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Missed It By That Much

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The advantage of fighting a hell-army that insanely outnumbers you is that you don’t have to think about it too much. Ordinarily, when Gaseous Girl was fighting Crudmuffin or Thunderdomestic, she had to take a little care that her flame blasts were aimed properly. She didn’t want to miss and burn down little Sally’s lemonade stand, for instance. Now, that didn’t matter. Enemies were everywhere. She could flame and burp explosive gas and snap-kick and punch to her heart’s content. It was almost automatic. And as Gaseous Girl threw herself into the fight, she had a moment to reflect. She realized she had time for one more flashback before the inevitable end.

She had seen superheroes die before. Her mother died quite frequently. Of course, Maria Smith promptly resurrected in seventeen seconds each time, so Madeleine wasn’t sure that counted. She’d meant to ask Father Milo about that. There had been other heroes who had died and then come back. Their consciousness had been transported to a new body, or maybe they’d been cloned, or the event that killed them had been erased by a time change. It happened a lot. Madeleine only knew one superhero who had died permanently.

She had been new to the cape. Madeleine had still been trying to figure out how to do it all: manage a secret identity, keep up a patrol of the city, stopping supervillains before they set off their missiles or robots or what have you. Then Captain Constantine arrived.

The Captain was the traditional protector of Edison City. He received his powers from some ancient amulet he had found in a country that ended in “stan”. He was incredibly strong, incredibly fast, and incredibly good at a budgeting spreadsheet. He also liked long walks on the beach. Madeleine was still on the rebound from Evan. She had fallen hard for the Captain. And he was nearly invulnerable, too.

Nearly.

It had been a Tuesday. He had agreed to meet her for a date, their first. On the way there, he had met the Red Mushroom, a minor villain on the order of the Rogue Jaywalker, who was in the act of robbing a bank. Captain Constantine, believing in the old adage about catching more flies with honey than vinegar, generously gave the Red Mushroom five full minutes to surrender. It was four minutes and fifty-two seconds too long. Somehow the Red Mushroom had gotten his hands on the Kaboominator. Against that, “nearly” invulnerable was… not quite invulnerable enough.

No one had known to call Madeleine. She found out from a Facebook post. Then she learned that the Red Mushroom had flown to Las Vegas and was threatening to level it. Madeleine didn’t hesitate. She flew there. She stopped him. Las Vegas gave her the key to the city. Millions of people owed her their lives.  None of that changed the simple truth, the one that Gaseous Girl confronted now in what was probably her last battle. Nearly invulnerable was never invulnerable enough.

That’s All She Wrote

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“Sir? There’s an opera singer, Christine somebody, wants this printed.”

“What, Erik is dead? That’s it? Who’s Erik, then?”

“No idea. She seemed very upset.”

“Well, even so, we’re a serious paper, Dawson. We want facts. Not random phrases.”

“Of course, sir.”

A Bargain

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The stories often tell of heroic knights who, alone and wielding only their trusty sword and sturdy shield, bravely venture forth to slay the dragon and rescue the damsel in distress. The stories are, of course, bunk. A dragon is a multi-ton armored flying monster with the ability to loose an inferno of fire that can melt steel. An average knight, on his own, stands about as much chance as a snowball in New Mexico. A whole squadron of knights backed by archers, with a lot of hard work and a fair amount of luck, might have a chance, just. If a well-aimed arrow makes a one-in-a-thousand hit into blank spot in the dragon’s scales, or stabs it in the eye, then maybe, a dragon might be brought down. But when one considers that Philip of House Shirley had unleashed entire flights of dragons against the Lydwinish army, and backed them up with more flights of griffins, and masses of behemoths, and an army of fighting men besides, it is no wonder that the new Prime Minister of Maventry felt supremely confident in his war.

He stood in his map room, watching his lines move forward in great leaps across enemy territory. He didn’t even notice at first when Rowena materialized in his fireplace. She had to make a nervous cough in order to get his attention. “Ah,” Philip said. “So you’ve arrived. Now explain why I should employ you in the service of House Shirley.”

“I’m afraid you’ll need to do more than that,” Rowena said. “I can see what’s coming. You won’t stop at being Prime Minister; you will be the king. Someone else will be Prime Minister then. That someone will be me.”

