Subject: [FFML] [Ranma/Marvel] Avenging Act III Chapter 5
From: DB Sommer
Date: 12/19/2006, 9:56 PM
To: ffml@anifics.com


Sorry for the long delay. Worked on this for six hours today, but by 
god, I got it done.

Avenging
Act III, The Animal Farm
Chapter 5


Any and all C+C appreciated. You can contact me at:
[sommert@connecttime.net]

All the previous chapters and my other works are stored at:

Larry F's new address at:
http://www.florestica.com/dbsommer/index.htm

At fanfiction.net:
http://www.fanfiction.net/

And newer works at Mediaminer
www.mediminer.org

Standard disclaimer: I don�t own any of the Marvel characters or other 
characters from the numerous animes which are within.

Here�s a great reference guide for many character and objects in the 
Marvel Universe.

[http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/index.htm]

Last chapter: Man Beast and the Ani Men were defeated, preferring death 
to capture, they blew themselves up, nearly taking the building with 
them. But tragedy is averted, and the heroes go on with their lives.

Warning, the action scene has a lot of POV shifts, but breaking them up 
with �xxxx� seemed too bulky. Let me know if there�s some other way to 
do it, or if I should break them up with the x�s

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

��and there you have it. That�s the newest Avenger, Tigra, the 
Were-Woman. And remember folks, despite the name, she assures us she is 
not a lycanthrope, and her bite will not turn you into a were-anything. 
This is Akemi Shutaro, signing off.�

Irie Soyozoh pointed the remote at the television and paused the 
recording. Akemi stood there, looking seriously at camera, unfazed by 
the antics of the cat girl at her side. Tigra was frozen, hand extended 
in mid-wave at the television camera, looking for all the world like a 
cute little girl. It invoked images of someone as dangerous as a kitten. 
But not for Irie. He had met more than a handful of dangerous kittens 
that needed to be shot, not cuddled. Although stuffing one and putting 
it on his mantle, now there was an idea. It would make quite the 
conversation piece, to be certain. One could never have too many 
conversation pieces, at least in Irie�s opinion.

Turning away from the television, Irie leafed through the scattering of 
files on his desk. To the casual eye it appeared disorderly, like a 
small tornado had touched down just long enough to scatter everything 
and destroy nothing. It was an illusion. Irie knew exactly where 
everything was, right down to the letter requisitioning a box of red 
Swingline staplers. That would be from the office staff on the fourth 
floor of the headquarters. They were such kidders. Irie picked up the 
contemporary humor in the request. He�d show them he knew how to joke as 
well. He would send them to the field office on Benten Island. It was 
lovely there. In the dead of winter it was just like the North Pole. He 
bet they�d get a big laugh out of that.

Yes, Irie knew where every single paper on his desk was, since he was 
the one that had put them there. It was a side he never let anyone see, 
that he was capable of leaving things thrown about in seeming disorder. 
But in truth it made access to the various files easier, being able to 
grab the one he needed rather than leafing through a pile. Most 
outsiders probably would have mocked him for using hard copies, since 
browsing on a computer would be easier. While that was accurate, the 
truth was when dealing with Phantom Cats, the less reliance on 
computers, the better.

Irie unerringly located the file he wanted and leafed through it for the 
third time, as though reassuring himself the subject matter was still 
there, exactly the same as it had been before. It was. Phantom Cat 
legends were quite specific on the topic. It made up the majority of 
what little theological background Hound had managed to dig up on the 
Phantom Cats. It even had corroboration from a secondary source, though 
Irie found the Vatican�s secret files filled with more than a touch of 
religious hyperbole. He doubted the Phantom Cats were really demons that 
had created the Black Plague anymore than the Vatican had helped Nazi 
Vampires escape persecution during World War II.

Whatever their origins, it was the Phantom Cats� present that had Irie 
concerned. This recent event would turn everything upside down among the 
felines. It had taken Irie billions of yen and many years to line up so 
many dominos, all of them ready to fall into place. Only eight more 
months, a year at the most, and Irie had been confident the issue of the 
Phantom Cats could have been resolved once and for all. Councilwoman 
Arjuna�s interference had been enough of a pain, but the whole Tigra 
situation set everything on its ear. Adjustments would have to be made 
if �Operation Deep Freeze� was to achieve its goals. Agendas would have 
to be moved ahead of schedule, and risks would have to be taken.

It was time to make the fateful decision. Irie picked up the phone to 
his secretary and said, �Tell Corporal Narusawa that it�s time to 
contact �M�. She�s already been briefed on the situation, although it 
wouldn�t hurt to reemphasize to her that we�ll agree to whatever payment 
�M� requires for the job.�

The best always required top dollar, but they were worth it, especially 
if even half of what was said about �M� was true. He really hated hiring 
freelancers, but he no longer had the time to create a viable 
alternative. �M�s unique abilities were required to make �Operation Deep 
Freeze� work, even if there was a considerable security risk in bringing 
in an outsider, and a highly untrustworthy one at that. Oh, �M� wouldn�t 
back out of the mission once the stakes involved in it were revealed, 
but there was always a chance the freelancer might try to steal a few of 
Hound�s secrets along the way.

But gambling was a part of the great game, and with the stakes this 
high, folding was not an option. It was time to put everything into the 
pot and hope he came out on top.

Irie hung up the phone. The wheels were set into motion.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Hans Jurgens, captain of the �Celibate Angel� and part-time smuggler, 
didn�t care for this trip to Japan. Sure, he had made plenty of runs 
before. Hell, business was better than ever with the capture of Captain 
Barracuda and Commander Kraken a few months back. He had picked up many 
of their high-priced commissions that had been left behind. He had his 
harbor and dock contacts in place, the bribes paid in advance with a 
promise of extra if things went well. This job would pay three times as 
much as any had before, and Jurgens could certainly use the money. He 
had his eye on an AIM device that could make his ship invisible to radar 
and sonar.

So far everything had happened exactly as planned. He had picked up the 
cargo, delivered right up to the ship by Brand Corporation, in the US. 
Loading was simple, and he sailed straight for Japan, making it there in 
good time. He should have been relaxed and calm, just like the last 
dozen trips. But not this time. His stomach was in knots.

As Jurgens stood at the prow of the ship, watching his crew slip it into 
its place like the well-oiled machine he had trained, he grimaced. He 
knew exactly what was bothering him. It was the nature of his �cargo�. 
While in principle he would ship anything for money, from guns to drugs 
to black market electronics, this was something else. Something he 
wanted no part of. Something that could blow up in his face worse than 
any bomb he ferried. Juggling live hand grenades would have been less 
stressful.

�Recriminations, Captain?� a voice to his right inquired.

Jurgens nearly jumped out of his skin. He hadn�t heard the man come up 
at all, and after twenty years, Jurgens was aware of everything that 
happened on his vessel. The sneaky son-of-a-bitch wasn�t human. He 
couldn�t be.

