Avengers #9

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Avengers #9

Post  Paul E. Schultz on Tue Jul 10, 2012 3:17 am

The Avengers #9
"Before the World Dies!"
By Paul E. Schultz


Captain America could mourn no longer. He did so the only way he knew how. The soldier's way. There was a war to be won. There was always a war to be won. The evening sun glinted off of the shiny metallic finish of his red, white and blue shield as he sailed through the air. Dr. Erskine's Super Soldier Formula coursed through every cell of his body just as it first had nearly seventy years earlier, allowing him to make the leap from rooftop to rooftop, clearing man-made canyons too far for even the finest Olympic athlete. Above the chaotic traffic din below, he could still hear the phone conversation that left a vile taste in his mouth earlier that day.

"I want them heads down over a saddle," he said. "All of them."

"Hold on, cowboy," Stark replied. "The Masters of Evil will have to wait. Something else has come up."

***

The red t-shirt, blue jeans and sunglasses he wore were a far cry from the colorful uniform he had grown accustomed to wearing. Even the white "ESU" emblazoned upon his chest, which he was told by the cute girl at the store stood for Empire State University, just was not enough for his taste. He had hoped to find just a "U," but "ESU" was as close as she could come.

He stood upon the rooftop, looking out at the remains of Stark Tower, once the pinnacle of modern technology as well as the home of the Avengers, Earth's mightiest heroes. Construction crews and firefighters milled about at the still-smouldering base of the shattered remains. He had made a living off of his wit, having quit his day job as a plumber to pursue a lifelong dream as a standup comedian. But, the sight that he saw before him, left him speechless. There was nothing to be found humorous in what the Masters of Evil had wrought down not just upon Stark Tower, but the city of New York as well.

A warm evening breeze tussled his thick, black hair, carrying along with it the acrid smell of smoke from the Tower's remains. He checked his watch, not one to carry a cell phone. The cryptic email he had received earlier that day had told him when and where to meet them, but not why. It could have very easily been a prank, or spam, but still his curiosity was peaked.

"Almost time," he said. With that, Gordon Gogol stepped from the ledge of the building, defying gravity by seeming to walk on air. He stood there for a moment, taking one last look down, then, with a flex of his arms and torso, rocketed skyward.

***

"The Mechano-Marauder?" the balding, pot-bellied man mumbled as he descended the dimly-lit stone stairs. "What was I thinking? Come to think of it, Mechanaut wasn't much better! Face it, when it comes to code names, you're no genius."

At the bottom of the stairs, he pressed a quick code into the key pad near the heavy, metallic door. The door slowly slid open with a grind of metal on stone that raised the hair on the back of his thick neck. He stepped into the workshop, switching on the lights. One by one, the overhead lamps flickered, sputtered and eventually illuminated the work area. He studied his stumpy fingers and bulbous waist in an effort to avoid growing dizzy from the overhead light show. Recovery from addiction and exhaustion had it's drawbacks, but he gladly accepted his "old self" over the emaciated, out-of-touch maniac the drugs had let him become.

The four cinder block walls of the workshop were lined with sturdy, iron shelving overflowing with greasy boxes of the mechanical remains of his past failures. He had spent months acquiring his "trophies" from the various scrapyards across the city, bringing them here to his Queens warehouse. Money had never been an issue for him, not since winning the lottery a number of years ago. Not even a crumbling economy could touch the investments he made along the way, either. His money had also led to one humiliating downfall after another in his attempt to garner fame and notoriety. Large tool boxes checker-boarded the stone floor, their contents scattered upon them and out onto the floor around them. The whole room smelled of grease and burned-out electronics. And failure. But this time things would be different. He just knew it.

His eyes settled on the large workbench in the center of the room. The tarp covering the table's occupant contoured the massive, vaguely humanoid form beneath it.

"Come to think of it, Fabian Stankowicz, for a genius, you're not too bright," he told himself. "You've always jumped the gun, got the cart before the horse, over-committed to the point of obsession. At least that's what Doc Schwartz tells you and I'm inclined to agree with the old shrink. But, you've finally got your head on straight, don't you, Fabian? Yep. Right as the mail, that's me. And right when the Avengers..the world, needs you again!"

