Saturday, September 24, 2011

Black Gazelle, Part 3

“You’re crazy, aren’t you?” Black Gazelle asked, as he stared at the man in the bowler hat with blood dripping down his face.

“Insanity, it’s my calling card!” Finch, the man in the bowler hat, said, raising his cane in the air, as if making an emphatic speech.

“C’mon, we’ve gotta get out,” Sting said, pulling on Finch’s sleeve.

“You’re no fun when you’re not on acid,” Finch said, taking off his hat and throwing it at Black Gazelle. Gazelle jumped in the air, landing behind Finch and Sting. The hat, missing its mark, scraped the bank’s wall.

“That would have been impressive if I hadn’t seen it in

“Kids have no respect for history,” Sting said, shaking his head, “Maybe she’ll understand this.” Raising his gun, he shot at the Gazelle, who moved quickly enough to avoid getting hit.

“Dodging bullets, that would have been impressive, if I hadn’t seen it in The Matrix,” Finch said, “But at least it proves you deserve the title Black Gazelle.”

“All you deserve is death,” Gazelle said, leaping towards Finch. As she got close enough, Finch grabbed her by the hook of his cane. Pressing a button, the cane’s hook extended, closing around Gazelle’s neck, leaving her with nothing to do but jostle.

Finch laughed, “This worked on the old Black Gazelle, too. Don’t feel bad. You’ll get used to the failure. Trust me, you’ll get some more chances to beat me.”

“And I will beat you!” Black Gazelle yelled.

“Good, an archenemy,” Finch said, “I’ve been needing one for a while now. This might hurt a bit.” With that, Finch swung Black Gazelle’s head against the bank’s wall several times, until he felt confident she was out for the count. Once again pressing the button, Finch smiled as the cane released Gazelle, who crumpled to the floor. “Now we can get out of here,” Finch said.

The two criminals fled the bank in their car.

Alex Gryzlov sat in his chair, chomping on his cigar, as he looked out the window of his office. It was a bad time for him. Danner Enterprises was taking over his market share. In another situation, the solution would have been easy. Gryzlov would have changed into The Hunter and killed the CEO. However, the CEO of the company was an immortal, the infamous Gil Danner.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the granddaughter of his old enemy, Black Gazelle had developed super powers. He congratulated himself: hiring the super hero to work at one of his banks had been a good idea. But how long would it take before she discovered her boss’s true identity?

Then there was the fact that the Black Gazelle bank had been robbed. It wasn’t a terrible concern, as he knew he’d simply have the robbers killed and the money returned, but it was still an annoyance he didn’t need.

That’s when he heard the fighting outside his door. He spun around to face his desk. Opening one of the drawers, he took out a shotgun. He aimed it at the door.

Finch kicked the door open, with two bags full of cash in his hands. He laughed, as Sting shot the last remaining guards on the floor.

“Gryzlov! Fancy meeting you here!” Indicating the shotgun in Gryzlov’s hands, he giggled, “You always were a man with a plan. Well, don’t worry. We just came here for a quick hello.”

Gryzlov wasn’t entirely sure whether he should laugh or get angry, “Finch. Did you just shoot assault my entire security team?”

“Don’t worry, all’s good. We made sure every one of ‘em died,” Finch said, setting the money bags on Gryzlov’s desk.

“How is that good?” Gryzlov said, looking at his old friend with confusion.

“Dead people don’t have vendettas!” Finch said, “Gee, Gryzlov, this business thing has changed you. What happened to your bloodthirst?”

“I’m 87, Finch,” Gryzlov said, speaking to Finch in a quiet tone, “I’ve calmed down. You should, too.”

“Nonsense!” Finch said, “I’ve had more fun today than I’ve had in decades! Did you realize that Black Gazelle had a grandkid?”

“Yes, that’s why I hired her,” Gryzlov said, “Now, who’s your partner?” Gryzlov asked, indicating the man in the Richard Nixon mask.

“Ya don’t remember your good old buddy, Sting?” Sting asked, taking off his mask.

