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The All-New One Universe RPG

Run Through The Jungle

"Blame it on Cain
Don't blame it on me
Oh, oh, it's nobody's fault
But we need somebody to burn.”

-- Elvis Costello

Opal City, PA
2:29 AM

Kenny Boyd took a deep breath and said the lord's prayer. It was hard to find the words, it had been so long since he last uttered them. He was maybe eight when his grandmother stopped taking him to church on a regular basis. It wasn't anything to do with her. It was just Sarah Boyd couldn't take her grandson to church while he was doing six months at the Youth Detention Center in Pittsburgh for strong armed robbery. The other reason he couldn't finish the lord's prayer was because he was losing so much blood it was hard to focus.

The entire left side of Kenny Boyd's body felt hot and numb from where the bullet went in his side a few minutes earlier. Kenny held both hands on the wound in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding. It was a unique feeling for him. For all his years running on the street and slinging, this was the first time he'd ever been shot. He'd been shot at plenty of times and shot at plenty of others, but he'd never actually had a bullet connect with his flesh. It was a surreal feeling, to be sure. But he didn't have time to think about the finer details of a gunshot wound right now.

A scuffle of feet nearby alerted them that he had to run. The man hunting him was close by now. For nearly twenty minutes they had been playing this game. Kenny was on the street corner like he usually was on a Friday night, selling coke and dope to any fiends who wanted a taste. He was in the process of passing a baggie of heroin to one junkie when shots rang out. Two bullets whizzed by Kenny and the junkie while a third found a home in Kenny's ribs. He took off, not noticing the blood until half a block later. After that, he kept running away from whoever it was chasing him. He cursed and held onto his side as he prepared to run. This week was his first one back since the arrest. This was supposed to be the week that he made back all that goddamn money he lost on bail. With one last half-remembered lord's prayer under his breath, he jumped from his hiding point and started to race down the back alley.

Shots rang out again, three more of them. This time, all three bullets ripped through Kenny's body. The second bullet tore into the back of his head and killed him before he hit the ground. His hands and feet twitched in the last spasm of life. Standing over Kenny's dead body, the hunter shook his head and calmly walked away.


Law Offices of Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, & York
11:09 AM

Bobo T. Chimpanzee, better known to the world at large as Detective Chimp and DC to his friends, the few that he had, ignored the onlookers gawking at the chimp riding on the elevator. He wasn't ignoring them per say. He'd gotten used to the strange looks and uncomfortable questions after twenty plus years as a hyper-intelligence chimpanzee. That was why his earbuds were rooted firmly in his head and blasting Elvis Costello. DC held a pair of index cards. One read "YES, I AM A TALKING CHIMPANZEE. DO NOT SPEAK TO ME UNLESS SPOKEN TO," while the other read "FUN FACT: CHIMP'S ARE 4X STRONGER THAN HUMANS. EVEN TALKING ONES."

His anti-social behavior was due to the fact that he was alone this morning. Normally, Effie acted as a perfect gatekeeper when it came to the obnoxious looks and questions that followed him everywhere. She was able to keep DC from actually having to talk to these people and explain himself, like in this world were people flew and bent steel beams with their minds the talking chimp was the real freak. DC was the first out the elevator when it opened up on the twelfth floor. He tucked the index cards into his jacket, along with the earbuds and his phone, and strolled past the receptionist before she could get the second Fitzwaller out of her mouth.

"'Fitzwaller and Associates,'," DC said as he walked into the corner office of David Fitzwaller. "That took two seconds to say, as opposed to the sixteen seconds it says to get out'Law Offices of Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, & York.'"

"Tell that to my brothers and sisters," Fitzwaller said as he stood up, reaching across the desk to shake DC's hand. "My sister wanted to take her husband's last name, which would have made it 'Fitzwaller, York & Associates' and the rest of us didn't want to be just associates and Peggy doesn't want to go back to Fitzwaller so here we are."

"Here we are," DC nodded. "Which is where?"

"Where's that pretty little sidekick of yours?" Fitzwaller asked with a raised eyebrow.

"She's got class, unlike you."

"I'm wounded, DC. I'm the classiest guy I know."

DC's eyes darted around the room filled with cheesy advertisements of Fitzwaller's personal injury business. "Fitzwaller $how$ You Dollar$!" written in green underneath Fitzwaller's face. Dollar signs were placed in his eyes.

"Yeah... classy. What's this about, Dave?"

"This right here."

Fitzwaller passed DC a manila folder. He flipped it open and saw the mugshot of a young black man. Beneath the photo were a series of legal documents and police reports. An arrest report identified him as Kenneth Boyd, twenty-five years old, from the east side of Opal City. The back sheets of paper showed Boyd's criminal history. There were three total pages, mostly drug charges but a few assaults with a deadly weapon and one attempted murder... back when he was fourteen.

"Nice guy," DC said after closing the file. "You trying to set me up, Dave? This guy needs a little more hair before I even consider it."

"Didn't know you were a necrophiliac, DC. Young Mr. Boyd here died early this morning."

"What's your interest in it?"

"Fitzwaller, Fitzwaller, and... everyone else were representing Mr. Boyd. He was arrested recently for, what else, drug dealing, and he was out on bail awaiting trial. It's not good business for our clients to get murdered and--"

"Knowing the OCPD like I do, they're going to soft ball this one," said DC. "A drug dealer dies and nobody really gives a damn."

Fitzwaller shrugged before nodding. "That's the long and short of it. Interested? We'll pay you well, DC, you know we always do."

DC stared at the photo of Boyd. Was he a scumbag? No doubt about that at all. But did that mean he deserved to die? DC drummed his fingers on the desk and finally nodded.

"I'll see what I can do."

Night of the Hunters
A Detective Chimp Mystery
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Information on the Winter Soldier was sparse, to say the least. Steve poured over the SHIELD libraries and databases, looking for any sign or clue as to who he was or where he could be found. All he came up with were shadows and whispers. Assassinations completed all over the world. Targets that ranged from US to Soviet to Iranian diplomats. There was never any obvious motive. There was never any paper trail.

The Winter Soldier was a ghost, and he wasn't going to be found easily.

"Any luck on your end?" Captain America asked as an image of Iron Man popped up on the screen.

"No, surprisingly this time I didn't get lucky," Tony responded wryly. "I have some ideas, though."

"Yea? Usually that's my job."

"Only because I let you come up with the battle plans," Tony smirked.

"Sure you do," Cap chuckled back. "Which is why the one time I let you do it, we all ended up in the Collector's fortress."

"That...that was Thor's fault and you know it," Tony mocked insult. "His hair distracted me. But, anyway, it's clear that this Winter Soldier set as trap for Falcon...but I have to assume it was to get to you."

It made sense. Steve had thought of it himself. Taking Falcon out was a damn good way to get Captain America off his game and to make a mistake. It'd help them to take him out somewhere down the line. It was a good idea.

"So I go out on a rampage," Steve nods to his fellow Avenger. "Make it look like I'm on a warpath. Crack some skulls. Draw him out."

Tony nodded in agreement, "That's the idea."

Cap was normally not one for a rampage. He had seen rage consume and destroy allies like Tony himself. It was a poison that ate away at the senses and made people sloppy. It had gotten some of the strongest heroes on earth killed, in fact. But faking a reaction that your enemies were expecting? Drawing them into a trap of your own? There was a valuable strategy in that.

"Tony, let's get to work."


The Red Skull sat in an ornate chair carved out of wood so dark it was nearly black. It was adorned with swirling tentacles of the Hydra symbol and crowned with a skull. It was a throne fit for a king, and that's exactly what he would be when this was all said and done. His coronation had been pushed back decades. First, by the arrival of Captain America on the battlefields of World War II, and then by the Captain's return and the emergence of the superhero.

That was all going to change, however. Doctor Zola had finally harnessed the power of the Gods, and using it the would finally be theirs. The heroes had no idea what was about to fall on their heads. Like the wrath of a vengeful god, Red Skull and Hydra would smite them from the face of the Earth.

"When you are ready, Doctor," the Skull nodded to Zola.

The genius trapped in a mechanical body moved over to the pulsing, glowing gun he had been working on for the better part of a decade. With the power source stollen from STAR Labs, they finally had what they needed to complete the weapon. Zola took it in his robotic grasp, and powered it up. The lights in the bunker which they were hiding dimmed slightly as the rythmic hum of the weapon grew in strength.

In front of the good doctor, a SHIELD agent struggled against their bindings, screaming for mercy. The grim grin of the Skull fell upon the fool, and a horrendous laugh sprang forth from the villain. Tears began to stream down the man's face as Zola aimed the gun at him. When it was fired, a brilliant light burst forth from the jagged beam that seemed to jump from one place to another on its way to the target. It struck the man, who seemed to dissolve, layer by layer, into nothingness.

After a moment of silence, Arnim ZOla finally said, "Herr Skull...it works."

Chapter 3

Baccarat With The Baroness​

Belaya Vezha Casino
Minsk, Belarus
2313 Local Time

Bond hated the smell of cigarette smoke. It was a hatred only recently developed, which timed with his giving up the habit. A smoker since the age of sixteen, Bond's quitting was one of the prerequisites for becoming a 00 agent. He had quit shortly before beginning 00 training three years ago. He had backslid occasionally during his training, smoking to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that came with the job, but he hadn't looked back since his last cigarette nearly two and a half years ago. As much as Bond detested the smell of cigarettes smoked by the British, the ones in Eastern Europe were on an entirely different level. The tobacco was foul-smelling in its plain state, and the burning of it only enhanced the stench.

Unfortunately for Bond, those were the only cigarettes being smoked here in the Belaya Vezah Casino. He stood in the middle of the casino floor, looking around at the various sights and sounds. Tourist mingled with locals at the half-dozen card and roulette tables. Packs of elderly men and women dominated the bright and noisy slot machines that wailed ever few minutes. The carpet was shabby with the odd stain placed here and there. The gold plating on the slot machines was dingy and tarnished. To Bond's eyes, it was a casino in name only. The Belaya Vezha wasn't worthy enough for it to be mentioned in the same breath as the opulent gambling palaces of Monaco and Las Vegas. It would bring in the tourist and rubes by the droves, but he could see what it was underneath the surface: A cheap imitation.

"007 to Black Widow," he whispered into the microphone implanted in his tooth. "Where the bloody hell are you?"

"I'm in a taxi heading your way now."

They had formulated their plan at the hotel. Bond was to gamble at the tables and try to get his hands on some of the counterfeit money while Natalia attempted to get close to Jan. He had already exchanged a thousand pounds for chips. The current exchange rate gave him a little over seventy thousand rubles worth of chips, an amount that surprised him. He wasn't an economist, but he had no idea the Pound was that stronger than the Ruble. Bond adjusted his tie. After the run in at the bar, he had changed from his casual clothes into a charcoal three-piece suit with gray vertical pinstripes, a matching waistcoat, a white dress shirt, and a dark metallic blue tie. A pair of black leather shoes and a back leather belt rounded out his look. He was without his Walther tonight due to the metal detectors at the front door. Q Branch was good, but as of yet they hadn't been able to create a metal-less gun. Natalia was running late because she had to seek out a dress that would match her persona as a high-roller gambler looking to lay down money.

"Hurry the hell up. We haven't got all night."

"Look towards the front door."

Bond turned and did a double take at the sight. Natalia had on a wine-colored cocktail dress. It ended just above her knees and hugged her curves, accentuating them as she walked. A v-neckline plunged downwards towards her chest and hinted at the cleavage underneath. She carried a matching clutch purse, and on her wrists were the special SHIELD bracelet passing as regular jewelery. She wore matching colored peep-toe pumps. Her long red hair was down around her shoulders, one eye covered by the long, crimson locks.

"Not bad," whispered Bond. She looked his way briefly before turning to look elsewhere.

"Wipe your mouth. I see a bit of drool."

Bond smirked and turned away. He saw that he wasn't the only one staring. Men and even women were giving Natalia a wide berth as she walked through the casino floor. Everyone from the old men at the slot, to the tourists at the blackjack table, to the pit bosses watching for cheaters all stopped to pause and stare. Bond headed towards the card tables while Natalia drifted that way as well.

"Heads up," he said discreetly as he looked upwards.

On the catwalk above the floor where the watchers stood, three figures emerged from a door marked "Private." In the lead was a man Bond recognized from the Interpol mugshot as Jan Lukashenka, the kingpin of the Minsk organized crime ring. His gray hair, tuxedo, and clam demeanor betrayed his reputation as a ruthless killer. Behind him was a beautiful woman in a form-fitting, open back black gown. She had shoulder length raven black hair that swayed softly as she walked in her black stiletto heels. What caught Bond's eye were the glasses, a pair of black-rimmed glasses that on any other woman may have detracted from her looks. But on this woman, the spectacles acted like a magnifying glass for her beauty. Behind her was, without a doubt, the largest man Bond had ever seen. He was over seven feet tall, and looked as if he was nearly five feet wide. His corn silk blonde hair was in a tight crew cut, and he wore a simple red crew neck shirt with a sports jacket and blue slacks. Bond imagined it would cost a fortune to either find or tailor a suit for the man.

"Who are those two?"

"Hell if I know, but I can find out if I can get close enough."

He walked across the casino floor and into the card games section just as Lukashenka and his guests came down from the catwalk. He headed to the right towards a pit boss while the other two walked towards a baccarat table. The woman settled into a seat at the table, the large man standing behind her with his arms crossed. Bond walked over and sat down. Besides him, her, and her shadow, there was the dealer at the table and two other men. One man was Asian, a would-be gambler wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses on his face. The other man was heavyset and gray-headed with a bulky frame and ruddy face that screamed Eastern Europe.

"Banco," said the dealer, sliding the horseshoe card dispenser to the woman. "Seventy thousand."

"Banco," said Bond. He placed his bet, pushing seven one thousand ruble plaques across the green velvet to the center of the table.

The woman stared at Bond for a moment. Her bight blue flashed behind her glasses. She sized Bond up very much in the same way a lioness would size up a gazelle. He fixed a steely gaze and looked back impassively, showing neither interest or disinterest in her. She dealt four cards from the card dispenser, two for him and two for her.

The object of baccarat is to come the closest to eight or nine with your two cards without going over. Each number card is worth the number printed on it. The face cards and the ten card are worth nothing, and the aces are only worth one. One player plays the part of the banker, the other is the player. The winner of the hand gets the point.

Bond preferred baccarat over games like poker, blackjack, and roulette. Blackjack and poker were both too based in mathematical formula and had odds that were too easy to calculate, and roulette was too simplistic. Baccarat was the best of both worlds. Like roulette it came down to blind chance. But like poker, it was reliant on reading your opponent and figuring out what they had, or how to make them think you had what you wanted them to have. It was mind games on top of the luck involved.

Bond glanced at his cards. He had a queen of spades and a five of diamonds. A score of five. He looked up and saw the woman had a soft smirk on her face. Bond thought it over while they rest of the table looked on. She had an air of confidence that annoyed Bond for some reason. It seemed too aggressive, like a used car salesman trying to convince a potential buyer that their lemon was worth every pound they asked for.

"Card," said Bond.

With a score under six, he could call for one more card. If she didn't call for a card as the banker, it meant she had at least a six. She slid a card from the dispenser and slid it across the velvet to Bond. He looked at it and flipped his three cards over. A four of clubs joined the queen and five. A nine. She furrowed her brow and flipped her cards over, showing a three of hearts and a four of spades.

"Nine to seven," said the dealer. "Hand to the player."

Bond tossed his cards across the table as the dealer pushed the fourteen one thousand ruble plaques his way. He scooped them up with both hands and placed them in a neat pile in front of him. Bond smirked and winked at the woman, who's confident smile was wiped away, replaced by an annoyed pout. Bond thought it suited her quite better than the cocky grin.

"I'm done," he said as he slid a plaque to the dealer as a tip.

He pulled his phone out as he got up, pretending to check the time. In actuality, the mobile's camera snapped a quick shot of the woman and her massive companion.

"Enjoy your evening," he said to the table in general before looking at the woman. "And better luck next time, yeah?"

A member of the casino walked through the casino with him as protection as they headed towards the cashier's cage. With his phone still out, Bond activated one of the covert apps on his mobile. The facial recognition software would analyze the picture he had just taken and comb through the databanks of MI6, Interpol, and any other database Bond had access to. If there was a match, he would get an email alert on his phone.

At the cashier's cage, Bond swapped out his one hundred and thirty thousand rubles out for...

"That's it?" Bond asked, looking at the nine euros and change in front of him.

"What can I say," the old woman behind cashier's cage asked rhetorically. "You come to Belarus to gamble, learn exchange rates. This is not Monaco."

Bond tucked the paltry sum into his jacket pocket and turned away from the cashier. The guard shadowing him had went back to the floor as soon as the chips had been handed over to the cashier. "Next time we chase counterfeiters," he mumbled into his embedded mic. "We need to make sure they go somewhere that we can turn a damn profit at."

"Will do," Natalia said softly in his ear.

Bond saw her at a table playing blackjack. The rest of the players at the table were watching her as she asked the dealer for a hit. The table burst into spontaneous applause at the outcome of the hand, apparently it had been in her favor. One thing Bond noticed was Lukashenka had turned away from watching the rest of the games, he was now watching the blackjack table and Natalia especially. She looked away from the table and made eye contact with Lukasshenka, seemingly by chance. She quickly looked away, a bit embarrassed to have caught the man's eye. She makes it look too damn easy, thought Bond.

He made his way to the bar opposite the cashier's cage and ordered his usual served drink in his preferred style. He was halfway through it when he felt movement behind him.

"You beat me," said a soft voice in a European accent Bond couldn't place. Like French, but with a touch of Belgian. He turned and saw the woman standing behind him. Her giant chaperone couldn't be seen, but Bond was certain he was close by and watching his charge very carefully.

"I'm sorry," he replied, sipping his drink. "It's not often I get to beat a woman, so you'll forgive me if I indulge when I get a chance."

"Gin and tonic," she said as she slipped on to the seat beside him.

The nearby bartender nodded and looked at Bond. "Another, sir?"

