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Four Seasons Shuffle

* * *
I'm not a morning person. Mister Sun and I, we're not exactly on speaking terms. But it's not my fault. I work most nights, so our schedules don't really match. Besides, I don't think the Sun ever cared about me. Not really. I mean, he never writes, he never calls, what am I supposed to think?
Yeah, I hate mornings.
I was awake, though. I had an appointment, you see. No rest for the wicked.
Groaning, I hauled myself out of bed, slinging the covers aside. I rolled off the mattress, scrabbling around on the floor before finding my balance. Blearily, I peered at the clock on my bedside table, forcing my eyes to focus. Green digits blinked merrily, laughing with electric light.
The alarm had gone off an hour ago, on the dot. I'd spent the last sixty minutes hammering the snooze button at five minute intervals.
The room was still dim, at least. There wasn't much light filtering through the blinds. Enough to see by, but not enough to scorch eyes still sensitive from the coma of sleep.
Thank God for small blessings.
I stumbled into the bathroom, parking myself over the sink. Leaning forward, I looked in the mirror. My reflection stared back. It wasn't pretty. Hair mussed, eyes puffy, and a face made up of livid bruises.
Gingerly, I touched my chin - then immediately wished I hadn't. Ow.
I swore. Not at anyone in particular, just in general.
But honestly...it wasn't so bad. Considering I'd gone to bed with a broken jaw. The worst of it had healed overnight, and the injuries left were just cosmetic. Mostly cosmetic. Still hurt like hell, though.
Picking up the toothpaste, I squeezed a tiny bead of minty freshness. Since the tube was nearly empty, this took some doing. Between the miniscule amount of toothpaste and the state of my toothbrush bristles, the act of brushing didn't really do much for my dental hygiene...but it got the taste of sleep out of my mouth.
I splashed some water on my face, then stared at the mirror again. I still looked like crap, but at least I was marginally awake crap.
Shaving was probably a bad idea, with the state of my face. So I skipped that. Briefly, I considered a shower. But hell...I was clean enough. Besides, water's expensive, and I was late on the bills as is.
Hygiene's overrated, anyway.
I grabbed a couple of aspirin from the bathroom cabinet and wandered out. Elixir of the Gods, aspirin is. As I swallowed, I made a mental note to buy more. Supplies were running low. Replenishing the stock would be a problem, of course, since...that too would cost. But that expenditure, at least, was necessary. With my lifestyle, it's either pop pills or run around screaming the whole day. There's only so much super-powers can do.
Feeling slightly more alive, I headed to the kitchen. Well, kitchenette, anyway, my miserable little apartment being too small for a proper kitchen - a scarred counter, a couple drawers, and aging appliances on the verge of an Industrial Revolution. Lots of violence, armed insurrection, and overthrow of the existing government.
An arthritic wheeze escaped the fridge as I opened it. Clinically, I took stock of the food supply. Considered my breakfast options. There was bread, but it was stale. Not surprising, since it was stale when I got it. Sufficiently charred, I figured it'd be okay for toast...but I didn't want to fire up the toaster. Last time I tried, it literally did FIRE up. I swear, the thing tried to kill me. Thankfully, the burns healed fast, like most of my injuries. But due to some quirk of biology, my eyebrows didn't grow back. Not as quickly, anyway. Folks were asking me weird questions for a week. Towards the end, I was telling people I'd been mugged by a Clockwork boss named Toaster Prince.
Right, so bread was out. I didn't feel like going one-on-one with pyromaniac machines so early in the day. That left Menu B. After some rummaging, I found a bowl, some cereal, and my pet carton of milk. The cereal was stale, too. But I wasn't worried about that. The milk hid the taste. Especially since the milk was also two weeks past its expiry date.
I stuck a spoon in it and called it breakfast. It'd do. I sat down, and started shoveling cereal into my mouth. It didn't taste very good, but it was food. Fuel for the body, bottom line. I wasn't worried about food poisoning. I don't get sick, a happy side effect of mutant powers. Said powers let me deaden my taste buds, too. It made the cereal slightly easier to swallow.
Taste bud control. A truly underrated power. It's a lifesaver. Trust me. It preserved my sanity a few years back, on a truly blind awful date.
Protip: never kiss a girl who used to work for Dr. Vahzilok. Trust me, just don't.
Happily, such things don't happen to me a lot. I don't have much of a sex life. These days, bacteria get more action than I do. All the bacteria in my cereal bowl, swimming around in the fermenting milk, having lots of little bacteria-babies...
Lift spoon. Chew. Swallow.
Ugh. Terrible. Even through deadened taste buds. My body can draw energy from the most unlikely of sources, but that doesn't mean the process is enjoyable. The sludge was awful enough that it probably qualified as a biological weapon.
Seriously. Picture it. Some thug punches me in the stomach. I vomit all over him. Victory.
It works for zombies, right? I mean, I've had corpses puke on me dozens of times, including that memorable blind date. Dr. Vahz might be a whiz at reanimating bodies, but he can't seem to wire a stomach right. Bless his black heart. Assuming he still has a heart after all that reconstructive surgery. Of course, much more cereal, and I'd probably need reconstructive surgery too...
I paused, with a dripping spoon halfway to my mouth, and blinked. Wait.
My laundry was ringing.
Contrary to what my landlady thinks, I actually DO tidy up. My clothes are nicely sorted. I have them in two piles - soiled and unsoiled.
Please. It's a perfectly legitimate filing system. Besides, my flat's too small to fit a washing machine. And while I know at least one mage with space-folding powers, I'm not desperate enough to break the laws of reality just for a modern convenience. Especially one I can't afford.
That doesn't leave me many options. Hand-washing clothes takes time, time I don't have. Visiting the Laundromat takes money. I don't have that either. So I take the traditional time-honoured bachelor's approach to laundry. I let it pile up until sentient life develops somewhere in its depths.
But...unless the creatures inhabiting my laundry heap had invented cell phones, something else was going on.
Well. No. It wasn't a phone. My suit was ringing. Of course.
Setting the cereal bowl down, I went over and fished my costume out of the clothes pile. Pulling on my cowl, I adjusted the headset and hit the button.
I took a moment before answering, putting on my game face. This was a business call, so I needed to get in-character. Taking a deep breath, I ran through the mnemonics for my usual role, ticking off boxes on a mental checklist. Slightly nasal whine, excessive cheeriness...
"Yo," I said, with enthusiasm I didn't feel, "you've reached Superball's House of Heroism. How can I hurt...ah, I mean, help you this fine morning?"
There was a groan on the other end. My caller clearly didn't appreciate the feeble humour. Truth be told, I didn't either.
But bad jokes are part of the persona. I've got professional standards to maintain.
"...Right," said the voice in my ear, "funny. Not."
I recognised the speaker. It was Juliana Nehring. Nice lady. A reporter, one of those tracking costume crimes. We had a good working relationship. Emphasis on 'working', though. I asked her out, once, but it didn't go too well. She was irritated by the fact I kept my mask on the whole evening. Clashed with the rented tux.
"You're late," she growled, "where the hell are you?"
Gulping, I slipped my suit goggles on, and glanced at the time display. I grimaced. "Uh, I'm on my way," I mumbled, "sorry. Got, um, delayed. Yeah. Delayed. There was a crime, see. On the police band. The Hellions knocked over an alcohol store with a bulldozer, but the bulldozer ate them. The bull was hungry after being woken up, you see, and..."
"Shut up."
"Just hurry."
"Yes, ma'am."
I hurried.
* * *
Tossing the cereal bowl into the sink, I washed my hands. Then I grabbed the rest of my costume. It didn't smell very fresh, but compared to the milk it was sweet sweet perfume.
Pulling the suit on, I dove into the bathroom to check myself in the mirror. Not, alas, a very graceful manoeuvre. Almost tripped on my cape.
I used to hate capes and spandex. Actually, I still do. Once upon a time, I wouldn't have been caught dead in 'em. But things change. The costume's part of the job, so it's not like I have a choice. If I die wearing it, well...then I'll just be an embarrassed corpse.
Of course, it's high-quality spandex. Heroes have raised tights to a fine art. It ain't just silly stretchy material anymore. No, it's special. Waterproof, fireproof, bulletproof, spun from unstable molecules...hell, there's spandex out there that costs more than my net worth. Though that ain't saying much, given the meagre state of my bank account.
I tugged on the mask, and stared at my reflection.
At least it looked good. Pretty good. An improvement over my first costume, anyway. Back when I started the hero thing, the only spandex I had was old workout gear from the Salvation Army, dyed in the Superball colours. Didn't make a very impressive costume. Hell, I probably looked like some kind of insane aerobics instructor. Not exactly the sort of thing that strikes fear into the hearts of villains - aside from obese couch-potato villains with heart conditions.
Of course, this business being what it is, there probably really IS some freak out there robbing banks with a beer-belly and TV remote. I mean, I've seen weirder. Paragon City's the weird capital of the universe. Theme villains, alien invasions once a week, time-travelling Nazis holding up the queue at Starbucks...I swear, if City Hall started issuing colour-coded warnings, we'd be on Condition Plaid by Tuesday.
Adjusting my goggles, I shook my head.
I can't help it. It's what I think every damn time I put on the suit.
I've lived here for years now, both in and out of costume. It still gets to me. Only in Paragon, only in Paragon.
Only in Paragon are costumed crimefighters an actual demographic. Weapon stores, costume boutiques, pocket-dimension nightclubs hopping around like a Tardis on crack. Insane, utterly insane.
Still, there's benefits to the insanity. Back in the bad old days, heroes had to hide. Secret identities and all. Now? Heroes are licensed, with government backing, police powers and authority to arrest. Being a hero? It's a respectable career. The pay's terrible, but there's no social stigma. Heck, there's prestige.
Most heroes don't even bother with the secret identity thing these days. I don't. Not really. Or at least...I hide my face in a more subtle way than just putting on a mask.
My landlady knows what I do. She doesn't cut me any slack on the rent, but she likes having me as a tenant. I keep the place safe. Sure, there's always a danger of work following me home, but it's not like I'm big enough to draw personal attention. I am, though, big enough to put the fear of God into the piss-poor street gangs infesting the neighbourhood.
