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Max_Writer

Superworld: Investigation and Fire Part 2

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The man who came out of one of the shelters looked like a Neanderthal. He was of very thick build with shorter limbs and a barrel-shaped chest. He had a reduced chin, a large, thick nose, and a thick-looking forehead. The man had long hair and a rough beard and mustache that was growing wild. He wore jeans, a plaid shirt, and a blue-jean jacket. His eyes were dark and empty.

“Hey! There he is,” Edward said.

The man crouched down and grunted at them like an ape.

“Jesus Christ!” Arclight said.

He was very uncomfortable.

“Hey Cornelius,” Edward said.

“He doesn’t talk much,” Jimmy muttered. “At all, actually.”

“I kind of gathered,” Edward said. “So, the same thing happened to him?”

“I think,” Jimmy said. “Found him down here. He was missing for a month before that guy in the alley … that guy …”

“Wait, you were about to say ‘In the alley?’”

“Was it? It might’ve been in an alley. It was behind this, like bar. I was, like, gonna go … I’d gotten some bucks … was gonna go buy a beer … if they let me in. And Cornelius had disappeared a month before and I remember thinking … I missed him, because we were friends. Then I found him down here.”

Cornelius merely grunted. Edward realized he smelled the same strange chemical smell on Cornelius as well.

“So, someone just like picked you guys off the street?” Edward asked.

Jimmy thought about that.

“Yeah,” he finally said. “He shot me with that … vaccination gun … yeah …”

Edward said they should stake out the bar and jump the guy when he approached them.

“He said he was gonna give me super powers,” Jimmy said. “That’s what it was.”

“Oh,” Edward said.

“Does this look like super powers!?!” Jimmy shrieked.

“I mean … you don’t need super powers,” Edward said.

“What?” Jimmy said.

“You don’t need super powers to be super, to do stuff,” Edward said. “I mean, look at me.”

“This is awful!” Jimmy said. “Whatever he did to me was awful! Awful!”

“All you need is a suit to give you powers,” Edward muttered. “A suit.”

Ñaro went down Edward’s arm to his communicator and tapped on it. Edward pressed the button to open the little panel. Absolem’s Riddle started to type out a message.

“You got a rat … on your arm,” Jimmy muttered.

“Yeah, she’s typing something,” Edward said.

“Looks good,” Jimmy muttered. “Can I have it?”

“Sure can’t,” Edward said.

“I’m hungry,” Jimmy said.

“I bet you are,” Edward said.

Cornelius started to grunt.

“I got some Oaties for you back in my place,” Edward said.

“Oaties?” Jimmy said. “What the hell are Oaties?”

“It’s a cereal,” Edward said. “It’s actually pretty good.”

“Oh,” Jimmy said. “Okay … all right …”

“Tell you what, if you can remember where this guy picked you up, I’ll go grab you some Oaties.”

“By a bar.”

“Do you know what specific bar?”

“No. It had a lot of neon. Lots of neon on it.”

“Neon lights bar.”

“It’s called … um … it’s called the …”

“A strip bar?”

“No.”

“That’s what you people call it, right?”

“No. It’s not a strip bar. I can’t afford a strip bar.”

“Oh.”

“It was … it was just a bar. I can’t remember what it was called. The Needle? I can’t remember. It was a year ago.”

“The Needle?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

Cornelius grunted again.

“Hey, they both smell funny!” Doug the Pug said.

Arclight picked up the little dog, rolled him on his back, and scratched his belly. The little dog loved it. His leg started to kick.

“They do smell funny,” Edward said. “They smell like−”

“The same!” Doug said. “Oh, that feels so good!”

“Like there was this−” Edward said.

“I don’t smell funny!” Jimmy said. “You smell funny!”

“Well … okay,” Edward said. “I’ll admit that, but you smell the same, which is odd.”

Absolem’s Riddle had deleted what she had written and started over. She finally pointed to the message. Edward looked at it and then at Jimmy.

“Could you lead us back to the bar?” he asked.

“I’m not going back there!” Jimmy said.

“Could you though?” Edward asked.

“I know where it is!” Jimmy said.

“You know where it is but you don’t know the name of it?”

“I don’t remember! It’s at The Shops at Freedom. There’s some bar.”

“Shops at Freedom Bar.”

“It’s not called that!”

“I mean … that’s what we’re going to call it. It’s the tentative title for this bar we’re talking about.”

“I think we can find it,” Arclight said.

“I think we can find it too,” Edward said. “Tentative - I mean bar at−”

“Tentative Freedom Bar?” Arclight said.

“You could bring me some Oaties anyway!” Jimmy said.

“Yeah, we’ll bring you some Oaties,” Edward said.

“Whatever … they are,” Jimmy said.

“I love Oaties,” Edward said.

They left Freak Town, Arclight taking Doug the Pug with them. Absolem’s Riddle seemed pretty put off by the pug. Edward suggested they investigate the bar. Arclight noted Absolem’s Riddle was not happy about Doug and Edward said that was weird, especially since the dog was so small. He also noted she couldn’t be creeped out by talking animals as he was one.

When they returned to the surface, they were dazzled by the bright sunlight. Absolem’s Riddle hopped off Edward’s shoulder and returned to a more normal size.

“Hey,” Edward said. “There you are.”

“You’re not putting me in the circus, right?” Doug asked Arclight.

“No, no circus,” he replied.

“Is she?” Doug asked.

“No,” Arclight said.

Doug went over to Absolem’s Riddle and started to sniff at her.

“Look at us, Doug,” Edward said. “We’re not in the circus.”

“I’m a superhero,” Arclight told the pug. “You’re gonna be my sidekick.”

“Can I have a cape?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” Arclight said offhandedly.

“At first, it freaked me out, but then he was afraid for Ñaro and Ñaro wanted me to be with him,” Absolem’s Riddle said about Doug.

“Oh,” Edward said. “Okay.”

“So, speaking of which, Doug … wherever you are,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

Doug, still busy sniffing her foot, looked up.

“What?” he said.

“If you touch my sugar glider …” she said, growing very large. “… I will crush you. Got it?”

She shrunk back to her regular size.

“Okay,” Doug said, nonplussed.

“Also, I can teleport you a hundred feet in the air and let you drop,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“No!” Arclight said. “My dog!”

“So, just don’t touch Ñaro, okay?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“WHAT are you talking about?” Doug said. “Send your friend down here. I wanna play with him.”

“He’s not a toy,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“What? Yes he is,” Doug said.

“He’s off limits,” she said.

“Anything smaller than me is a toy,” Doug said. “Those are the rules.”

“Doug, let’s go get you some Oaties,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Doug replied. “What are Oaties?”

“That good stuff we told you about,” Arclight said.

“Oh yeah,” Doug said.

“It’s basically dog food,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Let’s pick up some Oaties on the way,” Arclight said. “Let’s go look for that bar.”

“Dog food is okay,” Doug said.

“It’s sweeter,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Oh, that’s right,” Doug said.

“Right, Edward?” Arclight said.

“Right,” Edward said.

Absolem’s Riddle noted that both Doug and Edward could smell the area as two noses were better than one. Arclight said “Dos Nosados,” thinking it was Spanish for “two noses.” They headed for The Shops at Freedom and found a bar with a lot of neon lights on the outside called the Ultra Lounge. It was early afternoon and it looked like the bar was open. They discussed how to approach the bar with Arclight suggesting they not go in both in the afternoon and then again that evening, so they would not be too obvious. Edward suggested they go to the grassy alley between the bar and a bank called the Carolinas Telco Federal Credit Union.

“Why don’t you just send pug over there?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Doug,” Arclight said.

“Doug, not pug,” Doug said. “I am a pug, but my name is Doug.”

“Use his name,” Arclight said.

She suggested if Doug went over there, he’d just be a dog sniffing around. She told him not to talk to anyone and he noted he liked to talk to people. She said it was a secret mission, though.

“Freedom of speech!” Arclight said.

Doug looked at him.

“Freedom of speech!” he said.

“C’mon, are you really trying to get Doug in trouble and taken away?” Absolem’s Riddle said. “If you talk to somebody, you might get taken away, so just go over there and sniff and come right back.”