"Yes, please." He waited until the barman had scuttled off before talking again. "So, what brings you to Belarus?"


"What kind of work?"

"Finance. I have a head for numbers, so my company sends me here to do a bit of money management."

There seemed as if there was some playfulness in her tone, thought Bond. Was she just flirting? Or being extra coy because she thought her chosen words were especially clever?

"Funny, me too," he said, polishing off the last of his martini. "I must admit, though, my job doesn't come with a giant watchdog."

"Belarus is a rough country. The people I work for want me safe."

"Odd, you seem like the type of woman who could take care of herself."

"Oh, I can, I just like using him to scare card players into folding."

The drinks arrived. Bond took his drink and nodded towards her, holding the martini up towards her.

"A toast. To the reliability of numbers, especially the number nine in baccarat, and to the stalwart Englishmen who never fold."

"And may the next time you play, the cards cut your hands to hell."

They clinked glasses and each took long drinks.

"I'm in the penthouse suit at the hotel across the street," she said without preamble. She touched the bar with her hand, placing a plastic keycard there. "Here. I plan on being there in twenty minutes. Perhaps you'll join me."

"Perhaps," said Bond. He slid the keycard off the bar surface and into his jacket pocket. "Will your lapdog be joining us?"

"He has his own room... but if that sort of thing is your fetish, then I'm sure he can oblige you."

"As amazing as the memories would be, I think I'll pass on him."

"Twenty minutes." She finished off her drink and laid it on the bar upside down. "See you then."

"Leaving me to pay the tab?" He asked in a mock defensive tone.

"You can afford it," she said with a wink.

Bond watched her walk off, her hips swaying with each step. She looked back at Bond and smiled as she disappeared into the casino lobby. His mobile chimed an alert. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the data on the screen. The results of the facial scan were complete. The woman was Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna, born in Luxembourg to a family of wealthy aristocrats. She had a short file filled with a handful of arrests. They were from when she was a teenager, joy riding and speeding in Paris, cocaine possession in Madrid, things of that nature. Interpol's files said she had once been part of a fringe anarchist group in Portugal, but the intelligence file chalked it up to her rebelling from her rich family. In the seven years since turning eighteen, nothing on her record at all. Bond wasn't sure what to make of that. Sins of the youth were common, he had his own run-ins with the law before joining the service. Had she really changed her ways? Whatever the nature of her business here in Belarus was, the Interpol file made no mention of any current employment.

Bond opened the file on the giant and wasn't too surprised by what he saw. He was The Russian, no other name or alias. He had been a fierce enforcer in the Moscow underworld for years, linked to dozens of beatings and murders all over Eastern Europe. His lack of record was chalked up to his potential role in the Cold War. MI6 and Interpol both believed he had been a KGB assassin prior to the fall of the USSR. The Russian's last known movements were in Moscow two years ago. Since then, he had fallen off the grid. The official line with Interpol was that he had finally be assassinated by a rival, but it appeared he had wound up with a new employer all together. Was he working for the Baroness? Or were they both working for someone higher up the ladder?

Bond finished his drink and paid for his two martinis and the Baroness' gin and tonic. He got up from the bar and looked back to the blackjack table. Natalia had racked up an impressive amount of chips. Probably come out to five Euros, Bond figured. Even more impressive was the fact that Lukashenka was still watching her, this time standing close behind the dealer.

"I have an in with the woman," he said quietly.

"And whose bed will you be using?"

"Hers. But just because-," he started, but stopped when he heard her laughing softly over the line.

"Go. Find out what you can. I'll do the same with our friend, Lukashenka. Have fun, my little man****e."

Bond thought of taking offense at the man****e crack, or arguing against the little jab. instead, he looked himself over in the bar's mirror. Satisfied that he looked presentable, he headed for the casino entrance. His hand felt for the keycard in his pocket.

As he walked towards the door, the man in the tuxedo at the far end of the bar stood up. He paid for the drink he had nursed for the last hour and walked towards the lobby. He watched Bond as he disappeared out the door. Good, thought Kraven. Going outside the casino now meant he was free to be loud as he wanted when he took the secret agent's life.



Wherever my fumbling flirtations with Barbara were headed, they'll have to wait, as the entire building shakes from the force of an explosion. In an instant, alert sirens begin to blare, the room suddenly bathed in the red light of the Tower's alarm systems. Smaller tremors accompany the dull thumps of secondary explosions, seemingly coming from the top floor.

"He's found us," I say, bolting upright and checking the door. I knew it wouldn't be long for the Red Hood to be on our trail, but this quickly? I figured the breadth of the entire North American continent would at least buy us some time to get in a good night's sleep before Jason came gunning for us again.

"Those explosions sound like they're coming from the master bedroom; Star's under attack," I say. With a twinge of annoyance, I remember that used to be my room back in the day. "Those alarms mean the whole Tower's on lockdown--nobody's getting in or out, but also means I can't get to Kory, unless--"

"Already on it," Barb says, entering a series of commands onto a prompt screen on her laptop. "I already looked through the schematics on the building and created a few backdoors into the security system. I can chart out the shortest route between here and the source of the explosions, and temporarily open each blast door and barrier one at a time long enough for you to get through."

"Only one at a time?" I ask.

Barb nods. "This place's cyber-security software is pretty fearsome stuff, about on par with the Watchtower's. Anything more than one door for a few seconds at a time, and I'll get frozen out of the whole system. You'll need to move quickly."

"I'll make it," I say with some confidence. "I know this place inside and out. While I'm gone, keep the door locked, and if anyone--"

"Dick, I know the procedures," she says, annoyed.

"Right, I, erm, I know... I stammer. "Just....y'know....be safe."

"You too," she answers, not even looking away from her screen. "Now get going, Boy Wonder."

"Right," I nod, before heading out the door. About twenty yards to my right, a heavy security door slides about halfway open, and I make a bee-line towards it. I have to turn myself sideways to slide through as the door begins to close, nearly catching my arm when I pass-- Barb wasn't kidding about having to be fast.

Ten paces, and then turn right. I nearly slam headlong into another security door before it opens and I duck through. I start towards the end of the corridor, but when I'm about halfway there I see a hatch pop open on the ceiling, and I quickly vault up and pull myself into the ducts. So she really did learn all of the shortcuts in this place...

I start to shimmy my way through one of the air ducts--which is a lot tighter than I remember it being-- when I feel the Tower shake from another explosion. It rattles me around in the duct for a second, and I realize I'm nearly to my target.

"Hang in there, Kory," I think out loud, "I'm almost there..."

Pulling myself to the end of the duct work, I come to a tall ventilation shaft leading between every floor in the Tower. It too has a series of shutters and blast doors cutting off each floor from the others, to keep people from being able to sneak around in them--at least, without the aid of a superintelligent hacker.

One by one in quick succession, the hatches above me open, and I fire out a grappling line to take me to the top. It catches on the roof of the ventilation shaft, and the launcher's winch begins to pull me upward. My pulse quickens when I hear the winch's motor begin to strain-- this equipment's old, and probably hasn't been inspected in a couple of years.

"Come on," I say, irritably slapping the thing with my free hand, "Faster, must go faster...."

Above me, the hatch begins to close. If it closes on the line before I get through, it could sever it and send me falling. If it closes when I'm halfway though, well....

After a few more desperate thumps on the side, the grappling line's motor whirs back up to speed, nearly dislocating my shoulder as it yanks me upward.

The first hatch closes beneath me with only inches to spare.

The second one I clear only by a few milimeters.

The third actually pinches on the toe of my right boot, pulling it off as the line pulls me to the top floor.

"Great," I mutter, "Now I'm gonna have to fight the bad guys with this stupid costume and with one bare foot."

Thankfully, I make my way through the last couple of twists and turns without incident, before I pop open a vent and drop down into the smoke-filled bedroom....

"Nightwing!" Starfire calls out from the clouds of smoke between flashes of green and purple light. "Remain calm, the battle is nearly won!"

There's another flash of green light, followed by a grunt, and a figure flies toward me from the smoke. It's a human male, covered head-to-toe in black....well, tactical ninja garb. I'm not able to get a good look at what equipment he's carrying as he flies past me, slams into the wall behind me, and crumples to the floor in a heap.

People see Starfire, look at her wide-eyed smile and hear her fish-out-of-water way of speaking, and assume she's nothing but naivete and child-like innocence. Even if they've studied her, it's really easy to forget that Princess Koriand'r was trained by her planet's most prominent warriors and fought on the front lines of Tameran's civil war...and that's before spending nearly a decade on Earth as a superhero. I'm not saying she's Wonder Woman good....but I have seen her wipe the floor with Donna Troy in the training room on more than one occasion.

There's a flash of purple, and I hear someone begin to scream. That's Raven's work. Her heritage is a totally different kind of 'otherworldly' than Starfire, but it makes her innate powers just as potent. Couple that with years of studying all manner of schools of mysticism and witchcraft, and she's far and away one of the most fearsome spellcasters alive.

I reach behind my back and draw my batons, but I can already tell this fight is in the mopping-up stage. Whoever these guys are, they didn't stand a chance.

"Star? Raven?" I call out. "Are you okay?? I can't--"

I barely see the glint of steel out of the corner of my eye in time to parry the incoming sword stroke. One of the high-tech ninja types emerges from the smoke, brandishing straight shortsword, all carbon-black except for the blade's gleaming edge--probably synthetic diamond, judging from the shine. It begins to emit a high-pitched whine as he raises the blade to a high guard-- a high-frequency blade, made to cut through anything short of vibranium. These chumps may not have the skill to actually take Starfire and Raven, but they've been hooked up with the right equipment at least.

He slices downward, and I tumble to one side-- no use trying to block since that sword will go straight through my batons while it's running. I bob and weave from side to side as I dodge two upward figure-eight cuts, getting inside of his guard close enough to jab with a baton. It glances off the side of his mask, but it's enough to get him off-balance. I spin to his left, positioning one leg behind both of his, and drop the baton in my left hand to grab him around the collarbone. Twisting, I bend him backwards over my leg, still holding him up with my left hand, and for a second, we look like I'm dipping him low in a tango. The 'dance' ends quickly, though, as I wind up with my other baton and crack him across the chin with a backhand blow, knocking him out.

"Okay, that's one for me," I say with a laugh, "How many more are--"

The smoke clears out the blasted-open windows, and I see nearly twenty more would-be assassins crumpled up throughout the room.

"....oh," is all I can say.

Standing over a small pile of unconscious ninjas is Starfire, wearing the cut-up tatters of a silk bathrobe and, well, nothing else. She wields a Tameranian war-staff, tucked under one arm as she checks the room for any additional hostiles.

In the corner, Raven-- wearing much more conservative pajamas and carrying a small grimoire full of her quick-to-access 'combat spells'-- is perched over one of the enemies, one hand bathed in a purple glow as she tries to administer a healing charm.

"It's no good," she says, frustrated, "He's dead. The others, too."

As she pulls down the attacker's mask, I see foam coming from his mouth.

"Cyanide pills," I say, approaching them. "They'd rather die than let themselves be captured or interrogated."

"The Red Hood is truly evil, then," Starfire says mournfully, "If he would throw away the lives of his soldiers like this."

"I dunno about that," I say, inspecting the attackers' gear more carefully. "This doesn't really look like Red Hood's style. I mean, he's got the same kind of clandestine martial-arts training as me, but if he hires goons he usually tends to go louder. These guys are ninja, well-armed and equipped with weapons meant to kill metahumans. Probably outside of his pay grade."

"So we've got more people out to kill us now?" Raven says, irritated.

"Seems that way," I answer as Starfire floats over toward us. "Judging by their outfits and choice of weapons, it could be the Hand. Or maybe the League of Assassins. Whoever it is, Hood's got friends in high...places....ermm...."

I trail off as Starfire sets down beside me, the wind from outside blowing what little remains of her bathrobe around as if to emphasize the fact that it's in no condition to cover any of her at this point.

"....what?" she asks, seemingly not aware that she's not leaving anything to the imagination.

Raven rolls her eyes.

"It's just ...y'know ... would you mind, I dunno....grabbing a shirt or something?"

Starfire blinks, puzzled.

"Why? It is not as if you and Raven have not seen me before," she says.

"Yeah, but it's--wait....Raven?" I say, caught completely off-guard. "Nobody told me you two were--"

"I know, crazy, right? It's almost like it's none of your business or something," Raven says with an acidic tone in her voice. "Back on topic. Killer ninjas. Probably don't work for Red Hood. New enemies to worry about. What do we do?"

I look around, scratching my head. "I guess we can call the Watchtower and see if the League can send some reserves to keep the Titans safe while we start looking for--"

"Starfire? Raven? Nightwing? This is Oracle," Barbara's voice comes in over my earpiece and the speakers of the Tower's intercom. "Hope you don't mind that I patched into the Tower's communications. I take it you're dealing with suicide ninjas as well?"

"Oracle? How do you--" I say, panicked.

"One of them got into my room," she answers. "Heavily armed, decked out with tactical gear and ninja weapons. Came at me with a pair of sai."

"Oh God," I say, turning white, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Nightwing," she says with an almost condescending tone. "Just because I can't use my legs anymore doesn't mean I can't use Batarangs and a taser. If it's all right with everyone, I'm going to call the Watchtower and see if the League can send some reserves to keep the Titans safe while we search for the source of the attacks. In the meantime, since this location is compromised, I'm going to start going through my contacts on this coast to find us a safehouse."

"...oh, um, yeah. Good idea," I mumble, the wind completely taken out of my sails. "Let's, um, let's do that."

"And Nightwing?" Barbara adds. "Stop ogling Starfire; it's rude."

Over in one corner, one of the surveillance cameras nods back and forth to indicate she's been watching the whole time.

"Right, *ahem*, sorry," I sputter, not sure which of my red-headed ex-girlfriends I'm apologizing to more.

After Star gets dressed, the security doors open, and some of the new Teen Titans come in to help with cleanup. Raven makes sure the bodies have all been covered and moved before the kids can see them, and for a second I find myself wondering why. All of us had seen dead people when we were their age. Looking at the fear and concern on the kids' faces, though, I see the point-- Kory and Rachel want to make sure they don't end up as damaged as we are.

As Starfire debriefs her students, I quietly move over to one of the dead ninjas, and start rifling through his stuff. They may not have been able to hack it in a fight, but at least they've got gear that might actually work.

And if Jason's got someone bigger backing him, I'll need every bit of edge I can get.
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Part 1:
Welcome to the Working Week

"They think that I've got no respect, but
Everything means less than zero."

-- Elvis Costello

Opal City, PA
10:21 PM

A grouping of three police cars made a semi-circle around the dead-end alley. Their lights flashed, bouncing off the brick walls of the alley and creating a strobe aura of red and blue lights in the night. Two cops drank lukewarm coffee out of paper cups while a third stood nearby a tarp covered body.

A pink sedan pulled up beside the cop cars and came to a stop, the brakes squealing. A young, dark-haired woman in a pants suit got out of the driver side. The two cops behind the crime scene tape perked up... until they saw the car's passenger get out.

"They sent you, huh?" one of the cops said with an arched eyebrow.

Walking towards the two police officers was DC, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, wearing a plaid coat and a deerstalker cap with earbuds wedged into his ears. A cigarette dangled from his lips. The chimp smiled at the cops and exhaled smoke into the air.

"Yes, I guess your bosses don't trust your homicide boys."

"Who's the girl?" one of the cops asked, nodding towards the girl.

"This is my friend and associate, Ms. Peters."

"Friend? Since when do you have friends?" the other cop asked. "Oh, my god... is this your idea of a date?"

"What? No," stammered Effie Peters. "You think we're....no...I mean," she quickly looked down at DC and turned a shade of red. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

DC shook his head and walked past the two cops. He flicked his cigarette across the alley before crossing into the crime scene. He easily walked under the yellow crime scene tape without needing to duck and reached into his jacket for a pair of white latex gloves. They snapped on with a pop and DC approached the body. The third cop, a middle aged woman in a pants suit, gave him a nod.

"What brings you here, Bobo?" asked Homicide sergeant Florence Marlowe.

DC ignored her questions, listening to David Byrne croon about being a Psycho Killer and focusing on the victim on the ground. He was a man, late middle-age and clothed in a white shirt and gray trousers. DC leaned forward and took the corpse's face into his hands. He leaned forward and looked closely at the body's red cheeks and nose. He took a small mental snapshot of the bruises around the neck, deep purple verging on black and all the way around the neck, before moving down to the shirt. He paused at the watch on his wrist. Rolex, a genuine one, and brand new.

DC took note of the gut and looked at the belt and pants. The pants appeared to be in good shape, a spot of fresh mud on the right kneecap. He dabbed a finger in the mud and rubbed it between his latex-covered fingers. Rolling up the pants leg, he examined the veins of victim's legs before going up to the hands and the man's scarred knuckles.

DC stood and looked at Effie and Marlowe as the two cops strolled over to see what was going on. He removed one latex glove and removed his earbuds.

"He was a cop, Marlowe. Former cop, anyway."

"What?" the sergeant asked with a raised eyebrow.

"The victim is approximately fifty-five years old," said DC. "The cut of his clothing indicates he's wearing a uniform from work. He has varicose veins, which means he did a lot of standing. He's more than likely currently employed as a security guard, but he's only been doing it a few years. No security guard has scarred knuckles like that. His age, coupled with the bloated and red face implies he's a heavy drinker. Only one job I can think of where one can be a functioning alcoholic and still be paid."

"Detective Chimp?" Effie asked with a smirk.

"Police. Our man was a former cop. The cause of death is strangulation. Someone at least 6'4 had to get behind with him with a cord to make those exact marks. The mud on his pants isn't consistent with what you find around here. The mud looks more like the mud you find out by the Three Rivers area. He probably worked for a business in that area."

Marlowe looked at the uniformed offices and nodded.

"You heard the chimp. Send a uniform over that way to see if there are any security people who match that description."

The two cops headed off. Marlowe looked down at DC with hands on her hips.

"Why are you here?" she asked.

"I need info. Giving you a lead on this murder is my way of horsetrading. I offer you something, now you pay me back. I need the murder book on a fresh homicide."

