TWISTS AND RETURNS
Josef Koelbl III
"I never really
set out to be a superhero and, just between you, me and the potted
plant, I was really just interested in making some easy money. You
know, I’m super strong, fairly quick and bullets and knives bounce
off me and I’m pretty much immune to fire and ice...so my career choices
were kinda limited."
They looked at me with expressions that could
best be described as ‘unfriendly’. Weird, seeing as how they were
the ones that brought me here. I glanced around the sterile room briefly.
It looked like a hospital room or a lab - white walls, silver chairs
and tables covered with beakers and tubes and papers. And the three
of them just stood there staring at me, waiting. Two guys and a girl,
like that tv show, one of the guys with his arms folded across his
chest and the other just standing there exuding almost as much personality
as the lab table. The girl on the other hand was hot. And they all
were wearing the same outfit with the blue and gold shield on its
No one said a thing so I figured, since I was a guest and all,
I might as well tell them what the hell happened and then maybe they
could explain it to me. So, I started at the beginning.
I grew up in Kings Row, a hard scrabble neighborhood in a hard scrabble
city. It was all right, I guess. Mom and Dad took care of me and my
big sister. Dad worked at the refinery and Mom stayed at home keeping
an eye on us. It wasn’t that we were wild kids, it was just that trouble
always seemed to be right there handy when we woke up in the morning.
Her hands were full, that was for sure.
I was about fifteen when these
powers started to show up. They didn’t show up all at once. My first
clue was when I got in a fight at school and knocked the kid through a
fence. After that they came on pretty quick and I took advantage of
them. Girls like tough guys, at least they do in tough neighborhoods.
Soon after that my folks got killed. Drunk driver, hit and run. They
caught him and sent him away but it didn’t make me feel any better.
It was just me and my sister then. She was nineteen years old trying
to raise a rebellious sixteen year old with super powers. I didn’t
make it easy on her either. Then she scared me.
"The school called
"So?" I said, not caring in the slightest. To me, school was
a waste of time. I had this power and I was going to use it...as soon
as I came up with a plan.
"You idiot! Don’t you know what’s going
to happen to us?" She was practically crying. "If I can’t control
you, make sure you go to school, they’ll take you away from me."
got my attention. "What? Where would I go?" My head was spinning through
possible scenarios, all of them bad. "What would they do? I don’t
wanna go anywhere!"
"Foster care, probably," she sighed. "You have
to straighten up. Go to school." She came over and hugged me tightly.
"And you can’t use your powers out there. If they see, someone will
come, the government or some scientist, and take you away from me."
She kissed me on the top of the head and started crying. "We’re all
we have left."
So I straightened up, went to school...most days...and
kept myself out of trouble, stopped using my powers. I graduated high
school and got a job at the same refinery my dad worked at...he still
had friends there...and Sis got a job at one of the diamond houses
in Steel Canyon. Things were ok.
Then she meets this South American
diamond broker at her office. He liked her, she liked his money and
the next thing I know she’s off getting married in Rio de Janeiro.
I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.
So I started using my
powers for my own benefit. Muggings, break ins, robberies. All small
stuff to keep food on the table and money in my pockets. Small enough
that I stayed under the radar of the superheroes in town and, more
importantly, the gangs that roamed the streets like the Skulls and
the Hellions. I was doing all right.
Then the Rikti attacked. Kings
Row was a warzone. Battles were being fought on every street corner
and destruction was at an all time high. And I did ok. Police and
the heroes were too busy to keep an eye out for a guy like me so I
did some shopping.
"Looting," Personality Guy, as I came to think
of him, sneered. I shrugged and just kept talking.
Set myself up pretty
nice in the days after the war. Found a nice abandoned apartment,
got a big screen plasma tv, furniture, food, the works. When you’re
super strong you can carry more stuff. And in the weeks following
the fighting I just went back to what I had always done. Mugging,
theft, robbery...the usual.
Until one day I thought I had an easy
score that turned into a mess and a half. A fence I knew turned me
onto this lab in Brickstown that was supposed to have a pretty big
inventory of industrial diamonds. They’re not as valuable as real
stones...what is?...but they can be used in lots of stuff the criminal
element like. Stuff along the lines of laser weapons. Council and
the Freaks are always in the market for that kind of thing so off
to Brickstown I go, dollar signs dancing in front of my eyes.
the lab and waited till after midnight to get inside. Getting in was
pretty easy, it looked just like a regular office building and forcing
a delivery door open was no problem. Inside, however, it was a completely
different story. The walls and floors were polished metal. There were
scientists roaming the halls and I could see armed guards in front
of some of the doors. Outside it looked like cake. Inside it looked
But easy money has a powerful grip and it was squeezing
my arm pretty tight. I found an unguarded door close to where I came
in and slipped inside a locker room. One of the brainy types had left
his labcoat. I put it on quick, grabbed a clipboard that was hanging
on the wall and went back out into the hallway, looking like I owned
the joint. First rule of breaking and entering - look like you belong
and chances are no one will bother you.
