Tropic crashed through the office building’s
tenth floor window and into the midst of the surprised Malta operatives.
He cut through them like a hot knife, his anger over Crimson’s revelations
fueling his assault. The room he burst into was soon left full of
the broken, unconscious thugs.
He stalked from the office, heat radiating
off him in waves, and where he stepped the floor melted into little
puddles of concrete and carpet. Tropic continued from floor to floor
eliminating the Malta criminals he came across, searching only for
Gunslinger Sam and Asam, the accountant. All the others were a nuisance
After clearing a room of several engineers and sappers, he
entered an office with a large window that looked over what appeared
to be a lobby-like area. Below there were about five Malta operatives
in a group and then he saw his prey. The accountant was seated in
a rolling office chair clutching a soft briefcase tightly to his chest
trying to cover his round body, his swarthy bearded face covered with
And to his side was Dreadnaught Zero-One-Three; Gunslinger
Tropic smashed through the office’s window, glass shards raining
down on the Malta soldiers. One shouted "Tropic", another screamed
"MHI", and all scrambled for their weapons. They were immediately
engulfed in a huge ball of flame and all of them dropped like stones,
taken out of the fight without having fired a shot.
He spun around
to face Gunslinger Sam, teeth gritted together and his eyes leaking
red fire. Sam stood there calmly regarding him. The accountant had
fallen out of his chair when Tropic crashed through the window, and
he had skittered on his backside until his back was pressed tightly
against a wall.
"So, Tropic", Sam said calmly, "I heard you were dead!
No matter. I was just telling my friend here, Al-Salim, that you were
probably too stupid to find me anyway." The Gunslinger held his weapon
at his side as he paced around Tropic in a circle. "Guess I lost that
bet…although it did take you long enough." He squinted one of his
eyes at the hero. "Nothing to say, Mr. Superman?" Sam sighed heavily,
the fabric of his bandana moving slightly. Tropic stood facing the
thug, slowly clenching his hands into fists. "Well then," Sam continued,
"let’s finish you off."
Sam raised his gun and fired two shots in
one fluid movement but Tropic was no longer standing there. As soon
as the Gunslinger moved, Tropic leapt into the air, somersaulted,
and landed with both his feet striking Sam in the chest. Sam staggered
backwards and Tropic struck again shooting a bolt of fire directly
into the man’s chest. The Gunslinger shrugged it off and fired again
at the hero. Tropic ducked as the bullet whizzed over his head. Sam
rushed forward and kicked Tropic with a roundhouse blow, catching
him in the ribs. Tropic fell sideways barely maintaining his balance.
Sam rushed forward again and threw a right cross at the hero’s head
but Tropic moved out of the way and, crouching low, hit the Malta
thug with a left hook to the body and then, rising slightly, the same
strike to the side of the head. Sam fell dazed to the side but, as
he fought to keep his balance, raised his gun and fired.
the impact in his side but still came on. Sam raised his weapon to
fire again but Tropic ran toward him, grabbing the Gunslinger’s wrist
and pushing straight through until Sam’s back was rammed into the
wall. His gun hand pinned, Sam struck Tropic in the side again and
again, hitting the bullet wound and causing Tropic to grunt in agony.
Tropic ignored it and banged Sam’s hand against the wall trying to
knock the gun from it. Once, twice, three times until, finally, the
Malta weapon fell from his hand and slid across the marble floor,
clattering as it went. His gun lost, Sam fought harder and drove his
knee into Tropic’s stomach. The hero loosened his grip slightly and
Gunslinger Sam was able to push him away.
Sam attacked with crazed
vigor now. Left. Right. He struck Tropic with two blows to the head.
Tropic saw the third coming and bobbed out of the way. He hit Sam
with another hook to the body and a straight right to the stomach.