For the first time in the meeting, Gryzlov smiled, “So we’re having a reunion.”

“Yeah. Y’know, we should put the old gang back together,” Finch said, excited, “This has been a great time.”

Gryzlov shook his head, “I’m a new man, Finch. But if you two wanted to continue with this, I might have some uses for you.”

“Sounds great, Hunter!” Finch yelled, to Gryzlov’s chagrin, “But first, I’ve got one more errand to do. Hope to see you,” with that, Finch turned to exit the door. Then, he said, “Oh, I almost forgot.” He took out a wad of cash and slammed it on Gryzlov’s desk, “Now it’s all there. Count it.” With that, Finch turned and left the room. Sting, after replacing his Nixon mask, followed.

Gryzlov looked at the wad of cash, confused. The way Finch had insisted he count the cash was troubling. So he began flipping through the cash. Three or four bills in, he noticed a slip of paper. Taking it out of the wad, he read it. He ripped it in half and then cast it aside. Slamming the desk, he whispered, “Bastard.”

Finch and Sting abandoned their car in front of Gryzlov’s office building, understanding cops must be looking for them all over the city, at this point. So instead, they dove through the alleys for a while, looking to stay as hidden as possible. Sting abandoned the Nixon mask, then suggested he and Finch go to his safe-house.

As the two got close, Finch stopped for a moment. He took out his cigarette pack. Opening it, he tapped one of the cigarettes out. He closed the cigarette pack and put it back in his pocket.

“C’mon, man. We’ve gotta get to my safe-house. What are you doing?”

Finch took out his cigarette lighter and lit the cigarette. Putting the lighter back in his pocket, he took a deep breath of the cigarette. The smoke mixed around in his lungs. Only when he had to, he let it go.

Finch whipped out the Stingray gun, “I know you set me up.”

“What are you--”

“Cut the shit,” Finch said, his countenance turned grim, “You’re working for Project Redemption. I know you’ve been ever since you told me about giving away Grizlov’s identity.”

“But I never--”

“You might as well have. I could see it in your face. I warned Gryzlov in a note I slipped in the wad of cash,” Finch said, “You’re sending me to be captured by them. And y’know what? I’ll go. In fact, I’ll find them. It’ll give me something to do. But I’ve just got to ask you a question, Sting. I’m a sadist with a vendetta against you, holding a gun. Why shouldn’t I kill you?”

“We were friends, Finch. Remember that? Remember the good times? We were friends.”

The poison dart pierced Sting’s neck. He would die in less than a minute. Finch, looking at the near-corpse, said simply, “Were.”

He looked in the direction they’d been going, where Project Redemption seemed most likely to set up an ambush. Heading in that direction, he threw his cigarette behind him and it landed on Sting’s face. The cigarette was quickly turning to ash. Finch envied it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Black Gazelle, Part 2

Sting looked at Finch as if he was speaking Chinese, “Finch, I just got out of jail for robbing a bank. And you want me to try again?”

“Get back on the horse,” Finch said, shrugging his shoulders, as if it were the simplest, most obvious decision to make.

“I think you mean wagon.”

“Trust me, I mean horse. And besides, it’ll be fun. Low risk.”

“C’mon,” Sting said, chortling, “A low-risk bank robbery? I know better than that.”

“Yeah, but we’re not doing it for the money,” Finch said, “We’re going to rob one of the Hunter’s banks and then give the money back to him in person. You know he’ll love it.”

Sting smiled, looking at Finch with a good deal of surprise, “Alright. But first, I’ve got some unfinished business to take care of.” This time Finch looked confused.

Looking at his plate, Sting finished off his biscuit. Smiling at Finch, he said, “Now I’m ready.”

It was a simpler and more spontaneous matter than one would expect, greatly expedited by the fact that both men had been involved in bank robberies before. They went to Finch’s apartment, a run-down sort of place, and Sting took an old Richard Nixon mask that Finch had used, whenever he wanted to stay hidden.

“You remember Death Walker?” Sting asked.

