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
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.
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.
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", Crimson shook his head. "Not even an hello, 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."
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
"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
"Maybe," Crimson held out the paper to Tropic, "but that
warehouse was a Malta Group facility…"
"Malta.", Tropic sneered under
"…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.
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
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