Gripping the thin tarp, Fabian pulled it away to reveal the blue and silver humanoid form lying upon the work bench like some mechanical counterpart to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein's monster. Were it on its feet, it would've stood seven feet tall. It weighed nearly five hundred pounds. It was a marvel of steel and circuitry, capable of rocket-propelled flight, could lift nearly fifty tons and withstand the impact of heavy caliber gunfire. Fabian had spent months and millions acquiring it under the table from an acquaintance at a scrap yard in Canada's Department H. It had taken even longer to rebuild it from the veritable jigsaw puzzle it was. He had had to fabricate a major portion of it, of course, but it was not hard for someone of his genius. But for all of it's impressiveness, it had been little more than a massive, expensive paperweight.

"Until now," Fabian declared. "Until now."

Fabian moved over to a smaller table where a headset lay hooked up to an open laptop. Fabian slipped the headset on, adjusting the earpieces and microphone bud as the laptop came to life. Once he was happy with the fit of the headset, he removed his shirt and pants, tossing them carelessly upon the floor. His stood wrapped in a skin-tight bodysuit covered in tiny, button-like data transmitters.

"You were a genius in your day, Roger Bochs," said Fabian. "But your original 'psycho-cybernetic' control device would've filled this entire room. But now, thanks to the fine folks at Pixar, whose software was easy enough to swipe for someone of my...abilities, I can control your monstrosity from virtually anywhere that has a wireless connection!"

Fabian Stankowicz slid his finger along the laptop's control pad and, with one final act, tapped "Run." Like someone dropped with an unseen sniper's bullet, he fell over backwards, crashing to the floor. Blood from the impact of the unyielding concrete spread out from the back of his head.

The work room fell silent, broken only by the low buzzing sound of the lights overhead. After a moment, the mechanical giant sat up, muted whirring sounds punctuated it's sudden movement. It's head turned this way and that, yellow, photocellular eyes scanning the room, until spotting the figure lying dead on the floor.

"Oh, boy," gasped the robot.

***

"Thank you for meeting me on such short notice."

"When you can move at the speed of light, Captain, you're never far away from anywhere," said Monica Rambeau, better known the world over as Photon.

"This is an honor, sir," declared Lemar Hoskins, thrusting forward a massive, gloved hand. "Battlestar's at your service!"

"Likewise," said Captain America, noting the impressive strength in the other man's grip.

"What's up?" asked Photon. "What's with the whole rooftop routine?"

About them, New York was preparing for another evening. The sun was setting slowly. Below, the cacophony of car horns, chugging engines and the roar of humanity wafted over them. The trio stood atop the roof of an abandon Flushing tenement. Even from this distance, they could still see the tails of dust where Stark Tower stood only two weeks earlier.

"I'll cut to the chase," said Captain America. "A few years ago, Iron Man, Black Panther and I had a run in with a deranged industrialist named Jason Beere. Beere was a megalomaniac who claimed he was dying and when he died, he wanted to take the world with him. He planted three neutron warheads across the world in hidden locations. We managed to find the three bombs only to discover they were all red herrings. The real bomb was surgically planted within Beere, set to detonate when his heart beat it's last. Stark affixed Beere with an early model of his life-saving chest plate and placed him in a cryogenic chamber. He has remained in a Flushing Stark facility ever since...forgotten. Even I had forgotten about him. I assumed Stark's scientists and engineers had found a way to help Beere."

"What does this have to do with us?" asked Photon.

"Jason Beere has disappeared. During the Avengers' last battle with the Masters of Evil, not only Stark Tower was destroyed, but a number of Stark's other facilities were decimated as well, no doubt by men working for the so-called Masters. When Stark reminded me of our business with the Flushing plant this afternoon, I immediately investigated the ruins. Beere was nowhere to be found. Neither was his battlesuit."

"His battlesuit?"

"When we first encountered Beere, Battlestar, he wore a suit of armor that could've held it's own against Iron Man. Certainly not what Stark wears today, mind you, but a formidable piece of weaponry in its day. It took Panther, Stark and myself to subdue him in it. When i called Stark about the Masters of Evil, he filled me in on the situation and asked me to look into it. With everything in shambles the way it is, Stark has more than his fair share of trouble and responsibility on his plate. Which brings us to you two."

"But, why us?" asked Photon. "What about the rest of the Avengers?"

"Because there currently are no other Avengers!" Captain America retorted. "At least not organized just yet. Everything is in shambles. The attack on Stark Tower has crippled us for God only knows how long. Communication is nearly impossible with the survivors spread out far and wide. A good many of them are still hospitalized. It was a miracle I managed to locate you two as well as two others who could possibly help. Not my first choices, but beggars can't be choosers."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Cap."

"I didn't mean you two, Monica. Your record with the Avengers is exemplary and Battlestar's Project Pegasus affiliation makes him okay in my book."

"I'm at your service, sir," declared Battlestar, saluting the living legend.