Recovering quickly, Jurgens said, �Ready to make for shore, Mr. Baxter?�

�Call me �Buzz�,� the man in the trenchcoat and low, wide brimmed hat, 
insisted. From within one of the coat�s deep pockets Baxter produced a 
cigarette and lighter. As Buzz put the cigarette in his mouth, Jurgens 
thought he caught a glimpse of unnaturally sharp teeth. He remembered 
reading �Dracula� as a boy in his native Oslo, and an involuntary memory 
of the passage about the logs of the �Demeter� jumped to the forefront 
of his mind.

The lighter�s flame illuminated Baxter�s face with an eerie glow. There 
was something about Baxter Jurgens didn�t like. Something wild, untamed. 
Almost feral. The sooner the creepy man was off the ship, the better.

Jurgens watched as his crew moved with frightening efficiency. It wasn�t 
just an eagerness for shore leave that made them itchy. Like their 
captain, they didn�t care for the nature of their cargo. There had 
already been an incident when one of the crew had gotten either drunk, 
drugged, or stupid in agitating some of the cargo. It had been terrible 
for morale for the crew to round up the pieces of the fool for a burial 
at sea. But soon the cargo would be gone and the crew would have their 
shore leave. They could drink away their bonuses for successful 
completion of their job while the captain obtained the AIM device he 
wanted.

Cranes had placed a pair of the large crates on the dock when a 
commanding voice shouted, �Halt, or face the combined might of� the 
Avengers!�

Jurgens went pale as he saw none other than Captain Japan boldly 
standing at the end of the dock. Surrounding him were the rest of the 
Avengers. Daredevil was there billowing sleeves were crossed across his 
stomach, hands hidden inside their folds. Hawkeye stood poised with a 
bow in hand, arrow notched. The monstrous Hulk was impossible to miss as 
he crinkled his nose in disgust at the smell of raw fish. The new girl, 
Tigra, looked like she wanted to do nothing so much as wrap herself 
around Captain Japan. And there was the normal-sized Giant Man, hanging 
toward the back of the group, as though not wishing to be seen.

Flying in from above came Thor and Iron Rose, both intent on boarding 
the ship, and maybe sinking it to the bottom of the bay.

�Oh god! I knew I shouldn�t have gotten involved in this!� Jurgens 
wailed as he fell to his knees, his nautical career at an end.

Baxter spat his cigarette from his mouth. �Quit your whining, bitch. 
We�ll take care of things for you.�

Impossibly, Jurgens grew paler. �You can�t be serious. Those are the 
Avengers.�

�Which means we know them, and they don�t know us. It�s what we call an 
advantage in this business.� He brought a cell-phone shaped communicator 
to his mouth. �Okay, boys, we got company. So why don�t we surprise them 
when they get a little closer?�

�You�re insane,� Jurgens wailed.

�Doesn�t mean I�m not going to win.� Baxter smiled, flashing 
exceptionally large, sharp canines. The sight of it almost made Jurgens 
want to flee to the Avengers so he could surrender to them.

Some of the crew began to flee, heading for the ship or diving into the 
water. The Avengers rushed forward, intent on stopping them.

�Now!� Baxter cried out.

Figures burst from the ship�s hold, over the side, and even from one of 
the crates on the dock, shattering it.

A glowing, green missile shot forth from the bridge, shattering it. It 
left a sparking trail behind it as it rocketed right for Iron Rose. Her 
eyes widened behind her visor�s slits as the glowing object struck her 
in the chest, violently altering her flight by hurling her into the 
ocean. She landed with a splash, submerging beneath the waves, lost from 
sight.

Thor barely had time to register that when a huge red and white form 
shot out from the open hold from the deck of the ship. The instant her 
eyes settled on the creature, she was taken aback. It was appeared to be 
a large lion with giant eagle wings sprouting from its back. Its skin 
was covered in red, reptilian scales. But what was most bizarre was the 
pale human face and neck jutting from the lion�s body.

�Time to die at the claws of the Griffen!� it shouted in English as it 
slammed into the goddess with inhuman strength. Unlike the being that 
had attacked Iron Rose, the Griffen used its wings and awesome power to 
drive Thor back to the shore, slamming her into the ground, keeping its 
full weight and power on top of her.

�Hammer Girl!� the Hulk shouted, as he turned to watch her thrown down 
to the ground.

In witnessing the object of his adore violently hurled from the sky, the 
Hulk�s back was turned to the first crate that had been taken from ship, 
one now resting on the dock. The sound of metal being torn asunder 
filled the air as one side of the container blew open, and a black 
figure burst through it. The Hulk spun to see a fur-covered creature, 
every bit as large as the flying lion, hurl itself at him. Like the 
Griffen, it had a human face jutting out from the front of its body. 
However, instead of natural claws, its were mechanical, vicious-looking 
hooks of metal that appeared capable of slashing through anything.

Its tactics were nearly identical to the Griffen�s as it slammed into 
the Hulk with its full body weight, knocking the emerald giant flat on 
his back. As it did so, it racked him with his front claws, piercing the 
Hulk�s flesh and drawing blood, making the hero roar in pain.

As it continued trying to dig its claws deeper into the emerald 
behemoth�s flesh, it hissed, �Know the name of your killer is Manticore, 
fool.�

�Down boy!� Hawkeye shouted as the archer drew a bead on the back of 
Manticore�s neck.

Daredevil moved to help as well, concentrating on Manticore�s body. 
There was something unnatural about it, aside from a human�s face being 
attached to an animal body. The Avenger was so intent on discovering the 
oddity that he almost failed to notice a flying figure hovering directly 
above them.

�Down!� Daredevil shouted, tackling Hawkeye just as a bolt of 
electricity struck the ground where the archer had been standing a 
moment before.

�Thanks,� Hawkeye said, realizing what would have happened had the bolt 
struck. Looking up, the archer pinpointed their attacker. He was dressed 
in a grey bodysuit with blue gloves, boots, mask, and a cape that 
hovered behind him as he flew. A yellow silhouette of a bird was on his 
chest. Metal gauntlets on his wrists had a pair of short, yet sharp, 
metal blades protruding from them. The costume fit snugly enough to show 
an athletic frame, though not overly muscled, like the Hulk.

The flying man said, �You�ll have no chance to save your comrade�s life, 
since you�re about to lose you own at the talons of Killer Shrike!�

�You look more like a pesky pigeon to me, especially after I put a few 
arrows into you.� Hawkeye notched an arrow and shot it at Killer Shrike. 
Daredevil did likewise, hurling a set of chains from his sleeves.

Killer Shrike evaded the attacks as though he was dancing in the air. He 
brought his arms together, touching the sets of blades from each 
gauntlet. From the gauntlet another bolt of electricity hurled forth, 
forcing Daredevil to dodge this time. Unperturbed, both heroes kept up 
their attacks, hurling missile after missile at him.

Killer Shrike weaved his way through the aerial assault. �So you�re both 
good with long range attacks as well. Let�s see how you do in close 
quarters.�

The villain swooped down toward Daredevil, like a diving bird of prey. 
With his radar sense, it was easy to calculate Killer Shrike�s speed and 
trajectory. Daredevil timed it so his blow would have maximum effect.

