Stories of Freedom City: Thomas Rhymer, Seven

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Stories of Freedom City: Thomas Rhymer, Seven

Post by kipling » Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:01 pm

These really are stories, fictions, not roleplaying sessions--my only concession to the game is making sure that everything can be done in the game. (I play out all the fights, for instance.) The stories may be well-written or they might be badly done, but they're mine. All stories are subject to editing at any time.

And they're set in my game universe, which is mostly Freedom City with a bit of Bedlam thrown in. (For another story in the same setting, which I remembered too late, try http://www.atomicthinktank.com/viewtopic.php?t=16346. For actual gaming, try http://www.atomicthinktank.com/viewtopic.php?t=16614 or http://www.atomicthinktank.com/viewtopic.php?t=25541.)

First up--I will never get a chance to write a Batman story, but I can write a Raven tale.
Last edited by kipling on Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:58 am, edited 6 times in total.
Stories: Occult Investigation, Freedom City, Listening to the Universe
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Post by kipling » Mon Dec 17, 2007 8:01 pm

A KINDNESS FOR RAVENS

Callie Summers opened her own door, unlike other debutantes. A handsome man stood in the hallway, a valise in his hand, and not dressed for the summer heat. Instead he wore an old-fashioned black suit.

"Greetings, I am Liang Jiangua," said the man in Mandarin Chinese. She gave him no impression she understood, instead staring blankly. "I am your birthday gift." She showed no signs of understanding. He sighed and repeated himself in English. He smiled. "You may call me...Edgar." He looked at her as if it were significant.

"Thank you," Callie said. "My birthday is not until tomorrow, and we already have an Edgar." A loud squawk came from the penthouse as Edgar heard his name mentioned.

"May I come in?" asked the man. Callie moved to one side, and the man entered. He set down his bags and then stood stiffly at attention. "Liang Jiangua, lady's gentleman," he said. "References available on request. I hope you don't mind that I was in the hall. Someone was leaving, so I entered the building." He frowned. "Having a Chinese mother, I assumed you would speak Mandarin."

"No, I never learned the language," Callie lied. "Too much shopping to do." Her mother had been the daughter of an international criminal mastermind, but that was not common knowledge.

"Perhaps your mother Jasmine wanted to put her past behind her," he agreed. "I was hired by your father."

Callie considered for a moment. Her father was out of touch right now, looking for a new student for the Claremont Academy at a place near Death Valley that was so remote it didn't support cellphones. "How overprotective of Daddy," she said. "But not needed."

"He was most insistent." The man looked at the truncated hallway. "Surely you have this whole floor?"

The hallway hid The Rookery from visitors, but most visitors didn't notice it was shortened. "No, that part of the floor is owned by the building for maintenance and equipment."

Edgar the raven squawked again. Callie looked over at the clock--she had someone to meet soon. "I have to go--I have to get ready for an appointment. Thank you."

"I will stay and wait."

"You will go. A girl has to worry about appearances." She escorted him with bags out the front door and shut it firmly behind him. He had been cute but with no way to check on him, she wasn't about to give him access to her home. Especially when she had an appointment as the Raven.

* * *

It was hot and windless out. The small man stank of fear. He kept looking over his shoulder.

The Raven stood in the shadows so no one could see her. "You wanted me." In costume, she pitched her voice lower, in her natural range. As far as the other debutantes of Freedom City were concerned, Callie Summers had a higher, different voice.

"Yeah. The Crime League is holding auditions. They're expanding." His voice was reedy.

"Where and when?"

He told her: an auto wrecking yard in Lincoln, that night.

The Raven was there first, hiding. Too bad the League was off-planet, but she would just observe.

* * *

"Isn't this a bit of a comedown for you?" Wildcard asked. "Babysitting, I mean." He had a deck of cards in a hand and was practicing one-handed cuts.

"Nah," Orion said. "I think about ways of hunting them. It passes the time."

"Riiiiiight," said Wildcard. Cut. Cut. Cut.

"Sure. Those two?" he said of Rant and Rave. "I'd separate them, first off. Others, I don't know what their powers are yet. You don't use a sharp stick on an invulnerable person, right?" He sniffed. Oil and gas, rust, old metal.

"I do, but it often turns out they are vulnerable to that kind of stick," said Wildcard. "Kind of a disappointing turnout." There were five people auditioning: Rant and Rave, a thin man in a cardboard helmet, a mild balding scientist with a potbelly and his blond friend.

"Just plan more ways to kill each one, is all." Wildcard looked at Orion, but he seemed imperturbable. Orion strode to the center of the lit gravel beneath the gantry of the car-crusher, and looked at the five hopefuls. "This is the first stage. Impress me and you go on. You first." He pointed at the scientist.

"Well, uh, I'm Dr. Olim. And I've worked on certain...techniques...to control people. And things. As an example, I brought along a young man of my acquaintance." He indicated the blonde young man beside him, who looked half-asleep. He wore no shirt, and he was in green slacks. No shoes.

"Techniques?" asked Wildcard, lounging on the hood of an old car, still warm from the heat of the day. Today had been a scorcher. He could wear the uniform now that the day had cooled a bit. The scent of oil still rose from the car.

"Mind control techniques. My work brings me into contact with...special...individuals." He pulled out a device that had hung at his side and twisted a knob. "Behold!"

Hair sprouted all over the young man's body, and other changes twisted and shaped him. In a minute, a man-wolf crouched there on the claws of his hands and feet.

"He's a mutant," explained Dr. Olim. "Extract of wolf glands helped bring out his latent abilities. And I can control his every move. Does anyone want to fight him?"

"I'll take him on," said the man with the ridiculous helmet.

"Impervious to damage?" asked Orion in a bored fashion.

"Better. I'm magnetic. I call myself...Dipole!" He struck a pose.

"Eventual aim?" asked Wildcard, noting it on a piece of paper.

"Retire with my own island."

"Ah, money." To Orion, sotto voce, he said, "Easier to control than the world domination types."

"Just different," said Orion. "To-may-to, to-mah-to."

The man-wolf lifted a leg and urinated on Dipole. Orion permitted himself a snicker. "Best move, son, or he'll be humping your leg next."

Dipole turned on his force field and a yellow glow surrounded him. "Just you wait!" said Dipole, and he moved back as cars flew off nearby piles to form a cage around the man-wolf: left, right, front, back, top. A dark shape flew from one of the cars.

"Raven!" cried Wildcard. A boomerang hit him on the side of the head, but it was only a flesh wound. Raven had melded with the darkness around them.

Gingerly protecting the side of his head, Wildcard said, "She'll leave and bring the Freedom League on us!"

Orion shook his head. "She won't. They're off-planet. And I prepared a few surprises." He spoke to the candidates. "New test. Anyone who brings me Raven goes to the next level."

Wildcard watched them go, then said to Orion, "They won't win."

"No," he replied. "But they'll tire her out."

* * *

Didn't get Wildcard, thought Raven. Mutant luck powers. Of course that was the car I was in. Got to get out of here--odds are bad--

She felt the wire almost too late: the precariously-balanced car came down, and she stepped back in time, but the noise let them know where she was. She immediately dodged to the side and down a different aisle in the yard. I hope none of them can fly.

* * *

Rant held his sister's hand as they moved slowly in the darkness, the beams of their flashlights stabbing the darkness. "Even if we see her, we won't recognize her," said Rave. She touched her hair again. She had only dyed it green yesterday.

"She won't look like a car," said Rant patiently. "You've got your blindness up?"

"Of course. Do I look like an idiot? If we can get into the Crime League, we'll always have someone to spring us--"

Something hit the ground behind them. Rave turned around to see the source of the noise.

The stun grenade caught her full on. She stood like a deer caught by a car.

Rant was shielded from the blast by her body. He looked for the source of the grenade. Whump! and his sister was torn from his hold. She rolled to a stop away from Raven. He screamed then, a shout more potent than dynamite, but he missed, shattering a tower of cars.

Raven shared her father's distaste for psionicists. If you can't trust your mind, what can you trust? She had to put Rave down now. She took position and lashed out with her leg, a powerful position but one that left her open. Rave twisted and took the force of the blow on her arm. Not good enough. Fortunately, Rant missed again. That gave Raven an idea.

She grabbed the green-haired woman from behind and put her in the way of Rave's next shout--which hit his sister; Raven's fingers tingled from the sound, but Rave slumped in her arms. My files show you have ultrahearing, thought Raven, so let's see how you like this. She tossed a grenade at him, averting her eyes and trusting her earplugs to filter out the worst noise.

The grenade went off loudly enough to deafen a normal man, but Rant wasn't a normal man. Still, the shock was enough to surprise him, and his next shout went wide, tearing the side mirror off an old Toyota.

Raven swarmed in and kicked Rant in the solar plexus--if he couldn't breathe, he couldn't scream. Rant staggered back with a painful oof sound. He held his arms up and made a mewling sound, surprised by it, and Raven closed in with a series of swift blows to the head and gut that knocked him out.