So it's all good. And because I don't have to worry about blowing my cover, I can do things like flying straight out my bathroom window.
I did just that. Past the fire escape, and up into the wild blue yonder. I was in a hurry.
Time's a valuable thing when you've got an angry reporter on your case. I figured if I didn't get to Skyway in another 15 minutes, Juliana was gonna kill me.
* * *
I was wrong. Ms. Nehring didn't kill me, she just mauled me a little bit.
Well...actually she hit me with a pencil then yelled at me for breaking it. I think she was kidding. I'm not certain, though. It's kinda hard to tell. The pencil seemed fairly murderous, and the lead was aimed right at my jugular. Could have poisoned me or something. I've seen people kill with stranger things.
That said, there's something flattering about a personal death threat. I get a lot of death threats, but most of them aren't really personal. They aren't delivered with care and attention, you see. Most villains just want to kill me quick, in a sorta 'ew, cockroach, SQUISH' kind of way. Most criminals just want me out of their hair so they can get back to whatever nefarious deed I interrupted, like downloading MP3s and defacing the RIAA website.
Juliana's different. She actually cares.
Lovingly crafted descriptions about breaking bones...that really makes a guy feel warm inside.
I apologised, of course. I started with the traditional 'OH GOD, please don't kill me, I'm sorry, I'll never do it again, I swear', and tossed in a grovel, making loud kissing noises at her feet.
Juliana looked disgusted. Or embarrassed. Maybe a bit of both. That was good. It meant she wasn't angry anymore, which was the whole point of the exercise. She whipped her head around, hoping nobody'd seen my little display. No such luck. The nice police officers guarding the crime scene were already pointing and staring.
When I make a fool of myself, I don't do it by halves. I'm a craftsman. I take pride in my work.
"Okay, okay," Juliana grumbled, "cut it out."
She hauled me to my feet and gave me a shove towards the cops. The Paragon Police Department had a little section of parking lot cordoned off, a second-storey chunk in one of those multi-storey monstrosities. You know, the kind of place that gives peons a spot to stash their gas-guzzlers on the cheap.
Apparently someone had found another use for it: parking dead people. Lends a whole new meaning to the phrase 'roadkill'.
The bodies weren't there anymore, but looking at the lines on the ground, I could discern their positions.
Modern police don't use chalk outlines, that's just on TV. That sort of thing contaminates the crime scene, a big no-no in the forensic world.
But there were lots of lines on the concrete. Not in chalk. In blood. Lots of blood. Some kind of sick ritual formation. The whole thing was grotesque, a Lovecraftian picture of gore-splattered geometry.
It had a distinct shape, though, a weird kind of symmetry. The pattern looked a bit like a compass rose, with a corpse at each cardinal point. While there wasn't any chalk, the crime scene guys had left little plastic markers to indicate the placement of the victims. Four markers, four bodies. North, South, East and West.
The scene was gruesome, but I was in no danger of losing my breakfast. My breakfast smelt worse. So I had no trouble greeting the cops with a nod and a wave. Business as usual.
"'allo, 'allo," I chirped, "wot's all this, then?"
One of the cops, a grizzled old sergeant, gave me a nasty look. The younger officer next to him laughed. I marked it down as a partial victory.
"Ha ha," Juliana muttered, from behind me, "this is the lunatic I was waiting for. Can we go in?"
As she spoke, I produced my credentials, displaying them for the cops. Class H crimefighting license, with photo and everything.
It's something of a pointless gesture, since my face is fully masked in the picture. The whole costume thing sort of defeats the purpose of photo ID. But some things are just traditional.
The sergeant eyeballed my license for a moment, then grunted vaguely. His partner waved us through, letting us cross the police line.
The mess on the ground didn't look much better up close. That wasn't surprising, since it was a freaky giant symbol painted in the blood of four dead people. Not really any way that can look good, even with flowers and stuff.
There was another guy crouched by the grisly display. Not a cop, but a MAGI agent. I could see the tag clipped to his jacket. He was kneeling on the concrete, examining the gory mess with an oversized magnifying glass.
"Salutations," I said, as we approached, "I am the incredible Superball, hero extraordinaire, and this is my loyal sidekick, Reporter Gir---OW!"
No, I didn't mean to say that. Reporter Gir---OW is a terrible hero name. But Juliana didn't let me finish. She hit me upside the head with her recording kit.
"Juliana Nehring," she corrected, firmly, "Paragon Times."
"Actually," I interrupted, "you're a freelancer, aren'tcha? They're paying you right now, but it's not as if you REALLY work for---"
In response, Juliana shoved an elbow into my ribs. I didn't feel it through my costume's padding, but I yelped anyway.
Juliana carried on as if I hadn't spoken. "I talked with you last night," she said.
The MAGI agent looked up, blinking. He was a black guy in his late 30s, wearing tweed and a thick pair of spectacles. Classic research mage, almost a stereotype. "What? Oh. Yes...I remember. Is this the costumed friend you mentioned?"
"Not sure if 'friend' is the right word," Juliana muttered, glaring at me.
I gave her a wounded look and reeled, clutching my heart in faux agony.
"Be nice," she hissed. Turning to the MAGI guy, she continued, "Mr Tyler, this is Superball. Superball, this is Eli Tyler from the Modern Arcane Guild of Investigation," Juliana stuck a thumb in my direction, "could you tell this idiot what you told me?"
Tyler fiddled with his spectacles, pushing them further up the bridge of his nose. He stood, putting his magnifying glass away. "Oh, certainly," he said.
Then he did just that.
After a minute, I realised why Juliana had wanted me to speak with Tyler directly, rather than giving me a summary.
Clearly, Juliana was trying to kill me. Again. This time, by boring me to death.
Tyler went on and on, droning a lengthy explanation in monotonous polysyllables. I tried to follow, but the language was too complex for me.
I hate forensic magic. It combines two entire schools of technobabble into one Frankenstein monster of gobblygook.
I was rapidly losing the will to stay awake. Until Tyler hit a sentence that grabbed my attention.
"Wait, wait, back up," I interrupted, "you think the victims were mutants?"
"...well, we suspect they were paranormals," Tyler explained, "and the Tesla-Rinehart signature indicates a high Montauk Index, suggesting..."
I winced, holding my hands in surrender. "English, please," I begged, "simple words. Me hero, me stupid."
Juliana snickered.
Tyler gave both of us a disapproving look. "Yes, well," he said with a frown, "we think the victims were mutants."
"What," I goggled, "you telling me this was some kinda whack racial hate crime? That anti-mutant stuff...it's only in the comic books, man."
"No," Juliana cut in, "they weren't just any mutants. They were Outcasts. The victims were wearing gang colours. I can show you the photos later."
Her statement hit me like a kick to the head. I stopped. I stared.
It's not often that I find myself with nothing to say. This was one of those rare occasions.
I scowled. Thankfully, nobody could see the expression behind my mask. A scowl would be distinctly out-of-character - Superball was supposed to be a cheerful chatterbox, not a brooding angstmuffin. But I couldn't find the strength for even a single wisecrack.
So that's why Juliana dragged me here. She'd called me around three in the morning, screaming about something I had to see. I told her whatever it was, it could wait a few hours, until I had some sleep.
I owed her an apology.
But when I turned to her, my throat was dry. When I finally managed to find my voice, the only thing I could manage was a dumb-sounding: "Huh?"
Tyler nodded, pointing to where the bodies had been found. "The victims were dressed like Outcasts, yes. Specifically, like high-ranked members of the group...with fully manifested elemental abilities."
I rubbed my forehead, armoured fingers scraping against my cowl. I could feel a headache coming on.
Outcasts. Mutants, each and every one. Ice-slingers, flame-casters, lightning-zappers, and big guys who throw rocks. Really big rocks.
Some gangs in this town are united by ethnicity and ideology. With the Outcasts, it's just power. Mutant power. If they've got any philosophy, it's just crazy crypto-Fascist gospel about being ostracised by society, using the powers God gave them, might making right...
...or something. The Outcasts have never been very good at the whole coherent manifesto thing. I know. I know them very well.
Quietly, I asked, "Any names for these guys?"
"One," Tyler replied, "we were able to match dental records for one of the victims, a Roger Johansson. Quite a record. He escaped from the Zigursky Correctional Facility six months ago. No luck with the other three."
I frowned. "No match?"
"Not for dental," Tyler murmured, "the bodies were too mangled. The PPD is running DNA tests."
I winced.
Johansson...Roger...I knew Roger. The man was...past tense, I guess...a nasty piece of excrement, but he didn't deserve this. The mess on the ground wasn't death, it was Pablo Picasso gone psycho.
"Lord," I murmured. It wasn't a swear. It was a very abbreviated prayer. "Let me get this straight. Somebody offed a bunch of Outcasts? Sacrificed them in some kinda weird ritual?"
"The PPD's treating the case as murder," Juliana said, consulting her notepad, "but..."
Tyler shrugged, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "It's an unusual situation. We're not even sure how they died, precisely. The bodies were badly mutilated, but we don't know if that was the cause of death, or something done after. We'll have to wait for the autopsy report."
"Right," I muttered, shaking my head. "Outcasts. Jeez. What, are goats and virgins no longer fashionable? Mmn...okay, so...any idea who's our mad slasher?"
"Sadly, no. The magic is...unfamiliar to me," Tyler admitted. He scowled, as if the mystery was a personal affront. "A great deal of power was channeled here, and it appears to have been a summoning or binding...of some sort. But I can't say for certain. I don't know if the ritual was even successful, much less what it produced."
"Probably calling out for pizza," I mused, "so...no clue whodunnit? Hellions? Circle? Pantheon? Carnival?"
Tyler spread his hands, palms open towards the sky.
I snorted. "Right. Gotcha."
Meanwhile, Juliana had moved past us, stepping closer to the bloodstained concrete. She frowned, staring at the ground. "But why Outcasts? And why here?"
I frowned, rubbing my chin. She had a point. We were in Skyway, just outside downtown proper. The horizon-spanning bridges and highways made the district a veritable labyrinth, the perfect nesting ground for a street gang.
