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Max_Writer

Superworld: Pursuit from Down Under

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Monday, January 18, 2016

(After playing the original Superworld scenario “Pursuit from Down Under” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Joey Scott, Aaron Scott, and Hannah Gambino.)

Arclight did several ads for Papa Franchetti of Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios, a small local pizzeria in The Shops at Freedom in Charlotte, North Carolina. The commercials were fairly simple, with Arclight coming into the pizza shop, where they filmed on site, and really wanting some pizza. Papa Franchetti then came out of the kitchen to encourage Arclight to have pizza. At first, Papa Franchetti tried it with an Italian accent but the director and Arclight both convinced him not to. By the end of the commercial, Arclight ordered a pizza or a calzone. The camera zoomed in on him and he would say “It’s the best!”

The commercials were mostly appearing on local channels but the pay was no not bad. Arclight’s agent was also landing him other commercials in Charlotte and talking to the people at The CW about another appearance on Arrow.

He had gotten his own apartment with Doug and was finally able to move out of Vanguard’s place. He had picked a rather highly-priced apartment in one of the downtown skyscrapers. The VUE at 215 N. Pine Street was upscale and very nice and he got an apartment on the 31st floor. He’d found a nice, though expensive, two bedroom apartment with a balcony. It was fully though spartanly furnished. Doug the Pug loved it.

* * *

Tinker had returned home and improved the tiny jamming field to keep the Grays from picking up on the anti-matter pistol, as he called it. He had put an ad out in the paper for “Tinker’s Fix-It: If it’s broken and electronic, I’ll fix it.” He got a lot of people with appliances and smaller devices showing up to have things fixed.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, there was a knock at the door and he found a tall, thin man in a suit carrying a metal suitcase.

“I need to talk to you,” the man said. “Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet,” Tinker said.

The man entered the apartment and looked around. He put the suitcase on the couch and opened it. At first, Tinker thought it held a ventriloquist dummy folded over. The man unfolded the small figure and stood it up on the floor and Tinker realized it had more mass than a dummy would.

“I need you to fix this,” the man said.

Tinker looked the automaton over, at first thinking it was an older robot. However, it looked virtually brand new and had a porcelain exterior though the joins were slightly exposed. It was faceless except for two eyelike cameras. The back opened up and there were some very complex circuit boards and computer equipment within.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“My employer … my employer believes that the soul of his son is in this machine and it needs to work,” the man said.

Holy shit, Tinker thought.

“But it has broken down,” the man went on. “The device is 10 years old. Can you fix it? Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet, but, I mean, the more information you can give me, the more I have to go on,” Tinker said.

“All right. His son died 10 years ago and he’s convinced that his son’s soul is housed in this device.”

“How did he come to believe this?”

“Because, he had a research laboratory take his son’s brain engrams and place them into this machine.”

“Oh yeah, that’d work.”

“However, recently it has stopped working.”

Tinker looked at the mannequin for a moment.

“Yeah,” he finally said. “I’ll take a look at this.”

“What will you be charging for this?” the man asked. “Or shall I make you an offer?”

“Let me get back to you on that. I’ll need to find out what’s required. I can’t even give you a guesstimation on that right now.”

“Okay.”

The man took out a small notebook and opened it. He handed it to Tinker. There was a small document within, noting he was taking possession of “The Lazarus Device” and took full responsibility to return it, intact, at the very least. Tinker signed it and the man took out a notary public seal and sealed the document. He pulled out a duplicate from the book and handed it to him. There was a phone number Tinker could use to contact him on it.

“Here’s some down payment money in case you need any parts,” the man said.

He put a wad of cash into Tinker’s hand and left without another word. Tinker found there was a $1,000 there.

He took the mannequin back to the extra bedroom where he did most of his work and started inspecting it carefully.

* * *

Edward had been asking around among the homeless people but no more were missing from their ranks. No new terrible things were happening outside of the normal things. Gang violence was still sometimes a problem, as well as people harassing them about getting jobs and homes. Edward took it upon himself to punch some of the people who were harassing them.

* * *

On Friday, October 31, 2014, Arclight got a phone call.

“Arclight speaking,” he said.

“Is this Arclight?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“You know it is, baby!”

“Well, this is Mayor Daniel Clodfelter.”

“Oh … yes sir. How are you doing today?”

“We’d like you … we’d like you and your, uh, um, your friends or whatever they’re called …”

“Super friends.”

“Yeah. Arclight and the Super … wait. I thought. Whatever. We would like them to … we want to give you all certificates and medals of meritorious service to the city … at a … at a little gathering next Friday.”

“What kind of metal is the medals?”

“What? It’s just a medal. I don’t know.”

“Is it gold?”

“Sure!”

“All right. We’ll be there.”