She was going to tie them up--there were warrants on these two--but she heard footsteps. My grenade has attracted attention. She melted behind a pile of cars as Dr. Olim and the man-wolf came nearer.

The man-wolf stopped, bent his nose to the ground, and seemed confused by the fight. Then he stopped and urinated on Rant, but it didn't wake the man up. Finally, the creature began casting around for her scent, going in ever-larger circles.

Finally, he was looking straight at the place where she was. His nostrils twitched. There was no question of surprise--he knew she was there. Dr. Olim twisted a knob on his controller, making the man-wolf yelp as he slashed at Raven.

He was fast, faster than she was, but he missed her with his first slash. Raven moved away from the tower of cars and tossed a grenade at him; the explosion didn't seem to bother him or blind him at all. His front claws tore at her cape as she dodged out of the way, and she could feel the sweat popping out on her back and forehead.

Got to take him down fast, too. She shifted position and kicked. He was better than Rave, so this was more of a risk, but she had to take him down and she had the feeling that a boomerang blow wouldn't be enough.

And his hide was tough: tough enough to shrug off one of her hardest hits. He slashed at her extended leg and caught her, but she went with it and minimized the hurt.

But it still hurt.

Okay, take him down from a distance. She withdrew and threw down a smoke grenade--but the man-wolf didn't depend on sight. He surged forward and hit her again, but this time she had more room to maneuver and managed to ride the blow.

Raven twisted again and hit him as hard as she could but connected with the big muscles of the leg. He shredded her costume again--she felt the coolness of his claws against her skin, and then the heat of her own blood down her arm.

One more time she hit him, and connected solidly with his temple. The blow would have incapacitated a normal man, but it only slowed the man-wolf down. She followed that with a hard punch to the solar plexus, but it bounced off the muscles of his belly.

He raked his arm across her back, but they shredded her cape and only tore skin and flesh. Weakness ran down her side and she toppled to the hard gravel.

Dr. Olim took this moment to dash forward and kick her.

He missed.

She snatched the controller from the doctor. With one twist of a knob, she had the man-wolf on its knees.

Dr. Olim tried--and faled--to get the controller back. "You fool! You don't know what you're doing!"

Raven smiled grimly and flipped a switch. Dr. Olim backed away, then screamed as the man-wolf neared him. She let them get out of sight, then turned the creature back into a man and broke the remote control under her boot heel. There were four ways out of the next intersection: one led the way she had come, another to the center, the third had been the way Dr. Olim had run. She chose the fourth.

Her blood smell was added to the scents of rust and oil. If the light were better, pursuers would easily see the bloodspots--as it was, they were merely hard to see. Her arm and torso hurt, and her claw-slashes burned. All of the entrants to the Crime League were in this half of the auto graveyard; if she could double around, she might be able to avoid Orion's traps and get out, get the police. She was going to need medical attention for these wounds.

She got two hundred more feet, around the circle, when cars flew from the nearby piles and caged her on all sides. She didn't resist.

"No fight?" asked the slim man in the cardboard head-dress. His leg was still dark where the werewolf had urinated on him. If he had kept his force field up-- Hmm. It was down now.

Raven shrugged, saving her strength. She could crawl there and she could get loose--

A fifth car landed atop the others, making a neat box. Now she was trapped; exit would involve going through the cars--the back window was gone on this old Taurus, so she could wriggle in, lower a side window, and get out, but it would take time. Fortunately, the cars blocked his sight of her as well. She dove into the Taurus.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Hey, I've got her! Down here! Hey!"

She was pleased he hadn't remembered to use his powers to, say, use the solenoids in the car engines to generate electricity. But she supposed he would have to take apart the car engines for that, and he didn't want to get close to her.

He yelled all the time for the others, and they seemed to be taking their time. Finally, he paused, and she stopped moving.

"You're my ticket to the big leagues," he told her conversationally, gasping between words. "The big money."

She hit him on the head from behind, then, and he never saw her. Another shot, and he was down.

Some day, he would learn to keep his force field up all the time.

Raven sprinted as fast as she could. Orion and Wildcard were coming, and she hadn't the strength to deal with both of them. Her arm throbbed and her side ached.

The way out should be down here. Focus, she thought. Focus.

A large figure 4 blocked her way. She stopped, played her flashlight over it. It's a deadfall, she thought, looking at the car balanced there, but he can't imagine I'd fall for that. Perhaps for runners? She decided that Orion had set up a few of these traps for candidates who lost their nerve.

She edged past it, careful not to disturb it.

When the snare caught her ankle, it was a complete surprise. A car hit the ground in the next aisle, and the cable attached to it yanked her upward. She hung upside down in the middle of the row of cars. And they knew where she was.

She twisted upwards. The cable was metal, so there was no breaking it. She reached for a small torch normally used for solder and began burning through the cable. With her weight on it, the cable might break sooner.

It was awkward holding her body twisted like this. Her cape hung to the ground--and caught on something. Looking down, she saw the spikes below her.

So she grabbed the cable with one hand and pushed her body to one side, beginning to swing. With luck, the rhythm of the swinging would let her fall to one side of the spikes when the cable broke. The cable was white-hot now, but still intact. She kept the flame on it.

She could hear Wildcard's footsteps in the dirt. Orion made no sound. Break, damn you, break!

It broke just as she passed over the spikes, and she flew into the darkness onto a car hood, with a loud thump.

Her ankle throbbed. She moved to cover--Remember Orion has night goggles--then probed it. I think it's just a sprain, but I may not be able to walk on it.

She saw Orion, backlit by lights at the central electromagnet.

But he doesn't know that.

* * *

Orion sniffed. He smelled blood. It wasn't Dr. Olim's--he had found the man in the trap two rows over, the blond man standing dumbly over him. Rant and Rave were still out, as was Dipole. It had to be Raven's.

She didn't have the powers that Lady Liberty had, so she should be easy game. He had tracked her to here. All he had to do was find her. Close work--he would switch to a pistol for this.

"You're underestimating her," said Wildcard. "I've seen that before, too."

"Shut up," said Orion.

"You know what? You deserve to get yourself beaten by her. I'm going home. There's nothing for me here--everyone else has lost."

Orion said, "She's nothing but practice."

"For your precious Lady Liberty? And what am I?" Orion said nothing. "We were supposed to evaluate some people. They failed. We're done." Wildcard knew when his luck had run out. He called out, "Done, do you hear?" and left, his flashlight bobbing as he walked.

"I'll get her." Something glinted in the artificial green light of his night goggles. He picked it up--a length of cable with a loop fashioned in the end.

Behind him, there was a tinkle of breaking glass. He looked, scanning for activity, and saw only a boomerang that hadn't been there before.

A scream beside him deafened him, and he glance: a dark shape blocked out the light, hit him across the eyes: it didn't hurt him but broke his goggles. The cape wrapped around her, hid her, but he fired blindly three times.

Missed, he thought. But the smell of blood was fresher, stronger. She's close.

He rolled down the eyepieces so he could see. It was dark here. He had planned on Raven moving away from him, so he could control her, but she had moved the attack to him. Animals didn't do that, unless they were hurt.

Unless they're hurt.

He backed off quickly and swapped his pistol for his rifle. I want aim and power, he thought.

A grenade fell at his feet. He dived, but the smoke still enveloped him, blinded him. He moved slowly to his feet. According to the files of the Crime League, she couldn't see through this either. He was relatively safe as long as he was in the smoke. Good thing there wasn't any wind tonight.

The smoke started to clear. He lifted his rifle to shoot at her. Assume she's still over there--she's hurt, remember.

She swung on a cable into the darkness, directly into him, hitting him in the chest with her boot. He flew backward, and hit his head on a car. He didn't move again.

* * *

She fell going over the fence and had to choose between calling the police--there were eighteen warrants on Orion alone--or between getting on the motorcycle. She chose the motorcycle. Lincoln didn't have enough tall buildings for her to swing, and by the pain in her arm, she couldn't have done it again, anyway.

She wobbled going down the streets, and though she took back streets, as she approached the Rookery she still had to swerve around several cars.

In the secret garage under the Rookery, she slid the bike into a wall. Eventually she moved. Stupid to die like this, she thought. But he got me with one of those bullets... If I can just get upstairs--

There was a figure over her. A figure in a dark suit.

Liang.

"I am also trained in combat medicine," he said, and he reached for her.

She said in Mandarin, "I suspected as much." Then she fainted.

* * *

The sheets were clean and crisp. She was in her own bedroom. She looked at her arm and belly. Her wounds had been cleaned and neatly stitched. She looked brown with disinfectant. She made a phone call, speaking quietly. She was just breaking the connection when Liang came in.

"Ah. You are awake," he said in English. "I am sorry I had to give myself away."