Killer Shrike led with his face. He was nearly in range of Daredevil 
when he stopped in mid-air on a dime, as though time had suddenly 
frozen. Daredevil, not anticipating the instantaneous stop, was off on 
his punch, missing Killer Shrike by mere centimeters. Off balance, the 
hero was easy prey as Killer Shrike spun in mid-air, catching Daredevil 
in the jaw with a powerful kick which nearly took the hero�s head off.

Killer Shrike postured above the woozy Avenger, standing on air as 
though it were ground. �I don�t use wings to fly, like the Griffen. I 
have a set of anti-gravity modules implanted under my skin. No one can 
match my maneuverability.�

�Then we�ll have to knock you out of the sky!� Hawkeye swore as she 
launched a volley of arrows designed to make Killer Shrike back away 
from Daredevil, rather than hitting the villain. The attack did its 
work, making Killer Shrike abandon Daredevil in favor of a new target: 
Hawkeye.

As that combat started, Captain Japan, who had led the charge, stopped. 
Tigra, who had been bounding alongside him, paused as well.

�No stop. We almost at ship,� Tigra said.

�I think they need help,� Captain Japan said, seeing his teammates on 
the defensive thanks to the sneak attack.

�Aiyah! We have plenty of problems of own.� Tigra pointed at two figures 
who leapt down from the deck of the ship at and at the heroes.

One discarded his trenchcoat in mid-leap, revealing a brown and gray 
outfit that had a canine motif, right down to a pair of ears on the top 
of his mask. Claws were at the ends of his brown gloves, and he was all 
but slavering from a mouth filled with sharp teeth.

The other one was dressed in a red bodysuit with black boots and gloves. 
A giant black spider stretched across the entire front of the outfit. He 
wore a bandanna type mask over his head. Both appeared physically fit, 
the one in the dog outfit just a touch more muscled than his companion, 
though neither was as large as Captain Japan.

The man in the dog outfit shouted, �You�re mine, Kittycat!� He landed 
next to Tigra, and immediately lunged at her, claws and teeth bared.

Tigra moved out of the way as he landed where she had been a second 
before. He knocked chunks out of the concrete where his claws hit. When 
he stood back up, he showed no indication of pain from the impact, as 
though shattering concrete was no more difficult than tearing paper.

�You�re fast, Kittycat, and pretty hot.� He stared at her lasciviously. 
�I think I�ll take you alive and interrogate you. Believe me, not only 
can I get you to talk, I�ll have you howling at the moon, if you know 
what I mean.�

In English, she retorted, �Stupid Dog Man totally outclassed by Tigra.�

�I ain�t a dog. I mean, I was going to call myself Mad Dog, but it turns 
out there was already some guy already named that. So I went with 
Warwolf, which is way cooler.�

Tigra snorted in amusement and stared at his groin. �Name should 
probably be Chihuahua Boy. Is more appropriate with tiny thing between 
legs.�

Warwolf began shaking in fury. �You�re going to die for that one, bitch! 
Now that I think about it, you remind me way too much of my ex-wife! I 
think I�ll bleed you nice and slow, like I�ll do her someday.�

Tigra cocked a finger at him and drew it toward her. �Come get some.�

Captain Japan was barely aware of the exchange. His spider motif foe had 
leapt at him feet first, aiming at his head. Spikes suddenly clicked 
into place at the toes, changing the attack from dangerous to deadly.

Captain Japan brought his shield up, deflecting the attack. Sparks 
danced across the surface of the shield from the foot spikes. Despite 
hitting it with his full weight, combined with the height he had dropped 
from, the villain failed to budge Captain Japan a centimeter. Bouncing 
off the shield, he unsteadily landed on his feet, a testament to his 
agility.

The red-garbed villain bowed. �Good evening, Senor. It is an honor to 
meet you. I am La Tarantula.� He spoke in heavily Spanish-accented English.

Captain Japan felt a bit uncomfortable. He was lousy with English, and 
wasn�t even sure the guy was speaking it, given how thick the accent 
was. �Uh, yes,� he attempted in English.

Tarantula began lashing out at Captain Japan with his feet, trying to 
stab him with the spikes. As he fought, he began to carry on a 
conversation. �We share a common background, you and I. You see, you 
were the inspiration for my creation. My government wanted a figure to 
represent our country, as well as defend it against enemies from within 
and without. I was trained in the art of combat, as you can tell.�

Captain Japan was off-guard. He was unused to a super-villain talking to 
him so pleasantly, even if it was while attacking him. Usually they 
ranted about how powerful there were, how they were going to rend him 
limb from limb, or they would throw whatever sob story �forced� them 
into knocking over a bank, as though it was for some reason other than 
becoming an instant millionaire. This guy had none of that attitude. He 
almost seemed to be gushing, like Captain Japan was his idol.

Worse, Captain Japan was fairly certain the guy was relating his origin 
story to him. The Avenger�s understanding was so limited he�d probably 
say something to insult the guy and make him fly off the handle. That 
would be really bad since there might be something in the origin to 
point out to his foe to turn him into a good guy. That sometimes 
happened with reluctant super-villains, switching over to the side of 
angels.

Captain Japan remained on the defensive while he tried to think things 
through.

The glowing thing that had knocked Iron Rose out of the sky revealed 
itself to be a man. Unlike the others, he wore no mask: just a green 
body suit with a white spot on the center. Long blond hair flowed from 
behind him, making him appear quite ordinary.

Except for the white glow surrounding his body.

�Why couldn�t you fools leave us alone?!� he shouted at the combatants 
around him. �All I wanted was access to the machines here! They promised 
me after a year of service, I could use them to go back to normal!�

�Normal is highly overrated,� a female voice to his right said.

He turned and saw a small girl with insect wings flying nearby. Then he 
didn�t see anything as she unleashed her �sting� into his head. The 
energy blast struck him squarely in the face, dissolving it into a mist.

�Oh no!� Wasp exclaimed. �That shouldn�t have happened. My blast wasn�t 
anywhere near full force.�

And then the mist coalesced back into the blond�s face, appearing 
unaffected. �Damn you! Do you know how much I have to concentrate to 
recollect my form? I�m just like my codename, Willow the Wisp. But being 
forced into an incorporeal state is pain in the ass. So die.� He lunged 
for Wasp.

�Keep away from her!� Giant Man shouted, entering the fray by shooting 
up to a height of thirty-five feet and reaching out for Willow the Wisp. 
The glowing man darted out from under Giant Man�s reach, then retaliated 
by blasting him in the face with a crackling bolt of energy.

Giant Man shrunk down to fifteen feet, reeling. �Damn! He can discharge 
some sort of energy blast as well. I�m not sure how to stop him.� Giant 
Man looked up to see several of the Wasp�s blasts go through Willow the 
Wisp�s body, each one causing that portion of him to be reduced to a 
glowing mist. It took him seconds to reform, each succeeding blast 
making him madder than before.

