[FFML] [Ranma/Multi] Avenging Act III Chapter 8

DB Sommer sommert at connecttime.net
Wed Jul 23 21:23:46 PDT 2008


At last. Here it is. Only one to go to finish the act.,

Avenging
Act III
The Animal Farm
Chapter 8


Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Akemi Shutaro listened to the familiar sounds of other reporters and 
cameramen milling about the room with the press conference only minutes 
from getting underway. Looking around, she noted most of them were 
regarded as ‘third stringers’ or worse, completely unrecognizable. It 
was like the old days of her toiling in obscurity instead of conducting 
the high profile interviews she should have been getting, and perhaps 
wouldn’t be seeing ever again. Her thoughts turned bitterly back to the 
day everything had changed…

Xxxxxxxxxxx

Akemi puffed away on a cigarette in the one of the less used corridors 
of Channel 4 news, despite the “no smoking’ policy in the building. She 
tapped her foot and wanting to kill something. She had covered enough 
unsolved murder cases in her time that she could get away with it. Most 
murders went unsolved. Her mind started plotting the perfect murder when 
a voice behind her interrupted her train of thought.

“So, our young and eager rising star has discovered the grim horrors of 
working for others.”

Akemi turned to see Abe Kosaka had come up behind her. The man was an 
institution within an institution. He was mostly a beat reporter that 
had the occasional big story, and had been that way for the last forty 
years. He was also unlikely to ever be anything else, despite nearly 
winning a Pulitzer for a scandal he broke twenty years ago. Rumor had it 
he was on the outs with the higher ups, and the only reason he was still 
around was because he had an information network second to none, and 
knew where all the bodies of his superiors were buried, so to speak.

Akemi hadn’t crossed paths with the man at anything other than the usual 
company function, and couldn’t understand why he was here. “What’s that 
supposed to mean?” she bit out angrily.

Abe broke out a cigarette of his own and lit up. The corridor near the 
janitors’ closets was the unofficial area where people went to smoke 
when it was too inconvenient to go outside of the building. “Heard you 
got bumped from the Ariyoshi interview.”

That opened the floodgates, and not in a good way as Akemi finally gave 
release to her built up anger, unheeding of the words or who might hear 
them. “Those bastards! The producer tells me I’m being given the 
interview. So I say great, I have a really trusted source close to 
Ariyoshi that’s been telling me the councilwoman has an inside line on 
the ALF so I can ask her about that. Well, the producer cuts things 
short and ends the meeting. I come in the next day and he tells me I’ve 
been dumped, I’m sorry, I mean ‘reassigned’ to a press conference for 
the umpteen millionth shuttle launch of yet another satellite, while 
that clod, Toji, gets the Juna interview.” She ended things with a 
string of colorful epithets learned from her trash mouth aunt that her 
parents had never wanted her to hang around.

Abe took a long drag and smiled. “I see you failed to do a proper 
investigation on your employers. Otherwise you would have known that our 
esteemed owner and president was a major supporter of Councilwoman 
Ariyoshi, holding fundraisers and printing glowing editorials on how she 
not only walks on water, but purifies it as she does so.”

Akemi bristled. “I know that, but a story’s a story, damnit! One 
shouldn’t have anything to do with the other.”

Abe sounded winsome as he waxed nostalgic. “Ah, my dear, but one 
reporter’s story is another’s hatchet job. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m 
sure our esteemed president went to the country club he and councilwoman 
Ariyoshi belong to and over drinks asked, ‘I heard a nasty rumor today 
that a source close to you claims you have close connections to the 
ALF,’ and the councilwoman replied, ‘That’s absurd. I do not now nor 
ever have had any connection to the ALF or any similar organization.’ 
And then our president thanked her and congratulated himself on 
conducting a magnificent investigative report, then had a servant bring 
her another round.”

Akemi turned crimson as she swore under her breath.

Abe seemed satisfied by the reaction. “A wise editor, a rarity in our 
business, once said ‘I don’t care if my reporters are sleeping with 
elephants, as long as they aren’t covering the circus.’ That’s why I’ll 
never cover my beloved Yomiuri Giants, may they win the pennant ever 
year, or actor Takao Yamaguchi, may he burn in hell for an eternity.” He 
pulled his cigarette from his mouth and wagged it at Akemi, spilling 
ashes on the floor. “You want to be a real reporter, take no sides in 
anything in either private or public life. That’s the sacrifice a 
reporter makes. Let me see your wallet.”

“Why?” Akemi asked, bewildered at the request.

Abe just waved his hand toward him, indicating she should hand it over. 
Amazingly she found herself digging it out of her purse and handing it 
to him.

He took a moment to look through it, pulling out a single card. “You 
only belong to a gym. How’s your voting record?”

Since they were throwing famous quotes around. “’I never vote for 
politicians, it only encourages them’.”

Abe smiled at the foil. “I always liked Twain. Good satirist. If you get 
the chance, read him in English rather than Japanese. It loses something 
in the translation.” He took one more drag on his cigarette, then went 
over to a nearby drinking fountain and ran water over it to extinguish it.