“With the weird dog mask,” Finch said, remembering one of his stranger acquaintances, “I never could get a handle on that guy.”

“I don’t think anyone could. Anyone human, at least.”

“It was strange the way he joined the Dastards. We were just five guys, going after Black Gazelle, and here this bizarre, uncanny guy comes and joins our group. From day one it felt like he was after more than Black Gazelle, but I could never really figure out what.”

“I always believed the rumors,” Sting said, seeming almost embarrassed. “I don’t think he was a human. The way he walked, the way he talked, the way he never seemed to die, or even age. I can’t not believe he’s the kind of guy who could take souls to Hell.”

“The psychopathic psychopomp,” Finch said, smiling, “Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we ever saw.”

With that, Finch opened his cabinet door. The number of guns reminded Sting of a shooting range.

“Take your pick,” Finch said.

“I think I’ll just use my stingray gun.”

“The whole point of the mask is so they don’t figure out who you are,” Finch said, “Don’t you think the identity of the guy with a dart gun is going to be apparent? Put it on the bed. You can get it when we come back.”

“Point taken,” Sting said, throwing his dart gun onto the bed and taking two handguns, “This’ll work.” Finch closed the cabinet. “Aren’t you going to need one?” Sting asked.

“I haven’t done this in a while,” Finch said, “So this time I’m going to stick to the basics.” He picked up his cane, which leaned against the cabinet. His bowler hat, which lay on top of the cabinet, he then placed firmly on top of his head, “The young ones probably don’t remember me. Let’s change that.”

Sting looked at the two guns in his hand, “You’re going all out this time, eh? Well, this isn’t my usual MO, but I don’t really want people to remember me.”

Finch smiled, “Let’s go.”

As Sting turned to leave the room, Finch slipped the stingray gun into his pocket.

It was a short ride over to the bank. For much of it, neither Finch nor Sting spoke. However, Sting had one nagging question that he felt needed to be answered, “What if they got one of those Anti-Super teams? The game’s changed a lot since you and I were in the thick of it. The bank probably has four or five attempts a month. So what do we do if they throw one of those Anti-Super teams on us?”

“A team like that is only called in to deal with super powers,” Finch said, smiling, “We’re just ordinary people, taking a trip down memory lane.”

Sting looked at Finch’s face, as the man drove them closer and closer to insanity. To be candid, he hadn’t remembered Finch being quite so bloodthirsty. Then again, Sting was on acid during most of the Sixties and Seventies. He didn’t remember much of anything, besides a few stories.

The car stopped right outside of the bank. Finch’s smile grew even wider as he saw the place’s name, “The Black Gazelle.”

“That Hunter moved on, eh? Doesn’t look like it. Looks like he’s got plenty of nostalgia of his own.”

“Well, we’re just going to get in, get out, right?”

“You, my friend, have no sense of fun. You go to the cash register, demand the lady put the money in your bag, and such. I’ll deal with security.”

With that, both men got out of the car. Bursting into the bank, they looked more than a little suspicious, especially Sting, with his Richard Nixon mask on. Finch, looking at the security guard with his hand on his gun, talking to his walkie talkie, smiled, “Now, now. Be a good boy and put down the gun, before ole Finch here has to get nasty.”

The security guard raised his gun, “Stop, or I’ll shoot.”

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t,” Finch said, ducking as the security guard fired. The guard looked horrified, as he realized he’d shot one of the other guards. Finch dove through the guy’s legs. Coming up from behind him, he took a knife to the guard’s neck, “Any last words?” he said, as he slit the guard’s throat.

The guard gurgled. “Not much, but it’ll have to do,” Finch said.

Gunfire rained down upon him, but he used the guard as his meat shield. Seeing where the gunfire was coming from, Finch tapped his cane on the ground twice. From the bottom of his cane, a knife shot out. Watching the knife hit the man in the forehead, Finch giggled, “Well, it’s good to know I haven’t lost my aim.”