The air forcefully blew out of Sam’s lungs and as the Gunslinger doubled
over, Tropic flung his head upwards, striking Sam on the point of
the chin. Sam staggered back and Tropic pressed his advantage.
forward, Tropic threw a powerful right cross at the head of the Malta
criminal. But Sam still had enough of his wits about him. He weaved
out of the way and caught Tropic’s arm. The Gunslinger pulled Tropic
toward him and, putting all his weight behind it, spun him around
and released the hero. Tropic, completely off balance, spun and crashed
heavily into the wall. There was a sickening pop as Tropic’s left
shoulder hit the wall and, when he turned around to face Sam again,
his left arm hung down much lower than his right, obviously dislocated.
Gunslinger Sam grinned beneath his bandana when he saw Tropic’s dislocated
arm and he leapt toward him. Sam buried his fist into the hero’s stomach.
The air flew from Tropic’s lungs and he bent forward convulsively.
Sam hit Tropic’s bent head with the point of his knee sending the
hero straight up and then, to finish, the Malta Gunslinger struck
him with a powerful uppercut. Tropic’s head jerked back and struck
the wall behind him. Dazed, the fiery hero lost his footing and slid
down the wall until he sat on the cold marble floor, the Malta criminal
standing above him.
Sam stood there breathing heavily. "Well, that
was…fun.", he said as he stepped away from the fallen hero. He looked
about for his gun and, when he saw it, walked leisurely to retrieve
it. "You put up a good fight, Mr. Man, but I knew the last time we
met was just a fluke." Sam calmly picked up his gun. Tropic sat there
against the wall watching every move of his enemy. "Knew you really
couldn’t beat me," Sam continued, "now I proved it, proved it, proved
Sam returned to stand over Tropic. "And now it’s all over…for
you. Those tramps’ll be outta here, my pal Asam’ll handle the money,
you’ll be dead…it’s been a good day!" He aimed the gun at arm’s length
at Tropic’s head. "Any last words, Superhero?", he asked with a sneer
in his voice.
"Yes", Tropic replied calmly, "you’re an idiot."With
that statement Tropic unleashed an enormous blast of intense white
fire that shot through Sam’s head like a stone through wet paper.
Sam screamed for less than a second and then his head simply disintegrated,
leaving only a smoldering, cauterized stump. Gunslinger Sam’s headless
body stood for a moment and then dropped to it’s knees and finally
fell over onto Tropic’s legs.
Tropic kicked the smoking body from
him and stood, wavering, his left arm dangling. He looked at the body
and shook his head. "Moron.", he whispered and then turned to seek
out the accountant.
Asam was still sitting on the floor, his back
pressed against the wall still clutching his briefcase to his chest
as though it were a shield. He stared in horror at the headless body
of his protector still engulfed in smoke. And then he saw Tropic staring
at him, with a grim smile on his face and fire in his eyes.
Tropic said as he walked towards the accountant, "you are a very difficult
man to track down." Tropic then reached over and grasped his left
wrist and yanked down hard. The dislocated limb snapped back into
place with loud, sickening pop. Tropic’s face betrayed nothing, no
emotion showed, but, truth to tell, when the arm popped back into
it’s socket he wanted to scream. Asam, on the other hand, winced enough
for the both of them.
"Looking for you I have been chased by a man
with a giant hammer where his hand used to be, shot at, shot, twice!,
grenaded, webbed, hit by rockets, dunked in Red River and have had
just a really bad day." Tropic sighed and continued toward the terrified
accountant. "I have been from Peregrine Island, to Skyway, back to
Peregrine, out to Talos, Founder’s Falls, Peregrine again two more
times and here to Steel Canyon."
Tropic grabbed a chair laying nearby
and spun it around. He sat facing Asam, his arms resting on the back
of the chair. "Don’t disappoint me, Mr. Asam. You will tell me everything,
Asam nodded so vigorously Tropic feared he would knock
himself unconscious. "Yes, yes, of course!" Asam practically yelled
out. "Whatever you need to know! Yes!"
"The Superwomen, Mr. Asam.
Where are they?"