“Now you’re at a crossroads. While it might be your first, it won’t be 
your last,” he informed her. “You can go up to our president and 
apologize for casting groundless accusations about the councilwoman’s 
integrity. You’ll be in the doghouse for a while, but a little brown 
nosing and watching what you say will get you back in his good graces. 
Or you can dig away at the truth and get consigned to a low level 
position for eternity, or fired when you step on the wrong toes. Your call.”

Akemi took a long drag on her cigarette, then mirrored Abe’s putting it 
out under the running water. She pulled out a sealable plastic bag from 
her purse, put her now extinguished remainder in it, then held it open 
for Abe.

“The janitor hates it when people leave cigarettes on the floor in here.”

“Now that’s investigative reporting.” He put his in the bag as well.

Akemi gave a resigned sigh. Then squared her shoulders and said in a 
voice filled with conviction, “A reporter attached to a desk is just a 
spokesperson.”

Abe held out his hand, which she shook. “Now, as a form of introduction 
into the ranks of true reporting, I shall teach you a valuable lesson. 
Real reporters don’t drink in country clubs. We drink in hole in the 
wall dives that have atmosphere. I’ll take you to one and the first 
round is on me.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Akemi still remembered the hangover the next day. It might have been a 
dive, but the booze (and it was ‘booze’, not ‘drinks’) still hit you 
between the eyes. Luckily she hadn’t accidentally slept with anyone, 
especially Abe. He might have been as good a mentor as a reporter could 
hope for, but to be romantically involved with someone as old as him 
made her shudder.

Akemi came back to the present as the spokesperson for Japan’s recently 
blossoming space program took the podium. Microphones were moved into 
position as everyone prepared for his speech.

The man began, “This is a momentous occasion. As you know, we’ve been 
working hard putting a number of satellites into orbit with the 
assistance of General Communications Systems. In fact, they’ve been 
financing everything, which has helped our space program immensely. I am 
proud to announce that the majority of these recent launches have been 
part of giant communications network which will not only improve Japan’s 
systems, but the world’s. And the final pieces of that system will be 
going up in the launch four days from now.”

That caught Akemi, and every other reporter’s, interest. While everyone 
knew GCS had been working with the government, no one had any idea that 
they had been footing the entire bill. Powerful or not, that had to have 
taken nearly all of their resources, and if this didn’t pan out, there 
were going to be many irate stockholders. Moreover, the head of GSC was 
some man known only as ‘Mr. Gentleman.’ Other than being Russian, no one 
knew anything about him.

Everyone loved a mystery.

Akemi broke protocol by interrupting. “If this occasion is so momentous, 
why doesn’t Mr. Gentleman let us know himself?”

The spokesman frowned. “Mr. Gentleman does not make public appearances.”

A guttural voice, one that sounded like it wasn’t intended for human 
speech, came from off stage. “Perhaps it is time for me to do so.”

The man that walked up to the podium was short, no more than four feet 
high, and deformed. While it wasn’t so noticeable in the body, other 
than a slight limp from one leg being a bit longer than the other, the 
face and cranium bordered on hideous. His skull was oversized, as though 
his brain was a balloon that had been over-inflated. One eye was larger 
than the other, and he had a horrific overbite.

Most of the reporters gasped, but Akemi didn’t blink. This was nothing 
compared to seeing the Hulk up close and personal.

The spokesman removed the microphone so Mr. Gentleman could speak.

“As you may have surmised, I am Mr. Gentleman. My name was formerly Yuri 
Topolov, though my Soviet masters referred to me as ‘The Gargoyle’ for 
obvious reasons. For all of my deformities, I am something of a genius 
in sciences. My former masters saw fit to have me create weapons for 
them, and after the fall of the USSR, I began using my genius for 
myself, creating a financial empire in communications. However, 
recently,” He looked pointedly offstage. “A woman has entered my life 
and changed my outlook upon it.

“My anger and hatred at a race that has treated me like a freak has 
disappeared. Now I wish to help everyone by using my vast fortune to 
create a communications network that will revolutionize the world. To 
date, thanks to the assistance of the Japanese government, we have 
built, not many communication satellites, but rather one communications 
station which will be able to cover the entire world using a unique form 
of energy. Any television, radio, computer, even cell phones, will be 
able to receive the signal. Moreover, I will be offering this for 
nothing to everyone. It is my gift to the world, for only through 
communication can peace and love be spread throughout. I will take any 
questions you have now.”

The room was a riot of sound and noise as everyone began asking 
questions. Akemi smiled to herself. Well, it looked like it wasn’t going 
to be a slow day after all.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Gargoyle left the podium and walked off stage, rejoining the 
tawny-haired beauty waiting for him out of sight of the room jammed with 
reporters. The light of his life. The apple of his eye. Such sayings 
were only cliché to those who did not feel the emotion they were 
intended to evoke.