I walked down the corridor,
eyes glued to the papers on the clipboard. I went past scientists
and security, there were guys armored up crackling with energy, some
had frost glistening on their hands. I saw an elevator up ahead and
went to it. One floor up the corridor twisted to the right. Guards
were everywhere. There were doctors scurrying to and fro from one
sliding door to another. I rounded the corner and in front of me a
door made of two giant slabs of thick armor plate blocked my path.
Looked like a vault to me. If there were industrial diamonds in the
place, I figured they’d be behind door number one. I checked behind
me and the hall was empty. I was alone, finally. I put my ear to the
door and listened, like any kind of sound would get through those
thick pieces of steel. Rubbing my chin, I tried to suss out how I
was going to get in. Even with my strength they were too thick to
break down. I reached out and placed my hand on the locking mechanism
at its center and the damn thing just slid open. Surprised the hell
out of me. And the ten or so people inside.
Not a vault. Not even
There was a guy in a surgical mask and a lab apron surrounded
by men and women in form fitting blue costumes. Their heads were encased
in a helmet-like mask with no facial features but I could feel them
looking at me.
Time stood still until I said, "This isn’t where I
parked my car!" and they all surged towards me. Some flew, some didn’t.
I tried to get out but they were just too damn quick and they were
on me like that ( I snapped my fingers for emphasis, but the three
of them just kept staring at me). Some of them sprouted quills and
claws and energy blasts tore up the floor around me.
I fought. I was
able to knock a few down. I grabbed the ankle of one and spun her
into a wall. I clocked one of them a good shot on the jaw. But the
numbers were too much and a boot caught me square in the temple. I
dropped like a sack of potatoes and my head bounced on the cold metal
floor. The last thing I saw was the doctor standing over me, one of
his eyebrows raised, and I heard him say, "Interesting," and I was
I woke up sitting in a big metal chair. My forearms and shins
were encased in thick solid steel manacles attached to the things
arms and legs. I kept my head still as my eyes darted around, trying
to see where I was and if I was going to die any time soon.
the same room the fight was in. I could see now it was some type of
laboratory and it was huge. Banks of computers lined the walls and
at some locations between them were hospital gurneys. Its center was
dominated by a raised platform surrounded by what looked like, to
me at least, four space ship cannons. They had a big white bulb at
their tops, glowing and pulsating rhythmically. A long tube extended
down circled by flashing white rings. At the tubes end another white
bulb throbbed, only this one was much smaller. The whole device crackled
with energy and I could see electricity arcing from it every few seconds.
The doctor was almost in the middle of it, standing at a console turning
dials and flipping switches. I looked around the room again and I
can tell you...to say it was disheartening would be an understatement.
I was stuck and I wasn’t getting out.
Then a deep voice behind me
He looked up from his console towards me and even
at that distance I could see his bushy eyebrows come together. He
turned back to his control board and flipped another switch. The low
hum in the room stopped and the bright white light faded away. It
was then that I saw the table beneath the space guns. On it was one
of the blue suited goons that had beat me down. The doctor helped
her to her feet and came over to stand in front of me. He pulled off
the surgical mask and cap he was wearing and his wild grey hair sprung
out. I swear, compared to this guy, Einstein looked like he had a
He looked me up and down. "You were quite a surprise
to me, my boy." His thin lips spoke perfect English with a high German
accent, just like in an old war movie. "You hero types are usually
not so easy to defeat." He raised an eyebrow. "But then, you are no
I learned a long time ago - when in doubt, say nothing.
I was trapped and I had nowhere to go. I knew it. And he knew it.
So I waited.
After a sigh he said, "No matter. I am Dr. Albriecht
and perhaps we can use you." He gestured at the men and women standing
around us. "These," he began, "are the result of endless hours of
training and medical enhancement. You have seen first hand what they
Dr. Albriecht waved the group back and leaned in close to
me. He smelled like formaldehyde. "They are an elite force gathered
to protect the citizens of Paragon City from the forces of evil. We
have also taken it upon ourselves to keep a watchful eye upon the
heroes of our fair city. Power such as theirs requires constant monitoring,
vigilance." He was laying it on so thick I knew he couldn’t be telling
me the truth. But doubt equals silence so I kept listening.
he waved his arms again at the ’protectors’. I noticed he liked waving
his arms and calling them ‘these.’ "They do not come by their gifts
naturally. I have given them power. Power such as yours." He began
to pace in front of me, looking at me occasionally. This was going
south on me in a hurry and my heart started sinking so deep I thought
my chest might turn inside-out.