"I don’t know," Asam shook his head vigorously, "they
were here just a couple of hours ago, but they moved them out. I don’t
know where they took them."
Tropic looked at a clock mounted on the
room’s wall. 10:35p.m. "Just missed them.", he swore silently to himself.
"But I know where the sale is going to take place!", Asam continued,
eager to provide any information that might cause the hero to leave
Tropic raised an eyebrow. "Go on."
"The Ambassador. That’s
where they’re going to complete their plan."
"The Ambassador?" Tropic
narrowed his eyes. The Ambassador was probably the city’s finest resort
hotel. Located in the heart of Atlas Park it looked over Atlas Plaza
from Prometheus Park. Heads of state, kings and queens, film and music
stars had all been guests.
Asam nodded. "Yes, yes. Malta owns it!
It’s secure for them and they have guaranteed it safe for the buyers.
They are already here, you know. The auction is supposed to take place
tomorrow at 9 p.m." Asam frowned. "But…"
Tropic stared at the round
little accountant. "Mr. Asam, I would really advise you to keep talking."
Tropic leaned closer. "But what?"
"The sale…it’s by invitation only."
Tropic glanced at the briefcase the man still grasped tightly. "I’m
sure you have an extra invitation just for me, don’t you, Mr. Asam?",
Tropic said softly indicating the briefcase.
"Yes, yes, of course,
yes I do!", Asam babbled while fumbling with the catch on his case.
"But still, there is a buy in. The invitation will do you no good
unless you have the buy in!"
"And how much is this ‘buy in’?", Tropic
asked with a raised eyebrow as he examined the invitation Asam handed
"$500,000 U.S. dollars in diamonds or other precious stones."
Asam said the amount as if he were embarrassed. "You must have the
invitation and the stones before you are even allowed into the event."
Tropic nodded his head and pulled on his goatee. $500,000 in diamonds.
The Malta was going to make 2.5 million dollars just from the buyers
walking through the door.
The accountant waited for the hero to continue.
He knew his fate was completely in Tropic’s hands now, one master
traded for another.
Finally Tropic looked at the man. "My last question,
Mr. Asam. The superwomen…how are they being controlled. I can’t believe
they haven’t been fighting you every step of the way."
and shook his head. "Yes, I can assure you that they have caused some
problems but there is this fellow. He used to be one of those Crey
people, a scientist. He developed a compound that gives off this odor,
a scent that, when smelled by women in particular, they become more…pliant.
And then with the compound, he uses this magical chant or…spell, maybe…with
both, the women become docile, susceptible to suggestion, easy to
control." The accountant stared into Tropic’s fire-filled eyes. "He
calls himself ’The Techno-Mage’."
Tropic sat silently for a few moments
digesting the information. All the Malta’s plans were coming to a
head tomorrow night at nine. He had some time, at least, and had already
begun to formulate the bare bones of a plan. He looked again at the
accountant sitting on the floor, still trying to push his back through
the wall he leaned against. Tropic sighed and pulled out his communicator.
He spoke a few words into it and turned to the accountant once more.
"Mr. Asam, within a few moments some people are going to be here.
Government people. They’re going to gather up all these Malta agents…and
you, too." He saw the swarthy round man’s look of fear. "You’ve answered
all my questions and I have no doubt that you’re telling me the truth.
I’ve put in a good word for you, but now, you have to help yourself."
"Yes, anything…anything." The accountant was practically in tears.
Tropic rose from his chair and kneeled next to the man. Putting his
hand on his shoulder he said simply, "Answer their questions. Tell
them what you know and you’ll live. Your life won’t ever be the same…but
Tropic stood and crossed over to a window. He heard
the government people already working their way through the floor.
He turned back and looked at Al-Salim Kabir Asam still sitting there
on the floor, tears beginning to stream down his face. Then he opened
the window and flew away.