“So how was that, Felicity mrph—“ He found his question cut off as the 
girl lifted him up and planted a big kiss on his lips. While he didn’t 
weigh much, she was deceptively powerful, and he wouldn’t want her any 
other way.

“It was magnificent, my Little Gentleman,” she said as she put him down.

He felt himself blush at her accolade. Holding hands, the two departed 
for his limousine. Most gave them a wide berth, despite his lover’s 
great beauty. He might have cared once in the past, but no longer. One 
woman’s love outweighed a race’s disgust. And that would be changing in 
short order as well.

The Gargoyle smiled, a bit of a problem given the deformity of his 
facial muscles, but he couldn’t help himself. “To think, in less than a 
week the final component will be launched, ushering in an era of 
intercommunication and understanding. The human race will finally have a 
chance at ending war and creating lasting peace.”

Felicity gave a wide toothy, grin. “Oh yes, I’m certain it will mean an 
end to all strife among humanity. Yes indeed.”

He missed the momentary changing of her pupils from round circles to 
vertical slits, only to change back again.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Captain Japan looked at his cards. Initially, poker night at Avengers 
mansion with his teammates sounded good. It gave him something to do 
with the money he got from his salary as an Avenger. And he was a great 
card player. He couldn’t remember ever losing a game. Not that he played 
all that often. Still, he was a nice guy, and swore he’d go easy on 
everyone. He wouldn’t take more than half of what they came to the table 
with before bowing out. He was an icon of heroic virtue, after all.

However, his plans had been for naught, his luck running bad all night 
long, almost as though a super-villain had hit him with some sort of bad 
luck mojo. But not this time. Oh no. Five card stud, no wilds, and for 
the first time in his life he had drawn a straight flush. On the draw, 
no less. If he played it right, he would deal everyone a crushing defeat 
Captain Japan style.

“Let’s open up,” Captain Japan said. “I’ll begin the bidding with a 
thousand yen.”

A chorus of “Fold”s, met him from around the table.

Captain Japan turned as red as Daredevil’s uniform. “What the heck?” He 
slammed his cards down on the table face up, revealing his hand. “That’s 
the third time tonight I had a great hand and everyone folded on me! 
What’s going on?”

Tigra spoke first. “Might as well say. Playing cat and mouse no fun when 
mouse have four broken legs.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Captain Japan snapped.

“Hunky Cap have too, too obvious ‘tell’.”

“I do not!” he insisted.

Thor shook her head. “In truth, thou doth have a most glaring tell.”

“Well what is it?”

Hawkeye said, “You smile when you have a good hand, and pout when you 
don’t.”

“But I’m wearing a mask!”

Giant Man said, “With the mouth cut out, Like mine.” He smiled, then 
pouted as an example.

Captain Japan’s fist hit the table hard enough to make it bounce. “Then 
how does Daredevil know? He’s blind.”

“I can read your heart rate and tell from that how good your hand is. Oh 
crap.”

“So that’s why you’ve been doing so well,” Wasp said, glaring at the 
large pile of chips the blind adventurer had accumulated.

“Let’s call it a night.” While Ryouga was glad he was spending time 
around the Avengers non-Hulked out for a change, he felt a bit guilty at 
shunning Ukyou, even if she had told him to take the night off since she 
was closing the shop.

“Wait, I want a chance to get my money back,” Captain Japan insisted.

Iron Rose stared at him through the slits of her face plate. “You can’t 
possibly succeed. Daredevil can tell from your heart rate whether you 
have a good hand or not.” But when she put a fake pulse regulator in her 
armor, he was the one who would fall to her superior intellect.

“All I got to do it control my heart rate, and I’ll be fine.”

“Let’s try something.” Hawkeye grabbed the deck of cards and took 
several seconds to sort through them, eventually coming up with two 
hands which she kept face down. She slid them to Captain Japan. “All 
right. Check out each of these hands.”

He did so.

Hawkeye looked at the others. “All right, which was the good hand and 
which was the bad?”

“First hand good. Second hand real crap.” Everyone nodded at Tigra’s 
assessment.

“If you can’t even control your facial expressions, how do you expect to 
control your heart rate?” Ryouga asked. The guy really reminded him of 
Ranma. Just a mindless need to win no matter what, or how stupid, the 
contest.

“Let me try again,” Captain Japan insisted.

Before the others could force the shield-slinger into gamblers 
anonymous, their manservant, Sasuke, entered the room, shouting, “Master 
Avengers! Master Avengers!”

Iron Rose cleared her throat menacingly.

“Ah yes, and Mistress Avengers, something is happening on television you 
must see.” He activated the central media column (which had screens on 
all sides) and began hitting buttons, trying to find the proper station.

“Is it a super-villain trying to destroy the city.” Wasp sounded eager.

“Worse.” Sasuke continued flipping through the stations.

“What could be worse than a super-villain?” Hawkeye asked.

The screen finally settled on the proper station.

