic memory, my brain cells retain an awful lot. More, I gather, than most folks.”

    “You’d think with your advanced healing, you’d heal the neuro-pathways too quickly for memories to form.” Sean speculated. Craig sighed. It was easy to forget just how smart Sean was, that he was in fact, a genius, bordering on superhuman levels. It was too easy to see him as a kid, rather than as the prodigious offspring of genius engineers like his grandfather Wally Thompson, the original Forceknight, and his father Lyle Doerksen, the third and greatest Forceknight, once Craig’s own team leader.

    “I’m guessing short term memories form even faster,” Craig said. “Otherwise every speedster I know would have memory issues. But with all the bumps I’ve taken and the concussions I’ve had over the years, I treasure anything that preserves my brain cells.” Craig sighed. He had seen some superheroes without that ability, toward the end of their careers. Thy weren’t a pretty sight, like Muhammed Ali with Parkinson’s. But enough of the physiology lesson. He turned to Paulina. “As I was saying, If I remember my basic Olympic history, you can’t come with us. The only women allowed on the grounds were Zeus’s vestal virgins. That and a few chariot...”

    “Why, I just happen to own a prize team of horses! They’re champion stallions!”

    Craig’s raised eyebrow would have been worthy of the Rock. “Oh, really?” He said, making note of the plot convenience.

    “The Olympics!” Sean exclaimed. “This is going to be so exciting!”

    “Yeah,” Craig said. “The stench and smoke of animals being sacrificed all the time, the obscene graffiti, everyone running around naked…”

    At that point, a pair of runners came over the horizon and passed them. They were wearing the same skirts as Craig.

    “But… but…” Craig stammered.

    “They don’t look naked to me!” Sean exclaimed. “Thank god…” he added.

    “But, but…” Craig looked at Sean in bewilderment.

    “That’s so silly,” Paulina laughed. “No one goes naked at the Olympics!”

    “But--- but—all the art! All the records! Even the word “gymnasium”…” Craig said, and suddenly he slapped his forehead. “Holy crap! I’ve been an idiot! Stupid Craig, stupid!”

    “What’s wrong?” Sean asked.

    “I thought we’d travelled back in time,” Craig said. “We haven’t. We have crossed genre. We’re in a fricking peplum film!”

    “What’s a peplum?”

    “These skirts we’re wearing.” Thundrax explained, briefly tugging at the garment covering his loins. “It’s the name of a film genre. Do you remember all those ultra-cheezy early 1960 Italian muscle flicks? Hercules Unchained, Samson and the Slave Queen, Hercules vs. Maciste in the Vale of Woe?”

    “Vale of Woe?” Sean winced.

    “Jack and I used to watch them all the time on channel 13 when we were kids. Bad dubbing, cheezy monsters – come to think of it, that cyclops looked more like stop motion than real -- But why us?” Craig wondered. “Why not someone from within the film? Why summon someone from outside the film?”

    “Oh, men and their questions!” Paulina exclaimed. “I am just a silly woman who cannot wrap her head around such matters!”

    “Definitely not a modern woman.” Craig made an aside to Sean. “It also explains why every word she’s spoken sounds like bad exposition or a contrived film aside. And why we suddenly got to Olympus so quickly, like a film cut. And why the Olympics are in the wrong place – the writer didn’t do his research.”

    “I really want to get home.” Sean said. “Uncle Craig, you realize what you have to do, right? If this is a story, you resolve the plot. You’ve got to beat Hercules!”

    “Do I?” Craig wondered. “What if ending the movie means everyone goes away? To nothing. Including us?”

    “Damn.” Sean realized. “How do we get back?”

    “Well, let’s speak to the oracle.” Craig said. “That’s probably the best conduit to the film’s writer.”

    “If there is one. An oracle may not be necessary to the plot. And what if this film is being written by Incubus, again?” Sean asked, referring to a previous adventure where a cosmic imp had propelled Craig into a fight with a fictional but extremely powerful hero whose name began with the letter “S”.

    “Then we are so screwed,” Craig replied.

    They came into the Olympics only to find people languishing on the ground, moaning in pain. The ground was a sea of wounded muscle, as bodybuilders moaned and writhed in indiscernible injury. Standing above them, with his hands on his hips and laughing was a figure that looked remarkably like Steve Reeves.

    “I am Hercules!” he exclaimed, as if the scene needed exposition. “Is there no one fit to challenge me? Have the gods no champion worthy of the mighty Hercules!” Knowing the secret of the world only made his words ten times more laughable in Craig’s ears.

    “He challenges you!” Sean exclaimed, pointing at Craig. Craig sighed. He wished the kid hadn’t have done that.

    Hercules advanced on the trio, circling them like prey. Craig glared back. If anything, his physique was more than a rival for the 1960s bodybuilding champion; then Hercules’s height and build shifted, matching Craig’s. He was glistening, as if he had just finished oiling himself. “Interesting,” he said. “A golden warrior of the north.”

    “That’s what people call me,” Craig quipped.

    “But a golden fool, if you think you can match the matchless might of Hercules!” the bodybuilder proclaimed, thumping his chest. Again, Craig winced at the dialogue. “And what have we here? She’s a pretty thing! Perhaps Hercules will take her as his own!”

    Craig pushed him back, purely out of instinct. Hercules laughed, and advanced on Craig. “I am going to enjoy crushing you.” he said. “And taking your woman.”

    "I thought Hercules was the good guy." Sean whispered to Craig.

    "Most of the time he was. Though he wasn't in "Vale of Woe". I guess he's also a bastard in this picture too." Craig whispered back, and he addressed the hero, looking him squarely in his leering face. “I didn’t come here to fight,” he said.

    “A coward too!” Hercules laughed.

    “Uncle Craig… I mean Kratos… is not a coward!” Sean insisted.

    “Sean, maybe you should go back to playing your game,” Craig sighed.

    “We need to advance the plot if we are to have any hope of getting out of here. Worry about the climax later…” Sean whispered, and he pointed at Hercules. “He challenges you to a test of strength!”

    Hercules asked. “He does? And why should Hercules accept such a challenge?”

    Craig sighed, finally accepting his role. Man, this sucked. He loved a good scrap – it was perhaps Craig’s biggest weakness – but he hated taking the role of protagonist just for someone’s amusement. “Would Hercules pass up a chance to humiliate his opponent in front of his woman?”

    “Very well!” Hercules exclaimed, and he and Craig suddenly found each other with fingers locked, in a test of strength. Craig could swear he could hear the bad background music as they tussled. They grunted and gritted their teeth and sweated like horses. Craig could feel his opponent match him, strength for strength. This was stupid. This was futile. But there was a part of Craig that enjoyed this, an awful lot more than he cared to admit. After more than thirty years, fighting had pretty much become engrained in the hero’s DNA. It was the paradox of the hero: loving peace, loving the fight, principles and passion locked in a bitter rivalry. There was a part of him that wanted to fight forever, even in a world as shallow as this one.

    “I am stronger than you!” Hercules said.

    “I think this is where I make a lame quip about you being stronger smelling.” Craig answered.

    “Impudent dog!” Hercules snarled, continuing to sweat like a spent horse. The two men glistened homoerotically in the sun as they wrestled. Sean was getting uncomfortable urges watching them.

    It’s the film, dude. He told himself. Only the film.

    Finally, after several minutes of ultra-manly struggle and sweat, it was time to end this. Craig sighed, closed his eyes, and then allowed his opponent to force him to his knees. Act Three setback, right on schedule, right to formula. Hercules laughed.

    “I have already beaten you!” he shouted. “Tomorrow, in the arena, I crush you forever! And then he grabbed Paulina and laid a deep kiss on her, laughing again as he let her go.

    “God, the antagonists here are almost as annoying as the ones back home.” Craig sighed. Paulina scampered off to the convenient tent she didn’t have until two seconds ago. “I guess I’m supposed to chase her and have some overly staged quarrel and a lame romantic scene.”

    “She is pretty hot.” Sean said.

    Craig sighed. “They did make some smouldering hot actresses in Europe in the early 60s. Still, she’s a terrible actress, even if she doesn’t know it. I probably have more romantic chemistry with Hercules.”

    “Dude, even uncle David would pass on that guy.” Sean quipped, referring to his other godfather, the superhero Justiciar.

    "Well, David does have standards. But this genre is pretty homoerotic. We're bound to feel it."

    “No homo.” Sean protested.

    Craig sighed. He hadn’t taken the kid to task for his earlier remarks, but there was a lecture on tolerance brewing up inside him. He shouldn’t be so sensitive about the issue. Another time. It was just disappointing when kids repeated the same mistakes he’d made as a teenager. At the same time, this era probably had different mores, and Sean needed to keep his guard. And protecting the kid was his highest duty.

    “Everyone here is so shallow.” Sean noted.

    “Yeah. Characters as Potemkin villages,” Craig said. “All facade, like a Trump speech.” Sean rolled his eyes at yet another unnecessary political comment from uncle Craig. Sometimes being around him was like watching MSNBC.

    “But are we any different? What if we’re fictional characters too? Would we be any different? Is our “genre” just as shallow, or maligned? Would we recognize ourselves as fictional, fleshed out to anything beyond a stereotype only by the skill of the author?”

    “Fiction within a fiction? Dude, what if the people watching us aren’t real? What if they’re fiction within a fiction within a fiction? And the people watching them too! And so on. Forever!”

    “Does it really matter?” Craig sighed. “It’s really just he illusion paradox, all over again, in another form. There are illusionists out there who are so skilled at making mental constructs that they become indiscernible to reality. We might have been living in one, and never know it. Every punch we throw, every step we take, we may actually be harming an innocent. But if we’re constantly questioning reality, we’ll never achieve anything. So, we just go on living, and hope there’s no one behind the curtain to yell “Gotcha!” when every thing’s done.” Craig sighed.

    “I think I liked it better when you talked politics.” Sean said, never liking it (as noted earlier) when Craig talked politics.

    “Well, I’d better get this over with.” Craig sighed. “Stay here. I’ll meet you at the next scene transition.”

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

    The evening passed. Craig emerged from the tent he now conveniently owned in defiance of continuity, bleary eyed, to greet the bright Grecian sun.

    “How’d last night go?” Sean asked. “Bad as you thought it would?”

    “Worse.” Craig sighed.

    Sean laughed. “C’mon Craig. You’ve got a fight to win.”

    Craig stepped into a huge amphitheatre, more like a Roman Colosseum than anything constructed by the Greeks. The anachronism was not lost on him, but, screw it. The sound of horns greeted them as they entered the arena through a long tunnel. Sean stayed on the sidelines to cheer on his mentor. Craig winced as the historical inaccuracies seemed to accelerate as the conflict reached its climax.

    An announcer stepped forward and raised his arm. Trumpets sounded. Craig limbered, spotting his opponent, who glowed with bronze magnificence in the burning sun. He greeted Craig with an upturned lip.

    “I’m going to enjoy this,” he said.

    “I thought we were fighting, but if you want to change your mind and do something more fun…”

    “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Hercules replied.

    The combatants were introduced, with Hercules given many names and titles, and Craig referred to simply as “Kratos, champion of the north.”

    “Go get him, Kratos!” Sean yelled. Paulina, who did not enjoy the previous night’s scene, remained silent. So much for the wonderful love interest.

    “We fight for the woman.” Hercules said. Craig flinched.

    “The women I know back in the real world could kick your ass so badly,” he told the muscleman. He’d give a lot to see Alex, Faye, or (God help him) Emily put him in his 1960s chauvinist place.

    They locked up. For an ancient Greco-Roman combat, it looked an awful lot like professional wrestling, though centered on grappling and feats of strength. On the feats of strength, the two men were evenly matched; sometimes (much to his horror) Hercules would be pushed back, while at other times, Craig would be hurled on his keester. They threw each other, many times, and exchanged punches that would have felled beasts. Their bodies and breaths sagged from pain and injury and a literally herculean effort, but neither man gave an inch. They were making legend, one punch at a time.

    “Well,” Hercules said after one exchange. “The gods have sent me an almost worthy opponent!”

    “Ah,” Craig mocked. “True love at last.”

    “Then let me show you my affection, Kratos…” Hercules said, clamping a bearhug on his opponent. Almost immediately, the pressure caused Craig’s ribs to burn. “Where are your jests now, Kratos? Silenced by the iron grip of Hercules!”

    “Not silent yet,” Craig grunted.

    “You will scream for me!” Hercules vowed. Craig did not, nor did he make the obvious double entendres. The hero groaned, and squirmed; his efforts only doubled Hercules’s determination to squeeze the life from his foe. But Craig did not scream, though the pain was excruciating. Yet neither could he escape from his foe’s grip.

    “You are fading!” Hercules smiled. Craig pushed back on his opponent’s face, and drove his forearm into the bridge of his nose. He broke the nose. Hercules only grinned.

    "Not fading yet." Craig grunted.

    "Ah Kratos. Such a magnificent liar. But the arms of Hercules shall elicit the truth," Herc grunted back. He could sense the kill in the air, and even the gods couldn’t have pried him loose.

    This isn’t the way it’s supposed to go! Craig screamed inside. He was the hero! He was the protagonist, the champion of virtue! He had to win! He had to.... It was the formula. He made one final surge of effort, almost breaking free of the hold.

    Almost. And then Craig passed out.

    After several rib-cracking seconds, Hercules finally loosened his grip and let Craig slump to the dirt. The triumphant strongman raised his arms in triumph and basked in the crowd’s cheers. Awash in sweat and exhilaration, the victor gleamed in the sun. After several joyous, rapturous breaths, the strongman stood over Craig’s prone body and flexed his massive, shining bicep, exalting in the display of masculinity, in muscular peacock splendor. Then, seeing Craig lying helpless in the dust, he decided one last act was required. He grabbed his prone opponent, raised him high overhead, and held out his knee.

    “Now I break you!” he shouted.

    “Stop!” Sean said, and he ran out onto the field and held out his hands. “You can’t do this! He’s a good man!”