The red light flashed on Crimson’s computer
screen and he touched a key on his keyboard. The screen immediately
split into four sections, each showing a security camera view of the
first floor of the warehouse. Tropic was plainly visible climbing
the steps to the office. Crimson pressed a button underneath his desk
and the office door clicked and opened.
"He’s back.", he said softly.
Indigo rose from her chair and stood near the bookcases in Crimson’s
office. Her face was grim, still angry with Crimson and worried over
Tropic’s reaction to her.
Tropic entered the office, looked at Crimson
and then turned only his head to Indigo. His eyes narrowed slightly.
Indigo cleared her throat. "Tropic. Um…Crimson was just telling me
about what…happened." Tropic just stared at her, emotionless. "I just
wanted to tell you…I mean I wasn’t…I didn’t know what was…" Indigo
stopped and stood for a moment. "I’m sorry for what happened. Even
though I didn’t know everything…I’m sorry for my part in it."
hero stared at her for a moment more then almost imperceptibly nodded
his head in her direction. Then he turned to Crimson. "I found the
accountant. I need three things from you."
Indigo’s eyes shot daggers
at Crimson. She knew now that, although Tropic didn’t hold her responsible
for Crimson’s actions, his trust in her was now, perhaps irretrievably,
"Asam?", Crimson said. "What did he know?"
Tropic sighed and
recounted some of Asam’s story.
"The Ambassador? Malta owns the Ambassador?"
Crimson rubbed his chin. "Well, that explains how Malta gets some
of their funds." He looked at the hero once more. "Now, what do you
"Three things.", Tropic began again. "First, I need the plans,
blueprints, schematics, everything you have on the inside of the Ambassador."
Crimson nodded. "I can do that right now." He crossed over to the
bank of computers against the far wall and sat. Pulling out the keyboard
he typed a few instructions and dropped a blank CD into the writer.
The machine whirled and clacked until finally it hissed and the writer
drawer slid open. The spy put the disk into a jewel case and handed
it to the hero. "Here’s every building document on the hotel. From
start to finish, including every upgrade and revision. I even included
a repositioned satellite infrared scan of the building just to ensure
they hadn’t done any unauthorized construction."
Tropic nodded. "Second,
I need you to talk to your people in the CIA…"
"I’m not with the CIA.",
Tropic paused and started again. "I need you
to talk to your people in the CIA. I need an antidote to whatever
this Techno-Mage is using. Smelling salts, a shot, whatever. I need
the girls clearheaded because they’re going to be my backup."
returned to his place behind his desk. He looked at the hero and nodded.
"And third," Tropic said, eyes bright with fire, "I need the buy in…$500,000
dollars in diamonds or precious stones."
Crimson balked. "No, there’s
no way I can get that. Not a chance."
Suddenly, Tropic was around
the desk and in front of the spy. He grabbed the red suited man by
the lapel, lifted him from the floor with one hand and drew him close
to his face. Across the room, Indigo pressed herself against the bookcase.
She could see the heat radiating off the fiery hero in waves and Crimson’s
face was awash in the light that blazed from Tropic’s eyes.
voice was cold enough to chill snow. "You will get me what I need…or
I will kill you." It was a simple statement of fact.
the spy and walked calmly to the door. He turned and said, "I’ll see
you at seven tomorrow night.", and then he calmly left.
at Crimson. "He is in earnest."
The spy was straightening his lapel.
"Yes. In most deadly earnest." Crimson sighed and picked up his phone.
He had some calls to make.
Tropic returned home to his apartment in
Talos Island. He showered and stood in his living room clad in his
robe, staring out the large window on the 35th floor at the statue
of Talos. He sipped from a glass of scotch, the ice cubes tinkling
together in the amber liquid. He sighed finally and sat at his computer,
sliding in the disk Crimson had given him.
The disk contained everything
Crimson had promised. All the building plans from the Ambassador’s
inception to the present day were there. But Tropic had already narrowed
down his search. He had an idea of what he was looking for and to
that end he could ignore the top floors of the hotel. He believed
he would find what he was looking for in the basement and sub-basement
levels of the resort.
