Heroes defeated; the battle at the rally continues.
The Skull in the South
"Willkommen," the Red Skull says civilly, leveling a futuristic-looking, silver pistol at the stunned heroes.
"What hope of intimidation have you against an angel of retribution, mortal?" Dark Angel spoke menacingly. His wings shifted as if influenced by his mood as his hand rose and shot a bolt of deepest black at the skull-faced man.
Malachi thinks to himself, _Well he is fearless, but this idiot is going to get us all killed if he doesn't reign in this 'angel' shtick. Either that or I'm gonna beat him senseless._
Meanwhile, he breaks farther to the right, placing some distance between himself and Dark Angel as he looks around the room for the further dangers he is certain accompany one who is most widely known as the most evil man in the world.
"Dark Angel, Stop!" Union quickly overcomes the initial physical shock of being face to face with the Nazi Moriarity, but his mid is still reeling with the peril of the situation, "He knew we were coming -- he had time to prepare for us! Who knows what sort of defenses this room may have if we attack him? For all we know, that isn't really him, and this entire complex might be wired to explode if he's harmed!"
Union's words of warning are to no avail. A bolt of pitch blackness leaps from Dark Angel's hand, flies towards the Red Skull's chest, and then through the Red Skull's chest. Sparks leap in all directions, and the Nazi madman falls to the floor, a jagged hole through his torso. In the next instant, Dark Angel cries out in pain, pale hands gripping his temples, before he slumps to the floor in a fetal position, his ebon wings evaporating into wisps of darkness that vanish entirely.
"Vell," says an already too familiar voice from the far left side of the room. "Ve have determined vhich of you is the most foolish."
Standing in another doorway is another Red Skull, identical to the first in every detail, right down to the futuristic handgun.
"You'd be perfectly capable of such preparation and cold blooded plotting, wouldn't you? At least you would be if you're the same man under that mask as wore it twenty years ago..." Union is following Malachi's lead, inching away from Dark Angel in hope to either flank the Skull or at least keep the three of them from being the target of the same attack.
"Please stop moving," the Red Skull suggests politely. "Or else I vill subject you to same treatment as your idiot comrade." He wiggles the pistol meaningfully.
Union stops walking, now roughly 15 feet from Darkangel, and begins hovering an inch off the floor.
Under his helmet Adrian is desperately trying to remember everything he knew of the Skull from the war years, and the workings of some of his cast off weapons that the Allies had been able to get their hands on. _Come on, old man, Think! The Red Skull was the original Captain America's worst enemy. He was a tactical genius and almost a personification of evil, but he wasn't superhuman. He wouldn't reveal himself to us like this unless he had an ace up his sleeve. Or unless he knew that we'd think he had an ace up his sleeve, in which case...OK. Just get your bearings and figure out what he's up to._
"I have to admit, your presence here brings everything into focus. I certainly wasn't expecting to see youI had heard you died right after the war. Unless you are someone else?"
The Red Skull shrugs. "Rumors of my death in mein Furher's Berlin bunker vere greatly exaggerated," he says with a nightmarish grin.
_OK, lets see what's around here..._ Still keeping his eyes on the Red Skull, Union extends his EM senses throughout the room, feeling for, computers, weapons and power flows. _Let's see what else he's carrying other than that gun..._
As Union examines the room and the Red Skull, the Nazi villain continues to speak, his voice calm, polite. "Now, please take the freak on the floor and depart. Othervise, I vill be forced to kill all three of you. Of course" He chuckles amiably. "- murdering you now vould probably save me the trouble of having to do so later, but I am tired and in a giving mood."
Union's electromagnetic senses reveal little specific. There is great deal of machinery under the floor, which is not surprising given the sliding walls. The Red Skull's gun has a most unusual signature. It is somewhat like a magnetic field, but Union is certain it is not any such thing. With time, perhaps, he could figure it out. The Red Skull himself has a distinctly nonhuman signature. He is probably another robot.
"So," the Red Skull says. "Vhat vill it be? Do you leave now, or do I kill you?"
Malachi stands balanced on the balls of his feet, obviously ready to spring. His eyes dart into the shadows around them, trying to search out others hiding there.
"A.., Union, how do you want to handle this? Me, I'm not sure I believe this Nazi and his free gifts."