“Why yes, a politician would be worse,” Iron Rose stated flatly at the 
image of Councilwoman Juna Ariyoshi on the screen, sitting in what must 
have been her home, being interviewed by Toji Yamamoto.

Thor said, “Asgard has no such creatures as ‘politicians’. Once some 
individuals did insist to the All Father that politicians were ‘needed 
to make the realm fair and just’, and by some coincidence, they were 
ready to fill such ‘necessary’ positions. Odin did resolve the matter be 
decreeing that if they could convince Surtur to not ‘cleanse Asgard with 
fire’, as he had attempted to do on several occasions, Odin would 
consider it. They accepted the challenge.”

“What happened?” Daredevil asked.

“Surtur sent a message thanking mine father for the kindling. Evidently 
politicians burn well and long.”

“Listen to what the Councilwoman has to say,” Sasuke pleaded.

The conversation went silent around the table as he raised the volume.

Judging from the tone, Juna was in the middle of a building speech. “You 
heard me correctly, Toji. These Avengers are a menace on every level. 
Their most recent involvement with the destruction of several oil 
storage tanks caused catastrophic ecological harm to a significant area 
of one of our most important ports. Have you seen the damage to the 
area? It looks as though it was a war zone, though in truth it was just 
these self-proclaimed ‘heroes’ engaging in their usual brand of 
horseplay, unmindful of the damage and billions of yen it will take to 
restore the area, as well as contributing to our rising gas prices.

“And then there’s the tragedy with the ALF. Just as a dialogue was about 
to be opened with the group, the Avengers invaded the building like a 
bunch of jackbooted storm troopers and caused the deaths of a number of 
ALF members under mysterious circumstances.”

In patient yet sympathetic tones, Toji said, “The Avengers claim most of 
the dead took their own lives when they threatened to blow up the building.”

“In an explosion which killed only them.” Each word spoke heavily of 
disbelief and disgust. “We only have the Avengers word that any such 
conversation took place. There was absolutely no evidence anyone in the 
ALF was now or ever suicidal. And as to the explosives that were 
supposed to destroy the building, they never went off, and the Avengers 
conveniently sent the ‘explosives’ to another dimension before they 
could be examined. Now does this sound like a bunch of coincidences, or 
a carefully contrived plot to destroy an animal rights group to you?”

“I don’t think my boss would buy those sorts of excuses if I was trying 
to cover my backside, no.” Toji laughed in good natured fun. “They have 
included an animal person in their ranks, though.”

“As a teammate, or a pet?” Footage ran of the Hulk petting Tigra when 
she was first voted on the team. The picture cut back to Juna. “Here’s 
more evidence of their destructive tendencies. These photos.” The screen 
showed photographs of a ravaged section of some unnamed countryside. 
“Were released by SHIELD, showing the hideous destruction the Hulk is 
capable of. There was once a beautiful hill and forest there. Thanks to 
that menace, it’s been blown off the face of the Earth, inflicting 
environmental damage on a planet that is already teetering on the brink.”

Ryouga said, “Hey, that hill attacked me first! It was trying to take 
over the planet!”

Even his teammates didn’t look like they believed that one.

“That is quite gruesome,” Toji agreed.

“Their actions are gruesome,” Juna insisted. “They’ve inflicted billions 
of yen in damages, been suspected of mass murder, caused massive 
ecological damage, and even gone so far as to attack a number of 
handicapped people. Most would call that a hate crime. They call it 
‘justice’.”

“We ain’t never attacked no handicapped people!” Captain Japan insisted.

“I think she’s referring to Bushmaster and Commander Kraken,” Giant Man 
pointed out.

“Kraken was a slaver wanted in over forty countries!”

“He was technically handicapped.”

“His peg leg shot laser beams!”

Juna’s speech reached a crescendo. “This group consists of a religious 
fanatic with delusions of godhood.”

“What insolence!” Thor’s hammer cracked the meeting table in half.

“An ultra-nationalist who drapes himself in our country’s flag.”

“I’m just trying to be a heroic icon,” Captain Japan insisted.

“A Satanist.”

Daredevil, who had kept his cool, jerked in his seat. “I’m an atheist! 
The costume is intended to strike fear into the hearts of evil doers, 
not indicate any religious tendencies!”

“A creature with the power of a nuclear bomb and the intelligence of a 
child.”

“Tigra’s not that tough and much smarter than that!” Ryouga insisted.

Tigra’s eyebrows twitched fiercely at that one.

“A would-be Robin Hood who gives nothing to the poor.”

“Keeping poor people from having the world blown out from under them 
counts!” Hawkeye insisted.

“And a tin-plated mercenary. All in the employ of one of the largest gun 
runners in the world.”

“Gun runner? Gun runner?!” Iron Rose raged. “Kunou Industries deals in 
more than weapons! We build agricultural equipment, make 
pharmaceuticals, give free computers to schools, and other non-weapon 
oriented things!”

“They completely skipped me,” Wasp said, crestfallen.

“You’d better kill that before the whole mansion gets destroyed,” Giant 
Man suggested, relieved he had been skipped over.