"I knew you'd be there," she said in Mandarin.

"I am glad you trusted me." He answered her in the same language.

"No. I knew. A deduction. You're not a gift from my father."

He said nothing.

"Be honest."

He looked straight ahead. "I am a gift from your grandfather."

"My father would not have sprung such a gift on me without checking to see if I liked him first. And because you are a gift from my grandfather, you have a secondary mission."

"Miss Summers?"

"You have never said my father's name."

Liang nodded. "I am to kill him."

"I thought so. You would be surprised at how well he can defend himself, but he won't need to. I have arranged for someone to take you to Togo. I'm sure that someone of your talents can find your way home from there."

"But--"

Callie grew cold and dark. "You have saved my life, and now I have saved yours. If you return, all bets are off."

Liang nodded. "I see. So this is good-bye?"

"Yes. Good-bye."

"And that's my cue," said Johnny Rocket as he zipped into the room. "You don't want to struggle," he told Liang. "At my speed, you'll get hurt if you hit the ground."

And they were gone. She allowed herself tears, then, and went to sleep.

An hour later, Johnny Rocket re-entered the Rookery. "Done. Hey--happy birthday. I picked you up a card."

"Thanks, Johnny. You'd be perfect, if you weren't gay."

"I like to think I'm perfect because I'm gay."

"You have any problems off-planet?"

He shrugged. "The usual. You have any problems while we were gone?"

She looked out the window. "The usual," she said. "But I'm older and wiser now."
Last edited by kipling on Mon May 03, 2010 10:43 am, edited 5 times in total.
Stories: Occult Investigation, Freedom City, Listening to the Universe
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Post by Rubber Baron » Tue Dec 18, 2007 1:06 am

I've said before that Freedom City and the M&M worlds in general are the gaming worlds I want to read the comic books for.

They should get you to write them.
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Post by kipling » Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:41 am

Thank you. I'd be happy if they gave me that job, but I think it's unlikelly to happen.
Stories: Occult Investigation, Freedom City, Listening to the Universe
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Post by Libra » Wed Dec 19, 2007 1:36 pm

Darn fine Kipling. I'd love to see more :wink: [/quote]
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The Brute (A Bowman tale)

Post by kipling » Sun Feb 17, 2008 1:40 pm

The Brute (A Bowman Tale)

When it's been really crazy in the Freedom League, I like to go hunting for street crime. This month, for instance, we've fought two killer robots, a pack of shape-changers and vampires, three guys out to take over the world, and an intelligent swarm of cockroaches. So a little vice and corruption seemed like it would clear my head.

And bullseye, swinging past an alley in Lincoln I heard, "Your money or I cripple you." I leapt off the brownstone to the rusty fire escape and saw the situation: perp with a blaster pistol and an old lady.

The perp was maybe thirty-five, dark-haired, clean-shaven, white and hard. White stands out in Lincoln. I pinned him to the wall with a regular arrow. He tore his jacket getting free, but a stun arrow took him down fast, and I gave the old lady her money back. But what was interesting was that the perp was using not a pistol, but a blaster pistol, of a design I hadn't seen before.

I took some photos--mostly of the blaster.

I trussed him up all Thanksgiving turkey, and went through his pockets. He had no ID or driver's license--enough sense to leave them in the car, I'll bet--but he had a dental receipt in his pocket. That put his name as Thomas Kirkup. The dental receipt led me to a dentist's office, and that gave me an address in the Fens, a part of Freedom City I know well.

The address was an apartment, and it was occupied by a family: thin pinch-faced woman and at least two kids. I swung onto the balcony and knocked on the door.

"That damn cat," I heard from inside, and then the door opened. There were canned goods all over the table; they had been shopping or something. The woman stopped in surprise.

"This your husband?" I showed her an image of Kirkup.

"I just live with him."

"He's had some problems. He won't be home tonight."

"The law, right?" She swore. "And after he got the new job, with dental--"

A supervillain offering dental insurance? "What new job?"

"He was at Louie's and got a word that a guy was hiring. It's Louie's, I figured it for a costumed nutjob--no offense--but he had dental." She looked at me. "Our daughter has a cleft palate. We needed that dental." She sank into a chair; tears started to run.

"Oh."

"He said he was just going out to shoot some pool. Oh, Tommy..." She looked up at me. "You caught him, right? You can let him go. Please." Pleading turned to angry obscenities as I left.

She followed me as far as the balcony and shook her fist at me as I left. I felt bad about her daughter.

* * *

Every city has at least one bar like Louie's. It's a place where supervillains recruit thugs and assistants. Better to have them recruiting in a place you know about than recruiting somewhere unknown--my grandfather funds three of them.

Louie's closed at three in the morning, so I waited until three-thirty and talked to Nigel, the bartender. He came a couple of years ago to finish a thesis on superhuman conflict. "Who's hiring? More importantly, who's offering dental?"

Nigel laughed. "A supervillain offering dental! You might as well... Wait a second. They were talking about 'all the perks'--I didn't think they meant dental but... Just a sec." He rummaged around and finally found a piece of paper; he wrote an address on it with a pencil. "You can try there. But what makes you think they'll be hiring?"

"One of their guys is in jail." To change the topic, I said, "How's the thesis?"

"Had an insight, I'm rewriting it."

I nodded. Nigel is always rewriting that thing. He'll still be at Louie's when there's a new Bowman.

* * *

I don't do disguises. Raven's offered to show me, Daedalus would give me tips, but frankly, it's more trouble than it's worth, when I can just get captured. (A supervillain who offers dental isn't going to kill me.) I made preparations, then I lurked around the Givmee factory that the address pointed to.

The thug who hit me didn't know his business: he hit me across the back, which is the strongest part of any archer. Pulling back the bow uses the back, you see. I went down like he expected me to and stayed down. He had friends; they carried me in and trussed me up to a table. Too much rope--they were sloppy about the knots. Hands were all over me, taking my bow and quiver.

I managed to get the knife under me, and I sawed most of the way through the ropes before the Big Bad came in. This particular one had a lab coat over a skintight suit, with some kind of mechanical mask. He had the start of a potbelly.

All the thugs had blasters. And crests on their shirts. This was, clearly, the best-organized new supervillain group I had run across. Of course, I could probably have tracked them down through the crests, too. Most supervillains don't think about that sort of thing.

"He's already awake," said the Big Bad The mask had a voice changer built in. "Good morning. Sorry for the delay; I was in bed when you came."

"Sorry to put you out," I said.

He shrugged. "Comes with the job." He walked around the table. "So you want to know the details of the plan? Since you can't stop it, and I would like to share it." He looked at the guards. "Even though I know that doing so will have me laughed at."

"Please." I struggled against my bonds, but not too hard: I didn't want to break free yet.

"Well...since you said please." He preened for a moment. "You have heard of the JillBowl dolls?" I had; I had even been thinking of getting one for Serena. Just as friends, of course, her being younger than I am, and all. "Each Jill has a circuit board in it. On one side of the circuit board is the stuff that a Jill doll does. On the other side is a set of components that moves Kirlian...well, I guess it's easiest to say 'steals life force.' At the cost of a mere two or three years, each person--each household--can donate to me some of their personal power. I will be, simply, invincible. Using that rig over there." He nodded toward a full headset with a chip hanging down, like a tail.

"You made the JillBowl dolls?" He nodded, his skull shining in the room's fluorescent lights. "Wow. I was going to buy one. But what will you do when you're invincible?"

"Rule the world."

"Do you want to rule the world?"

"Well, no, but it seems that someone has to. The world is in pretty poor shape."

"And how will, say, being able to punch through a brick wall help you rule the world?"

His shoulders slumped. "It won't."

I nodded. "There's a reason super-types haven't taken over yet. A man can still make a difference without having super powers."

"But someone has to save the world!"

"It seems to me that anyone who can sell the JillBowl dolls can come up with a lot of good ideas. Don't inventors usually hope that they can achieve that kind of market penetration?"

"Well..."

"And if you decide to leave off the life-force-sucking equipment, well--"

"The vril transfer," he said absently. "You're right. I'd lower my per-unit cost and be able to make more profit!"

"Exactly. And then you can give the money to causes you prefer. So if you'll just let me free--"

"Oh, sorry." He bent over me to untie the ropes.

Which is when his henchman knocked him out. Figured he was going to get fired soon, I guess. I snapped my bonds and surged off the table. There were only eight of them, but that's too many for me in a face-to-face battle. I ran for my bow and quiver, which were across the room.

In retrospect, that was a mistake.

The henchman--I didn't even know his name--ran for the life force rig, I ran for my bow and quiver. Once I had it, I nocked and shot two arrows; two thugs fell, pinned to the floor and a wall.

That gave the one the chance to fit the helmet onto his head. Once the "tail" touched his skin, he screamed and doubled over. The hoarse scream woke the Big Bad, who looked blearily around.