Philip almost laughed. “You’re very ambitious, aren’t you?”

“All I really want is a good night’s rest,” Rowena said, so quietly that he almost didn’t hear her. “But I seem to have gone too far for that. What I want now is to be secure. Your job will do that.”

“And I should make you second in the kingdom because…?”

Rowena stared directly at him. “I know what you did. I know you hired Mortimer of the Polecat Order to summon the dragon that killed Lady Eulalie. I have been to Shirleyhold, and I read the traces there. I know you murdered Lady Amaryllis and used her death as a pretext for invading Lydwin. And I know that if Prince Evinrude were still alive, he would be very upset with you.”

“But he is not alive,” Philip stated.

“No. He is not. Why? Because I sent him to his death.”

“Real-ly.”

Rowena explained, very briefly, how she had misdirected Evinrude. “In other words, not to put too fine a point on it, you owe me.”

“Fair point,” Philip said. “Or, I could just murder you here and now, and no one would ever know.” He laid a hand on his sword.

“Yes, you could,” Rowena replied equably. “But I don’t think you will. You have a problem, you see. I know you sent someone to assassinate Mortimer. The assassin may have succeeded; he may not. But if he did, who will you send to deal with him?” 

Philip actually hadn’t thought of that. “Ah….”

Rowena came to the point. “Make me Prime Minister when you assume the throne, and I will tidy up this business for you. You will also have the support of the Order of the Rabbit in your claim, and that is no small thing.”

The current Prime Minister was not a man of indecision. “Done.” He extended his hand. Rowena only stared hard at him.

“I am curious,” she said at last. “Why? Why all this?”

Philip shrugged. “Christine. ”

A short, pregnant pause ensued. Then it gave birth. “And? She was what, an oracle? Told you the future? Warned you against your inevitable downfall due to a quirky interpretation of a prophecy?”

“Something like that.”

Rowena waited. He wasn’t forthcoming. Finally, she gave it up. With a bang, she disappeared into the fireplace again.

Philip became king at the beginning of the winter season, just in time to receive the surrender of the last Lydwinish forces. As promised, Rowena became his Prime Minister. She still didn’t sleep very well.

She Who Dealt It

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“Surrender, Crudmuffin,” Gaseous Girl said.

“Or what? You’ll fart at me?”

Gaseous Girl smiled. “You see this? It’s a gas thermometer. And I control gas.”

Zing.

Crudmuffin yelped.

“Oops,” said Gaseous Girl. “Looks like it’s now the other thermometer.”

For any newcomers, Gaseous Girl is one of the first characters I ever created. She derived her powers from a radioactive mozzarella stick.

The Tale of Bingo

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Bingo considered himself a most well-ordered raccoon these days. He knew of some raccoons that longed after adventure, who might join with other animal friends to save the environment, or who might venture into space and fight aliens.  Bingo now was not that sort of raccoon. He was a raccoon of study, who liked to conceal himself in his forest hideaway and read deep intellectual works. Bingo had, he knew not how, acquired the ability to read, and had taught himself the English language. Although he was deeply ashamed of it, he had stolen human books, and then read them. He was very happy.

Still, though, at times, Bingo longed for something greater. He would step out of his hideaway at night and stare longingly at a patch of stars, and wonder what it was like out there, whether things had changed. Then he would dismiss the feeling, go back inside, and make himself a bit of cocoa. His life was calm. Quiet. Untroubled.

Then the angel came.

Bingo was just starting a new book he had snagged from the library, a young-adult dystopia where a girl named after a flower challenged some evil regime or other. Suddenly, the angel interrupted. “Yo,” it said, its golden light spilling across the pages.

“Wha!” squeaked Bingo.

“I’m Constance,” the angel said. “What’s up?”

“Wha!” Bingo repeated.

“Yeah, I getcha. Angels don’t often communicate with animals, right? Well, we do sometimes. My friend Tabitha had a great conversation with a dolphin the other day. It was named Skip. She and Skip rescued some castaways. It was big in the news. Anyway. Here’s the thing: I need your help.”

“Me?” said Bingo. “What for?”