    Hercules growled. “Out of the way, you foolish pup! I’ve beaten your master. Now I break him, and I’ll do the same to you if you don’t step aside!”

    “No!” Sean shouted, and he held his ground. “He’s a hero! Just like you! You’re supposed to be on the same side! He’s helped thousands of people! Whole cities owe him their lives! You just can’t kill him over a stupid wrestling match. You’re a hero too, a figure of legend! I’ve heard stories about you my whole life.”

    “Did those stories tell you how I killed even my own family?” Hercules bellowed.

    ”You weren’t responsible for that!” Sean yelled back. “And you made up for it with twelve labors or something. People remember you as a good man, a great man, a hero. People remember you as this….”

    And Sean flipped the switch on his phone.

    “Hercules, hero of song and story.
    Hercules, winner of ancient glory.
    Fighting for the right,
    Fighting with his might,
    With the strength of ten, ordinary men.

    “Hercules, people are safe when near him.
    Hercules, only the evil fear him.
    Softness in his eyes,
    Iron in his thighs,
    Virtue in his heart,
    Fire in every part,
    Of the Mighty Hercules.”


    Hercules gasped. “That is how I’m remembered?” Not as the killer of my wife and children?

    Sean quickly shut it off, so Hercules wouldn’t notice the disparity in their voices – or the fact that he was beardless in the cartoon. “Yes. Only the evil fear him. Craig isn’t evil, he’s as good as you, as good as you could be, if you tried. Put him down, please. Gently. Put him down and be the hero you were meant to be.”

    “Well,” Hercules said. “I suppose I could let him live. So he can fully appreciate his humiliation.”

    “That’s a start,” Sean said. “But dude, you could be such a great hero if you really wanted! The gods think they’ve broken you, turned you into a nothing. Why not prove them wrong? Why not do so many legendary deeds of goodness that people will forget about the gods and just celebrate your greatness?”

    Hercules pondered his words. “Yes! Yes, I’ll do it!”

    With that, thunder roared out of the sky and a great voice bellowed. “I AM JUPITER!” Even Sean noted the disparity in the king of the Greek pantheon using his Roman name at the Olympics, and had to bite his tongue. “YOU HAVE DONE WELL! YOU HAVE PERFORMED THE TASK YOU WERE BROUGHT HERE TO ACHIEVE, HERO!”

    “Wait,” Sean said. “Craig’s the hero here.”

    “THAT MAN?” Jupiter said, breaking into uproarious laughter. “NO, HE’S JUST YOUR SIDEKICK! ANYONE COULD HAVE PLAYED HIS ROLE! YOU WERE THE TRUE HERO HERE!”

    “Shit…” Sean said. “Uh, what was this big task I was supposed to do?”

    “WHY, YOU WERE APPOINTED BY FATE TO RETURN MY SON TO THE PATH OF HEROES! YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED ADMIRABLY! NAME A REWARD AND IT SHALL BE YOURS! MIGHTY THRONES, PRICELESS RICHES, BUXOM LADIES, THE POWER OF A GOD…”

    “That last one is pretty tempting,” Sean said. “But I’ll settle just for a lift home.”

    “LET THE HEAVENS PART, AND SKIES OPEN UP THEIR DOORS THROUGH TIME AND SPACE AND THROUGH THE FABRIC OF REALITY ITSELF! SO COMMANDS JUPITER!”

    “Geez, nobody told me the gods were this loud….” Sean muttered, as a golden portal formed in the center of the amphitheater. “Hey Herc, can you throw the big guy through a portal here? Uncle Kratos is kind of heavy.”

    “Can’t I keep him as my slave?” Hercules asked.

    “Goodness, Herc. Goodness. Focus.”

    “What’s so evil about slavery?” Hercules asked.

    “There’s a lot of assholes who agree with you these days,” Sean replied. “Just do it for me, okay?”

    “Very well,” Hercules sighed, and he lifted the unconscious Craig and unceremoniously threw him through the portal.

    -------------------------
    “And that’s what happened, Uncle Craig. And we’re home again, and portal free.”

    “Really? “ Craig asked skeptically. ”You talked Hercules down?” The hero moaned, fingering his ribs. They still hurt like the dickens. “Well that bearhug was no story. A pity I lost the tan, though. I’m pale again.”

    “Yeah, that was a sweet tan.” Sean said. “Uncle Craig does this adventure make you my sidekick?”

    “This time.” Craig said. “But never again.”

    “But uncle Craig, you’re a bachelor. And you need a kid to throw you in the old heroes’ home when you start going senile.”

    “I think we’d better phone your dad,” Craig snapped. “You’re overstaying your welcome.” Sean laughed. “Anyhow, you did good. Seriously, really good. Whoever thought the crappiest cartoon ever made would save my life?”

    “Me!” Sean shouted, and he ran around the office, singing the theme song of the Mighty Hercules cartoon, the perfect weapon of torment for a friend. Craig sighed and offered the young man, the young hero, some cold pizza. It was only fitting to have Italian tonight.
    Last edited by Thundrax; 06-01-2018 at 08:05 AM.

  6. #16
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    Forces of Evil

    “…and here in the bar
    The piano man’s found
    Another nail for my heart!”


    “Ah,” Zorasto said, welcoming the guest. They were at a concert hall in downtown Millennium, on the east side. Not the nice end of town, and the hall had seen better days. Much better days. It was so rundown that it couldn’t even attract a performance of Annie. The archdemon sat on one of the upper tier seats in human guise, allowing him to walk the world of mortals and only mildly upsetting him. David Sutherland smiled and sat next time to him.

    “Sorry I’m late,” Invictus told the demon.

    “Don’t tell me you had a run-in with second born Carson?” the demon asked.

    “Worse,” Invictus said. “DC Traffic. And I couldn’t take the sky chariot for… reasons. Now, what can I do for you, Zorasto?”

    “I thought two men who share such a hatred for the second born Carson should get better acquainted.” Zorasto said.

    “Here? At this farce of a concert?”

    “I suppose we should have met some place more exotic. Perhaps Vegas or Monte Carlo. Then I could have chosen a poker game. Of course, though it’s rather boring when you play for mere money and not souls. I don’t understand how you humans stand to play for mere coin.”

    “But at a concert? For a Squeeze cover band?” Invictus asked. “They could have at least sprung for the originals!”

    “That stupid old bug
    That kills only love
    I want to be good
    Is that not enough…”

    “So play me the song
    That makes it so tough
    Another nail for my heart
    Then play me that song
    That makes it so tough
    Another nail for my heart.”


    “It’s actually a demonic ritual disguised as a Squeeze cover band. You didn’t think I’d listen to that dreary new wave music, did you? Even sea shanties would be an improvement, and I spent neatly two hundred years hating those.” He turned to regard the band. “They’re screaming with the voices of the damned. You just need to listen under the words. It’s actually quite pleasant. “

    “If you have acquired a taste for the sound of Hell and hard times.”

    “Of course. Though not everyone shares my little amusements. Yet. Look over there,” Zorasto pointed out an old woman who was a bit out of place among the crowd of aging rockers. “ The Trismegistus are watching,”

    “Amelia Pruitt. I see,” Invictus said. “The sweet Scottish prune. The Un-UnSeelie.”

    “That old crone.” Zorasto snorted, and he took a drink. “I crossed paths were her once. They’re quite overrated, the Trismegistus. And don’t get me started about the Magnum Mage. Chosen, Ordained, Foretold…”

    “Archmage,” Invictus corrected.

    “Archmage, whatever. Yet another prophecy wanker. It’s all a big joke. A drunken, arrogant violent fool without a shred of brains. It’s a miracle Therakiel didn’t take over the world with him as its guardian.”

    “The angel? Bah.” Invictus snorted.

    Zorasto broke down into hysterics. “Therakiel?” he blurted. “Oh, my wings! Heaven is against me!” He exclaimed, mocking the fallen angel. “And Hell is against me too! Oh my gnashed teeth and tainted halo! I will bring them all down, every last one of them, because I’m a tragic, twisted, sub-Byronic, qlipthotic-eating, gothic wanker! Whose archenemy is a burned out alcoholic Vietnam vet!” And Zorasto, pleased with himself, paused for another laughing fit. “Oh, what shall I do? I know! I’ll do what all tragically twisted souls do in this situation -- I’ll found a church! An evil church!”

    “Therakiel,” Invictus sighed, remembering the incident. “Still it’s a wonder we didn’t lose the planet that time. I mean, the idiot Carson goes ahead in time to solve the crisis, he’s only one of the most recognized superheroes on the damn planet… and still, Caliburn attacks him on sight? And then blames him for the misunderstanding after that annoying little club manager Scarlet steals his precious flame gem? Do you understand just how spectacularly obnoxious you have to be to make me feel one ounce of sympathy for Thundrax? God, that was such a farce!”

    “Please do not bring Him into this,” Zorasto said, referring to the Almighty.

    “Robert Caliburn! Caliburn! He’s the Archmage? Seriously? Even Witchcraft would have made for a better choice!” Invictus said, shaking his head. “But the position’s become just another marketing ploy if you ask me. The mystical community has debased itself.”

    “True. Everyone’s so commercial these days.” Zorasto sighed. “What ever happened to tradition? To old fashioned Occult family values?”

    “I blame the heroes for that.” Invictus said. “And for a lot of things.”

    “Yes. Like Miss Trismegistus 1921 over here,” Zorasto sneered at the old woman. “She’s certainly far afield.” Zorasto added. Scotland was her usual haunts. “But she’s as occupied with the music as anyone. Far too occupied to notice my cloaking spell.”

    “Good.”

    “Though she did bring her familiar, Lorenzo. See?”

    The villain frowned. “I see nothing save for an ugly, fat, dour woman with oversized glasses.” Invictus said, and he took a swig of the demon’s brandy. It certainly had a kick. “Harridan.”

    “The familiar is the glasses,” Zorasto said. “Can’t you smell the beast on them? The hound’s been transmogrified, but you can’t disguise everything.” He sighed. “You might say she made a spectacle out of him!” Invictus groaned. That pun was evil, even for him. “It’s a good thing I didn’t bring my cat though,” the demon added. He had left Devil Puss back in Hell, to wean itself at the River of the Milk of Souls.

    “She has nothing to do with me.” Invictus said dismissively. “Let’s get down to business. You have a proposal to destroy Carson?”

    “I thought we’d brainstorm. I’ve dealt with his father — and his brother — but that’s only the overture. I do have a plan in motion, but I am not adverse to… collaboration.”

    “Ah. Your plan. Undoing the superhuman age, except for the villains,” Invictus said, recalling Zorasto’s most recent caper. It had sent a few shockwaves down the timestream.

    “It’s proven more complicated than I’d like.” Zorasto said.

    “So I’ve heard. Weren’t you at the Captain Battle museum in Haynesville? Some sort of ritual involving the first superhero?”

    “Attacking them at their source,” Zorasto said. “Unfortunately, Captain Locke was there as well, and Carson, of course, and a few others.”

    “Battle’s old sidekick died during the fracas, right?”

    “Heroically, of course,” Zorasto sighed. “Show off. And it was such a nice plan! Pulling Totenkopf out of time was a sweet touch,” He had summoned Totenkopf, the infamous Nazi archvillain, plus some experimental Hitler-bots – giant robots that were vaguely shaped like the dictator. The Fast and the Fuhrer! Zorasto was a showman of a demon lord, and the more appalling the show, the better. Unfortunately, Thundrax and his allies had ended that show. “The Nazis had such style. Why are the Germans so embarrassed about them?”

    “They were overt killers,” Invictus reminded him, keeping an eye on Pruitt. “And their reasoning was seriously flawed.”

    “Yes,” Zorasto said. “They were a little self-centered and arrogant. Mind you, that can be said about so many people. And our army of hate grows by the day.”

    “I know,” Invictus said. His ultimate plan was to grab political power and reshape America, but others were making inroads and cutting him off. “They’re getting very difficult to control.”

    “And how are your schemes going?” Zorasto asked. “Trying to replace the Republic with Iron America? Still using the Song to alter the timeline?”

    The Song were entities of the higher planes of reality, and had (unfortunately) proven difficult to control. “I’m well past that,” Invictus said. “Though the timeline could still stand with some renovations.”

    "Oh, so clever!” Zorasto clapped, a touch of mockery. “Again with the clever euphemism. Oh, I so applaud your command of the language. Mind you, back in my day, do you know what we called clever people? Pagru. Corpses.”

    “I don’t recognize the language.” Invictus said.

    “Akkadian.”

    “Ah,” the villain said. “That was well before my time.” The demon within Invictus only remembered as far back as the 3rd Century CE. A thousand years too late for Akkadian.

    “It used to be spoken from Libya in the west all the way to the Indus Valley,” Zorasto remembered. “It was the lingua franca when I was still young and human. Time is so fragile, memory more so, even for my kind. The days and the torments run together, you know.”

    “Merging into one colossal scream.”

    “Of course, that is Hell, you know. One single unending colossal scream.” Zorasto closed his eyes. No matter where he was, where he went, that scream would always be a part of him. “Oh, Akkadian. Assurri kima teltim ullutim sa umami. It was such a pretty language. As well as utilitarian. People sang the words – when they weren’t screaming in terror at the sight of our swords and chariots. Now a guttural jabber rules the tongues of the world. English.” Zorasto spat the word. “Prose without a hint of poetry. Shouts instead of screams. Everyone shouts these days.”

    “But shouts precede the screams. They always do.” Invictus said.

    Zorasto paused, as contemplative as the demon ever got. “You know, I’m altering the timestream, and you’re altering the timestream. How about we pool our resources? You take the earth, and I take the underworld?”

    “I’ll think about it.” Invictus said. “Mind if we leave and grab some dinner?”

    “You’re not going to let me feast on a few souls along the way?” Zorasto asked.

    “Do nothing that attracts attention,” Invictus scowled.