I shot twice more and two more thugs fell, one with a Saturday Night Special in his hand. Shooting the life force rig might be smart or it might be lethal; I just didn't know. I didn't do it.

The man with the helmet had started to grow. There was a tinge of purple-gray to his skin now, and his shirtsleeves tore around his now-huge arms. I shot directly at him, at his foot, hoping to pin him to the floor, but the arrow bounced off. He was already invulnerable to my arrows.

The Big Bad pulled the mask off and stared. He was a mild-looking man with deep creases in his face. The last three thugs leaped at me but all missed; all I had to do was step aside.

With a twist of my wrist, I set a stun arrow for area, and let fly; the last three thugs fell down. By now the transformation was complete: the man was huge, nine feet tall and purple-gray. There was no civilization left in his eyes, just a feral awareness. He roared once.

"Oh, Tommy," whispered the man. To me, he said, "It was on strength. Easier to test."

I aimed a bladed arrow right at his head. The arrow wouldn't hurt him-- "I'm going to destroy the helmet." Peripherally, I saw him nod. I couldn't hear more because the trapped men started screaming.

I aimed, shot an arrow, and hit the off switch. The brute straightened and looked at us. Okay. I fired again, and the helmet came off his head.

It had no effect. The brute locked his hands together and swung at me. He missed me--I dodged--and shattered the floor where we had been standing.

"How long does it take to wear off?" I shouted to the man.

"I don't know--it never did this to me!"

I dodged another blow from the monster. "Get out," I said, and turned my attention to the brute.

If he were immune to my arrows, I might need more powerful help. I reached for my Freedom League communicator only to discover it was gone. They had taken it when they took my bow, and I couldn't see it in the wreckage. I was on my own. Okay.

With another roar, the brute reached for me. If he laid a hand on me, I would snap. He didn't lay a hand on me--this time.

In the open, I would have more room to move, but he would be able to move. I fired off a net arrow, hoping it would hold him, but not believing it would.

It didn't.

The trapped men screamed again. I had shot the arrows that trapped them; I was responsible. I taunted the brute and let him follow me to another interior door, and hoped there was room to maneuver on the other side.

Ah--an opening into the factory. The floor was littered with conveyor belts and machines, all of which added components to JillBowl dolls. On the far side I saw a vat of plastic, poured into moulds for the body. The brute was invulnerable to my arrows, but not necessarily the heat of the liquid plastic. I headed that way. He followed.

"I'll crush you, puny man!" he yelled at me.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that...I'd be richer.

I slid under a conveyor belt, then over a carton of headless Jill bodies. The brute didn't care; he went through them all. I looked at the control panel for the vat of plastic. It would take time to pour, so all I had to do was stand there and not get hit.

Sure. Easy. As if.

I hit the control panel and moved so I was just beyond the vat. The brute roared again. "You stopped it! Had plan! Would be good!"

"You couldn't plan your way out of a bag," I said. I had to keep him angry. The control panel started beeping warnings. "And not a plastic grocery bag, but a netting bag for oranges." He swung again; I was waiting for him, and he didn't manage to hit me. "No, something smaller. A dice bag."

He roared again. I don't think he knew what a dice bag was. Well, I didn't peg him for a gamer. I dodged the next punch and looked up at the vat. It was tipping--

Mistake. The next punch hit me. I heard something break and the next thing I knew I was flying. I remember thinking stupidly, Oh, this is how it feels when I hit the wall and fell to the ground. There were two of everything, and none of it was worth seeing once.

That was when the hot plastic hit him. Gouts of foul-smelling pink liquid pounded on him, muffled his roars, splashed and bounced and spattered all over the room. Droplets stung my bare chin and elbows.

I shook my head and slowly got up. My arm was dislocated or my collarbone was broken--I drooped on one side. The plastic was a pink abstract statue in the middle of the room. I sighed.

He flexed, and bits of cooling plastic flew everywhere. The plastic hadn't harmed him at all. He looked for me; I scurried behind a machine. With my arm like this, I couldn't draw a bow. Of course, my arrows didn't affect him anyway. No, I needed something else.

I moved farther down the aisle I was in. The brute shook, like a wet dog, and bits of plastic spanged off all four walls and the ceiling. I looked at the ceiling and noticed the gas nozzles for the fire system, instead of sprinklers.

Gas works by laying down a heavier than air layer and suffocating the flame. That might work. There was the question of what I'd do to breathe, since I think this guy could knock down the wall so I would have to stay in the room--

The smoke arrows use a flame-based ignition system. I took one out of my quiver and realized I would have to get it up to the sensor.

Of course, then he could see me. I could hear him moving around in the room.

He came to the end of the aisle and saw me anyway. "Little man!" he cried. I did a backflip into the next aisle, landed a bit wrong because I was trying to cradle the bad arm. That gave the brute time to catch up, because he just ploughed through the machines, knocking them aside in a way that made me realize that aisles were just conveniences to him.

If he hit me again, I would be unconscious. I dodged. And again. He ran forward, his arms wide, hoping to catch me in a bear hug. I ducked under his arms, and kicked him in the back of the knee. It knocked him down--the surprise, probably--and I clambered on top of a desk, then a cabinet, hoping to get to the sensors.

The brute punched the cabinet, putting his fist through the thin metal. He pulled back and the cabinet moved with him. I tumbled to the concrete floor again. Then he tried to smash me with the cabinet. I rolled out of the way as it clanged down.

No. The gas was a good idea, but without a mask of my own I couldn't stay here, and he wouldn't stay here unless I did. I would fall unconscious before he did. There had to be something else.

He threw the cabinet in frustration; I dodged that easily by diving into the next aisle, then screamed in pain as my shoulder hit the ground. Sooner or later he was going to hit me and finish the job.

Then it hit me: vril had created this monster, vril could end it. One of these rooms had to hold completed JillBowl dolls, with hidden life-energy-sucking circuitry. They had batteries in the stores, they would here. All I had to do was find it, lead him there, and turn them on.

And not go outside. If he realized he could leave, he might. I ran for a door; that behemoth followed me.

The next room was offices, cubicles packed together with waist-height dividers. I spotted two doors, one marked Exit. I took the other--and ended up in another office. Why they needed so many offices in a factory was beyond me.

There had to be a warehouse room, and it had to be off the manufacturing room. Without knowing the layout, I had to go back.

Fortunately the brute made it easy for me by throwing a desk station at the door. "Little man stay here!" He stood there, his feet wide to block the aisle. He might talk like a three-year-old, but he wasn't entirely stupid.

I slid under his legs and headed back. He grabbed another desk and threw it before that door. The door, however, had a crash bar, and it opened outward, so I hopped up on the desk, hit the crash bar, and left. He followed, crashing holes through the doorways.

I ran through the manufacturing room and spotted two other exits I hadn't tried. Again, one had an exit sign and again I didn't take that one.

Success this time. I was surrounded by rows on rows of JillBowl dolls, and the monster was coming. All I had to do was wait for him, make an impossible shot to turn on the dolls, and get out of the way before I lost my vril.

Easy. I ducked around a corner so the brute would come well into the room.

I rolled and sat. Had to hold the bow with my feet, but Granddad had made me train that way. Aimed while the brute stared at me--I have to admit, I looked kind of silly. And then he reached for me, just as I let go.

Bullseye. I felt...something when the dolls started. The brute felt it too, and he grimaced.

I rolled again. I left my bow behind when I left the room, but you can buy a new bow; I put as much distance between me and those dolls as possible.

The brute screamed. When his screams had faded to whimpering, I looked back. A man lay there. I turned off the machine.

I threw him over my good shoulder and walked outside. "Press charges?" I asked the owner.

"It was a criminal enterprise," he said.

Always the way, I thought. I dumped the man there and made a note that we ought to pay for the cleft palate operation.

And I'd buy Serena flowers instead of a JillBowl doll.
Last edited by kipling on Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:33 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by kipling » Mon Feb 18, 2008 6:41 am

And, in honour of Book of Magic, a link to my story featuring Thomas Rhymer. (It might be obsolete when BoM comes out, so I'm linking to it now!)

Listening to the Universe
Last edited by kipling on Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:38 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Post by Libra » Tue Feb 19, 2008 10:24 am

Good stuff Kipling! :D
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Post by kipling » Sun Jun 01, 2008 7:24 pm

I don't have Hero High, so maybe what's in here is invalidated by that. If that's the case, consider it happening before the events of Hero High.

Affair of the Heart

Thomas Rhymer stood outside the Claremont Academy, red and yellow flowers in his hand. He waited for a dark-clad almost-Goth girl to come on the street. "Serena Vervain?"

"Yes?" Even now, her voice was a contralto with a hint of huskiness to it. A lovely whiskey and cigarette smoke voice: a blues voice.

"These are for you." He offered her the bouquet. She was close to graduation, he guessed--maybe seventeen. The puberty fairy had been kind to her: she was lovely and clear-skinned. She smelled of sunlight.