“It’ll be next Friday at noon at city hall. Be there by 11.”

“Okay. All right. It was nice talking to you.”

“Don’t forget.”

“Yeah. Yep.”

He hung up. He was still a little bit put off by the death of Tommy McElroy almost a week before. He didn’t like when people died. He sent a post on the beeper: “We have an award ceremony next Friday at noon at city hall. We get gold medals.”

* * *

After working on the mannequin for a few days, Tinker found himself feeling a little strange about the whole thing. He was making good progress though he figured he had between two weeks and a month of work left. The whole interior of the mannequin was filled with computer circuitry, not all of it making a lot of sense and much of it worn out, broken, or burnt. There was a lot of interior damage though the exterior appeared to be sound. He wondered if it had been subjected to an EMP pulse or some kind of strong magnet or powerful current. He also thought it might have been simply 10 years of wear and tear.

He started calling the mannequin “Sonny” and began talking to it like it was aware.

* * *

Arclight and Doug patrolled Charlotte, mostly dealing with petty crimes such as muggings and a few gang dealings. Edward often found them and watched their heroics from a nearby sewer grate.

* * *

On Friday, November 7, 2014, Tinker was the first to arrive at city hall around 11 a.m. He pulled his motorcycle up to the curve and parked it. He wore his armor and hooded mask.

A platform had been set up in front of the building and off to one side in a clear area. About 50 folding chairs stood in front of the platform with a few more near the podium. Behind the large group of folding chairs was a roped-off area for people to come off the street and watch. Several cameras were set up near the platform and microphones on the podium.

As Tinker approached the platform, a young man in a suit approached him.

“Are you one of those … you’re one of the heroes, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tinker said.

“Come right this way!” the intern said. “Come right this way!”

As he led Tinker to the platform, he told him they’d be starting at noon and everyone was very excited.

“The mayor was hoping that … where’s Arclight?” the intern said. “Is he here?”

He looked around.

“Maybe … knowing him, let’s just wait until we start getting excited,” Tinker said.

“That’s all right,” the intern said. “We don’t start until noon.”

He smiled nervously.

“But if he’s not here, in a little while, you can give him a call, right?” he said. “You’ve got his number?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Tinker said.

“Great. Who else is coming?”

Tinker just gave him a blank look.

“I don’t know, man,” he said.

“Oh,” the intern said. “Sorry. Sorry. Uh … uh … okay.”

“He’s the one that told me to be here.”

“Okay.”

Arclight and Doug the Super Pug flew in a few minutes later, Arclight floating down and landing in the chair, already in the sitting position. Doug miscalculated his speed and angle and crashed into the stage and rolled over and over before leaping to his feet and looking around, trying to see if anyone noticed. Arclight laughed.

“There was some wind shear there, yeah,” Doug said.

The intern saw Arclight and ran over.

“So glad you’re here,” the intern said, pumping Arclight’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Arclight replied.

“Oh, thanks! I’m one of the assistants to the mayor. Who else is coming?”

“I don’t know. I just sent out beepers to all my people.”

“Could you find out?”

“The beeps to my peeps.”

“The mayor was especially hoping Cool Croc would be here. We’ve got several firefighters who want to present him with a special award for the help he gave them during those fires.”

“Yeah. I’ll go get him.”

“Thanks.”

Arclight flew to the street, lifted a manhole cover and climbed into the sewers below. Edward had actually been watching from a nearby sewer grate.

Great, he thought. Now they know where I am.

Arclight started calling quietly down the wide sewer pipe for Edward.

“Hey, man,” Edward said, coming out of the shadows.

“Dude, the thing’s …” Arclight pointed up towards the street. “You coming to the city hall thing?”

“Uh … I’m not too keen on it.”

“You really should. Everyone wants to see you.”

“Yeah, it’s a good reason to not really go.”

“Just … get in, like, cover up, man.”

“You have a blanket?”

“Yeah! I’ll tell ‘em you’re shy. I’ll take all your questions for you. You just stand behind me and you’ll get a medal.”

“I wish Magic Man were here so he could disguise me.”

“Well, he hasn’t been around in a while so who knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, he was my way of getting around outside.”

“A blanket works just as well.”

“Does it?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Got get me a blanket then.”

Arclight left the sewer and found the intern again.

“If you wanna see Cool Croc, I need a blanket,” he said.

“A blanket?” the intern said, turning from the TV crews he’d been talking to.

“He’s shy. He doesn’t want to be seen.”

“All right, I’ll get you a blanket.”

The man went into city hall and returned with a Red Cross blanket a few minutes later. Arclight took it to Edward.

“Look, you even get to keep this now,” he said.

“Nice,” Edward said. “I can give it to one of the homeless people after the show. They probably would enjoy that.”