Spying three guards coming at him from his right, Finch raised his guard/meat shield, who at this point was thoroughly bloodied. Taking the bowler hat off his head, he threw it at the three guards. Its razor-tipped edges proved effective, efficiently lopping off their heads. “Derivative, but it’ll do,” he mumbled. Putting the guard back on the ground, Finch walked over and picked up his bloodied bowler hat. Placing it firmly on his head, he then dusted himself off. He looked at Sting. “You got everything, Tricky Dick?” Finch said, proud of the codeame he’d given Sting.

“Yeah, we’re ready to go.”

“Alright, then,” Finch said, the blood from the bowler hat dripping down his face, “That was fun. But in all honesty, the security here is kind of pathetic. Really, we’re doing them a favor. How could they be so negligent?”

As Finch and Sting were two steps from the front door, they heard a voice from behind them, “You killed my grandfather.”

Turning around, Finch’s eyes widened. He was looking at The Black Gazelle. “You. A legacy,” Finch said, “I love you.”

Friday, September 9, 2011

Black Gazelle, Part 1

Finch had been dead for 33 years now.

Leaning his back against the brick wall, he took out his cigarette pack. Carefully tapping one of the cigarettes out of its case, he slipped the rest back into his pocket and took out a lighter. One simple click and it was on fire, every second racing towards oblivion. Soon, it would be ash. He envied it. Putting the lighter back into his pocket, he took a deep breath of smoke. Slowly exhaling, he watched the smoke dance around his face and then reach up towards the sky.

He wasn’t really dead, he tried to remind himself. Someone else was. But he’d felt dead for 33 years and hadn’t even gotten the dignity of a death scene.

“That stuff’s bad for your health,” some civilian said, looking at the cigarette as he walked up to Finch.

“So’s me breaking your neck.”

With that, the man put his hands in the air, in resignation, “Just trying to help, man.”

Finch chuckled, as he saw the man walk away. “Help,” he said, as if he was obsessed with the word, “Help.” He didn’t mean it. He didn’t really think anyone could help him. But it still fascinated him to think about the word.

33 years ago, Finch had been a member of a group of villains, called the Dastards. He and five other guys, who all shared the common antagonist in Black Gazelle, basically lived their lives with the express intent of fighting their archenemy.

Finch’s time with the Dastards marked some of the best years of his life. But then, in 1978, Panther, one of the six, killed Black Gazelle.

Finch took another deep breath from the cigarette, allowing the smoke to swirl around in his lungs, fill them, make them feel like something more than they were. He let go of the smoke, just like he’d let go of everything else.

One of his friends from the group, Sting, was supposed to meet him here. If he was being honest, he didn’t remember when they were supposed to meet. He didn’t really care, either. He could stand here, waiting, for hours. It’s not like he had anything else to do. And it gave him time to think.

He couldn’t help but wonder if this meeting was going to be good for him. Maybe what he really needed was to just let go of all this, move to a new city. Get a new job, a new life. After all, whenever super villains met, nothing seemed to go right. Finch took the cigarette in his hand, looked at it, and threw it onto the sidewalk. He felt satisfied as he ground it into the sidewalk with his shoe. He took one step forward, when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey.” Finch turned around as he heard the voice. Just as he expected, it was Sting.

“Hey,” Finch replied, “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah,” Sting said, “They just let met out of jail last week.”

Finch smirked, “They finally caught the infamous Sting, eh?”

“Yeah,” he said, looking at the sidewalk, “Robbing a bank right after snorting crack wasn’t my greatest idea.”

Finch laughed, “It had to have been better than that time you gave Black Gazelle those hallucinogens.”

Sting laughed as well, “Yeah, the Sixties were crazy times. Y’know, for one guy with a stingray gun, I’ve gotten myself into a lot of trouble, over the years.” Sting looked down at his gun. It was an interesting dart machine, that shot not just tranquilizers but a variety of darts: Plague Darts, Laughing Darts, etc. Finch remembered Sting saying once that he always kept one poison dart in there, at all times, in case things got ugly. When he was arrested, he was thankful he’d never needed to use it. A murder charge was the last thing he needed.