“They can’t take him away,” Arclight said. “He’s a superdog.”

“I’m superdog!” Doug said. “I wanna be Superpug!”

“Superpug!” Arclight said.

“Doug the Superpug,” Doug said. “Should I have a secret identity?”

“No, just Doug the Superpug,” Arclight said. “‘Cause you’ll have a cape at all times.”

“But … but villains will try to kidnap my family.”

“You have a family?”

“And they might try to blow up my house.”

“You have a family?”

“Um … you.”

“Ah - don’t worry. My house is already blown up.”

“Oh, okay.”

“For that exact same reason your worried about .”

“What?”

“Why don’t you and Doug go over in the alley and start sniffing that.”

“Okay,” Edward said.

The alley behind the building was mostly grassy though there was a spot near the back door of the Ultra Lounge where a few trashcans stood on concrete. The two smelled the area and found the residual but very old and almost non-existent scent of the strange smell all of the victims seemed to possess, as well as the strange metallic smell like a weird machine had been there.

“Edward, what did you smell?” Arclight called from across the street.

Absolem’s Riddle put her face into her hands.

“I told you guys to be quiet and do this secretly,” she groaned.

“It smells like the weirdoes down there!” Edward called back.

“Really!?!” Arclight yelled.

“Yeah!” Edward called.

Absolem’s Riddle touched Arclight’s arm in an attempt to teleport him to the alley but nothing happened. The man didn’t want to go.

“And something metal!” Edward called. “Don’t know what though!”

She teleported to the alley.

“What do you think, Doug?” Edward said loudly.

She put her hands over his speakers.

“He’s right!” Doug called.

“I’m gonna go get those Oaties really quick!” Arclight called. “While you’re still sniffing!”

“I found a sandwich!” Doug called.

“Don’t eat it!” Arclight called.

He flew off to get some Oaties from his apartment. Absolem’s Riddle noted she liked how they didn’t want to visit the bar twice in one day not to be conspicuous and then screamed across the parking lot.

“Oh yeah,” Doug said. “She’s right.”

“It’s hard to control the volume on this thing sometimes,” Edward said.

“Why didn’t we just send Doug over here?” she asked.

“I’m already over here,” Doug said.

“We did send Doug over here,” Edward said.

“By himself,” she said.

“And … oh,” Edward said.

“Then he was just a dog in an alley versus a walking alligator−” she said.

“Crocodile,” Edward said.

“−and would have been inconspicuous,” she said.

“But super villains would kidnap my family then, if they know who I am,” Doug said.

“Yeah, I needed to protect Doug,” Edward said.

“They won’t kidnap Arclight, okay?” she said.

“I needed to protect Doug,” Edward said. “I’m following orders from our leader.”

Arclight landed with a box of Oaties and poured a little on the grass for Doug.

“He’s not our leader!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“He is,” Edward said.

“No, he’s not,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“He is,” Edward said.

“There is no leader.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is no leader. He’s not in charge. If he is, we’re doomed.”

“Oh, these are crunchy,” Doug said as he munched on the Oaties. “I like crunchy.”

“You can have all of these you want,” Arclight said.

“Don’t give him too many or he’ll get a tummy ache,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“No, he won’t,” Arclight said.

“Aren’t they amazing?” Edward said.

“They’re great!” Doug said. “I love ‘em!”

“Can I have some?” Edward said.

Arclight poured some in Edward’s hand and then on the ground in front of him. Edward just looked at the ones on the ground.

“I’m not a dog,” Edward said.

“Whoa!” Arclight said. “That’s insulting to dogs!”

“No, it’s really not,” Doug said, still eating. “It’s really not.”

“Give me the box,” Edward said.

“You want the whole box?” Arclight said.

Arclight gave the box to Edward and the crocodile ate them. Doug started eating the second pile. Then Doug got sick. He started to lick his puke.

“Stop! Doug!” Absolem’s Riddle yelled.

“What?” Doug said.

She picked him up, using both hands to grip him around the midsection and then holding him away from her body.

“Aw,” he said.

He started to move his front paws as if he was swimming slowly.

“I told you not to make him sick,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “You made him sick.”

“Okay, so I’m back,” Arclight said. “Anything we find out?”

“You made your dog sick,” she said. “You’ve had him for less than two hours.”

Arclight reached over and rubbed Doug’s back. The dog obviously liked it.

“All right, we’re out of Oaties,” Edward said, tossing the box over his shoulder.

“Out of Oaties again,” Arclight said.

Edward picked up the box.

“We don’t want anyone to know we’ve been here,” he said.

“Good idea,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Why don’t you clean up the vomit that’s all over the alley, now?”

“Why’d you stop the dog that was?” Edward said.

“‘Cause he would have thrown it up again,” she said. “Have you no sensibilities as to how dogs are?”

“Yeah, she’s right,” Doug admitted. “I would’ve.”

“Maybe some rain or something,” Edward said.

“People throw up in alleys all the time,” Arclight said. “Are we coming back here late at night?”

“Let’s go talk about it not here,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I’ve got an idea,” Edward said. “Let’s stay here and talk about it.”

She glared at him.

“Nah,” he said. “Let’s listen to … Solomon’s Key.”

“I have a great idea, I’ll get to my full size and say ‘Hey, come over here you bad guys,’” she said.

“That’s what she did when we were trying to get that one person!” Edward said.

“That’s specific,” she said.

“I can’t remember his name,” Edward said.

“You mean that one time when they were kidnapping our people−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“The Gentleman,” Arclight said.

“−and I just tried to scare them away?” she finished.

“Yeah, the Gentleman!” Edward said.

“That did what I wanted it to,” she said.

“That was not our plan!” Edward said.

“Well, he was going in after the girl,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Trying to court her. And he’s the one who blew the plan in the first place.”

“She was too young,” Arclight admitted. “She was too young.”

“He was still oblivious to me being able to shoot him through a window,” Edward said.

“He was in the way,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I was lining up a shot!” Edward said.

“All right,” Arclight said. “We really shouldn’t be fighting about that.”

He suggested they go back to the apartment and talk it out. Absolem’s Riddle disappeared.

“All right, now that she’s gone, let’s talk about it in the middle of this alleyway,” Edward said.

“C’mon,” Arclight said.

They returned to the apartment, where Absolem’s Riddle waited. Edward threw away the Oaties box and José told him to recycle it. Doug started to sniff around the apartment. Arclight went into the kitchen.

Absolem’s Riddle noted what she’d done that night with the Gentleman had not been done out of spite. Edward said they were being stealthy and Absolem’s Riddle said Wild Spirit had gone in and then Arclight went to the house. Edward told her they’d had a plan to be stealthy and Wild Spirit went in as a cat, which was something they didn’t agree on. Edward thought they should listen to one person’s orders, that way they wouldn’t argue about whose idea something was. She disagreed, saying a person couldn’t just listen to one person’s orders. Edward noted if there was no teamwork, they didn’t have anything else. Absolem’s Riddle agreed but noted that teamwork wasn’t just listening to one person.

Arclight said they didn’t have to listen to him but if his plans failed, he took responsibility for it. Edward pointed out Arclight was the leader. She said she had done something unintentionally with the Gentleman but Edward was going to do something intentional. Edward noted he was just upset because they were doing a stealth mission and he was going to shoot the Gentleman through a window. She said Arclight had been standing in front of that window. Edward said Arclight had gone against his own plan, which was stupid to begin with. Absolem’s Riddle asked why he was upset with her then. Edward pointed out the only people who stuck with the plan were himself and Magic Man. Arclight noted the only reason he’d gone back on the plan was because the girl was hot, but then he found out she was too young.

“You guys know I chase after every lady,” he said.

“Once one person does something, like Wild Spirit got caught, yeah, we could have still kept going, but then he tried to make out with that girl−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Stick to the plan!” Edward said.

“You can’t stick to the plan once the plan’s already been unstuck to,” she said.

“But, the more the plan spreads apart, the more chaos,” Edward said. “If we have more people focused on the plan then, you know, we got one outlier out here−”

“I think what Edward’s saying is that if I screw up and Wild Spirit screws up, that’s two people,” Arclight said. “But then if more people start …”

“If three people are still on the plan then that means better success than more people doing an odd job−” Edward said.

