The Defenders #3

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The Defenders #3

Post  Paul E. Schultz on Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:13 pm

The Defenders #3
"Dragons & Dungeons!"
By Paul E. Schultz (Flashback sequence borrowed from Roy Thomas)

"Doctor Latham! The lights!" someone gasped as the procedure room was suddenly bathed in darkness. "They've gone out!"

"No! Not now!" groaned the android, his head spinning, disoriented from the massive loss of synthetic blood. Through the sea of shadows, he could see the unconscious body of Jacqueline Fanrsworth lying unconscious on the bed near him. "If something goes wrong with the transfusion--!"

"It won't, Torch!" called Captain America from above. "Just lie back and take it easy. Are we ready, guys?""

Captain America, Bucky, Sub-Mariner and Toro leaped from their seats in the observation gallery.

"Ready, Captain!" assured the Prince of Atlantis.

"Toro--?"

"You don't have to tell me twice, Cap!" responded the teen-aged mutant as he leaped over the gallery's rail. "Flame on!"

In a heartbeat, the surgical arena was bathed in the flickering radiance of Toro's now flame-engulfed body.


***

"I was with Dr. Latham the night they brought you in," explained Hayes, his voice heavy with an age that contradicted his youthful appearance. He stared blankly into the crackling fireplace, seemingly lost and transfixed at the same time. "And when Professor Goldstein's experiments caused the blackout. In all the confusion, I was accidentally...exposed to the blood sample we took from you, the blood that contained enzymes from Baron Blood's saliva. The vial Latham handed me was shattered in my hand, the glass cutting deep. At first I had no idea about the terrible infection I had been exposed to, but it didn't take long to discover my life was...irrevocably changed. I became Nosferatu."

When Jacqueline did not respond, Hayes continued, "Your suspicions about me were correct...somewhat. I'm not exactly sure why, but Blood's curse did not effect me the way it did him. Perhaps it was the manner in which the transference took place, or the small amount of enzymes I had taken in, I'm not sure, but I was not consumed by the curse as he was. My blood lust did not run my life, but it was still there. I spent years using my skills as a doctor and a chemist to develop an antidote, fearing it was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the total effects of the curse."

The ticking of the tall grandfather clock chipped away at the icy tension filling Hayes's quiet study. Jacqueline watched her host closely as he stood stone still before the great stained glass window. They were alone, the others scattered about Hayes's Midwestern castle home. The two of them were still in costume, their masks drawn back or removed.

"Your...time with Blade has made your instincts keen, Lady Farnsworth."

"I've had my share of experience with vampires, Mr. Hayes. Whatever he and I shared, however brief, was but a part of it."

"Eventually, I found a cure for the blood lust, but my curse was not completely removed. It has been years since I have seen the sun with my own eyes. But, with my long life, I have managed to acquire great wealth, both financial and scientific. This castle, for instance."

"Your power over mens minds," said Jacqueline, "you used it on Westfall tonight?"

Hayes nodded. "And on Dunphy. When I first found him, he was a mental basket case. I've managed to help him think clearly once again. In spite of his rubbish manners, he is really quite intelligent."

"And X-51? Was he one of your financial conquests?"

"He's not the original, I'm afraid. I was unable to locate him. I spent a fortune retrieving his basic programming from a Sentinel data base. When the original had been reprogrammed by the Sentinels to help them hunt mutants, his programming was absorbed by their central processing unit. My men managed to extract that programming and use it to recreate X-51."

"These monsters you want us to defend humanity against," asked Jacqueline, "do you count yourself among them?"

"I adopted Kyle Richmond's identity as Nighthawk due to certain...similarities we share. My curse grants me powers similar to his and I needed a secret identity to carry out my...crusade. Rather than create a new...hero no one would recognize, I decided to recreate one already established but not in use at the moment. I can control my curse for now, but if I were to get out of hand..."

"Do the others know of this?"

"Yes. And I would have told you, had the situation with Dragon Man not popped up so unexpectedly."

"So, when you wrote me about my...problem, did you lure me here under false pretenses, or--?"

"If Baron Blood's enzyme still lays dormant within you, Lady Jacqueline, believe I can stem your rapid aging before it is too late. But you must trust me. Above all, I am a man of medicine. In the meantime, I hope you will join us."

"I'll join your little team of...Defenders, Mr. Hayes," she said at length, "for now. Rest assured, however, the first sign of your curse getting the better of you and I will not hesitate."

Michael Hayes smiled thinly and said, "I knew I could count on you."

"Excuse me, Mr. Hayes, Lady Jacqueline," came the timid but hasty voice of the machine man at the study door. Tiny muted motors whined hurriedly as he stepped into the room.

"Were your ears ringing?" asked Jacqueline, smiling slyly.

"I do not have ears, your Ladyship, but rather acoustic receivers which analyze and then digitize--"

"What is it, X-51?" interrupted Hayes.