Except Skyway wasn't Outcast turf. Skyway belonged to the Trolls. The two gangs were at war, but the fighting was over in Eastgate, not here. Even the Outcasts weren't bold enough to venture into the enemy's stronghold. So the presence of four dead Outcasts in Skyway was puzzling.
It was tempting to pin this on the Trolls, this being their territory and all. But the Trolls couldn't be responsible for the killing. They really couldn't be.
The murder scene stunk of magic, and magic ain't a Troll thing. Ritual magic needs intelligence, preparation, study...Trolls? Trolls are bruisers, hopped up on enough Superadine to make a horse explode. So much drugs they don't have any brains left. An average Troll wanders around in rage-filled narcotic bliss, untroubled by coherent thoughts. Trolls would happily kill Outcasts, sure. But they wouldn't make an MC Escher painting with the corpses.
So what happened here?
"A mystery," I sighed, "I hate mysteries. The villains are always smarter than me."
* * *
Most heroes aren't really cut out for detective work. The whole spandex thing somehow detracts from investigative ability. I think it's the tight costumes. They cut off blood flow to the brain cells. Or maybe it's just hard to think when bits of your anatomy are hanging out into open air. I dunno. I just know there's gotta be a reason.
Oh, sure. Some heroes - a rare few - are genuine supersleuths. Real noses for mysteries, deductive skills, incredible planet-sized brains to back up their muscle. Not I, though.
Guys like me...we're only good at beating stuff up.
For me, 'investigation' means I hit the streets. More precisely, I go on the street and hit people. I find that if you abuse enough criminals, in sufficiently creative ways, one of 'em will blurt something useful. Eventually.
Granted, it's not exactly the most efficient form of detective work. And it gives the judicial system fits when stuff comes to court. Fifth Amendment and all that.
But you know what? It works. You'll be surprised just how quickly an evil cultist will turn informant...with the right motivation.
I hovered over Steel Canyon, gloves clamped around the skinny little ankles of a dark wizard. Well, I call him dark. He was pretty pasty-faced, really. Pale skin. White. With a slight tinge of green, though that might have been due to nausea. His robes were dark, though. Or at least, they looked dark. They were so dirty I couldn't make out the original colour.
I was holding him upside down. Fifteen storeys above the street.
It wasn't a pleasant position. Not for him or me.
His problem was obvious. Mine was...well, you know how his robes were filthy? Let's just say he didn't believe in washing BENEATH them, either. The smell wasn't a huge issue, but the sight was a different matter. Holding him upside down, I could see all the sordid details. Including all the disturbing stains. The man had worse bathroom habits than me.
Quite an achievement, but not one I was going to salute him for.
But...he was a member of the Circle of Thorns, the biggest collection of evil mages in Paragon City. I figured there was a pretty good chance he - or his playmates - knew something I could use. In light of that, I could put up with a few lapses in personal hygiene.
I gave him a little shake. "Dude, just talk already, okay? You know anything about the Outcast murder thing? In Skyway?"
My captive twisted around, giving me a defiant look. He snarled. It might have been intimidating, almost. But it's hard to be scared of a guy when you can see his underwear. And I'm not talking spandex here.
"C'mon," I said, "if you know anything, anything at all, just tell me, okay? The stiff upper lip thing is very nice and British and all, but I ain't into British comedy. I'm more a slapstick kinda guy..."
"Your primitive attempts at coercion will not work on me," the Circle mage spat, "SO SPEAKS THAMUXSIMAS THE UNFORGETTABLE!"
"More like Thar-whatsis the Unpronounceable," I sighed, "look...Tom...mind if I call you Tom?"
"YES! I DO!"
"Right, Tommy," I continued, ignoring his protest, "I don't really wanna hurt you, but...we're flying, I dunno, how high? I think I can see my house from here. Anyway, I'm the guy keeping you aloft. This is what they call bargaining from a position of strength. Mmkay?"
"Tommy, Tommy," I chided, "tsk, no, no, no. You're supposed to say 'YOU WOULDN'T DARE', or maybe 'LET ME GO'. Then I do the grim urban vigilante thing and..."
I dropped him.
He made a weak little squeak...and then a very loud scream...as he plunged head-first towards the pavement.
Patiently, I waited for a bit. Then dove after him. Cranking up to maximum flight speed, I crashed into the falling Circle mage, intercepting him in a tackle. I swooped back towards the sky, hauling him in my wake. Holding him up by the scruff of his neck, hand closed around his hood and collar, I stared at him. Critically. His robes had gained a few fresh stains, fragrant ones.
"Now," I said, "this would probably violate your rights as an American citizen. Probably. But you've sold your soul to a dead civilisation bent on taking over the world and stuff. I ain't sure what that does to a guy's legal status, but I think I got the moral high ground here. Not that we're standing on ground, I mean, the ground's all the way down there. But you know that, don't you, Tom?"
I yanked him higher, and stared Thamuxsimas in the eye. He growled back. To be honest, he really did look like a 'Tom'. As in, beat-up stray cat. He was a scruffy sort of individual, with hair and a beard that just screamed lice. Fleas, too.
"You know NOTHING," he screamed, flecks of spittle spraying from his lips, "NOTHING! Foolish MORTAL, you trifle with forces BEYOND your understanding! You mock secrets beyond your comprehension, POWERS that---"
"Jeez, jeez," I replied, over his ranting, "nah, I totally get ya. You're like Death Eaters from Harry Potter, I know. I admit, you've got some potential...but you totally waste it. Let's face it. You're just a buncha old guys in bathrobes."
"C'mon, it's true. You don't have any style. I mean, even your name's boring. The Circle of Thorns? Please. You wanna talk about scary magic users? Take the Carnival. Look at 'em, they're really scary. There's nothing more terrifying than a homicidal female clown with a tambourine."
Tommy's face went red with apoplexy, all flushed and blotchy. He spit some choice curses at me, expletives nasty enough to make a sailor blush. Just hearing them was enough to make my hair turn blue. Of course, my hair was already blue, what with my mutant genes and all. So I just ignored the insults.
I couldn't ignore the fire in his eyes, though. Literal fire. His hands were also glowing green. He looked like he was about to try something, so I kneed him in the crystal balls.
"You oughta merge with 'em," I said, as he squeaked, "learn a thing or two. You could call yourselves the Circus of Thorns. Wouldn't that be cool?"
Apparently, Tommy didn't think so. He spat in my face. It didn't really phase me, since none of it touched my skin, the saliva sizzling against my protective aura. My field does that to projectiles. In fact, the sudden flare hurt HIM more than it did me. The pulse of energy forced him out of my grasp, repelling him from my body.
I blinked, as he plummeted earthward. Huh.
The man had a really irritating scream.
* * *
I flew after him, of course. I even grabbed him before he hit the ground. I didn't want to kill the guy. Not really.
Oh, sure, I was tempted. Sorely tempted. And once upon a time, I might have let him go splat.
But things change. These days, I've got a moral aversion to that sort of thing.
More importantly, Superball doesn't kill. He doesn't. Never. Not ever. It's part of the legend. I might not be worthy of the costume...but there's no way I'm going to stain the reputation.
Besides, the body would have made a horrible mess. It'd have been really unpleasant for the local Sanitation Engineers. Keeping the city clean is a very tough job, and it's not fair to give public servants extra work.
Sadly, by the time I reached him, Tommy had managed to empty both his bowels and bladder. That left a few spots on the sidewalk. But he'd have made a much bigger puddle if the rest of him had reached the street.
Tommy was a lot more amiable to discussion after I caught up with him - a couple of feet from the ground. The dumping of ballast seemed to make him a lot more reasonable. He wasn't full of crap anymore.
The sheer mindless terror made him a little hard to understand, but it wasn't really a huge change from his earlier state. It's not like he had much of a mind to begin with. Probably lost it somewhere. I mean, the Oranbegans lost an entire city. Clearly they're the kind of folks who always misplace things.
Anyway, he started talking at that point. Annoyingly, he didn't STOP talking. He was still babbling when I left him with the cops. Unfortunately, nothing he said had anything to do with the crime I wanted to know about.
Admittedly, I didn't have a lot to go on.
The prudent thing...would have been to wait for full reports from MAGI and the PPD. Kinda tough to ask questions when you don't know what to ask.
But I couldn't wait. I couldn't let this go.
So I spent the rest of the day beating up Tommy's brethren, pounding on every single evil magician I could find. By the time I gave up and headed home, the local holding cells looked like a LARP gone horribly wrong. Amidst all the concussed confessions, I'd managed to uncover something like thirty-nine different nefarious plots against the city. I'd also recovered a couple dozen dangerous artifacts stolen from the MAGI vaults, including some things Azuria didn't even know were missing.
By usual standards, it'd have been a profitable day, but I'd gotten nowhere on my actual case. I'd arrested enough villains to fill a Goth club, but none of them knew a thing about dead Outcasts in Skyway City. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
It was almost daylight when I got home. Daylight, again. I climbed through the window I left open, stumbling into bed. I didn't bother with taking off my costume. I was too tired for that. My mutant physique gives me damn good stamina, but I'd exhausted even that.
I needed a rest.
Naturally, I didn't get it.
I awoke, a buzzing in my ear. Groaning, I pried my head off the pillow. Dazed, I looked at the time. I'd been asleep for an hour, tops. Not nearly enough.
Repeating one of the curses Tommy-boy had used, I sat up, then keyed my communicator. "Mmph?"
It was Juliana. Her next words jolted me awake.
"There's been another murder," she said.
* * *
Instead of flying, I used the lazy man's commute. I took the train. Tired as I was, I didn't want to fly all the way. It's bad enough when drivers fall asleep at the wheel. I don't think the world's ready for heroes falling out of the sky. The weather in this city...well, it's weird enough as is.
Public transport? That isn't very heroic, is it? You'd be surprised. Most tourists are. Out-of-towners are always shocked to see heroes riding the monorail. Standing at stations, cramming into packed trains...the full commuter spiel. But we can't all have custom-made automobiles with overblown animal motifs, you know. Gas prices are terrible these days, and there's never a place to park.
Besides, I wasn't in a hurry. I was heading to a crime scene. The victims wouldn't get any deader.