“You coming?”

“Sure.”

“All right!”

Edward wrapped himself in the blanket, pulling it around him like a robe, and they left the storm sewers. Arclight immediately became really bright so as to get most of the attention for himself. The two walked to the platform.

Before noon, people had filled most of the chairs in front of the platform. There were city councilmen and women, other officials, the police and fire chiefs, and several firefighters in dress uniform. The firefighters waved at Edward and he waved back. Arclight told Tinker Edward was very shy, explaining the blanket, and asked the man to help if he got really nervous. Mayor Clodfelter arrived shortly before the ceremony. He seemed happy to see them and shook all of their hands.

“And you’re the one that helped with the fires?” he said to Edward.

“We all did,” Edward said.

“Yes, that’s great,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “That’s great.”

“I-I didn’t help with the fires,” Doug the Super Pug admitted. “I didn’t really help with the fires. I helped with other stuff though.”

“This is a talking dog?” the mayor said, looking at Doug. “You have a talking dog.”

“Of course I do,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “I hadn’t heard about that.”

He told them he’d introduce them at noon and they could answer questions, make a speech, or whatever they wanted to do. People from the street started to gather behind the chairs in front of the platform.

* * *

Yaara Tandon owned a flower shop northeast of downtown in NoDa, the arts district in Charlotte, in the North Charlotte neighborhood. Her little shop had a laboratory in the back and a small apartment above. She generally sold flowers and plants as well as helped her neighbors who needed her green thumb. She had also recently been experimenting with using different plants to create different effects.

She was bicycling by city hall when she saw the crowd out front and stopped to see what was going on. It looked like some kind of ceremony was taking place and she recognized some of the heroes of Charlotte.

* * *

By noon, most of the chairs were filled and a dozen or so people were standing in the roped-off area to watch. Arclight, Edward, and Tinker sat in three of the dozen chairs set up on the platform. Mayor Clodfelter went to the mic and tapped it. Arclight had just sent Doug the Super Pug to go get them coffee and hot chocolate.

“Check, check,” the mayor said good-naturedly. “Is this thing on?”

He told an unfunny joke to loosen up the crowd. Then a hissing noise came from above.

I knew it! Edward thought.

Looking up, they saw four tall mechs dropping towards the ground. The humanoid-shaped machines were painted blue and white with the work A.T.T.A.C.K. stenciled on the chest of each one. They appeared to be armored, though joints and other vulnerable spots could also be seen between the armor plating. Each of them had some kind of nozzle or barrel on their wrists as well as a long cannon barrel mounted in the left shoulder. Two of them carried what appeared to be some kind of long, modified minigun with large ammunition drums.

They landed on city hall grounds roughly in a square around the platform.

“Do not be alarmed!” loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs. The accent was Australian. “We are from the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge, here to protect you from a dangerous animal. Please do not interfere!”

“What?” Tinker said quietly, moving in front of Edward.

He looked up and about a mile above was what looked like a large cargo jet of unusual design, circling. Arclight looked up as well, also moving in front of Edward. Edward noticed the mechs had an open top and he could actually see the pilots’ heads behind a semi-transparent windscreen. The men wore helmets.

People in the seats were starting to scatter, as were about half the people standing in the roped-off area behind them. The other people standing got out their cell phones and started to record what was going on.

“What is the meaning of this!?!” Arclight yelled at Mayor Clodfelter.

The mayor, trying to get off the platform, ignored him.

In the crowd of civilians, Yaara Tandon ducked under the rope line, pulled her scarf up over the lower half of her face, and ran towards a nearby tree.

“What do you want!?!” Arclight yelled at the mechs.

The machines moved forward as quickly as a car might drive, crashing towards the platform and surrounding the three on stage.

“Step away from the crocodile!” the loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs again.

Two of them raised their right arms, pointing the barrels on them at the stage. The two with the miniguns also pointed in their direction, though they were not yet spinning. Tinker drew his laser pistol and pointed it at the mech that had spoken. He noticed the pilot was rather exposed on the back of the mech, though he didn’t have a good shot at him. Edward flung off the blanket and drew the rifle from his back.

Yaara Tandon made it to the tree.

“Last time I checked, you’re in the United States of America!” Arclight shouted. “I think your further from your jurisdiction … or however the **** you say that. Out of your jurisdiction!”

“We have permission to retrieve this animal from your government!” came over the mech’s loudspeakers.

Then they opened fire.

Each of them fired from the wrist cannons, which belched forth a blast of energy of some strange kind. One of the blasts nearly struck Edward but he ducked to one side. The blast struck the platform but left no residue or mark. Another blast came from the opposite direction but missed him as well. The other blasts missed Arclight and Tinker.

