Desperate Times

"Damnit, Medik, pickup!" The phone rang for the fifth time. Fixit hadnít seen or heard from either Red Sniper or Medik in weeks. A loner by nature, he didnít usually mind taking on a project by himself, but every so often, he knew heíd need help. This mission was one of those. The help he had enlisted thus far was less than satisfactory.

"Put that away, you know he wonít answer. He hasnít all day." A voice like gravel hissed, then added smugly, "Iím glad my friends are more reliable than yours." . "Besides.."

"Shut up." Fixitís stern response caused the offender to back off in mock offense. "You know what happened last time we met. I mopped the floor with ya." Fixit eyed the offender from behind his sun glasses.

"You got lucky, besides, I got away didnít I?" Emplate stood before Fixit, his eyes begging for a rematch. Fixit looked him up and down, dressed head to toe, literally, in black. His right eye was missing, left uncovered, exposing a deep set of scars that ran from his forehead to his right cheek. His mask was open for his face and for a long top knot of golden hair. On his shoulders were rust colored pads, which matched the slashed ĎYí shape running the length of his chest.

"You never did tell me how you lost that eye." Fixit remarked casually, dialing another number.

"Poker game." Emplate quipped in return. "How about you? Why donít you go get a real hero suit?"

"ĎCause then Iíd look as ridiculous as you." Fixit returned harshly, hanging up the phone when no one answered again. Dropping the phone in his jacket pocket, he asked, "Ready?"

"Do I have a choice? Your company is better than none on a job like this."

Is it? Fixit thought to himself, stomping out a cigar. What kind of desperate times have I hit that Iím about to jump into a manhole in the Rogue Isles with nothing but a card carrying villain at my back? Fixit remembered how difficult it was to fight a man who manipulated gravitational fields. Maybe it would prove beneficial to have that kind of help, just this once. 

                                                                                     * * *

"Fixit, my name is Jason Edwards. Most people know me by my reservist name, Kringle." The young man who approached John Fix wore a suit and carried a black leather briefcase.

"Youíre longbow?" Fixit eyed the man, lighting a cigar. Red hair, freckles, just a kid. "And why the hell are you interrupting my lunch?"

The young man took a seat across from Fixit at his bistro table. The few people at the side walk cafť seemed not to notice either man.

"I have an assignment for you and your supergroup."

"Wouldnít we come to you if we wanted an assignment?" Fixit took no effort to hide his annoyance at having his lunch interrupted.

"Normally, yes. But according to our files, your team seems to have had very little action of late. We though maybe you could use a hand."

"Did you say your name is Kringle? Donít you know Santaís dead?" Fixit snarled.

"Ice powers." Was all Jason replied, waving his hand as Fixit took a gulp of his coffee. Immediately, he spit it back out onto the street.

"Who the hell interrupts a man on his lunch and then makes his coffee cold?!"

"Who drinks coffee at one-thirty in the afternoon?" Kringle smiled, proud of himself.

"Tired people."

Jason ĎKringleí Edwards could see that this man had little or no interest in real hero work, and got up from his chair. He took two steps when he heard Fixitís voice.

"That case," Fixitís voice made Jason turn, "itís got the mission profile?" He nodded, yes. "Leave it."

"Why does a man like you eat here?" Jason asked, a hint of disdain in his voice. "Wouldnít you be more comfortable in a bar?"

"I like the view." Fixit pointed at the waitress.

                                                                                      * * *

Fixit splashed down next to Emplate. The smell in the sewers here was even worse than in Paragon. The sludge was more soupy too. At least it was only ankle deep.

"Yuck, why does everything important seem to lead to the sewers around here?" Emplate gave no response and simply stalked to the ledge at the side wall.

"You want to survive?" Emplate whispered, his hissing voice even more strained, "you follow my lead. No talking. Weíre taking a back route. We shouldnít run into any trouble until we reach the lab." With that, Emplate turned and began slinking his way down the sewer tunnel. Fixit put an unlit cigar in his mouth, a tradition he had begun as a rookie hero. When the mission was over, for better or for worse, he would light it. As of yet, he had had only lit cigars in victory.

The two traveled in silence, the farther they went into the sewers, the stronger the smell got. Fixit noticed that the water wasnít running anywhere, it seemed that as well as being dirtier, it was also stagnant. No wonder everyone was avoiding his calls, no one wanted in on this kind of action. Fixit was beginning to wish he hadn't taken the case. He didn't really want it anyway, besides, making a living was beginning to be a problem that needed resolving, and quick.

                                                                                     * * *

John Fix returned to his business, Fixit Autobody in Kings Row. Business was slow, as usual. Non-existent to be honest. At least that meant no one would notice if he disappeared for a while. As he entered the office closet, he thought about the super heroes who could afford shiny hideouts with huge generators and expensive scientific equipment. Opening a false wall and descending a set of narrow stairs, Fixit entered his meager secret base. He knew of at least one group with one of those huge communication screens like what you would see in a James Bond movie. Though admittedly, he had little use for these things, it would be nice to have them. He wagered, if he did have them, he could find a use for them.

The room he entered was large and open. Decorated and appointed in the style of a dojo, with the modern amenities of a seating area with black leather couches and a wet bar. Fixing himself a drink, a white russian, he then sat on a couch as he opened the briefcase on the coffee table . In it was file upon file laying out technical jargon and readouts on a highly secretive project of some kind.

There was information on a Dr. Munroe and something he had been working on. Had Medik been present, he may have been able to decipher some of the techno babble. Fixit, on the other hand, knew he was better at hitting things.

There was also a location, in the rogue isle, where it was believed that the good doctor and his research had been taken by a villain known only as Arachnosís Hand.