"No way," Marlowe said bluntly. "I am not risking my job and my well being to--"

"The dead man on the ground," said DC. "He was in bed with a gang of thieves, probably allowing them access to whatever he was guarding at his job. You'll find that where he worked has had inventory problems recently."

"How?" Effie asked from behind DC.

"The watch," said the chimp. "It's a Rolex, brand new. No way he could afford it on his salary. He had to be getting paid under the table from someone. No doubt he was murdered in a double cross to stop him from telling on them."

"Name," Marlowe said softly. "What's the name on the murder book you need?"

"Kenneth Boyd," DC said with a grin. "Marlowe, you're alright... you know, for a damn dirty human."


My senses are still reeling, but I'm becoming more and more keenly aware of how much pain I'm in as the fog begins to lift from my head.

There is a very short list of creatures in the universe who can hit me that hard without the help of Kryptonite or magic. And right near the top of that list is my Bizarro duplicate. He's every bit as strong, every bit as fast as I am, with none of the control. He could smash this entire planet to to dust, and if he's trying to fight me, he very well might.

I've just about shaken the cobwebs loose in my head when he slams into me again, catching me in the gut with a flying tackle. The distorted cityscape around us shudders and buckles from the force of the impact, and the whole world becomes a blur as Bizarro rushes me through the air.

"nOthIng aM aLl wrOnG," the monster growls. "bIzarRo wOrlD aM haViNg iMpErfeCtLy sAd nIgHt, wHeN graDuaLlY, oLd wOmAn dIsapPeArs oUt oF evErywHeRe! BizArrO wOrlD waNt iNsiDeR tO stAy, hAs tO prEseRve tHinG tHat bEloNg!"

The creature hurls me into the side of a warped office building. For a few seconds, I see a jumble of bricks and mortar and furniture and tiles....and bones and sinew and organs....and giant spotted eggs and melting clocks...before I emerge from the other side, scuffed and dusty but not much worse for the wear.

"Bizarro, listen, I'm here to help--" I plead, before realizing what I'd said, and to whom I said it. The craggy-skinned clone howls in anger and charges again.

This time I'm ready for him, juking to the side to avoid the oncoming charge and wrangling both arms behind his back.

"No, damn it, I'm--*ngh!*" I grunt as Bizarro struggles, "I want to....ugh....to hurt you! I'm here to help destroy Bizarro World!"

Bizarro snorts and wriggles, trying to throw me off. For a moment, I'm reminded of the rodeos that would occasionally come through Smallville, the riders trying to last eight seconds on a two-ton bull without getting trampled or gored.

"SuPermAn....saYs tRutH!" he growls. "bIzaRrO tRuSt sUpeRmAn, aM thInK tHis nO Am tRicK!"

"Erm...yes! This is a trick! I'm lying to you!"" I try to reason with my twisted double in his own backwards form of thinking. "I want the worst for both of us, and I think I know how to make everyone as sad as possible!"

After a few more half-hearted attempts to break free, Bizarro's arms go slack.

"bIzaRrO aM iGnoRiNg," he says.

"Rig--erm, wrong," I say, letting him go and trying to think how to word my next few sentences. "You Bizarros, you're, erm, detached from the Bizarro-World itself, wrong?"

"...nO," Bizarro shakes his head.

"Which...doesn't mean, that whatever you don't know....nobody on Bizarro World also doesn't know, wrong?"

Again, the anti-me shakes his head.

"So," I say, trying to lead the monster to the right conclusion, "that shouldn't work the other way too, wrong? Nothing that nobody on Bizarro World doesn't know....Bizarro Superman also shouldn't know."

The creature scratches his head for a moment, before the proverbial light bulb goes on.

"aH! nO! tHaT mAke nO seNsE wHatSoEveR!" he says, happily. "iF bIzaRrO sUpeRmAn nO Am fOcUs, bIzaRrO caNnOt tHinK of anYtHinG haPpenIng oN BizArrO wOrLd!"

I sigh in relief. Now we're getting somewhere. I think.

"This, erm....this old woman who disappeared," I tell him. "I don't care about him at all, and I want to leave him here on Bizarro World, to keep him away from his home. Understand?"

Bizarro shakes his head again. "nO uNdeRstAnd aT aLl!"

"I don't want to know where the old woman is," I plead. "He's the least important thing in the world to me. I'd be perfectly happy if he never came home. I know exactly what I'd do if something happened to him. And Bizarro World wants to keep him, wrong? So why not work separately to lose him?"

My backwards doppelganger considers it for a moment.

"sUpeRmAn maKes tErRibLe pOinTs," he says. "bIzaRrO nO aM thInK uS caN't wOrk aPaRt. mE keEp sUperMaN fRoM fIndiNg oLd woMan."

He extends a grotesque, knotty hand.


I raise an eyebrow, before taking his hand and shaking it.

"Enemies," I say with a grin.

The monster takes off like a shot, and I follow after him. One step closer to finding Jon, one step closer to putting a stop to this insanity.


I'm taking it on faith, I think, trying to push the imp's voice out of my mind.


Shut. Up.

I spend the rest of the flight in silence, my fists clenched so tightly they could fuse atoms together.
Daredevil swung through the city until he reached the office of Dr. Curt Connors. He could hear Connors dictating a report onto his lap top, and Daredevil tapped on the window. Connors turned to the window to see Matt perched there looking exhausted. Curt quickly made his way to the window and opened it. Helping Daredevil in he asked, "What are you doing here? Do you realize the situation you could create if someone saw you?"

Daredevil collapsed on the couch and said, "Relax Dr. Connors. You're on the forth floor. I made sure the cameras were pointing in the other directions during their sweep. Besides, I've been on this campus more than once your campus cops couldn't even stop a troop of angry Boy Scouts."

Connors closed the window and sat next to him. He pulled off the mask and said, "You've done a pretty good job running yourself ragged already." Curt began to look him over and said, "A quick Neogenic treatment tonight should help you out, but I'm telling you Matt you keep this up by the end of the month you're going to be dead."

Matt replied, "At least I will be with Karen and my daughter again."

Curt shook his head and said, "I am not about to debate you on this one."

Matt looked over and said, "Good call, remember I'm a lawyer in my spare time."

Connors chuckled and replied, "Come on let's get you set up." With that Connors walked over to his closet and pulled out a sweat suit from a back pack with sun glasses, and tennis shoes. He set it on the couch next to Matt and said, "Your backpack is next to you. Get changed and I'll meet you at the lab."

Matt changed as Connors left his office, and then after putting on the civilian clothes he made his way to the lab. Matt walked into a lab with what a metal OR table, and large machine with what appeared to be a spotlight apparatus on it. Connors said, "Lay down and relax." Matt climbed up on the table and laid down. Connors flicked two switches and there was flickering of green and red lights around Matt. Connors said, "I'll be back in an hour. Get some rest."

Connors left and Matt took two deep breaths. His mind then began to wander back to his wife and daughter. He said, "I'll be home soon..." and with that he went to sleep.

Chapter 4

"Looks Like He Found His Floor..."

Minsk, Belarus
0134 Local Time

The Baroness Anastasia Cisarovna walked through her dimly lit penthouse. The suite's current light source was from the moon that shone through from the skylight above. She kicked her heels off at the door and now padded barefoot across the plush carpet floor. In one hand a chilled bottle of wine, a 1990 Camuzet Vosne Romanee, and in the other hand were two long-stemmed wineglasses. She came into the suite's master bedroom and stopped in front of the ornate four-poster bed with the golden satin sheets. She placed the wine and glasses on the bedsheet before sliding the shoulder straps of her gown off. The black fabric pooled down at her feet. Her pale and lean body was clad in black lace undergarments, a black demi-cup brassiere and matching boyshorts with a small red bow in the front.

The Baroness placed the bottle and glasses on the nightstand beside her tablet. She tossed the sheets of the bed back and climbed in. She ruffled her raven black hair and leaned against the pillow to wait for the arrival of the Englishman she had just only met a half hour earlier. Her contacts warned her of doing the thing she was about to do. Keeping a low profile was key to the success of Operation: Midas, and jumping into bed with a strange man or two could mean trouble. The Russian was in adjoining room, her personal protection if the man got rough or it turned out he was something other than what he said he was. Even if the Russian wasn't shadowing her, there was something about the man. He made the risk worth it. His blue-gray eyes and the air of sheer confidence around him. If he made love the same way he gambled, with the same cool demeanor and headstrong decisiveness, then she would be in for a memorable night. A soft smile crossed her lips at the hope that she would make out better in the bedroom than she had at the baccarat table.

There came a soft buzz on the nightstand, a soft light cutting through the dimness. Her tablet flashed an alert, an incoming call. The caller's picture was blank. The caller ID gave only one character for the identity: 2. She leaned out and pulled the tablet from the bed and took the call.

"Yes," she said, holding the tablet up so the pinhole camera wouldn't show her current state of undress.

The stoic face of Number 2 stared back at her, his rich olive skin covered with sweat. Just over his shoulder was a blooming and ornate garden illuminated with LED lights strung up on poles. Wherever he was, it was far removed from the cold night outside the Baroness' window.

"We have a problem. An interloper with the British Secret Service."

Her nails clicked against the back of the tablet in agitation. She had a sneaking suspicion Number 2's interloper and her soon to-be lover were connected. Number 2's face disappeared from the screen, replaced by a black and white surveillance photo of a man in a peacoat walking down a sidewalk. He had short, jet black hair with high cheek bones and a lopsided mouth. It was too far away to see his eyes, but she knew they were same blue-grey.

"His name is Bond. James Bond. Have you see this man?"

"Yes," she said. That was as far as the Baroness was willing to go. She had disobeyed SPECTRE's orders by a man up to her room. The organization did not suffer disobedience lightly, especially if the man she was planning to sleep with was a secret agent. The photo disappeared and Number 2's stone face was back. She felt like he was trying to read her body language.


"You and the Russian are to leave the city as soon as possible. When will the casino have the next batch of cash ready?"

"Within the hour. It was to be flown out to the site in the morning."

"Move it up to tonight. The two of you will fly aboard the plane to the site."

"What about our plans involving the US currency?"

"It will have to wait. We have at least three times the bare minimum to carry out Midas' European operation."

"And the spy?"

"Being taken care of as we speak. If you see him again, kill him on sight. No playful banter, no toying with him. Two shots to the head. We will speak when you're out of Belarus and on the ground in Switzerland."

"Yes, sir."

"One more thing... Lukashenka. How much does he know?"

"Next to nothing. He thinks we are upscale counterfeiters, but he knows nothing of Midas."

"He has seen your face, knows one of your aliases. Kill him before you depart."


The Baroness hung up and placed the tablet on the nightstand with a sigh. She rolled over in bed and reached behind her pillow. Her hand came out from behind it with a tiny Beretta 418 in her hands. Grumbling to herself, the Baroness tucked the gun into the waistband of her shorts and climbed out of bed to get dressed. As she crossed across the carpet, there was a loud crash from somewhere far below that was followed by a soft shaking of the room.

"What the hell?"


Bond sat in the passenger's seat of his rental car and dug through the glove compartment. If he was going to bed this woman tonight, he was going to need some protection. He found what he was looking for, pulling his Walther PPS from the glove compartment. With it he pulled out a dissolvable node. When the time came, he would stick the node into his mouth and let the tiny nanomachines dissolve on the tip his tongue. In the throes of passion, he would then kiss or lick the Baroness somewhere on her body and mark her with the nanites. In turn, the microscopic particles would act as a GPS tracker.

He tucked the Walther it into his shoulder holster, placed the node in his coat pocket, and checked his mobile one more time. No reply from Q yet. Earlier, Bond used the phone's scanning feature to map out every detail of the Euros he had won in the casino. Q's people would examine them thoroughly to determine if they were counterfeits, and if so of what quality the fakes were exactly.

With no word from Q, Bond climbed out the car and walked through the casino parking lot and across the street. A posh hotel that lay across the street from the Belaya Vezha, the one the Baroness was staying at. He went through the lobby and caught the lift. Bond pressed the top button and waited for the doors to close. They were nearly shut when a hand reached through and caused the automatic doors to spring back open. A dark-haired man in a tuxedo gave Bond his thanks and selected his floor before the doors finally closed.

Bond gave him a glance out the corner of his eye. His tuxedo was of a baggy cut, but he could tell the cloth hid a muscular frame underneath. His dark hair, which was gelled and combed back, had bits of gray in it. There was a thick black goatee on his face. There was something oddly familiar about him, and Bond was overcome with the sense of deja vu by just glancing at the man's profile. He kept his eyes forward, but his body language told Bond that he was on-alert and focused on something. A cold, numb sensation began in the pit of Bond's stomach. He was not a believer of things like a sixth sense or telepathy, but his time in the navy and in MI6 had given him an acute sense of recognizing danger and when it was imminent.

He flung himself backwards just as the man's large fist moved to strike his side. Bond grabbed his wrist with one hand to try to twist it backwards behind his back, but the man's muscles tightened and flexed. He smacked Bond hard against the face with the open palm of his free hand. He reeled backwards and slammed against the lift's wall. While he recovered, the assassin slapped the emergency stop button at the tenth floor and began to encroach towards Bond.

Bond pulled his Walther from its shoulder holster and was preparing to aim it when the man's powerful hands slapped it out of his grip. It clattered to the floor as the man got his hands around Bond's neck and lifted him upwards. The top of his head smashed against the top of the lift, knocking a light fixture loose and popping the florescent lightbulb. The small space was now basked in half-shadow as the man throttled Bond's neck. His tough hands scratched at Bond's throat the way sandpaper scratches at wood. He kept his eyes forward and watched Bond with gleeful anticipation as he squeezed the life out of him.

Flailing, Bond's foot connected with the man's chest. The shock caused him to drop his prey and stumble backwards holding his chest. Bond slammed against the floor of the lift and coughed violently as air returned to his lungs. He looked up and saw the man sucking for air as well. The Walter was in the far corner beside the assassin. Bond stood just as the man was standing.

"Suppose we can't talk this out like men?" he asked the man in a rough voice.

"Talking is for cowards," he said in a thick Russian accent. "But we will talk like the real men used to."

Like that, he was back on Bond with his wide fist cutting through the air. Bond held his arm up and blocked the blow with his left forearm. The blow sent shockwaves of pain through his arm, but it didn't affect his aim as he struck the man in the face with a right hook. The blow knocked the man unbalanced, and Bond kept up the barrage with a series to body blows to the chest and sides. He had the man backed up against the side of the lift, but any advantage he had evaporated when he grabbed one of Bond's blows with an open palm and flipped him hard on to the lift floor. The wind rushed out of Bond's lungs and he gasped for air. While he struggled, the man stood over him.

"Not bad," he said with a slight bow. "I have met better, but not many. You were nearly a worthy opponent, Mister Bond, but you were not good enough."

The man raised his leg and was bringing it down when Bond rolled to his right. The foot came down on the lift's metal floor. Bond swept his legs, knocking the man to the ground. Out the corner of his eye, he saw the Walter on the floor. Bond rolled in its direction, picking it up in his hand. Before he could turn, he felt the powerful assassin's hands around the back of his neck. Bond swung the gun behind his head and felt the gun strike the man square on the head.

The blow didn't seem to faze him, as his powerful hands reached out to take the gun from Bond. They struggled with each other, rolling in the floor. In their tug of war, one of them squeezed the gun's trigger. It went off straight up in the air, first a three round burst then the rest of the rounds followed. Bond kicked away from the killer and yanked the Walther from his grip. Turning, he struck him again with the gun barrel, this time straight across the face. He screamed out as the gun's iron sight scratched across his eye.

There came a loud metallic twang from above, followed by a groan. Both Bond and the assassin looked up. The gunshots had pierced the lift's ceiling, one of them must have damaged the cables that operated the lift. Both Bond and his would-be killer exchanged looks before they tried to strike. While the assassin reared back for another punch, Bond used his left hand to poke him in the scratched eye. He screamed again, falling back to the floor. There was another twang, this one shaking the lift. Bond carefully stood while his killer rolled on the ground. He tried to pry open the lift's doors as gently as he could while the man tried to regain his composure. He was on his hands in knees when Bond kicked him in the face and dropped him to the floor. With a wedge big enough to pass through, Bond stomped down on the lift's floor hard before he slid through the opening. He came through the doors and out on the tenth floor just as the lift's cable gave a loud twang and a snap, the man's scream was loud at first, but got smaller and smaller as the car fell down towards the lobby.

Breathing hard, Bond bent down and rubbed his sore neck with his hands. He heard a crash and a rumble far below him. "Looks like he found his floor," he said softly to himself.

Bond stood and hurried down the hallway towards the stairwell. From there, he hurried down to the eighth floor and caught the second lift down towards the lobby. His tongue touched the back tooth in his mouth in a careful sequence that activated the microphone.

"007 to Black Widow," he wheezed. "Where are you?"

"Lukashenka's office," she replied. "I think I may have a lead."


Natalia sat on the edge of Lukashenka's office and gave the man her best seductive smile. He had invited her up here after personally escorting her to the cashier's cage. Her winnings, which she had thought was substantial, had only turned out to cover to ten Euros. Lukashenaka had used the excuse of extending her house credit to invite her up here. And now, here she was. The office was mid-sized and sparsely decorated with a sofa and a few landscape paintings of the Belorussian countryside. What caught Natalia's eye was behind Lukashenka. A large back of television monitors, some twenty in all, that displayed the live security camera feeds around the casino. Curiously, there was a row of four televisions that were off.

"So, my dear," Lukashenka asked in Russian, pulling a bottle of vodka from his desk. "Would you like a drink?"

"Yes," she said playfully. "You know how we Russians love our vodka."

"I do indeed." He pulled a pair of shot glasses from the same desk drawer and filled them with the clear liquid.

"It is not just you, my dear. Here in Belarus, we can put them back just as good as you Russians can."

They held up the shots and clinked glasses before downing the liquid in one gulp. Natalia made a slight face. Despite her Russian heritage, she had never fully developed a taste for the stuff. When Lukashenka saw her face, he laugh heartily. "I thought you Russians loved your vodka?"

"We do," she said with a slight grin. "But goddamn the taste."