Sasuke wisely turned off the screens, already lamenting the cleaning 
that would have to be done with the shattered ruin of the heavily 
reinforced meeting table.

The raging went on for a good fifteen minutes before it finally petered 
out. Once calm began to take place, Iron Rose spoke.

“Take it from someone that’s used to bad press, we’re going to need 
damage control before people start spray painting ‘baby killers’ on our 
front door.”

“The defense systems will neutralize them harmlessly,” Hawkeye said.

“And then we’ll be labeled as attacking protesters.”

“Legally they’ll be trespassing,” Daredevil pointed out.

Iron Rose shook her head. “Given the hatchet job we just got, I’m sure 
that fact will be determined as ‘irrelevant’ when the story is run. 
Which sells more papers, “Avengers stop illegal trespassers’ or 
‘Avengers attack protesters’?”

“There was nothing libelous in there,” Daredevil confirmed. “Technically 
everything was accurate, just framed in an… unappealing light.”

“It was self-defense against that hill,” Ryouga said firmly.

“Well, Kunou Industries will go on an aggressive advertising campaign to 
restore our image, that’s what the PR people are paid for, after all, 
but we’ll have to take personal steps to redeem ourselves in the eyes of 
the people.”

“What dids’t thou have in mind?” Thor asked.

“I was thinking autograph session,” Iron Rose said. “It’s benign and 
harmless. What could go wrong with that?”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Damn, we blew the shit out of this place, didn’t we?”

“What do you mean ‘we’. You did it when you tried to feed that nicotine 
habit of yours with a defective flame thrower.”

“Oh. Yeah. I guess so. Speaking of which, does anyone got a light?”

“Don’t you ever learn?”

“Anyhow, now that we’ve been let back into our burned out offices, it’s 
time to figure out how to stop the Tigra from reuniting with the Phantom 
Cats. Although she seems to be doing a good job of it herself since 
she’s still with the Avengers instead of the Phantom Cats, getting it on 
with the Balkatar, and opening a portal which would allow an entire 
dimension of the buggers over to our world.”

“Youse want us to stop her permanent like, though? No sense in takin’ 
chances, right?”

“Exactly. Now, we need a foolproof plan to confront and destroy her. Any 
ideas?”

“How about we go to the autograph session the Avengers are holding and 
nab her there?”

“Taba, that is the most stupid idea I’ve ever heard.”

“But boss, his idea’s pretty good, actually.”

“Oh, I guess it is. I’m so used to his ideas being dumb, I did it 
reflexively. Okay, let’s decide how to ambush her.”

“How’s about we go in guns blazing and take her out dat way?”

“We always do that. Let’s try some strategy instead.”

“How about, each of us take a target our abilities are best suited for 
and challenge them one-on-one.”

“Taba, that’s the most stupid—“

“Good idea, boss. Good idea.”

“Shoot. Reflexes again. Ah well, if I didn’t have quick reflexes, I 
wouldn’t be able to impale Phantom cats on my bolts before they could 
kill me. Okay, as to the one-on-one combat situation, since it was your 
idea, Taba, you’ll be taking on the Hulk.”

“… I hate my job.”

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Captain Japan sighed, uncertain if this was what it meant to be a heroic 
icon. Really, sitting at a table in a sporting goods store signing 
autographs seemed so… regular. True, it was an attempt at restoring his 
and his comrades’ public image, but the least the others could have done 
was all show up. Wasp said Giant Man was busy with office hours for his 
job, and Iron Rose had to do the bodyguard thing for Kodachi Kunou at 
some important business meeting. Ryouga/Hulk got lost on the way here, 
and Thor had to work her job, too, though what job required the use of a 
thunder goddess was beyond him? It was hurricane season. Maybe she had 
to make storms over the Pacific or something.

That left a delighted Wasp, a sullen Daredevil, and a scowling Hawkeye 
--scowling at Tigra, to be specific—and one eager were-woman who was 
constantly draping herself all over him. Or worse, trying to do some 
things under the table which really would have dragged his name through 
the mud if anyone knew of them. And his mother, dear god, he didn’t want 
to know how she’d react to Captain Japan getting caught in a situation 
like that.

“I should have come as Bucky,” he muttered under his breath.

The next person in his line came forward for an autograph. She was a 
rather attractive woman, nearly as buxom as the cat girl next to him.

“Can I have an autograph?” she asked.

“Sure. Ah, I’ll need something to write on?” He looked around trying to 
find a piece of paper.

Rather than pulling out a piece of paper, she leaned forward and undid 
her top enough to show a very scandalous amount of cleavage. “Could you 
sign here?”

Before he could make an awkward excuse, Tigra slid in-between him and 
the girl. “Tigra can scratch her name there, if want.” She flashed a 
sharpened claw.

The girl gave a screech and ran off.

“Oh yeah, great idea for redeeming our image.” They didn’t need Juna to 
make them look bad; they could manage it on their own just fine.