“Step away from the animal!” came over the loudspeakers.

Tinker fired his laser pistol at the shoulder cannon on the mech that spoke. The beam missed completely.

“Arclight, how fast can you fly?” Edward said.

“Really fast,” Arclight said.

“Really fast?”

“Really fast.”

Yaara Tandon, near the tree, started fiddling with the strange chemicals and potions on her belt, mixing the various plant extracts she carried. Arclight flew directly at the mech that had been talking to them, punching the top of the mech and denting the armor.

“I’m gonna hurt you,” he said as he struck. “Crikey mate!”

Then he noticed the mech had an open top and there was a man sitting in it. The man looked very surprised and the mech tried to swat Arclight away but he leaned back and the huge arm missed him completely.

Another mech lowered its shoulder cannon and there was a loud report. A black mass burst from the gun and quickly expanded to form a net trailing a line. It flew at Edward but he leapt out of the way and it slammed into the platform, sliding along it. A blade slid over the front of the cannon and cut the steel cable connected to the wire net. The cannon clicked as it reloaded another charge.

Another mech fired its wrist cannon and the blast struck Tinker. He shook as if he was having a seizure and then fell to the ground, stunned. The other mech fired his wrist cannon at Edward and the blast struck the crocodile as well. However, he resisted the painful paralyzing energy.

Arclight flew over the front of the mech he faced.

“I’m going to punch you in your real face now!” he said.

He slammed his fist into the man’s face, breaking his nose. The man’s head slammed back into the back of his chair and his eyes rolled up. The mech leaned backwards and fell onto the ground.

“Good day, mate!” Arclight quipped.

One of the mechs turned towards him.

“He killed Tom!” came over the loudspeakers, again in an Australian accent.

The mech raised its minigun and the barrels began spinning. Then the gun opened up on him but the blast went wide and missed altogether. Another mech fired its net cannon at Edward but the net flew over Edward’s head and crashed to the platform. Again, the cannon cut the steel cable connected to the net free. Another mech fired its stun cannon at Edward but he ducked easily out of the way.

Tinker struggled to move.

Edward drew out the frigid gun he’d stolen from Absolute Zero and spun the dial Tinker had labeled for him. He turned it to the setting that did less cold damage but encased things in ice. He aimed and fired at the minigun and ice formed on the barrels as they spun. The minigun barrels slowed and then came to a stop with a grinding noise.

Yaara Tandon, still standing beside the tree, wanted to go over to help the heroes, having made a potion that would protect them. She worried about getting gunned down, though. Finally, she flung the potion towards them, but it fell short, not reaching the platform but landing in front of the chairs in the grass there. Only Edward noticed.

Arclight flew at the mech that had just fired at him, flying at the pilot.

“I’m gonna send you to the land down under,” he said.

“Nooo!” the man cried.

He punched the man in the face, breaking that man’s nose as well. The man was knocked out by the massive blow and his mech toppled over onto its back.

Across the lawn, the other mech with the minigun opened fire on Arclight, aiming at his back. He missed the completely as well. The last mech fired his shoulder cannon at Edward and the net struck the crocodile, folding around him and trapping him.

Tinker finally felt the terrible paralyzation fade away. He saw Edward get snared by the net and so rolled over, grabbing his laser pistol, and fired at the steel cable connected to the net Edward was trapped within. The beam missed altogether. Edward fiddled with the frigid gun and used it on the net. The wire mesh was covered in frost but held together. He felt a blast of cold and saw frost form on part of the platform.

Yaara Tandon started running across the lawn, heading for the other tree. Arclight flew at the mech that had fired the minigun at him.

“I don’t think you’re koala-fied for this job!” he quipped.

He punched the man in the face and this time heard not only the crack of the man’s nose breaking, but the crunch of his skull as well. The man’s face was partially collapsed and Arclight realized he was going to die if he didn’t get immediate medical attention, maybe even if he did. The mech stopped moving altogether.

“Oh my God,” Arclight muttered.

A whirring noise came from the last remaining mech and the steel cable went taut and started pulling Edward towards the cannon on the mech’s shoulder. He was pulled off the edge of the platform and into the grass.

Yaara Tandon ran the rest of the way to the tree. Once she got there, she started mixing up a potion.

Arclight worked the complex buckles holding the dying man into the mech.

As Edward was pulled towards the mech, the rockets on the sides of the things feet started to glow with power and hiss as they ignited. Tinker fired at the steel cable again and the laser struck the target. The cable glowed red but didn’t part. He quickly stood up. Edward shoved the barrel of the frigid gun through one of the net’s holes and fired at the rocket booster on one side of the mech. It was covered in frost and the rocket engine coughed and flared but didn’t shut down completely.