He knew the Malta would not want to draw any
undue attention to the arrival of the girls. He also knew that they
would need ease of movement within the hotel. He scanned the plans
until at last he noticed two possibilities.
He assumed that the Malta
would hold the…auction in one of the hotels luxurious meeting rooms.
The plans showed him one room that had a private elevator which lead
down into the basement and connected with a larger room. The super
heroines could be held in that room and then just taken by elevator
to their sale.
The other possibility was another large room in the
sub-basement that was connected by a long corridor to a flight of
stairs which lead again to another private meeting room. And both
the first and second "holding rooms" in the basement were accessed
by a private loading dock.
Tropic frowned. Both those options were
viable and now his task was to guess which room the women were being
held in. But then he smiled grimly and realized that the answer was
staring him in the face. Whatever room the auction was in, would lead
him to where the girls were. The elevator or the stairs would each
lead to a different room and that was where the women were.
the last of the scotch from the glass and looked at the large clock
on the wall. It was after three a.m. and he was tired. He put the
empty glass in the kitchen sink, crossed to his room and, taking off
his robe, slid into bed. The cool sheets felt good on his bare chest
and he lay there with his arms behind his head, thinking. It had been
a long day. He had discovered much, some of which he didn’t want to
He looked out the open window into the night sky. The green
and blue light from the force field wall that separated the city zones
cast its glow across his bed. Then, finally, he closed his fiery eyes
and slept fitfully until the morning sun broke through his window.
War Witch stood against the
wall in the room where she and the other women were being held. She
smirked to herself. "Not a room," she thought, "a cell." It was a
large room with a bench along one side but the doorway was just a
wall with sliding metal bars, just like in an old prison movie. She
looked around at the other heroines trapped with her. And she absently
rubbed her wrists.
Ms. Moxie rubbed her wrists as well. They had removed
the handcuffs from all the women but still, that overpowering scent
still filled the air. She noticed that they all seemed more aware
but were still unable to gather their thoughts enough to make any
type of attack on their captors or a bid for their freedom. She looked
up and saw a small strip of a window and could see daylight. Ms. Moxie
had lost all track of time and had no idea of even what day it was.
The other superwomen all looked at each other, silently planning escape
but finding it impossible to act. AuraGirl, Temptations, Gogo, all
of them, all dressed alike in their short white "potato sacks", and
all helpless. None of them liked the feeling and all had vowed to
repay their captors in kind a thousand fold.
Suddenly the metal barred
door clanged open and three Malta operatives stepped in. Two Sappers
accompanied a Tactical Op, who held several small bags. He walked
into the cell and handed each of the women a different sack. When
he finished the distribution he returned to the cell door.
ladies!", he shouted out like a drill instructor. "Open the bags and
get dressed!" Then all three of the Malta left and the cell door slid
As if they had no will of their own, the women opened
the bags, took off their shifts and began to get dressed. The bags
contained their costumes. But, upon closer inspection, the women realized
that these were much briefer versions of their original garb. The
basic colors and look of the individual outfits was the same but where
there was once long spandex pants were now shorts, or bikini bottoms
and even a thong or two.
Skirts had been changed to mini-skirts. Spandex
and Kevlar tops changed to halters or bandeau tops. War Witch changed
into her new costume and looked at herself. The neckpiece was still
the same but the rest was a bikini top with boy-leg shorts and thigh
high boots with stiletto heels.
She gazed around the room at the other
women and saw that they were doing the same. All had sour expressions
and grimaces on their faces as they saw what they and the other super
heroines were being forced to wear. War Witch shook her head. "We
look like a bunch of Superhero Hookers.", she thought to herself.
She sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall. She tilted her
head and looked upwards at the small strip of sunlight streaming through
the little window. She tried to create her fire sword and generate
her ice powers but had no luck with either.
War Witch shook her head
and whispered, "Someone’s going to come. Someone’s got to."