Union hovers inhumanly still above the floor, while behind the mask Adrian's eyes dart from the robot Red Skull to Dark Angel's fallen form to Malachi and back to the robot _ Something doesn't seem right, here...Stop being scared and think this through. Why would the Skull let us go? If he were so confident he would have knocked us all out already. Unless he needs us to leave... And where are Fasces and the Wasp? The guards he was broadcasting had mentioned something about a Rally. Plus, the individual robot's don't seem too sturdy. Get a hunch, bet a bunch..._
"Very generous, Skull, but I'm betting you want us out of here because your superhuman allies are out of the building. I'm afraid we'll have to stick around for a little while so we can meet everyone properly. Malachi, Move!"
As he says this, Union flips backward and to the right, then begins a madcap, seemingly impossibly acrobatic flight around the room. _Keep an erratic enough flight plan and he shouldn't be able to get enough of a bead on me to hit me with that ray-gun of his, or whatever else is mounted in these walls. Disable the robot, then let's see what's behind door number two..._
Stern's eyes opened, he blinked several times to clear them, then tried to focus on the man who stood over him. Stern was annoyed, but he didn't realize why immediately.
"Yes?" Stern mumbled. His head was pounding. Had he gone drinking? Random thoughts flitted through his mind. Mugged? Fell down some stairs? WHAT HAPPENED?!
"Samuel Stern. You shall receive no sympathy from me for your foolishness. It is fitting punishment for you not giving your situation some thought." The voice droned on, lecturing. "We equip you with tools, vast power, but it seems we have overestimated you. Perhaps we have given power to a child."
It sounded like that was that. End of discussion.
"Wait!" Stern shouted. Why couldn't he see? His eyes were open, he could sense the light coming in from the window. Why couldn't he see?
"Samuel Stern. Answer us this question: who is this 'Avenging Angel' persona you have created?"
"What are you talking about?"
"We grow weary of your feeble ability to grasp the situation. We HAVE chosen poorly. Goodbye."
Stern thought he heard a door close, but then again, maybe he was making that up too. Something had gone. It made him sad that he didn't know what the guy was talking about. He laid his head down and went back to sleep.
Dreams within dreams. Anger. No. Self-pity. No, self-loathing in the disguise of anger. Instrument of war. Of peace. His Love.
It's been too long for me to believe any more--He's abandoned me! No, you abandoned Him. I'll go back to him! No, you mock Him with your caricature. It's the only way I can make sense of all this!
Nonsense, you are gleeful with the power for you have always been powerless. It's not my fault! Everything is within your responsibility; once you see that you will have Arrived.
Dreams within dreams.
"You are too harsh, brother."
"You are too lenient with him."
"He is a gentle soul. He does not take to this with ease, but he is a wise choice for us. You shall see. Do not forsake him yet."
"He is yours, brother. I do not agree with your methods, but perhaps you are right. And what is best, is best for the Children. How will you teach him?"
"Ah! You see, brother, he is teaching himself."
"In his own way. Do not underestimate him. He may take a circuitous route, but he shall Arrive. He is stronger than for which you give him credit."
"Release him then. Send him back to the Children."
"Brother, you have been too long apart from them. He has never left them. Look...."
Dreams within dreams.
The bunker floor was cold, the concrete hard against his face. Stern lay there, unmoving, hearing everything the crazy Nazi spoke, his teammates, but could do nothing about it.
What had he gotten himself into? Cut that out, Stern. (His voice.) Stop lying to yourself. You know who you are, what you have and what you can do. You said Yes to the Man, now run with it. Do not shirk your responsibility...again.
Stern's eyes opened. He still couldn't move, but that was alright. He'd decided. A smile grew slowly on his face.
As Union and Malachi close, the Red Skull begins to laugh insanely, his cruel voice echoing off the walls of the underground bunker. Other than this, he takes no action, merely waiting for his enemies to close. Union reaches the Red Skull, swooping to land behind the Nazi arch-villain, between him and the door, only a moment before Malachi rolls in from the front. The Red Skull twists so that both heroes are to his sides. Malachi lets fly with a powerful jab-kick that hammers into the Red Skull's hip. A muffled metallic clang! is heard, but even a kick powerful enough to shatter concrete has no other apparent effect. The Red Skull continues laughing even as Union lays a gauntleted hand on his arm, sending a massive jolt of electricity into him, hoping to fry internal circuits.
"I am considerably more durable than my decoy!" the Nazi exults.
With a quick snapmoving with inhuman speedthe Red Skull brings up the ray-gun a scant three or feet from Malachi's head and fires. The effect is devastating. Malachi, the scourge of the Harlem underworld, who has walked away unscathed from both bullets and blades, howls in agony and drops like a stone.