Finch said, “Look who you’re talking to. I don’t have powers and I can’t count the number of times I’ve fought supers.”

Sting pat Finch on the back, “It’s really good to see you. Want to head on over to Denny’s? Catch up on old times?”

“Sounds good,” Finch said, looking at his friend. The two walked and talked for a while, catching up on those glorious old times. By the time they’d sat down and gotten their food, Finch felt as good as the old days, again. He was laughing.

“So here the Hunter and I were trying to pull a simple bank job, when twelve guys with machine guns come popping out of the woodwork. It was a mob bank, and apparently they’d been expecting us. So I look at The Hunter, figuring the best thing we can do is surrender and hope for the best.”

Finch looked at Sting, “The Hunter isn’t really the giving up sort.”

“Yeah, I found that out,” Sting said, “Because by the time I’m looking at Hunter, he’s thrown his spear at one guy and pounced on another. Before I had the time to say, ‘Holy shit,’ he’d taken out his crossbow and really gotten the fight started. I’m looking for cover, but I can’t find any. So I plug a few of the guys with sleeping darts, leap over one guy, and manage to dive behind a counter. By the time I looked back up, the carnage was over.”

Finch smiled, “Did you guys take the money?”

“Yeah, The Hunter made sure we cleaned out the entire bank. He was so pissed off, he ended up torching the place.”

“Was that place--”

Sting knew what Finch was going to say before he said it, “Yeah, the bank was owned by that mob boss who got his legs broken by The Hunter. I wasn’t involved in that one, though. What he did is, he got The Owl to fly him over the guy’s house. The Owl dropped him into the boss’s bedroom, The Hunter broke the guy’s legs, then The Owl flew him out. They said they were in and out in under three minutes.”

Finch shook his head, “How those two manage to stay alive is beyond me.”

“What’s even scarier to think about is that Hunter’s now the head of a major corporation.”

Finch took a bite of his food and said, “Yeah, it’s amazing the way a guy’s life can change like that.”

“I always wondered what would happen if we revealed his identity. What if we told the world that businessman Alex Gryzlov is in fact The Hunter?”

Finch put his fork down, “Why would you do that? He’s our friend.”

“Yeah,” Sting said, “It was just a thought.” The two sat there, eating there food in silence, until Sting asked, “Why’d you kill Panther?”

Finch continued eating his food, thinking about the question. Finally, he said, “I thought that would be obvious. Panther broke the code. He killed our archenemy. The Dastards were ruined. My life was over.”

“The Hunter’s still got a life. It’s probably better now than ever before.”

“The Hunter’s a madman.”

Sting shook his head, “What did Panther say, while you were killing him?”

“I stabbed him through his chest with a sword and then used his own claw to slit his throat. By the time he realized what was happening, he wasn’t in any condition to speak.”

Sting moved his food around with a fork, finally asking, “What should we do now?”

Weighing his options, Finch smiled, “Let’s go rob a bank.”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Liberty's Cry, Part 4

“We’re the founders of America,” one of the voices said, though Nathan couldn’t see him, because the entire room was shrouded in pitch black, “Our America.”
Nathan looked around, “Where am I? This place... The wormhole--”

“We are America,” the voice said, “My six friends and I. We come from your world, Nathan. A world where corruption runs rampant, the economy is always volatile, and people seemed to have forgotten what it means to be an American.”

“But if you’re from my world, how did you--

“It was simpler than you’d expect,” the voice said, “Six of us are psychics, but one of my friends here has the ability to open wormholes. Well, we’d hoped we could go back in time and fix our own reality. But we found something better. Don’t you see? Here we found a primitive reality and we built it up to be just like America, at the peek of its success!”

“And what of the other countries? Where do they fit into your plan?”
“They don’t,” the voice admitted, “America is the only country in this reality.”