“But what I’m saying is that’s not even the point,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “That was an accident. You were saying ‘I’m mad at you for this thing so I’m not going to do what you’re saying.’”

“I didn’t get to kill him,” Edward said. “That’s why I’m mad.”

“I … don’t care,” she said. “You need to be working with teamwork, like you said yourself.”

“I was,” Edward said. “I was waiting for the plan to come together. I wasn’t the one that broke from the plan.”

“She was hot!” Arclight said in his defense.

“But the thing is, he’s not mad at you,” she said. “He’s not mad at Wild Spirit. He’s mad at me.”

“No, I’m mad at him too,” Edward said.

“You haven’t been mad until this very second until we were in the alley and you said ‘No, I don’t want to do your plan because you screwed up the other plan,’” she said.

“Nah, I just thought it was funny,” Edward said.

“It wasn’t funny,” she said.

“She was hot,” Arclight said again.

“Guys, can’t we all just get along?” Doug said.

“Doug, they’re not usually like this,” Arclight said.

“I don’t know what you see in human females anyway,” Edward said to Arclight.

“They smell nice,” Doug said.

“Doug’s got it,” Arclight said.

“All right,” Edward said.

“But their faces are really flat,” Doug said.

“Yeah, right?” Edward said.

“Says Doug the Pug,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Hey!” Doug said. “My face isn’t as flat as your face!”

“Are you sure?” she said.

“I promise every plan that I come up with will be fully successful,” Arclight said. “Unless there’s a hot villainess. Then I just won’t be able to control myself. If there’s a hot villainess …”

“We’re screwed,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“What’s the plan, Leader,” Edward said to Arclight.

“Please stop calling me leader,” Arclight said.

“Well, it doesn’t matter what I want to do,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Edward won’t listen to it because he’s in charge.”

“You’re the one that calls the team ‘Arclight and Friends,’” Edward said to Arclight.

“That doesn’t mean he’s right!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I’ll follow whoever wants to be the leader,” Edward said.

“I said something that wasn’t a suggestion that we do and you said no!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “So, you try to tell me you’ll do what anyone suggests.”

“I was still upset,” Edward said.

“It was not even an issue at that point!” she said.

“It was in my head, it was,” Edward said.

“When I said ‘Hey, let’s just send Doug over there because he’s a dog and he can go in disguise instead of a crocodile walking in the alley−?” she said.

“He told me to go,” Edward said, pointing at Arclight.

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “I told him to go.”

“I listen to him,” Edward said.

“But you just said you listen to anyone who has−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“He’s the leader!” Edward said.

“He’s not the ****ing …!” she said.

Then she vanished.

“Arclight and Friends!” Edward said.

“Wow, she’s angry at you guys,” Doug said. “I don’t think she likes me either.”

“It’s okay Doug,” Arclight said.

“I think it’s just the squirrel on her shoulder doesn’t like you,” Edward said.

“Maybe,” Doug said. “Maybe you should be nicer to her.”

“You’re fine,” Edward said.

“We could page her I guess,” Arclight said.

“Yes, leader, let’s do this,” Edward said.

“You page her,” Arclight said.

“Why?”

“You said you do what the leader says.”

Edward looked at him and then opened his communicator and set it for Absolem’s Riddle’s pager.

“Come back, we need to discuss a plan,” he typed in. “Please.”

“Who’s the leader?” was the response from the woman.

“Arclight.”

“No.”

“She doesn’t want to acknowledge you as the leader,” Edward said to Arclight.

“I think at this point I am the leader,” Arclight said.

Edward typed in “He’s the strongest of all of us.”

“No, he’s not!” she texted back.

“He has the ties to the police that we need,” his next text read. “He’s a FORCE member. He’s got all of the resources we need plus he can do crap.”

“I’m the strongest,” she texted back.

“Okay, that’s debatable,” Edward texted her. “I admit that you’re strong but you don’t have the resources that Arclight does and we need the resources.”

“Who’s the leader?” she sent back.”

“Arclight is the leader,” he texted.

“No,” she sent back. “Wrong. We are all equals therefore we should all be treated as equals. You can’t just blindly follow one person. It has to be a debate otherwise this isn’t going to work because some people don’t have the best ideas sometimes and it can be stupid and mainly the thing here is we need to have respect and not have petty anger over something that happened a while ago that was not on purpose. Cause otherwise, I can’t work with you if you’re going to be petty and angry and just not listen to something that’s a good idea because you’re upset about something in the past.”

That’s a long text, Edward thought when he got it.

“Come back so we can discuss this,” Edward sent another text. “We need to come up with a plan.”

“I need to get a smoothie,” she texted back.

“How long is that going to take?” Edward texted. “You can teleport, so it shouldn’t take too long, right?”

There was no reply but Absolem’s Riddle appeared with a hiss and a little outrushing of air in the apartment a few minutes later, smoothie in hand.

“All right, there she is,” Edward said. “Let’s come up with a plan.”

“Okay, all right, so, before we come up with this plan,” Arclight said. “The reason why I am the leader is because I’m the face of the team.”

Ñaro flew over to Arclight and started to shush him.

“I’ve exposed myself,” Arclight said.

“Honestly, he’s just the one who’s most successful to be the leader,” Edward said. “I understand you’re stronger, I understand I might be smarter−”

“The thing is−” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“The Hulk’s not the leader of the Avengers,” Arclight said.

“There is no leader in the Avengers, is there?” Absolem’s Riddle asked.

“Captain America makes the decisions,” Edward said.

“Exactly,” Arclight said. “There’s just a guy that talks and others listen.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s a blind following,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“The Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord is the leader,” Edward said.

“And he’s the worst one,” Arclight pointed out.

“And he makes bad decisions all the time,” Edward said.

He had read lots of comic books owned by one of the homeless named Comic Book Joe.

“I don’t even care about him being the leader or not,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “What got me upset is because you were calling him the leader because you were mad at me and you wouldn’t do this one thing that I suggested. That’s where I have a problem.”

“Is that true, Edward?” Arclight asked.

“Huh?” Edward said.

“Is that true? Arclight said again. “Were you doing it to spite her?”

“I really wanted to kill that guy,” Edward said. “I had a shot lined up through the window.”

“You had it,” Arclight said. “It was your moment. But … we are Arclight and Friends.”

“I do not consent to that title,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Unfortunately, it’s all over the news,” Arclight said. “But I think we are a team. I don’t always have the best idea. But I always make sure that we have a plan, that we’re doing something. Because I feel like we should.”

“I feel like he’s the best candidate,” Edward said.

“I don’t even care that he’s the leader!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I care that you were like ‘No, **** you.’ That’s what I was upset about!”

“That was just a moment of …” Edward said.

“A very long moment,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“A moment of repressed …” Edward said.

“Passive aggressiveness?” Doug said.

“Passive Aggressiveness,” Edward said.

“It was not passive,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “It was not passive at all, Doug.”

“Fine,” Edward said. “Aggressive aggressiveness.”

“Okay, so are we good?” Arclight asked. “Are we good as a team now?”

“I mean, just as long as we’re not blatantly disregarding something someone says,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that anymore,” Edward said.

“That’s what I was upset about more than anything,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

Then Absolem’s Riddle challenged Arclight to an arm wrestling contest. He was not interested.

“Despite Wild Spirit messing up and me messing up, he still blames you for not getting the shot off,” Arclight said. “Because, ultimately, Wild Spirit messed up and I messed up, but he still had the shot up until that point.”

“But killing isn’t exactly okay,” she said.

“Naw, I don’t agree with killing either,” Arclight said.

“So says the leader,” Absolem’s Riddle said sarcastically. “See, the leader doesn’t think that killing’s okay. So is it with you?”

“What about cows?” Doug said.

“Cows taste good,” Arclight said.

“Yeah, but you gotta kill ‘em first,” Doug said.

“What?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“I heard there’s a cow you don’t have to kill,” Doug said. “He just dumps meat off. Then he stays alive.”

“Huh,” Arclight said.

“Yeah, somebody told me about that,” Doug said.

