Chapter 1 - Wonder Heroes 4.01
Princess Gargoyle unfolded and stretched her clipped and useless bat wings to their full twenty foot span, raised the quivering Quantum Staff overhead, and in her hate filled, scratched-chalkboard screech, directed her mindlessly obedient Monstro-Sapiens to “Kill! Kill! Kill!” The creatures, recently hatched from the protein synthesis tanks of an abandoned government research facility, quickly slogged forward to do their mistress’s bidding. Monstro-Sapiens assumed roughly human form, but with an ever-melting candle wax-like exterior.
Wonder Hero Imperial cartwheeled through the empty parking lot that was to serve as the battlefield, past a barrage of burrowing, hallucinogenic-tipped darts launched with the sound of farting machine guns from exploding pustules that were endlessly generated from within the burbling bodies of the Monstro-Sapiens. Beneath his blood red Wonder Helmet Paul Kettles smiled as an encyclopedic stream of combat data was processed and analyzed, then fed to his brain on an intuitive level that allowed him to perform feats of acrobatics and strength no Olympian would dare to dream of. With supernatural grace Wonder Hero Imperial leapt into the air and bludgeoned his knees into a Monstro-Sapien’s chest while simultaneously slamming his right elbow into the creature’s soft white head Muay Thai style, his left arm extended back and overhead like a snowboarder, for balance.
The blow to the Monstro-Sapien’s head set off a chain reaction down the creature’s spine, pulverizing the bones, domino-style, from skull to coccyx. The featureless, humanoid blob of temporary warrior life collapsed into a puddle of formless amino goo, but Wonder Hero Imperial had already moved on towards his next targets. In half the time it takes to read this sentence, two more opponents fell to his supreme martial skills.
Nearby, Wonder Hero Ultra was launching a beam of solid blue light from the gauntlet attached to his right forearm, a light that served alternately as shield and projectile, blocking the spray of organic darts one moment, mowing down a Monstro-Sapien the next. Matthew O’Dette’s grim smile was hidden beneath his Wonder Helmet, protective headgear forged in the fires of macro-space and thought to be virtually indestructible. He smiled not only because he enjoyed the fight, but also because he knew his cause was just. He celebrated each thunderous punch delivered as a minor victory. He reveled in his righteous power. He looked forward to putting down this latest threat to the Earth, and to spending the evening with his best friend and husband Paul Kettles, Wonder Hero Imperial.
Matt’s kid sister Terry moved cautiously away from a phalanx of Monstro-Sapiens. She carefully matched each step the oozing monstrosities took forward with a graceful step in retreat. She stopped when she felt the comfortable strength of her husband, Jeff Stillman, against her back. Jeff was retreating from an equally threatening group of monsters. Together they watched as the creatures generated lava lamp-like bubbles from deep within themselves. The bubbles gathered organic darts as they grew. The young couple felt no fear or apprehension, only a rising excitement. As Wonder Heroes Shadow and Light, they were a team within the team. Back-to-back they allowed their enemies to encircle them, as the Monstro-Sapiens together urged the explosive bubbles within them to rise to the surface.
There was an eruption of amino goo as the noxious bubbles burst in a cloud of wet gas and projectiles, but Wonder Heroes Shadow and Light were already moving, deflecting darts with shields of darkest black and brightest white energy. Together they laid waste to wave after wave of the mindless warriors. Light moved with precision and grace, her every move perfect and devastating. Shadow was ever by her side, blocking where she was open, delivering powerful blows in perfect harmony with hers. Jeff loved his wife, and lived to fight by her side. Terry loved her husband, and thrilled to be his partner in planetary defense. Together they acted almost as one; four devastating fists of fury. Light and Shadow together were a deadly, chiaroscuro blur.
The lightning quick offense of the Wonder Heroes left the Monstro-Sapiens completely engaged, destroyed or on the defensive. This left Princess Gargoyle, their queen, commander and creator, at the mercy of Harlan Flicker, Wonder Hero Gold, who streaked towards his target like a blur of deadly sunlight. His arms extended, he missiled forward Superman-style.