“Then where did the Tories come from? Rousseau? Gil?”
“I’ve had enough of these questions,” a darker, grimmer voice declared, “Gimme the go-ahead and I can kill him, real quick.”
Nathan felt the tension run through his body, until the calmer voice prevailed, “Now, now, Tom. That wouldn’t be democratic of us, would it? What we have on our hands is a national hero, here. Sure, he was disgraced, but don’t we still owe him--”
“A bullet, like he was gonna give to--”
“Tom, if you want to create a barbaric America, you can go off to your own reality and do that, but that’s not what we agreed to for this reality, is it, fellows? Now, Nathan asked about the rebels and the French. You see, we brought in ideas from other countries, but implanted them into America. And unfortunately, some of the primitive inhabitants of this country have resisted our mind control and are therefore rebelling against us. Most of them live in the West, where Rousseau has actually fermented a bit of a resistance himself.”
Nathan, afraid to ask any more questions, sat there, shivering, “Mind control. That’s not democracy. That’s not America. That’s madness!”
“More mad than puttin’ a bullet in the president?” the darker voice, Nathan felt pretty confident the voice belong to Tom, said.

“I did what I had to. The man was ruining--”
“You’re right, Nathan,” the voice said, “Nixon was ruining our country. Just like our leaders today are. Just like they’ve been ruining the country for the past century. But don’t you see? We’ve saved our America by transplanting it. And isn’t it a beautiful place? Isn’t everyone happy here?”

“But at the cost of truth!” Nathan yelled, “You are all living a lie. You can’t force people to be American. That’s not what America’s about!”
“And you would know, you has-been piece of--”
“Now, now, Tom. Is that any way to treat our guest?”

Tom sighed.

“We’re giving you two options, Nathan,” the voice said, “Because we respect your views on America and your experience with it, we’re going to allow you to become one of our group. The eight of us will lead this reality to the beauteous glory it was meant for.”
“Or?” Nathan asked, with tense excitement.

“Or, we can send you home. We’ll implant you with fake memories, and you’ll tell your superiors this was actually Philadelphia, during the time of the Philadelphia Convention. The wormhole will be closed up and our realities will never again have contact.”

Nathan sat there, panting. He hadn’t realized it before, but he was quite tired. He’d fought a lot and fallen quite a distance, even if the fall was cushioned by telekinesis. His lungs and throat were burning. His insides felt like they’d been mixed up.

He stopped himself. He had to think about his decision, the decision that would impact him for the rest of his life. Before entering the wormhole, Nathan knew for a fact that it was the lies that had ruined his beautiful America. But had it been the lies? Or had it just been their exposure to the public? Was it lies that killed his America, or was it the truth?

His mind was a pendulum, swinging back between the two options. Were the lies okay, if they comforted the people? Was the truth so important, it needed to be revealed?
Finally, though he didn’t have an answer, he at least had something to say, “What happened to Firecracker?”
The pause reverberated throughout the room, until the voice finally spoke up again, “He’s dead. Patriot Star killed him.”
Allowing Nathan time to process the young lad’s death, no one spoke. Nathan backed up until he found a wooden table to lean on. It comforted him, to have something physical to hold onto, something physical to let him know that all of this was real.

“So what will it be, Nathan? Our America, or yours?”
Nathan wiped the sweat off his brow. He realized this was the most difficult decision he’d ever made in his entire life. But he knew it was one that would make him smile.

“I choose freedom.” With that, he flung the table across the room and heard Tom’s pain as it whacked the menacing man in the face. Nathan leaped towards the other voice he had heard. His head was telekinetically twisted 180 degrees.

It was the snap heard ‘round the world.

“Close the wormhole,” was all the once-friendly voice had to say.

Julia sighed as she looked through all her assorted paperwork. The mission had failed miserably. They’d lost Nathan, one of her most famous prisoners, and the wormhole had been closed. The media would be in an uproar.

If she revealed that the prisoner was still running around, out of the reach of the American government, funding for Project Redemption would be in peril, along with her job. However, if he was killed in action, as the program had made allowances for, she might be able to salvage the situation. Rubbing her temples, she wondered what would be the right thing to do.

Then she decided what she would do. Though Julia would never know what happened to Nathan, she put him on record as having died during his mission.