She took them and then frowned. "They don't have bugs or mind control devices in them, right?"

He laughed. "No, they're just flowers. See, those are pansies and these are roses."

"I know roses, silly-- Oh. You're Thomas Rhymer. I've heard of you."

"Only the best things, I hope."

She smiled, which doubled her loveliness. "Things that tell me I should slap you now and save time."

"Tell me those things over dinner." He raised an eyebrow. "With your grandmother, if need be."

"Dinner with my grandmother? I think not." She walked away from Rhymer and the flowers.

Rhymer admired her as she walked away. He could still smell her. She is more attractive in person, he thought.

* * *

Rhymer sat on a cold rough tombstone in the old graveyard and blew smoke rings. Somewhere, a clock chimed midnight. He wondered if ghosts listened to the chimes, or if maybe the chimes summoned the ghosts. One ghost loomed out of the darkness. "You are not a traditional sort of evil-doer," said Lantern Jack in reedy tones.

Thomas lit a cigarette from the butt of his. "I prefer not to think of myself as an evil-doer at all, but I'll admit some of the good things look pretty dodgy."

"Why should I not destroy you?" The ghost's lantern flame shone heatless and green.

"Well, first of all, I'm in a circle, so you can't. If there's one thing I know, it's drawing a circle to keep ghosts out. Second, I'm not actually evil. Third, well, I'd like to strike a deal."

"A deal?" The ghost's tricorn hat bobbed as he shook his head. The green of the lantern's flame became blue. His accent was closer to Yorkshire; times had certainly changed.

"I have to be in Freedom City for a little while," said Rhymer, "specifically Lantern Hill, and I'd rather not have you cheek to jowl with me. So I've come to offer you a deal."

"I do not deal with evil-doers."

"My evilness is still open to question. You've heard what I can do."

"You meddle." There was a cold breeze blowing from Lantern Jack.

"So do you. I just don't do it by throwing punches or animating trees."

"I redeem."

"Same thing."

The ghost was silent--as the grave, in fact. "Go on."

"I will give you the name of the person that Jack-A-Knives is currently inhabiting if you leave me alone."

"But if you commit evil--"

"If you get one whiff of evil about me, you can come to me. I don't want you coming unless you hear of something."

"I swear. What will you be doing?"

"An affair of the heart, my spectral friend," Rhymer said as he wrote a name in a notebook for the ghost to read. "An affair of the heart."

* * *

A tall blonde woman answered his knock on the mansion door. "Thomas!"

"Hello, Damantha. May I come in?"

She stepped aside. "Enter freely and of your own will. What brings you into town?"

"Business, of course. I had a seeming, so I came to do something about it."

"Ah. I won't ask anything more." At a table, she picked up a phone. "DeMaurier here. I'll be a while. Can you handle things yourself?" She hung up the phone. "Unless you want to help?"

"Just a lycanthrope," he said. She didn't question how he knew. "Your people can handle it."

"Of course. Wine?"

"Of course. But not red; I dealt with a vampire this month."

"So sensitive, Thomas," she said. He knew it as a lie and the truth. She wiggled her nose and two wineglasses appeared. He took one and they clinked glasses.

"By the way," she said, "I never thanked you."

"For what?"

"After my divorce--you were the one who showed me I could still have fun with men."

"It wasn't purely a didactic thing." He smiled, and they both sat down. He noticed that she sat opposite him, not beside him.

"What's your problem?" she asked.

He laughed. "That transparent, am I? Very well. I need to get in to see Adrian Eldrich."

"Ah. There are days when I wonder who's side you're on."

"The greater good, darlin'."

"It's always turned out that way." She swirled the wine in her glass. "Adrian Eldrich is one of the big guns, Thomas."

"I know. Earth's Master Mage. And I'm not one of the people allowed in his home."

"I didn't realize that."

"You're a witch and a looker, of course he lets you in."

She dimpled. "Thank you. But I don't have anything available right now."

"Nothing in the whole of Aegis?"

"Nothing. He'll see through a story. Sorry, Thomas."

He sighed. "Ah, Dame, it's the risk I take."

"You're not going to summon anything to keep him busy, are you?"

"I wouldn't do that." He took a sip of his wine. "We can speak of other things, then." Her kisses smelled of cloves.

When he left, after a proper visit, he was content: she would tell Eldrich. They would assume that any conversations he had with Serena were attempts to get at Eldrich.

He felt bad about using Dame that way, but she had thrown her lot in with Aegis. As he walked away, he saw a neighbor peering through a blind and he waved.

* * *

She was returning to the school from somewhere. The mall, perhaps. American girls always went to the mall. Today's outfit was yellow but definitely Goth, with lots of velvet. "Now, Serena," he said, "this time of day, it'll have to be a lunch."

She frowned at him. "You, again? Really, I'm not worth your time."

"I think you are." He gestured. "I imagine all the boys have crushes on you, so say yes to lunch just to make them jealous."

"That's almost reason enough," she said, "but not quite. I have a class to get to."

"White lie," he said. "Your next class isn't for fifteen minutes."

"I prepare a lot."

"In high school? When I got my O grades, we didn't prepare at all, not for classes."

"It was a different time, long ago."

"Ouch," he said. "Am I that old?"

"Besides," she continued, "I'm sure as an occultist you've learned that preparation is key."

A man with a cane appeared at the iron gate. "I do not appreciate your bothering my students." His voice was deep, and Rhymer could understand that voice causing fear.

"Well, Mr. Summers, I'm not on your property, and I'm not bothering students, plural," said Rhymer.

Serena Vervain ducked inside the grounds, but Rhymer could still see her. She was watching.

Summers cocked his head sideways in a bird-like fashion. "You're Rhymer, aren't you?" Summers looked fit despite the cane.

Thomas Rhymer bowed. "The same. Perhaps you have one of my CDs, Mr. Summers?"

"That's not at all why I know you, Mr. Rhymer."

"I didn't peg you for a music fan, Mr. Summers, alas. It's certainly not why I know you."

"You can get away from my property, or I'll call the police."

"Oh, I'll go unless invited in." He bowed again. "Good-bye, Mr. Summers; good-bye, Serena. Good luck with the men friends."

* * *

There were three of them, and Rhymer repeated their names to himself: Megastar, Sonic, and Bolt. They surrounded him, with the brownstone wall of the drugstore behind him. Rhymer lit a match for his next cigarette. They were too young to look menacing, but they tried.

"We hear you been bothering a, uh, a friend of ours," said the black one, Sonic.

"Serena?" he said, then looked up and down the street to make sure no one else would hear. "Or Seven, as she's also known." He lit the cigarette.

"You don't--" said Bolt.

"But I do know. You told me. I know who I was bothering, and you're all members of the Next-Gen. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that she's one of you lot, and she's not Nereid. Narrows it down a bit."

"She's just a friend of ours," said Bolt. "She's not--that person you said."

"Of course." Rhymer took a drag on his cigarette. "I wouldn't imagine she is."

"But don't bother her," said the tall one--Megastar.

"You know, everyone says that but her. Listen--I won't ruin your chances with her, all right, sport?" He clapped Megastar on the shoulder and walked on.

* * *

The bodega was small and specialized and its owner recognized him immediately. "Thomas Rhymer!"

"That's what they call me," he said. "Lillian Vervain?"

"That's what they call me." She wiped her hands clean of sweet dirt--she had been repotting mandrake seedlings--and looked at him across the counter. "My granddaughter told me of you."

"She's a lovely girl."

"But not of age."

"Depends on the country, but not of age here, I agree."

"So you'll have nothing to do with her."

"Can't say that," he said. He dragged a stool to the counter and took out a cigarette.

"Don't smoke here," Lillian said sharply.

"Keeps the ghosts away."

"And you'd need that, wouldn't you?"

"Sometimes I do." But he put the cigarette away. "I need to see your daughter. You can be there if you want. I need to tell her things that will be of use if she ever fights Lucius Cabot."

Lillian sighed. "Does she need to know them now?"

"The Second Sight thinks so."

She was brusque. "Dinner. Tonight. Seven o'clock. Upstairs. All three of us."

"Do you drink wine?"

"Only red. Merlot or Shiraz."

Figures, Rhymer thought. "I'll bring a bottle." He squinted as he stepped outside into the bright sunlight, saw the ghosts coming for him, and lit a cigarette.

* * *

Serena was late. "Mummy," she said to her grandmother as she kissed her on the cheek. "Peruvian, so Mr. Eldrich had me in Peru." She shrugged, then noticed Rhymer. "You!"

"I never get tired of that," he said. "Hello, Serena. Your grandmother invited me. I don't believe the Americans think you're old enough for wine, but we have dinner set out."

"Nana, why did you invite him?"

"He's had a seeing." She glanced at Rhymer. "He says."