Gold shot past Ultra who yelled, “Go get her, Harlan!” as he punched a hapless Monstro-Sapien in the face so hard its artificial crystalline skull sailed out the back of its putrescent head.
Princess Gargoyle twitched her wings, and turned too slowly, her Quantum Staff completely out of position. Her pink eyes blinked sideways with alien vertical lids, and reflected within their pitch-black pupils was the ever-growing visage of Wonder Hero Gold, moving towards her at hyper-speeds to deliver the final blow. Around the world, those watching this on television knew that it would all be over in an instant.
Princess Gargoyle laughed.
CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and virtually every news network in the world carried the battle, caught on camera by helicopter, live to every television set on Earth. There was no more important event than this. When the Wonder Heroes fought, nothing less than the entire world was at stake.
Susan Daystrom was a pre-med junior at MIT specializing in bio-mechanical engineering. Just under six feet tall, with short brown hair and blue eyes, she liked to joke that her ancestry was mixed, both Anglo and Saxon. She was making her way from her dorm room through the common area, and it took her a moment to notice a small crowd of twenty or so students gathered around the television. It was 10am on the east coast, but the sun was just rising in California where cameras were broadcasting the cornering of the dangerous and psychotic Princess Gargoyle.
The students were not so much engaged in conversation as they were commenting aloud about what was transpiring on the television. “She’s always been a minor threat, and those Monstro-Sapiens are no big deal.”
Susan found a spot in the room where she could see the screen. The shaky helicopter camera caught blurs of red, blue, yellow, black and white engaged in a high-speed kung fu battle that was virtually beyond comprehension.
“Whoa! Did you see that?”
Susan had, but it had taken a second to understand what she had seen. Wonder Heroes Shadow and Light had clasped each other in a firefighter’s hold, left hands gripping each other’s left wrists, and then spun in a circle, launching white and black blasts of energy from the gauntlets on their right arms, and using their feet to kick with devastating effect. Like a gray cyclone the pair destroyed over thirty Monstro-Sapiens in a moment.
Susan noticed her friends, Steve and Dave, and stepped between them. “What’s going on?”
Steve told her with a shake of his head that he was too engaged with the television to talk, but Dave said, “Girl, you’ve got to stop neglecting your television and get your nose out of those books.”
Susan wrinkled her nose. “Thanks for the crap advice, Dave.”
“Princess Gargoyle escaped from the Wonder Base, raised an army of Monstro-Sapiens, and is attacking some city in Nevada,” said Steve, hoping to silence his friends.
“She escaped from the Wonder Base?” asked Susan.
“Yeah, like two days ago,” replied Dave, “she’s always been a minor player, more sneaky than powerful, but escaping from the Wonder Base? Nobody’s done that before.”
Susan thought about that for a second, then there was a shift in the attitude of the more attentive students, and the room filled with anticipation. Susan brought her attention back to the television, where the camera was trying to keep focused on a golden blur that was bee lining through a wedge in the Monstro-Sapien defense on a direct path for Princess Gargoyle.
The room became hushed. Steve smiled. “It’s all over.”
Wonder Hero Gold, Harlan Flicker, shot through rather than around every monster in his path as he barreled towards Princess Gargoyle, leaving a trail of sonic booms and broken Monstro-Sapiens in his wake. Princess Gargoyle wore a kind of hard-jelly armor that was black and purple, crafted to accentuate and enhance her similarity to human females. She sported bat-like wings that that gave her an almost demonic appearance. In her hands she clutched the fabled Quantum Staff, a weapon that despite its mythic power had proven to be all but useless in her last battle with the Wonder Heroes two years previous.
Gargoyle swung around, bracing herself for impact as the golden Wonder Hero decelerated and gripped the Quantum Staff with both hands. Waves of sonic booms caught up and exploded around the two would-be combatants as they pantomimed a struggle for control of the weapon. In that moment Gargoyle seemed to peer into the eyes and soul of Harlan Flicker, and together they smiled.
“We can rule this planet!” shrieked the alien Princess.
“Together,” replied Harlan.