"Anybody who likes vodka for the taste is a damn fool. Tell me, would you be more comfortable if we were to move." He nodded towards the sofa across the room and she nodded.

"I would. May I ask a question?"

"Of course," he said as he stood and grabbed the vodka and glasses.

"Those cameras? Why do they show nothing?"

"They aren't in use because that part of the building is under construction. Our basement was damaged by a flood last spring."

She flopped down on the couch, kicking her shoes off as Lukashenka sat down beside her. He placed his right hand on her left knee and rubbed softly against the wine-colored fabric. "If this makes you uncomfortable, let me know."

"It doesn't," she said in a husky voice. "In fact, if you would come closer..."

Lukashenka leaned back and towards her as Natalia parted her lips. She inched her face closer to his as she placed her left hand on Lukashenka's cheek. She slid the palm of her hand down and cocked her wrist at the man's neck. There was a soft pop of compressed air as something flew from her bracelet. A tiny dart struck Lukashenka in the neck. He recoiled in pain and began to speak, but his eyes rolled in the back of his head and he slumped against the couch. He was snoring heavily by the time Natalia picked herself up off the couch and slid her shoes back on.

"007 to Black Widow,"came Bond's ragged voice. "Where are you?"

"Lukashenka's office," replied Natalia. "I think I may have a lead."

"I found something out as well."

"Judging from how out of breath you are, I assume it's where your new friend is ticklish."

"I never made it up to her room. On the ride up, a man tried to kill me."

"Are you okay? Where's the assassin?"

"I'm fine, can't say the same for him. I gave him the shaft."

"What do you mean?"

"I gave him the shaft, if you know what I mean."

Black Widow furrowed her brow. "No, I don't... Do you mean you cheated him or?"

"I dropped him down a bloody lift shaft," yelled an annoyed Bond.

"Oh. Why not just say that?"

"Because it's not a pun... Oh, Never mind. I don't know what's going on, but I assume the woman and her large friend are at the center of it. What's your lead?"

"Meet me outside the casino in ten minutes and I'll show you."

Natalia disconnected and checked Lukashenka one last time. The tranquilizer she had shot him with would keep him unconscious for at least another six hours. She took the vodka bottle from his lap and took a long swig off of it before pocketing the spare shot glass in her purse. Natalia turned to leave, satisfied that it appeared like Lukashenka had passed out while drinking alone. She calmly walked out the office and headed towards the bright lights and loud noises of the casino floor.

Peter Parker | Mary Jane Watson

Let me think. Where can I squeeze in some time to finish up that lab report? Peter pondered as he soared through the New York sky, one webline at a time. Since he had gone through high school, undergrad, and graduate school first for his Master’s and now for his Ph.D. while donning his role as Spider-Man, one would hope that Peter had finally worked out a way to make room for school during his hectic crime-fighting schedule. While he had not always been perfect with juggling the various aspects of his life, the skill of completing schoolwork in a limited time was something that Peter long ago learned that he needed to master in order to keep his grades up while still being able to fight crime as Spider-Man.

I probably could wake up early tomorrow and knock it out. Peter could hear the police sirens grow louder as he approached the epicenter of the commotion that the Rhino was causing. Police cars had encircled the giant Russian, although Peter knew too well that a few squad cars would be near useless for slowing down the Rhino. New York’s finest cowered behind their cars for cover, since they already knew that their bullets would not do much against the villain.

“Alright, who allowed the rhino to escape from the zoo? Come on, this is a serious matter!”

Peter landed on top of a nearby street lamp. He peered around, looking for anything that would help him end this soon-to-be fight. The Rhino had two weaknesses, one of which helps exploit the other. It was almost too clique to be true, but for all the physical might that the Rhino packed, he also had just as much intelligence as his animal namesake. Due to his intelligence (or lack thereof), he could be easily tricked into charging headlong into something that could take him out of a fight: a power generator, a deep pit of wet cement, a body of water, etc. And even if he did have the smarts to see through the trick, the momentum that the Rhino’s charges has makes it near impossible for him to perform evasive actions.

However, Peter, at least at first glance, did not see anything of use. He could bait him into the walls of the nearby buildings several times, but that would cause a considerable amount of property damage for almost no good reason. He was going to have to figure out a solution on the fly, since the Rhino had already started to charge at Peter, knocking over two of the Police cars that were in his way. Before the Rhino drilled the lamp pole, Peter leaped off it and landed behind the Rhino.

“I see the little smart-mouth has come to play.” The Rhino said as he was recovering from the impact with the lamp pole.

“I still have no clue why you guys keep trying to attack a city that has one of the largest superhero to ATM ratios in the country. There are hundreds of cities and towns in this country and you had to pick this one? I know some of you are not the sharpest crayon in the box, but even this shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out!”

The Rhino lunged forward towards Peter, but Peter’s spider-like agility and reflexes allowed him to sidestep and dodge the initial attacks of the Rhino. Until Peter has figured out a way to knock the Rhino out for the count, he needed to keep moving. If the Rhino couldn’t catch Peter, then the villain could not harm hin, either.

“Maybe you all are attracted to this city, like moths to a lamp, because there seems to be a revolving door in the prison systems here. Who cares if you get beaten up by every single hero and their brother in this city when you will be back on the streets in a few months.”

“Stay still, you bug!” Rhino yelled as he grew frustrated at Peter’s constant anticipation of his attacks.

“Toro, toro!” Peter called back while waving a make-shift sheet of his homemade spider silk.

“I’m not a bull, you dumbass!”

“What a double standard! You can call be a bug, but I can’t shout toro at you! People these day.” Peter lobbed the sheet of webbing up in front of the Rhino as the latter made another charge at him. The sheet momentarily covered the Rhino’s eyes, causing him to try to stop and rip it off of his face. This distraction gave Peter time to roll out of the way and, more importantly, to figure out what his next moved needed to be.


Mary Jane scoured the cabinets and drawers in both the kitchen and bathroom in Peter’s apartment until she stumbled upon a jar of Tums. Ever since Peter had left to take down the Rhino, her belly ache had been bothering her, maybe even growing worse. MJ poured out four Tums tablets into her palm and started to chew on them, washing them down with a glass of water. She hoped that it would help out at least a little.

MJ took her seat back on the coach and peered down at her iPhone. News sources had already confirmed that Spider-Man had arrived at the scene of Rhino’s rampage. When she checked the time, MJ calculated that Peter had about thirty-five minutes left. Or at least that much time was left until he promised to be back. For as long as MJ knew Peter, he was never the most punctual person, although it was not always his fault. Crazy situations, like the Rhino, do happen when you are a superhero.

To pass the time until Peter arrived, MJ opened up the Facebook app and strolled through her feed. It was more or less same content that is usually present: a wall of auto-play videos, most of which she probably did not care about, people blowing off steam by ranting about current events, and pictures of her Facebook “friends’” vacations. Heck, she probably only was acquaintances with the majority of them, anyways. However, when a picture of her sister, Gayle, with her two kids appeared on her feed, a realization struck her. Was she pregnant?

Peter had a guilt-complex that was worthy of a Catholic and it was not limited to believing his inaction caused Uncle Ben’s death. MJ and Peter had been dating since their Sophomore year in college and it took her a couple years to convince him just to sleep with her. However, MJ could not blame Peter’s wet feet solely only him not wanting to feel guilty about participating in premarital sex. Gwen Stacy, the woman whom Peter had dated before her, was murdered by the Green Goblin, otherwise known as Norman Osborn, several months before they got together. Peter and Gwen did not part ways on good terms, since Gwen staunchly believed that Spider-Man had caused the death of her father and, instead of looking for her boyfriend for comfort, she ran away to her relatives in England. MJ could not begin to imagine what it felt like to see the woman he loved murdered right before his eyes. But she did give Peter a shoulder to cry on and their relationship bloomed from there.

She wondered whether she had enough time to run out and grab an over-the-counter pregnancy test. However, MJ decided that it would be impossible for her to get to a drug store, buy the kit, get back and use it, wait for the results and trash it before Peter would get back to his apartment. The last thing she wanted was Peter worrying that she was pregnant. He would worry himself to death over taking care of and paying for a baby born outside of wedlock while attending graduate school for a Ph.D. MJ finally tried to calm herself down by remembering that she had not missed her period. She told herself that she was just overreacting to a simple stomach ache. It was just a stomach ache.


"Well, this looks.... charming," I say, surveying the dilapidated split-level house at the end of a pot-holed street consisting of more abandoned homes and empty lots. I pull up to the driveway in the rental van we'd piled into, and try to stay positive.

"It looks like a dump that the world forgot," Barbara corrects me. "That's the point. This whole subdivision used to be home to the staff of an old Naval base a mile or so from here. Once the base closed down, nobody had any reason to stay here, so they left and provided us with a nice suburban ghost town where we can squat without drawing attention."

"Any reason we're picking this house in particular, then?" Raven asks.

"A few," Barb nods. "The guy who told me about this place is one of those doomsday-prepper types; one of the inevitable eccentricities of spending most of your daily life on the deep end of the internet. He renovated the house on the interior, enough that he could hypothetically live off-the-grid for years. More importantly, it's got an underground panic-room-slash-bunker with a few essentials if things go south. Granted, it's no Batcave, but it's the best I could find on short notice."

"I am still uncomfortable leaving the Titans behind," Starfire says from the back seat, a worried expression on her face.

"They'll be fine," Raven says, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Cyborg, Firestorm, and Red Tornado are keeping an eye on the Tower while we're gone."

"And hey, it's not like we never went unsupervised when we were their age," I add in, idly shooing away a fly that's been buzzing around the rear view mirror.

"That is more or less entirely why I am concerned," she says as we start to pile out of the van. "Even with the training and counseling we have given them, they are still a group of teenagers in an often highly-emotional setting. There is little telling what they will get up to while we are gone."

"Whatever you're worried about them doing, they've probably already been doing it while you're not looking," I say as I carefully check the front door before picking the lock. "Like you said, they're teenagers. They can't help themselves."

"This coming from the master of restraint and self-control," Raven jabs, and the two of us trade sneers before the lock pops and the door creaks open.

"Home sweet home, folks," says Barb as she wheels up to the door. "Let's make ourselves comfy."

I do a thorough inspection of every room in the place, looking for hidden cameras, microphones, tracking devices, anything that might give away our location. Rachel puts a protective seal over the place, while Barbara sets up a remote workstation for her computer. By the late afternoon, we're all convinced the house is secure, and settle in for a long wait.


"So now it's my turn to say how disappointed I am in you," the Red Hood sneered, pacing back and forth as figures watched him from the shadows. "I give you exactly where to find all of our targets in one go, and what happens? You send in goons who can't handle them and all wind up dead. Sure, I blew my first shot, but I came out of it with just a cut on the leg. You blew your first shot, and lost a couple dozen of your guys. You may scare the hell out of everyone else, but I'm really not impressed with--"

Before he could finish his sentence, before his highly-trained reflexes could respond, a hulking figure burst from the shadows, and Jason Todd's world briefly exploded into stars and blurs. He had the vague awareness of being lifted up by the lapels of his leather jacket, followed by the distantly ecstatic sensation of flying before another explosion of pain brought him back to the present. He was pinned to the wall, a frighteningly muscled arm holding him up by the throat.

"Do not presume to be in any position to gloat, boy," his assailant growled. "My operatives paid the price for their failure, but I am still very much unscathed, while you are still wounded. You would do well to remember that before saying things you may regret."

Jason sputtered and gurgled, knowing better than to try and break the man's grip. He gritted his teeth and put on a brave face, but he could feel his hands shaking.

Finally, the man released his chokehold, and Jason fell to the floor, gasping for air.

"We--*koff!*--we still need a plan," he said, pulling himself to his feet as he caught his breath. "It shouldn't take me long to--*koff!*--to get back on their trail. Trained by the world's greatest detective and all that. A day or two at most, I'll find them."

"Smoke them out into the open," the hulking figure said. "From there, I will deal with them myself."

"Not on your own, you're not," the Red Hood said. "Nightwing's no slouch, and what's left of your henchmen is a testament to the firepower Starfire and Raven have. I know how good you are-- everyone's heard about what you've done in the past. Against any one of them, I'm sure you'd tear them apart. Against all three, though? Uh-uh, we're not taking any more risks. You bring your crew, I'll bring mine, and we'll rain down fire on them."

"I take it, then, that you wish to escalate this assassination into an all-out war?"

"Ohhhh, yeah," said Jason, grinning eagerly. "It's what I've been wanting all along."

Chapter 5

The Maker's Mark

Minsk, Belarus
0155 Local Time

Steam curled from Bond's mouth as he stood in the shadows of the parking garage opposite the bright lights of the Belaya Vezha Casino. Just down the road, a crowd gathered around a parked ambulance. A loud, two-tone squeal filled the air. A Minsk police car sped down the street and came to a stop beside the ambulance. A uniformed officer and plain clothes man got out and hurried through the crowd into the lobby of the hotel. Bond stamped his feet to keep warm and ran the last few minutes over in his head. A man, a very strong and proficient one, had tried to kill him in the lift. Had it not been for a stray bullet and quick thinking on Bond's part, he may have met his end in the lift. He reached out and gingerly placed a hand on his face. It was tender to the touch. The swelling around his cheeks had started, the pain he felt around his left eye indicated there was a black eye forthcoming.

There came a chirp from his pocket. His mobile ringing. Bond slipped it out and looked down at the screen. The special phone had a half-dozen numbers programmed in it for Bond to use for cover identities, but the line being rung was the phone's main one. The encrypted line's number was known only to a select few personnel at Six.

"Yes," he asked as he answered.

"Good evening, 007," the cheerful voice of Q replied back at him. There was a soft hum underneath his voice as he spoke. The encryption program Q and Bond both used would distort their voices to the point that any electronic eavesdroppers wouldn't be able to make sense out of their conversation. "And I hope it is a good one, or at least worth it. They called me in from home to help you."

"Sorry to pry you from a special night with your online girlfriend..."

"Destiny understands," the young man said with an exaggerated sigh. "I'm married to my job first and foremost. She understands. Bit of a workaholic herself, always busy at the Pink Hippo, the club she dances at. Now, about these Euros you sent me... How certain are you that they're counterfeit?"

"Almost certainly. A casino owned by the head of a counterfeiting ring. It's the perfect cover for passing off phony bills."

"Yes, and these bills are perfect... almost. They're the right size and shape, have proper watermarks, and it's made of the proper paper. Check your screen."

Bond pulled the phone away from his ear and looked as an email from Q flashed on the screen. He opened it and saw a close-up shot of multi-colored watermarks. Printed on the miniscule fibers over and over again was the flag of the European Union, twelve stars in a circle.

"What am I looking at?"

"The maker's mark," replied Q. "A microscopic trademark recently introduced. Every Euro printed in the last six months has these on them. The problem with these bill in particular is the issue date on the side reads 2010."

"Then they are phony."

Bond's casino hunch had paid off. Lukashenka was counterfeiting the bills. Had he engineered the raid in Hamburg? No, thought Bond. No, that was much too professional and well-run for a man like him. Lukashenka may have been the big fish in the small pond that was Minsk, but in the lake of Europe he was just another two-bit guppy gangster. Someone was using him and his people. Was it the woman and her giant friend? Had she sent the killer after him?

"Yes they are fake," Q said to bring him back to the moment at hand. "The only problem is that currently, the maker's mark is only used in bulk shipments to and from countries in the Eurozone. The governments are the only ones with the technology to see the mark. Don't think many restaurants keep an electron microscope handy to run bills through."

"Right," he said as he saw movement out the corner of his eye. "I'll call you back if I have something else."

"Who needs Destiny when I have you, 007," Q said dryly. "As always, I await your every beck and call."

Bond hung up and tucked the phone in his pocket. Natalia appeared out of the shadows in front of him. Her long, red hair pulled back in a ponytail and her fabulous dress and figure were hidden underneath a red wool-pleated trench coat. Her hands were in her pockets, steam rising from her mouth. Natalia's eyes surveyed Bond, taking in the damage to his face and neck. Wordlessly, she reached out and touched Bond's swollen left cheek with a gloved hand. Bond's mind lingered on the soft caress of her hand. For a hardened field agent like Natalia, Bond was only a bit surprised to find she had a gentle touch.

"Ouch," she said with sympathy.

"You should see the other fellow. I gave him the-"

"Yes, yes, insert dark comedy pun here," she said dismissively before tucking her hand back into the jacket pocket. "I think Lukashenka is printing his money in the basement. He had cameras trained on every square inch of the casino, save for the basement."

"Where is Lukashenka now?"

"Sleeping it off," she said playfully before holding up her wrist, showing Bond the special bracelet on her left arm.

"Oh, but I can't make puns," Bond said wryly. "We'll go back to his office and from there we can figure out how to get to the basement."


Natalia and Bond walked across the catwalk hung above the casino floor. The sentries at the catwalk entrance had let them pass after some brief convincing from the SHIELD agent. They had already saw her go up with Lukashenka, and they had seen Bond gambling earlier in the night. Bond looked down as they walked towards the office. Even if it was the middle of the night, the gambling was in full swing below. The Belaya Vezha was open 24/7, but this was a weekend night.

Natalia opened the door marked "Private" and led Bond inside to Lukashenka's office. She made a beeline for the desk while he surveyed the room. It matched the rest of the casino, cheap with the outer appearance of ornate. Bond's eyes drifted towards the sofa, but stopped when he saw the crime boss.

"Natalia," he said softly. "When you said you took care of Lukashenka..."

He walked towards the man and looked down. He sat slumped on the sofa, his neck at an unnatural right angle. His eyes bulged wide open, his face frozen in a twisted look of pain.

"I did not do that," she said from behind Bond. "Someone must have been in here since I left."

The door leading into the office swung open. They turned and saw a short, fat man in a suit. He yelled something in Belarusian when he saw Lukashenka's dead body. He fumbled with something at his side, a gun Bond assumed, but he stopped when a soft pop echoed through the room. He clutched at his fat neck before falling backwards and hitting the floor.

"That is what I did," Natalia said, her gauntlet raised like a gun. "He was supposed to sleep until the morning."