Thor found herself locked in a death grip with her attacker. The 
velocity he had struck her with, along with his considerable strength 
and weight, had momentarily winded her. Her hammer had actually been 
knocked out of her hands and to the ground at her feet. It might as well 
have been a mile away as she was given no chance to recover it. The 
Griffen was coming after her with his giant claws, trying to rake her 
face. She had his wrists in a tight grip, but he was continuing to use 
his superior height and weight against her, even his wings beat 
furiously, trying to give him additional force to maul her.

However, Thor had finally gotten a chance to get her wind back and bring 
more of her strength to bear. She began shoving the Griffen�s claws away 
from her face.

�This ain�t possible,� the Griffen protested. �No frail can be stronger 
than me. I got the powers of a half dozen animals in me.�

Speaking English with the same ease as she could Japanese, Thor said, 
�No mere animal can match the strength of the Goddess of Thunder.�

Fear and desperation formed in the Griffen�s eyes. �No! I didn�t subject 
myself to Brand�s mutagenics just so some bitch can kick my ass my first 
time out. I�m the Griffen! Do you understand? The fucking Griffen!�

Suddenly Thor found her progress halted, a surge of strength flowing 
through the Griffen. Once again they reached a stalemate. Worse, she saw 
him begin to subtly change. His human face began to lengthen, like an 
animal�s snout. His body became more feline in nature, and a tail 
suddenly sprouted out from his tailbone. It was a long thing with spikes 
on it.

He roared in her face, more beast than human. Still the Avenger pressed 
on. She knew she would win eventually. She was the Goddess of Thunder 
She wouldn�t have been too concerned save for one problem.

Her hammer had been out of her grasp for twenty seconds.

The Hulk wasn�t faring much better. Part of the problem was the way the 
initial attack had happened. He had been knocked flat on his back, the 
large, bulky Manticore jumping right on him and ripping at him with his 
claws. The Hulk had grabbed the Manticore�s wrists, in almost identical 
nature to Thor in her fight with the Griffen. The emerald behemoth had 
no leverage from this position, while Manticore�s longer form had 
allowed him to use his rear claws to anchor himself to the dock itself. 
With superior height, he brought his full weight on top of the emerald 
giant.

�Stupid furry thing better get off Hulk,� the giant warned as he began 
to shove Manticore away from him, despite the villain�s advantage.

�I have a better idea. Let�s see if secondary adamantium can carve your 
heart out of your chest.�

The Hulk saw Manticore�s mechanical tail swing up and in front of his 
face. There was an odd thing at the end of the tail, and there seemed to 
be some kind of tube in the end. Hulk found out the nature of the tube 
as a laser shot from it, hitting him right between the eyes, blinding 
and hurting him at the same time.

Hands reflexively going for his eyes, the Hulk released his hold on the 
claws, which dug into his shoulders. The combination of adamantium alloy 
and strength drove them into the Hulk�s flesh, causing the Avenger to 
cry out in pain and as he bled.

Daredevil was beginning to tire. Killer Shrike wasn�t just superhumanly 
strong and agile, he was highly trained in hand-to-hand combat. Even 
without the super-strength, Daredevil would have had his hands full, but 
with Shrike�s ability to instantly change his height, it made predicting 
his moves nearly impossible. Hawkeye wasn�t having much better luck 
either, having taken a few hard kicks early on which winded the archer 
badly. Daredevil was keeping Shrike off his comrade�s back, but only at 
considerable cost to himself.

It might have gone better had he not been bothered by one of the other 
fight�s occurring nearby. There was something off about Manticore, 
something that made him different from the other villains they were 
fighting.

And now the Hulk was having problems. Daredevil could hear Manticore�s 
threats, not to mention the smell of blood coming from there. The Hulk�s 
heart was pounding like a triphammer, and Manticore�s was muted for some 
reason. That made no sense. Manticore was huge, like the Hulk, and in 
order to keep the blood flowing through a huge body like his, he�d have to�.

That was it! That was what was different about him. And now Daredevil 
knew what to do.

He leapt back out of Killer Shrike�s punches and kicks, positioning his 
body carefully. Killer Shrike, cautious at the sudden change in tactics, 
didn�t pursue.

Daredevil began taunting. �Hey, Pesky Pigeon. I figured out your 
weakness, and here�s where I take you out with it.�

�I ain�t got no weakness!� Killer Shrike shouted, but sounded slightly 
unsure of himself.
Rather than drawing closer, Killer Shrike aimed and touched his 
gauntlets together, unleashing a maximum powered electrical discharge.

Daredevil leapt out of the way and allowed the blast to hit Manticore in 
the rear half of his huge body.

Manticore cried out in panic rather than pain, �No, you idiot. You�re 
overloading me!�

Too late, there was an explosion that literally blew him in half. From 
the rear section could be seen nothing more than a set of complex 
circuitry and armor. From the upper half was a good bit of circuitry, as 
well as some reinforced armored section that remained intact, though 
horrible scorched.

The Hulk reached down and pulled the claws that had been racking him 
away from his body. He looked into Manticore�s face, his breath heavy.

Manticore trembled. �Look, I�m a paraplegic.� He indicated his upper 
half, which was too small for a man of normal dimensions to fit in. You 
wouldn�t hurt a handicapped man, would you?�

�No, Hulk would not hurt little man with no legs.�

�Thank god,� Manticore sighed.

�Hulk would use little man with no legs as ball, though.� And promptly 
threw him as hard as he could at the Griffen.

The upper torso of Manticore was on target as he struck fully into the 
Griffen�s back, making the villain unleash a bestial bellow of pain 
(while Manticore was rendered unconscious). Reflexively the Griffen drew 
back, freeing Thor�s hands. The Goddess of Thunder unleashed a full 
force punch right to the creature�s snout, sending him into the side of 
the ship. He was hurled with such force that he bounced off the side of 
the ship and to the dock.

As Thor recovered her hammer, the Griffen began to rise, blinking his 
eyes free of their befuddlement.

�Zounds,� Thor proclaimed. �Thou art truly a powerful beast to withstand 
my full godly might. But this fight must come to an end.� Thor tapped 
the pommel of her hammer on the dock. In response a lightning bolt of 
unearthly size (and origin) struck the Griffen squarely. The beast�s 
mane stood on end and he bellowed out in pain once more before falling 
to the dock, unconscious.

Surveying the sudden turn of events with fear, Killer Shrike swore at 
Daredevil as he turned to fly away. �You might have tricked me, 
Hornhead. But I promise you I�ll be��

A repulsor beam hit Killer Shrike in the back, sending him limply to the 
ground.

�Defeated?� Daredevil offered as he nudged the unmoving figure.