Well, no. That's not true. Some places in this town are zombie central. I didn't expect these guys to get up and walk around, though. According to Juliana, the new victims were dead dead, not living dead. Just like the others.
Two murders.
Two. That meant the first wasn't just a one-off thing. Two was a pattern. A series. a sequence.
I closed my eyes, sprawling in a boneless heap over a couple of seats. Given the hour, the train was mostly empty. The morning rush hadn't quite started yet. I was also traveling east towards Talos Island, out in the bay. On a working weekday, most folks headed downtown, the other direction. The extra space helped. It almost made up for my lack of sleep.
Four corpses on a rooftop, spotted by a hero on late-night patrol. He called the police. The duty officer had given Juliana a ring, and she'd contacted me.
From what she said, the victims were Outcasts. Just like the first murder. Or at least, they were dressed like Outcasts. Either the dead guys were actually from the gang, or someone had gone through a lot of trouble playing macabre male Barbies. Ken dolls. Or something.
What did it mean?
The train rattled, slowing down. A recorded voice announced the stop in dulcet tones, soft enough that I almost missed it. Groaning, I peeled my eyes open and staggered out of the car. I paused on the platform, long enough to get my bearings.
Then I took to the air.
I've always liked Talos Island. It's pretty. One of the newer parts of the city. Literally newer, since the place was formed from cooling lava left over by Talos' last battle. After a while, folks came out to the new landmass and started building on it. Real estate developers, always quick to smell a buck. Hence, Talos Island. High property prices, condos, beaches, whatnot. That's changed, though...somewhat. Since the War, the crime rate's up, and villains are starting to move in. The Talos legend kept the criminals away for years, but it looks like that's starting to fade. but it looks like that's starting to fade. I guess they're no longer afraid that Talos himself will suddenly bust out of his rocky tomb and start smacking down all evildoers. Shame, really.
Still, the crime isn't THAT bad. Not bad enough that random murders are common. Not THAT common. So when I saw the cops, I knew I had the place. The Island's got plenty of waterfront buildings, but there aren't many with police cards clustered around and officers on the roof. Besides, I couldn't miss the bodies - or the gore-splattered concrete. It was the same sort of bloody four-pointed shape I'd seen in Skyway.
It kinda stood out.
I flew towards the building. Glancing round, I found Juliana over by the fire escape, arguing with one of the boys in blue. She was waving a microphone like a lethal weapon. The poor cop looked like he was trying to keep her off the roof and away from the site, but he wasn't having a lot of success.
Ms. Nehring claims she doesn't have any metahuman powers. But from where I'm standing, the ability to make a Paragon cop cringe has got to qualify as a mutant gift. Scary lady.
The universal solidarity of testosterone demanded that I rescue my poor brother in his time of need. So I did, swooping down like a...well, some sort of flying animal. Maybe a sugar glider.
I'm not enamored with the whole cape thing, but I have to admit it's useful for swooping. Lends a certain dramatic gravitas, a sense of pantomime. Stage presence is everything in this business.
The swooshy entrance surprised Juliana, anyway. As did my shout of "SALUTATIONS, COMRADES". I managed to open my mouth without yawning, too. Quite a feat.
Juliana yelped, nearly dropping her recording kit. She shot me a nasty glare. She wasn't really annoyed, though. I could tell. Her expression barely rated a 3.5 on the Irate Nehring Scale.
The cop, on the other hand, seemed glad that Ms. Nehring was now someone else's problem. Another satisfied customer.
"Okay," I asked, "I'm 'ere. What's up?"
Juliana pointed. "See for yourself."
I turned, and took my first good look at the place. Specifically the little canvas of horrors that was the centre of attraction. It wasn't a sight for the squeamish. I'd seen it from above when I flew in, and it didn't look much better up close.
Thankfully, I had a strong stomach.
Though the dead guys had strong stomachs too. They smelt strong. Even through my mask filters. Even using my powers to deaden my sinuses. The intestines and kidneys were pretty impressive as well. It was educational, really. I didn't know you could pull body parts out and twist them around like that.
The city should put that on recruitment posters. Be a hero. Learn something new every day.
It was...much worse than the previous crime scene. By the time I'd gotten there, the forensic boys had been through. The PPD had taken the bodies away, leaving only the blood on the ground. This was different. This was still fresh. Some of the gore even glistened in the light.
Four men, gutted like animals. They lay sprawled on their backs, clothing and flesh just...shattered. That was the word. Not slashed, not cut open, but shattered. Broken bodies, broken bones. Their faces were the worst part. Their lower jaws were pulverized. Only the top half of each skull was intact.
The eyes were still there. I could see their expressions, frozen in death. They didn't look shocked, though, or in pain. If anything, those eyes showed a mix of serene acceptance and religious ecstasy. That bothered me most of all.
I shifted my gaze, studying the intricate pattern connecting the bodies, an elaborate seal drawn in blood. It looked much like the first, a macabre web of twisted lines.
Meaningless to me.
On an impulse, I pulled up a compass on my HUD. Then I scowled. The corpses were perfectly aligned. North, south, east, west, their heads turned towards the centre.
"Any ID," I asked, "anything at all?"
"Besides their outfits," Juliana answered, "no. Unless the police know something they're not telling us." She scowled at the nearby cop, and he shook his head in response.
"Hn," I grunted, "wish they had name tags or something."
The victims were dressed distinctively, though. Outcast clothes. Jeans and t-shirts, colour-coded with insignia. Little rocks, flames, bolts and snowflakes. The Outcasts took their mutant powers seriously, organising themselves along elemental lines. Earth, fire, wind, water.
"One guy from each group," I mused, squinting at the bodies, "our killer's a collector. Full set."
"They're people, not trading cards," Juliana said.
"Same difference," I replied.
Juliana frowned, once again. I could almost see the wheels turning inside her head. "The other victims," she said, "the Outcasts from yesterday's murder...there was one from each chapter too. Maybe someone's trying to send a message? They're after the whole gang?"
"Or it's symbolic," I muttered, "like, I mean, we know this is some kinda whack magic deal...maybe it represents something. That MAGI guy find anything yet?"
"Tyler? I was going to talk to him today, but I don't know if this," Juliana waved at the bodies, "changes anything."
"Hey," I quipped, "two murders, double the sample size. Statistically, that's gravy. Good gravy, not the sort with lumps in."
Juliana gave me a harsh look. "You're happy that people are dying?"
"Well," I admitted, "no. But don't pass that around. A guy's gotta protect his reputation."
* * *
"See, now," I said, as we walked down the street, "what I don't get is...why Talos? If you're gonna kill a bunch of Outcasts, why drag 'em out here?"
It was a nice morning, my lack of sleep aside. So I'd offered to buy Juliana breakfast. We weren't going to learn much more hanging around the crime scene. Ms. Nehring had accepted my offer, though she'd said it was against her better judgement.
Ah, Juliana. Always a kidder.
My costume got a few odd looks on the sidewalk, but not too many. Heroes aren't terribly unusual in this town. Even pedestrian heroes.
"We don't know if the killer, or killers, brought them here," Juliana reminded me, "maybe the victims were already in Talos, and..."
"Can't be," I waved a hand dismissively, "a bunch of Outcasts wouldn't just waltz into Talos. They've got enough trouble with the Tsoo and Trolls, they wouldn't go picking fights with more gangs."
"Talos Island is Warriors territory," Juliana said, "and they've been trying to make a deal with the Outcasts..."
"Nah," I disagreed, "that's nothing. The Warriors are talking alliance, yes, but it's not gonna happen. The Outcasts don't even cooperate with each other, you think they're gonna work with outsiders? Pfft. Nah."
"Still," Juliana mused, "the victims could have been some sort of...diplomatic entourage..."
"Nah. No way."
"You seem pretty sure," Juliana remarked.
If I'd been more awake, I would have stopped myself. But I wasn't running on all cylinders. I just...wasn't thinking. Wasn't alert enough to slap a censorship filter on my big fat mouth.
"Yeah," I said, "Look, you have to understand the Outcasts. They're mutants, right? So they group themselves by powers. So there's four main chapters, right? Bricks, Scorchers, Shockers, Freezers. Then there's all the little splinter groups and whatnot. They're...divided, you see?"
Juliana blinked, not expecting an impromptu lecture. Certainly not from me. Honestly, her surprise should have been a warning sign. But I didn't catch it at the time. My brain was foggy, my tongue pretty much on autopilot.
"Right, so," I carried on, oblivious to Juliana's stunned reaction, "the Outcasts most of their time fighting each other. There's no real central leadership. The only thing they agree on is resisting outsiders. I mean, look at the name. Outcasts."
"But," she interrupted, "they follow Frostfire."
"Frostfire? Kinda," I shrugged, "Len's the big boss, yeah. I mean, he founded the gang and everything. So the guys listen to him. Mostly. It's not a good idea to cross Len, he's crazy psycho. But...he doesn't give many orders. He's not exactly an overall direction sorta leader. He just lets everyone go their own way. He doesn't really care what his guys do, so long as they listen when he DOES say something."
"So," Juliana asked, "you're saying they wouldn't form an alliance? With the Warriors?"
"Yup," I nodded, "there's no way the Outcasts are gonna link up with another gang. They barely agree on stuff themselves. 'cides, Len would never work with the Warriors. He and his boys are proud of the whole mutant thing, yeah? The Warriors are normals. Just guys with swords. No powers, no flash. Wouldn't fly."
"I guess," Juliana mumbled, "still..."
"Trust me," I said firmly. Then I froze. Juliana wasn't next to me.
She'd stopped walking, and was now a few steps behind. She stood on the pavement, eying me strangely.
I sweated, beneath the mask. "Er, something wrong?"
"No," she murmured, "just...why do you know so much about this? I called you about this case...because you told me to inform you about any stuff concerning the Outcasts."
"Uh, yeah," I mumbled.
"But you told me...you wanted Outcast info...because you want to learn more about the gang."
"But you already know more than I do."
"Um," I said, waving my hands, "I'm a quick study? I pick things up very fast? I'm Superball, I know everything?"
"And that's the other thing," Juliana continued, slowly, "you're coherent. You're actually making sense."
