By Josef Koelbl III

It all started when…

Crimson looked at his watch again and frowned. The hero should have been there by now. "If he even decides to come at all", he thought. He scanned the sky as he paced in front of the statue on Perigrene Island.

The hero knew where to find him as did most of the super powered folk in Paragon City. Villains as well. And even though Crimson just looked like a man in a dark red suit there was more to him than met the eye. He may have been an agent of the government, CIA or perhaps NSA, but no one knew for certain. And though the line of his Armani suit was impeccable, beneath it he was well prepared for trouble: two .45’s in shoulder holsters, a Bowie knife strapped to his back, a stun gun with the appearance and size of a pager attached to his belt that could send a few thousand volts into his assailant and a couple of ankle holsters packed with Walther PPK’s just to round out his arsenal. But he still considered himself more of an idea man than a combatant. And that was why he waited for the hero.

Glancing at the time again he sighed and looked to the sky. Suddenly, behind him, he felt a blast of heat as if someone had opened the door on a hot summer day and left the comfort of an air conditioned room. He smiled and turned. "Tropic.", he said, nodding his head in greeting.

Tropic landed gracefully in front of the red-clad man. His eyes leaked yellow fire as he frowned. "I got your message. What do you want?" His tone let the spy know that he would rather be anywhere but here.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk", Crimson shook his head. "Not even an hello, Tropic?"

Tropic snorted. "I don’t like you, Crimson. You’ve lied to me, sent me on missions for one thing which turned out to be for something completely different. Had me steal evidence, plant evidence, take down people for no reason…There’s a guy in the Zig right now doing time for something he didn’t do because of you."

"He did things much worse than what he’s in prison for."

"That’s not the point. Its not justice."

Crimson smiled. "Justice is blind, Tropic."

"Yeah…well, Justice sees more than you think, Crimson." Tropic’s eyes flared red. "I got your message. What do you want?"

Crimson got straight to the point. "I need your help, Tropic.", he said simply.

Tropic shook his head slightly in disbelief. Rising slowly and hovering above the ground he stared at the red-suited man, said "Goodbye, Crimson", and prepared to fly back towards the city.
Crimson rushed forward, arm outstretched. "WAIT!…5 minutes!…" He dropped his arm. "Please."

The hero turned to Crimson again. It was the ‘please’ that did it. He didn’t think Crimson had ever said that word in his life. Tropic dropped to the earth again. Crossing his arms across his chest he said two words. "Five minutes."

Crimson sighed heavily with relief. "Ok, here it is. About three, maybe four weeks ago, I sent a hero in on a routine mission. Find documents, that sort of thing. She never returned. I checked with her super group, her other contacts, even heroes she had been casually connected with. Nothing, no one had seen her. I sent another hero in to complete the original mission and to find her if possible. She disappeared as well."

Tropic stood silently stroking his goatee. "Go on."

"I sent another hero in, a man this time. He came back and reported that the warehouse was empty. Completely empty. Not even dust. I sent what information I had on the missing heroines to Hero Corps and moved on to other pressing concerns." Crimson paused and cleared his throat. "A week ago or so I sent another girl on a mission. She disappeared. I believe in coincidence as much as the next man but this was too weird. Hero Corps had made no progress so I did a little digging myself."

Crimson opened his jacket and pulled out a white computer printout. "Over the past month fourteen super heroines have gone missing"


"I want you to find them." The statement hung in the air like a cloud laden with rain.

"Me? Isn’t this more a job for Hero Corps or even the police?"

"Maybe," Crimson held out the paper to Tropic, "but that warehouse was a Malta Group facility…"

"Malta.", Tropic sneered under his breath.

"…and you know some of these girls."

Tropic took the print out and looked over the names of the missing women. His eyes narrowed then widened in surprise. Fiery Fox, GoGo, Ms. Moxie, AuraGirl, all of these were women he knew well and had worked with in the past. Others on the list he had met once or twice, some he knew by name and reputation only.

He looked up at Crimson. "There are some heavy hitters on this list.", he said handing it back to the spy.

"I know. Whoever is responsible for this may have some power we need to deal with. If its Malta we need to know why and how. If its not, we need to know who."

Tropic stood silently. Finally he began to hover above the ground. "All right. I’m in. But why me? Out of everyone you could have called on, why me?"

Crimson looked up at the hero. "Two reasons. One, I know you’ll sink your teeth into this and lock your jaws. You won’t let go till you find out what’s going on. You‘re who I can count on to do that."

"And the second?"

"You’re you. You can be as mean, ruthless and dirty as I can. You’ll break a rule and step over a line if you have to, if it’s the right thing to do. And I think we’ll need that on this one."

Tropic rose into the air and called back to the spy. "Yeah…right. I’ll check back when I know something." He flew higher and Crimson heard his voice on the wind. "And don’t think I bought that lock-jaw crap for a second."

Crimson stared after the hero and whispered under his breath, "I actually meant that."


The building was dark, lit only by the sporadic lights in occasional offices and the bright glow of the moon filtering through the windows. Ms. Moxie had chosen the late hour to investigate the place for two simple reasons: it should be empty and, if it wasn’t, they would probably be the bad guys.

She crept carefully between floors, stealthy in her step. The dark haired heroine was not there to fight but only to seek information. A CIA operative had gone missing in this area and this office building was on his list of "hot spots" so Ms. Moxie had come looking for any clue that may lead to the man.

Suddenly, she was engulfed in a blazing white force which propelled her forward. She struck her head on the wall and sank to her knees. Ms. Moxie put her hand down and struggled to rise to her feet but it was as if all the strength had left her body. Several hands grabbed her, the rough leather of their gloves scratching her skin. She tried to fight but her arms were like lead and then she smelled it; the thick cloying scent of…eucalyptus?…or maybe…jasmine?

And the sound…a monotonous drone, a deep low voice chanting the same thing over and over. She wanted to fight but her limbs wouldn’t respond. She was dazed and looked frantically at her attackers but not registering any of the facts in her spinning world. "Green eyes", she thought, and concluded Circle of Thorns. But then she realized they weren’t eyes but…goggles?

"Fight! FIGHT!", she repeated to herself in her head. She tried but could do nothing. "FIGHT!", she screamed to herself again. And then the voice inside her head said only "Sleep" and she dived head first into the gaping maw of unconsciousness.
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