Iron Rose hovered in the air. �My apologies. Not only did that bizarre 
glowing man strike me with impressive force, but he sent some sort of 
bio-electricity into my armor, causing a momentary glitch. When I hit 
the water, my eye and mouth slits failed to lock into place, causing my 
armor to be flooded. It took a few seconds for me to reboot the system 
and cough up my lungs from the water I swallowed.�

�Bio-electricity?� Hawkeye pondered that information while watching 
Giant Man take one to the chin from Willow the Wisp. The glowing man�s 
strength was enough to knock the huge hero down to his knees. A couple 
of stings from the Wasp dissolved Willow the Wisp�s arm and leg, but 
they quickly reformed. Iron Rose sent a repulsor blast through him, 
producing the same result.

�I told you I hate having to reform myself!� the blond shouted.

�Then you�re really going to hate this,� Hawkeye promised as the archer 
shot an arrow right at the flying man�s chest.

Willow the Wisp looked down as the arrow went through him, causing the 
white symbol in the center to disperse into a cloud. �Fool, that won�t 
do anything to me, other than making you the first to die!�

Willow the Wisp aimed his hand at Hawkeye, then noticed that though the 
arrow had passed clean through him, there was a wire of some kind 
attached to it, remaining in his center. He turned to see the arrow 
arcing toward the water. Looking closer at Hawkeye, he saw the other end 
of the cable in the archer�s hand, and the direction the Avenger seemed 
inclined to throw it in: the ocean nearby.

�No!� Willow the Wisp cried out as both ends of the cable hit the water 
at the same time. His bio-electrical form grounded out, following the 
length of the wire into the ocean and dissipating into it.

Tigra found she had her furry hands full of rabid man dog. While she had 
the edge in agility, Warwolf was stronger. She might be landing three 
blows to his one, but the one he landed took as much a toll on her as 
the three on him. Even exchanging claw slashes didn�t work; he was so 
enraged he ignored his bleeding wounds. He was more like a rabid dog 
than anything else.

Maybe the comparison was more apt than she realized. Tigra reevaluated 
her foe�s state Warwolf had definitely become far more vicious as the 
fight progressed, no longer talking, just growling and attacking. That 
was odd since at the start of the fight she had him pegged as someone 
that lived for bragging about his might, real or imagined. Looking into 
his eyes, she saw there was no longer a hint of human intelligence in 
them; he had gone completely feral. Actually, his entire body appeared 
more canine than before, as though he was mutating before her eyes.

Some of his earlier remarks made Tigra consider a different strategy, 
one that would never have worked had he still possessed a lick of 
intelligence. She leapt a short distance away, then gave her back to him.

Warwolf continued growling until Tigra dropped to all fours, her body no 
longer giving off a sign of a desire to fight, but to engage in a 
different behavior. It made Warwolf pull up short, his anger abating.

Tigra looked over her shoulder and purred seductively at him. Then she 
wiggled her bottom invitingly.

That was all it took for Warwolf to go from rabid to amorous in the 
blink of an eye. He howled and ran for the girl.

A moment before he would have arrived, Tigra lashed out with her leg. 
Not having anything even remotely like a guard up, the kick caught 
Warwolf full in the chest, doubling him over. Tigra rose up and gave a 
two fisted blow to the back of his skull, knocking him out.

�Silly doggie, Tigra have too, too high standard than to want a 
Chihuahua when she can have Great Dane.� She watched Captain Japan and 
how his fight was progressing.

Captain Japan felt more frustrated than ever as Tarantula kept up the 
offence. The only thing the hero could bring himself to do was use his 
shield to block the attacks.

�It saddens me that I must do battle with my role-model, but what must 
be must be.� Tarantula lashed out with another kick.

Captain Japan suddenly realized something about Tarantula�s attacks. No 
longer was he trying to impale the hero. Rather, he was just slashing, 
and not at any vital areas. Maybe the guy wasn�t evil. If only he could 
understand what he was saying.

And then it happened. So wrapped up in trying to understand what was 
being said, and concentrating on the foot attacks, Tarantula feinted 
with a foot, then lashed out with a fist. It caught Captain Japan 
squarely on the jaw. It was followed up by an elbow to the head, and a 
punch to the gut. Last in the combination was a spike to the face.

Captain Japan blocked the foot, the stinger at the end no more than a 
centimeter away from his cheek. The hero looked at it, and thought he 
noticed an odd sheen coating it, as though it had been dipped in something.

Poison! Of course. How could he have been so stupid? That was why 
Tarantula was only trying to scratch him: that would be all it took to 
finish him off. Besides, real super-heroes didn�t use objects to stab 
people. An energy blade, sure, but not metal spikes and poison.

Ignoring the Tarantula�s gushing, Captain Japan remained defensive, but 
thought of a plan. The guy he was fighting was fast, in good shape, but 
most of his attacks were centered on using his foot spikes. Captain 
Japan came up with what he thought was a decent strategy and put it into 
effect.

He deliberately left an opening for a fist. Tarantula couldn�t pass up 
the opportunity and punched him again. Captain Japan rolled with the 
blow, but made it appear he was stunned senseless as he dropped to the 
ground.

�Time to end the fight, Senor Captain.� Tarantula brought one of his 
feet up and down, intent on using the spike on the hero�s stomach.

Captain Japan rolled out of the way at the last second, allowing 
Tarantula to bury his stinger in the ground. Instantly the hero brought 
his shield at the point where spike met boot. He sheared it off without 
touching the foot.

�One spike is all I need!� Tarantula tried kicking Captain Japan while 
the hero was on his knees, but the Avenger grabbed the ankle and went 
for the boot. Tarantula kicked Captain Japan in the head with his 
�stingerless� foot, freeing himself, but ripping the footgear from his 
leg in the process.

�I will not be defeated!� Tarantula tried to wrap his hands around 
Captain Japan�s throat, but the hero was no longer holding back. A 
tremendous three punch and kick combination laid Tarantula out on his back.

The villain gasped, �No. I cannot be defeated by the likes of you. I 
have plans. The president has lied to the people, making promises he 
cannot possibly live up to. When the people realize he cannot give them 
their promised Utopia, or he will use force to keep his power, or have 
to give it up to the next person who will lie to them. I will seize 
power and be honest about it. I promise to kill anyone that will oppose 
my will! That is why I went to Brand and let them give me power! I will 
rule over all!�

Captain Japan watched as the body beneath Tarantula�s body suit began to 
wiggle, as though something were trying to get out. Suddenly four 
spidery, segmented arms tore free of the outfit. Tarantula�s eyes became 
compound, and his mouth changed to a set of pincers. His bandanna mask 
pulled free as his head became an exact, if large, version of his namesake.

Just as the hideous, transformed human was about to lunge for Captain 
Japan, a giant foot slammed down on top of the villain, knocking him out.

A fifty-foot Giant Man looked down at the group, who were staring up at 
him. �What? I thought bugs were supposed to be stepped on.�

�You know it�s one odd day when even Giant Man makes a funny,� Daredevil 
said as he began passing out sets of chains to contain the villains.

Before Captain Japan could reply, Tigra sidled up to him, rubbing her 
body against his. �Captain did too, too good job in beating his silly foe.�

�Away from him, harlot!� Thor shouted, storming over like her namesake 
to Captain Japan�s side.