Arclight had gotten the dying man out of his buckles and looked around. He saw Edward being pulled towards the other mech so he abandoned the man and flew at the last mech, punching the man there in the face, this time without a quip. The man was knocked unconscious by the blow but the line continued to reel Edward in.

Edward was dragged to the end of the cannon before the line stopped, leaving him hanging about 25 feet off the ground. He saw a woman he didn’t recognize move away from a tree.

“Tinker! Look out behind you!” he yelled.

“What?” Tinker yelled, spinning around, gun in hand.

He saw the woman who had partially covered her face with her scarf but didn’t see any more mechs.

“She threw something at us!” Edward yelled.

Arclight flew towards the man he’d almost killed and flew away with him, heading for the hospital.

Doug flew in almost right after Arclight disappeared. He had a cardboard drink tray with several covered cups on it in his mouth. He muttered something unintelligible to them. Then he put the tray down on the edge of the platform and looked around, confused.

“Aw,” he said, looking at the mechs. “Are those for us? Are those the medals?”

The firemen were still amidst the chairs, having taken cover when the gunfire erupted. As a group, they headed towards Edward.

“Get a fire truck out here to help get him down!” Tinker said to them.

“Gotcha, chief!” one of them said to him and headed off.

The others continued towards Edward.

Tinker looked around and spotted Mayor Clodfelter. He had obviously fallen during the combat and was not yet out of the area. Tinker strode over to the man.

“I need these,” he said, gesturing at the mechs.

“Well, they … they belong to these people!” Mayor Clodfelter said.

“These people don’t matter!”

“They said that that …”

The mayor pointed at Edward.

“… they said he was a dangerous animal,” he finished.

“He’s - he’s one of us!” Tinker said.

“But he’s an animal!”

“I don’t care!”

“But both Federal and State law state animals do not have any civil rights. Like robots or the dead.”

Tinker punched the man in the face, merely clipping him in the chin without really hurting him. Mayor Clodfelter stumbled back.

“How dare you?” he cried. “Get away from me! Officer! Arrest this man! Arrest this man for assault!”

Tinker grabbed him by the lapels of his suit and shook him.

“He’s one of us, you bastard!” he shouted in the man’s face.

“Let me go!” Mayor Clodfelter cried. “Let me go!”

Tinker flung him back and he fell into the grass. He yelled at Tinker he hadn’t heard the last of it. Tinker lit a cigarette and headed back to the others.

The police chief was heading over towards the mech holding Edward and, when Tinker looked around, he noticed it didn’t look like anyone had noticed the altercation between him and the mayor. The people holding cell phones were pointing them at that mech. The firemen were examining the mech, a few looking for ways to climb up while others positioned themselves under Edward in case he fell. Police Chief Dean was looking up at the crocodile. Doug flew up to the trapped crocodile.

“Hey!” the talking dog said.

“Hey,” Edward said.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Uh … got caught.”

“That sucks!”

“It does.”

“Do you want to get free?”

“Yes.”

“Um … hmmm … I got an idea.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Okay. Ready?”

“All right.”

Doug gripped the net in his mouth and apparently tried to lift it up without luck.

“Okay, we better wait for the firemen,” he said.

“Oh,” Edward said. “Yeah, I’ll wait a little bit.”

Yaara Tandon walked over to the mech receiving all the attention. She waved at Edward.

“Hey,” he said.

She took out a bottle with the potion she’d made. She held it up and showed it to him, then took the cork out. She tried to splash Edward with the potion. Unfortunately, it came back down right on top of her. She vanished.

“Where did she go?” Tinker asked.

“Holy crap!” Doug the Super Pug said. “What happened to that lady?”

“What was that all about?” Tinker asked.

“Did you know her?” Doug asked Edward. “Was she a witch? I think she melted! Arclight had us watch Wizard of Oz last week. It was really good. I liked the flying monkeys … and that little dog too.”

* * *

Yaara Tandon found herself in a wide storm sewer. She looked around and realized where she was. The potion was supposed to teleport the crocodile downward 20 feet but it had struck her and sent her down instead. She started looking for a way out.

* * *

Arclight arrived at Carolinas Medical Center as quickly as he could, taking the injured man to the emergency room. They got the man immediately to the ICU and the doctors and nurses did everything they could. Unfortunately, they were unable to save the man’s life. The doctor finally came out and told Arclight the man he’d brought had died. Arclight moaned and looked at the floor.

* * *

The fireman returned with a cherry picker and an arc welder. They got Edward into the basket and then two men cut the line and brought the basket down. Everyone helped unravel Edward from the net. Several police cars also arrived from across the street with numerous policemen putting down a perimeter and guarding the mechs. Ambulances also arrived and the men had been removed from the fallen mechs and taken to the hospital. The still-standing machine with the man inside was scaled using the cherry picker and firemen’s ladders and the man was removed and taken to the hospital as well. The men’s sidearms resembled Edward’s rifle in design and the police confiscated them.