    “But attention is fun,” Zorasto purred. “And if we’re lucky, we’ll attract the Second Born Carson. And then I can grab a limb, and you can grab a limb, and we can make a wish, and pull.” Zorasto sighed. “Chicken off the bone.”

    “That is not my design for the man,” Invictus said, and they rounded the corner and stepped into a very run-down Chinese restaurant. Wing-Wong’s. Ye hells, what a name. The place was virtually empty. It was silent, except for the clatter of dishes, someone was working in the back room. It still took five minutes for the waiter to seat them. He did not bring them water.

    “Surely you wouldn’t mind it if I had just a little soul…” Zorasto purred.

    Invictus nodded. “Go ahead. It’s not like anyone’s noticing. Though if his soul matches his work ethic, you’ll starve.” He snorted in disapproval. “And these people think they deserve a living wage.”

    Zorasto left his chair, and stepped to the back. Invictus watched him walk around a corner. There was a scream. Then a second. Then Zorasto returned, and reseated himself as casually as if returning from the bathroom.

    “You made a mess?” Invictus asked.

    “Gloriously so,” Zorasto declared.

    Invictus sighed, “Taking a soul quietly, discretely, is one thing. Mass carnage is quite another. I reserve my fun for the appropriate moments,” Sutherland told the demon. “Slaughter is sloppy, slovenly. It’s too easy for even the local Badge Nazis to trace. I cannot be seen to be involved.”

    “You have lost your sense of fun,” Zorasto said. “Oh, poor, poor Invictus! What good is it to win the world but to have no fun in the winning?”

    “Achieving my goals is all the amusement I require,” Invictus said, resolutely. He realized it was the age-old conflict. “I did not meet with you to risk exposure. I met with you because I want Carson’s reputation in ruins before I end his life.”

    “You were less careful when you fought the Champions,” Zorasto said.

    “And I paid for that lack of prudence,” Invictus told him. “Never again. And if Carson expects me to repeat my mistakes, that is his error.”

    “I want his power.” Zorasto stated.

    “Ours are not mutually exclusive goals, thankfully. I get his complete and utter humiliation, and you get his power.”

    “It’s a win-win!” Zorasto declared. “Still, all this talk of power is making me hungry. Let’s do something fun. Something that has absolutely nothing to do with Carson.”

    “Oh?”

    “We’ll strike humanity at its weakest point, their love of money!” Zorasto said with a grin. “Let’s rob a bank!”

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

    Their target of choice was the People’s First Bank of Millennium, again on a rundown corner of the city, across Hockey Pantheon’s café. A large wooden cardboard picture of Gordie Howe overlooked the top of the building. Zorasto smiled.

    “A Canadian game. A Canadian player.” Invictus dismissed.

    “But wonderfully dirty! Elbows that could break a nose at a moment’s notice. A stick that flashed like a slasher movie.” Zorasto mulled. “Your enemies are not the quiet sheep you imagine, Invictus.”

    “Shhh!” Invictus hissed. “Don’t use my name!”

    “Oh right, sorry.” Zorasto grinned. The bastard.

    Either one of them would have had a ridiculously easy time robbing the bank. Together, it was like an Olympic sprinter racing an out of shape seven-year-old. Within thirty seconds, the security guard lay dead at the hands of Zorasto. Invictus rolled his eyes, muttered something about a waste, and then promptly forgot the man existed. After all, it wasn’t his fault the man was dead.

    Zorasto ignored the cash, a mere $22,000. Instead he began chanting near the safety deposit boxes, scrying and looking from box to box. “Amazing the things you can find in these handy metal compartments. Like this!” And he held up a ruby on a chain.

    “The Ruby of Berith!” Invictus gasped. “Now that is a pretty trinket for anyone wishing to command an army in Hell!” He paused. “Of course, as you abide in hell, and I do not, it should be yours.”

    “Happily, it was mine already. Still, I’m glad you didn’t go “need or greed” over this.” Zorasto said.

    Invictus laughed. “I’m not a child. And I have other ways to achieve my designs than trinkets.”

    Then a ray came out of a woman’s hand, and the ruby leapt into her grasp. “Not so fast, Defiler. The owner may not have known how to store it, but the Trismegistus know. And to keep it out of your foul grasp.” It was Amelia Pruitt.

    “Shouldn’t you be a few miles away from here, stopping an evil Squeeze concert?” Zorasto snapped.

    “Wretched scum of a demon,” Pruitt said in her thick Scots brogue, pocketing the ring in a hand that looked more feeble than it was. She was staring daggers at the pair, the way that only a little old Scottish lady could do. “I was not the only one from the Council there. We stopped the ritual ten minutes ago.”

    “But what about the big question?” Zorasto asked. “Did they play “Pulling Mussels from the Shell”?

    “No,” Pruitt said. “Enough small talk. I saw the mess you made at Wing Wongs. And you didn’t pay your bill.”

    “Wing Wongs?” Zorasto questioned. “Oh right. There. I suppose the joke is true. Consume a Chinese soul, an hour again, and you’re hungry for more souls. They just aren’t satisfying. Of course, no soul is.”

    Invictus said nothing. Let his noisy friend draw attention. He was good for cheap theater.

    You haven’t quite explained how you expect to survive me, let alone my friend.” Zorasto said. “I possess the Amulet of… well you don’t need to know that. It renders me immune to any force from the lower planes.”

    “The Amulet of Luxon.” Amelia snarled.

    “So, you recognize it! Then you must know what it can do! You cannot affect me for as long as I hold it.” Zorasto smiled. “Or wear it. The Zorasto collection, now with added invincibility.”

    “Oh?” The mage said.

    “And I do not stand alone…” Zorasto said, and he turned to Invictus.

    The villain had vanished.

    “You seem to have misplaced someone,” Pruitt noted. “You careless hobgoblin!”

    “And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird has flown.” Zorasto quoted with a sigh. “He’s a little shy. The callowness of youth. Even so, you’re hardly a match for me, even without the amulet protecting me, even if you had your entire tinpot council of dotards at your side!”

    Pruitt chuckled, a sound that oddly distressed the demon. It certainly wasn’t what he was expecting. But even the dukes of hell could not openly challenge him! What could one little Scottish woman do?

    “I don’t have to affect you, you oversized boggart!” the elder mage told him, her fingers clenched for the incantation. “All I need to do is affect your bloody amulet. Akmann tihani! Aw’arhul!”

    Invictus, watching at a distance, appreciated the light show, and the brief whiff of brimstone that accompanied the amulet’s descent to Hell -- dragging the possessor along for the ride. The flames were pretty, especially when someone else was enduring him! How easily Zorasto’s brand of evil was snuffed out, a bonfire of hate smothered beneath the sand.

    “Defeated by a mere mortal,” he chuckled. “Oh the shame of it.” He imagined Zorasto wearing an old paper bag on his head, like the cat did on Saturday morning when he was a kid. It was so long ago. He was so innocent. Who would have thought that cartoon-watching tyke would grow up to rule humanity?

    Satisfying himself with the thought, David Sutherland vowed never to ally with such a pathetic creature again. Hell doesn’t just damn you, it stupefies you. Invictus could have gone back, killed Pruitt, and left her body as a marker. But no, it was not worth it. He would deal with the Trismegistus later, on his terms. Everyone would be dealt with on his terms. Always be the piper, never the dancer.

    With that cheery thought in mind, and a dirge on his lips, Invictus returned to his tower, and like any good villain, redoubled his schemes. He had a Carson to destroy.
    Last edited by Thundrax; 06-05-2018 at 08:45 AM.

  7. #17
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
    Posts
    24

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    The Rival

    And that’s when I punch Red Fury in the face.

    Red laughs, wiping his bloody lip on his suit, and smiles. With a casual flex, the Chicago hero’s monkey suit comes ripping off, revealing what the local press calls his “billion-dollar physique”. The testosterone is flowing like the fricking Amazon.

    The party is aghast, but spellbound. Within a minute, we’re wrestling, and rolling on the marble floor. Dancing under the chandeliers, Red and I, the best way we know how. The dance of muscle and blood, and man, is there a lot of muscle locked in that embrace, the pain waltz.

    Man, I can’t stand the guy. And the feeling’s mutual. I’ve wanted to hit him in the face for twenty years. I think he’s wanted to kick my ass just as long. Bad Craig, bad role-model!

    Say goodbye to that tuxedo. Johnny Versace might weep; We’re as shirtless as sex now. I’m glad Alex or Faye isn’t here. The two men who were voted “sexiest superhero alive” by Uncaped (four out of the last five years) are now acting like a pair of kids, rolling on the floor. We don’t even throw a punch, we just wrestle, we just try to show the other who’s stronger. There’s a lot of grunting, us idiots. Twenty years ago, when Red beat the shit out of me during that one “misunderstanding” between the Peacekeepers and the Northern Guard, he was clearly the stronger party, but now we’re about even. Thank you, Jaye, for the power boost. You may be killing me with this radiation-filled brawn but being strong enough to match Red and give him a taste of his own medicine is worth a slow, painful death.

    “Oh, so you’re putting up a fight, Carson,” Red hoots, mocking me.

    “The question is… can you?” I snarl back. Yes, folks, ask your doctor if overdosing on testosterone is right for you. Responsible doctors will say no.

    “Craig!” Justiciar exclaims, the lone hero to dare stepping between two titans, and pulls me to my feet., I’m puffing and sweating. I’ll never say Red isn’t ridiculously strong. Red is up as well, puffing and grinning like a madman, his emerald eyes twinkling twilight stars in the ballroom night. He’s laughing.

    “What’s the matter, Carson? Didn’t like losing the auction? Didn’t like losing the fight?” He mocks. He’s bouncing like a boxer in a dance, like Muhammed Ali. He’s practically giddy.

    “He’s not worth it, Craig,” David says. “Let’s get out of here. Now.”

    “Trump needs to put a tariff on you!” Red goads.

    I bristle. David pulls back on me, giving me just a slight jostle to disrupt my concentration, and the deathstare I’m shooting Red at the moment. Probably a good thing, as I can see the sparks encroach on the edge of my vision, and that alkaline, electric taste in my mouth. “Let’s go, Craig. Now!” he yells. At least his suit is still intact.

    Oh, superhero parties. Caprice could learn a few things about mayhem from you.

    “This is long overdue,” I spit, and a lump of blood stains the marble. I didn’t think he tagged me that hard, I guess he did. I leap at him, and he teleports away at the last moment. He rematerializes behind me, gives me a shove, and I end up facedown, kissing the marble.

    Sexy boy laughs even harder. David, who’s also glaring at the jerk, helps me to my feet.

    “Aw, Justajerk to the rescue.” Red sneers at Justiciar. As usual, David, his anger as chill as winter, won’t allow himself to be baited. Me, on the other hand, I’m a little easier to incite.

    ‘Hey Carson,” he adds. “When you’re finished with your boyfriend, why don’t we settle up? Warden’s Gym, you and me. Black room. Winner take all.”

    The Black Room. I’ve heard about that place. “What, we’re going to kill each other?” I ask, scoffing.

    “No. A long hospital stay should suffice.” Red grins. “But I’m going to own you, Carson.”

    “I’m not for sale,” I growl back, bristling. Testosterone was fun when you let yourself go! “Give me a time to be there…”

    “Craig….” David warns.

    I shoot David a glance. I love you, David, but you’re not my team leader anymore, it says. The man sighs. I know he understands, but still he sighs. Still he registers his disapproval.

    “7 pm tomorrow.” Red smirks, puffing his magnificent chest.

    “Let’s do this,” I snap. And the deal is consummated.

    “For Firehammer,” he snaps at me. “I’m going to beat the shit out of you, Carson. I just wish your ladyfriend was still alive to watch." That one hits hard. It's a cheap shot, but effective. "Get some rest Carson. It’ll be your last pain-free sleep for a long time.”

    5 PM, the next day.

    Now I was just Lance Callahan. The brawl at the auction had long ended. Carson had given me a swollen lip and a s
    ollen eye; it had been awhile since anyone had done that to me, not with their fists.

    “The Canadian golden boy’s gotten a bit tougher,” I say to my dead pal, laying his flowers on the grave. White orchids,
    they were slightly fluorescent, from the Cosmic Garden of the Green Gardener. Three years ago, the Peacekeepers had spared the cosmic garden from the Blight, and the Gardener had rewarded each of the Chicago heroes with a bloom. Man, was that ever an adventure. Man, was that ever a garden. Since then Lance had cultivated its blossoms into a small garden of his own – all for flowers for the graves of dead teammates.

    Thirty years of superheroing. I have a lot of graves to decorate. Orchids, lilies, and lilacs are becoming a big part of my life, and roses were next. Whoever would have expected that from a scrappy kid from the South Side?

    “Hi buddy,” I say. “There’s a big one coming up. One that’s been a long time coming. I guess I could use your blessing, from way up there.”

    The grave stares back at me. Rain droplets are starting to splatter on me, like paint.

    “It might be a fun scrap. I hope it is.” I smile. “I could use one after those vampires we faced last month. No offense to the dead,” he added to the grave. “Vampires suck you know. In every possible way.”

    Silence. Silent smiles from the fallen, and memories of the broken. Silent tears fall. I swallow hard. Lumps in one’s throat, part of a veteran superhero’s daily unbalanced diet. Did Carson cry as often? He always seemed so composed in public. It was fun to rub off the veneer of that jackass. Canadians have so much veneer, it was hard not to scratch them with the slightest contact.

    “Hope you like the flowers.” I tell the dead. “And I hope you like what I’ll do to Carson more. I haven’t forgotten. The kid stood by while his bitch of a teammate killed you.” Mentor, friend, and almost lover. “But I’m sure you remember. The dead have memories etched in their eyes, or so I’ve heard. Twenty years ago, that fight I had with him, I was just getting started. Now I get to put on the finishing touches. I’m going to beat the man until he weeps. Until he begs me to forgive him for the part he played in your death. Then I’m going to drag him here and make him beg to your grave. Then you can rest a little easier.”