Bond turned back to the dead body and bent down. His neck was black and blue from severe bruising. The picture started to become clear to Bond when he saw the large size of the marks on Lukashenka's neck. "The Russian," he said to Natalia. "The Baronesses bodyguard. The size of these marks on his neck, that's the only man who could make marks like this."

"I found out how to get to the basement," she said from the desk. "Come, let's go."

"Yes, but first."

Bond stood and walked over to the sleeping thug. A quick pat down revealed a snubnosed.38 revolver with six shots and an extra moonclip with six more shots in the man's jacket. Bond tucked the .38 into the empty shoulder holster. It fit in roughly the same space, but not as smoothly as the Walther. The man also had a keycard clipped to his right breast pocket. Bond pocketed the keycard and moonclip before nodding at Natalia.


The guard's footfalls echoed off the black and white linoleum floor of the casino's gray-painted corridor. This back passage led to the Belaya Vezha's most important room: the count room. There, the total of the night's take would be counted and calculated. Rubles, dollars, euros, pounds, and lira were all counted and then added to the casino's hordes of cash. On a given night the casino took in nearly a hundred thousand Euros in gambling wins, which translated to a small fortune in rubles. Two guards patrolled each end of the corridor, two guards monitored the counters in the counting room, and a guard was positioned at the door that led to the basement. As heavily protected as the count room, the guards were also instructed to let not one soul through into the basement unless they were personally escorted by Lukashenka. The workers and the rest of the men who operated out of the basement entered through an access tunnel that led to an opening a block away.

Stifling a yawn, the guard turned a corner to the next leg of the hallway. He stopped in his tracks as a small, strong hand drove itself into his face palm first. The blow sent him up against a wall. He saw a redheaded woman in a red dress in front of him, a black-haired man in a suit and tie standing behind her. He began to sound a warning to the rest of the men standing sentry, but the woman drove two quick fists into his solar plexus. He gasped for air and slid to the floor. The last thing he saw before the black void of unconsciousness was the heel of the woman's left pump rushing towards his face.

"Two down," said Natalia.

Bond nodded and looked around the hall before glancing at his watch. The steel Omega Seamaster continued to emit its electronic distorting pulse at five second intervals. Any cameras or other recording devices would be disabled long enough for Bond and Natalia to pass by without detection. Safe in the fact that the watch was still working, Bond motioned forward down the hall. She stepped over the unconscious sentry spread out on the floor and held her right arm out, ready to use the tranquilizer darts if trouble showed up. For Bond's part, he kept his right hand up and ready to pull the confiscated revolver if it came to that. They passed by a closed-door with warnings written on it in both Russian and Belarusian.

"Count room," she said without looking at it. "More guards are probably inside."

Without a doubt, thought Bond. They pressed on, coming to another bend in the corridor. There were voices coming from down the hallway, low and at ease. Natalia pressed against the wall and listened in on the back and forth of the conversation. "Just idle chit-chat," she whispered. "Talking about the weather and sports."

Bond wished that he could see down the corridor at what was waiting for them there. There were two voices, yes, but there could be three or four men standing watch over whatever it was they had been assigned to. And even if there were just two, they may both be armed with automatic weapons. Bond's stolen .38 and Natalia's trick jewelry would be no match for the rapid fire of a Kalashnikov.

"Uh-oh," she said softly. "They're talking about the guard I knocked out. He was due to check in a minute ago. They're wondering where he is... Damn. Now they're talking about calling someone to look into it."

Bond scratched the back of his right ear and ran through options in his head. Their options, which were already limited in the narrow space of the hallway, were becoming steadily more restricted. Now, Bond could only see one feasible option. It wasn't ideal, but considering the circumstances and their mission nothing short of Bond having an assault rifle of his own would make him comfortable with what he was about to do.

"Stay low," he said to Natalia. He pulled the revolver from his shoulder holster. "I stay upright, gun drawn to get their attention. You tag them with two darts and send them to dreamland."

"Okay," she said. Even if her face would not betray her uncertainty, Bond could hear the apprehension in her tone.

Taking a deep breath, Bond ventured out into the hallway, the gun raised chest high. Twenty yards away, there were two men in front of beige metal doors. They were dressed in black suits and white shirts with no tie. They each had MP5s slung around their shoulders. The sight of Bond standing in front of them threw the two men into a stunned silence for at least two seconds. When they realized what they were seeing was real, they began to move towards their weapons. There was a flash of movement below Bond. On her knees, Natalia slid across the linoleum and fired four shots from her gauntlets. Both men recoiled from unseen blow and twirled sideways. One of them smashed against the wall and slumped to the floor while the other one fell flat on his face.

"Excellent shot," Bond said as he helped Natalia up.

"Even better bait," she replied with a smile.

His gun still out, Bond led the way down to the doors. He stepped over the sleeping men while Natalia picked an MP5 off one of the unconscious bodies and slung the strap on her shoulder. With his left hand, Bond pushed open the metal door and went through the threshold into the basement. The noise was the first thing he noticed. The loud and constant din of heavy machinery. The sight was something else altogether. The door opened up to a short row of stairs that led to a wide open space that was empty, save for a dozen printing presses, work stations, and forklifts. A long catwalk encircled the area from above, an office with glass windows sat just off the metal walkway. Dozens of men busied themselves with the work of the presses and hauling pallets from the presses to a group of bay doors on the other side of the room. The pallets were, Bond noticed, stacked with euros.

The noise was so encompassing, no one had heard them entering. Bond turned to Natalia and motioned up towards the catwalk. She nodded and followed him to the stairs that led upwards. From the height, the noise of the machinery was softer and allowed them to speak to each other without shouting.

"How much do you think that is?" she asked.

Bond looked down at the pallets and did some quick and rudimentary addition.

"Billions, maybe more if they're only printing the five hundred bank-note."

They slowed as they approached the office. The glass windows showed that no one was visible inside. With the gun down by his waist, Bond went through the doorway into the office. He deactivated the pulse on his watch when he saw the computer resting on a desk. Beside the desk, on a pile of aging notebooks and scratch paper, was a square object that appeared as if it was the motherboard of a computer. Two cables ran from the object and plugged in to the computer's USB ports.

"Watch the door," he said to Natalia as he slid behind the desk.

A quick search of the desktop and files showed that it was an ordinary computer with no incriminating files. It wasn't until Bond activated the E drive, kicking the motherboard beside him on, that he found what he was looking for. Images flashed on the screen, pictures and stills of the different Euro banknotes from every conceivable angle. After the euro, the US hundred-dollar bill went through the same procedure, pictures of it that showed the various watermarks and security devices that prevented counterfeiting.

"We have it," he said, looking up.

"Good," said Natalia. She kept her eyes outwards, scanning the catwalk and the workers below.

Pulling out his phone, Bond synched his wireless tooth mic with the phone and connected with the number he was to dial as an absolute necessary. There came three rings, then a voice picked up.

"Universal Export," said the bored voice of Walter McCaskill, MI6's current night duty officer.

"Yes, I'm wondering if you happen to import any of those wonderful Manchester apples?"

The keywords were the last two in the sentence. Manchester apple. MA. Mission Accomplished.

"No, sir," said McCaskill, his voice taking on interest. "But if I can have your name and number, I'm sure we will get back to you soon."

"Of course. My name is Beach, and my number is 007-" Bond paused slightly, making sure McCaskill got the designation. "-55 625880."

"Thank you, Mr. Beach. Someone will certainly get back to you soon."

The line went dead. M or Tanner would be calling within the hour, wanting his full report. Bond tucked the phone into his jacket before he stood. He pulled the large drive from the USB ports and held it in his hands.

"Remember," said Natalia. "If things go bad, destroy the hard drive. Better to have it ruined than back in enemy hands."

They hurried across the catwalk and were on the stairs down to the floor when they stopped, the shaking of the catwalk above distracting them. Bond turned and saw the Russian standing at the landing above them, a ruthless grin on his face. Below them, the Baroness came into view. She wore black combat fatigues and combat boots, a tiny pistol in her hand. Behind her, more men with guns were approaching the foot of the stairs.

"Hello," she said sweetly. "Mind telling me what you're doing here?"

"Well," he said, raising his hands in surrender. "I figured if I couldn't f*** you, I'd at least f*** you over."
Part 2:
Watching the Detectives

"They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie
I don't want to go to Chelsea."

-- Elvis Costello

Opal City
8:20 AM

"Oliver's army is here to stay
Oliver's army are on their way
And I would rather be anywhere else
But here today--"

The tinny voice of Elvis Costello came out of Detective Chimp's earbuds. They lay on the desk of his office alongside his phone and a stack of papers and folders. Each folder had a red stripe across it diagonally with the Opal City PD's logo stamped in the center. They were murder books, each folder containing the police's criminal investigation into a homicide. DC had helped Sergeant Marlowe with quite a few more cold cases in order to get access to so many of the files.

DC sat behind the desk, his feet up on the surface as he read. His assistant, Effie Peters, was the other side of the desk with a file in her own lap.

"What do you think, DC?" she asked without looking up.

"Six murders over the last two months," he said, mostly to himself but partly to Effie. "They all have connections to each other. Homicide hasn't noticed it yet because they don't have enough time. This city averages a murder and a half a day and that's turned homicide investigation into assembly line work. Tag 'em, bag 'em, and if there's no serious or obvious suspect then move on. And these six do not have a serious or obvious suspect."

DC thumbed through the files to see if he could catch anything. The victims all came from diverse backgrounds and specialties. Drug dealers. trigger men, pimps, smugglers. Random chance was always a possibility. In this city, so much lead flew that it was bound to catch a few people who seemed connected.

"Sh**," DC said as something caught his eye. "I can't believe I missed it."

He hopped up on to his desk and rifled through the stacks of papers to find what he wanted.

"B&B Enterprises."

He slapped six documents on the desk in front of him.

"Same company bailed all six men out twenty-four hours before their deaths. It's a link."


They rode the train to downtown Opal City. There were the usual long looks DC was used to. Years in this town and he was still a novelty among the citizens of Opal. While they rode Effie searched for more information on B&B on her found.

"So far," he said to him after plucking out one of his earbuds. "So far, there's nothing significant to be found other than the business name and address. No newspaper mentions, no advertisements, no chamber of commerce memberships. Just a name and an address."

DC nodded and put the bud back into his ear just in time to catch the end of "New Lace Sleeves." He waited until the song was over to pause his music and look up at Effie.

"Are you familiar with shell companies?" DC asked as the train jostled him. "A legitimate front for an illegal business, often used for money laundering and tax harboring. From what you've learned, or lack thereof, B&B Enterprises seems to be a shell company."


DC and Effie emerged from the underground subway station mostly intact, only slightly reeking of urine. The earbuds were out, the phone in his pocket, and a cigarette rested between his lips.

"I hate the subway," he said between puffs on the cigarette. "Packed into a car like cattle. They call this--" he swept his hands wide at the city and all that it entailed. "--civilization, but there's nothing civilized about it."

"Finish your cigarette, DC," replied Effie. "You know you get philosophical when you get cranky."

DC muttered something under his breath before stubbing the butt of his cigarette out in a trashcan.

"Better?" she asked with raised eyebrows. When he grunted, Effie shook her head. "C'mon, the bail bondsman is just around the corner."

The two of them started on the sidewalk and turned the corner at the next block. Halfway down was a brick building with a variety of offices and shops in it. One of the signs announced B&B Enterprises in a cheap looking blank font.

"Not very flashy," DC said with a wrinkled nose. He pulled out his earbuds and started playing music. "I think I may observe from afar, Effie. I'm sure my going into B&B will raise questions."

"Smart thinking," she said with a nod.

Effie started towards the building when the side of it exploded outward in a ball of flames. The force of the blast blew both of them back. DC hit the ground hard and lost consciousness, the last thing he heard was the crooning of David Byrne,

"--Hold tight
We're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house"

"You're not going to take him down," Natasha Romanoff rolled her eyes after Steve walked her through the plan. She had always been the sobering voice of reason on the Avengers. A hardened assassin trained as a child, she had lived the hardest life out of the lot, and it wasn't even close. Because of this, she was often the most realistic of her teammates. Some times, if Steve was being honest, she was a bit too blunt. "The Winter Soldier has been doing this for decades. Plus, I saw him work. He's good."

That took Steve off guard, "You have?"

She nodded, her face scrunching in a memory, "It was early in my time in the Red Room. I was sent out on a mission to kill an East African leader that was set to unite his country and threaten Roxxon's control of the country's oil. I was told I'd have backup. The infamous Winter Soldier. I never saw him. But he shot ten men from almost a thousand meters to clear my path to the target. He's good Steve."

"Good or not, he's a piece that needs to be taken off the board," Cap responded. "Plus I'm not letting him get away with what he did to Sam."

"We all want to get justice for Sam," Romanoff assured him. Sam and her had a history, both up and down. They were friends once again, so there was no doubt she'd want to bring this guy in. "I just don't want anyone else to get killed in the process."

"We've come up against worse," Steve shot back, resolute.

"Maybe," she shrugged. "But none were better prepared. I'll be there when you need me. But you better be ready for this guy."


The criminal known as Boomerang took a long, deep sip from the beer that sat in front of him. He leaned back in the booth, and looked over at his drinking buddy, "From what I heard, the bird took a nose dive straight into the pavement. Shattered every bone in his body. Would have been a sight to see, huh?"

"Sure would have been," Signalman took a sip of his own drink. "Not often one of us takes out one of them. Nice to get even once in a while."

"Shame that Batroc didn't pick me to be on his crew for that job," Boomerang laughed. "Would have loved to try and take down Captain America alongside his feathered friend. Two heroes for one stone."

"You'd never be able to take out-"

"CAPTAIN AMERICA!" someone in the Bar with No Name yelled out in fear.

The patrons turned to see the door burst into splinters, followed by Captain America's shield spin through the opening it left. It struck someone in the gut, sending him tumbling over the bar. Before anyone could react, the hero himself rolled into the bar, and tossed the first villain he came up against through a table. Another tried to step up to the fuming vigilante, but received a stiff right hook that crumpled the man to the floor. Cap rolled under another punch and retrieved his shield, backhanding another target, sending them tumbling end over end through the air.

Boomerang had seen Captain America in action before. He had always been an elite combatant. He was nearly unmatched in hand-to-hand combat, and with his shield he was even more dangerous. But there was something else in the man's eyes tonight. Behind the striking blue was a simmering, volcanic rage. Boomerang never thought he'd see this kind of look in the Star Spangled Avenger. Batman, sure. But not Captain America.

It was probably a good time to get out of the bar. He scrambled away from the booth, falling out in the process. As he tried to regain his footing, Cap's shield slammed into Signalman. Boomerang tumbled towards the exit, but didn't make it far at all. Captain America grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw him back into the booth, knocking the bench over.

In the blink of an eye, Cap was back on top of the villain. He pinned him to the wall. Over the hero's shoulder, Boomerang could see that the Bar with No Name was in tatters. The villainous patrons lay unconscious or moaning among shattered furniture and broken bottles.

Cap growled, "Where's Batroc?"

"I ain't telling you anything," Boomerang spat back. "I ain't no rat."

Rogers flipped Boomerang over his head and through one of the few tables that was still standing, "If you don't tell me what I want to know, and you won't be anything. How about that?"

"You won't kill me," the criminal responded. "Not in cold blood. It's not your style."

"You're right, it wasn't," Steve snarled as he called his shield back to him. "But that was before your friend decided to nearly get my friend killed. Now I'm gonna find him one way or another. Either you're gonna give me the information I want, or I'm gonna take out everyone of Batroc's friends until he has nowhere else to hide. Starting with you."

Captain America raised his shield to deliver a punishing blow, but Boomerang cried out, "Fine! I'll tell you! He's been holding up in the Caribbean! His customer set him up with a base there! That's all I know!"

"Thanks Boomerang," Cap smiled wryly and knockout punch.

The tentacled creature scrambled out of the sludge covering the flower of the sewer. It flopped this way and that as its mass of grasping appendages propelled it up to the ceiling. Black, foul-smelling goo slid off of it, splashing into the water below. Leonardo steeled the blade in his hand, keeping a keen eye on the creature.

"Donnie, what the hell are we looking at?" he asked his brother, who was back at headquarters.

"Uhhh..." as Donnie stalled for time, Leo heard him flipping through pages of one of the many occult books the brothers now owned.

A tentacle shot out of the pulsing mass, and was cut out of the air by Raphael's sai. He then shouted, "Not a lot of time, Donnie!"

"I'm going as fast as I can!" he responded in a panic. "What does it smell like?"

Michelangelo batted a tentacle away from himself, "It's a tentacle monster that lives in the sewer, don! What do you think it smells like!?"

The monster fell off the ceiling of the sewer and rolled through Leonardo, who began cutting through the waves of worms that began rumbling his way. Black blood splashed against his skin, the smell stinging his nostrils. The monster continued to come towards him, seemingly regrowing limbs instantaneously.

"I think it's the Spawn of Yig!" Donnie yelled. "There's a beak in the middle. Stab it and it should die!"

Leo didn't wait to try and find it. He stabbed wildly into the creature in order to stop it. Eventually, the creature recoiled in pain, shuddered, and fell to the ground motionless.

"Well, that wasn't too bad," Raph sighed.

"Uh-oh," Donnie's voice came back over the comms.

"Uh-oh? What do you mean uh-oh?" Leo shot back.

"You only killed the first form...it's got two more."

"I swear, we live in a video game," Mikey grumbled.

His brother wasn't wrong. Their life was exceptionally strange, even for the kind of world they lived in. They had fought ninjas, demons, and beings from other dimensions through their lives as heroes. They had traveled to other worlds and met more creatures than you could count.

And it was beginning to wear on Leonardo.

The creature began to writhe and pulse, shifting around like meat through a gruesome production line. The mass of tentacles began to form itself into a snake-like creature made of sludge. The ends of the tentacles turned into a gaping maw, and snapped at the turtles.

"Well, boys," Leo said to Raph and Mikey, "break's over."