“That sounds awesome,” Edward said.

Doug noted that it was in a book someone read or something. But Doug said that made it true, right? All books and TV and movies were true. Arclight agreed with him all books were true. Absolem’s Riddle said the pug should watch the movie Men in Black as there was a pug like him in it, who talked. Doug said it should have been his part.

“Course, I’m only two years old,” Doug said. “When was it made?”

She told him it had been made a long time ago: 10 years ago.

“That’s a long time,” Doug said. “That’s a dog’s lifetime.”

Arclight poured some more Oaties on the ground.

“Don’t make him sick again!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“He likes Oaties,” Arclight said.

“Do you want him to get sick?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you like getting sick?” she asked Doug.

“Eh,” Doug said with a shrug.

“Hey, don’t get sick on the floor, man,” José said.

“José, this is Doug the talking dog,” Arclight said. “He might be here a few times.”

“Is he with the Men in Black, man?” José asked.

“No, he’s with me,” Arclight said.

“‘Cause in the movie he was,” José went on. The man looked at Doug. “Are you with the men in black?”

Doug shook his head.

They discussed their next plan and Arclight said Edward would go into the bar as one of the sewer people, dressed up in rags, and they would set a trap for the man in black. Absolem’s Riddle noted one of them could also do it. Edward suggested he could pretend to be one of the people from Freak Town but she said none of them had ever been taken. Arclight didn’t want to be seen as he was too good-looking to pass as a homeless person. He said he’d be on top of the building next door to watch. Either both of them could dress as homeless people or just one of them could. Edward noted he could not miss a close range shot. The other two asked him not to shoot anyone.

“In the knee,” Edward said. “That won’t kill ‘em.”

“What!?!” Arclight said.

“They can’t run,” Edward said.

“That’d be … that’d really hurt ‘em,” Arclight said. “I don’t think we need to shoot anyone. You should take ‘em down without lethal force.”

“Okay, we could break their knee,” Edward said.

“Yeah, shooting their knee isn’t lethal,” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I’m okay with that. I mean, look at what they’ve done.”

“Could I tackle them?” Edward said.

“But we need to make sure …” Arclight said.

“How do we plan to catch ‘em though, if I can’t shoot them or break their legs?” Edward asked.

“I can get down on them fast enough,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Edward said.

Absolem’s Riddle suggested a large net while Arclight pointed out to Edward they had to make sure it was the man in black and not just someone trying to bum a cigarette off him or something. Edward told him he’d wait for them to say “Do you wish you had superpowers?” or something like that. Then he would signal Arclight by having a text ready on his communicator. They asked what Absolem’s Riddle was going to do, Edward suggesting she be small on his shoulder and, when they jumped him, she would leap out and get huge. She thought they needed something to quickly detain the people and take their weapons.

“Do you know what is a great, sudden thing to keep people from moving?” Edward asked.

“A stun gun?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Taser?” Arclight said.

“Immense pain,” Edward said. “Lots of pain. Such as shooting them in the knee.”

“Okay,” Arclight said.

“They’ll be in shock so they won’t act,” Edward said.

“Unless they have super powers,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“You’re making my knees hurt just talking about it,” Arclight said.

“It doesn’t hurt them that much, because they have protections,” Absolem’s Riddle went on.

“They could have protections,” Edward said.

“That’s why we just jump ‘em,” Arclight said. “We don’t shoot ‘em. We don’t know what they have. I don’t wanna waste a bullet.”

“My gun doesn’t use bullets,” Edward said.

“Uh, I don’t want to waste whatever it shoots,” Arclight said.

He suggested that Absolem’s Riddle be on Edward’s shoulder as back-up. They talked of where people would be and how they would get to Edward. He also wanted to know what they would do to detain the person. Arclight suggested they needed to interrogate the man so putting him in immense pain might not be the best idea. Edward noted they could use pain during the interrogation. That way he’d know they meant business.

“Can I break a foot?” Edward said.

“No … no … no …” Arclight replied. “Not yet.”

“Okay,” Edward said.

“Not yet,” Arclight said again.

“Okay,” Edward replied.

They decided when Edward sent the message, they would all tackle the man. Edward asked if he could grip the man with his jaws and Arclight was not against that so long as he didn’t hurt him really badly. They decided to wait until after dark before they headed over to the shops at Freedom. Arclight suggested Edward pretend he was smoking and they realized the crocodile would have to have some money. They talked about giving him a credit card but Arclight didn’t have one.

They talked about Edward smelling like alcohol. Arclight suggested he pour the alcohol on him, Absolem’s Riddle saying he could order a shot of whiskey and then dab it on himself. Edward said he didn’t want to be inebriated. Arclight noted he would get the rest of the money out of his checking account to help Edward pay for his drinks and such. He asked the crocodile if he would help him get food for Granny Witch for the love potion.

“How much food are we talking?” Edward asked.

“Uh … as much as you can carry,” Arclight said.

“I mean, I’ve got two arms,” Edward said.

Absolem’s Riddle got a rock from outside and tried to teleport it to Granny Witch’s hut. When nothing happened, she figured it was out of her 200 meter range.

They went to the grocery store and Arclight spent about $100 on various groceries. Then the two returned to the sewers and from there to Freak Town. They found Granny Witch’s hut and brought in the groceries. She looked through the bags, very pleased. At least they thought she did. It was kind of hard to tell as she had no face.

She handed Arclight a little bottle about the size of a Coke bottle. It was full of some kind of glowing liquid.

“How much do they have to drink?” Arclight asked.

“Half the bottle,” Granny Witch told him.

“So, I get two tries?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“All right,” he said.

“Sounds good,” Edward said to him. “Don’t use it on me.”

“Mix it with something that the lady is drinking,” Granny Witch told him. “She should fall in love with you unless she has very, very strong will.”

“What if I tell her it’s a love potion, too?” Arclight asked. “Does it still work if she knows?”

“It should,” Granny Witch said. “But it might put her a little off if you tell her you’re giving her a love potion.”

“Well, I’m not trying to rufi her,” Arclight said.

“She’ll be in her right mind,” Granny Witch said.

“Thanks Granny Witch, I guess,” Arclight said.

They returned to Arclight’s apartment and he put the love potion into the refrigerator.

“Don’t drink this,” he told José.

“What the hell is that?” José asked. “Why is it glowing?”

“Just don’t drink it,” Arclight said. “It’ll kill you.”

José gave him a look.

“Yeah,” Arclight said. “I have to study it. So don’t drink it.”

José got a gallon plastic bag and put the bottle into it. Then he wrote on the bag in pen “Do Not Drink. Poison. Why did you put this in here Arclight?”

“Eh,” Arclight said. “I just needed somewhere to put it.”

“The fridge?” José said. “Does it need refrigerating, man?”

“I think, yeah,” Arclight said. “Or it’ll explode.”

José was not pleased to hear that.

“Can you watch Doug tonight?” Arclight asked.

“Yeah,” José said. “Doug’s cool. Doug! Are you housebroken?”

“Yeah!” Doug said. “Of course I am!”

He turned to Edward.

“What’s housebroken?” he whispered.

“Also if you could find a little cape to put on him too, that would be cool,” Arclight said. “He’s Doug the superpug. He’s my sidekick.”

José said he’d look online for one. He noted a lot of pug owners dressed up their dogs for some reason. He said his mom had a pug and she was always dressing it up. Arclight asked if his mother’s dog was a girl but he said the dog was a boy.

“Sorry Doug,” Arclight said.

“Hey, you don’t know,” Absolem’s Riddle told him.

* * *

That evening, they returned to The Shops at Freedom. Absolem’s Riddle sent Ñaro outside to keep a lookout and Arclight took up a position on the roof of Carolinas Telco Federal Credit Union next door, lying there to stay out of sight. Meanwhile, Edward wrapped a blanket around himself, Absolem’s riddle shrunken to miniscule size on his shoulder, also under the blanket. Arclight had given the crocodile $50.

The exterior of the Ultra Lounge was awash with neon lights of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The interior was dim, with small lights on each table or in each booth. The place looked like it had seen better days and seemed to be a seedy little dive. Edward could smell fried food and little else in the place. It looked like all of the food was probably processed and deep-fried. In fact, that seemed to be the only kind of food the place served. The prices on the food and drinks looked very cheap though.