In response, Tigra ran a finger across Captain Japan�s chest. �Silly 
Swede should mind own business and tie up lion thing before it kick her 
butt again.�

Thor stood right next to the were-woman, hands on her hips in challenge. 
�I did see how low thou would stoop to defeating a foe, offering thy 
body like the basest whore to save thineself. Thou are even worse than 
the red-haired trollop who has made herself absent these last few weeks.�

�Hey, Bucky ain�t no trollop,� Captain Japan defended.

Tigra stuck her tongue out at the goddess. �Silly Swede just jealous 
because it not work for her if she try it.�

�Mine body is much better than thine!� She turned to Captain Japan. 
�Tell the furry wench who hath the best body.�

�Bucky has the best body,� Captain Japan said indignantly.

�She�s right,� Daredevil said, not so much because he agreed as it was 
jealousy at Captain Japan getting so much attention. A cat fight might 
shock the girls to their senses and realize he was an egomaniac unworthy 
of such attention.

Thor appeared ready to summon a storm that would drown the Eastern 
seaboard with a storm of the ages. Iron Rose loathed the fact her armor 
hid her svelte figure too well to be compared. Hawkeye quietly seethed 
at choosing to cross-dress since she was sure she had the best body. 
Wasp wondered if she wasn�t being considered since she was small most of 
the time. Tigra seemed unaffected, continuing to caress the object of 
her affection�s chest. Captain Japan became uncomfortable at the idea of 
Daredevil getting turned on by his cursed form. Giant Man only wanted to 
go home and rub ointment on the burns Willow the Wisp had inflicted on him.

The Hulk made his presence known by interjecting, �Everyone is wrong. 
Hulk has best body. See?� he flexed his huge muscles for everyone�s benefit.

A Hulk posedown killed the argument more effectively than if the 
Mandarin and Man Beast had suddenly attacked.

As the heroes secured the villains and the crew of the ship, Captain 
Japan said to Iron Rose, �It looks like that tip you got from Jones was 
on the ball. Again.�

�Yes, Brand�s new owner seems far too interested in creating SPBs for my 
taste, especially ruthless ones like these,� Iron Rose said.

�And I repeat, I don�t like the idea of doing Roxxon�s dirty work,� 
Daredevil snarled.

�They aren�t acting on any corrupt or illegal impulses,� Iron Rose 
assured him. �This is revenge on Jones� part for being outmaneuvered by 
someone who used illegal tactics in taking control of the company he 
sought. It just so happens that Roxxon�s goals coincides with ours in 
keeping these evil villains from being smuggled into our country to 
wreak untold havoc, like the Serpent Society tried to do.�

The Hulk added his opinion. �Hulk still doesn�t like snakes.�

Ignoring the Hulk�s commentary, Hawkeye said, �Besides, shutting down 
Brand might be a good idea. I�m not so sure these guys that mutated knew 
that was going to happen to them.�

�They need to be turned over to the authorities so the damage can be 
undone to them,� Giant Man agreed.

�We�re making this too complicated,� Wasp said as she flew around her 
teammates, asserting her presence despite her diminutive size. �These 
are bad guys, and it�s our job to stop them.�

�Smashing bad guys is good,� Hulk said, walking over to Tigra and 
started petting her long mane of hair.

�True,� Thor said, a brief instance of not having an excuse to turn into 
her godly form, of being trapped as a cripple, sending a chill down her 
spine.

�It�s not that I�m arguing with the results,� Daredevil insisted. �And I 
do want to see Brand pay for their obviously illegal deeds. What I�m 
saying is we�re making a deal with the devil in dancing to Jones� tune.�

�He hasn�t manipulated us into anything.� Iron Rose said a touch 
vehemently. It wasn�t that Daredevil was hitting to close to home, she 
assured herself. While it was true Jones was supplying her with valuable 
information on whoever was buying up stock in her company, that was not 
why she acted on the information he gave her. Had she discovered Brand 
trying to do these things, she would have insisted they be stopped 
anyway. Where was the harm in profiting while doing the right thing? 
There was none.

There was a two front battle going on, and the rest of the Avengers were 
only aware of half of it. After all, if anything untoward happened to 
Kunou Industries, who would finance the Avengers, giving them equipment 
and even salaries? Their effectiveness would be reduced by half, if not 
three-quarters. No, this was good for everyone. Though Daredevil might 
have a point in keeping a close eye on Jones. She didn�t really trust 
him very far. Only as long as their goals coincided. But as long as they 
did, she would milk the connection for everything she could.

It was just business, after all, and she was a businesswoman with 
responsibilities beyond that of the Avengers. That was the way of 
things, and that was that.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxx

The next day found Ranma yawning as he made his way downstairs to the 
kitchen. Superheroing had been hard work, and at times made him wonder 
if leading a dual life was really worth it, but one look at a map of 
where Mexico City had been squashed that line of thinking. Like his 
father had said, it was a dirty, strenuous job, but it needed doing, and 
Ranma Saotome was the right guy to do it.

Still, he would be relieved once he graduated high school. Things would 
be easier after that. Technically being an Avenger was a job, and he 
drew a nice salary from it. Not that he was doing it for the money, just 
that it was good to know he wouldn�t have to find a job that would allow 
him to save the world when the need arose. At least he had today off 
from school, though his father had informed him they would be going out 
training later. Being both superhero and martial artist had to be 
balanced along with his grades. At least the first two complemented one 
another.

As Ranma passed by the bathroom, he saw the occupied sign hanging on it. 
Damn women. Sometimes it seemed like they rotated on a schedule so that 
at any given time one of them was in there. Not wanting to stand around 
and wait, and that he was feeling hungry, he decided to hit the kitchen 
and see if he could nab some food from Kasumi before breakfast 
officially started.

Ranma entered to see Kasumi cooking away. Looking closely at her, he 
noticed dark rings under her eyes. Now that he thought about, she had 
taken some sort of job with Kunou Industries, and was dividing her time 
between home and work. Ranma did not envy her. The life of a 
salaryperson had to be the pits. Still, someone of Kasumi�s placid 
disposition was probably suited for Cubicle Hell. Ranma would throw 
himself into an active volcano before allowing himself to be chained to 
such a place.

�Got anything I can grab for a quick bite?� Ranma asked.

Kasumi turned to see Ranma. He had startled her. She had needed to focus 
on the cooking since she was still tired from last night, and a bit 
vexed that she hadn�t knocked out any of the bad guys herself. She 
didn�t want the others to think she wasn�t pulling her own weight. Well, 
at Wasp size, her weight was basically non-existent, but she knew what 
she meant.

Ranma moved next to her, and Kasumi felt her heart beat a little faster. 
She had to look up to peer into his eyes, and she was on the tall side 
for her age. And his chest, why, it was nearly as massive as Captain 
Japan�s. Ranma was certainly built very maturely for his age, and 
handsome. He really wasn�t the bad sort, but she still had no interest 
in marrying him. She hoped he showed an interest in one of her sisters 
soon to deflect her father�s constant attempts in trying to fix her up 
with him.