"We'll talk about that in a moment," Rhymer said. "For now, we'll have dinner and talk about more pleasant things." He waited until the ladies had sat down.

"Like?" said Lillian, as she passed out portions. "This is vegetarian, by the way."

"It's very good," said Rhymer. "We could talk of young Serena's training. I can't imagine that she often gets to tell an outsider of the things she's seen."

"Actually, I haven't seen much," said the young woman.

"No? There was that time the Green Man had all of the Next-Gen trapped, and you dried out the plants so they could get free."

"Anyone--" she began.

"And the time that the flesh golem was assembling a bride, and you set him straight."

"He just wanted company," she said. "Self-aware." She shrugged.

"Or the demon that held nearly a city block of New York, and while Adrian Eldrich held off his forces, you went in to deal with the demon itself."

"Serena, you didn't tell me about that one," said Lillian.

"How do you know these things?" Serena asked. "The demon was nothing."

"It was a corrupter disguised as a Marquis of the Fallen, and you were lucky to get out of that. As for how I know these things?" He shrugged. "Friends of friends, and sometimes they talk."

"A corrupter? That's worse than an incubus," said Lillian.

"Well, incubi are more specialized at what they do," said Rhymer. "But corrupters are more powerful. She's very good. A toast to her." He lifted his glass.

Serena looked anguished, desperate to change the topic away from herself. "May I have some wine tonight? Just a taste."

Her grandmother considered it. "A taste?"

"In France, she'd already be drinking," said Rhymer. "Here, you can have a taste of mine. I haven't touched it yet."

She took a sip and made a face. "Ewww. Tastes like camphor and eucalyptus."

Lillian Vervain took the glass from her and sniffed the wine. "What have you given my grand-daughter?"

"Ask Heshem. My seeing was about a choice she had," said Rhymer. "If she did the compassionate thing, choosing for her team, she would be corrupted. If she did not, she would be fine. Now she loves someone other than her team, and she'll make the correct choice."

"I don't sense anything magical," said Serena.

"Heshem's Suggestion?" Lillian said. To Rhymer: "You have abused my home! You have managed a spell despite my protective wards! You are no longer welcome here! Out! Out!"

Rhymer got up without hurry. "Thanks for the meal, Lillian. It was very good. Serena, lovely to have met you. See me in your dreams." He smiled at her and bowed once to both of them, then backed out.

On the street, he met Lantern Jack. "The murder spirit was where you said," the ghost said. "There was a terrific battle, but justice has prevailed."

"I'm glad," Rhymer said. "If you don't mind, I have to light up now."

* * *

Six months later, Seven appeared to Rhymer in Shanghai. She froze the four hopping vampires that had him trapped in an alleyway.

"I wish I could do that," said Rhymer. "Nice to see you, darlin'." He handed her papers with holy words and she put them on the vampires' foreheads; the vampires fell over and died the true death.

"I thought you could handle four vampires."

"There were originally eight, and a sorcerer. But I know a bit more about the Thule society now." He lit a cigarette and noticed his hands were shaking.

"I don't love you," she said.

"Never said you did." He leaned against the alley wall. It was wet with recent rain.

"You put a powdered cough drop in the wine. Eucalyptus and camphor. That's why we couldn't find any magic--there wasn't any."

"You think so?" Rhymer noticed his cigarette had gone out--it was wet--and lit a new one.

"But the seeing was real?"

"I rarely lie about those."

"But I want to know!"

He looked at her again. She had grown up even in the six months since he had seen her. He was tired, so he told her. "What we want and what we need are two different things. As a potential Master Mage, you needed to think about the consequences of what you do and I gave you that." Rhymer smiled. "I happen to be in the country without papers. I don't suppose you could--?"

She put him elsewhere. He had to walk the train tracks to Cuzco, but he was smiling.
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Post by kipling » Wed Jun 04, 2008 12:03 am

I'm working on another Rhymer story (it attacked me, so I'll have to deal with it) but it actually takes place in Belfast, and I know I won't get the language right.

So: will someone from Ireland who has spent time in Belfast be willing to look over the dialogue once the story's written, and let me know where I've strayed too far?

A PM response is fine, and I don't expect the story to be done for a month or so, because there are some things to figure out first.

Thanks.
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Post by Jalinth » Wed Jun 04, 2008 10:51 pm

I rather enjoyed all of your stories, and am looking forward to the next one.

I didn't notice anything in the last story that conflicted with Hero High.
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Post by Libra » Sun Jun 08, 2008 8:44 am

Not bad. Not bad at all, oh Kipling.

Keep up the good work. :D
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Re: Stories of Freedom City: Thomas Rhymer, Seven

Post by kipling » Thu Jun 03, 2010 10:39 am

Now complete. Bad, but complete.

THE LEAGUE OF SUPERPETS

The jungle of the Congo is never silent, and even now there were noises of birds and other animals, as three members of the Freedom League stood, examining the open alien probe. Daedalus, Captain Thunder, and the Star Knight looked at it from a distance.

The probe was a disk, studded with what looked like Tesla coils, and a hatch up to expose the traveling compartment. That held what looked like a dog. A brown and white cocker spaniel, in fact. In the ten minutes that they had been watching, the dog had managed to wriggle out of the probe and stood there on the lip of the probe, looking at them.

"Go ahead, say hello," said Daedalus.

Captain Thunder asked him, "Pardon?"

"No guarantee that it's not an alien that happens to look like a dog," replied Daedalus.

"It's a puppy! said Captain Thunder.

"The Vargrowf of Relton IV look remarkably like dogs," said Star Knight. "I can have my armor list all the dog-like aliens, if you want."

"Then you say hi."

"You're our leader," she said. It sounded as though she were laughing inside the armor.

Captain Thunder sighed, then walked to the alien probe. "Hello. We are the Freedom League. If your intentions are peaceful, we welcome you to our planet."

"Woof!" said the alien. Thunder picked it up. It tried to lick his chin.

"You see?" said Captain Thunder. "It's just a dog. Probably a test probe."

A bird flew by, and the dog flew off after it.

"You see?" said Daedalus.

* * *

"Well, the dog is male, approximately six months old," said Daedalus. "He's been well cared for, and neutered. He is housebroken, but his other training is...shaky." The dog in question sat on Daedalus' medical scanner bed and whined quietly.

"The powers," said Captain Thunder. "Get to the powers."

"Yes. He flies faster than you do but not as fast as Star Knight, fortunately. He is tougher than an explosion of approximately 10 kilotons of TNT."

Johnny Rocket entered with Captain Thunder's son, Ray Gardner, Junior--also known as Bolt. "Hey-ho." The dog stretched across the room and snatched Johnny's sandwich out of his hand.

"And he stretches," said Daedalus.

"Cool," said Bolt.

"That was my sandwich!"

"You're prehensile," said Daedalus. "You can make another."

"It's the principle of the thing, not the prehensility," said Johnny.

"The probe," said Captain Thunder. "What about the probe?"

"Crude," said Daedalus. "Not production material. Johnny, you can take the dog, all right?" He slid his hands under the dog's belly and tried to hand it over. The feet remained behind and the dog's head stayed by Johnny and the former sandwich. Captain Thunder grabbed the dog's haunches and helped move them over to Johnny.

"He should be a dachshund," said Bolt. "The Slinky dog was a dachshund, right?"

"He's a rare breed--the cocker expandiel," said Daedalus drily.

"Very good," said Johnny. "That was like a joke. Except for the funny part. I'll look after him, but you owe me a sandwich."

"The probe," said Thunder, patiently.

"Yes. The components have a Latinate style of writing that isn't English. There were sensors on the dog, so I infer a test probe."

"That was what I suggested back in the Congo," said Captain Thunder.

"And we agree."

"But whose test probe? Space or another dimension?"

"Well, the shielding is clearly inadequate for either. Look here--" He turned to the probe itself.

But the probe was gone.

"I'd say dimensional," said Johnny. "And it's gone home."

"The first time we had a dimensional visitor, it let Omega know we were here. Do you think it's a plot by Omega?" asked Captain Thunder.

Daedalus said, "Omega has dimensional travel. He doesn't need a test probe."

"So that's still up in the air."

"Speaking of which--" Ray, Jr. held on to the dog by the tail; the dog was flying and wriggling, so Ray, Jr. looked like a boy with a mercurial balloon. "Can we keep the dog, dad?"

"I have to talk to your mother. She lives with us too, you know." And a dog that can withstand a ten kiloton blast is going to be hell to train.

* * *

Johnny Rocket was running from Freedom City to New York--there was a barista there who thought he was cute, so when Johnny wanted coffee, that was where he went. He was careful to keep his speed under Mach 1 when something small zoomed by him, leaving a small sonic boom in its trail.

What the? thought Johnny, and picked up speed. Big bullets?