"Now that, I can handle." Fixit said to himself and swallowed the last of his drink.

                                                                                    * * *

"Youíre not going to light that are you?" Emplate whispered, turning to Fixit for the first time since they had began their sewer trek.

"I thought we werenít supposed to talk." Fixit answered in a harsh whisper.

"Itís a dirty habit," Emplate shot back, "thatís all."

"Shut up." Fixit was thinking about adding more when Emplate turned to the wall.

"Here." he whispered, touching a single brick in the wall. He pulled it out, and a small number pad was exposed underneath.

Emplate punched in a code confidently, but nothing happened. He tried again, but received the same result.

"I donít have time for this." Fixit pushed the man aside and grabbed at the edges of the crude security pad. He managed to pull the face off the device and pulled out a few thin cables. Using his teeth to remove the plastic coating, he then crossed the exposed wires. The door slid open. 

                                                                                   * * *

Fixit had spent the better part of a day looking for a fellow hero or two who might have been able to help out. His first thoughts were of his wayward supergroup, but that well had proven as dry as ever. Next, he tried to contact a couple of new heroes who had fought under his banner until they decided to form their own charter, Infinity corp. The two of them, Acebreaker and Griffon, though less experienced, could prove useful. They too proved to be unavailable, something about new recruits. Even a post at the registrar in city hall gave no results.

Ready to throw in the towel and take on yet one more dangerous mission alone, he received a message on his phone.

               "I know what you are planning to do. I want to help. Meet me in Pocket D, by the red bar. Midnight"

"Whatever," Fixit said to no one, "this city is too full of cloak and dagger crap."

That night Fixit made his way to the appointed spot. One thing he had to say about olí Pocket, that guy could get a good lookiní group of women together. Ignoring the leers of the villains who were insulted by a hero drinking at their bar, Fixit waited for his man to make his move. An especially sultry villainess slunk by and he had to wonder why the heroines didnít dress like that, but his thoughts were interrupted by a hand reaching out and pulling the cigar from his mouth.

"What the..." Fixit turned to give his full wrath to the fiend with the gall to touch his smoke, but stopped when he had to raise his head to look the seven foot tall man in the eyes.

"Smoking is not allowed in bars." the man dressed all in black with orange shoulder pads and a golden top knot stared down at Fixit. At five foot seven, it was difficult for him to stare down so tall an offender, so he improvised.

"Soíre bad guys." Fixit grabbed his cigar now somewhat bent, but still good from the offenders hand, placing it back in his jaws. "Whatíre you doing outta the hole I sent you to?"

"Iím going to show you how to get where you need to go." The manís voice was like dragging a rake in gravel.

"Why?" Fixit spat.

"Letís just say that unlike you hero types, we donít always see eye to eye."

                                                                                       * * *

The clangor of an alarm rang out as the two entered through the hot-wired door.

"Well damn." Fixit stated plainly.

"Look what your impatience has done!" Emplate complained.

"Move faster then." Happy to have some action, Fixit took off down the corridor. Emplate hurried to catch up. Re-taking the lead, Emplate navigated the halls, now running to attempt to beat any security to their target. It occurred to Fixit that this man was awfully familiar with the layout of this hidden lair, but he didnít have much choice in who he could trust. The two men came ripping around a corner into a laboratory, they crashed to a halt at the sight of a room covered in plant life.

"Well damn." Emplate remarked upon seeing the room. Computer terminals, large control consoles, piles of scattered research papers, everything was covered in strangling vines. "Heís here."

Suddenly the plants became animated. Vines tangled, giant fly-traps grabbed at the two men, there was hardly time to put up a fight before they were tangled up in greenery.

"Look who decided to return. Bringing help henry?" A cruel voice mocked. The voice belonged to a man in black, buckled leather with a red velvet lined cape and a helmet that covered all but his jaw. He spoke as he emerged from the shadows. With him, he had an elder man, wrapped in vines. There was also a contraption, a large machine about the size of a mans torso. He stepped forward, confidently, into the center of the room. Bending over he picked up the cigar, dropped by Fixit when he was snatched up by the vines. He approached the hero and placing the cigar in Fixitís mouth, lit it.

"Every man should get one last, eh?" Smugly, the man chuckled to himself. "And as for you, Henry," Arachnosís hand spoke Emplate's true name with distain clear in his voice, "I have a special fate in store for those who betray me." He gave Emplate a knowing look. But his words were lost on the two prisoners.

When Fixit was snatched up, he had filled his lungs as deep as he could. He also flexed every muscle in his body as tense as possible.

"Be ready." He whispered to his fellow captive. With no further warning, Fixit expelled the air from his lungs and released the tension from his body, and the fight was on.

The first thing Fixit did was grab the vines around Emplate and fling them as hard as he could at Arachnosís hand. Caught off guard, there was no response immediately, which was all Emplate needed. Using his power over gravity, he threw his captor up into the air, causing him to hit the celing, then return crashing to the floor. The room erupted into chaos, man against plant; Arachnosís hand against both hero and fellow villain.

The machinery in the room was smashed by heavy plant life and bodies crashing into it. Exposed wires snapped and popped, setting the scattered papers in the room ablaze. Fixit was hard pressed fighting both plant and man while Emplate had a plan of his own. Releasing the aging scientist and his device, he interrupted the fighting with a piercing laugh.

"I couldnít have done it without you Fixit." He cackled madly. And with that he blinked out of existence with Dr. Munroe and his contraption in tow.

As the room around him burned and his former combatant turned his attention to the flames, Fixit stood and stared blankly at where his erstwhile companion had been mere moments before. He hardly noticed when the vines crept back up and took hold of him once again, he was too lost in the reality of what had just happened.

"Iíve never failed before."
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