Only a few other people were in the bar on that Sunday night.

He took his place at a table off to one side and the waitress brought him a menu and looked at him strangely. She was an older lady, probably in her 40s.

“Can I … can I get you anything to drink?” she asked.

“Uh … yes,” Edward said.

He held the menu up in front of his face.

“What’s a good beer?” he whispered to Absolem’s Riddle.

She didn’t answer.

“Mitch-alobe,” he said, reading from the menu.

“All right,” the waitress said.

She left, soon returning with a glass of ice water and a glass of beer.

“You got money?” she said, looking at the blanket that covered him.

“Yeah,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I have money?”

“All right,” she said. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes to take your order.”

“Actually, I forgot,” Edward said. “I need a shot of Whiss-key.”

“Okay,” she said.

She returned with the whiskey.

“Thanks ma’am,” he said.

“Are you ready to order?” she asked.

He quickly looked at the menu again.

“Ooo - chicken wings,” he said.

“All right,” she said, jotting it down on a pad. “You want fries with that?”

“Um … what are …?”

“French fries? Fried potatoes?”

“Oh, no. No.”

“Just chicken wings.”

“Just chicken wings.”

“You want ranch or honey barbecue sauce on the side? Honey mustard?”

“No, why would I …?”

“Okay.”

She returned in a few minutes with spicy fried chicken wings.

“Oh, it’s cooked,” he said. “Okay.”

He found that the food was very good. As he was eating, Absolem’s Riddle tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the door.

“Mmm,” he said, finishing up the wings. “That’s so good, I gotta leave.”

He headed for the door.

“Hey! Where are you going?” the waitress said to him.

“Paying for food, right?” he said. “Paying you?”

“Okay, I’ll get your check,” she said.

The check was for $12 and he handed her a 20-dollar bill. She left to make change and he headed for the door with the glass of beer and shot of whiskey. Then Absolem’s Riddle tapped him and motioned for him to wet himself with the alcohol.

“I’ll do that later,” he hissed at the woman.

She stomped.

“I’ll do it in the alleyway,” he said. “I’ll do it in the alley.”

She pointed at him again.

“Fine!” he said.

He splashed himself with the whiskey and put the glass down on a nearby table. Absolem’s Riddle shook her head. Edward headed for the door again and the waitress called to him.

“Hey, honey, you can’t leave with that glass,” she said.

“Oh, I can’t?” he said. “Um … why not?”

“Because it belongs here,” she said.

“Can you put it in a to-go cup?” he asked.

“No. We’re not allowed. We ain’t got the right license for that. You have to go through the drive-thru if you want something to go.”

“There’s a drive-thru here?”

“No, not here. A drive-thru.”

“Oh.”

“Wait … what the hell are you?”

“What do you mean what the hell am I?”

Absolem’s Riddle kicked him.

“That’s awfully rude,” he said.

The waitress stared at him.

“Take the glass,” she finally said. “Just take it.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said.

He left the bar and went to the alley. He was noticed by a couple of people in a car as it pulled up and they just watched him walk around the building.

“Is that a ****ing Jawa?” one of them asked.

A single light hung over the back door to the bar on one end of the alley. A few trashcans stood near the door. Edward could make out a dumpster in the parking lot by the building. He sat in the alley and held out the beer so it was obvious he had beer. He acted like he was drinking it but just let it pour down the front of himself. Arclight could clearly see all of it with his supervision. It was crystal clear that Edward was trying very hard to impersonate a drunken person somewhat clumsily. He waited for about 10 minutes and then sent a page to Edward.

“You can’t stay in the alley all night,” it read.

Absolem’s Riddle went to Edward’s communicator and typed in “Dump it.”

“Dump it?” he said.

She pointed to his glass. He poured it on the ground. She typed in “Refill.” He walked back into the bar.

“Um … refill?” he said when he got to the bar.

It was the same waitress.

“Please?” he said.

“That wasn’t all your money was it?” she said.

“Uh … no,” he said.

“All right,” she said.

She took the glass and refilled it with beer.

“That’s a dollar fifty,” she said.

Absolem’s Riddle had clung to Edward’s arm and typed into the communicator: “Change back.” Then she tapped his arm. He looked at the communicator.

“Change back?” he said. “To what?”

She quickly typed “Get change back.”

“Um … another twenty?” Edward said to the waitress.

She took the bill and got change from the register, giving him several bills back along with two quarters.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

He walked back out of the bar and headed for the alley, sitting down again.

“Pretend to drink it,” Absolem’s Riddle typed into his communicator.

“That’s what I was doing!” Edward hissed at her.

He tipped the beer glass and poured some beer down the front of the armor, noting to himself he’d have to wash it later.

Arclight was a little confused and wondered why he had come right back out of the bar. He waited 10 minutes and then paged Edward again.

“Stay in the bar a little bit longer,” he sent.

“Okay,” Edward sent a text back.

“Stay in the bar a little bit longer before you go into the alley,” Arclight sent next.

Edward headed back into the bar and handed the same waitress his glass.

“Here you are, ma’am,” he said.

“Uh … thanks,” the woman said, taking the glass and putting it behind the bar.

“I’ll come back in a little bit for another,” Edward said.

“We’re not supposed to serve people who leave,” she said. “You’re supposed to drink it here.”

“I like the fresh air, though,” he said.

“That’s … we’re not supposed to let them take−” she said.

“It’s really strong-smelling in here.”

“Well … who are you anyway?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s a question.”

“Well, my name’s−”

“It’s an interrogative question because I would like to have an answer.”

“Interrogative question?”

“Yeah, interrogative.”

“Interrogative. That sounds like you’re interrogating me.”

“Well, I used to be an English teacher, but … you want something else?”

Absolem’s Riddle had typed into his communicator “Just go sit.”

“A menu please,” he said.

“You got money, we’ll serve you,” she said.

“May I have a menu please?” he said.

“You want to sit here at the bar or you want a booth?” she asked.

“Maybe a booth this time,” he said.

He went to a booth and found one close to the place where he sat before. The same woman was his waitress and she brought him a glass of water and a menu.

“Thank you,” he said.

Absolem’s Riddle pulled out her shrunken pager and found it seemed to work. She sent a page to Arclight that read “How long do you want him to sit in the bar?” He texted back “At least 15 minutes.”

“Are we waiting for someone to come in here or something?” she sent.

“No, you just need to make it believable that you’re at a bar,” he sent back.

The waitress came back and asked if he wanted to order anything.

“Uh … what’s your favorite thing here?” he asked.

“My favorite thing?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Uh … well … I like the buffalo strips,” she said.

“Buffalo strips?”

“Yes. It’s chicken strips. They’re spicy.”

“Chicken, you say?”

“Yes.”

His beeper went off again and he read it. It was from Absolem’s Riddle and read “Get sliders.” He looked at the menu but didn’t see any sliders. When he asked for sliders, the waitress told him that the kitchen only served fried foods. Another text came from Absolem’s Riddle that read “Corn dogs.”

“Dog,” he said. “Corn dog.”

“We have corn dogs,” the waitress said. “They come with French fries.”

“You guys eat dogs?” Edward said.

“What?” she said.

Absolem’s Riddle quickly texted “No.”

“I don’t get it,” Edward said. “Let’s have a corn dog.”

“All right,” the waitress said.

“Please,” Edward said.

She returned a few minutes later with a plate with a corn dog and French fries. He tried the corn dog and it wasn’t too bad - some kind of pork meat wrapped in cornbread.

Another text came from Absolem’s Riddle. It said “Pass me a small fry when no one’s looking.” He handed her a small French fry and she took it and munched on it. Edward looked around the dim room and saw there were still not many people there. The pager beeped again with “thanks” from Absolem’s Riddle.

“No problem,” he muttered.

He ate and then went back out again after paying $5 for the meal. He didn’t eat the French fries. A page came from Absolem’s Riddle advising he stagger a little bit like he was drunk. He sashayed back to the alley, trying to stagger a little bit. Arclight waited about 20 minutes but nothing happened. Then a page came from Absolem’s Riddle that read: “I think we should try someone that’s more convincingly human. I don’t know if they’re going to go for that because even the people inside are suspicious.” Arclight thought about it for a moment.