But the thing--whatever it was--changed direction. And went faster and higher. Johnny barely noticed they were heading out to sea. He stayed even with it while it was out of reach, waiting for it to come down to him. He dodged a ship, skipped over a land mass of some kind--peninsula?--and then inland again. Up ahead there was a hill and Johnny grabbed it--

What the hell? Johnny thought again.

It was a budgie. It pecked him and drew blood, which so startled him that he let go.

He had to chase it again and catch it before he took it to the Freedom League's Watchtower.

* * *

"Super speed and a little enhanced strength--the bird is perhaps as strong as a child," said Daedalus.

"I know," said Johnny Rocket, sucking at his finger.

"First a dog, then a budgie. You'd think they sent a cat, too," said Captain Thunder.

Daedalus absent-mindedly guided Johnny's hand under the experimental healing ray and fixed it. "All household pets. A budgie is not a typical experimental animal."

"Thanks," said Johnny. "We don't know that the budgie wasn't first."

"Like a canary in a coal mine? Checking the atmosphere?" said Thunder.

"Sure. And the probe snaps back after each test. He's just really sucky at designing restraints for the animals," said Johnny.

"He might not be expecting the super powers," said Daedalus. "When the Centurion was sent as a baby, he had no powers."

"But this scientist is smart. He's experimenting. He has no way to aim, so he's sending household pets. And he has to keep sending new ones because the old ones escape," said Captain Thunder.

"Household pets--cats are usually smaller. Why not send a cat before a dog?"

Johnny knew this pattern. The two of them would talk until they had the entire thing figured out, and then they'd monologue it. He decided to come back for the big speech at the end. Maybe there was something good in the kitchen--

* * *

Raven gunned the modified Ninja to catch the thieves' car. This gang had stolen bearer bonds from a securities firm in a strip mall--they obviously thought that they could avoid her by sticking to the sections of town where she couldn't swing.

The thieves were three cars ahead, and only doing a hundred in a residential area. She dodged one car, took the sidewalk for the other two, and came up behind the car. Good thing it was a residential neighborhood: wide sidewalks.

Daedalus had added a fair bit to the fast bike after the last one she had totaled, including a force-field protection system based on the antigrav in the skybikes. And it still used regular gas. With the fields up, she was protected if she had to slide the bike.

Feed me. It was less words and more a feeling.

She didn't know where that thought had come from, but it was gone almost instantly. She would check it out after she caught the thieves.

* * *

"Sit!" said Nancy Gardener. The dog's rear end hit the floor obediently, but the front half kept walking around the room. "All of you," she said, shoving the front half into position.

By the time she got it there (it didn't want to go), the back half was up again. This was as bad as the time she had caught it sniffing its own behind and barking at it. Which had been....she had to think....only twenty-five minutes ago.

Lady Liberty came into the room, picked up the dog's haunches, and brought them close to its head. "I may have the spirit of Liberty," she said, "but not of anarchy."

Nancy thanked her, then fed the dog a treat. "Positive reinforcement," she explained. "Because I can't use negative reinforcement." The dog floated up to the treat bag to get more. Lady Liberty hit it on the nose and the dog started spinning, head over tail. Nancy started to laugh. Even Lady Liberty giggled.

Johnny Rocket came into the room. "I have a bird. Where can I keep him?"

"Oh, Lord," said Nancy. "What's its super power?"

"Speedster," said Johnny Rocket. "Not as fast as I am, but good. Maybe as fast as Ray, Jr."

"Then we do need a cage," said Lady Liberty. "If it got loose and created a sonic boom--"

"Oh, that's bad in a space station," said Nancy. "I think we still have that impenetrable aquarium that held the ambassador from Cusron III."

"Check Star Knight's room--they were close."

* * *

A week later, Daedalus said, "Another probe has landed."

"And you know this how?" Johnny asked.

"After the first two, I rigged up a sensor for them."

"Of course you did."

"So what do you think? Hamsters? Guinea pigs? Maybe a vacuum-resistant goldfish?"

"I think we should send a team to rural Kenya to find out. Captain?"

"Indeed," he said, but his gravitas was spoiled by the fact that he was holding down one end of the puppy, trying to make it sit. "For this one, Daedalus, you need to see the probe, and-- Has anyone seen Raven this week?"

Daedalus and Johnny Rocket looked at each other. "No, but that's Callie's way."

Captain Thunder ran through the possible team members. Star Knight was out of the solar system, Pseudo and Lady Liberty were dealing with that Dr. Simian thing, Dr. Metropolis would be useless in rural Kenya, he couldn't go because Nancy refused to deal with the dog any more. "Daedalus, you and Bowman. Tell him to bring the super strong rope arrow."

Daedalus was already moving. The last thing that Captain Thunder said before Daedalus left the room was, "Sit. No, sit."

* * *

"The teleporter gives me a headache, though," said the Bowman. "If you'd just look at it-- Whoa."

This part of Kenya was not as rural as they had believed. The probe lay half in and half out of a house. The front half poked out. "He'll have to build a new one," said Daedalus.

"So that's a UFO, huh? Passengers?"

"We'll see. I'll approach--be ready with the rope arrow."

The probe was empty. Bowman said, "No--look at the dents in the fabric. They're moving."

"Something invisible?" Daedalus ran his armor's scanners through the electromagnetic spectrum. "Not invisible to radio waves, which indicates a dense structure. It's a capuchin, not native to Africa."

Then they heard the angry hoots from the capsule.

"What is this stuff?" asked Bowman as he wiped it off his face. "Aw, man, even its feces are invisible."

"Force field. Not density," said Daedalus.

"Super. You're wearing armor, I just have--" The monkey flashed into visibility. The excrement did too--but when the monkey became invisible again, the excrement did not. "Aw, poop." Mindful of the elder man, he did not say a stronger word.

"Exactly," said Daedalus. "Hmmm. Capuchins are sometimes used to help quadriplegics; maybe we're looking for a home with a quadriplegic?"

"You might as well say we're looking for an organ grinder. Hey--" Bowman lifted off the ground and flew a hundred feet. He got his feet under him for the landing on a pasture. "Great!" he yelled. "Telekinetic monkeys."

The farmer and his wife--both of them hard and grizzled--walked in from the opposite field and watched. The farmer was wearing a cap with Spanish on it.

Daedalus said, "He hasn't made a move at me yet. I'll just--" In the air, before he flew into a tree, Daedalus used his flight to correct his path. "Perhaps I won't."

"He can't hit us if he can't see us." Bowman fired an arrow. The monkey and the probe were engulfed in smoke. Daedalus used his suit's scanners to find the releases on the restraints. Bowman triggered the snare on another arrow and handed a strap to Daedalus, who fashioned a crude mask to hide the monkey's eyes, then took the rest of the netting and fashioned a crude restraint for the monkey.

"You know, I joined the Freedom League to right wrongs and fight injustices, and now you've got me tying up monkeys," Bowman remarked.

"Super-powered monkeys. To the Pegasus, then the Lighthouse. I'll want your help to stow the probe."

The farmer cleared his throat. "Who'll pay for my hut?"

Daedalus said, "We will. Get an estimate and have it ready for three days from now. Someone will come by about noon."

In a quiet voice, Bowman said, "He might pad it."

Daedalus said, "I hope he does. It's a poor country."

* * *

Nancy Gardener said, "Has anyone heard from Raven? I asked her father, and he said he hadn't. I'd ask Bess but she and her husband are still on vacation."

Johnny Rocket had a collection of pudding containers this time. "Maybe he lied. Ravens do that. That's the collective noun for ravens: a fib of ravens."

"A parliament of ravens, and no, he didn't lie."

"Maybe he was lying about not lying." He looked at the six puddings. "I think I'll do chocolate vanilla butterscotch chocolate vanilla butterscotch."

"Do you have to eat so much?" She looked at him. "And sometimes, superspeed just sends you in a circle faster."

"Is that a sexual reference? Because if so, you might have hidden depths of coolness. I was worried you were a bit...you know...unhep. So square you were cubical. I'm putting this in terms I hope you'll understand."

She sighed. "It was not a sexual reference."

"Maybe tesseractical," said Johnny Rocket. "And no, I don't have to eat so much. I just like to. So far I'm not having trouble keeping the weight off." Nancy moved one hand to her waist as the puddings disappeared.

* * *

"I think our mistake was in believing that the choice of animals was equal, but now I suspect it was constrained." Half of the members of the Freedom League were gathered in a storeroom, which had been turned into a hasty menagerie. Daedalus looked at the monkey, which was sitting on Star Knight's shoulder. Daedalus looked at the monkey, which was sitting on Star Knight's shoulder. "She likes you." They had discovered the monkey was female.

"And at least she's not flinging people across the station," muttered Bowman. That was, in fact, why they had the let the monkey out of her crate.

"But she can't be my pet," said Star Knight.

"For that she'd have to be a space monkey," said Johnny.