"You have been resourceful to get
this far. I think...," he turned and looked me square in the eyes.
He took a couple of steps until he was standing directly in front
of me. "I think we can use you. Join us. You will be doing some good
and you will be well compensated for it."
"Do I have a choice?"
is always a choice, dear boy." He waved his arm and three of the Protectors
came forward. One of them released me from my chair, the other two
took up positions on either side of me. "You have one hour to decide
your fate. Take him to a...holding area." With that the three ‘heroes’
lead me away.
The ‘holding area’ was a cell. I had seen enough of
them to remember what they looked like. It was maybe 10 x 10, drab
metal walls and a drab metal chair. I sat. ‘Decide my fate’ he said.
I shook my head. Fate. My fate was that I had three choices.
join up and live. Two, decline and die right away. Or three, decline,
become a guinea pig, let Dr. Crazy von Nutso take whatever DNA or
stem cells he could take from me and then die. I really didn’t have
to think about the choice I was going to make. That was about a year
and a half ago.
And that’s how I began my career as a superhero.
sighed and looked up at my three new friends. Arms-Crossed-Over-My-Chest
Man and Personality Guy just stared at me frowning. Hot Girl shook
her head and said, "Go on." Oh yeah, she wanted me, I could tell.
So I sighed again and continued my sad tale.
Things went pretty well
for a while. I was actually doing some good, which was a new experience
for me. They put me on a team with five other Protectors and we were
doing what we were supposed to do - protect the city. We stopped a
Devouring Earth raid and rescued a bunch of lawyers, although I was
never sure if that was a good deed or not. We stopped the Vazh from
polluting the city’s water supply and we were all over the Clockwork.
But then, as they came to trust me more, we started doing some other
stuff. Industrial espionage, extortion, kidnaping. You know that new
PC operating system Crey Industries came out with three or so months
ago? We hung the guy who developed that off of one of the Talos statue’s
horns until he signed it over. Poor slob gets no reimbursement, no
royalties, no recognition. I learned that the Paragon Protectors served
the interests of Crey Industries and were at the beck and call of
"And you were OK with that?" Hot Girl asked.
and smiled a crooked sad little smile. I’m not a nice guy. I really
don’t care too much about anyone other than me. I had a sweet apartment
in Founders Falls, money practically burning a hole in my pocket so,
no, I had absolutely no problem with what I was doing.
always that line that you just can’t cross over. Sometimes you don’t
even know that you have a line until it appears right there at your
I saw my line tonight.
I had just got back to the lab in Bricks
after taking care of some Freakshow gangbangers that had tried to
hijack one of Crey’s weapon shipments. I was at a console typing in
the last of my report and the Doc and a couple of Protectors were
standing behind me. I wasn’t paying too much attention but as I finished
my computer work some of what Albriecht was saying started to register
and I caught the tail end of it.
"...package should be arriving momentarily.
This may well be a very auspicious day." He looked very smug and his
eyes were wide with excitement.
What package? We had stuff come though
all the time but I had never seen the Doc that...well...giddy. Disturbing.
Then the steel slabs of the lab door slid open and a Protector walked
in calmly and handed Albriecht his package like she was handing him
a sandwich. My eyes were glued to it and I think my heart got so cold
it almost stopped beating.
The Doctor held his package at arms length,
regarding with a cold scientific eye the squirming bundle in his hands.
It was a baby, a year old, maybe more. It had red skin and jet black
hair adorned with a little blue bow. It was a girl. She didn’t cry.
She didn’t make any sound at all, for that matter, but she looked
mad as hell.
"Yes, excellent," Albriecht whispered. His eyes were
practically tearing up, he was so happy. "If this unit has half the
power of its parents, we will be very lucky indeed." He held the child
closer to him and began to pace about. He was going into full monologue
mode now and I listened hard. "We will bend her to our will, harness
her power as our own. And, if time reveals that she cannot be cowed,
I will take what she is and give it to all of you!"
Holy crap. If
the kid didn’t preform how he wanted that freak was going to dissect
her like a frog in biology class.
My line. Right there in front of
I sighed and stepped forward, at last removing the faceless mask
all us ‘Protectors’ wore. "Doctor," I said softly as I twisted my
mask in my hands.