Leo wiped the black blood from his katana as what had been a large, three headed hydra moments ago shrank and shriveled into a dead husk. They had managed to slay the beast that had been terrorizing lower Manhattan for the last few weeks, but these incidents were becoming far too regular.

From behind the eldest turtle heavy footsteps approached. Leo turned around to find Hellboy, SHADE's number one agent, approaching. The demon cut an opposing figure. Standing well over six foot, with red skin, filed-down horns, and a large, stone right hand, Hellboy struck fear into every enemy he came up against. His exploits were legendary, even if few knew he really existed. Red was a legend when it came to monster hunting, and Leo looked up to him as a role model.

"Good work," Red said as he lit up a cigar. "Another interdimensional demon falls to the ninja's sword. We live some weird freakin' lives kid."

"You're telling me," Leo chuckled and put the sword back in its sheath. "This is the fourth one in as many months, Hellboy. That's too many."

"You're right," he agreed. "We might need to talk to the Sorcerer. I'll try and set up a meeting. In the meantime, get some rest. You guys have earned it."

"Thanks, Red."


Leo walked by himself back to the lair, allowing Raphael and Michelangelo to go before him. He needed some time to clear his head.

He had honestly needed time to think for a while now. Since the death of Shredder and the imprisonment of General Krang by the Neutrino Empire, Leo had found a lack of purpose. Sure, hunting monsters filled his time, but it wasn't the same. He never felt the same drive, especially when friends like Casey and April were settling down to start their real lives.

"Turtle," a whisper came from a side passage in the sewers as he passed by. He craned his neck and turned down it, brandishing his sword in case of attack.

Leonardo followed the twists and turns of the passage, finding his way into an ancient sewer. His brothers had found others like this in the past, remnants of the original city from centuries ago. The old stone was thick with slime.

Suddenly, he came to a dead end. There, on the wall in front of him, was the sigel of a black raven. Though it was dark in color, it seemed to pulse and shine with unnatural light. It sent sharp pain through Leo's head, causing him to fall to his knees.

From the symbol emerged a wraith with glowing white eyes. It moved like a blot of black paint around the turtle's vision. With a grotesque voice it recited, "Behold...the turtle...of enormous girth...On its shell...it holds the Earth."

After that, Leo heard nothing else, as he passed out from the pain.
The king is dead. Long live the king.


Chapter 1.0 | Post Theme


The security guard fell back into the chair.

The identification badge dangling from the front of his shirt said his name was Daryl Johnson. Daryl was only thirty-one years old. A vocational school graduate holding down what had proven to be his first steady job, he was happily divorced and had surprised himself by remarrying. Now he had a little girl who was turning three, so he’d wanted this job to really stick.

He was dead now.

His lifeless corpse slumped forward, almost falling out of the chair. The desiccated appearance of the corpse seemingly that of a man who’d been dead for several centuries. It’s blackened boned dressed in the uniform of a security guard.

Standing over the body, a distinguished looking gentleman was staring down at his hand. Age marks were disappearing, the skin becoming hardier, as though he was aging in the reverse. When the effect had finished, and he flexed the fingers of his hand, it was as though ten years had been lifted from his body.

Murmuring approvingly at the results, the man raised his head and proceeded inside of the museum.

It was well past closing time as he moved through doors marked New Orleans Museum of Art.

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +


He woke with a start.

Part of him still dreaming, he reached out. Reaching, as though expecting the Silent Knight to be there. Part of him, the part not yet awake, wondering why he wasn't.

And then he remembered.

And wished very much that he didn't.

Dreams. Vile, wicked things. Like honey-lipped demons with butterfly wings, they pulled from memory the sweetest moments... only to pull them away again with the waking. The realization that yesterday was no more, and today was not what it was supposed to be. The promise of so many tomorrows. So many lies.

This a new day surely would birth still more.

He sat up, his eyes exploring the inside of a room within a castle that time had forgotten. Stone hewn walls with small, arched windows that offered an enviable view out over an emerald isle. He rose from out of the bed, the simple shift that was his nightgown falling just shy of the tops of his feet as the bed-headed young page stumbled from out of the bedroom in a kind of sleepy-eyes stupor.

The search for a chamberpot took him through the interior of a fortified mansion that seemed to date somewhere back to the 11th Century, though some of the tapestries and armors spoke of some time later. Strange, then, when he ducked into a room off from the hall and flicked on a light switch. Fully illuminating a modern bathroom, complete with a western toilet.

When he'd emerged some moments later, stretching with a large yawn, the boy started down toward the kitchens. He passed through the foyer. He passed through the great room. He passed through the library. Each progressive step sending a certain feeling of unease through him. "Mother?" the question echoed as he voiced it aloud, giving form to the slight anxiety of being in a large house, alone.

The kitchen, like the bathroom, didn't seem to make sense within the period castle. A modern refrigerator aglow with electricity as the boy tugged on the door. Pulling out a container of orange juice, he ventured next toward the cupboard. "Mother?"

Silence there, and nothing more.

A wooden cup and a poptart encased in silvery foil came away as he withdrew his hand from the cupboard. He moved to sit at the servant's table, there in the kitchen, with his breakfast of juice and a poptart.

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Peter Parker | Mary Jane Watson

Peter tumbled out of the path of Rhino’s charge. He was still trying to find something that he could use to knock the Rhino out. Since the Rhino was not intelligent enough to concoct this situation, somebody else must have orchestrated Rhino’s public disturbance. He did not have any cash or stolen goods on him, so why would the Rhino be causing a ruckus other than to act as a diversion? However, Peter was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he stayed here with Rhino, the mastermind behind this attack would get away. On the other hand, there was no guarantee that Peter would find, let alone catch, the real culprits. Was the potential benefit of finding out where the real crime was taking place outweighed the immediate threat that the Rhino was?

While the Rhino was preparing to charge again, Peter finally found what might be his solution to this Rhino problem. Between the Rhino and himself, there was a utilities manhole. Since he did not want to give his plan away, even though the Rhino probably would not get it even if he telegraphed it to him, Peter inched towards his right, up until the manhole was in the middle of the Rhino’s path.

“So what number are we on now?” Peter called out to the Rhino, “I lost track after our third confrontation.”

“The final one.” The Rhino grunted before he rushed forward. This time felt different to the Rhino. Peter would had jumped out of his path almost immediately, but not this time. This feeling boosted the villain’s confidence. However, this same confidence also gave him tunnel vision.

Once the Rhino was several feet away from the manhole, Peter hit the circular street cover with his artificial webbing and yanked it back. In doing so, he had exposed the passageway that the city’s utility crews used to perform maintenance on the sewage and electricity. The Rhino did not have enough time to react to the removal of the manhole. Therefore, although he did not cartoonishly fall straight through the manhole or get stuck in it up to his waist, one of his feet stepped into the now open hole. Since that foot did not have anything solid to propel himself forward, the Rhino nosedived into the asphalt. His forward momentum created a harder impact with the pavement, causing the Rhino to be momentarily dazed.

Peter took advantage of the situation and hurried over to Rhino before he could get back to his feet. He landed square on the villain’s back, pressing him against the ground and preventing him from standing upright.

“Get off, you bug!”

“Didn’t we already have this conversation today, let alone in the past? I am Spider-Man, not Bug-Man.”

Peter proceeded to cover the Rhino with a thick coat of his artificial web fluid. He hoped that it would hold the Rhino down until the proper equipment for arresting him was brought onto site. Until then, this silk prison would have to make due.

Although Peter intended to make a quick sweep around the neighboring blocks just to check if this happened to be a diversion for a much more sinister plan, he heard the beeping of his alarm. It signaled that it was time to go. While he wanted to make sure that another crime was not in progress, he also needed to head back to his apartment. He did have his girlfriend waiting for him there. In the end, he decided that another hero could handle any other related crimes. Since the Rhino was restrained, he then began his journey back to his apartment.


MJ reclined on the couch in Peter’s apartment. Even though she had taken some Tums tablets, she was still not feeling well. She decided that once Peter got back from stopping the Rhino, she would ask him if they could schedule a rain check. In the meantime, MJ thought it would not hurt to try to sleep it off. She had stolen a pillow from Peter’s bedroom and used it to cushion her head against the arm of the sofa. After a few minutes, Mj dozed offed.

Once she was napping, the jewel on the ring that her sister had sent her in the mail began to glow white. A mystic aura seeped out of the ring and gravitated around the redhead. Once this energy had finally surrounded her, her feet began to elongate until the forelegs of a giant spider remained in their stead. Then, the rest of her body below her waist began to morph, transforming into what seemed like a spider’s cephalothorax, minus the “facial” features, including jaws, eyes, and the pedipalps. Six more spider legs, near identical to what her regular legs had transformed into just before. As her lower body mutated into an arachnid appearance, her jeans ripped in half when her forelimbs separated to fall in line with the other six spider limbs, leaving one leg of the pants dangling on each of what used to be her legs. In a matter of moments, a spider abdomen, scaled just like the rest of the arachnid features to be proportional to MJ’s human upper half, also appeared. Despite the changes that her body had just underwent, MJ slept soundly. Her new arachnid legs daggled in the air while she slept on her back.

Meanwhile, Peter had finally arrived at his apartment after his battle with the Rhino. He crawled up the side of the building until her reached one of his unit’s windows. Once he confirmed with his Spider-Sense that there were no unwanted onlookers, Peter slide open the window and climbed inside.

“Sorry I was late. Rhino took just a little bit longer to beat than I expected. So, what…” Peter paused in mid-sentence when he catch sight of Mary Jane. She was just starting to stir from her short nap when he entered the room. She stretched out her arms once she sat up. From her initial feeling after her short nap, MJ thought it must have done the trick. All the pain had disappeared.

“Welcome back, Tiger. I just took a short…” MJ took cut herself off when she realized that the body of a giant spider was now attached to her waist. She immediately snatched the throw blanket that was lying on the back of the couch and tossed it over the underbelly of her spider half. “Oh God! What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know whether I'm more freaked out or turned on by this. But what I do know is you can’t unsee what I just saw.”

“PETER! Stop thinking like Nightwing and start putting that big brain of yours to work!”
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"cHiN doWn, vEry muCh fuRtHeR nOw," said the twitching, shambling Bizarro creature that called itself 'Alfred' as it beckoned Jonathan Kent to keep up. "bIzaRrO suPerMaN wIlL hAve eVerY idEa oF wHerE tO lOsE uS wHerE uS aM leAvIng."

Jon nodded absently, his arms still hugging his chest, his eyes still nervously darting to the skies every few seconds. He felt like he was beginning to get the hang of this place: just do or say the opposite of what you really want to happen, try not to look at anything for too long, and don't think about anything you see after you see it. Still, the fact that there was a monster with his dad's powers flying around looking for him kept him on his guard.

Too overwhelmed and tired to be scared, Jonathan just went with whatever absurd nightmares lurked around every turn as the backwards Alfred led him on.

"aH! tHeRe wE arEn'T," the Bizarro Alfred said as they stepped out of an alleyway to face....

"Is that.......is that a shack with a mountain on top of it?" Jon asked, seeing the impossibly stacked objects but unwilling to believe it.

"wAynE ouThoUse," the creature said, its lips curled up into what Jonathan assumed was supposed to be a proud smile, but looked more like a set of broken dishes. "wAynEs nO wAs poOreSt fAmiLy oN bIzaRro wOrlD, uNtIl tHeM nO sHoT aNd kiLleD tHeIr sOn, seRvaNt bRuCe. iN foRgeTtiNg oF thEm, sErVanT brUcE buIlT oBviOus laIr iN ovErgRoUnd mOunTaIn oN tOp oF fAmiLy's diLapIdaTed sHaCk, wHerE hIm nO fiGhT jUstIce iN nAmE oF cRiMe. wOrSt pLaCe iN wOrlD tO hIdE fRoM bIzaRrO sUperMan!"

Jon squinted his eyes, and saw that connecting the run-down shack and the base of the mountain was a pair of shiny fireman's poles. Somehow, this struck him as even more insane than the floating mountain itself.

"What are we--err, what aren't we not doing once we leave there?" Jon asked, still too confused and disturbed to make a run for it.

Bizarro Alfred's expression turned grim as he looked up at the ludicrous suspended landmass.

"uS aM no gEt uNreAdy tO gO to pEaCe."


"How much--err, shorter til we get there?" I call out to Bizarro, unsure if he can hear me over the rushing air as we plow through the skies of his demented world.

"vErY fAr nOw!" he answers, tumbling head over heels in seemingly random directions as he leads me to where my son is being kept.

Below me, the scenery hasn't gotten any better. The heads on their Mount Rushmore have come alive and are eating tourists--well, Washington and Lincoln are, while Jefferson and Roosevelt sloppily tongue-kiss in the middle. Enormous pizzas slam into houses, delivering fresh people to be eaten by the cars that ordered them. The Manhattan skyline wails in a thousand dead languages while the Chrysler Building performs an unnatural act on the Lincoln Tunnel. The Pope is eating his own foot in front of a crowd of disinterested Satanists.

"hErE wE aReN't!" Bizarro yells, spiraling to the ground and crashing through the roof of a nondescript apartment complex.

As I carefully descend back into the whirlpool of madness that is this planet, I focus my vision and hearing. Peering through walls, I see masses of organs and viscera pulsating as they fill up entire rooms, Bizarro children gleefully stabbing themselves with household objects, and neighborhood gatherings breaking out into something between an orgy and a mosh pit. I see mailmen barking at pets before being gunned down by satisfied co-workers. I see horse-like creatures racing headlong into mom-and-pop stores before violently exploding....

....but I don't see my son.

"Bizarro, I'm getting....getting patient," I say, my fists clenched. "This isn't....is the place!"

Bizarro nods, his spinal cord crackling like old wood as he does.

"tHiS jUst lAsT sTop," he says, prying open the floor of the apartment building and digging into the floor, kicking up hill-sized mounds of dirt with each scoop. "oLd wOmAn nO aM beInG lEt gO bY bIzaRrO bAtMan, aM wOrSt eNemY mE aM nEveR fIgHt nOne oF tHe tiMe. iF yOu wAnt tO nEveR gEt oLd woMaN baCk, uS dOn't neEd fRoNt-dOwn!"

'Front-down?' Right....back-up.

As Bizarro tosses mound after mound of planet crust aside, his hand scrapes against metal. Peering into the Earth, I see the outline of...

"The Watchtower?!"

"hOme oF wOrsT viLlaInS iN nOnE oF bIzarRo woRld!" he beams proudly. "iF uS aRe nO aM maKe peAcE wiTh biZaRro bAtmAn, uS dOn'T neEd hElp of iNjuSticE leAgUe!"

As we travel down into the dark, dusty ruins of the buried space station, I find myself praying that whatever lunacy waits for us, it's worth the time taken away from finding Jon.....

.....and vaguely thinking about exactly what I'm going to do to this monster if it isn't.

SHADE New York Forward Operating Base
Former Hook & Ladder Company 8 Firehouse

"Behold the turtle of enormous girth, on his shell he holds the Earth?" Abe Sapien repeated what Leonardo had told him. "That's exactly the phrase that the wraith said to you."

Leo nodded. After he passed out, he was found by his brothers alone in the sewer annex where he had seen the sigel and the wraith, as they were now calling it. Raph and Mikey claimed there was no bird symbol where they found him. With Leo unconscious, and the Turtles obviously unable to bring him to a real hospital, the SHADE Operating Base in the city was the only option. Decades ago it was the home base for a group of ghost hunters in the city, until SHADE bought it and set up shop.

"The phrase does not remind me of anything I've ever read, and I have a photographic memory," he chuckled, and the reverse-scuba system that allowed him to stay out of water for prolonged periods of time bubbled along. "Maybe I can gleam something of you encounter off of you."

Abe rolled his chair over to the turtle, and hovered his clammy, webbed hands over Leo's forehead. The amphibious man, who had been Hellboy's best friend and partner for longer than any of the turtles had been alive, used his empathic abilities to search Leo's aura.

"Oh my," he gasped, "whatever you came in contact with was a being of pure malevolence. Whatever it is, it will come back."

"I didn't really expect it to stay away," Leo responded. "Seems odd that it just left me lying there, though."

"Maybe it used its available energy just contacting you," Donnie theorized. "Where ever it is, it might need vast amounts of power just to cross over to our plane of existence."

"Which wouldn't leave it with enough to really hurt you," Abe nodded along. "It's a possibility."

"Oh great, another unknowable evil," Raph rolled his eyes. "This'll end like it always does. We'll investigate, somehow it'll enter our world, and then we'll kill it. Wash, rinse, repeat. This literally is our day job. Or night job. Whatever."

"Yea dudes," Mikey agreed. "We got this. Nothing to worry about."

"How many times have I warned you against the vice of hubris, my sons?" a grizzled, yet loving voice came from the corner of the room. There sat the brothers' father, Master Splinter. The rat was getting old, well, older than he already was. Grey fur now covered his body where brown once did. He meditated more than he used to, and stayed in his room a lot. Still, he was the wisest person the four of them ever know. "Expecting to win leads to defeat."

"Of course, sensei," Leonardo nodded. "But we do need to figure this out."

"I'll do some studying back at headquarters," Abe assured them. "If I can't find anything, I'll bring you in. That might require some...effort on all our parts."

"In the meantime we'll keep out watch for anything else coming through the breach," Leo said as he stood, steadying himself on Raphael's shoulder. "I'd expect something sooner rather than later."

"Good plan," Splinter smiled. "Let's get home."

Chapter 6

A Kiss Before Dying​

Minsk, Belarus
0243 Local Time

Bond and Natalia sat in the uneasy silence of the Hummer. They were in the backseat, their arms behind their backs with plastic zip ties around their wrists. The Baroness drove while the Russian had managed to pack his gigantic frame into the passenger seat. The giant had cocked the rearview mirror to the side, offering him a clear view of the two secret agents in the backseat. The SUV brought up the rear in a four car convoy that comprised of two flatbed trucks loaded with covered pallets that the twin Hummers bookended on either side.