"Chase Atom-- Never mind," said Captain Thunder. "By 'constrained,' do you mean, 'he used what was available'?"

Daedalus said, "I would not put it that way, but...yes."

"Which implies some kind of threat, working under restricted resources."

Daedalus nodded. Star Knight said, "I'm confused."

Johnny said, "It's their way. There will be an answer soon."

The monkey scampered off Star Knight's shoulder and ran out of the room.

"Stop--" started Captain Thunder and then he said a word that he had picked up in his time in the military. He put his palm to his forehead. "Johnny?"

"Sure. Pseudo, another ape might be useful if she goes invisible again."

Pseudo nodded and as a gorilla he lumbered out of the room.

* * *

They found her in the transporter room, playing with the console settings.

Johnny said something rude, just as the monkey looked at him and sent him flying.

Pseudo grunted at him. The monkey saluted--

--just as Dr. Simian, the Maestro, and Dr. Stratos flickered into existence on the teleporter platform. Johnny started to move, only to discover his feet were not touching the ground. Before he could react to that, a sonic blast from the Maestro's sonic baton felled him.

The monkey vanished from sight. Pseudo charged Dr. Simian, hoping to overpower him. Simian swept one arm out from under Pseudo, followed by Simian embracing Pseudo with his arms and legs. "Don't try changing into a snake," Dr. Simian advised. "That never works."

Pseudo grew to the size of an elephant, but Dr. Simian still held on, then struck Pseudo once at the base of the skull. The Grue collapsed and lay still. "Excellent. I've been developing a form of martial arts for animals, but with the undifferentiated form of the Grue, I didn't know if the nerve jabs would work. Interesting to note that as an elephant, he had an elephant's weaknesses." He shook his head. "Indian elephant. African would have been better." He hooted softly and a series of dents ran up his arm. The monkey appeared on his shoulder.

"I could have done it with my mighty winds," said Dr. Stratos.

"Yes, of course," said Dr. Simian. "We're all quite afraid of your mighty winds, Stratos."

"No bickering until after the job is done," said the Maestro. "Dr. Simian?"

The great ape flexed his fingers and began hacking into the computer system.

* * *

Captain Thunder said, "They're taking a long time."

"I'll bet the monkey is leading them on a long chase," said Nancy.

"Still," said Star Knight. "It's probably nothing, but I'll go to suit systems." She activated her suit's life support. Now she was breathing her suit's air, not the Lighthouse's air, listening and seeing through the suit's sensors instead of being open to them.

"That is protocol," agreed Daedalus. "But--"

"Nancy!" She had fallen to the floor. Captain Thunder crossed the space between them.

Daedalus bent down. "Tachycardia, irregular breathing--the medibed has a scanner--" In seconds, he was unconscious and so was Captain Thunder.

"A hull breach or an attack," thought Star Knight. She got Daedalus' helmet on him and felt the safety seals engage. Captain Thunder and Nancy got emergency oxygen. She readied herself if it were an attack.

The doors slid open--

--and a ferocious blast of air swept in, knocking her off her feet. She slammed against the bulkhead and reflexively switched to flight mode. Her suit began analyzing the forces against her: powerful winds, subsonics, and three individuals--Dr. Stratos, Dr. Simian, and the Maestro.

Dr. Simian pinned her in his massive ar. The Maestro looked at her armor for a long time and then said, "Ah. That subscription to HeroWorx paid off. Here and here are the emergency removal tabs." He undid the helmet, and then pressed the wand against her head. "Goodnight, my dear." Once she was unconscious, he said, "Thank goodness she's human. I don't know if my subsonics would work on a random alien species."

"I would be able to deal with her," Dr. Stratos proclaimed. Dr. Simian rolled his eyes as he let Star Knight to the floor.

Maestro said, "We're not done yet."

* * *

Once the villains had left the room, Pseudo opened his eyes. He was outnumbered but not badly so. All he had to do was free the others, and the internecine bickering in the Crime League should help him accomplish that.

He shifted forms to become a small capuchin monkey. Better to cover ground unobtrusively, and looking like the loose monkey would let him do that.

* * *

Nancy Gardener awoke just as the Maestro was finishing the last of her knots. She realized she knew the knot from her abortive attempt to learn the violin several decades ago, just before Ray Junior was born. She opened her mouth to call for Ray, and if he didn't show up, to yell at the villains, when Maestro grabbed her jaw. His hands smelled of vanilla.

"Don't sing," he murmured. "Don't sing, and I don't have to gag you. Leaving your mouth free is a politeness, not a right."

She might have to call one of the League later. She closed her mouth and nodded mutely.

He smiled. "Just think of it as a full rest."

The members of the League were here and already awake, but in the power-sapping restraints they used for prisoners. Who was still absent? Lady Liberty, Bowman, Raven, Siren, and Dr. Metropolis. Siren and Metropolis rarely came to the lighthouse, Lady Liberty was on vacation, Raven was out of touch. So they could expect no help there. Maybe Bowman would have a reason--

The talkscreen buzzed. "Pseudo's gone," said Dr. Stratos.

Dr. Simian grunted and said to Maestro, "He was faking. I knew the coincidence in weak spots was too good to be true."

Dr. Stratos said, "I will search for him."

"You do that," said Dr. Simian. He made sure to switch off the talkscreen before saying, "Buffoon."

"He'll be captured," said Maestro.

"Maybe," said Dr. Simian. "In the meantime, we seal off this room so Pseudo doesn't get in as a gnat or something."

"I don't believe he can manage smaller than a mouse."

"We seal it anyway. There are air ducts, but it is a space station, so we should be able to do individual rooms-- Ah. Here." He flipped some switches. "Always a duel between ease of use and security through obfuscation."

* * *

In their position, thought Pseudo, I'd seal off the room, air and all. So no entrance from outside for this shapechanger. But to humans, one gorilla looks like another, though they're as distinctive as humans are. He shimmered until he looked like Dr. Simian, complete with the bodysuit that the gorilla wore.

* * *

"Ah," said Dr. Simian. "He's changed to look like me. I'll tell Stratos over the talkscreen."

"I'll tell him," said Maestro. "You keep working. The quicker we're done, the better."

"If he's captured," mused Dr. Simian, "would we really be that much worse off?"

"You don't abandon the kettle drums because they're only in the overture. All instruments have a part to play. For that matter, we'll be rescuing your superpowered pets."

Dr. Simian paused to stroke the monkey's head. "Pity I haven't figured out how to make them keep the powers. A super monkey could be quite useful."

* * *

Pseudo heard the Maestro speak to Dr. Stratos on the talkscreen, then heard him identify each of Pseudo's subsequent shapes. Did that mean Stratos was close?

The corridor filled with fog. Yes, Stratos was close. Pseudo couldn't see, so he switched to a bat. Echolocation told him there was something man-shaped two dozen feet in front of him. Winds buffeted him against a bulkhead--as a lizard, he held tight. Rain fell: panels sparked as they shorted and went dead. The Maestro's voice--the talkscreen--went silent.

He scampered across the floor, his sticky feet gripping the tiles, when a lucky burst of wind carried him into the air, into the opposite wall, into unconsciousness.

* * *

Nancy Gardener saw them bring in Pseudo. She watched them fasten him in power-nullifying restraints. She knew now there was no one coming to rescue them. Captain Thunder--Ray--looked at her and smiled. She smiled back too, weakly. They had always gotten out of jams like this before. Maybe this was the one they wouldn't.

Then she had an idea. She was the least-tied of them all, perhaps because the villains regarded her as the least threat.

She stood, suddenly, the chair strapped to her behind, and knocked free the birdcage with the canary. Free, the bird zoomed around the room. The monkey vanished and things toppled over as she tried to move them. The three villains moved together, backs to each other for protection.

"Simian! They're yours! Do something!" said Dr. Stratos.

Dr. Simian hooted, but it didn't seem to calm the animals.

Captain Thunder nodded, looked past her and said, "Come, boy! Come on!"

A long string of tan and brown extended across to him, past Dr. Simian's bulky body. Nancy understood. She called, "Come, boy! Come here!"

No sooner had the puppy arrived there than Star Knight called, and then Daedalus. Soon all three villains were wrapped in dog. Without their interference, Nancy could wriggle over and free Daedalus, the closest to her, and he unleashed the rest.

There was no fight; Ray knocked Dr. Stratos unconscious and the other two gave in quietly.

* * *

"Raven was where?"

"In the mind control of a cat," said Dr. Metropolis. "Fortunately I found her after only a few days had passed, so she wasn't too famished."

"Yes, but it didn't co-operate like the rest. It just had humans bring it food." He looked at them. "You managed as it was?"

"Like the dollar bill says," said Johnny.

"I'm going to regret this. What does it say?" asked Nancy.

"In dog we trussed."
Stories: Occult Investigation, Freedom City, Listening to the Universe
Not sick now, the tumour is out--thanks for wondering!

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