As Captain Japan bemoaned his fate, he heard yet another person try to 
get Hawkeye to give them a signed arrow… from the archer’s quiver. 
Really, people were so rude. Those things didn’t grow on trees. Well, 
actually the wooden ones he had did grown on trees, but a lot of them 
were fiberglass or some other substance. So not all of them grew on 
trees. Just some.

Suddenly there was a movement from one of the lines and several people 
cried out as they were shoved aside. A figure threw aside a trenchcoat, 
revealing a man in a skin tight body suit that was jet black, showing 
off a slender form. He shouted out, “I am—“

A stun arrow struck him in the head, instantly rendering him unconscious.

“I thought it was my turn,” Daredevil said to Hawkeye, who was putting 
the bow back in its spot next to the chair.

“No, you knocked out guy with the bug eyes and creepy voice.”

“The Bug-Eyed Voice,” the Wasp supplied as security dragged the 
unconscious form away. “Who was this one, do you suppose?”

“Does it really matter?” Captain Japan asked in a tired voice. Only a 
complete moron would try to jump them at a public function. Or morons. 
They had stopped not only the two that were mentioned, but El Tigre (who 
had no feline powers whatsoever, just a whip and bolo), the Mad Viking 
(some eighty year old guy dressed in a Viking uniform) the Feathered 
Felon, (who made the Gamecock look tough) and not one, but two separate 
Manglers (muscleheads with no superhuman strength whatsoever). The 
heroes had been taking turns knocking the imbeciles out to keep from 
getting bored. Hawkeye had the fastest knockout now. Captain Japan vowed 
to be quicker with the shield, just in case the archer felt like 
bragging. No sense in letting him get too egotistical. It could lead to 
a mistake in combat.

Captain Japan was just about to lament his fate when the sound of 
shattering glass and masonry came from behind them. The people in the 
lines screamed and ran away while the heroes spun around. To their 
surprise, someone had crashed a giant semi through the wall, the entire 
vehicle coming through and remaining impossibly undamaged. Through the 
front windshield they could see a mass of figures, including a driver 
who wore a green bodysuit with a hideous, hairy pig headpiece on the top 
of her skull.

“We’re here,” the driver called out, fishing out a cigarette, lighting 
it, and taking a deep drag as she shifted her seat back and propped her 
feet on the dashboard.

The opposite door opened and a group of people shouted as they came 
spilling out, limbs entangled in a mass of flesh.

More idiots, Hawkeye intended to use the confusion to put them down with 
a blast arrow. The archer launched one at them, but it was intercepted 
in mid-air by a metal shaft.

Hawkeye turned to see that someone other than the driver had remained 
behind in the vehicle, popping up through a hatch in the top of the 
driver’s cab. She was dressed in a forest green outfit that did resemble 
one of Robin Hood’s merry men, purple domino mask over her face. She 
held a crossbow with what looked like a drum magazine on the bottom. 
Cocking back on the weapon like a shotgun, the string was pulled back 
and locked as another bolt loaded into place.

“Nobody move!” she announced.

“What about us?” a voice moaned from the pile.

“Of course you guys can move.”

The mass of limbs sorted itself into a quartet of individuals wearing a 
variety of outfits. One was a well built woman in a leotard and with 
pounders --metal bands worn on her hands like a pair of brass knuckles-- 
at the ready. A second figure was dressed in a small, frilly, blue 
dress, making her look more like a teenager than super powered being. 
She wore a set of skates on her feet and two odd devices attached to 
wristbands looped around her wrists. A third was a rather androgynous 
girl wearing a white suit reminiscent of an American gangster from the 
1920’s, complete with Tommy gun. The last was a man wearing a regular 
business suit, also armed with a crossbow. All of them wore masks 
identical to the girl who had launched the first bolt.

“Let me guess, you’re called Crossbow,” Captain Japan said.

“You got it, and my companions are Razorback, Knockout, Blue Streak, 
Torpedo, and Taba. Collective we are known as the Geobreeders.”

The man said, “I can’t believe you just used my real name.”

“There’s no way I’m calling you Salaryman: that’s just dumb. Besides, 
there’s millions of Tabas in Japan. They have no way of knowing which 
one you are, or if it’s your real name, if you hadn’t told them just now.”

“Of course they would have known it’s my real name. What sort of masked 
person goes around using a first name?”

The girl in the gangster outfit said, “Why can’t I just stick wit 
‘Crimson Shooting Star’?”

“Because it’s too long. Torpedo is a term used to apply to hitmen from 
back in the era you regard so highly, so it suits you!”

“Okay.” Torpedo leveled her Tommy gun at the group. “Now are youse guys 
gonna hand over the Tigra, or are we gonna have to get rough wit youse?”

The Avengers looked at one another. Tigra said, “Gangster girl mistaken. 
Tigra name, not noun.”

Crossbow said, “I don’t care if you call yourself Chesty McTits, I know—“

Tigra gave a delighted cheer and began rubbing herself suggestively 
against Captain Japan. “Hunky Captain see? Even super-villains can tell 
Tigra hot. We should go out on date.”