“All right,” he texted back. “Find something to wear.”

“Me?” she sent on the pager.

“Yeah,” he texted back.

“No,” she texted. “I don’t wanna.”

“You’re both gonna be in the bar.”

“Right now?”

“You got to get on some raggedy clothes.”

“Right now?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s look through the dumpster,” Edward texted.

“Great idea!” Arclight sent. “Forward-thinking, Edward.”

Edward went to the dumpster and climbed in. He only looked for a few minutes but then found a stained white dress with big red polka dots.

“Ew,” Absolem’s Riddle said when she saw it.

Her pager beeped. Arclight had sent “Do it for the team!”

They talked about where she could put it on. Arclight texted them to go into the bathroom. Absolem’s Riddle said she needed some kind of jacket but she took the shoulder cape that she used with her costume and put it around her head and shoulders. Edward returned to the bar, went into the bathroom, and she put on the dress and then teleported out of the bar. She walked in a moment later, her size changed to about 5’2” tall to fit the terrible dress.

“That dress looked pretty dirty,” Arclight sent a text. “Act like you’re already drunk.”

“Am I supposed to sit with him or by myself?” she sent a page.

“Do not sit with him,” he sent.

“Sit with him, got it,” she replied.

“No.”

“Got it. Sit with him.”

He sent a blank text.

Absolem’s Riddle stumbled into the room and took a seat at a table. A waiter approached her and handed her a menu and put a glass of water on the table. He told her he’d be right back to take her order.

“Thank you sweetie!” she said loudly. “Have you ever heard of sex on the beach?”

He looked at her stained dress.

“Yep,” he said.

He carded her and walked way very quickly and soon returned with her drink, asking if she was ready to order. She ordered the pretzels and cheese and he left quickly.

Edward just smiled when he saw that the same waitress was approaching his table.

“Hey,” he said to her. “How are you doing?”

“Welcome back,” she said, putting down a glass of ice water on the table

“Hi!” he said.

“Why you keep going in and out of here?” she asked.

“Uh … I said I like the fresh air.”

“What do you want? Are you … you stink of beer! It’s like your pouring it all over yourself.”

“Well that’s silly.”

“You would think so. We don’t get many people in here with tails wearing blankets.”

“That doesn’t really seem like a common thing around here.”

“Now why are you here, honey?”

“The food’s good.”

The woman looked closely at him.

“Have you ever had a corndog before?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’ve had one,” she said

“They’re actually not bad,” he said.

“The food is good, but it’s actually not bad,” she said.

“Huh?”

“You just said you’re here because the food is good, but now you say it’s actually not bad.”

“I was expecting it to be weird. Like corn … dog. That’s just a weird name to me. I’ve never heard of corndog before.”

“All right. All right. You want to order something else?”

“Your recommendation was the buffalo wings?”

“Buffalo strips.”

“Let’s try those.”

“All right.”

The waiter brought Absolem’s Riddle her pretzels and cheese and left very quickly. Edward’s waitress brought him the buffalo strips with a side of French fries. He told her she could probably leave them off the next time.

“Are you going to become a regular?” she asked him.

“Maybe,” he said.

She walked away, shaking her head in disbelief.

He ate the buffalo strips and Absolem’s Riddle ate the pretzels and danced to the music being piped into the room.

“So, am I staying here because I’m not human enough?” Edward texted to both of them.

“I guess so,” Arclight texted back. “You just weren’t drawing in the weirdoes, man.”

“Waitress totally knows I’m a crocodile,” Edward texted.

“Jesus Christ! What?” Arclight texted back.

“He smiled at her,” Absolem’s Riddle texted.

“She’s nice,” Edward texted.

“How much have you drank?” Arclight texted.

“Nothing,” Edward texted back. “Just some water.”

“So, I’ve got a lot of money left?” Arclight texted.

Edward quickly counted the money and guessed how much he had left.

“18 and two coins,” he texted.

“That’s expensive water,” Arclight texted back.

“I bought all the drinks,” Edward texted.

“All right,” Arclight texted. “Try the alley.”

“Me?” Edward texted back.

“Her,” Arclight texted.

“I need to pay!” Absolem’s Riddle called.

The waiter came over as she got a text from Edward that said “Get a message ready to send us in case he comes.” The waiter gave her the bill and she paid. She went outside and started to walk one way and then headed back another way, feigning confusion. She eventually wandered into the alley and stumbled down to the end. She looked in the trash cans that were there. Then she pretended to throw up in the trashcan after finding a sandwich.

Jesus Christ, Arclight thought.

She pretended to eat the sandwich she’d found. She moaned and groaned.

“Hey, Edward, you should be watching this,” Arclight texted to the crocodile.

He took some pictures of her on his phone. He sent one to Edward.

Absolem’s Riddle wandered a little in the alley and then slumped down and acted like she had passed out. She had a message ready on her beeper that said “Now.” She was ready to send it.

“Not getting anything,” Arclight texted a short while later.

He watched for a little while.

“How long can you lay there?” he sent to Absolem’s Riddle.

She was able to look at the pager and then groaned and stretched. She didn’t want to respond as she had her message ready. She did look up at Arclight though. At one point, a guy emptied some trash into one of the trash cans.

She waited an hour but no one appeared in the alley. At that point, she pretended to wake up.

“Do you think this is the right bar?” Arclight sent on the pager.

“This is the bar that he told us,” Edward sent.

Absolem’s Riddle pretended to make a phone call on her cell phone.

“Jimmy, I ended up in the same alley,” she said loudly. “Can come get me down the street like before?”

She wandered out of the alley.

“Guess we’ll try another night,” Arclight texted to them.

“Eh,” Edward texted back.

Oh man, I need a shower, Absolem’s Riddle thought.

She teleported up to the roof.

“No luck,” Arclight said.

“This dress is disgusting,” she said.

It was probably about 1 a.m. on Monday morning.

“Do you want to wait in the alley and message us if you see anything?” Arclight texted to Edward.

Edward went into the alley and sniffed as subtly as he could. He could still smell the weird smell that had been on the men in Freak Town and the stain behind Papa Franchetti’s Pizzarios. He could also make out, just barely, the mechanical smell he’d smelled near the stain. He looked for a camera in the alley but there wasn’t one.

Arclight told Absolem’s Riddle he was going to walk back José’s. He texted that to Edward as well. Edward texted he was going to walk around but stay in character. He noted he needed a shower. Absolem’s Riddle texted, in character, they should go back to the sewers. She did so, then teleported home.

* * *

Instead of returning to the sewers, Edward decided to wander Charlotte, as he sometimes did. He kept the stinking blanket over him. By about 2 a.m., he was in the Lockwood neighborhood when he saw black smoke and heard sirens in the distance. He ran toward the smoke and saw that a small apartment building on fire. People stood outside of the smoking and burning building. People on the roof cried for help. Somewhere in the building he could hear a woman screaming.

He looked around and found a nearby fire hydrant. Using his suit’s strength, he was able to open one of the taps, soak the blanket in water, and throw it over himself. He ran past the people outside and into the building. As soon as he got inside, the suit beeped and lightly said “Danger. Danger. Danger.”

As he entered the smoke-filled building, he could hear a woman screaming. It sounded like it was somewhere on the ground floor. As he crossed towards the stairs, he saw a man lying in the lobby towards the front of the building. He quickly grabbed the man, put the wet blanket over him, and carried him out of the building. He got the blanket back and ran back inside.

When he returned to the building, he still heard the woman screaming. He could also hear the sounds of a dog barking above him somewhere and other people crying for help. He ran towards the screaming and found it was coming from one of the apartments towards the back. The door to the apartment was locked so he took the laser rifle from his back and pointed it at the doorknob, blasting it off the door. He kicked the door open and went into the room, which was ablaze.

The screaming was coming from his right somewhere. His force field kicked in and covered him as he moved through the furnace of a room. He ran to the door he thought the cries were coming from. He tried the door, using the blanket to protect his hand, and pushed it open.