    Portentously, the lightning fell. That was one Hell of a coincidence. Maybe the storm wasn’t on Carson’s side for a change?

    “At least I hope it makes a difference. You deserve it.”

    More lightning. Chicago storms. They kick and dance around you, and holler louder than a drunk at a riot. Windier than a pol giving a stump speech.

    “He’s become a bigshot now. He’s no longer that awkward lumbering kid we met years ago: he’s one helluva handsome specimen of the male animal, at least until I get through with him. You’d have appreciated the man-candy. He carries himself way better than he did when you were still running around. But then so do I, so it should be a good scrap. I can tell you one thing, it’s going to be vicious. Hero fights always seem to be, y’know, way nastier than hero vs. villain.”

    The wind was picking up; although in Chicago, you only really notice the wind when it dies down.

    You better be careful this time, Red,
    something on the wind says. Ghosts?

    This is a poor alternative to bringing him back. But at least it’s something.

    “Southside, buddy. Southside. We rock. There ain’t no Canuck who can touch us.” I smile, clenching my fists.


    6:30 pm.

    How did this mess happen?

    I’m in my hotel room at Soho House near the Fulton Market. Nice rooms: comfortable woods, and a sweet poster bed. I lie on the bed as if looking up at the stars.

    I don’t really know the man. The people who do know Red say he’s a standup guy, rugged and a little rough, but genuine. He’s the sort of man that I’m usually friends with. His rep is near spotless.

    I’m constantly revisiting 1994, which, like most of my non-Hell memories, feels like “a little ways back”. Funny how those work.

    You can blame Mechanon, Mk. XIII. Or as we called him: Technomancer. Yes, he was the one Mechanon model to experiment with sorcery. He took control of Lyle’s battlesuit, the Forceknight III armor, and he went on a technopathically-controlled rampage in Chicago. The Peacekeepers confronted him just off the Magnificent Mile. We tried to be reasonable – especially Billy (that is Ravenspeaker) who was insistent that hero should never fight hero, but they mocked us and worse. For our part, most of us were happy to kick the ass of American loudmouths and avenge our team leader. While Ravenspeaker frantically negotiated with the Peacekeepers’ native American member, the Kickapoo, the fight continued and Anne impaled Firehammer on an ice lance. A fluke interaction of powers, the wrong vulnerability at the wrong time. I was standing next to her as it happened. I was the one who felt for Hammer’s pulse, and, not finding it, pronounced him dead. Man, did my voice quaver. It was surreal, like I was listening to someone else pronounce the words. My gloves, normally canary yellow, were crimson. Anne was aghast, as you might expect. She always saw herself as above such consequence.

    I’d never been responsible for a hero’s death before. Not even tangentially, not even in SUNDER, and that was a far more of a rough and tumble crowd than the somewhat more responsible Guard. Later, we were exonerated, and the record wiped clean. Mechanon received the blame for poor Firehammer’s death, one more added to his list of atrocities. But Firehammer was dead, and we couldn’t change that, not even Billy. Red Fury was no fan of the deal that exonerated us, and though it’s been decades, he’s never forgiven us, especially me. We’ve brushed shoulders a few times over the years; Red’s made quite a few disparaging remarks, which I’ve ignored.

    I’ve tried to look at the situation from his point of view. I’m sure I’d be pissed if I were in his shoes. I’ve tried to apologize, but he’s just brushed me aside. Part of me can’t blame him. Another part of me says that a quarter century is way too long to hold onto a grudge, and we need to resolve this shit. Especially if I’m leading the Protectors. No one wins if there’s a schism between Millennium and Chicago’s premier superteams, except for villains like Kostadin.

    “Not in costume tonight?” David asks, seeing me start to don some red MMA-style trunks.

    “I wear the flagsuit to remind myself I’m a foreigner on US soil,” I explain. “I don’t need the reminder tonight. Plus, the flags we wear are kinda a matched set for the two of us, and I don’t want you you associated with this mess.”

    “I am involved. I was part of the team,” David says.

    “You tried to stop it, at least until Mechanon froze you.” I tell Justiciar. “I didn’t. As far as I – and he – is concerned, I own what happened. And he may have a point.”

    “Don’t go guilting yourself, Craig.”

    I shake my head. “I was a dumb kid who made a lot of stupid mistakes,” I say.

    “You were my first friend after I awoke,” David replies. “You were the one who dragged me out of the abyss where Cyberlord left me. So don’t you dare talk to me about mistakes. You’ve always been next to faultless in my book.”

    Faultless. As usual, David is being way too kind with me.

    5 pm

    I shouldn’t be working out this close to the fight, but I’ve got to get at least little bit of this anger out of my system.

    So I punch the bag with enough force to puncture foot thick kendrium. I imagine it’s the Canadian Hercules’ face.

    So damn handsome. So damn destructible.

    “I’m stronger than you, Carson. I’m prettier than you, Carson.” I tell the punching bag. Each blow breaks the machine’s limits. How many tons per square inch was that punch? The scale stops at 5 kilotions. “And this time, I’m more right than you, Carson.” I add, slamming it full force. “For the truth. For Fire.”

    And I break the machine.

    7 pm.

    An ominous clang. The Black Door closes. Red is there, wearing black trunks that are even skimpier than mine. It’s his style, though like me he has the “tougher than his clothes” problem that leads to a lot of accidental nudity.

    “Neither of us decided to do this in our suits, huh?” Red snirked. I’m sure he’s checking me out. Brickhouses tend to do that, even when we’re not gay.

    “This really isn’t a very heroey situation now, is it?” I reply.

    “Well, you’re looking great Carson,” Red says, whistling and grinning.

    “We’re both “specimens,”” I say.

    “We are at that. And you’re going to be the best looking mangled guy in America by the time I’m done.”

    “I’m not really in the mood for speeches, Red,” I answer. Or threats. “No one’s ever said we don’t look every inch the hero. We just have to act the part.”

    “No, not today, Mr. Canada.” Red says. “Today we act nothing like heroes. Just men.”

    “If you say so, Mr. Chicago,” I snap back.

    And then suddenly the room lights up, a scanner washes over us, and something in the Black Room’s infrastructure hums and whirs. Wait, this room has an AI? In a private club’s gymnasium? Even Carl’s, built for metahuman violence, doesn’t have one of those!

    “The disputing parties will state their name and purpose.” a computer voice tell us. “Introductions, please.”

    “Craig Alexander Carson,” I say. “I wish to resolve my dispute with Red over here, so we can move past this.”

    “Lance Bridgefield Callahan.” Red says. I didn’t know his real name. His middle name is Bridgefield? “I intend to beat Craig Carson until he pays for his role in the death of my friend.”

    “This combat will continue until objectives have been achieved.” The computer says.

    “The devil,” Red mutters. “The Black Room’s never done this before.”

    “I think the bell just rang,” I say, and I advance on Red, and smile. There’s a bastard’s grin on both of our faces. The testosterone is really flowing tonight. This is going to be a fight.

    Except – it isn’t.

    9 pm.

    Two hours have passed, and two of the strongest superheroes on the planet are having a cutthroat, no holds barred wrestling match, me and handsome Craig here. Except, despite the fact I can’t stand this man, despite the fact that I want to take my fist and break his nose, I can’t. And neither, so it seems, can Mr. Canadian muscle. Boy scout. Instead, we’ve spent two hours rolling around, trading holds, going back and forth. No punches, no kicks, no bites, no low blows, no eye gouges. Just a lot of muscle on muscle, bravado. and grunts. This is no holds barred, but neither of us wants to be the first guy to use dirty tactics. It’s the cleanest grudge match ever. But wrestling isn’t cutting it. Much as I hate to admit it, he’s way stronger than he was twenty years ago, and he’s so damn experienced it’s hard to catch him at a disadvantage. We’re two grandmasters of muscle chess, and between our seventy years of fighting experience, we’re stalemated.

    “What’s the matter, Craig. You too good to throw an honest punch?” I goad.

    “Aw, you care,” Craig replies, his smug voice oozing the obnoxious like Canadian tar sands. “I’m not going to be the first one to start fighting dirty.”

    “Well, I’m not going to be the first one to start fighting dirty, either!” I shout back.

    “Shut up and get back to grunting,” he says with a smirk.

    “Fine!” I snap. “Be like that, jackass!”

    And we wrestle for two more hours. A kid from Chicago and a kid from Vancouver grunt, a lot. Hammerlock to King’s skull-3. Armbar to Left Arm-2. Leglock to knight’s knee-1. The fighting chess grandmasters continue their stalemate waltz. Is this chess or dancing?

    By the third hour, our bodies are as slick as summer sex, and we’re huffing like a set of bellows in a forge. Huff, huff, huff. We take turns grimacing and grinning like a pair of wolves, luring an opponent in for the kill, eluding the other guy’s traps. And, given that my hate for the guy is rising every second, I wonder why I’m not throwing a punch. It isn’t just my code of sportsmanship. Southsiders don’t have one! It’s not that I can’t do it, but that I won’t. Nor, amazingly enough, will he. Are we being mentally influenced? Is one of our teammates secretly mind controlling us, keeping the fight from getting out of hand? It’d just like one of these idiots from Passive-Aggressive-ada!

    “Time out.” I say, holding up my hands and making a “T” as if I were reffing a football game. I push the palm of my hand gently against his face, on the bridge of the nose, not a slap, just to get his attention. He scowls, but I’ve got it. “Hold up, big guy. This is fun, but we’re not here for fun. We’re here to settle accounts. I’m here to settle your hash. I think someone’s telepathically goading us so we play nice.”

    “The room, maybe?” Thundrax speculates.

    That idea never occurred to me.

    “Hit me.” I say, “Throw a punch. Let’s turn this into an honest brawl.”

    “Fine,” Carson says, and he tags me with a right cross that is so heavy and so sweet that I immediately regret my offer. After picking myself off the ground, Carson walks over to me and throws up his hands. “Your turn,” he says. Huffing, I tag him with a punch that would take off the heads of 99% of the people on the planet. He winces, and snaps his head back. I can’t believe he’s still conscious. How’d this guy get so tough? Back in the 90s, I owned the Maple Leaf chump.

    “Nice punch,” Carson says, blinking, and getting back into his stance. “Let’s do this.”

    We’re point one percenters, and I’m not talking about the lost Toltec platinum mines I own, or Carson’s oil reserves. The fight, finally, is on. The billionaires are throwing down.

    Ring the damn bell. For real this time.


    940 pm.

    I knew this job was dangerous when I took it. That’s a quote from Super Chicken, a cartoon I watched when I was a kid. A brawl with Red certainly qualifies as dangerous.

    So the kid gloves are off. And once they’re off, we fight dirty. Really dirty. Some of the things we’re doing to each other, I’d rather not describe. Use your imagination. On second thought, knowing that most people’s imaginations are pretty disgusting, maybe you shouldn’t. Suffice it to say we pretty much knock each other senseless and keep fighting on instinct.

    Twice during the match, I secure a rear mount, and get him in the dreaded rear naked choke (which takes on new meaning when you blast away each other’s clothes, because Heaven forbid I have a fucking fight where I don’t end up in the buff!) He teleports away twice, but I’m persistent. I know how hard it can be to teleport away when someone’s clutching you, and every time he tries the trick, he’s dog tired for about thirty seconds afterward. So, like Elizabeth Warren, I persist.

    And finally, five minutes later, I’ve got him. Hanging on his back, legs scissoring his waist, I’ve got him. He’s not teleporting anymore, he’s fading.

    And then, I let him go before he loses consciousness. Before I’ve technically won.

    I take a moment to look at us. Naked, burnt. Our bodies are charbroiled third degree burn hellscapes. Not unlike Ricardo Montalban at the end of that one good Star Trek movie; we’re grotesque. It hurts to look at him. I imagine I look the same, a make-up artist’s burn job wet dream. I really don’t feel good about doing that to another human being. To a hero.

    “This is stupid,” I say. Man, that’s hard for me to admit. The other part of me was having so much fun, dancing the combat waltz.

    “What—?” Red can’t believe it either.

    “We’re two of the planet’s veteran good guys,” I say. “We’ve both been diplomats. You negotiated a peace treaty between the surface world and the Subterroks. Me, I’ve negotiated a ceasefire between alien war armadas. We’re twenty-five years older than we were back in the 90s, when this crap happened. We were kids back then, stupid kids – now we’re adults. We’re leaders. Why can’t we resolve this without going all WWF on each other? Shouldn’t we be looking for a better way?”

    It takes awhile, but he shakes his head at me. Man, those green eyes are burning.

    “No way in Hell…” he snarls.

    “Red…” I stammer, taken aback.

    “I mean it!” Red rages. “It may be twenty-five years, but Firehammer’s still dead. And you haven’t even admitted your part. You’ve never admitted it. You’ve been too sanctimonious to own it. Well, you killed my friend, asshole! You!”

    “But Mechanon…” I stammer.

    “Fuck Mechanon,” Red snarls. “And fuck your mercy. No excuses, Carson. Own his death! Own his blood! I ain’t stopping this fight until you put me out, or until you admit your part in what happened.” Red vows, hobbling to his feet. “And you have to mean it.”

    “What if I don’t?” I say. “We fight forever? To the bitter end? Do you think your friend would want that?” I sigh. It’s a sick sound. “I didn’t kill him! You know it, you were there!”

    Red shakes his head. “Not directly, no. But your two leaders were incapacitated. People were looking to you for leadership. You could have ordered your team to stand down. You didn’t, and your ice bitch killed Hammer! The man who took a scruffy, misfit kid out of Southside, and made a man of him. The man who brought me into this business! I don’t give a damn how much time has passed. His justice is not getting swept under the carpet for your convenience!” Man, is he hyperventilating. “Let’s do this, Carson! No more excuses, no more stoppages, Not until it’s finished.”

    This is like soap opera, but the pain is real. I want to say I’m sorry, but no, sorry won’t cut it. Sorry is callous when it’s spoken to graves. Am I responsible? Could I have stopped Ann? Why didn’t I?