Hawkeye snapped, “You’re not hot, fur butt! You just dress like a slut 
in a bikini that you’re nearly falling out of!”

“And Bucky already does that a lot of the time,” Daredevil added.

“It ain’t her fault. She’s a victim of circumstance!” Captain Japan snapped.

Crossbow cleared her throat. “I don’t know why you Avengers have thrown 
in with the Phantom Cats—“

Tigra interrupted again. “Is some confusion. Tigra not Phantom Cat. 
Tigra were-woman.”

“I don’t care!” Crossbow snapped. “You either let us use our tag system 
to cage the Tigra, or things will get violent.”

“I vote for ‘violent’,” a tiny voice said as the Wasp, who, at the start 
of things had moved out of sight behind an overturned table and shrunk, 
had flown up next to Torpedo and blasted her in the face, knocking her 
unconscious before she could pull the trigger.

Wasp aimed at her next target, the ‘Knockout’ woman, and fired. However 
the woman parried the shot with one of the metal pounders on her hands, 
deflecting it away. With a backhand she swatted Wasp out of mid-air and 
to the ground. The diminutive Avenger bounced once before lying still.

That broke open the floodgates as a melee ensued.

Crossbow shouted out commands. “Since Thor’s not around, Knockout takes 
the Captain. Taba since there’s no Hulk or Iron Rose, you help Blue 
Streak immobilize the Tigra so we can tag her. Hawkeye’s mine.”

“You mean you’re mine!” Hawkeye began firing arrows at Crossbow, each 
shaft met with a bolt in mid-air, though the hero did the same to the 
bolts aimed at her.

“I’m a much better archer than you!” Crossbow taunted.

“You use a repeating crossbow. That barely qualifies as archery.”

Tigra decided to take out her opponents before they got to her, though 
she was suffering from ‘Daredevil Syndrome’ when it came to villains. 
Some whiney guy and a person on roller skates? How lame could you get?

She barely dodged a pair of laser beams, aimed at her legs, from the 
mechanical devices at Blue Streak’s wrists. Testament to the beams power 
was that they cut through everything they touched, neatly slicing the 
objects as though they were butter.

“Stupid arrow girl say immobilize, not kill!” Tigra shouted, now a lot 
more worried than before.

“As though cutting off your limbs will do more than slow you down, you 
Phantom Cat.” Blue Streak skated around for a better shot, trying to 
position herself so she that wouldn’t slice any of her friends in half 
along with her foes.

“It do more than slow down!” Tigra assured her, trying to avoid her 
surprisingly swift opponent. Apparently roller skates had a practical 
application after all.

Captain Japan went charging toward what was clearly the only 
hand-to-hand expert they had, the chick in the leotard. Judging from the 
way she moved, she knew what she was doing, and it took damn good 
reflexes to parry Wasp’s shot and then bat her out of the air in two 
fluid motions. He could do it if he had to, of course. But she wasn’t 
half bad.

Knockout seemed to focus on him as well, and charged him. Metal pounder 
met shield, nearly knocking it out of Captain Japan’s hands.

“Hey!” Captain Japan threw a fist that Knockout parried. “You have super 
strength!”

“So?” Knockout released a kick, but Captain Japan ducked under it and 
came up with a backfist which connected with her the head.

“But you’re using weapons. That’s like cheating when you have super 
strength.” She blocked his next attack.

“Thor uses a hammer.” She brought her pounder down on the ground, nearly 
hitting him in the foot and successfully cracking the floor tile.

“But she needs it because she’s the Goddess of Thunder.” He leapt over 
her head in a somersault, landing behind her, then unleashed a kick that 
struck her in the back. “Her heroing without a hammer would be like me 
calling myself Captain Japan, Master of Fire, and not even being able to 
use a lighter.”

Knockout landed a glancing blow into the Captain’s gut, driving him 
back. “Fist pounders are directly related to strength. Since they 
augment my power, I don’t think it should count against me.” She 
unleashed a volley of fast punches at her foe, which he blocked with his 
shield, though he found himself being driven backward.

“Good point.” He continued talking as he planned a counter offensive.

As the fight progressed, Razorback continued sitting in the cab of the 
semi, watching idly. “Looks like we have a slight advantage,” she 
muttered to herself while noting her cigarette was getting a bit low.

There was the sound of something landing on the roof, and then Daredevil 
poked his head from the top of the open window on the driver’s side.

Sensing impending violence, Razorback shouted, “Wait, I’m just a driver. 
All I do is drive.”

Daredevil said, “Then you’re like ‘the Transporter,’, only with a stupid 
pig skull sitting on your head.” He reached in to grab her.

“You don’t want to do that,” Razorback warned.

Daredevil ignored the warning and grabbed her by the front of her 
outfit. Suddenly electricity shot out of the costume, knocking him 
unconscious.