The bathroom was very small and an elderly Hispanic woman stood in the bathtub, fully clothed, the water spraying down on her from the shower head. She cried for help again as Edward entered. He pulled the blanket off and threw it into the filling tub, getting it soaking wet.

“Put that on!” he said to the woman. “We’re gonna get you through a window!”

“Okay!” she said. “Okay.”

The woman lifted up the blanket as best she could and covered herself with it. Edward carefully picked her up and took her through the burning room to the window of a small office-area. He unlatched the window there and threw the window open, pushing the screen off. He handed her out the window so she would land on her feet and then he climbed out as well.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

She showed him her arm, which appeared to have been pretty badly burned from the heat of the room. He thought she would be okay. He got the blanket from the woman as a few other people ran over. One of them pointed at Edward.

“What is that?” he shouted.

“Take care of her,” Edward said.

The men and women nodded.

The dog was still barking upstairs and someone up there called for help. A little girl was also crying for help but it sounded like it was coming from the back of the building outside. He realized he was in over his head and was about to open his communicator to call for help when Arclight flew down out of the sky.

“I thought you were in danger,” Arclight said.

He had gotten a page that read: “Edward is in Danger.” It was followed up with an address. He used his GPS to figure out where the address was and flew to the apartment.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle had appeared in front of the apartment building and noticed Edward and Arclight. She had also received the page. As they both seemed okay, she ran into the front of the burning building.

“I’m going in!” she yelled.

* * *

“I thought you were in trouble man,” Arclight said. “What the hell’s going on?”

“What?” Edward said as he put the wet blanket about himself once again.

“Why’s the building on fire?” Arclight asked. “What the hell?”

“I don’t know,” Edward said. “I saw the fire.”

“What started it?” Arclight asked.

“I don’t know!” Edward said.

“Are there people still inside?” Arclight asked.

“Yeah, there’s people inside,” Edward said.

“What?” Arclight said.

He flew up. Edward ran around to the front of the building.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle started to smash open apartment doors with her great strength, calling to anyone who might be in the building.

* * *

“Yeah, a lady just ran in there!” someone yelled at Edward as he stopped in front of the building.

The fire trucks were not yet there but the sirens were getting closer. Edward guessed it would be a minute, maybe two, before they arrived. He ran inside and found Absolem’s Riddle coming out of an apartment and running to another door and smashing it down, running into the apartment.

He ran up the steps to the second floor. A dog was barking towards the back of the building and there was a popping noise coming from somewhere as well. It sounded familiar, like he’d heard it before, but he wasn’t sure exactly what it was. Then he heard breaking glass.

He went to the door of the apartment where he thought he heard the popping noises coming from and, when he touched it, he found it very hot.

* * *

Arclight flew up to the second floor and smashed through the first window he came across, crashing into the room. A dog was barking in the room beyond and a smoke filled the room. He started coughing and his eyes started watering.

An elderly black gentleman was lying on the floor in the main room. A pit bull stood over the man and, when he saw Arclight, started growling at the man menacingly. He seemed to be standing over the man as if he was protecting him.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle ran up to the third floor, passing Edward on the second.

“I’m going up!” she said to him.

She heard people calling for help and ran to the apartment where the voices seemed to be coming from. The room was filled with flames.

* * *

“Hey there pupperino,” Arclight called to the dog.

It growled at him. He activated the shield on his arm and moved towards the man. The dog leapt at him and gripped the other arm, trying to bite the man. The leather on his arm completely protected him however. The pit bull had not gotten a good grip on him and he tried to grab the dog without luck.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle ran into the fire- and smoke-filled apartment. The living room was ablaze and the yelling seemed to be coming from the kitchenette. She found a door at the back of the small kitchen and grabbed the doorknob, pulling on it as she feared it was a small room beyond. With her strength, she ripped the doorknob right off the door. She pushed the door and it didn’t move very easily.

“Let me in!” she called, peeking through the hole she’d made in the door.

A family of four were clustered in the back of the small laundry room. She pushed open the door though and there was a little resistance. A wet towel was behind the door, probably put there to keep the smoke out. Absolem’s riddle shrunk slightly and then touched both of the children. All three of them disappeared as she teleported them out of the room and to the sidewalk in front of the building. She appeared back in the laundry room and teleported the parents out after that.

* * *

Arclight held out his left arm for the dog, which leapt and bit him solidly, holding on like he’d never let go.

Good, Arclight thought.

The dog was latched onto him but didn’t harm him. He grabbed the unconscious man with his right arm and flew out the window with both. He landed on the street below the apartment, amidst the people helping the little old woman away.

“Got another one!” Arclight said.

“It’s Gerald!” someone said.

The people tried to help Arclight get the dog off Arclight.

“Calm down Billie!” someone said to the dog.

* * *

Edward finally used the blanket to grip the doorknob of the apartment he stood in front of. It hissed with the heat of the doorknob. He found the door was not locked and shoved it open. A blast of flame blasted him. The entire room was engulfed in flames and he rushed in. The popping noises came from the kitchenette to the right, specifically from the cabinets. He suddenly remembered where he’d heard the noise before. He guessed there were canned goods in the cabinets actually boiling inside the cans and exploding them.

He saw no one in the apartment so he ran out and headed across the hall. The door was hot but not blistering. He flung it open and found that though there was some smoke and flames, no one was in the apartment. He ran to another closed door on that floor and found it warm but not terribly hot. It was locked and so he blasted the door near the door knob and blow it off the door. That apartment was empty as well.

The last door led to a room filled with smoke. There was a lot of broken glass near one of the windows but no one was in the room. He ran out and headed up the steps.

* * *

Arclight and the people on the ground were still trying to get the pit bull to let loose of the hero.

“Help us, Arclight!” someone called from the roof. “Help us!”

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle smashed open the door to the other back apartment on the third floor. Inside the smoke-filled room, she saw a man sitting in a chair in the living area. He had a semi-automatic pistol in his hand.

“No!” she called. “I’ll save you!”

“Leave me alone!” he screamed at her.

She ran into the room and he shot her. The bullet bounced off her tough skin and he fired again as she rushed him, the second bullet also bouncing off her. As she got close, he put the gun to his head. She slapped the gun away with everything she had, knocking it out of his hand.

“No!” he screamed. “No! I wanna die!

She started to struggle with the man, trying to subdue him.

“Is there anyone else in here?” she yelled at him.

“Leave me alone!” he screamed. “Leave me alone!”

* * *

Edward headed up to the third floor and heard two gunshots. The smoke wasn’t as thick. He could see that two of the doors hung open and yelling and sounds of a struggle came from one of the open apartments. He ran towards the room with the screaming and found Absolem’s Riddle struggling with a man.

* * *

The people helping Arclight finally got the pit bull off him. He heard gunshots from above and flew straight up to the roof. There were six people there, a mix of men and women. They continued to cry for help. Some of them seemed calm while others were screaming. Two people pushed the others out of the way and rushed to Arclight.

“Save me!” one screamed.

He grabbed both of them solidly in his steel grip. He carried them to the edge of the building and leapt off. Both of them screamed but he landed very softly on the ground and deposited them there. He flew back up and found that the next two were very calm. He got them in a good grip and they didn’t squirm at all.

“Wheeee!” one of them actually cried as they fell. “I am so high!”

He flew back up to the roof and found two people who were both terrified.

“He’s not coming back!” one of them was saying to the other. “He’s not coming back!”

He grabbed them and leapt off the building. They screamed all the way down. He landed softly and smelled the stink of feces coming from one of them.

* * *

Edward ran across the room and tried to grab the man’s arms. He finally managed to get him pinned.

“Take him out!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “I’m going for more!”

“Teleport him out!” Edward said.

“I can’t,” she said. “He won’t go.”

“Oh, that’s right, he has to be willing,” Edward said.

She thought a moment and then she grabbed the man tightly and ran at the window, turning before she smashed through the glass. She rolled over and managed to land on her feet, cracking the concrete underneath her. She shoved the man away from her and some people there, one of them holding a pit bull, ran over. She vanished, teleporting back into the building.