Harlan overrode the complex alien safe guards built into his Wonder Gauntlet and channeled the viscous golden energy plasma directly into the matrix converter recently built on top of the quivering Quantum Staff. The staff began to reverb and vibrate into Nth dimensions and a piercing wail gave evidence of overload.
“Now!” screamed Harlan, and at his command, Princess Gargoyle pointed her staff at Wonder Heroes Shadow and Light. The staff discharged a beam of energy that flowed like water but burned like fire, black and golden light forced together but unable to mix, the colors swirled like a bumblebee candy-cane. The staff’s automatic targeting algorithms compensated for Gargoyle’s sloppy aim, locking onto the unsuspecting heroes.
Terry and Jeff had just finished off the last of the Monstro-Sapiens and were exchanging victorious high-fives. They both looked forward to getting back home to the Wonder Base in time to tuck their three year-old daughter Cassie into bed.
The black and golden Quantum Beam ripped through the pair of Wonder Heroes, blasting through their bodies like water through tissue paper. Alien energies trailed through their nervous systems so fast that they did not have time to know they were dying. From joy and optimism to nothing in no time, Wonder Heroes Light and Shadow were dead.
Across the world, there was a sharp intake of breath. The speed at which the Wonder Heroes fought was well beyond the speed at which most people could think. The Wonder Heroes moved most naturally at high speeds and the alien energies generated within their Wonder Gauntlets often blurred film and pixelated video. These famous and beloved defenders of Earth teleported abruptly into battle and then sped away at near light speed, so the sudden destruction of the most popular married couple in the world was met with incomprehension and slowly dawning horror.
In Cambridge, Susan Daystrom blinked twice. Someone in the room asked, “What happened?”
A chill went down Susan’s spine, and tears came unbidden to her eyes.
Matt, Wonder Hero Ultra, stared at the bits and pieces of his sister and brother-in-law, now little more than a stain of fried blood in the parking lot. His mind screamed. He did not want to believe that Harlan could have done this on purpose, but deep down, he knew. There were so many signs that this was coming, but Matt had ignored them all. Harlan was a friend and an ally, after all…
Overcome with shock, Matt simply stared at Wonder Hero Gold, who even now was helping the repulsive Princess Gargoyle turn her souped-up Quantum Staff towards him. Painfully Matt attempted to reengage with the world, to overcome his horror and psychic pain to raise his gauntlet and present a blue energy shield as he activated the jump in his Wonder Boots. His nervous system was synced with the Wonder Gauntlets circuitry, and the systems responded near instantaneously, but his combat computer told him what he already knew: he was too slow, and the beam was going to kill him.
Then there was a streak of red, and before the wildly arcing beam from Gargoyle’s staff focused and found its mark, Paul, Wonder Hero Imperial, was diving to intercept, his Wonder Armor diverting every googleampere of power into its defensive shielding. There was an explosion as Imperial’s armor overloaded, and Matt found himself at ground zero of a contained micro-nuclear event. The resulting explosion blasted a temporary hole in space-time that catapulted Wonder Hero Ultra a quarter mile away. Matt came to rest in the wreckage of the ice cream truck that had cushioned his fall.
Matt shook his head to clear it, and used the search algorithms built into his visor to locate Paul and Harlan. He located Paul instantly. His vision blurred as tears flowed: Paul was dead, his armor retracted into his gauntlet, his body naked save for his red briefs and tee shirt. Even as Matt located Paul, Harlan located Matt.
The quantum staff needed milliseconds to recharge, and milliseconds were eternities at Wonder Hero speeds. Harlan and Princess Gargoyle gripped the staff, and his golden energy plasma began to refill it, but before the staff was ready, sensors blared, indicating that Wonder Hero Ultra was on collision course. Harlan let go of the staff and fell into a deep horse stance, and as Matt came into range, Harlan exploded his energies upwards, meeting Matt’s charge head on.
Planet Earth was rung like a bell. The resulting cataclysm shattered windows up to twenty miles away. Flocks of birds fell dead from the sky. Wonder Hero Armor was not meant to combat Wonder Hero Armor: such actions had dire consequences for the local laws of physics, which were bent, broken or rewritten as needed. Princess Gargoyle, at the center of the collision zone landed face first on the ground, alive but seriously injured. She oozed purple fluid from the ear-like organs on either side of her head.