"At ease, soldier." Captain America returned the salute. "But, if we should fail, this world may die tonight!"

The words hung heavy in the air, until at length, Photon pointed overhead, gasping, "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's--"

"A frog!" declared Battlestar, using his shield to block the rays of the quickly-setting sun.

"A frog?!" muttered Photon.

The brightly-clad trio watched in disbelief as the man-sized frog fell from the sky, landing with a unceremonious splat upon the rooftop.

"Is it...? Is it alive?" asked Photon.

"I don't think so," replied Battlestar.

The giant frog spasmed slightly, putting up a hand. "I'm not an 'it.' I'm a...'he' and I'm...alive. For now."

With disbelieving eyes, they watched as the man in the green frog suit rolled over, groaning. "No! No!" he insisted, tone dripping pain and sarcasm. "I'm fine! Don't help me up or anything."

***

Roger Bochs glanced around the room in a panic. Where was he?

Aside from the slight buzzing of the overhead lights and the soft whirring sounds his gigantic mechanical body seemed to make, the room was silent. It was some sort of workshop. He was alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood from a head wound on the floor.

In a panic, he examined his massive, steely hands, wiggling the thick fingers.

"What the hell?" he muttered.

He eased himself from the table where he sat, leaning heavily upon it as he got his legs to co-operate.

"How did I get here? Where's Jefferies?" he wondered aloud. He called out, "L--lionel? H--Heather? Anybody?!"

His electronically modulated voice echoed back at him.

"Looks like I'm back in the ol' armor again, but how? No, wait a sec. This isn't the armor Jeffries and I designed! It wasn't designed for phasing control interface. Good God! This is the robot that Jaxon used to kill Jimmy Hudson! But...it was destroyed! What's going on?"

He looked down again at the dead body and wondered aloud, "Whoever you are, you've clearly seen better days."

The form on the floor triggered something deep within his mind and part of the fog seemed to lift. He gasped, "I remember now! I'm...dead!"

***

"Dead," Frank Taylor whispered to himself in the empty elevator. "She's dead. Or at least...I thought she was."

The doors slid open and Frank was met with a wave of confusion as nurses and hospital security guards washed past him. One of the nurses spotted Frank, taking him by his arm.

"What is it?" he asked, confused.

"Your wife," she said, eyes wide.

"Is she awake?" he asked.

"And then some!" said the nurse. "Come with us!"

Frank was caught up in the tide of confusion and swept into the room where his wife--or whoever the woman was who looked the same age Helen did two decades earlier when she disappeared--had been lying unconscious for the past few days. The woman was gone, the sheets and blankets of the bed kicked aside, half-lying on the tiled floor. The early evening light from outside cast a warm, orange glow about the small room.

"The window!" gasped a nurse, drawing Frank's attention to the shattered glass. "She went out the window!"

There was no glass upon the floor, Frank noticed as he stepped up to the shattered window. "No blood," he said, looking at the jagged edges. He couldn't bring himself to look out and down. Sensing this, one of the security guards said, "She never landed. Witnesses down below say they saw a blue and gold streak of light bolting from the window. You woulda had to be in the elevator when it happened to not hear it, Mr. Taylor. It was that kinda nuts!"

"Where's...where's Detective Turner?" asked Frank absently.

"On his way," said a nurse.

***

Captain America stepped forward and put out a crimson-clad hand to the writhing, green figure. "Do you need help, Eugene?"

The red, white and blue Avenger took the other man's hand, helping him gently to his feet. "I was beginning to think you didn't get my message."

"Sorry, Cap, but since Stark Tower went down, cell phone reception's been kinda wonky all over New York," said the man in the frog suit, straightening the bug-eyed helmet he wore. "Mayor Jameson, of course blames my pal Spidey."

"You...know Spiderman?" asked Battlestar, unable to believe his ears.

"Know him? Are you kiddin' me? I can't tell you how many times I pulled his webbing out of the fire."

"Uh, Cap," asked Photon, "you know this guy?"

"Photon, Battlestar," announced Captain America. "I'd like you to meet Frog-Man. The only man who can possibly help us save the world."
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Paul E. Schultz

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Frog-Man!

Post  Nik Havert on Wed Jul 11, 2012 11:45 am

Brilliant. The last sentence aone is worth the whole read.

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Re: Avengers #9

Post  Paul E. Schultz on Wed Jul 11, 2012 2:03 pm

I actually wrote that last sentence first, Nik. It set the tone for the whole thing, I thought and gave me a direction to aim. Thanks.
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Re: Avengers #9

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