"Dr. Temple. She requests your presence on a manner concerning Dragon Man."

***

"Say 'Cordoba'," said Dunphy.

"Cordoba," replied Diego.

Dunphy chuckled heavily, "Oh, man! That's rich! You sound like that guy from Star Trek! What's his name? Khan! Yeah, that's it!"

"Who is this...?" asked Diego, glancing at the only woman sitting around the table.

"Ricardo Montalban," she said flatly.

Diego looked back at Dunphy and grinned warmly. "Thank you, my friend."

Dunphy put up a hand, shaking off the laughter. "No offense, man! I love that movie."

The three of them sat in the dimly lit drawing room, playing cards scattered across the little table. Only Red Guardian remained in costume, her mask pulled back, her dark hair brushing her shoulders. The black t-shirt Dunphy wore, emblazoned with the white logo of "The Toxics," nearly split with each movement of his massive, musclebound frame. The considerably smaller Diego pretended not to notice the way the Russian woman noticed the tank top and open "bowling" shirt he wore hid his ripcord frame. For the past three hours, beer, wine, stories and cards had been flowing freely and laughter filled the air along with the smoke from Dunphy's cigars.

"Tell me, señora encantadora," said Diego to the Russian woman, "why do you still wear your uniform?"

Tania Belinskaya replied, "It's for your own good."

When she was met with two blank expressions, the young woman sighed and took a sip from her drink, and then: "My body emits a low level of radiation that, if exposed to it for too long, may have...dangerous effects on those around me."

"So..." asked Dunphy, sounding more than a bit stunned, "how do you...?"

"I don't" replied Tania curtly. She looked to Diego, saying, "It has been...a long time since..."

She looked away suddenly, realizing she had been staring, her strong cheeks turning a rosy red.

"Your blush," said Diego, "becomes you. But I certainly meant no intrusion."

"It is okay," replied Tania. "Hayes and his scientists are working on a cure. In return for their help, I agreed to help in his...quest."

Reaching across the table, Dunphy placed a tennis racket-sized hand upon her shoulder, saying, "Trust me, lady, if they can help me, they can help anybody."

She looked her question at him and Dunphy replied, "I was a nervous wreck when he found me and offered me this gig. I was hearin' voices, couldn't think straight, livin' in the streets. I was a mess. Worse than when Captain America helped me kick the side effects of the Power Broker's injections. Hayes used some kinda hypnosis and I was back on my own two feet again."

"You knew Captain America?" asked Diego incredulously.

"Damn straight I did!" boasted Dunphy, half laughing. "He was a great guy! Hell, he's the reason I got into the whole super hero ring in the first place. I was in the UCW at the time. I helped him and he helped me, simple as that!"

"I cannot believe he is...is..."

"Awe, he ain't dead, Tania! Not the Cap I know! No sniper bullet in the world could take him out!"

A strange silence with a life seemingly all its own overcame the room, until Diego raised his glass. "Al Capitán!"

"To Captain America," said Tania, doing likewise.

"Hell yeah!" Dunphy's mug dwarfed the others' glasses as they clinked together.

They drank deeply.

The big man brought his empty mug down heavily and slapped Diego on the shoulder. "Now say 'Rich Corinthian Leather'."

"I don't think so, amigo."

***

The massive synthetic reptile lay curled up upon the straw-lined floor behind heavy iron bars. Upon its over-sized head, X-51's synaptic-dampening netting still hugged as tightly as cob-webbing upon a gigantic statue, which is what Jacqueline thought the Dragon Man most resembled. Or some enormous stone gargoyle that had somehow fallen from the roof of the very castle above them. The entire sub-level of the castle had an eerie dungeon-like feel to it that reminded Jacqueline all too much of some of the underground lairs she and the other Invaders had fought super-powered Axis agents in nearly seventy years earlier.

"Are the bars really necessary?" she asked.

"Just a precaution," explained Claire Temple as the two women, Hayes and X-51 stood before the slumbering man-made dragon. "The synaptic dampener seems to be working fine, but we're better safe than sorry."

"What is it?" asked Hayes. "X-51 said you needed to see me about our 'dragon man,' here, but I don't see--"

"That's just it," said Claire. "It's not a dragon 'man' at all."

"You don't mean...?"

"Yes, ma'am, he's a she."

"Impossible," declared Hayes. "Dragon Man is a man-made creature more advanced than even X-51, but he's certainly not an organic life form."

"Not so impossible, really," said Claire. "Whoever created Dragon Man could have just as easily created a Dragon Woman, right? But that's not all. I'm afraid this big lady is pregnant."
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Paul E. Schultz

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Re: The Defenders #3

Post  Jonathan Strickland on Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:50 pm

Absolutely awesome
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Re: The Defenders #3

Post  Craig DeBoard on Tue Jun 12, 2012 5:49 am

DRAGON-BABY!!!! YES!!! Very Happy
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