Edward and Tinker watched everything. Tinker drank the coffee he’d ordered and Edward sipped on a hot chocolate. Doug drank water: hot chocolate made him feel sick and he didn’t like coffee. Edward had picked up the decorative potion bottle with a narrow neck. It was not labeled. He guessed it made people vanish.

“What happened to that lady?” he asked.

Doug had sniffed around the spot the lady had disappeared and was convinced she was some kind of witch and had melted. Tinker found the police chief coordinating a few flatbed trucks and cranes they were going to use to remove the mechs. He was also talking to a couple of city councilmen, who didn’t seem to have any idea what had happened.

Tinker really wanted one of the mechs.

“I need … I need to figure out what these things are and what they do,” he said to Chief Arnold.

“We’ve got to keep them for evidence,” Chief Arnold replied. “For now. I’m not sure what’s going on. Once we figure it out, we’ll see. How about that?”

“How about I help with the police to figure out what they do?” Tinker said. “And then afterwards …”

“Yes,” Chief Arnold replied. “Afterwards, we’ll see. Yes. That sounds fair.”

Tinker introduced himself for the first time to the man.

“I’m Tinker with FORCE,” he said. “I want to help out however I can.”

“Good to have another hero around,” Chief Dean said.

Not long after that, Yaara Tandon returned.

“So … I tried to help,” she said when she approached them.

“There she is!” Doug said. “She’s back!”

“But that didn’t work out too well,” she said.

“What?” Edward said.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked.

“What happened?” Edward asked.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked again.

“No,” she said.

“Why did you melt?” he asked.

“Yeah, so I tried to use teleportation to get you down but … uh … it backfired a little bit,” she said.

“So, these things teleport you places?” Edward asked, holding up the bottle he’d found.

“That one,” she replied, pointing to the bottle, “is supposed to be a force field, but then you got captured. I make concoctions.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” Edward said.

“Wait are you a─?” Doug said. Then he turned to Edward. “Is she a superhero?” Then he whispered: “I’m a superhero!”

“No,” she said.

“I am!” Doug replied. “I’m Doug the Pug. Super pug! Doug the Super Pug! No relation to Doug the Pug. I don’t know that guy.”

He winked at Edward as Tinker walked up. Edward gave Doug a thumbs up and Doug looked at his own paws and their lack of thumbs.

“You okay man?” Tinker said to Edward.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Edward said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“All right.”

Tinker lit another cigarette. Then he noticed Yaara Tandon.

“She’s a witch,” Doug said. “Super Witch. That’s her name, I bet.”

“Super Witch?”

“Yeah, she, like, makes potions that … teleports people and makes force fields. See, I was listening! You didn’t think I was but I was listening!”

She glared at the talking dog.

“Yeah?” Tinker said to Doug and turned away.

“Yeah!” Doug said. He turned to Edward and said in a whisper: “See, he listens to me.”

“You did good, Doug,” Edward said.

“Thanks!” Doug said. “I brought coffee.

Tinker told Edward the police were going to let him look at the mechs and figure out what he could. Edward told him he was pretty sure he knew where they came from.

“Is that right?” Tinker said, taking a drag on the cigarette.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“Yeah?” Tinker said. “You wanna shed a little light on that?”

“Sure,” Edward said.

He told them the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge or A.T.T.A.C.K. was a company based in Australia, where he was from. He said they were trying to catch him so he had fled to America, but apparently they had found him. He noted it was why he was trying to stay out of the media. Doug asked why they wanted to catch him and he said apparently he had the director’s son’s soul inside him.

“What!?!” Doug said.

“This sounds very familiar,” Tinker said.

“His soul?” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, are you really that guy?” Doug asked.

“Kind of. In a way.”

“Was his name Edward?”

“No.”

“Oh, it wasn’t?”

“Kid’s soul, huh?” Tinker said.

Edward told them there was an experiment to put the human psyche into animals. Edward was a test animal. Since the director’s son was unconscious and going to die, they decided, as a last resort, to try to save him by putting him into Edward. It didn’t exactly work. The director wanted him to be his son but instead, Edward had merely gotten smarter.

“So, you’re really the crocodile?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“With like human …” Doug said.

“Characteristics,” Edward said.

“… like hanging on,” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, you don’t remember anything about the kid’s life?” Tinker said.

“That’s where … he wasn’t a kid,” Edward said. “He was a firefighter, which is why I’ve got …”

“Oh, so son not child,” Tinker said. “Just son.”

“Yeah,” Edward said.