    Ann. The woman I loved. The woman I killed.

    Was it inexperience in leadership? Or did I just want to show up a pack of arrogant Yanks who had made assumptions about our guilt? Who had said nasty things at us? Was I that petty? National rivalry is so stupid!

    I look at Red, look upon my handiwork, and despair. He’s back in a combat stance, a classic boxer. The fighting man still wants to fight me, even after all we’ve done to each other. We’ve done a world of hurt to each other, and that world is not enough.

    Am I responsible? Looking hard into myself, and remembering those wild crazy, fever dream-like events, the answer is yes. I didn’t throw the ice lance. Mechanon set up the situation. But I could have stopped it, and I didn’t. The blame was mine.

    Is mine. Twenty-five years later, it’s time to pay the piper.

    Each second increases the physical sting of my body. That’s the least of my problems.

    “You’re right.” I admit. “Dammit, you’re absolutely right. I do bear full responsibility. And I’ll make amends in whatever way you wish. Including giving up my company. Including turning myself in and accepting a prison sentence.”

    Red gapes at me in disbelief. He confessed? I can see him wonder. Did he really, after all this time?

    Yes Red. I did.

    “We’re men of service and we need to be true to our ideals.” I say. “People mistakenly call us heroes. But even if we deserve the name, we’re not above the law.” I say, swallowing hard. “I don’t think it’s possible to fully repay any of you for the memory of your dead friend…”

    “Fire,” he gasps.

    “…but I apologize to him. And to the dead he would’ve saved if he hadn’t died. To the lovers who might have prospered in his care, to the children he never had. The friends he would’ve made, whose lives would have been enriched by his company. I’m responsible for all of that. The absence of his goodness, the void of his virtue. That was me. Because I was fighting for country and pride, not for ideals.”

    He stares at me, this swollen, charred mess of burns, and then he smiles. “I did it.” He just wanted the admission. Not a pound of flesh. though we certainly scraped off enough of that in the fight. His voice is a laugh, caught on the edges of his injuries. “It’s finally over.”

    “We really didn’t have to do this to each other,” I say, pointing athe burns that line his body. Red shakes his head emphatically.

    “I’m Catholic,” Red replies, his teeth a cheshire cat grin set in a face of ruin. Tooth and truth, that’s what we fought for today. “It was a penance.”

    “One hell of a penance,” I mutter. From his laugh, I think he agrees. I’m tempted to add: was that what you needed to hear? But no, I meant what I said about putting my fate in his hands. No backhanded questions allowed. No mitigation of guilt.

    The lights flash in the room. “This arbitration session has been concluded,” the computer says. A spray washes over our bodies and our injuries start to regenerate. Nanites? “Thank you for using Xavatl’s arbitration booth. Xavatl, the galaxy’s leader in persuasive arbitration technology. Not approved for those prone to cerebral hemorrhaging. Side effects of arbitration may include serious injury if pacification protocols ignored. Consult your medical practitioner before using the arbitration booth. Always have a back-up clone available in the event of accidental death. Void where prohibited.

    “Huh?” Red wonders. He never understood the function of the Black Room. Kinda handy. Isn’t alien tech such a joy?

    And, fully healed, Red and I stare at each other in our nudity, a little embarrassed, though we’re both buff, and there are a lot of rumors about Red. Well, that’s his own damn business. “Computer, give us five minutes!” I shout. May as well not have David or Red’s team walk in on us while we’re naked. If people are going to believe salacious bullshit about me, let it be for things I’ve actually done.

    “Door will open in five minutes.” The computer announces.

    I summon a pair of shorts, remove them and hand them to Red, then make a second pair for myself. For once, people aren’t going to see me naked. I don’t have much shame, but I have a little, at least after draining myself physically and emotionally. But I give us a chance to recover. As for Red, he just laughs and laughs and laughs, a fountain of glee, bubbling as if the world’s been lifted off his huge shoulders. I’m actually glad to see the son of a bitch happy.

    12:00.

    So there you have it. Me and Craig Carson, settling our differences, and having an epic fight in the process. People grow and change, and sometimes age does a bring a little wisdom in its wake, even to a pair of muttonheads like us.

    Of course, I forgive him. I’ve done some stupid shit in my life. I’m going to do more stupid shit in my life. I wish I hadn’t needed to push him into realizing what he’d done, wish he’d come to the realization on his own. But that’s the human animal for you. “Homo imperfectus”. Or “Homo sapiens really”?

    So we laugh, and make fun of each other, and do the usual things that heroes do when they’re friends. We discuss business deals: his mining tech, and my lunar mineral rights. We don’t hug, at least not yet. Give us time. We’re going a little fast, but damn, the combination of our businesses have some sweet potential for good. Profit and prophet. Save the planet’s soul and make a few bucks doing it.

    I think the mediation chamber is telepathically prodding us, encouraging us to make nice, find commonalties, accelerating the natural process of reconciliation. But look at us. Two kids, one from South Chicago, and one from East Vancouver: heroes, ones who struck it rich, handsome walking muscle shows. We could use a battleship for a medicine ball. Damn, we’ve got a lot in common.

    “We’re both human,” Carson says. “And I will find a way to make amends.”

    A memorial scholarship to schools in South Chicago Heights. A fund for local businesses to make low interest loans. Those are a nice start. “Hand ups and not hand outs” he says, and I agree. We discuss some f the other neighborhoods that need a helping hand. We’re finally acting like we should have from the start: as generals in our own personal war against misery.

    It isn’t a perfect accord, though. He doesn’t like Budweisser. The heathen.

    I think I need to beat him up.

  8. #18
    UN Basic Recipient
    Join Date
    Mar 2018
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    24

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    Happy Anniversary

    Author’s Note: In the early 90s, I ran in two extraordinary scenarios run by George MacDonald, one of the co-creators of PnP Champions, as I faced his archvillain and Champions’ villain of villains, Dr. Destroyer. On the special occasion of Craig’s thirtieth anniversary in 2013, I wrote a sequel.

    It was a stormy night in Millennium City. Craig Carson was on his guard when he entered the penthouse skylight, where (or so he had been told by his most reliable contact) supervillainy at its most foul was taking place. The room was dark when Thundrax entered, and he could recognize many shapes – it was an ambush. Craig charged himself with lightning – and then the room suddenly came alive with light and noise, bright balloons and the blaring of two dozen party horns.

    “Surprise!” the crowd shouted, and confetti rained down from the ceiling, coating a
    startled Craig Carson’s head like snow. In the room were his secretary Rimi Kumiko, his old Starforce teammates, Lyle Doerksen (the third Forceknight, now retired), Ravenspeaker,, even the monolithic figure of Elemmus from his first team, SUNDER, several other members of the Flux-Carson team as well as Sparrowhawk and his current teammates on the Protectors: many of his closest friends. It was a “mingle-rich” environment, with an interesting person at every turn. But for now, the throng was unified for one purpose, and a rousing chorus of “Happy Anniversary” filled the room.

    “Craig, if you could see the look on your face,” Justiciar chuckled in his Nova Scotian voice, lilted with a touch of an Irish accent, relaxing his all-too-serious demeanor for just one day.

    “Speech! Speech!” Ravenspeaker cawed, looking resplendent in a three-piece suit.

    “Where’s the fricking stripper...” Dust Devil snorted, less amused than most.

    Craig sighed and struggled to put on a smile. Those who knew him best recognized when Craig was faking a smile, but they chose to ignore it, this time. “Believe it or not, I’m not a party person, and I don’t like speaking about myself, only about the things I believe in.”

    “For Pete’s sake, Craig,” Justiciar snapped. “If you haven’t earned the right to believe in yourself, who the heck has?”

    “Then I guess no one has,” Craig whispered, giving the comment the lightest of shrugs, but he continued to smile.

    It was thirty years to the day when a lightning bolt had struck a teenage boy who had scrambled onto the roof of a building in East Vancouver to talk down a woman whom he thought was committing suicide. Thirty years since he had heard the woman say: “You are worthy, Craig Carson, to receive the power of living thunder!” Thirty years since the lightning bolt struck him, and he fell from the roof in a body that was not his own. Thirty years since the birth of Thundrax. His friends wanted to celebrate it, and who was he to throw the world’s biggest wet blanket on it? So Craig Carson played along with his friends as they smiled, toasted him, and then (like all parties) settled into conversations that had nothing to do with him whatsoever.

    Thirty years. Craig had had enough of retrospectives five years ago, which had passed in relative quiet. Now the National, the CBC News, was showing a 45 minute documentary “The Mullet at Thirty”. Media outlets from across the continent wanted interviews. Commemorative plaques and stamps were being sold. The Atlantean embassy, grateful for his help on several previous missions, was hosting a major charity fundraiser in Craig’s name. And the two major comic book companies that sold Thundrax comics (Craig had put his name and likeness into Creative Commons for merchandising purposes, so anyone could legally publish their own Thundrax comic) were having a crossover for the first time, with the gold leafed issue proclaiming “The Ultimate Battle: Thundrax vs. Thundrax!”

    It was all just too much for a humble kid from East Van.

    Craig decided to perform Stress Reduction Treatment #2: Flight. Find a nice
    deserted stretch of wilderness and just go a flight. Somewhere where no one would bother him, and if by chance any supervillain decided to take a potshot at him, Craig would welcome the diversion. It was a stretch of woods in upper Michigan state, and the great lake was clearly visible to the north. He felt bad that he hadn’t been able to join in the spirit of celebration. But it was just a date on a calendar, he told himself. Nothing
    really important.

    Craig probably could have been more attentive. It was a clear day, following an unseasonal snowfall that made Thundrax wonder if Borealis’s recently foiled scheme to open a fissure to the Frost Tomb hadn’t worked after all, with only traces of cloud. But as Craig flew, there was an odd disruption at three o’clock, and from a warp a large metal titan materialized. It was about five meters in height, red with black trim, a very familiar design. Destroid, the robot enforcers of Albert Zerstoiten, the great and powerful Dr. Destroyer, justly feared as the most dangerous man on earth. Craig recognized it as a smaller version of the same advanced model that attacked the Champions HQ in Millennium and Justice Squadron Tower in New York last year. He pivoted, decelerating in a sudden and painful lurch, charged his body with five hundred mega-joules of electricity, and prepared to let it fly.

    But then a second destroid warped into view, then a third, then a fourth, and then a fifth. Before he could react, Thundrax was surrounded on all sides by mechanical marauders. He channeled a tiny trace of electricity to his comm implant, attempting to send a distress signal – and was not surprised in the least to discover it was being jammed. Six super-destroids surrounded him in a force bubble, filled it with sonic feedback that overwhelmed his senses, and Craig Carson slumped into unconsciousness.

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

    Thundrax awoke on a comfortable bed in a perfectly arrayed room. The furnishings were blue and gold, matching the color scheme of the room: the colors of Craig’s old costume, the one which he’d worn for so many years, and there was a large Canadian flag. A small servitor robot, like a beautiful spider, lifted up a camera head with many eyes. “Mr. Carson, I trust you are not uncomfortable. Welcome to Garuda Base.”

    “Garuda?” Craig said, half-questioning, half-moaning. Even in his stupor, he recognized the reference, the great bird of Vedic mythology, who supplicated himself before Vishnu. Given that Destroyer occasionally referred to himself as “the Shiva of the modern world” (which of course, offended several superhumans who saw themselves as the incarnation of that deity), it certainly fit his motif. “I think you’d better take me to your master and get this over with. Provided that this isn’t an elaborate prison cell.” Craig was still wincing from the pain of his capture. “Sorry.” he corrected. “I should do you the courtesy of announcing that I’m a prisoner first before I start making demands.”

    “Thank you,” the robot said, surprisingly well-manner. He’s a supervillain’s C3PO, a
    protocol droid, Craig thought, inwardly amused. “If you do not mind waiting, a meal is being prepared.” it added.

    “So,” Craig smiled. “It’s dinner and a show?” The robot had no response.

    Thundrax decided to relax and wait, casually inspecting the area for surveillance and weak points to exploit in an escape attempt. Craig wasn’t used to gilded cages – when he was taken prisoner, he almost always ended up naked in some sort of high-tech stocks, the traditional fate (or so he previously observed) of buff blond-haired protagonists in pulp stories when they were taken captive – but a cage was a cage, and Craig was not going to be taken prisoner without a fight. But for now he lazily lay on the bed, hands cupped behind his head, his feet resting on a pillow.

    An hour later, almost as if a chime had sounded, the robot stirred. “The master will see you now,” it said.

    “Thank you kindly,” Craig replied, skipping off the bed. “Now if you please lead the way?”

    “Certainly!” the robot said.

    The door opened, and outside the “guest chamber” there were very modern furnishings employing a red and black color scheme, with gold highlights. An intricate piano concerto filled the rooms at an even volume, relaxing yet mournful, set in D Minor. Craig didn’t recognize the piece, but his musical soul belonged to Led Zeppelin, not Mozart or Brahms. He followed the robot, and the images of masked figures set in the wall bespoke the world-shaking ego of its owner.

    He was taken into a large dining hall, a crystal chandelier set high above a table of gleaming black glass: Craig saw images of destruction dancing in the beautiful glasswork that shone from above and both admired and loathed their terrible beauty. But it was the man at the head of the table who commanded his attention, as he always did. He was none other than Albert Zerstoiten, the Old Man, the most brilliant and dangerous mind on Earth. The man who burned down Old Detroit, Doctor Destroyer.

    Well, after battling those Giga-Destroids in RenCen, he had wanted to have a chat with Zerstoiten. Beware of what you wish for...

    “Doctor,” Thundrax remarked cautiously. “It’s been quite awhile.”

    “I am quite aware of the passage of time, Mr. Carson.” Destroyer said, a little curtly. “Please sit down.”

    “Thank you,” Thundrax was calm, and his courteous nature had not yet been fractured. “You look a lot better than you did at our last meeting.”