Really! Where did her father get off implying she was getting too old to 
marry? She was extremely young, and had plenty of time to settle down 
and raise a family. If anything, settling down was the last thing in the 
world she wanted since she had discovered how exciting living a little 
was. Lately she was finding it a strain to force herself to keep hearth 
and home for her family. It wouldn�t hurt them to help out a little, 
especially now since she had a job that was so much more fun than 
cooking. The most exciting thing cleaning entailed was attacking dust 
bunnies. Yuck!

�Tell me, Ranma, you wouldn�t want to have to clean and cook all day, 
would you?� Kasumi suddenly asked.

Ranma was taken aback by the question. �Heck no. I�d go nuts if I had to 
do it.�

�Good.� Then she was normal in her desires. Kasumi felt reassured if she 
mentioned it to her father. She had some defense against a contention 
that there was something wrong with her for losing interest in what she 
had been doing for the last couple of years.

As Kasumi looked at Ranma, an errant thought occurred to her, one that 
she had put off for a while. Over the last week, she had wondered how to 
approach him about the matter. Now it seemed was a good time to broach 
the subject. �Ranma, do you know a Ryouga Hibiki? He�d be from your time 
in jr. high�

�That name sounds familiar.� Ranma scratched his head as he searched his 
memories. After a full minute, he snapped his fingers. �Yeah, I remember 
him. Strong guy. Bad direction sense. Couldn�t find his way out of a 
paper bag. We were friends until I learned he went around bullying 
people behind my back. He�d cook up these unbelievable stories to deny 
it and try to paint himself the victim, but I could see through him.�

�Actually, I don�t think they were stories.� Kasumi explained what 
Ryouga had told her, deleting minor details, like the whole superhero 
thing. And that Ryouga turned into the Hulk, of course. It took 
surprisingly little reworking of the story.

Ranma had the decency to appear embarrassed. But then he recovered and 
took the offensive. �He might be lying.�

�I highly doubt Ryouga would follow you for years to make a ridiculous 
lie seem believable.�

�Well, Ryouga might.�

�Ranma,� Kasumi reproached.

Ranma held his hands up in surrender. �Okay. I was wrong� probably. But 
can you blame me? Who would know there really was an invisible girl. 
Before, you know, the Fantastic Four went public.�

Sensing the convincing stage of the matter settled, Kasumi moved on to 
the second, and most important, part of the discussion. �In any case, 
you owe Ryouga an apology.�

Now Ranma looked like a petulant child. But he couldn�t seem to bring 
himself to argue with Kasumi. �Yeah, I guess,� he muttered.

�Good. Now I know he�s still looking for you, but with his poor 
direction sense, there�s no telling when he might run into you. But when 
he does show up, you have to absolutely promise me you won�t fight him.�

Ranma became defensive. �It ain�t like I go out of my way to pick 
fights, and I remember him well enough to recall he doesn�t exactly have 
the best temper.�

�Promise me, Ranma. It�s very important to me.� Because she didn�t want 
Ranma dead. She recalled the Hulk flying off into periodic rages and the 
ensuing results, which was why she was eliciting the same promise from 
Ranma she had cajoled from Ryouga. If Ryouga �Hulked out� on Ranma, it 
would be curtains for the youth, and she didn�t want the fianc� issue 
dropped for a little reason like Ranma being smashed into a puddle of 
goo. Under no circumstances could Ranma be allowed to fight Ryouga. 
Since Ryouga seemed to be a man of his word, like Ranma, she was fairly 
certain the matter could be resolved without bloodshed.

Seeing she wouldn�t budge, Ranma snapped a �Fine. I promise.�

Kasumi�s mood brightened instantly. �Now in appreciation, I�ll cook your 
favorite dinner tonight.�

Soun and Genma suddenly burst into the room, nearly stumbling over one 
another as they moved next to Ranma and Kasumi.

Tears welled in Soun�s eyes. �Oh, Daughter, how wonderful. Not only are 
you guiding Ranma with your greater experience, but you�re cooking a 
special dish for him.�

Genma added, �And his favorite is matsuzaka beef teriyaki.�

�It is not! That�s your favorite dish!� Ranma snapped.

�Father, that�s not it at all,� Kasumi sighed, repressing a naughty urge 
to sting both men for their efforts to complicate her life.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

�I swear to god, Pop, if you say one more word about how me and Kasumi 
go together like chocolate and peanut butter, I�m going see which breaks 
first: my shield or your head.� He waved the newspaper-covered shield in 
front of the older man.

Genma scoffed. �Boy, all I�m saying is you can do worse than a girl that 
can cook and keep house. Martial artists don�t have time for that sort 
of thing, so it�s up to their wives to do it for them. It�s one of the 
reasons I married your mother.�

�Really? It seems to me she still has plenty of time to form a group 
that wants the head of her son, and his �whore� partner, on a silver 
platter.�

�Er, yes. She has been engaging in activities outside the home, 
evidently,� Genma admitted. �In any case, we�ll have a good training 
session today. I�m going to teach you moves a super-villain can only 
dream about. In combination with the ultimate defense in your shield, 
you�ll unequivocally be voted as the most prestigious hero in all of 
Japan, if not the entire world.�

�I think you might want to keep the proclamations of my becoming the 
next emperor down.� Ranma held a finger to his lips.

�Oh, yes, that shadow we picked up when we left the home,� Genma said. 
�I was hoping she�d have lost us by now, but it appears Nabiki is not 
one to leave her curiosity unsatisfied. It is good to know she�s skilled 
enough to keep up while remaining stealthy. You could do worse than 
marrying her.�

�A second ago you were trying to foist me off on Kasumi!� Ranma snapped.

�All I�m saying is you could do worse than a wife that can spar with you 
on almost even terms.�

Ranma suppressed the urge to start beating on Genma. He could wait until 
they started training to do it. He�d beat on the old fart enough to turn 
the Hulk black and blue.

�In any case, we�re going to have to ditch her before we can train, 
since I want you to incorporate your shield with the techniques.� Genma 
held his hand to his chin in thought. �Ah, I have it. You keep heading 
to the rendezvous point. I�ll distract her and make her lose your trail, 
then join you later when I�ve given her the slip.�

�How are you going to keep her from following you?�

�I�ll ask her if she wants to join me.�

Xxxxxxxxx

Nabiki clung to corners and alleyways as best as she could, trailing the 
Saotomes. She didn�t think they were on to her yet. One of the earliest 
skills she had cultivated when she was forced to learn martial arts was 
stealth. She actually liked that one, as it enabled her to eavesdrop on 
all sorts of conversations. Information was money, after all, and a far 
more effective tool than muscle, as far as she was concerned. Getting 
someone to do something for you with a few select words was much easier 
than doing it yourself.