Inwardly, I swore, cursing my tired brain. She was right. I'd let too much slip.
"Haven't had my morning coffee," I explained, "low energy levels. Caffeine's the super-secret source of my powers, and I...er..."
My feeble attempt at damage control wilted in the face of her stare.
"It's just an act," Juliana said, "isn't it? You're not really that dumb."
"Hey, hey, hey," I protested, letting a note of panic slip into my voice, "what did I say about my reputation?"
"Oh, come on," Juliana growled.
By now, we were beginning to attract a little bit of attention, pedestrians glancing at us as they walked by. So I put a little extra heat into my next cry: "I'm telling you, I'm one hundred percent genuine idiot, no artificial flavours or sweeteners!"
It didn't work. Juliana yelled: "Nobody's THAT stupid!"
"I can't believe this," Juliana blurted, throwing her hands in the air.
"Gah, no," I complained, "you're supposed to say 'ARE TOO', then I go 'ARTOO DEETOO'. And make little droid noises, because everyone likes a Star Wars joke. You gotta stick with the script."
"You're impossible!"
"No," I corrected, "merely improbable. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be me."
"I take it back," Juliana grumbled, "you ARE an idiot."
"Yes," someone else said, in a gravely voice, "he's an idiot."
I pumped a fist in the air. "VICTORY! See, even random folk on the street agree!"
But Juliana was staring past me, eyes wide. "Uh...Superball...those aren't 'random folk'..."
I spun, resisting the urge to kick myself. Again.
Didn't need the self-abuse, though. Not when there were so many fine gentlemen eager to do it for me.
It was obvious why Juliana was so spooked. She wasn't someone who frightened easily, but this bunch would make any non-powered individual nervous.
Heck, I felt a little apprehensive myself.
The guy who had spoken was a big bruiser in sandy brown. He wore a too-tight muscle shirt and cargo pants, with a distinctive icon on his chest. A cracked boulder. The logo was a dead giveaway. But the bits of honest-to-goodness stone covering his skin and clothing were an even bigger hint, a hint the size of a sledgehammer. As it happened, he had one of those as well - a giant mallet formed from solid rock.
His friends were a scary lot, too. There was a tall guy in red with fire coming from his eyes, his face wreathed in smoke. Then there were two more with blue t-shirts and even bluer skin. The blue ones looked like twins, save for their powers. One stunk of ozone, electricity crackling round his arms, while the other was surrounded by swirling flakes of ice.
Behind my back, Juliana hissed, "No Outcasts in Talos, huh?"
I ignored her. Instead, I focused on the big one in the lead. "Cute, but this is a private conversation. Do you mind?"
I kept my voice light, faintly mocking. Their little display was meant to intimidate. It was having that effect on the crowd. The four were standing smack in the middle of the road, a placement guaranteed to stop traffic. People were already screaming and running, with a couple drivers even abandoning their vehicles. But I, a costumed hero, couldn't show fear.
The Brick grinned, hands twisting round the hilt of his hammer. "What if we do?"
"Then," I said, spreading my hands, "I'll have to ask you to leave. Nicely, of course. Wouldn't want to offend good fellows like yourselves."
The flaming guy barked, a harsh sound of laughter. His aura burned brighter as he took a step forward, pushing past his rocky compatriot. He raised a fist, and that too erupted in flame. "Think ya can take us, hero?"
"Dunno," I shot back, "can I take you out? You tell me."
"No," the Scorcher snapped.
"Aw, shot down in flames," I groaned, "but no big, you ain't my type."
His face scrunched up as he worked his way through the comment. Then his eyes narrowed, smouldering like coals.
However, I wasn't looking at him. I was sweeping the area with my peripheral vision, making sure all the civilians were clear. Juliana, though, hadn't fled. She'd just retreated to what she considered a safe distance, camera in hand.
Reporters. Sigh.
I hoped she was far enough.
"Chill," laughed one of the blue Outcasts, restraining his fiery fellow. It was an appropriate comment. He was the one with ice powers. He flashed me a wintery smirk. "Not yet."
"Quite right," said the Brick. He pointed the head of his hammer at me. "You Superball?"
I peered down at my chest, eyeballing the pattern of circles emblazoned on it. Then I feigned shock. "JEEZ! How did THAT get there? Like, whoa, er...well. I guess I am."
The Scorcher growled and tried to lunge forward again. His sudden motion forced the ice-slinger and his electric twin to clamp down on their flaming companion, holding him back.
"Idiot," muttered the Brick.
The mallet-wielding Outcast snorted, nostrils flaring, and took a step forward. I focused my attention on him. He seemed to be the spokesman of the group. "Message from Frostfire, hero," the Brick said, "last warning. Stay out of our business."
"Aw," I gushed, "Frosty thinks of widdle old me? I'm touched!"
"Sure you are," the Brick returned. His tone was level, his words soft, but that didn't change the menace in his voice. Or the fact he was waving an oversized hammer in my direction. "You've interfered too many times. Frostfire is...annoyed with you."
"C'mon," I whined, "what's a little violence between friends?"
Brick-boy smiled thinly. "Put it this way. We've already killed a Superball. One more won't make any difference."
He said it casually, so casually. But it hurt me. Hurt me more than any petty little threat.
I clenched my fists, trembling.
"My predecessor," I whispered, drawing out the word, "was a great man. Better than you. And..."
I trailed off, letting the statement hang, incomplete.
The Brick arched an eyebrow. "And?"
"In Paragon City," I said, "balls kick YOU."
I didn't give him a chance to react. Next thing he saw was a big red blur speeding for his face, connecting in a bone-jarring crunch.
* * *
Sure, the guy had crazy earth powers, a hide cast from solid rock. But his head was totally exposed. Stone armour, glass jaw.
I saw a target. I took it.
Now...I was outnumbered. I knew that. Didn't make a difference. I'm always outnumbered.
My predecessor...he was a social butterfly. Belonged to a supergroup and everything. A team. Heck, in the end, it was running solo that killed him. He died alone.
But me? I'm used to flying solo. Going in with nobody to watch my back.
And when you're outgunned, outmatched, outnumbered, there's only one thing to do:
Get in quick. They won't expect that. They never expect that.
I whirled out of the kick. The Brick's head snapped back, driven by the blow to his jaw. Before he or any of his friends could respond, I followed up with another strike...
...a backhand, using the momentum from my spin kick. More than momentum - I sped up, with the same acceleration trick I use for flight. Dropping low, I slammed my knuckles into the most vulnerable point.
The Brick was a hard target. Rock hard. His body was covered by bits of stone, poking through and covering his clothes and skin. But it wasn't complete coverage. His head was the biggest target, but there were other exposed areas of fabric and skin. I went for another. Below the belt.
There's no such thing as a dirty blow.
The Brick finally reacted, but not with any counterattacks, evasive maneuvers, nothing like that. His eyes popped open. He looked a lot like a goldfish, mouth hanging open. To his credit, he didn't scream. Didn't make a sound. Admirable self-control. Of course, he might have been too stunned for that. He staggered, clutching his groin.
Vulnerable. Tempting. But I didn't press the advantage. I was fighting more than one man. By now, the other Outcasts were beginning to wake up.
But I didn't think that, at the time. At least not in so many words. I just moved, my senses shrieking a warning.
Because that's when the Scorcher sent a blast of flame in my direction, fire shooting from his hands.
He didn't hit me. I wasn't there. He did, however, hit his buddy. After all, I'd been standing right next to the Brick. Who promptly got scorched for his troubles.
That's the trouble with big flashy area attacks. Friendly fire isn't.
Works to my advantage, of course. When you're fighting a crowd, it's always best to make 'em fight each other. I mean, I'm just one guy. I don't care who I hit. But they...they get in each other's way. With a little help from yours truly, of course.
The Scorcher fired again. I ducked, the fireballs slashing over my head. Then I tackled the flamethrower, knocking him into the guy behind. One of the blue twins, couldn't tell which. Either the Freezer or the Shocker...
...the Freezer. Definitely the Freezer. Since the OTHER twin was shooting electricity at me.
Sparky's aim was better. I could feel the sting as lightning warred with my field. My protective aura deflected most of it, sparking it off in a display of crackling blue...but enough got through. It hurt.
I ignored it.
Sparky actually tagged me, something of an achievement. But he was still firing into a pitched melee - I was pretty much grappling with the flamethrower and his icy brother. Wasn't he afraid of hitting them?
Well, obviously not. Stupid.
Granted, I'm not that smart myself. I ain't gonna win any awards for intelligence, sure. But I've got at least one functioning brain cells to my name. That's one more than your average Paragon thug.
And I know how to fight.
I'm not a martial artist or anything. Not really. Most people think I'm one...which is fine, that's what they're supposed to think. The original Superball was some kind of street ninja or something. As his successor, I've got an image to maintain.
The first Superball, he was good. Very good. Far as I can tell, he was just a normal guy - nothing but skill. I'm nowhere near his level. But at the end of the day, he was just human. Perfectly baseline.
I'm a mutant. I cheat.
I've got energy racing through my nerves. I can control that, direct that. I can shut off pain. I'm faster. Stronger..
Of course...that alone isn't enough to carry the day.
In fact, engaged in close combat with the Scorcher and Freezer, wrestling with both Outcasts...it was obvious that THEY had the strength advantage. And there were two of them. Soon to be three, since I could see the Shocker moving in. They were trying to dog pile me, pin me down.
They probably intended that pin to be somewhat more than a simple three-count.
Thankfully, I'm a slippery customer. It's hard to get a grip on a guy when he's surrounded by an energy aura, pushing you away. And all those little repulsion flickers, they sting, let me tell you.
That's my real mutation. All the physical advantages, they're icing. My field...that's the cake.
It took me years to discover my true potential. I've got my predecessor to thank for that. When I first started, as a stupid kid...I used to throw blasts. Silly. No, my field truly shines when it's compressed. Wrapped around me. Pulled in tight. Protection, flight...
...and a little extra oomph to melee attacks. Hand-to-hand? Try field-to-face.
I spun. Fast. Energy flaring, bright blue-white.