Albriecht pulled his eyes from his prize and stared
at me for a few hours...or seconds, it could have been either. "Is
there a problem, dear boy?"
I looked around me quick as I could. The
female Protector that brought the baby in was standing just to my
right. The doc had two more standing at his sides, male, and if I
remembered right, energy blasts and super strength were their powers.
There were about four more of them on the other side of the lab. I
hoped I could get out.
All that thinking and looking took less than
half a heartbeat. I blew the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding
out through my nose. I nodded. "Yeah...there’s a problem." As soon
as the words were out of my mouth I backfisted the female, stunning
her, knocking her back and she fell, more from surprise and shock
than anything else.
The energy bolt blasted the floor in front of
me and I was thrown back about twenty feet. I landed, crouching, and
launched myself forward. One of the protectors dropped down almost
on top of me and hit me with a left - right combination that dazed
me for a second. I saw him press in, trying to set me up with a left
jab. I leaned back so that the punch fell short. The right cross was
almost directly behind it. I turned my body a bit to the side and
reached up with my left hand, grabbing his wrist and pulling him into
me. He was completely off balance as my right fist buried itself in
his face, between his nose and upper lip. He fell at my feet and I
jumped over him, trying to get to the Albriecht and the baby.
energy wielder was blocking my path but then I felt a searing pain
in my right side. I looked down and saw a long clawlike spine sticking
out the side of my belly. It retracted with a ‘schruuup’ and I dropped
to my knees. Then I simply fell over, my head hitting the cold hard
steel floor, cursing myself for not remembering the girl I struck
in the first place.
But then, something...odd. I noticed the shadows
in the room got very long, stretching away from me like it was late
late afternoon. It was getting hotter and brighter by the second.
It was as if someone had broke off a piece of the sun and put it in
the room with us. There was a thud in front of me and I saw the female
Paragon Protector, the one who had just stabbed me, hit the ground.
She had a smouldering cauterized hole burned through her chest. She
lay there dead, looking at me and I could almost see her sightless
eyes through her faceless mask.
The room was spinning as I moved my
eyes upwards and I saw Dr. Albriecht with a look of abject terror
on his face. "YOU!" he exclaimed. But strangest of all, I saw the
baby smiling, stretching her arms out toward the sun.
And then I woke
My new pals looked at each other in confusion. Their faces
grew dark with concern when I mentioned the baby. But when I talked
about the light and the heat, they looked like I felt - bewildered.
"What do you think?" Crossed-Arms asked.
Personality Guy shook his
head and stroked his chin. "I don’t know. I don’t even know if we
can believe this guy. He’s a criminal; a thief and a liar"
right here," I said with a bit of indignation.
Hot Girl frowned, which
still seemed to look sexy. "That baby sounds like..."
Before she could
finish, the door to the room crashed open with such force it slammed
into the wall behind it. In the doorway were two women. One had her
arm around the shoulders of the other and it was clear she was hurt
pretty bad. Her short blonde hair stood up in small spikes and a pair
of red goggles were down around her neck. She wore a grey one-piece
bodysuit that was so tight you could see the outline of her...abs.
Her left arm was folded across her body and her hand was clutching
at her side. She was wounded in almost the same place I had been and
blood had run down the side of her costume, staining it almost to
The other woman had jet black hair and she looked as if
she had been in the fight of her life. She supported the blonde with
her left arm around her waist and I noticed she was wearing the same
costume as my three interrogators. It was pretty torn up and there
was a huge gash through the blue and gold shield on her chest. The
both of them were just as hot as Hot Girl but the black haired one
had a scar over her right eye that circled it and went down her cheek
like a question mark.
And then, I didn’t think I was capable of smiling
a smile as big as the one that appeared on my face. Cradled on the
right hip of the black haired girl was a baby, a year old, maybe older,
with red skin and jet black hair, still wearing that little blue bow.
I’m a manly man but, dammit, if I didn’t almost cry.
The three in
the room ran to the door. "WillowWind!" Hot Girl exclaimed, "are you
all right?" Crossed-Arms and Personality Guy were helping the blonde
to a table, all the while looking over at their friend.
Buttercup." Buttercup? Hot Girl was named Buttercup? Jeez.
ok?" Personality Guy was asking. "What’s been going on?"
looked at each of them in turn. Her face was streaked with tears but
she had a smile of such radiant happiness it almost caused my heart
to crack. And even though her voice was a whisper, her two words filled
the room like a shout.
THE END? NO, NOT EVEN CLOSE....