* * *

Edward ran to another door on the floor and blasted it open. He found a middle-aged woman lying in the bed. He realized that she was not breathing. He picked her up and ran out of the room. He spotted Absolem’s Riddle on the landing.

“She’s not breathing!” Edward said.

“I’ll take her!” Absolem’s Riddle said. “Go to the next one!”

He handed off the woman and she teleported away.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle appeared in front of the building. She put the woman gently on the ground.

“Is there a doctor?” she cried.

She started to administer mouth-to-mouth and CPR to the woman as the bystanders watched.

* * *

Edward blasted the door and searched the last apartment on the third floor. It was empty though filled with smoke. He ran for the fourth floor. He heard breaking glass somewhere. He could hear a baby crying.

Oh crap, he thought.

It was coming from the front of the building. He could also hear what sounded like a child screaming for help.

* * *

Arclight flew up to the fourth floor and smashed through a window. He could hear a baby crying somewhere towards the front of the building and the little girl yelling from the back of the building. In the main room of the apartment, on their knees, apparently praying, was a man, a woman, and a small child who was probably about two years old.

“Dear Lord Jesus, we know you will save us from this fire,” the father intoned.

“I’ll be back,” Arclight said.

“It’s our savior!” the man said, opening his eyes and looking at Arclight. “He’s come to rescue us! God has given us a savior.”

“I’ll be right back,” Arclight said, crashing through the apartment door.

* * *

Edward got to the door of the apartment and shot the knob off. He ran into the room and found the crying baby in a crib in a small room. There was no one else in the apartment. He picked up the baby as Arclight flew into the room.

“You got this one?” Arclight called. “Or you want me to get it?”

“I can take this one,” Edward said. “You get the kid crying in the back!”

“There’s also three people in that back corner!” Arclight said, pointing.

“I’ll come back when I drop the baby off!” Edward said.

They both ran out of the room, Edward running down the steps with the baby.

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle continued to perform mouth-to-mouth and CPR on the woman from the apartment. The people around her had gone deathly quiet as they watched. The sirens were getting closer. She was started to feel fatigued and exhausted from the work but she kept at it.

* * *

Arclight flew to the back apartment and smashed through the door there. A child was off to one side of the room, hanging out a broken window. The room was filled with smoke. She was obviously trying to breathe.

* * *

The woman that Absolem’s Riddle had been working on suddenly coughed and started breathing roughly. The people around gave a rough cheer. People clapped.

“Who are you?” someone called.

“She saved her life!” another said.

“She gave life to the dead!” yet a third called.

She teleported back to the third floor where she’d been. The smoke was thicker than it had been and she sprinted up the stairs, still exhausted from the CPR she’d been performing.

* * *

Arclight dived at the little black girl, flying straight towards her. He grabbed the screaming child, spun around and flew out the window backwards, the broken glass still around the window shattering on his armor. He flew down to the ground and landed lightly there.

* * *

Edward came out of the apartment building as the fire trucks pulled up and firefighters got to work with hoses and other equipment.

“Oh no!” someone cried. “It’s the Wilson’s baby! Is it okay?”

* * *

Absolem’s Riddle found most of the doors on the fourth floor opened or broken down. She found a small family in one room, on their knees, praying.

“Dear Lord Jesus, please deliver us from this fire,” the father intoned.

“Oh my gosh,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“We know that you, in your infinite wisdom, will protect us,” the father prayed.

“Hey, do you want to get out of here?” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Yes!” the father said.

She grabbed the family and shrunk nearly out of sight, teleporting all three of them to the street, where they fell to their knees in prayer again. She saw Edward out there, holding a baby. Then she teleported back to the spot. She searched the apartment where the door was smashed open and another apartment where the doorknob had been blasted off the door. She ran to the last apartment on the fourth floor and searched it, finding no one there either.

She ran up to the roof but no one was there. She heard the hissing of the water spraying out of the hoses below as the firefighters got to work.

* * *

Edward looked around.

“Yo, whose is this?” he said, indicating the baby.

The people there looked at each other.

“That’s the Wilson’s,” someone said. “They work. They’re both at work.”

“They leave their baby alone?” Edward said.

“They can’t afford a babysitter,” someone else said.

“Well there’s a lot of people that live in this apartment,” Edward said. “Get someone to watch him.”

“Well don’t yell at me!” someone said

“Well, you’re taking it!” Edward said.

“Okay, okay,” the man said, taking the baby from Edward. “Damned crocodiles.”

The firefighters kept working on the fire as the heroes tried to settle the crowd down. A middle-aged white man in robes and pajamas walked up to them.

“Yeah, I know what caused this fire!” he said.

“What are you talking about, sir?” Arclight said.

“Faulty wiring!” the man said.

“Faulty wiring?” Arclight said.

“Yeah, that’s right. Owner’s let this place go to rot for years, just ‘cause his tenants ain’t rich.”

“Huh.”

The man seemed filled with righteous indignation.

Edward thought the fire strange, that it seemed to spread very quickly. He wondered about that.

News teams soon arrived at the site to film the blaze and talk to some of the people around.

“There was a little crocodile saved some lives!” one man told one of the news teams.

Arclight also made a statement to the news. Edward had slunk away.

“Me and my team saved these people from the fire,” Arclight told them.

“Who’s on your team?” someone asked.

“That’s Arclight, isn’t it?” another reporter asked. “That’s Arclight? You’re Arclight?”

“Yeah, I’m Arclight,” he said.

“Who was with you?” someone asked.

“I have−” Arclight started to say.

“There was a crocodile man!” someone called.

“Yes, there is a crocodile who will go unnamed, but he was the true savior here today,” Arclight said.

“There was that other lady, too,” someone said.

“Uh … Solomon’s Key?” Arclight said.

“That’s her!” someone called and pointed to Absolem’s Riddle, who was standing behind the crowd. “She saved that lady’s life!”

“Her name’s Abby,” Arclight said.

Several cameras were pointed at Absolem’s Riddle. She just stared at them.

“But, our crocodile friend, he texted us the building was on fire and we got here as soon as we could,” Arclight said. “Saved the day.”

“What’s his name?” one of the newsmen asked. “Is it Crocodileman?”

“It’s …” Arclight said.

“He’s the Cool Crocodile,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“The Cool Crocodile?” someone said.

“And yes, we are Arclight, Absolem’s Riddle, and Cool Crocodile Man,” Absolem’s Riddle said.

“Crocman,” Arclight said.

“Crockpot!” Absolem’s Riddle said.

There was some confusion and they talked a little bit more to the newsmen. One of them photographed Arclight with the little girl he had rescued.

* * *

As the firefighters continued to work on the fire, Absolem’s Riddle found the man who had shot at her. He sat on the curb with his head in his hands. She walked up to him and he looked at her.

“You should have just let me die,” he said.

“And you should stop being a selfish …” she said. “If you want to kill yourself, do it on your own time. And also, don’t kill yourself and go see this guy, he’s my personal therapist, you’ll like him.”

She gave him the card of Dr. Thomas Fitzhugh, who she had used when trying to recover repressed memories about the strange shared dream they all had.

“I can’t afford no therapist,” the man groaned.

“Here’s two hundred dollars,” she said, handing the man several folded bills. “Now, don’t try anything again until you see this guy, okay?”

The man seemed shocked by her generosity.

* * *

On Monday, October 20, 2014, both the television news and the Charlotte Observer carried stories of the fire. According to the news stories, the three heroes Arclight, Solomon’s Key aka Absolem’s Riddle, and Cool Crocman or Cool Crocodile Man (reports varied) had entered the building and rescued several people trapped by the fire. Most of the news teams used Arclight’s quote that the crocodile was the true savior that day. It was also reported that Solmon’s Key aka Absolem’s Riddle had performed CPR on one woman and saved her life. It was reported that Cool Crocman had saved a baby and Arclight had saved an old man and his dog and a child, as well as rescuing people off the roof. The best photo in the Charlotte Observer showed Arclight with the little black girl hugging his leg, the burning building behind them.

* * *

By Wednesday, October 22, 2014, the fire marshal had determined that the fires in the apartment building had been deliberately set in the basement and then spread with unprecedented speed to the rest of the building. The case was handed over to the police as an arson investigation.

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