"You guys suck," I taunted, "maybe Penny can evolve you a clue."
My attackers flew in all directions, not under their own power. One spilled on the asphalt, another crashed into a parked car. And the third went right through a storefront window in a glorious display of shattered glass.
Viva la knockback.
* * *
I drew a breath, filling my lungs with life-giving air. Somewhat foul-smelling air, what with the stench of ozone left by my little trick. But air was air. After that effort, I needed a moment's space. Good thing I had it. For the moment, my attackers were down for the count.
Or not.
Next thing I knew, I was seeing stars. Not the pretty kind of stars, either. The kind of stars that explode behind your eyeballs. I'd have done my world-famous '2001: A Space Odyssey' impression, except I was too busy screaming.
I'm not going to malign the honour of little girls. I know some very tough little girls. Some of them wear spandex. So let's just say I screamed like a guy hit by a sledgehammer the size of the universe.
Okay, so I exaggerate. Just a little. Maybe it wasn't that big. But it sure felt that way. Especially since I wasn't expecting it. Surprise has a way of magnifying pain.
I'd like to say it wasn't my fault. I'd like to claim the guy moved fast, with swiftness you wouldn't expect in a man that big.
Truth, though? I got careless. I figured he'd be out for a moment longer.
Then again, I've never been good at math.
Groaning, I started to rise...then stopped and rolled. I got out of the way just in time, a split second before another blow caved in the street. Not graceful, not elegant, but good enough.
I came up in a crouch, and eyed my attacker. It was the Brick, of course, the Outcast with the rock powers. I'd stunned him with a couple of good shots, but it looked like the guy was back on his feet. Mostly, anyway. He was walking funny, with one hand clutching his family jewels. But he was walking all the same. In my direction. And his other hand was wrapped around the haft of his giant stone hammer.
"'m gonna BREAK ya," the Brick rumbled.
"Jeez," I complained, as I leapt backward, "can't you say something original?"
He took another swing. I dodged, tumbling to the left.
I shook my head. "And shouldn't your voice be all high-pitched or something?"
The Brick roared, a deep full-throated bellow.
"Huh," I sighed, "guess not. Kids these days, no appreciation for dramatic convention."
There's an art to making jokes in combat: don't think about it. Just let your mouth run on autopilot. If you've got a perverse enough mind, your subconscious will come up with something. It's easy once you get the hang of it.
I don't really care WHAT I say, so long as I say SOMETHING. The act, that's the critical thing. The content doesn't matter. Sure, a smart mouth comes in useful sometimes...it keeps enemies angry, off-balance, distracted...but I don't do it because of that. It's not really a tactical ploy.
It's all part of the image, you see. That's what's important.
Can't show fear. Superball isn't supposed to show fear. Even when the guy behind the mask is a little nervous.
Just a little.
Rock guy was up and running, complete with gargantuan weapon. Ice boy was climbing out of his impact crater, water vapour freezing his body into a wicked mass of spikes. And Sparky had just about extracted himself from the car I'd thrown him into, electricity dancing round his fingers.
Then there was the Scorcher. The one who'd smashed through a store window. He'd gone head-first through the glass, and the experience hadn't been kind. He was badly lacerated, particularly on the face - and head wounds bleed like hell. But it didn't seem to faze him. The guy was completely on fire, blazing hot enough that I could feel it all the way across the street.
They didn't look badly hurt, just angry.
Ah, well. No rest for the wicked.
Inhale. Exhale.
Round two.
All we needed was for someone to ring the bell.
* * *
Now, I say things like that. Or think 'em. Whatever. But I don't really mean that stuff. It's just comedic filler.
So you can understand why I was kinda surprised...when someone actually did. Ring the bell, that is.
It was a good ring, too. A big, loud, metallic one, the sound of steel bouncing off a rocky hide.
I blinked, as the Brick fell on his ass. Something had hit him, square in the chest, hard enough to leave a gouge in the stone. I tracked the projectile as it spun back to its source. Maybe taking my eyes off the Outcasts wasn't the best idea, but it isn't every day that a four-foot broadsword comes flying through the air. Doubly so when it makes like a giant boomerang, in defiance of all good sense and physics.
The sword stopped, on a rooftop overlooking the street. Specifically, it stopped in the palm of a slim gloved hand, attached to a girl not much bigger than the weapon. Of course, she probably wasn't an ordinary teenager. Sure, she looked like a typical blonde cheerleader. But the winged headgear, Valkyrie-style...that was a dead giveaway. So was the cape. And the costume in blue and gold.
There were two more beside her, a man and a woman, in similar colours.
Twirling the sword, the blonde grinned. "Mind if we cut in?"
I raised a hand. "Uhhhh..."
Before I could finish my protest, she pointed her blade and yelled in a voice of pure command:
The other heroine leapt off the rooftop - and kept going, flying above the melee. She spread her arms wide, and fire rained from the sky. In her wake, the sword-girl and the guy dropped to the ground.
The guy turned to me, eyes glowing beneath the brim of his hat. The nature of the hat somewhat detracted from his menace, since it was a large floppy affair with corks hanging round the edges. With the hat and vest on his costume, he looked like a comic version of Crocodile Dundee.
Except for the colours. Maybe he was a Swedish knockoff or something. That aside, the stare he gave me was pretty hard. So was the hissed question.
"Uhhh," I extemporised, "figure of speech?"
He glared at me for a half-second longer, then grunted. As he did so, his body exploded in a flash of white light. He didn't look particularly Swedish after that. Not as a giant alien creature, towering far over my head. Strangely, the cork-brimmed hat was still sitting on his skull. But somehow I didn't find it funny anymore.
"Riiiight, mate," he growled, before stomping towards the Outcasts. Maybe it was the vocal distortion caused by his transformation, but he didn't sound terribly convinced.
Oh well. Guess I'll never make it as a trial lawyer.
Honestly though...I was glad for the help, whoever they were. I might be a loner, but I'm partial to having my skin intact.
I'm kinda attached to it, you understand.
Four against four, now. Even odds. That felt good. Nice to have numbers on my side. For once. Didn't foresee it becoming a habit, but it made a nice change of pace.
I let the big monster guy take point, falling in alongside the girl with the sword. She broke left, I broke right, and we broke a couple of bones about the same time.
At least I think I felt something break when I threw that punch. Hopefully whatever it was belonged to the Outcast, though it could have been my fist. The layer of ice covering the Freezer was harder than I'd predicted. As a consolation, his retaliatory strike promptly shattered against my own protective field, the frozen spike falling into a million pieces. That made us tit-for-tat.
So I hit him harder.
He reeled, his frigid shell cracking. But new ice covered the gaps almost as quickly, hardening into a fresh defensive layer. Again I hit him, again he healed. I figured I could beat him. But not fast. Not without effort.
Of course, I wasn't fighting a duel...
I launched another kick to keep him honest, and turned my eyes briefly skyward. The flying heroine wasn't difficult to spot. She was engaged in an aerial duel with the flamethrower from the other team. The two were slinging fireballs at each other, matching blast for blast.
Didn't seem like an efficient use of resources.
"HEY," I yelled, "FIRE GIRL!"
I couldn't see her expression. She was too far away, and her eyes were hidden by thick goggles. But she sounded confused. She shook her head, ponytail flapping. "I'm not Fire Girl, my name's..."
"WHATEVER," I cried, "SWITCH!"
Hoping she'd get the hint, I took to the air, throwing myself at the Outcast Scorcher. With luck, she'd keep my former dancing partner entertained while I dealt with her's. She seemed like a social sort, caring and warm. Emphasis on 'warm'. Definitely a better person to go breaking the ice.
I barreled into the Scorcher like a human torpedo. His flames clashed with my energy field, a loud and blinding lightshow. I had the good sense to keep my eyes closed, though...and he was already blind from copious head wounds...so that didn't slow either of us down.
We struggled for dominance for a while, until I managed to get the upper hand. Literally.
I swung on top of him, clasped my fists together, and delivered a nice big hammer blow. Enough to send him spinning out of the air, back towards the ground.
Air Superiority. Rule the Friendly Skies.
As it happened, it wasn't a landing he could walk away from. The Scorcher landed smack on a fire hydrant, the metal head digging into his spine. I almost felt sorry for his vertebrae. The hydrant burst a moment later, soaking him...and extinguishing his flame in a cloud of steam.
Insult to injury. Or would that be injury to insult?
Slowly, I descended back to street level. I took my time, because the fight seemed over. The Freezer was lying at the feet of the fire-blasting heroine, nothing left of his ice but a big puddle on the sidewalk. The Shocker, meanwhile, was halfway through a wall. The big hat-wearing alien was still pushing the other half.
And the last Outcast, the Brick...well, I looked just in time to see the sword girl swing her blade into his skull. She used the flat, not the edge...but the impact? They probably heard that all the way across the city.
"HAH," she proclaimed, waving her weapon, "how DARE you attack the FORCES OF VIRTUE, EVILDOER! FLEE THE DAYLIGHT, AND FALL BACK TO THE SHADOWS WHENCE YOU CAME!"
"Strewth," the alien muttered, stomping over. He adjusted his hat, giving a baleful look. "You're kidding, right?"
She grinned, impishly. "Actually, yes."
I snickered. Really nice.
There was something about the sword girl that bothered me. Something about all of them, really. Something about the costumes, the blue and gold colours.
One of those insistent, nagging things. I could ignore it in the heat of combat, mortal danger being a pretty effective distraction.
But now...
Sheathing her sword, the girl walked over to me. "Hi," she said, "I'm Evangelia. You're Superball, right?"
I tilted my head. "Uhh...you've heard of me? Whoa, maybe I should get an agent or somethin'."
She laughed. "No, you---"
She said more than that. But I didn't hear it. My attention was focused on her chest.
No, not that way.
My moral fibre might be kinda questionable, but it isn't that far gone. Not yet.
I was looking at the emblem on her uniform jacket, a stylised two-tone rendition of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man'.
My head snapped up, eyes flashing to the costumes worn by the other two. Same emblem.
Not a coincidence. Couldn't be.
Oh damn.
I backed away, one step, two. I tried keep it from showing, but I guess they could read the sudden fear in my body language. The girl, Evangelia, extended a hand, said something. I don't know what.