"Vould you care to try a different tactic?" the Red Skull says, turning away from the stunned Malachi towards Union, a feral grin spread across his gruesome visage.
Malachi, with an obviously superhuman effort, forces one shoulder off of the ground, then groans and slumps back to the floor.
Union releases his light grip on the robot's forearm, moving smoothly to keep himself away from the barrel of the gun. _Must have shielded circuitry. I could probably defeat it with time, but I haven't got any. The gun is the problem. Get rid of the gun._
His decision made, Union continues to move, keeping himself far to one side of the business end of the Red Skull's strange energy pistol. With an almost casual grace, he reaches to grab the side of the gun, _I couldn't tell what its energy signature was before, but maybe I can disrupt its field or fry its circuits._
The second Red Skull figures out Union's new ploy just a fraction of a second too late. He attempts to jerk the gun out of harm's way. A second jolt of electricity arcs from Union's gauntlet, this time to the firearm. Its barrel shatters like glass.
"Wery cle -- SPARK! -- ver, Am -- FIZZT! -- erican!" the robotic Red Skull says as it short-circuits, sparks flying from the broken gun.
The villain goes rigid as a mannikin and falls over. Union is tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, but remembers where he is at, and stays on his guard. As a result, he isn't surprised when a glass and silver sphere, attached to a silver rod, suddenly drops from the ceiling towards the center of the room. There is a blinding flash of pain that drops Union to his knees.
"I told Zola und Pym these firearms vere too fragile," yet another Red Skull comments, stepping into the room from behind a sliding panel in the wall.
Union lurches to regain his footing, but simply falls to all fours, his muscles not responding.
"Und I told them that the neuro-stunner vas not powerful enough."
The third Red Skull of the evening spins and lands a crushing jackboot heel across Union's head, sending the hero rolling across the floor. The last thing Union remembers before unconsciousness claims him is seeing that vile, crimson death's head grinning down at him.
"I don't know why you ain't runnin, whitey," he growls. "But Tembo gonna put some fear in you just the same!"
Janet's attention is focused for her. _Tembo, the one that threw the truck, Great. Hippo will just have to dig himself out._ It takes less than a instant for Duststorm to coalesce the air around her into a 10 foot sphere shield. Then the ground between her and Tembo, the elephant man, erupts in volcano of earth. As the dust clears, a human-shape mound of earth steps forth, almost 7' high, and easily of more girth than both Tembo and the hippo, it raises it hand to point at Tembo. A voice echoes forth from the golem. "She means you no harm, Go! Pick on someone your own size."
_I knew I should have went back to the hotel for my costume, I certainly don't want anyone to recognize me._ Janet takes a neckerchief from her purse, and wraps it around her face. _I look like a bandito from an old western, but hopefully no one will get a good look at my face._
Tembo the Elephant laughs, throwing a wild roundhouse as he lumbers forward. His massive fist collides with Duststorm's golem, which promptly explodes under the impact, sending earth and rock flying as the humanshape mound of earth shatters into torso, arms, and legs before collapsing entirely.
"Nice trick!" Tembo yells. "How much you wanna bet that mud ball around you don't hold up no better!?"
Janet watches as her golem protector gets pulverized by the powerful blow. _That wasn't good._ Duststorm changes her tactics, a powerful wind forms under the protective air sphere, launching her into the sky, hopefully well above Tembo's reach. The screams of the other animal totems attracts her notice. The same golem voice echos loudly, "Don't you think there are others more deserving of your attention?"
Tembo swings as Duststorm flies upwards, but there is nothing but empty air to hit by the time he is in position. He growls in frustration, but them stops at Duststorm's words, and looks down at the mayhem on the field. His jaw goes slack. Then, with an enormous GASP!, Hippo bursts out of the earth-filled pit and falls forward, breathing heavily, his hips and legs still buried but slowly working free.
"Get up, Kiboko" Tembo says to Hippo. "We're comin apart like a bunch of rank amateurs down there." Tembo reaches down with one hand and hauls Kiboko up to his feet.
On the field not too far away, Zebra struggles to free herself from Warmonger's one-handed headlock. She claws and hits Warmonger's thick arm, but all to no avail. Cheetah, caught by the forearm in one of Ghost Rider's hellchains, looks first at Warmonger, then at Ghost Rider, and then bursts into motion, becoming a tannish blur.
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al