“Told you so.” Phantom Cats listened to her about as well as 
super-heroes, which was why she needed a little something to keep them 
from getting frisky with her. Razorback left Daredevil’s motionless form 
on top of her vehicle while going back to the fight.

Hawkeye was shouting out as many epithets as Crossbow. So far the pair 
had either shot each others projectiles out of mid-air or evaded the 
ones fired at them. But sooner or later the girl would flinch, and then 
Hawkeye would get one past her and victory would be hers. She’d prove 
who the best archer was.

Hawkeye reached back into her quiver for another arrow, then, to her 
horror, discovered there were no feathered shafts left.

“Ha!” Crossbow shouted, cocking back on her weapon, only to have it 
remain empty. “Crap! I knew I should have loaded the first one manually 
after loading the ammo drum.” She pouted, looking pissed, then raised 
her weapon high above her head and shouted as she charged.

Hawkeye could barely believe it, but then answered in kind, bringing her 
weapon back and charging forward as well.

The two swung at the same time, crossbow and bow meeting skull, knocking 
each other senseless to the ground.

Tigra was getting very annoyed, and concerned, as the lasers came close 
enough to singe her fur. Blue Streak’s skates kept the were-woman from 
closing the distance to her foe, and those lasers seemed inexhaustible. 
The same could not be said for the Avenger. Sooner or later she might 
get hit and end up a lot more than immobilized. Regenerating from a 
bullet wound was one thing, but she didn’t want to try for a whole limb. 
Or even four of them.

Tigra was barely avoiding another pair of criss-crossing beams when a 
bolt with a tag dangling from it went past her face, nearly hitting her. 
It impaled itself in golfing display several feet away. There was a 
burst of light from the tag, forming a sphere about ten feet in 
diameter. When the light disappeared, so had everything in the sphere, 
including some of the flooring. It was like it had ceased to exist.

Taba tried smiling in a disarming manner.

Tigra smiled a bit more viciously.

The Avenger leapt between two more laser beams and landed next to the 
man, who was trying to reload his crossbow in a more traditional manner 
then his compatriot, but fumbling the bolt. Seeing the looming woman 
before him, he sighed. Sadly, he had been in the position of Phantom 
Cats standing over his helpless form so often, it no longer scared him.

He tried running away, but Tigra snared him be the back of the neck, 
almost like a mother cat would a kitten. One very angry with her kitten.

“Y… you put him down,” Blue Streak shouted. “If you hurt one hair on 
Taba’s head, I’ll cut you into so many pieces, you’ll never pull 
yourself together.”

“Okay. Tigra give boy back.” And she threw him at the skater.

Blue Streak’s first instinct was to dodge, she had enough time, but then 
she realized that at the velocity Taba had been thrown, he might get 
hurt by an impact against something hard.

“I have you!” Blue Streak shouted, trying to catch him. For all her 
hopes, she was so slight all she did was slightly cushion his fall as 
the two slammed into each other, getting knocked into unconsciousness.

The fight between Captain Japan and Knockout wore on both foes, and each 
was gasping for air, though neither had landed a telling blow. Despite 
the intensity of the duel, the two carried on a conversation the entire 
time.

Captain Japan said, “You know, you almost sound like one of the good guys.”

“I am.” Knockout almost landed a punch on his face, her pounder 
caressing his nose with just the barest of misses. “You don’t seem too 
bad either, just misguided. Do you know your teammate’s a Phantom Cat?”

“You got it wrong.” He noted she had trouble parrying his latest kick, 
but managed to do so. She was definitely wearing down, but so was he, 
super soldier serum or no. “She’s no ghost.”

“You don’t have to be a ghost to be a Phantom Cat. Has she ever walked 
through solid objects or controlled electronics?” Another blow was 
absorbed by the shield.

“Nope. Just strong, fast, and very touchie-feelie,” he bemoaned 
slightly. “She’s no phantom cat thing.”

“But we are!” a voice shouted as twin beams of energy slammed into both 
opponents, knocking them out.

Tigra, the only member conscious and not cowering behind a dashboard, 
looked around to find herself surrounded by about thirty cat people. The 
speaker of the group was a tan colored male that was a good bit larger 
and more muscular than his comrades. Around his forearms and wrists were 
metal gauntlets composed of circuitry. Yellow smoke rose from them.

Cougar smiled at her. “Welcome, oh great Tigra. We have reunited at 
last. And just as the prophecies have preordained, by day’s end we will 
exterminate humanity and perform the ritual for the crossing.”

Tigra laughed nervously. This did not sound… good.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

[End chapter.]

[Writer’s notes: Only one more chapter to go and Act 3 will be over. 
Then we really get things rolling in Act 4 with the Hate Monger and the 
Peacemaker. BTW, the unnamed guy in the black suit was the Japanese 
equivalent of ‘Snake’ Marston, a guy who had the ability of 
contortionism. Which wasn’t a super power at all. Or even much of an 
ability. Even hanging out with the Enforcers couldn’t make him into a 
winner, and don’t get started on his role in the Satan Squad.]





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