I just ran. Well, flew. Flew as fast as I could. Straight up, fast as my powers could take me.
I ran.
* * *
Alright. So maybe running wasn't the best idea.
Fine, so it was a downright stupid idea. But panic isn't conducive to coherent thought. And it's not like I've ever claimed to be a genius. Smarter than the average bear, maybe, but that's not saying much in Paragon. Only city in the world where mindless zombies qualify as an ethnic group.
Still, what else could I do? Stay and exchange polite conversation? Have tea and biscuits? Not an option. I didn't recognise any of them, but those colours, those costumes, that crest...
I spent the whole flight back to my apartment replaying the scene, going over the angles in my head. It got me exactly nowhere. But it so completely occupied my thoughts that I didn't remember Juliana until I was almost home.
I'd left her behind, back in Talos. Hell, I didn't even know if she was still in one piece. I hoped so. She should be fine, there wasn't THAT much collateral damage from the fight. Not by Paragon standards, anyway. She was probably pissed that I just took off like that. Almost certainly, in fact.
But I didn't care.
I entered my apartment through the usual window, storming through the bathroom into the living space. I stopped in front of the memorial wall. Or what I called the 'memorial wall', anyway. Grandiose name for shelves, photos, and enough thumbtacks to kill a man.
I stared at one of the photos, the big group shot from '01, just a few months before the War. I scanned the faces. Most were KIA or accounted for, but a few were...
No. None of them matched the three from Talos. Besides, I knew the names, and I didn't remember any member with the alias 'Evangelia'.
Wait. After the War. CNN. Interview with two surviving members. Late 2003, early 2004. Mention of someone named 'Eva'. Maybe...
My hand snapped to the videos, ready to rifle through the painstakingly organised tapes.
Then I stopped myself, forcefully reining in the impulse.
Did it matter? Did it really?
So what if some new group of heroes was using the name?
They had to be new. Had to be. The Legendary disbanded after the War. Base was decommissioned. Dismantled. All known members either dead or retired.
Even if this Evangelia had some connection to the old group...a former sidekick, something...how much could she know? Really know?
It didn't matter.
I paced back and forth, then stopped. I stood still, just stood still, breathing slowly, in and out. Calm. Controlled.
Had to be calm. Couldn't be anything else. Couldn't afford to be distracted, even by something big as this.
The important thing was the case. The killings. The Outcast murders. That was what mattered. I could worry about the Legendary later.
I still had a mystery to solve.
I lay down, stretching out on the bed. My body needed rest, but that didn't mean I couldn't keep thinking.
Two murders, two consecutive nights. Four victims at each scene. Outcasts from each of the chapters, representing all four elements.
I'd been confronted by another four Outcasts, living ones. With a warning from Leonard "Frostfire" Calhoun himself. Telling me to stay out of this business.
It fit. I didn't like the conclusion, but it fit.
Breath hissed through clenched teeth.
It was speculation. Not enough proof. But it was a theory. I needed to speak to that MAGI guy, the investigator. Tyler, that was the name. Maybe he could confirm it.
I wanted to get up. Give him a call. But I was tired, so tired. And it felt good to just lie down for a moment, close my eyes, and let all the tension drain from my aching muscles.
Just for a moment.
* * *
It was the knocking that woke me up. Someone pounding at my door.
I opened my eyes. I wasn't sure how long I'd been out, but it had to be several hours. It was already dark outside.
Silently, I cursed. Hadn't meant to zone out like that. So much for discipline and self-control.
Yeah, I'd been running myself ragged, but that wasn't an excuse.
The knocking intensified.
I got up, moving to answer it. But first, I squinted through the peephole. Which is quite a trick when you're wearing big bug-eyed goggles, but I managed.
Then I blinked. A few times.
I made sure my field was fully charged before opening the door. Sensible precaution, really. There was a religious fanatic on the other side, one far more dangerous than any Jehova's Witness.
Unlocking the door, I swung it wide with a flourish. "Hello, Tommy," I said, cheerfully, "glad you followed me home. But I gotta ask, are you housebroken?"
The Circle mage scowled at me, his features scrunching up above his scraggly beard. He was the guy I'd busted in Steel Canyon. I recognised his face. And his smell. "MY NAME," he yelled, "IS THAMUXSIMAS THE UNFORGETTABLE, YOU IGNORANT CRETIN!"
The mage stood outside my apartment, trembling in all his fully-robed glory. He looked sorta out of place in the corridor, with the crummy florescent light turning his costume a funny shade. Of course, his robes already were a funny shade, regardless of lighting. He hadn't washed since the last time I'd seen him.
"Hey," I protested, "just 'cause I can't pronounce your name, that don't make me ignorant. 's not like they give classes on Evil Nomenclature in High School."
"Pah," Tommy sneered, "your prattle merely shows your stupidity."
I smirked, under my mask. While I hadn't meant to take a nap, I couldn't deny that the sleep had done me wonders. I wasn't fully recharged, but my mind was working a whole lot better.
Which meant...
Time to crank the act up a couple notches.
I reeled, placing a hand to my brow. I slumped against the doorframe, miming a faint. "Such hatred! I do not deserve this hostility, sir. Not when I myself treat you with only the highest regard. The highest. For example, have you given any thought to my proposal?"
He gave me a suspicious glare. "What proposal?"
"Why," I replied, "the merger, of course! You're the Circle of Thorns, right? So join forces with the Carnival, call yourselves the Circus of Thorns, and TAKE OVER THE WORLD!"
Tommy glowered. "We have NOTHING in common with those WITCHES!"
"No, no," I objected, shaking my head, "the Carnies ain't witches. That's the Cabal. Y'know, over in Croatoa? You got your villain groups mixed up. But you got plenty in common with them too, really. I mean, you wear dresses, they wear dresses..."
"THIS IS A ROBE," Tommy screamed, "NOT A DRESS!"
"'s okay," I said, comfortingly, "you don't have to deny it. I'm cool with the whole alternative lifestyle thing. I think it's a very pretty dress. Goes with your eyes."
Tommy's eyes bulged out. "I AM NOT--"
"Really, it's alright," I reassured him, speaking in a voice that wasn't soothing at all, "it's alright. I mean, look at me. I wear tights. That doesn't exactly scream heterosexual male, y'know."
Tommy looked like he was about to have a coronary. "You...you...YOU..."
Taking advantage of his bewilderment, I sidled over, linking my arm with his. "It's cool, really, it's cool. And I'm really happy you found the courage to ask me out and all, but I'm not ready for a serious relationship right now, I hope you understand..."
If you can't beat 'em, confuse 'em.
Who says us scrapper types ain't good at mez attacks?
Tommy spluttered. Then he wrenched himself free with a sudden explosive movement. "ENOUGH," he shrieked, "YOU WILL NOT STOP ME FROM ACHIEVING MY PURPOSE HERE!"
"Okay, okay," I said, raising my hands in mock surrender, "go ahead. But if we're changing the subject, there's something I wanna know first."
Tommy's face went a very interesting shade. "WHAT?!"
I shrugged. "How'd you get out of custody? I thought I left you with the cops."
"Kinky," I remarked, rubbing my chin.
"Meaning," I carried on, overriding his protest, "your buddies broke you out, and now you're here for revenge?"
"REVENGE? Pah," Tommy hissed, "I will spit on your corpse when Oranbega rises again! I will laugh as your soul burns in the fires pon the day of eternal reckoning when our glorious future comes to pass! I will..."
"Okay, fine," I said, patiently, "but you're here NOW, in the PRESENT, because?"
"Hmph," Tommy muttered, "my...my..."
He seemed strangely reluctant, so I urged him on with a few hand gestures. "Yeeeees?"
"...my masters," he mumbled, "commanded me here. They...they..."
Tommy grimaced, speaking the last sentence like it caused him physical pain. Maybe it did. "They wish to aid you on your quest."
I cocked my head. "Little ol' me?"
"Don't misunderstand, you cretin," Tommy ground out, "we would sooner see you die. But it seems your purpose matches ours. You seek to stop the rituals, yes? The summoning of the seasons?"
Crossing my arms over my chest, I gave him a look. "I thought you guys had nothing to do with that."
"We do not. This foul working infringes on OUR domain."
"Domain," I asked, "you mean magic, or physical turf?"
"Both," Tommy spat.
"Right, okay," I answered, "let's say I believe you. Hypothetically. You're gonna help me. Fine. That means what, exactly?"
Tommy smiled. It wasn't a nice smile. "The last piece you need."
His eyes glowed. Green.
I lunged.
Too late.
The world dissolved. I felt a wrenching sensation, like Alice through the looking glass.
When the light faded, I was...
* * *
Sometimes I feel like Alice through the looking glass. Maybe down the rabbit hole. Except Wonderland ain't all its cracked up to be.
Maybe I'm the one that's cracking up. It's so very hard to tell.
But I'm fairly good with surprises. Dealing with 'em, I mean. In this business, it's an essential survival skill. You either roll with the punches, or end up locked in a teeny tiny padded cell.
Or die. There's always that.
I enjoy breathing, though.
So when I hit the ground, I did so fully alert. I rolled back to my feet, staring at my surroundings. Looking out for danger.
I wasn't in my apartment building, not any more. That was obvious. I knew that straight away. Unless the Circle of Thorns had done some truly heavy-duty renovating, this place couldn't be it.
I lived in a crummy rented flat just off Steel Canyon. Good location, bad price, building with an architectural state best described as pre-industrial post-apocalyptic.
This was a jungle.
Trees, leafy canopy, a web of branches. Thick undergrowth. A sense of humidity in the air.
Even the sounds were different. Not the city noises I was used to, but something else. Like primordial creatures going bump in the night.
Hell, in the distance, I heard something roar.
...this wasn't really a jungle, was it?
Oh, well. Certainly it was jungle-like in all the specifics. But I was still in Paragon.
I'm no detective. But I'd like to think I'm smart enough to put clues together. And there were a few telltale signs.
The ground underfoot, that was one thing. It wasn't vegetation. Or at least, it wasn't -just- vegetation. There was plenty of foliage, sure. Lots of soil, the moist kind that boots sink into.