Constance sighed. “I wish I had a Powerpoint projector to explain all this. Let me sum up. You know about Gaseous Girl, right? She’s a super, protects Edison City, nice girl. Should go to church more often, but that’s understandable, and she talks to Father Milo when she can. Okay, so she’s got herself in hell, and long story short she’s trying to get out, only there’s a huge hell-army blocking her path. Like, real big.”

Bingo was confused. “But what have I got to do with it?”

Constance grinned. “I know you, buddy. And before you went all philosophical, you worked with lasers. Zapped a shark or too, didn’t ya?”

The raccoon looked very much abashed. “It was a different time, then. There were sharks everywhere, sharks in tornados, sharks in space even. I had to do something. But I swore off that life ages ago, honestly I did.”

“Welp, you just swore back on. Thing is, you’re the only one who can help. You don’t, she dies. And if she dies, the whole universe goes plotz. Save Gaseous Girl, save the universe. Or don’t. Your call.”

Bingo didn’t see as he had much of a choice. “I will need a moment,” he said miserably. “I will need to hunt out the old battle-suit again.”

“Excellent,” said Constance, giggling. This was going to be fun.

Angelsplaining

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Some angels, having found themselves in a spaceship engine room surrounded by an army of demons, might have decorously retired to heaven and sought reinforcements. Constance was not that kind of angel. She had an absolute confidence in her own angelic qualities. The thing about angels, she believed, was that they were on the side of Good. And Good always kicked Evil’s butt. Always.

She drew herself up, her wings outspread, her halo sparking like a small lightning storm. “I don’t care whether you call yourself Legion or Spivey or my Aunt Matilda,” Constance said. “I’m an angel. I serve the Big Guy. You know who that is. You know his name. So, therefore, I command you to begone! Shoo!”

Constance wished she hadn’t added on the shoo; it sounded undignified, even for her. But it did the job. Blinding light blasted through the engine room, disintegrating the horde of evil Spiveys in shattering explosions. Quite suddenly Constance was quite alone. The steady whum whum whum of the engines kept on comfortably around her. “Welp, glad that’s over,” Constance said.

Then something chirped, loudly and annoyingly, like an upset cricket. Constance looked around, and noticed a communicator lying on the floor. Apparently it had not been disintegrated and banished to the lower regions along with its formal owner. “Mr. Spivey?” a staticky voice said. “Are you there? Did you determine the nature of the unusual readings in the engine room? Mr. Spivey?”

Constance shrugged, and picked up the communicator. It was a tiny badge-like device, with several blinking lights. The angel wondered how it worked. She hadn’t kept up with the details of every human technological development. “Hello there!” she tried.

No response came. Constance tapped the communicator. “Anyone listening?”

Communicators are dicey things. Constance did not know that what she should have done was to clearly identify the name of the person to whom she wished to speak, following which her communicator would contact that person’s communicator and set up a link. By asking for anyone, Constance inadvertently opened a link to everyone. She, however, assumed that the communicator was not working.

“Okay…” she mused, apparently to herself. “So I can’t tell the captain that Spivey’s gone. Eh, she’ll figure it out. Back to the original plan then. I wreck the engines so they can’t go and find the Ark of the Covenant, then fly away. No problem!”  Constance looked at the padamantium-crystal powered engines, whumming away contentedly. “Pity, though. I hate to smash up a good ship.”

“Then you’d better not,” said Captain Jolene coolly. She had used an emergency teleporter to bounce herself directly to the engine room. Now she held a laser rifle steady on the angel. “You want to tell me exactly  what happened to my science officer, and why you know all about the secret orders he just handed me not an hour ago?”

“One, your first officer was a demon. I don’t know how your HR people missed that. Anyway, I cleansed the ship of evil, you’re welcome.  Two, I know because…” and here she powered up her shoulder-glow dramatically, “I’m an angel.”

“You’re a what?”

Constance sighed. She’d have to angelsplain again. She was beginning to get tired of it.

It’s been a little while since I updated this story arc, but I couldn’t resist. Constance is fun to write. And I had left her situation sadly unresolved. Now it is! 

Aftermath

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Josiah could read the paper, just. “Found …anomaly… EMP …”

“What’s a nomaly?” his small daughter asked, curiously.

“No idea.”

They kept on picking through the ruins.

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