Harlan was the superior martial artist, so Wonder Hero Ultra took the brunt of the concussive force, and slid backwards across the asphalt parking lot. Matt’s rib cage was smashed, shards of bone penetrated his heart and lungs. He vomited blood and his vision grayed. Matt’s Wonder Armor worked quickly to repair the damage, pumping him full of nanobots, painkillers and adrenalin. His Wonder Armor stitched together torn heart muscle and repaired damaged nerves and bone.
Microseconds flowed past as Matt rolled to his hands and knees next to Paul, and tried to find the strength to rise. Paul looked for all the world like he was sleeping, but as much as Matt wanted to convince himself that Wonder Hero Imperial, his lover and best friend was going to wake up any second, his Wonder Visor’s readout read, simply and cruelly: NO LIFE SIGNS.
Matt focused his attention on Harlan. Through the overwhelming emotional and physical pain Matt knew one thing: Harlan Flicker had to die, here and now. Harlan was again charging Gargoyle’s quantum staff, which he now wielded without Gargoyle’s help. The Princess was weakly attempting to rise, but she had suffered grievous injuries. Without thinking Matt removed the gauntlet from Paul’s arm. The gauntlet, which could not be removed while the host was alive, did not seem to be even attached to this corpse. Working on instinct and a hunch, Matt snapped Paul’s Gauntlet, Lego-style, on top of his own. In life Paul and Matt were a team. The attached gauntlets might allow them one last adventure together.
Harlan laughed as he brought Gargoyle’s plasma charged quantum staff to bear and fired. Matt raised his double gauntleted arm and fired a pure purple beam that cut through the burbling black and gold miasma of energy and ripped through the shaft of the staff, destroying it. The singularity at the heart of the staff imploded. For a moment it seemed that the world would be lost as the suddenly free and hungry black hole threatened to consume everything, but micro singularities are inherently unstable, so then came the mathematically inevitable Schwarzschild reversion and micro-expansion. The world teetered on the brink of nothingness, and skipped a beat in time, like a record skipping a groove, but the Earth was spared destruction.
Harlan Flicker, Wonder Hero Gold, was on his back, staring into the clear blue sky, squinting in the strong yellow sunlight. Weakly he turned his head and saw Princess Gargoyle, unconscious, her bio-mechanical implants already hard at work rebuilding those body parts she had lost to the infinite recesses of the black hole. Harlan realized that somehow Matt had combined Paul’s Wonder Gauntlet with his own and created a geometrically more powerful beam. Harlan smiled. He would have to remember that.
Harlan looked at his own gauntlet and with a shock realized that it had been damaged. In the three years since an alien benefactor had given Harlan and five other humans the Wonder Gauntlets for use in defending the Earth, no force he had met, however alien and extreme, had been enough to damage it as bad as it was now.
Harlan felt a breeze against his skin, the Wonder Armor was gone, retracted into the gauntlet. He was wearing yellow briefs and a yellow tee shirt. He was completely unprotected. He tried to summon the power of the Golden Wonder Hero, but his gauntlet merely responded, as a weak and distant voice in his mind, that most systems were offline and self-repair had been initiated.
A shadow eclipsed the sun, and Harlan Flicker blinked away the spots and blood in his eyes to see the face of Wonder Hero Ultra. Harlan smiled at Matt’s tortured, tearstained eyes and said, almost jovially, “Hey, Ultra.”
Matt brought his gauntlet to bear directly on Harlan. “I would have died for you man.”
Harlan’s smile turned to outrage. He was going to die here, and his anger exploded. “THEN WHY DIDN”T YOU?” he screamed, with flecks of saliva bursting from his lips and tears in his eyes.
Across the country, one or two television stations, in anticipation of the obvious, cut the feed, but many, perhaps in shock at the events that had just transpired, did not, or did so too late. Susan Daystrom watched with the now silent students in the dorm’s recreation room as Matthew O’Dette directed a purple beam of energy that transformed Harlan Flicker, world-renowned superhero and now an undeniable supervillain, into a splash of red gore.