But there were also distinct chunks of concrete. Not the sort of thing you find in most jungles, unless it's jungle of the urban variety. Concrete. Cracked and broken, with roots and vines ripping through the surface.
I saw that, as my eyes adjusted. And I could also see ruins among the trees. Not ancient ones, but ruins of more recent vintage.
Of course, the most telling sign that I was still in Paragon...the KIND of light I could see by.
It was night. There wasn't a moon. With the time of month and heavy cloud cover, there wasn't so much as a sliver peeking through.
But there was plenty of illumination - from the War Walls.
It's one of those civic quirks that's impossible to miss, one of the first things visitors notice. I've seen tourists taking pictures of the things, in all their big glowing glory.
The Rikti War left many marks on this town, but the War Walls might be the biggest one. They're a defense system, dividing city sectors with solid concrete and high-energy force fields. In case of trouble, individual neighborhoods can be cordoned off...
...and then, there's some parts of Paragon that are sealed all the damn time.
Case in point.
I had a very bad feeling about this.
Carefully, I tapped a button on my left gauntlet, bringing up the city map on my HUD. I stared at the inside of my goggles for a few long seconds, biting my lip as the system displayed my current position.
I was in Paragon, alright. A part of Paragon I had no business being in.
There's bits of the city so damaged by the Rikti...or totally overrun by bad guys in the chaos after...that the War Walls are on full power 24/7, with armed guards to make sure no civilian wanders in. Or to make sure nothing comes out.
They let heroes go in there, of course. But not just any hero. You wanna waltz into a hazard zone? Sure. If you've got the security clearance.
It's not elitism. The cops need to know you're tough enough to survive what's in there. Some of those hazard areas are literally still war zones. With all that implies.
And here I was, standing in the middle of a zone way above my security level.
Way above.
This was Eden.
Home to the old Crey HQ, several tech firms and pharmaceutical companies... and a mutant jungle that just sprung out of nowhere one day, plunging the science and technology park into a little slice of green hell on Earth.
The City had a hell of a time convincing big business to build new stuff here after that. It's a pretty hard sell when your manufacturing plant gets overrun by killer plants - the leafy kind.
Great. Just great.
I was standing in a little clearing...and I suddenly felt dangerously exposed. I eyed the trees, nervously. With my luck, there was probably something lurking just feet away, waiting to eat me.
The Cirle of Thorns had brought me here. They'd teleported me. Or something.
Were they trying to kill me? If so, there were more efficient ways to go about it.
Maybe this was their idea of a joke.
Or...was I here for a reason?
Driven by a sudden impulse, I stepped forward. I pushed my way through the undergrowth, weaving through the trees.
I was probably making too much noise, not a wise thing in this place. But there was something...
The first thing I saw was the blood. Blood, and lots of it, staining the grass. It gleamed in the light cast by the distant War Walls...no. It didn't gleam. It glowed. Magic.
Four bodies lay at the points of the ritual circle, four bodies lying in patterns of gore. Just like the other two scenes.
Except, this time, I recognised all the victims.
They were the Outcasts who had ambushed me in Talos, just hours ago. The same guys.
Now they were dead.
I hate it when I'm right.
* * *

-- Acyl
This is great so far Acyl! I am really looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.
This is really good! Superball in first-person is *very* different from the nutjob we see in other ficcage.--
Christopher Angel, aka JPublic
The Works of Christopher Angel
"Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legend! Right, Boo?"
Which is kinda the POINT. I think.
''We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat
them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.''

-- James Nicoll
Right, that's kinda the point.
I've added two new bits to the story post up above, starting after 'Viva la Knockback'. The conclusion of the fight scene. I apologise if it's a bit rough - I just finished it a moment ago. I'll probably wanna edit it a little more after I've let it sit for a while.
Evangelia, Yukiyo, and Australis are the cameos, although only Eva appears by name. Hope that did 'em justice...
I note Australis probably appears edgier than he actually is, but this is a rather subjective first-person point of view.
-- Acyl
So... Bally meets the Legendary... and bolts.
We know that he was not the original Superball.
We know that he is a mutant.
From things he has mentioned about his predecessor, we can suspect that he was present when the guy went down for the last time.
From things he knows and has said about the Outcasts, we can also surmise that he was one of them before he stepped into his current role.
Combining those two guesses leads to a further conclusion - that the bouncyball whackjob we know and love was both present and involved in the first Superball's death.
Superball I was a Legendary member, wasn't he?
Ja, -n

"I'm terribly sorry, but I have to kill you quite horribly now."
Superball I was a Legendary member, wasn't he?
The original pre-Evangelia-reformation Legendary.
Far as game history is concerned, I'm using the conceit that the previous incarnation of the team collapsed or disbanded after the Rikti War...and they also used the blue/gold and same insignia.
Where in fact, as we know, Eva inherited leadership of the group after, y'know, folks stopped connecting. And the original SG colours and emblem were different.
-- Acyl
Oh. Well, I hadn't known about the changes, see, so I guess I can't take full credit.
*perches on the edge of his seat to see where this leads*

"I'm terribly sorry, but I have to kill you quite horribly now."

The Hunterminator

I really love this story, it's great to finally see what makes Superball tick and that ending has me really anxious to see what caused that reaction.
Oh and, by the way, Yukiyo's reaction to being called fire girl is spot on.
Huh? In the time it took me to read the story and writing my post, a bunch of people replied, how odd.
You know, I like the idea of revising our history to fit dramatic need, rather than unimaginatively adhering to what actually happened.
Carry on!
-- Bob
...The President is on the line
As ninety-nine crab rangoons go by...
Updated again. Some edits to the fight scene, and a new bit immediately afterward.
-- Acyl


This is awesome, great stuff! Oh, and feel free to use Tempestador and Shining Binary in there(or anyone else of mine, for that matter). Not that they've developed much in the way of personality yet, but still feel free. [Image: wink.gif]
Global: @Jimmy Amp
"Broad-minded is just another way of saying a fellow's too lazy to form an opinion." -- Will Rogers
I'd honestly like to use anyone who wants to be used - within reason, since I only have a couple more scenes to fit cameos in. But I have no idea how Tempestador or Shining Binary even look like. Or how they should behave, and so on. So, yeah, um, kinda hard. =P
-- Acyl


Just to give you an idea of her personality and feel free to incoroprate her into the background.
When ElectroEagle relaxes in the base usualy she does one of two things. Most often she will be found in the lounge next to the workshop listening to the Jazz collection she keeps there (she says the accoustics are much better than in her apartment) and reading a book.
The rest of her time is split between the workshop working on her inventions, and enjoying the club.
Note to self: Must recreate the small lounge.-Logan
"Wake up! Time for SCIENCE!"
-Adam Savage


Yeah, I need to give both of them some playing time.
Sigh... so many alts, so little time.
Don't we have some threads for character pics somewhere?
Global: @Jimmy Amp
"Broad-minded is just another way of saying a fellow's too lazy to form an opinion." -- Will Rogers
Not formally -- they've been posted whenever and wherever someone wanted to show them -- but maybe we should start one.
ETA: Forgot to add -- I then went ahead and did that thing. But I'm sure folks have noticed by now.
-- Bob
Visit beautiful Boston, proud successor to Seattle as
"City Most Scared Of Its Own Shadow
On re-reading, a minor nit:
Australis' SG uniform has the vest *closed* over a T-shirt. His regular uniform is the open-vest-bare-chest one.--
Christopher Angel, aka JPublic
The Works of Christopher Angel
"Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legend! Right, Boo?"
Thanks. I'll fix that before I post the next bit, tonight or tomorrow.
-- Acyl
Updated, as promised. As usual, new material is at the end.
-- Acyl
By the way, this is really cool stuff and glad you're adding to it on a semi regular basis. I'm enjoying this a lot! Like others, I'm intrigued by the whole "Superball is smarter and saner than he lets on" schtick. That last bit with the Circle of Thorns guy really came out of left field and had me thinking "BWA?" for a minute there. Plus it was a hilarious scene to boot!
Right! Carry on then!
"Wake up! Time for SCIENCE!"
-Adam Savage
I hope it was a good "BWA?". I'm slightly concerned the Circle bit is too disjointed. I originally had a bit with Superball ruminating on home visits being a first, even though his address is on record with Freedom Corps, etc, etc... basically linkage material, but I cut it for pacing reasons.
Unfortunately, it does make the transition rather sudden. Which might be good or bad; the hit of pure irrelevance is prolly a good thing coming after all the drama of the earlier sections, but...I dunno.
And does the Circle connection seem too odd? Too much of an added complication? I have to say, that's pretty much it for plot points, though. From now on, it's all downhill until the resolution. Heading towards explanations, not new weirdness.
-- Acyl


After reading it again, I noticed a couple more things:
Australis still having his hat when he goes into Dwarf form made me laugh so hard it hurt. (No really, my lungs are still harshed from the flu, it really did hurt. [Image: tongue.gif] )

And this is one of the best mutant-aimed insults I've read. Should be in the game.
--"You guys suck," I taunted, "maybe Penny can evolve you a clue."--
Tommy the mage cracks me up in a Yosemite Sam kind of way.
Global: @Jimmy Amp
"Broad-minded is just another way of saying a fellow's too lazy to form an opinion." -- Will Rogers
New update, as promised. As always, it's been amended to the first post.
A bit rough. I probably need to edit it a bit further. Some of the lines prolly need to be fleshed out more; this is more or less direct from my draft. I'm posting 'cause I need to get off my ass and kick myself into finishing this. =)
(and damnit, I just realised there's an additional paragraph or two of descriptive material that should go in this section, but I forgot to include. Eh. I'll dragoon that in next update.)
A note - this story takes place earlier in his career; Superball's certainly high enough to set foot in the hazard zone referenced in this section now, he wasn't then. This should be evident, but...
-- Acyl
Eden! Ack! Not a nice place to be even at entry level of mid 30s.
Fortunate for Superball he can fly, right? Straight up and as high altitude as he can get before heading the gate, would be his best bet.
"Wake up! Time for SCIENCE!"
-Adam Savage
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