He told them the director was upset and claimed Edward stole his son’s soul.

“But it was forced on you!” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“That’s like rape!” Doug said.

“Wow,” Edward said. “All right.”

Doug pointed out that it wasn’t like Edward had taken the soul, it was placed in him. He called the director a jerk and Edward noted that was why he’d left. Doug asked how Edward had gotten opposable thumbs and Edward told him he’d had the suit since he was just a couple of months old. It was modified as he got older. As it was made for humans, it shaped his physiology as he got older. Doug was impressed.

“I wish I had opposable thumbs,” Doug said. “It would make video games so much easier.”

“It would,” Edward said. “But, if I take the suit off, that’s why I can’t stay without the suit.”

“Would you turn back into a crocodile without the suit?”

“No, it’s just my muscles start aching.”

“Wow! I didn’t know any of this. Did you know this, Tinker?”

“No, I had no idea.”

“Okay. I’m not mad at you then, because if you hadn’t told me, I’d be really sad.”

Yaara Tandon had been listening, wide-eyed.

“Well,” she said. “You can keep that─”

“Nice!” Edward said.

“─for later. I can make more.”

“Is this, like, magic?”

“It’s … flowers. It’s cool, huh? But I have a store but you could come by anytime you need more potions and stuff.”

“Do you have potions that give opposable thumbs?” Doug asked.

“No,” she said.

She gave them the address and phone number of her store in NoDa. They entered it into their cell phones and pagers. She noticed Doug had a pager clipped onto his super suit. Tinker put her name on his phone as “Aerith.”

“Hey, where’s Arclight?” Doug asked.

They looked around but there was no sign of the hero. Yaara Tandon went back to her bicycle and left.

“Yeah, where is Arclight?” Tinker said.

“He was gone when I got here,” Doug said.

“I didn’t see him,” Edward said.

Edward paged Arclight: “Where are you?”

There was no reply.

* * *

Arclight didn’t even look at his pager when it beeped. He just took out the device and crushed it.

* * *

“What if something happened to him?” Edward said.

Doug gasped.

“Nothing’s going to happen to him,” Tinker said.

“I’m gonna go look for him!” Doug said.

He flew off in search of Arclight.

“So, I tried to punch the mayor,” Tinker said. “Threw him on the ground. I probably ought to get outta here.”

“I’m probably not too safe here either,” Edward said.

“You can come back to my place if you want,” Tinker said.

They were approached by the police about then and asked to give statements on the entire attack. They went to the station and the police got a contact number for Edward and Tinker. Tinker ended up heading back to city hall to help the police with the mechs. Edward went home to the sewers.

* * *

Doug found Arclight at the Carolinas Medical Center.

“Arclight, what’s going on?” he asked. “Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter?”

He nudged up against Arclight’s leg.

“We should go home,” Arclight said.

They went home.

When they got there, landing on the balcony and entering the place, Arclight went into his room and shut the door. The television came on out in the living room where Doug, sans opposable thumbs, fumbled with the remote before getting a news channel. He flipped a lot though, so the stations kept changing.

Through the wall, Arclight could hear the news report on the attack on city hall and some of the questions that had arisen. Very little information was yet available. On FOX News, there was plenty of opinions about animal rights, all of it opposed to said rights, on the grounds that people might try to marry their hamster or something.

No country in the world gave animals equal rights, not even those animals who had human or equivalent intelligence. The lack of basic civil rights extended to computer AIs and sentient robots, as well as the dead who might still be walking around. The issues had been addressed by the American Civil Liberties Union, PETA, and other organizations and political parties, but no court cases had been resolved either giving said “persons” civil rights.

* * *

Tinker found the mechs exceedingly high tech. The two weapons on the arms were some kind of stun cannon or paralysis ray. The shoulder cannons were made to fire the nets and cables. The miniguns were high-tech but not exceptionally interesting. The entire mechs were controlled via joysticks and foot pedals and were also very high-tech and well-built. Other than the miniguns, none of the weapons were actually deadly. They also appeared to be flight-capable though he guessed the flight would be slow and clumsy.

* * *

The news was filled with more and more information on what happened at city hall. FOX News reported that an Australian company received permission from Mayor Clodfelter to recover an animal they owned: one of the superheroes of Charlotte - Cool Croc. Since animals had no rights, it was probably going to have to be decided in court what would be done. Other news agencies reported the mayor thought Edward was possibly dangerous. It was also reported that Jack Kelly, the director of A.T.T.A.C.K., was demanding the return of what he called Experimental Subject 6641, whom it was believed was the Cool Croc or Vicegrip. A picture of a man with a mustache wearing a blue beret was shown of Kelly. It was also reported one of the people involved in the assault on city hall was killed during the scuffle with local super heroes. Arclight was being sought for questioning. There was also some question as to the mayor’s part in everything that happened. Mayor Clodfelter was not commenting on the incident.