    “Obviously,” Destroyer said, remembering the confrontation in Multifaria, where Thundrax was among those who had joined forces with him to free him from the grasp of Citizen Harmon, the so-called Shadow Destroyer.

    “My apologies for making small talk, Doctor.” Thundrax said. “I forgot that the great and mighty Albert Zerstoiten never does anything small.”

    Destroyer gave only the slightest of nods and took a sip of wine, which somehow permeated his faceplate. “Mr. Carson, you seem to be in a contrarian mood. But this is not a battle. Perhaps the meal will improve your disposition,” he remarked.

    “Forgive me, Doctor, but I don’t believe a meal will prevent me from being contrarian toward you.” Thundrax replied.

    “Such hostility spoils the palette.” Zerstoiten stated. A host of robots began marching in, carrying various dishes, mostly fusions of Indian, Japanese and Chinese cuisine. “I did not bring you here to kill you, or even to do battle...”

    “Don’t tell me you’re wishing me a happy anniversary,” Thundrax sighed.

    “Why should I not? Have you not assisted in saving the world several times? Are you not worthy of celebration? You have done all of humanity a service, and though Destroyer stands above the common herd, still even I am included in that number. And Destroyer is no ingrate.”

    “I hardly did it for you.” Craig snapped.

    “Nonetheless, you did so. And this is your reward. I have brought you here for your enjoyment and enrichment. As you can see, I am practiced and accomplished in all the predatory arts.”

    “I really hadn’t looked at cooking in quite that manner.” Craig noted, directing them to put a dish of Kobe beef on his plate. “Predatory? Is that your perspective on everything?”

    “There is nuance, of course. But nuance can distract from a broader understanding of things. It becomes more of a tool for dissemblance than understanding.”

    “It can be,” Craig said, striving, ironically, to present good table manners to his host. He was normally a bit of a slob.

    “Genius must eschew falsehood, Mr. Carson.” Destroyer stated.

    “True. But given that, does it really apply to you, Doctor?” Thundrax replied, taking a sip of the wine. “But then again, are you truly a genius?”

    “You doubt my intellect?” Destroyer’s voice had a bit of an edge to it. It bothered
    Craig less than it should have, given that by most accounts (at least, those not tainted with fanboyism), Destroyer was more than capable of killing Thundrax at a moment’s notice.

    “Not at all,” Thundrax replied, after he had chewed through a vegetable dish. “The quality of your table alone speaks to the enormous range and depth of your abilities. But what is ability without accomplishment? You have made enormous technical strides in areas that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Yet, nothing of that vast reservoir of knowledge has found its way into the hands of society.”

    “I will rebuild society,” Destroyer promised. “And then my gifts shall be shared.”

    “Not this again,” Craig sighed. “Look Doctor, let’s face facts. The clock is ticking.
    You’re old. In fact, you’re dying,” He paused to inspect the man’s reaction, not that he could tell much when his face was covered. “And we both know it. I saw your body outside its shell when we were in Multifaria. You could barely stagger twenty feet into your costume unaided. It was a wonder that Shadow Destroyer had your costume so close to your prison.”

    “Not such a wonder,” Zerstoiten rebutted. “There’s a failsafe in my armor that prevents use of my technology without my biometric proximity. The false Harmon had no choice if he wanted to exploit my technological riches. And the sensors needed me: not a magical clone or a simulacrum.”

    “Granted, but that misses my point,” Thundrax said. “The world is getting along quite nicely without the help of Albert Zerstoiten. There are new revolutions in every field of science opening up daily, all without your genius. The world is passing you by. Suppose your heart gives out, or you develop a cancer you can’t beat? You will die, and everything you’ve done in your life will become dust. When I look at you, do I see the greatest genius in the world? Maybe. But I also see the biggest waste.”

    “Then, perhaps we should change that,” Destroyer replied. “Twenty-one years ago, I made you a proposition that would have changed the world, and you refused.”

    “Your offer to empower every human on earth and turn them into a superbeing. I’m very confident I made the right choice.”

    “Yet you accuse me of being an elitist by being exclusionary with my technical innovations, even while you are proud of being exclusive with your own superhuman abilities.”

    “In all likelihood, our species will reach the point of becoming largely superhuman by more gradual and natural methods,” Craig replied. “Without the chaos that would be triggered by a quantum level surge in the number of the world’s metahumans.”

    “And yet you fear such growth, and the means by which it must occur. Even your own company’s innovations.” Destroyer replied. “Yes, I know of them. In fact, I know far more about your company’s secrets than you do. You should be very wary of some of your employees and their special projects.”

    That did not encourage Craig one bit. He told himself that losing his temper would be the surest way of losing control of the situation. “To be honest, I found your previous offer less than credible. I was a second tier superhero on a small local superhero team from Vancouver, SUNDER. I had no reputation, no track record. And yet of all of the superhumans in the world, you gave that choice to me? And not, say, Vanguard?”

    Zerstoiten nodded. “You remind me of someone I once knew,” he said. “One who was not unkind.”

    “Sentiment, Doctor?” Craig scoffed. “From you?”

    “You judge me by my reputation,” Destroyer said. “But reputations are deceitful things. And even at Henderson’s little conference, when I removed your powers, I saw the fires of leadership in you. It is in your nature. I knew that time would temper you and in the crucible of insanity that is the superhuman experience you would discover your destiny. You have become great, Craig Carson, as I alone foresaw, and not from your powers. From your will.”

    “If you think that I would cooperate with you after Detroit...”

    “Did you not already do so when you assisted me in Multifaria?” Destroyer countered. “When the price is high enough, you will gladly take the 40,000 lives that were lost in Detroit – as well as your personal loss – and throw them on the pyre.”

    Thundrax’s eyes narrowed in anger. “When it comes to marketing, Dr. Zerstoiten, you have much to learn,” he said, not hiding the anger in his voice.

    “Then the marketing I leave to you, Mr. Carson,” Destroyer said. “This is my offer. I will give you access to a library of my creative innovations. In energy, robotics, medicine, music, and in fields that are not even dreamt in the imaginations of this planet’s lesser minds. You wish to advance this planet? You wish me to share my innovations with the human race? The box is open to you.”

    “And the price?” Thundrax asked.

    “Your life will belong to me, body, mind, and... well, I do not think highly of the soul. However, I will add one benefit. You will have my word that I will take no aggressive action – aside from any requested by you, in defense of this planet – for four years. If I am doomed to die soon, as you say, then I will not live to see my hundredth
    birthday. And you will have spared the world from my predatory interests.”

    “I find it hard to believe you would tolerate a being with mythological origins in
    your employ, Doctor.”

    “That is true,” Destroyer replied. “I would deny you access to your superhuman form, but I would give you a replacement body to command that would exceed it by an order of magnitude.”

    Craig took another sip of wine. “I prefer meat to metal, Doctor.”

    “I am confident in your ability to adapt, Mr. Carson,” the Doctor said. “But you have no excuses left. Either you reject my technical expertise, and prove yourself a hypocrite and your arguments specious, or you will embrace my service, and the world will receive great gifts.”

    “Did you make the same offer to Vanguard? Or Amazing Man? Or Defender?”

    “Vanguard was not an intellectual at heart. He had an indomitable spirit, to be
    sure, but I might as well have made the same offer to Muhammad Ali. As for Dr. Renton, he believed that his own talents sufficed to advance the world, despite evidence that belied his talent for innovation. And I have chosen not to talk with the leader of the Champions.”

    “He’s capable.” Thundrax said. “Are you afraid of him?”

    Destroyer laughed. “I realize we are enemies, Mr. Carson, but that is no reason to insult me. I have personal reasons for avoiding that insufferable charlatan. Fear is not among them. Destroyer is above that frailty. It is one of many reasons why my rule shall be a blessing to our species. But what is your choice, Mr. Carson?”

    Craig Carson rose to his feet. “I thank you for the meal, Dr. Zerstoiten, and the hospitality of Garuda. But as for what you propose, I must acknowledge myself as a hypocrite who makes specious arguments. Better that than to betray everything I believe in, and everyone I know.”

    “Fool!” Destroyer snapped, also rising to his feet. Craig aimed a lightning bolt at
    he titan, which impacted against his armor with no apparent effect whatsoever. “Canadian, you shall not be offered greatness a third time! Know the power of the Destroyer, fall to earth, and mingle with the ants amid the mud!”

    Craig materialized in front of the armored megalomaniac and struck him in the face with his best shot, thunder reverberating within the chamber. It would have staggered all but a handful of people on the planet: unfortunately for Thundrax, Zerstoiten was not only on the list, he stood alone, unchallenged, at the very top. Destroyer responded with a back-handed slap that would have torn the armor from a tank, and then pressed a button on his control. Suddenly, a portal opened up in the floor beneath Craig Carson, with a tube underneath. And Thundrax fell. Somehow, Destroyer had negated his ability to fly. He was banished from Garuda – a great flying base that was suspended five hundred miles above the planet – and indeed he fell to earth.

    Craig silently fought the urge to blurt an obscenity and struggled desperately to ignite his ability to fly, or use his lightning, or any of his abilities. It felt like a cigarette addict desperately trying to ignite a flame from a lighter with no fuel. He couldn’t even generate the electricity to manipulate his comm implant. Yes, he was not in his mortal, Craig Carson body, and under normal circumstances the Thundrax form could survive the fall, but what if Zerstoiten had also turned off his invulnerability?

    Passing through earth’s thermosphere, Craig’s costume ignited and burned away to nothing, but didn’t have any effect on his actual body. Thundrax almost breathed a sigh of relief – this was only going to hurt like hell, he’d maybe fracture a few bones if he could find a way to land flat – and watched the world spin beneath him as he tumbled. He fell to earth in the middle of a copse of Siberian woodland, making a very large crater and passing out on impact. An hour later, some very startled Russians found him, naked and still unconscious, in the center of the crater.

    There was one upside to the incident, the Russians who found him had some very good vodka, and they were more than willing to share. They never, however, found clothes that were large enough for him, so he lounged around in gym shorts while one of the older women made alterations to a friendly farmhand’s clothes. A few days afterward, the lightning came back, and Craig managed to get hold of UNTIL and the Canadian consulate. But during his stay, he constantly looked skyward, and muttered three words, over and over again, repeating them so often that the amused Russians thought they were his second name.

    “Next time, Albert,” he vowed. “Next time.”
    Last edited by Thundrax; 06-10-2018 at 12:33 AM.

  9. #19
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    Re: War of the Dimensions

    That Hellish Thing

    A tale of Zorasto, and how he came to be entwined in Craig's life.

    -------
    Hell, 1838.

    In Hell's bleakest reaches, beyond Damnation's Door lay the Desolation of Realizations. Across this vast, grey plain all lies are laid bare, and naught but painful truths may be spoken here. No creature desires to come hither, especially among the peoples of Hell, to whom falsehoods are like meat and bread. However the Lords of Pride have found these wretched plains ever useful in the enforcement of covenants, and thus an oasis of truth sits in the heart of hell, for any with the desire to take advantage of its qualities.

    In the heart of those plains, a trap had been sprung. Within a circle of falsesilver, barbed and burning, the angel Neviel the Whisperer was ensnared, seemingly without hope of heaven. He had been gifted with seven great prophecies by his Lord Most High, and now a lord of hell was attempting to claw it out of him like a carrion beast picking at a corpse with claw and tooth.

    "Speak," Zorasto commanded the angel, shifting his huge bat-like wings. He towered over the messenger, his muscles striated geologically over his huge form, a sneer stretched across his horned, skull-like face. Had he not been in agony, the angel would hae observed that such a dominating physical presence was one of Hell's favorite affectations, overplayed displays of physical strength for the sake of vanity that makes what should be beautiful into something grotesque, a mockery of paragons. But he, even he, faithful servant of the Ancient of Days, was not impervious to torment. His voice croaked and strained as the prophecy was ripped from him.

    "In a hall in Aberdeen, there is a reprobate with one eye and three fingers on his right hand, a crofter who is only known as "Bloody Carson". Against all reason, his family will flower, and become ennobled. Within seven generations, two score and five years after the Great Reawakening, the Living Thunder shall embrace the second born Carson of that generation and he shall become elevated."

    "The Living Thunder of Tarhunt? Of Tanaris? Of Thunaraz and Perun?"

    "Yes, the power of pagan gods shall be gifted to him and he shall become mighty. But that is not the greatest of his powers, for greater than might shall be the spirit that resides within. For one who can wrestle with their pains and subjugate them can transform them into wisdom and compassion that will be a blessing to the world."

    "Spare me the philosophies of the Crucified One," Zorasto stated, and again he lashed the angel with a barbed whip. The angel screamed.

    "Pig-dweller, I know who thou art!" Neviel spat back.

    "Indeed," the demon said with a mock bow. "Once I was Sorme-Astaro, who in ancient Assyria burnt whole cities to the ground, whose sword dripped blood without ceasing! Then I became Astaro-Dammu, who compelled the stars to scream prophecies, who found voices in the silent, dark places of the world! And now I am Zorasto, Defiler of Souls, who after death rose in the estates of hell and who now stands at the left hand of the demon-god Asmiak, looking down on the hordes of the damned!"

    "Bloodletter, sorcerer, demon." Neviel noted. "I know thy cursed history. But I prefer to call thee as thou wert when my Sovereign walked the earth: pig-dweller. For as He did to the Legion, so did He do to you: casting you, whining and wretched, into a host of swine, to stagger on the ground as drunken beasts before His infinite majesty."

    Zorasto snarled and lashed out again at the angel with his flail, tearing at his spirit-flesh. Again the angel cried aloud. "I shall take this Living Thunder for my own!" the demon stated. "And all that wisdom and compassion of which thou boasts? I will defile it utterly!"

    Neviel shook his head. "Ever shall the thunder elude thy grasp, demon, even if you rose four times higher than thy present station. For the wisdom that is the gift of the Most High is ever beyond the comprehension of those who scorn it."

