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 to him.

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 sweat.

And to his side was Dreadnaught Zero-One-Three; Gunslinger Sam.

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.

Tropic felt 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.

Stepping 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 it!"

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.

"Mr. Asam," 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, won’t you?"

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 him alone.

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 him.

"$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."

Asam frowned 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 you’ll live."

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."

The 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, gone.

"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 need?"

"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.", Crimson interrupted.

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."

Crimson 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.

Tropic’s 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.

Tropic released 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.

Indigo looked 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.

He sipped 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 know.

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.

"All right, 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 loudly shut.

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."
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