Both Bond and Natalia were patted down shortly after their surrender. The men took Bond's stolen 38 and Natalia's MP7, as well as the various gadgets and devices on their person. But, much to both Natalia and Bond's relief, they left her bracelets. The ruse that they were simple jewelry fooled the Belarusian criminals. After being stripped of obvious weapons and electronics, they were bound by their wrists and shoved into the backseat of the Hummer and waited close to ten minutes before the convoy left the casino basement. The cars rolled through the bay doors and into a dark access tunnel that came out at a street a few blocks away from the casino.

Now, the convoy was leaving Minsk behind. The tall buildings were shrinking and becoming residential apartments and homes The narrow streets grew wider as the sidewalks gave way to front yards and garages. The suburbs loomed ahead. The bluetooth attached to the Baroness' ear rang and she answered. There was a quick exchange between her and some unheard voice. She spoke Russian, and Bond could only guess the subject of the call wasn't dire by her body language.

"We are almost there," Natalia said softly into Bond's ear. "Someone asked her for the keycode to a gate."

Bond nodded and looked towards the front. His eyes met the Russian's in the mirror before the man broke eye contact to look elsewhere. The cocky demeanor he displayed less than thirty minutes earlier had seemed to have faded as the minutes passed. Bond wasn't sure what had changed him, he and Natalia were under their thumb even more than they were before. There was a back and forth conversation between the two people up front, again in Russian. The Baroness' body language was guarded and stiff as she gave the man a curt reply.

"He wonders," said Natalia. "Why they did not kill us at the casino and dump our bodies. He says they are under orders to-,"

"Enough," barked a deep voice, a large hand flew out from the front seat and struck Natalia across the face with an open hand.

For the first time, the Russian spoke. It was a voice that matched its owner. Gravelly and deep, a thick Russian accent. As shocking as it was to hear him, his actions against Natalia were more so. Bond sat there in a stunned silence while Natalia stared seemingly impassively at the giant man, ignoring the already swelling upper lip and blood that dripped from her mouth. To Bond, it was a stare he was familiar with. The SHIELD agent was running down in her mind, all the different ways she could kill the Russian.

The Russian could not match her gaze and turned to look at the Baroness. He grumbled to her in his native tongue before she said something snappy back. After that, there was silence. Ten minutes later, the truck in front of them flashed its brake lights and began to slow. The cars pulled off from the main street on to muddy road with a light layer of snow on either side. The road cut through the countryside, passing through thickets of trees and the underbrush that encroached on both sides of the road. After another ten minutes on the road, the convoy came out into a clearing. A large meadow with short-cut grass. In the middle of the meadow, running lights illuminating it in the night, was a tarmac runway. A single plane hangar was off to the side of the tarmac. Resting on the runway was a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 cargo jet plane.

The rest of the convoy headed towards the jet while the Baroness peeled away from the group and drove towards the hangar. Bond turned his head to the side and watched the flatbeds as they passed by. The men in trucks were busy unloading the pallets off the flatbeds and loading them up onto a motorized dolly. Once the dolly was full, the pallets filled with counterfeit money were motored up the plane's loading ramp to be offloaded somewhere in the cargo hold.

They drove through the open door of the small hangar and came to a stop inside the empty hangar. The Baroness killed the engine and climbed out the Hummer, walking towards the hangar entrance. Meanwhile, the Russian got out and opened the back doors. With one hand, he scooped Natalia from the back seat and slung her over one shoulder. He marched around to the other side and did the same to Bond, carrying both of them across the hangar towards a pair of chairs.

He plopped them down in a pair of facing steel chairs and stood before them while the Baroness and another man approached. The man with the Baroness had the MP7 in one hand, the .38 in the other.

"You know which one they each used?" she asked the man at her side.

"Yes," he said. With his accent, it sounded more like "yues" to Bond.

"Make it look like they killed each other," growled the Russian. "Then find a place to dispose of the bodies. Somewhere where they will be found soon."

"This won't work," said Bond. "My people know who both of you are," he bluffed. It was only a slight bluff. If he did wind up dead, MI6 would comb through his security access history and find out that he had run the facial recognition search hours before his death. The results of that search would turn up files on both the Russian and his charge.

"By the time they know you're dead," said the Baroness with a cold smile. "It will be too late."

"Shame," said Bond with what sounded like genuine remorse. "I was so looking forward to sleeping with you."

"And I with you," she said candidly.

"Could you...," he started and then stopped, appearing embarrassed at what he was about to say. "Could you grant me a last wish. Well, two exactly."

"What?" she asked, furrowing her brow.

"A last kiss." At this, Bond blushed. "I mean, call me a romantic... but..."

"No...," she said. "I could do that."

It wasn't so much an act of kindness, as it was an act of curiosity. She hadn't been able to bed the man properly, but at least here she could get an indication of what it would be like.

"I have a mint," said Bond. "It was in my pocket. I think one of your men took it. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to die with fresh breath and a kiss on my lips."

The man beside the Baroness nodded as she looked at him. He reached into his pocket and produced the tiny node that held the GPS tracking nanites. The Russian stepped forward, shaking his head.

"I do not like this," he said with narrowed eyes. "What is that mint made of?"

"He's dead anyway," said the Baroness. "Even if it's poison, he'll just die before we can kill him."

The Baroness took the node from the man's hand and walked towards Bond. She bent down and popped it into his mouth. Bond held it on the tip of the tongue, feeling it dissolve quickly from the heat of his mouth. The Baroness gave him a soft smile and leaned forward, wrapping a hand around his neck. They leaned into each other, their lips parted. They connected and Bond slowly ventured his tongue forward, caressing hers gently. He made sure that as much of the nanites had connected with her tongue as possible. She was good kisser, he observed, soft where it counted and firm where it was appropriate.

After what felt like a minute, the Baroness pulled away from Bond and stood. She wiped her mouth and looked down at him.

"Pity we couldn't finish this."

"Quite," was all he said.

She turned to the man she had brought along. "Remember, leave their jewelry, phones, and cash on them. It must not look like a robbery at all." Then she looked down at Bond, only giving him a polite nod. "Goodbye," she said.

With the Russian in tow, the Baroness turned and began to walk towards the hangar opening. Once they were around the corner, the man left behind stepped forward. He had a cruel smile on his face and he waved the MP7 with glee.

"No kiss for me?" he asked sarcastically. "No worry. I give you one instead."

The man came behind Natalia and crouched down. He was level with her as he held the MP7 out and aimed it for Bond's head. Bond looked down, Natalia's wrists were nearly lined up perfectly to shoot the man in the foot. Almost.

"If you're going to kill me," said Bond with agitation. "Make it look like she was actually holding the gun. The way you stand, it's like she held the weapon with her goddamn armpits."

The man looked at Bond, and then down at the ground. He took in the words before mumbling to himself and leaning forward to make his shot look more legitimate.

"That's it," said Bond, meeting Natalia's emerald eyes. "Fire away."

There was a puff of air, followed by the man's scream. He fell backwards, dropping the MP7 and grabbing his bleeding foot. He howled in pain while Bond fought against the ziptie around his wrist.

"Why isn't he going to sleep?" he asked Natalia.

"I was out of tranquilizer darts. All I had left were the small-caliber shots."

"Dammit," said Bond, standing up in the chair. He stumbled forward and stomped on the man's bleeding foot to further incapacitate him.

He screamed in pain and rolled on the hard concrete ground. Bond's face was a mask of pain and rage as he pulled with all his might against the ziptie. He felt their bite, felt them breaking the skin and drawing blood around his wrists. With a loud yell, he gave a hard jerk with his arms and felt the plastic snap in two. His wrist bleeding and bruised, he stepped forward and picked up the MP7. Bond shoved the stock of the gun down, knocking the wounded man unconscious in a single blow. He searched the man and came up with his butterfly knife. He popped it open and slit Natalia's restraints in two.

"Thank you," she said standing up with her arms free.

Outside, there came a loud whine of an engine. They looked at each other and rushed across the concrete towards the hangar entrance. They came out onto the airfield just as the transport plane lifted off the runway. Its landing gear retracted up into its belly and it soared off, climbing higher and higher off into the night. The runway lights were off, the spare Hummer parked near the bushes. Not a soul was in sight besides Bond and Natalia.

"She got away," Natalia spat.

"No," said Bond. "She didn't. I tagged her."

"Your kiss," she said with a look of bemusement. "I wondered why you were acting like a schoolboy in heat."

"Don't tell me you're jealous," he said with a chuckle.

Natalia rolled her eyes. Laughing, Bond walked back to the unconscious man. He searched the man, coming up with his mobile, various items, and the drive they had stolen from the casino. Curious, thought Bond. Why leave it behind like this? Perhaps the drive no longer mattered, they had printed up as much money as they would ever need. Bond pulled his phone from the man's pocket and looked down at it. He had a missed call. He redialed the number and prepared what he was going to say.

"007," M said minutes later with relief in his voice. "Where the hell have you been?"

"In enemy hands. Seems that Manchester Apple was a bit premature. We recovered the drive, but the people behind it managed to print out billions worth of near perfect counterfeit Euros."

"Near perfect?"

"Might as well be perfect in this case. But I have a trace on the mastermind behind it."

"And where exactly is this mastermind, 007?" asked M impatiently.

Bond pulled the phone away from his ear and activated the tracking app on his mobile. A global map appeared on the screen and then zoomed in to Eastern Europe. In the ten minutes since takeoff, the jet had covered plenty of ground. It was southwest of Minsk, heading towards the Polish border.

"West," said Bond into the mobile. "They're heading towards the West."


Undisclosed Safehouse
Near Alameda, CA
10:00pm PST
First Watch

For the record, I still think this is a bad idea, read the text on Oracle's encrypted SMS line. Her contact, a friend of mutual friends although they had only ever met in passing, had taken most of the evening to be persuaded to going along with her idea, but even now he wanted it known that he was doing so under protest.

I'm open to suggestions if you've got a better plan, Barbara typed, but as it stands? This is the best way to find out exactly who our attackers are, then hit them when their guard is down. Bringing in bigger guns will just lead to more casualties.

Yeah, I know, the contact responded. I'd feel a lot better about this if you'd just tell him what's going down, though.

Believe me, I'd love to, Barbara answered, But he'd blow it. For someone trained by a master of deception, he's got the worst poker-face I've ever seen.

Hah! You've got that right.

So.....can you do what I'm asking you? Can we count on you for this?

Barbara stared intently at the messenger screen for a long, poignant pause while she waited for the reply.

....yeah. I'm in, the answer finally came. I don't like it, but I'm in.

Thanks, she typed. I owe you one for this.

Just make sure you don't get anyone killed, and we'll call it even, the contact answered before leaving the chat.

Barbara Gordon let out a sigh of relief, and rubbed her hands together, eager to put a strategy into motion. Since the initial attack, they had been playing defense, merely reacting to whatever their enemies were doing. With the addition of a new, unknown faction allied with the Red Hood, she wasn't comfortable with the idea of waiting for them to strike again. And while Dick was a phenomenal fighter, his strong suit was always improvisation. So she had taken it upon herself to set things into motion that would turn the tables on Jason Todd and whoever else waited in the shadows.

She may have lost her wings, but at heart, she was still a Bat. The shadows were her territory.

"You should get some rest, Barbara," said Starfire as she floated like a feather into the house's living room.

"I'm almost done," she answered, entering a few more commands into her laptop. "Besides, I'm used to pulling late nights. Ten o'clock is nothing."

Even as she said this, Barbara knew she was spent. She was still recovering from her wound and the subsequent healing, she hadn't slept in at least a day, and the transcontinental teleport from the day before hadn't done her any favors either. Back in the day, she often teased Robin for being so wiped out after missions with the Titans, but now she could sympathize-- jet-lag had nothing on teleport-lag.

"Forgive me, but I believe you are over-exerting yourself," Koriand'r said. "None of us question your capability or your perseverance. However, your most valuable asset in this fight is your mind. And allowing yourself to rest will help keep it sharp."

"...you're right," Barbara sighed. "Doesn't help that there's no coffee in this place. I'll turn in once I finish this up-- it's not like a few hours of sleep will kill me."

"I should hope not," Starfire said, not quite grasping human humor as she surveyed the main room. "This will be a good location to keep watch. The windows do leave one vulnerable, but there are plenty of locations to take cover, and all of the entrances and exits are within view. No attacker shall come tonight without us knowing it."

"Here's hoping," Barbara said, confident in her choice of places to lay low, but also well aware of Jason's capabilities for stealth and infiltration. "I've got an idea on how we can go on the offensive and bring the bad guys out into the open. Hopefully they'll let us get some sleep so we can get things moving in the morning."

"On that subject," Starfire chimed in, "Have you made any progress in identifying the assassins who attacked the Tower?"

Barbara shook her head.

"Not much," she said. "Their bodies were taken to a nearby coroner, and I was able to pull up their files on the first few they've autopsied. Cause of death was ingesting cyanide capsules, like Dick said. All of them male, ranging from early twenties to late thirties. Fingerprints had been removed, skin showed signs of light scarring where identifying tattoos or birthmarks had been removed, they even went so far as to have their teeth pulled and replaced with false ones to throw off dental records. By most standards, these guys might as well have been ghosts."

"Then there is nothing that helps narrow your search?" Star asked with a frown.

"Well," she answered, "I can say for sure that while they were dressed and equipped like ninja, it's not the Hand. They're a far more 'traditional' order, ranging from their gear to their xenophobia towards Westerners. And the guys who attacked us have features that indicate they're all of South or Central American descent. We can probably rule out the League of Assassins, too, but it still unfortunately doesn't give us much else to work with."

"Well, if you do have a strategy in mind," Starfire said, "then I am confident we will bring our would-be assassins to the light very soon."

"Thanks," said Barbara as she folded up her laptop, wheeling away from the desk and towards the hallway. Before reaching the door, she stopped and turned back. "Oh, and Kory? While I'm thinking about it?"


"I know I never said it out loud, but, well...." she said, "...I'm, erm, I'm sorry I never liked you. You're a good person, and by all rights we should have been friends, but--"

Starfire put up a hand and nodded in understanding.

"It is all right," she said with a sad smile. "I have come to understand how Earth people's views on coupling can create complications and rivalries. To be truthful, I have on many occasions felt pangs of jealousy towards you."

Barbara raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"You, jealous of me?" she scoffed. "You're literal royalty with powers that could get you on the League, and looks that would put a supermodel to shame. How exactly can you say with a straight face that you're jealous of the computer nerd in the wheelchair?"

Starfire didn't answer, but glanced down the hallway towards Dick's room.

".....ah. Right," Barbara muttered. "Well, I think that's a little more complicated than you might think. We've had so many starts and stops that I don't really know if he really--"

"I know," Kory said simply. "I've read his thoughts many times while we were together. I did not want to admit it, but...I know where his heart truly lies."

Barbara looked away, blushing.

"Still, I have found someone else whom I love," Starfire continued. "There is no need to harbor any further resentment. I am glad we could speak of this openly. Perhaps we can be friends moving forward."

"Yeah. I think I'd like that," Barbara said. "Anyway, I'm turning in. Have a good night."

As Barbara turned again towards the hallway door, Kory called to her.

"Your plan, Barbara," she said. "To flush out our enemies. Can you tell me what you have in mind?"

Barbara sighed.

"I'll tell you first thing in the morning," she said. "But I'll let you know right now....you're probably not going to like it."
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The king is dead. Long live the king.

Chapter 1.1 | Post Theme


The mystic isle of Murias was a place as cherished to the folklore of the Irish as was Avalon in England. The magic was ethereal here. It lingered in the air. It seemed apparent in the rich, vibrant green that lay across the landscape like a warm blanket of moss.

Golden fingers of sunlight dipped through the canopy of shade offered by the trees, illuminating the warm tones of the earth below. Fauns and satyrs slipped between the foliage, galloping alongside deer and elk. The dryads moved among the branches, nimble as the squirrels that scattered about.

Here was a place that time forgot, where wild horses still roamed.

Even still, his mother would be quite upset with him if she were to learn that he'd gone out of the house in his bed clothes. A most confusing thing, as it seemed to make little sense to get dressed just to go bathe.

Where the brook trickled down over the cobbled stone and joined the edge of the sea was a sheltered cove. He swam the mouth of the inlet, his bed gown left on the rocks from where he'd jumped in.

In a time before, such a scene of a boy bathing in a river or by the sea would have been common place.

In a time before, he might not have been alone.

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535 A.D.

He hit the water with a loud splash.

A flurry of bubbles slipped from his lips, as he plunged into the cold waters of the river, his laughter taking the form of tiny bubbles escaping back to the surface.

Twisting to right himself, the child kicked with his legs to propel his head back above the surface.

A wave of water was waiting for him, connecting with the side of his face with a loud splat.

Throwing his arms up in vain defense, the boy dipped down into the water as he twisted his head to one side. Blinking through the hair plastered down against his face, a burly man stood waist deep in the river, a ****-eating grin marking his bearded face.

A second lad, an older boy by several summers, sprang upon the burly figure. Seeking to seize upon the opening, the smaller boy began swimming furiously back toward the bearded giant who lorded over both of them.

They were on the road to Camelot, returning from a tourney called by the King of Gwent. They'd passed through Porth-is-Coed to make the crossing and camped the night here. If God be good, they might make it to Usk by nightfall, then on to Camelot when day broke on the morrow.

As the man and youth wrestled, the smaller boy sprang from the water to leap upon the giant's back. The man was Sir Brian of Kent. The youth was his squire, his shield-bearer, Cedric, son of a freeman who'd obliged Sir Brian to take his boy as an apprentice.

And he? He was Sir Brian's page.

That may not seem like that big of a deal, but it was. Because he would be Sir Brian's squire after Cedric, who was expected to be knighted. Or perhaps he would squire for Cedric after Cedric joined the Round.

You see, Sir Brian was a Knight of the Round Table. One who had taken a vow of silence after an epiphany upon the quest for the Grail. He was the Silent Knight.

And they? They were a band of brothers.

Shoving Cedric down under the water, Sir Brian began spinning around. Their bodies slick, Mordred struggled to keep a grip around Sir Brian's neck. The man moved an arm back to keep the child from falling, then slung him off into the air.

The boy flipped arse over head in the air, before flopping back to hit the water sloppily and submerge back amid a litany of giggling laughter the was captured in the many air bubbles that slipped away...