    "I crave not his tongue but his tempest, for with it I shall ascend to godhood!" Zorasto stated, and his burning hand reached up and brushed against Neviel's cheek, singeing it. "Thou hast six more prophecies. I shall enjoy ripping them from you."

    "And each one shall further undo thee," Neviel said. "For it is the heart of the prophecy that matters more than the words, Zorasto. Meaning you may find, and meaning you may give to words that is not intended, and so make a sport of them. But the true value of all revelation is in what it says about the heart of the Most High. Those who search for power and apocalypse will ever miss the meaning of the gift."

    "I tire of thee, thrall of heaven," Zorasto said, turning around with a stretch of his wings. "I hope the crofter proves better company."

    With that the demon lord departed for Scotland, shifting his shape to that of a twisted and unpleasant looking man -- the closest thing he could muster to someone of fair and trustworthy visage. When the one-eyed Carson was drunk enough, as it seemed he would be, his appearance wouldn't matter in the least. Just his words. With a proud, besotted Scotsman, his words would be enough to seal a devil's bargain.

    -----
    1839 Aberdeen Scotland

    "Seven generations?"

    "That is the standard bargain," Zorasto said, opening up the ink well and handing the man a fine red quill. "You are a man of letters, are you not?"

    "Aye," Tristan "Bloody" Carson said with a slur as he cradled his drink in his half-broken hand. The tavern was silent around them, and people had slunk away from his companion in disgust, though none could see him as he truly was. Tristan Carson, however, did not care. As blasphemous as a frigate of sailors, part of him even enjoyed the faint whiff of Hell, shadow and brimstone, that lingered in his senses like strong tobacco. "Aye... I can sign my name wi' the best o' them."

    His face smiling like a shark, Zorasto propped himself up on his chair and puffed himself slightly. "You will not regret the bargain," he said in a low, amused voice.

    Tristan Carson swallowed the drink lustily, and the grinning demon poured another glass of demon rum from the black bottle he'd brought. "So... my family for seven generations. Why seven generations?"

    "Tradition," Zorasto said. "Your offspring shall be my possessions, body and soul, for seven generations. In exchange, immortality shall be your due."

    "And eternity in the prime of manhood!" Tristan Carson stated. "I don't want to get old, or be trapped as a bawling infant by your devilish tricks. Me own brats are bad enough!"

    "The joy of treachery is not what I seek," Zorasto stated, playing with the bottle on the table, tipping it and rotating it in a circle. "Though that is a grand amusement, of course..."

    "Eh?"

    "I have received prophecy that one of your descendents will be someone to prize," Zorasto explained. "The covenant we are striking will bring him into my potentate, body and soul. The power he shall wield will be rended from his body and in devouring it, I shall shine as an infernal sun, rising to the depths of hell, striking down gods. And she who gifts it shall forfeit all right to retaliate."

    "I dinna understand a word ye said, devil."

    Zorasto smiled. "I believe I will enjoy watching you walk through the generations, cursing and spitting at the world, wallowing in the misery created by your enterprises."

    "Ha!" Tristan Carson shouted. "Ye got that right! So once I sign your papers, I wi' be free o'you?"

    "One service will remain," Zorasto said. "When the time is right, I shall ask you to deliver your descendant into my hands. Some years before the day of destiny, methinks, just to be certain. Free, he could still resist my efforts to take his power, even with the contract granting me advantages. 'Tis best to take no chances."

    "So you wan' me to deliver the brat t' you?"

    "Exactly!" Zorasto exclaimed. "But are you capable of such a cruelty?"

    Tristan Carson eyed the rest of the patrons in the tavern and rose to his feet with a crooked smile on his scarred face. "Gentlemen and fellow cutthroats." he said. "Does any man here doubt that I am capable of the vilest iniquities and the wickedest cruelties?"

    After a few seconds of staring down the patrons, one of the tavern goers shouted "No!". Tristan Carson strode to the man, and repeatedly punched him in the face, smiling.

    "I believe this will work out," Zorasto said.

    With blood on his knuckles and a contented expression on his face, Tristan Carson returned to the table and grabbed the quill from its place on the table. "Done," he said, as he put his scrawl to the paper.

    ----
    1974, Vancouver, British Columbia.

    William Carson hurriedly snuck into the house. The television was running: Eilly had been watching "Another World" before William had made his phone call, and two women were screaming at each other, culminating in the sound of a gunshot and a melodramatic music tag. Nuisance or irony? William did not have time to ponder the question. He practically bolted for the basement, where he hurriedly grabbed a pair of large steam trunks and hauled them up the stairs, hitting his head on the ceiling for one last, final time. Like a madman he rummaged through his closets, pulling down the three suits he had carefully ironed and pressed to do his work. He wrestled with his strongest desire: to take pictures of his wife and children, but decided that the fiction would be more credible if he left them behind. Once both pieces of luggage were packed, William turned around to leave... and spotted his oldest son Jack standing at the door.

    "Dad, what are you doing?" he asked his dad.

    A wave of shame fell over Jack Carson. His face reddening, he blurted, as if trying to convince himself. "Removing the dead weight from my life." And with that, he placed an envelope on Eilleen Carson's pillow, removed the wedding band from his ring finger.

    "What the hell are you doing?" Jack Carson demanded, rushing at his father with fists clenched.

    "I don't love you any more. Not you, not your mom, not Cr--"

    Jack's fist struck William Carson flush in the face. However it wasn't the force of the blow that dropped him to his knees.

    "I'm sorry... I'm sorry," the man blubbered. "I thought I'd be stronger."

    "What the hell are you talking about?"

    Through a gauze of tears, William Carson looked at his oldest son. He grabbed the teenager's shoulders. "Forgive me. I'm about to put you all through Hell, but it beats the alternative."

    Jack Carson placed his hands on his hips and stared at his father, dumbfounded.

    "This is going to sound crazy Jack," William stated. "But our family has an enemy, a powerful, magical one. Like a supervillain, only much, much worse."

    "Huh?"

    "You remember all those sermons at your mom's church about demons? I thought I was just humoring her, but it appears I owe Eilly an apology. There's one after us."

    "Uh... what?"

    William Carson sighed. "I don't understand most of it myself. But I need you to act like you didn't see me. You have to keep this from them. Make them forget me. Hate me. So they can live as normal a life as they can. Above all, you need to keep this from Craig. Above everything else, I'm counting on you to protect your brother..." William Carson stopped and frowned. "And just what are you doing away from school?"

    "Uh... we had a soccer game against Tech," Jack admitted. "And after it was over, I skipped fifth period."

    "Good boy!" William Carson said, and he hugged his son.

    "Dad, this whole thing about demons..."

    "I've seen him. I've seen his servant. I need to keep him away from you, no matter what the cost."

    The door came open, and the hobbled man, a tall, rough-looking sort with a wooden leg, one eye and a claw for a right hand. He made a gesture with his one good hand, whispered an incantation, and Jack Carson was frozen in place.

    "Leave the boy alone!" William Carson snapped. "I'm the second-born Carson. It's me that your Zorasto wants!"

    The Hobbled Man launched a vicious left backhand at William's face, knocking the man into the wall. "Next time, you get the hook," he said ominously. "Take your belongings and go."

    "You will NOT harm my son. The boy has already promised to play along."

    Jack Carson felt as though he were being smothered in chains. He struggled violently within their grasp. "I'll kill you, you piece of--" he muttered, and the Hobbled Man twisted his wrist, tightening the chains. Jack screamed.

    "It will appear to the world as though the father killed the son as he was in the process of leaving his family." the Hobbled Man said. "How unfortunate."

    "Please, I beg you," William Carson said. "My son is still part of that curse you spoke of. That means he belongs to your master. He will not... uh... be pleased if you kill someone who could be of use to him."

    The Hobbled Man growled. "Very well," he grunted. "Your son will live. But I will remove his memory of this." With that, the Hobbled Man cast another spell, and Jack Carson fell into a deep sleep. With a heart that was only slightly lighter from avoiding the grim necessity of that deed, William Carson left his home, never to return, never to see the face of his beloved wife again. Few men made such sacrifices for their family, and fewer still did so without thanks.

    ----
    1983 Hell

    In a twelve foot wide circle of obsidian, where a wall would spring from the earth to block him if he ever tried to escape, William Carson sat, naked, emaciated with hunger, holding a paper and quill in his trembling hands. He had been commanded to write down every word spoken aloud by the angel in the circle of chains, to pass the time until the power of Living Thunder passed into him.

    But Neviel had not spoken in the nine years that he had been there and William did not ever expect him to speak. William's eyes rarely left the man, for there was something about the man that gave him hope and strength. Indeed, he didn't even know from whence the man came, or what his importance was to the demon. He only knew that without his presence during his captivity, the darkness of the place would have destroyed him. He wondered what words he would speak, should he ever open his mouth.

    And then, abruptly, the angel opened his mouth, and from it came the sound of thunder.

    "He is worthy," Neviel stated, smiling. Without understanding why, the words came as the weight of a mountain lifting off from William Carson's shoulders, and he began to laugh as he scrawled the words.

    It was not long before Zorasto appeared, fire and shadow emanating from his body in uncontrolled rage. "I have felt the coming of the Living Thunder, and it did not pass into the second born Carson!" Zorasto screamed at Neviel. "How dare you issue a false prophecy! Liar of Heaven, I name you! Thou art as fallen as I!"

    "Nay," Neviel smiled, even knowing what was to come. "You did not take the second-born Carson."

    "What?" Zorasto snarled, his wings stretching in outrage.

    William Carson rose to his feet. "Wait a second. How could I not be the second-born Carson? There was my brother Mark, then me. Sure Mark died in that accident back in '56, but he was still born."

    "And so was thy sister. Mark's twin, who died a few hours after her birth." Neviel stated. "Thou art the third-born Carson of thy generation."

    "A sister? Damn." William Carson muttered. "My parents never even mentioned that,” He wondered why he'd never found out about her, but his thought also turned to Craig, the real second-born Carson. So young, so much like his mother, whereas Jack had taken after him. William was not sure how -- perhaps the power of the plains, whose realizations, while an unbearable torment for demons, was the opposite for mortals -- but he somehow knew Craig would be a fit guardian for immense primal power. The thought made him smile with a father's pride, so that for a moment he was the happiest man in Hell.

    Neviel turned to Zorasto and beamed in triumph: quite literally, as for the first time in his captivity, he shone with heaven’s radiance. “Soon demon, you will experience a great triumph, and power unguessed shall be your mantle. However that victory shall not comfort you; instead, throne and crown will lade you beyond your ability to endure, for those who receive what thou desire in hell are doomed to its greatest miseries.”

    Zorasto drew his flail, its barbs a tentacle mass of shadow and flame upon which runes of torment were inscribed, and he smote the angel three score and two lashes, channeling his hate into each strike. However, they barely seemed to faze Neviel. “Cheap trick!” Zorasto screamed. When he lowered his whip, exhausted, the angel rose to his feet, elysian pride shining in his eyes as he spoke:

    “Bloodletter, sorcerer, demon. Hear the words of the Most High. Thy reach shall ever exceed thy grasp.

    Never shall thy wings bear thee skyward, save to lift you to heights from which thou shalt surely fall. No door shall open for thee, nor bars raise, save to entrap thee. Thou art a prisoner of shame.”

    “Liar!” Zorasto snarled. “No door shall ever be barred to me! No way shall ever be blocked! I will defile you, and all things you cherish!”

    “Mastery unchecked thou shalt crave and yet that desire shall betray you and lead you into thralldom. You will be twice a prisoner, first of thy malice and then of thy designs, for twisted as they are. Long years shall you endure shackled, screaming and cursing as Hell mocks thee.”

    “Cease your babbling, thrall!” Zorasto snarled. But his voice seemed diminished in comparison to the angel’s. Neviel’s final note resonated across the plains with the authority of His master. And for a moment the demons felt what they had long lost, and in their realization they hated it all the more.

    The strokes fell upon the angel as if they contained all the unchecked cruelty of the world, its miseries, its tragedies, and the rage they inspire, for such are the weapons of the Flails. Buttressed no longer by the words of the Most High, Neviel crumpled beneath their onslaught. William watched in horror as hell's hate was fully unleashed on the messenger. The Flails continued until Neviel was all but dead, a mass of red wounds marring the snow-white beauty of heaven.

    "Do not believe this is over!" Zorasto shouted as he turned and raged at William Carson. "As for you, here you shall remain for the remainder of days, and the shadow of despair will devour you hour by hour, and you shall watch me rend your sons asunder and you shall worship me as I do."

    William Carson looked at the fallen Neviel and somehow, seeing heaven's light still radiating from his broken form, found a hidden reservoir of strength. Hell had not broken him, not yet: if anything, the nine years of captivity had strengthened this man, this humble shoe salesman from Vancouver, and made him capable of things that he would never have thought possible.

    "I'm not going to bloody worship you, demon," the Carson patriarch snarled, staring Zorasto in his elongated, skeletal face. He had never thought himself capable of such courage (not without at least five beers). "We Carsons may not be perfect -- and the one you used to bring me here least of all -- but we're not idiots. Worship is for creatures greater than ourselves, not just more powerful. And you're hardly greater than anyone. You're just a bully, and you ain't getting one hosanna out of me, that I promise you!"

    William Carson expected to die in that moment, and he closed his eyes so that his deathmask would be peaceful, but Zorasto did not strike. Instead the demon cursed and raised his towering shadow over the defiant mortal, and the darkness that fell on William Carson was as cold and cruel as a winter storm. The Carson recoiled. "I may not be permitted to force worship upon you, or else it ceases to be real, but you are still my chattel! You wll never escape this place, until I am satisfied that you are utterly broken. Then I shall cast you onto the earth so that all mankind may see what a miserable creature I have made, a harbinger of all mankind for the time when earth falls unto my dominion."

    "Bold words demon." William Carson fought through the cold to manage one last gesture of defiance. "Doesn't erase your failure, though."