* * *

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, Tinker sent a message to Edward, asking him to meet him at his place. Edward arrived shortly after. They both got a page from Doug the Super Pug.

“Something’s wrong with Arclight,” it read. “He’s really sad.”

Tinker guessed the advertising with Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios must have fallen though.

“We need to make it so they can’t just come and claim you,” Tinker told Edward. “Technically, you have a human soul. Technically. You have been given a human soul. I think that should be up for debate whether or not you have rights.”

“Yeah, but zombies have human souls,” Edward said. “And they don’t have rights.”

“People think zombies are dead. People think they have the absence of a soul. But you were given a human soul.”

“I don’t know. It’s gonna be hard to fight.”

“I still think it’s worth doing.”

Tinker decided he was going to look into FORCE for a lawyer for superheroes and their issues. He was angry at the mayor for luring them there. Edward was annoyed and wondered if the mayor didn’t want him to protect the citizens of Charlotte. Tinker contacted FORCE online to try to get a lawyer.

* * *

By Sunday, November 9, 2014, the news reports were starting to sound a little more desperate for Arclight to contact the police. Tinker and Edward paged Doug and tried to get the address. It took Doug a while to figure out all the details.

“Have that witch bring some flowers,” Doug texted them back before they came. “Super Witch. You know who I’m talking about.”

“Hey, you got flowers that might cheer up our friend?” Tinker texted Yaara Tandon.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Doug said to bring some flowers.”

“Cool.”

They arranged to meet her at Arclight’s apartment at The VUE. Yaara Tandon had pink daisies growing in a pot. Doug answered the door with a “Come in!” as he had trouble with doors. They looked at the nice apartment and Tinker was a little envious of the place.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Doug said. “Arclight hasn’t been out of his room since Friday. I’m so worried.”

“Let’s see what we got going on,” Tinker said. “Edward, go check on him.”

Edward looked at him.

“He likes you more!” Tinker said.

“I don’t know what to say!” Edward said.

“Just … knock on the door.”

“Hey, that guy was a scumbag anyway?”

“No!”

Tinker walked over to the door, pushing Edward out of the way.

“Hey man,” he called through the door. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Arclight said.

“He’s not fine,” Doug whispered.

“We got you some flowers,” Tinker said through the door.

There was no reply.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Tinker muttered.

He opened the bedroom door. The room was very nice though there was a bit of a smell. All the blinds were drawn. Arclight sat at an empty desk facing the window. A half-filled bottle of whiskey was on the desk next to an empty glass. It was very dim.

This is ****ing depressing, Tinker thought.

He went over and opened the curtains, letting in the light. Then he grabbed the glass and poured himself a drink.

“What the **** are you doing?” he said to Arclight.

“I killed a man,” Arclight muttered.

“So what?”

“It’s not - we’re heroes! We’re not supposed to kill!”

“You know what? If you didn’t kill him, he probably would have killed your friend.”

“I know.”

“So, would that have been better?”

“I don’t want anyone to die.”

“Well … tough shit. People are gonna die. And that’s part of the job. You can deal with it and be a man or you can sit and sulk.”

“Just … I could’ve saved him. I had him in my hands. He didn’t make it. If I’d have just been faster …”

“You did everything that you could. That counts for something.”

“I’ve … punched so many people. It’s never … I’ve never been strong enough to kill a man. I’ve just recklessly been punching everyone and … he was the first one that just … died on impact. I just … I don’t know my own strength. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Well, if it weren’t for you, we probably would have all died. Do, you may have accidently killed one ******* … but because of that, the rest of us are okay.”

“I just … I just need some time. I don’t know.”

“You’ve had plenty of time. We need you. Everyone’s asking about you. We can’t cover for you anymore. We don’t have the - we aren’t Arclight. People look at us and they just see the B-class heroes. They’re not going to listen to us.”

“Or villain in my case,” Edward said.

“You’re not a villain,” Arclight said. “And you’re not B-class heroes. We’re a ****ing team.”

“We are!” Tinker said. “Right now we’re missing somebody and he’s in here being a dick.”

Arclight took a swig of whiskey from the bottle.

“That’s right,” Tinker said.

“All right, let me shower,” Arclight said. “I’ll be out in a bit.”

“Good man,” Tinker said.

In 15 minutes, Arclight was ready to go. He flew down to the police station and was questioned by police and then charged with manslaughter. Chief Dean advised Arclight to get a lawyer. He told him not the leave the city but Chief Dean told him he’d be released on his own recognizance due to his service to the city. Arclight got a lawyer, who thought sure he would exonerated of all charges.

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