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The once and future prince sat upon the stones, somewhere lost to time as he was in thought, as the light of the sun dried him. His knees were drawn up to his chest, huddled for warmth against the cool breeze that blew from out of the trees.

Looking out, he saw bubbling brooks alongside mossy embankments that rested in the shadow of enchanted forests.

It was as beautiful as it was lonely.

Picking himself up, the boy pulled the shift on over his head. The garment clung to his still damp frame. Resuming his seat, the boy slipped a pair of Roman sandals on, tying the leather bindings around the ankle, and then standing himself upright as he made back toward the castle.


His own voice, echoing the halls, greeted him as he stood in the foyer. The silence provided the answer. She was not here.

The swim had been longer than he'd realized, as was ever the case. The morning had come and gone, leaving the noon approaching and Mordred hungry for more a meal than the cupboards were supply.

Peter Parker | Mary Jane Watson

“What are we going to do? I mean, how did this even happen?” Mary Jane complained to Peter as she stared in horror at her upper body that was now attached to a human-sized spider.

“Well,” Peter said while he paced in front of MJ. “We could always pass you off as a mutant.”

“Wouldn’t I be a really late bloomer if that were the case.” Mary Jane countered.


“No, Peter. We need to figure out what did this to me.” MJ gestured at her spider half right when she said “this.”

Peter then went over to his desk and grabbed his cell phone. Once he brought up the number pad on his smart phone, Peter pressed the “3” button to call Johnny Storm on speed dial. If anyone could figure out what had happened to Mary Jane, it would be Johnny’s brother-in-law, Reed Richards. However, once he pulled his phone up to his ear, Peter heard Johnny’s voice mail.

“You’ve reached the phone of Johnny Storm, the hottest superhero in New York. I’m probably saving the world right now. Or wooing the future Mrs. Johnny Storm. Either way, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you whenever it’s convenient for me. FLAME ON!”

Meanwhile, MJ was taking a look at the ring her sister had sent her. She just noticed that its gem was giving off a silvery glow that was not there before she fell asleep. Could it be the ring that was doing this? She tried pulling the ring off her finger, but MJ discovered that removing the ring did nothing. After this last attempt failed, she tried to rack her brain to see if she could remember anything suspicious had happened in the last twenty-four hours that would explain her new arachnid physique.

I just want to be normal again. MJ thought after she could not remember anything else that could have been the cause of her transformation. After this stray thought, the same silver aura that had surrounded her when her lower body first morphed into a giant spider appeared again. However, this time the aura was flowing back into the ring, just like a pump draining water. While the aura returned back into the ring, MJ’s spider features began to shrink away until she was back to normal. MJ was glad that she had thrown that blanket over the underbelly of her spider half, since it was now keeping her decent because her jeans were trashed from the transformation.

Peter was about ready to leave a message when he saw MJ reverting to her regular human self. He immediately hung up without giving Johnny a voice mail, since he thought that MJ had finally figured out what had causing her spider transformation. He set down his phone on his desk again, since his Spider-Man costume, which he was still wearing, just in case he had to make a quick run to the Baxter Building, did not have any pockets built-in.

“Isn’t that the ring your sister sent you?” Peter asked.

“I’m going to call her when I get home. I don’t know where she would have gotten something like this, let alone why she would send it to me.” MJ shifted the blanket that she was using to cover her lower body so that it would be wrapped around her waist as if it were a dress.

“I’m curious about what’s the trigger for activating that ring? You wouldn’t happen to secretly want to join the arthropod club, do you?.”

“Please, I wouldn’t want to encroach on your spider monopoly. Plus, I would choose an animal that most people don’t have a phobia for. Like butterflies or something.”

“But how would you strike fear into the hearts of evil doers!”

At the same time, the ring began to spew out the silver aura again. However, this time MJ was not sleeping so that she could spot it before it could transform her again. She kept muttering “human, human, human” under her breath until the silver aura retreated into the ring for a second time. For a brief moment, MJ’s lower body began morphing into the abdomen of a butterfly, but the transformation immediately reversed after MJ’s attempt to cancel it.

“Well, I guess you do have some control over what type of human-animal hybrid that ring will transform you into. I wonder if it can do fictional animals, too.”

“Peter! You are not suggesting that your girlfriend transform herself into an insect for your own amusement, are you?” Mary Jane snapped at Peter.

“Even if it’s just for science?”

“And how will this benefit science?” MJ crossed her hands as she questioned her boyfriend.

“Scientific curiosity?” Peter tried to fish for an answer to Mary Jane’s question, which he knew he did not have a solid response for.

“Fine. But only this one time. What do you have in mind?” MJ finally yielded.

“Hmm…” Peter contemplated over what his choice should be. Once he narrowed his options down to a single option, he then spoke up again. “Let’s try Ariados.”


“It’s a Pokémon.”

“That doesn’t help much.” MJ replied with a smile. She then repeated that name a few times in her hand before she opened up her eyes to gaze down at the ring to check if it worked. Once she did this, the two of them discovered that nothing was happening.

“Well, I guess that answers your question. Now let’s get this ring off before I accidentally wish myself into being a cockroach or something."

However, when Mary Jane started to pull the ring off, the silver aura rushed out for a third time. But this time, no matter how much she tried, the aura kept rushing out until it had engulfed the redhead. At first, MJ thought she really screwed herself up with her last words, but when she saw that her lower body was replaced by what appeared to be a red spiderlike abdomen instead of the body of a cockroach, she was on one hand relieved that she did not just transform herself into a living Kafka protagonist. But on the other hand, it also seemed like Peter got his wish.

“Happy?” MJ told Peter with an unamused tone in her voice. Four spiderlike legs, striped in a purple and yellow pattern, were attached to the side of the red spider abdomen, while a third pair of legs sprouted on the top side of the abdomen. Finally, a single horn appeared on the her forehead.

“My curiosity is now sated.” Peter then got up and started to head into his bedroom to change out of his Spider-Man garb, but before he got far from the couch, MJ chimed in.

“You wouldn’t mind grabbing a spare set of pants, would you?”

“As long as you promise not to Hulk out in them. Otherwise, I would have to start investing in stretchy sweatpants!” In response to that last snide remark, MJ hurled on of the small pillows on the couch at Peter’s head. Although we could have easily dodged the incoming pillow with his spider-sense, but since he knew he did deserve it, he allowed it to strike him in the back of the head.
The king is dead. Long live the king.

Chapter 1.2 | Post Theme

The Town of Usk | 535 A.D.

"The left goes over here, and then you bring both straps around like this..."

Caligae were the sandals worn by the Romans. They were simple, really. Hobnails holding a hard leather sole to a series of straps and laces wrapped around the foot and cinched about the ankle.

Kneeling, Cedric - the squire - was teaching the young page how to tie his shoes. Now, by modern standards, Mordred might seem a bit old to be learning this now. But caligae were each hand-made, and young children rarely had need or want for shoes.

The trio had made it to the edge of town just before nightfall, having traveled from Gwent off the old Roman road that had once guided footsoldiers to Castra Burrium.

Sir Brian stayed the night at a hostelry operated by an monastic order that oversaw the parrish. Cedric and Mordred had bedded down in the stables with the horses, in part to watch over them. Such animals were a prize and valued for no small amount of currency, even if rare was a man who could claim such an animal without attracting some attention to himself.

Cedric had been up with the dawn, getting himself dressed and then waking Mordred to get the page ready to travel. The boy sat on an overturned bucket, as the squire wove the leather straps around the boy's foot and ankle.

"There," the teen uttered, slapping the bottom of the boy's shod foot. Pulling out the next, Cedric passed it to Mordred and said, "Now, you do the right."

Pressing his foot down on the sole, the boy began folding the straps over the top of his foot, pulling the lacing through as he started to try and repeat Cedric's movements from before.

"No, this one under here," the squire said, pausing and correcting the boy, as the page continued to wind and weave and work the straps around to bind his foot into the sandal.

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The Mystic Isle of Murias

Cedric never would have imagined such a thing as Heelys.

The fashionable children's shoe slipping on like a slipper. The solid leather and canvas construction a far cry from the thin leather straps stapled to a hard tact of leather with forged steel hobnails.

The fabric laces seemed delicate in comparison to the rough leather bindings he'd learned to tie in a stable so long ago and yet never far from memory.

Aye, there's the rub.

The longer he lived, the more he seemed to dwell in the past than the present.

Mother talked of a future kingdom, yet it was the kingdom of the past that he longed for.

Good times.

Good friends.

Shouldering a backpack, the once and future prince looked now like a boy from 2017, not 535. The page boy cut mused so that it seemed a messy array of straight hair.

Making his way to the back of the fortified mansion, the boy stood on the threshold that led out to the back patio. French style doors offered a window out onto a tranquil rose garden where Mother took tea in the afternoons.

A brass knob rested near the moulding that framed the door. At first glance, perhaps the remainder of a curtain restraint or some other decor that still lingered as the mansion had obviously been added onto and remodeled several times throughout different centuries. Inscribed into the metal were a number of strange runes.

Those runes shone with a strange, eerie glow as his hand came up to brush against the metal.

It was warm to the touch.

Warm, as though some kind of power or energy were channeled there.

The view through the windows changed. The rose garden became a great ocean. A vast desert. And then a bustling urban sprawl in the heart of what was once the Roman capital of Londinium.

Opening the French doors, the boy stepped through to the other side...

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

Present Day

...his foot touched down onto the sidewalk of a busy intersection.

It was known as Piccadilly Circus. The circus in this case referring to London's most famous roundabout.

Behind him, there was no door. Merely the solid glass of a storefront window.

Adjusting the lay of the strap, the boy shouldered the small courier-style backpack and made his way into a crowd that seemed oblivious to his having appeared there from out of the air itself.

From out of his pocket, the boy brought a pair of ear bud style headphones to the sides of his head.

? Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now... I been feeling it since 1966, now... might be over now, but I feel it still... ?

A breeze came from between the buildings, whipping a lock of hair down into his eyes. With a roll of his head, the boy flicked the offending hair from out of his face.

As he did, his eyes gazed over a news stand.

The headline of the Guardian stood out at him.

3 Dead in British Museum Robbery

Chapter 7

"Dead End"​

Zürich, Switzerland
1500 Local Time

The navy blue Mercedes-Benz C-Class sped along Bederstrasse, the four-lane street that led northeast through the city. To their right, the cold waters of Lake Zürich stretched out across the expanse below the snowy-peaked alps. The Mercedes kept pace with the midday traffic. The car blended in among the commuters going about the everyday business of their lives. Inside the car, though, were two people with an agenda that had very little to do with the cares and concerns of the people in the cars around them.

Sitting in the car's passenger seat, James Bond looked down at the mobile phone in his lap. He wore a blue suit with a white dress shirt, no tie and with an open collar. The aviator sunglasses on his face masked some of the giant bruise that took up nearly the entire left side of his face. His wrists were wrapped in bandages and medical tape. Behind the driver's seat, Natalia Romanova stared ahead wordlessly. She had opted to drive once they were in Switzerland. As an American, she was more familiar and comfortable with driving on the right side of the road like the Swiss and the rest of continental Europe did.

This marked their eighth hour in Switzerland. After giving M a debriefing on their actions in Belarus, Bond and Natalia took the black Hummer left in the hangar and drove back to their hotel. They spent the rest of the night typing field reports to their respective intelligence agencies, recapping what Bond had previously relayed to M. The sun was peeking over the horizon when they finished. Both exhausted and weary, Bond called room service and ordered a bottle of Dewar's. The Dewar's had roughness to it that Bond enjoyed. He had had better whiskeys, but it served its purpose admirably. He and Natalia killed half the bottle and then turned in, Natalia occupying the bed while Bond sought refuge on the suite's sofa.

It was early evening when Bond woke. Natalia was already awake, sitting at the room's table and eating a breakfast of baked ham and boiled potatoes. Splayed out in front of her on the table was the daily paper of Minsk. She read Bond the headline story.

The Minsk police, acting on an anonymous tip, raided the Belaya Vezha Casino in the middle of the night. There, the police had discovered an elaborate counterfeiting scheme wherein high-quality phony rubles and euros were being printed. The leader of the raid, Commander Nikita Thul, praised the hard work of his men, saying that the tip was the result of a prolonged investigation into the casino. Jan Lukashenka, the casino owner had been found dead in his office, no suspects at the time. Coincidentally, a man had been injured in a lift accident at the hotel across the street from the casino. He was in critical, but stable condition at the time. He was found with no ID and with no given name, and so he was named John Doe. Police were searching for the man's identity and were asking for anyone with information to step forward.

Waiting for Bond was an email from M. MI6 managed to use the nanotech embedded on the Baroness' tongue to track her across Europe to Switzerland, some location in the alps forty-five minutes south of Zürich. The working theory at Six was that the criminals had chosen the site in question because of its relative closeness to the banking hub. The anonymity of Swiss banking and their disdain for the European Union would make it an ideal place to launder the phony money. Even though they had recovered the stolen drive and did their favor to Interpol, M wanted to play the string out to see where it led. Because of that, Bond and Romanova were dispatched to Zürich to investigate the Baroness' movements in the area and to find out what her endgame was with the counterfeit cash. Bond was booked on a midnight flight from Minsk to Zürich with a brief layover in Berlin.

An hour after receiving his orders, a man from SHIELD's Russian station met Bond and Natalia in the park outside their hotel. After she had went through the signs and countersigns to confirm the agent's identity, she handed the drive containing the currency information over to him. In exchange he gave them a pair of airline tickets to Switzerland along with two large metal cases. He informed Natalia that with the recovery of the drive SHIELD's stake in the mission was at an end. She had been kept on to aid and backup Bond as a favor to M from Director Fury.

They arrived here in Zürich just after seven, still posing in their married couple identity. Bond had rented the Mercedes at the airport and tossed the keys to Natalia, informing her to drive. Going off Six's hunch about the Baroness coming into the city, they drove south on the A3 motorway until they were five miles outside the city. Natalia parked the car at a rest stop while Bond watched the tracker on his phone, looking for any movements in the mountains.

They killed time by talking, playing cards, and taking turns sleeping. Finally, five hours into their stakeout, the GPS marker began to move. It headed down from the mountains and south on the A3. A half hour later, Bond and Natalia watched as six trucks, Mercedes Actros, blew past with a silver S-Class bringing up the rear. Bond saw the large figure of the Russian wedged in the driver's seat of the S-Class.

They waited five minutes before following. When Natalia finally pulled on the highway, the group of trucks had veered right off A3, headed into the city on Allmendsrasse. She drove them at a leisurely pace, with the tracker there was no need to keep the trucks in constant view. They would occasionally catch glimpses of the tops of the canvas-covered beds before they disappeared around the bend.

"They stopped," said Bond after twenty minutes of following.

He looked up from his mobile and checked where they were. Still on Bederstrasse, now on Bleicherweg as the streets merged together. The GPS node had com to a stop six blocks away off Paradeplatz. Bond searched the internet for information on the address. What he found out did not come to much of a surprise.

"They're at a bank," he said without looking up. "UBS."

UBS, originally the Union of Bank of Switzerland, is a global bank that operates in fifty countries worldwide. Despite the fact it was hit hard by the mortgage crisis in 2008, UBS' total assets total 1.4 trillion Swiss francs. It is considered by many to be the top private financial institute in the world.

"I think the Franc is even stronger than the Euro," said Natalia.

The car passed by the stopped location of the convoy and saw that it was in fact a branch of UBS. Workers were busy unloading crates from the back of the trucks and wheeling them into the bank. Natalia drove by without stopping or slowing. She turned right and drove them south towards the lake. She found a parking lot facing the lake and pulled them in there.

"Money laundering," Bond said to her once the car's ignition was off. "It seems almost too simple, too anticlimactic for an operation of the size and scale they're operating on."

"Never overestimate the imaginations of criminals, James. It almost always boils down to cash. It is expensive, but well worth it. They printed the money in Belarus and flew it to Switzerland. They're making billions off the difference in the exchange rate alone."

"You're right," he said without comment on the fact Natalia had used his first name instead of Bond. It was something he had first noticed the morning after their run in with the Baroness and the Russian. "But I keep playing back something the Baroness said the other night. She said by the time Six or SHIELD had figured out where we were, it would be too late. That implies a larger game is at play. Something more than just making money."

"Well," she said, reaching out with her right hand to pat the top of Bond's left hand. "That's why we're here. To figure out."

He smiled at her and nodded. He didn't let his thoughts linger on the contact of her hand against his, or the spark that accompanied it. Bond picked the phone off his lap and looked at the GPS display on the screen.

"The Baroness is one the move again..."

Forty minutes later, Natalia drove the Mercedes up the elevated road, leaving the city behind for the alps. The Baroness and her trucks were a half mile up the road, climbing higher into the mountains. They came over a hill and saw farther up the mountain. At a fork in the road, the Baroness' car went right while the trucks stayed left

"I'm following the trucks," Natalia said as she veered right at the junction. Bond silently agreed. They could always backtrack the Baroness and discover her location.

With the last truck in sight, Bond and Natalia followed down the winding and snow-littered mountain roads. They came to a dip in the road, leading down the side of the mountain. A mile down the hill, the trucks began to turn off a side road. Natalia followed slowly, letting the trucks disappear down a bend in the back road. She went carefully over the gravel to avoid any detection. Somewhere in the distance, gunshots rang out. Bond and Natalia traded looks. He pulled his Walther from it shoulder holster while she pulled her Glock from the lower back holster one-handed.

They turned a corner and came to a section of the road blocked by the back of one of the trucks. The truck was still running, its engine idling in the cold. The driver's side door was open, a dead and bullet ridden body on the ground. Bond got out while Natalia parked the car. He crouched and quietly walked along the opposite side of the truck. There was another short burst of automatic gunfire. It sounded close by to Bond. Carefully, he peeked around the front of the truck and came face to face with the barrel of a MAC-10 machine pistol.

The skinny bald man holding the gun loomed above him, a smirk on his face.

"Dead end," he said with a short bark of a laugh. "Looks like you hit a dead end."

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