    Zorasto screamed, muttered something unintelligible, a curse about undoing Armageddon and a string of blasphemies directed at the Most High. "I have a hundred schemes in motion!" the demon proclaimed. "This one has occupied enough of my time, for now." he said. Then he departed in a fury of fire and smoke, believing that he had left William Carson and the broken angel to languish in their twin solitudes for years to come.

    But William Carson felt a slight relief as the shadow lifted from him. He turned to his fellow prisoner, who lay writhing on the ground. "Sorry," he said. "Wish I could help."

    The slender angel moaned and then, to William's astonishment, lifted himself to his feet despite the pain of his broken and beaten body. "Your spirit of defiance does more for me than you can imagine," the angel said. The fair lilt of the angel's voice, on which a faint echo of heaven's song could be heard, was like meat and drink to William, by far a better meal than the stale bread and brackish water that his prison provided for him. He sighed and found comfort in the voice, for although the angel could not hide the pain in his voice, even the agony of the ascended held delight.

    "You speak?"

    "I have long whispered to thee, third-born Carson, though I spake to thy soul and not your ears. No need do I have for words, unlike that vain posturer."

    William Carson chuckled. "I don't like him much either."

    Neviel nodded. "Know that thy spirit is thine own, for all souls are a gift of thy Creator, and not a commodity to be bartered, despite your tales. That is a lie that comes from the demon Belial, who has ensnared many with that belief. Zorasto merely emulates the lords of the All-Hells."

    "So Jack and Craig are free from him as well?"

    "Verily, at least in some measure. Some courts and principalities may respect the contract, but no more than that. In making his bargain Zorasto overreached his authority. as demons are wont to do."

    "My wife is dead," William said. "Or was that a lie of Zorasto's?"

    Neviel began to straighten and strengthen his limbs. "It was not." he said sadly.

    "And my sons?"

    "Their lives will ever be filled with peril and pain," Neviel stated, and within William's mind, images of times yet to come danced. The man gasped as he felt waves of emotion rush over him: his grown sons, kicking ass, fighting a good fight. "Death shall prowl at their feet like a wolf, joy will be great, but fleeting. In time, glory shall be showered onto them. They shall be proclaimed as heroes, and all who call them by that name will speak truly, though neither shall love the word." He smiled at William and said in a low voice. "Do not despair. Have faith that heaven compensates for their pain and rewards those who courageously pursue justice."

    "I have no faith in heaven," William said. "Just look at you. Heaven left one of their own to be tortured by that pig?"

    Neviel shook his head. "Judge not the unjudgeable until all things have been revealed, mortal."

    "Screw that," William Carson replied. "Screw all your games and wars, and good vs. evil crap. I don't need faith in heaven. I have faith in my boys. Zorasto isn't going to know what hit him." He sighed. "I just wish I knew I was going to see them again."

    "You shall."

    "Is that your third prophecy?"

    "I do not need the words of the Most High to tell me of what is obvious." the angel stated. "No prison can hold one who possesses thy spirit. The will of any man who would pay the price that you have paid cannot be restrained forever. Verily, you shall see them, though the price may be greater than thou knowst."

    William sighed. "Do you offer any words of hope that don't come with a catch?"

    "In a world that is fallen, no such words may truthfully be spoken." Neviel said. "But take heart! For..."

    "Look," William Carson said. "In the nine years I've been trapped in this godforsaken place, the one thing I haven't missed are the sermons that Eilly used to drag me to. All I know is there's a big demon out there who's out to-- well, conquer the world and transform it into Hell-- and my boys are on the front lines."

    Neviel looked out in the desolate plains of the plains with the insight of his prophecies and the whispers of truth that came to his ears. "Not all of his designs will fail. Indeed, Zorasto will cause a great deal of trouble. Any being who would raise a fist at heaven is not to be underestimated. Yet do not be troubled. For I share thy faith in thy sons, and moreso in the heroes that shall gather around them, valiant men and women who will oppose the darkness, both without and within."

    William Carson nodded and went back to working on a thin crust of bread
    Last edited by Thundrax; 06-23-2018 at 07:06 PM.

  10. #20
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    Mar 2018
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    24

    Re: War of the Dimensions

    Dad

    Author’s Note: Boys (Lesson One) is by Jars of Clay, Yes, I’m that uncool. It’s a great song though.

    And so passed the years of might have been.

    "Dream, Carsons, dream.” the angel commanded, and a father and his son tossed in twin slumbers, though separated by worlds.

    One of these men was William Carson. He dreamed, ignoring flame and damnation, listening to false truths spoken to him in the land of lies. The worst was reserved for the beginning, when Eileen Carson passed with a sigh, her hand held by her husband as the tears ran down his face. In a tiny room at St. Paul’s hospital, its windows stained by the tears of a deluge. A death in Vancouver, the city of rain.

    *****

    “Craig!” William Carson shouted, stopping the car. “Get down from there!”

    “But there’s a woman up there!” Craig shouted back. “And I think she’s going to jump!”

    “I’ll talk her down!” William snapped, rolling up his sleeves and pulling himself up the structure. “You stay down here where it’s safe!”

    *****

    “And last of all,” Jack Carson said, hoisting the champagne flute. “Me and Craig would like to welcome Laura into the Carson clan. You may be a stepmom, but I hope you feel as welcome as if you’d given birth to us!”

    Then there was the chorus of a hundred glasses tinkling, as throats burned in alcohol and joy. The band struck up Brahms, graceful and sweeping, an invitation to dance.

    “Hear! Hear!” Craig added, smiling at his own girlfriend. The relationship
    wouldn’t last, the lady’s man, the sly dog. When would that kid ever settle down? Probably never. But for now, his father’s happiness took precedence. Craig missed his mom, but was so happy to see a smile on his dad’s face again.

    William watched as his new bride wrote the name “Laura Ann Carson” for the very first time on the wedding scroll. It was so beautiful. The calligraphy, the paper, everything.

    *****

    The angel’s song did not relent, and heaven and hell were inverted. The fallen were uplifted. A songbird sounded for the first time in the Desolation, its joyful ruckus heralding an impossible spring. In its voice was delight, and Hell knew true joy for the first time since the Spotless Foal made its Descent and proclaimed the freedom of souls, when a crucifixion overturned the cosmos.

    In a mountainous bed in Millennium, Craig Carson moaned, as happily as a man can moan, his slumber absolute in its bliss. He was enjoying his dad again, relishing even his newly born ponch and the wrinkles on his face.

    “Lesson one - do not hide
    Lesson two - there are right ways to fight
    And if you have questions
    We can talk through the night.”

    The alert siren was relentless, and the television was interrupted to display a test pattern. A solar sentinel winged overhead, its wake a comet’s tail. It was a battle of astronomical and Biblical proportions.

    “Does that guy ever not showboat?” Jack muttered. “He’s almost as bad as... what’s he called? The lightning guy?”

    “Thundrox?” Craig suggested. “He’ll never last.”

    “What are those costumed misfits up to this time?” William Carson asked.

    “Who knows?” Craig moaned. “I hope you didn’t have any plans to go downtown.”

    “What’s happening this time?” William asked. “Black Spectre again?”

    “No, there’s some big demon thing running amok downtown, named Zorasto. SUNDER’s trying to handle him.”

    “What’s a Zorasto?” William Carson asked.

    “Demon or not, he’s torturing kids!” Craig exclaimed, disgusted.

    “Honey!” Laura Ann Carson cried. “She’s coming! The baby’s coming!”

    “Screw downtown, we’ll head to Royal Columbian. Craig, stick with me if you
    want to see your stepsister born,” William Carson told his son, and he left to rev up the car, running as fast as his legs could take his aging dad bod. In a few hours, Eileen Ann Carson would enter the universe with a scream and a laugh and the loving pride of her brothers.

    “Sister,” Craig moaned in his sleep. “Sister.”

    Before his eyes, Eileen Carson -- his mother’s namesake -- grew into womanhood, springing from cute to beautiful to wise. And her laughter was like grass shoots upon the turf, sprouting after a clean spring rain.

    ****

    ”Lesson three - you’re not alone
    Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
    You can leave, you can run, this
    Will still be your home....”


    “Craig, you sentimental idiot,” she told him as they watched the stars from the skylift on Grouse one evening. “When are you going to teach me to drive?”

    Craig laughed. “Um, never?” he replied. You want to get into an accident? No one drives a car anymore!

    “You lazy ass,” Eileen replied. “Brothers suck!”

    “Better try your luck with Jack,” Craig said, sticking out his tongue.

    ******

    And the tambourines sang.

    “Dad, I’d like you to meet Manjita,” Craig smiled. “The woman who loves me. The woman who captured my wayward heart with only a smile.”

    “It was mutual,” Manjita brushed Craig’s hair with dancing fingers, with a smile. “And I think it took two smiles. The idiot just didn’t notice the first.”

    “I am pretty clueless,” Craig admitted.

    “Well then,” William smiled. “When are you getting hitched?”

    “Next Sunday.” Craig answered.

    “What?!” William shouted.

    “Dad!” Craig objected, and then he saw a smile break out on his dad’s face. and his joy grew beyond containment.

    “You impulsive little brat,” William mocked. “What am I going to do with you!”

    “Get rid of me,” Craig snirked back.

    “I’ll take him if you don’t want him,” Manjita also smirked.

    Craig laughed, and he read the love in Manjita’s eyes, and babbled nigh incoherently for the rest of the evening. It was hard not to imagine him dancing a jig.

    “Dammit Craig!” William said. “You’re not giving me time to get fitted for a new suit!” But he laughed and embraced his son. Craig returned it lovingly...

    ....but in the middle of a father’s love, something felt off. As though the world was frayed on the edges, and things were starting to fall apart. Then there was a roar in the heavens, and William and Craig watched as the mighty Thundrax, a familiar sight, flew by. The thunder faded, and then all was set right again.

    “What the Hell was that?” Craig wondered.

    “Capes,” William snapped. “Children playing dress up. Best to keep your distance. People just get hurt around them, for all the good they do.”

    “I guess,” Craig sighed. “I see him around here more often than the other capes. I wonder if he lives in East Van?”

    “Maybe you should ask him to come to the wedding.” William asked.

    “Nah,” Craig smiled. “A superhero’s gotta be busy. I’m sure the great and powerful Thundrax has too much time for a dork like me.”

    “Loser,” William Carson spat back with a grin. “That idiot wishes that he were half the man as my boy!”

    “Oh dad...” Craig moaned, wondering what it would be like to be Thundrax. But it was a momentary fancy and nothing more.

    *****

    ”So you know who you are
    And you know what you want
    I’ve been where you’re going
    And it’s not that far
    It’s too far to walk
    But you don’t have to run
    You’ll get there in time
    Get there in time...”


    “I’ve spoken to the Doctor,” Craig said. “It was a minor heart attack, but you’ll make a full recovery. You gotta be careful, though.”

    “Careful? Me? Ha!” William said. Craig grinned.

    “Miracles do happen.” Craig smirked, hands brushing his thinning dark hair. “I know I’ve been busy for the last bit,” Craig added, and he started to get emotional. He held his dad’s hand. “I love you, you bloody old man. I haven’t said it for awhile. Haven’t said it enough. But I love you, William Carson. Happy father’s day.”

    The pulse was strong, as strong as hope, as strong as the luck of a restless man. Then the voice caught, and quavered, and the vision of the world parted for an instant.

    And outside the hospital window, Thundrax soared again, on an urgent errand.

    “Oh. to be that guy,” Craig said wistfully, observing the hero.

    “Craig,” William Carson asked with a scowl, ignoring Doctor’s orders not to agitate himself. “If you could be that guy, do the things that guy does, be the things that guy represents, would you be him? Even if it cost you everything you love?”

    “Me? A hero? Soaring through the heavens like all those old comic books I use to read? Like Vanguard or Beowulf? Bringing justice to a world crying for it?”

    “Yes,” William said. “A world full of scoundrels needs its saints.”

    “But what it it cost me you, dad?”

    “That could be part of the price.” William answered. “Heroes do make sacrifices y’know. But great powers, mighty deeds, fame and fortune, and doing a world of good. Versus one pitiful, broken down ol’ pop.”

    “Broken down, my ass.” Craig snorted.

    “You always did love those old comics. I dare say you were born for the role. So, what would you choose? Either way, I’d love you more than you know.”

    “ I — I....” Craig stammered.

    *****

    ”There will be liars and
    Thieves who take from you
    Not to undermine the consequence
    But you are not what you do
    And when you need it most
    I have a hundred reasons why I love you...”


    And the fabric of the world tore. Like a curtain, reality...

    ....quavered and gave way. For at last, Neviel could sing no further. Hell hated
    song, hated singers, hated any sound that was not a scream or an untruth. Heaven’s song was silenced, and then Craig Carson and his dad awoke with a start, in stereo though universes divided the twain: sweat-soaked and out of breath. The night drew around the father like a dagger, its flash a promise of pain.

    “Neviel?” William Carson asked. “Did I just dream of what would have been?

    “No,” the imprisoned angel rasped. He cleared his throat and resumed his song. The flames roared, and the demons cried, but there was an odd, rare peace in the Field this morning, for the power of the angel waxed, and held sway for a brief hour. It was very un-Hell-like, and many demons spat a curse. Neviel smiled grimly. He would pay for his gift in pain, but did not begrudge it. All kindnesses have their hour.

    “You and your son shared a dream of what should have been. What joy you might have known. Hell cannot keep out all oy, not for one such as thee.” the angel explained. “It was intended as a gift for you both to share. A foretaste of a world like summer wine. What will be, when injustice is undone and all crooked roads are set straight. For one day, the world will be as it should. One day there will be no more need for heroes, for the hero will dwell within us all, like angels, and its spirit will soar, and the hero and the man will be conjoined, like a second marriage. What a feast that shall be! Until then, Happy Father’s Day, William.”

    “Well, then. Happy Father’s Day to you too,” William sniffed, and he smiled as he thought of his children, heroes all, costumed or not, born and unborn.

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