And Nabiki wanted information from Ranma. For far too long she had put 
off figuring out what was up with Ranma�s �Lucky Hubcap� that he toted 
around off and on, keeping it hidden from her. His secrecy made her want 
to discover the truth all the more. Yes, she had found an actual hubcap 
when she looked under the paper it was wrapped in, but it couldn�t be 
that simple. There was something else tucked away somewhere that was the 
truth behind the mystery, and she was going to find it today.

A problem suddenly cropped up as the pair came to a fork in the road. 
Genma went one way while Ranma went in the other. She thought they had 
intended to train together. Now what was going on?

Nabiki had to make a choice fast. Ranma was the one with the actual 
hubcap, so she�d stick with him. She took one last look at Genma, then 
left. She took the precaution of keeping a close eye behind her, in case 
she had been discovered and Genma was planning to take her from the rear.

Nabiki followed Ranma for three blocks, and believed he was starting to 
suspect her presence, when she suddenly found her way blocked by a 
massive mountain of black and white fur.

�What the hell?� Nabiki said, stunned at the sudden appearance of a 
panda right in her path.

The animal held up a sign. *Long time, no see.*

Oh, right, the panda from the night the freaky mask gang had attacked 
her. �Out of the way.� She tried to walk around him.

The panda moved his bulk between her and her prey, who had already left 
her field of vision. *I was wondering if you�d like to become a 
super-hero. Perhaps a partner to that man among men, that hero among 
heroes: Captain Japan?*

Nabiki recoiled. �I�d sooner dump boiling grease on myself than put on 
some dumb costume and go looking for trouble.�

*Become a super-hero and that might very well happen to you.*

�Forget it!� Nabiki snapped, truly angry. The stupid panda had blown her 
cover and Ranma had eluded her. Knowing he was tipped off, he�d be on 
his guard. Best to cut her loses and give Bucky�s �animal sidekick� the 
slip.

Still, there would be other days to discover the truth to Ranma. Nabiki 
Tendou could be patient when it mattered.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dr. Tofu took another hit from the bottle he had tucked in his desk, 
feeling morose as he scratched at the burns he suffered from last night. 
Actually, the ointment he had applied had healed them, and it was 
probably only phantom pain, but it was almost as though he wanted to 
feel them. Yet another reason to give up the stupid costume and go back 
to the normal life of a doctor.

But he couldn�t. Kasumi was totally wrapped up in her role as Wasp. She 
was almost like a different person when she shrunk down to insect size, 
one he didn�t like. Wasp was flirtatious, violent, and far too flighty. 
Kasumi was not that way. She was really quiet, reliable, beautiful, and 
did not come on to anyone. She was normal. Maybe she had some sort of 
latent multiple personality disorder that had been triggered by her 
transformation.

Tofu took another swig, savoring the sensation of warmth as it moved 
through his gut to rest in his stomach. Oh how he wished he had never 
met Hank Pym, or built his machine. Tofu had enough sense to dismantle 
it, unwilling to experiment with it further. It had sown too much chaos 
into his life already, and that outweighed any potential gains the Pym 
Particles might create.

There was movement outside in the reception area. That was Akane, who 
had been kind enough to come in on her day off to help him inventory 
things. She was such a sweet girl, like Kasumi used to be. Maybe he�d 
tell Kasumi to start taking lessons from her sister on what it meant to 
be normal.

Yes, that was it. The next time he met Kasumi, he�d put his foot down 
and demand she stop this nonsense and go back to being the sweet, normal 
girl who did not shrink and shoot people whenever the opportunity 
presented itself. And then he could burn his own ridiculous costume and 
put this horrid experience behind them.

Tofu was slouching in his seat, fantasizing what it would be like to 
have Kasumi cook for him at his home while he worked on genuinely 
helping people in a positive way as a doctor, when he heard Kasumi�s 
voice drift through the door. She was here? Great! Now he could tell her 
the way things would be and then propose to her so she�d say yes and 
they could get married right now.

Tofu stormed up to the door and threw it open. Indeed, there was Kasumi, 
standing in the middle of the room, Akane next to her. Tofu straightened 
his brown gi so he could look his best as he laid down the law.

Kasumi waved pleasantly, oblivious to any irregularity to the doctor�s 
behavior. �Hello, Dr. Tofu.�

�Well, well, well, if it isn�t the �winsome� one herself,� Tofu said 
with a touch of surliness. He walked toward Kasumi, intent on giving her 
a piece of his mind.

As Tofu drew closer, the haze provided by the alcohol disappeared as a 
far thicker fog covered his senses and colored his perception. There was 
Kasumi, at normal size, in a normal dress, standing in all her divine 
glory. He had forgotten what he was going to say. Forgotten everything 
as he entered a love-induced delirium.

Glasses fogged, Tofu walked over to Kasumi, smiling blissfully. �It�s so 
nice to see you again, Kasumi. I hoped you had a nice flight and didn�t 
encounter any super-villains.�

�No, I didn�t, Dr. Tofu,� Kasumi said.

�You�re holding Betty-chan�s hand, Dr. Tofu,� Akane said in a tired voice.

Tofu examined the hand in his grasp. �I see you have metacarpal 
syndrome, Kasumi. Let�s take you in back and see if I can�t do something 
for your condition.� He escorted the skeleton back to the room.

�Dr. Tofu�s so silly,� Kasumi said.

Akane pouted. But there was one thing that had happened that gave her 
more hope than she had had in ages. Dr. Tofu had not gone goofy the 
instant he laid eyes on Kasumi. In fact, for the briefest of moments, he 
had almost sounded irritated with her. That could only mean one thing: 
he was starting to realize Kasumi was all wrong for him.

A smile crossed Akane�s face as she envisioned what life would be like 
with herself and Dr. Tofu as the ultimate team as doctor and faithful 
nurse, as well as husband and faithful wife.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And then there was light.

It happened in a bright, blinding flash. They remembered a blinding 
flash once before. One that consumed them, and then there was nothing 
but darkness. Luckily, their thoughts had also been as shut down, just 
like their optical nerves had been, keeping them from going mad during 
their time in purgatory. But not preventing them from being angry at 
their imprisonment.

The brightness of the light toned down. Pupils went from narrow, 
vertical slits to something wider. They were in a room, high tech in 
nature, judging by the huge number of computers lining it. They stood on 
a platform in the center of the room, and it was obvious that all the 
machines served the platform in some way.

There were ninety of them on the glowing platform, a glow that was 
slowly dwindling away. Phantom Cats all of various shapes and sizes. 
Both genders were represented in equal amount.

Looking around the room, the Phantom Cats saw a number of dead humans 
strewn about. A dozen in all, dressed in the same uniform, indicating 
their membership in Hound. They all had vicious, fatal claw wounds all 
over their bodies, and in some cases their throats were ripped out.

Standing among the bodies was a woman, dressed in a uniform that 
proclaimed her an agent of SHIELD. She was attractive, in her 
late-twenties with jet black hair that traveled halfway down her back. 
The way she stood among the carnage was as casual, as if she were 
standing in a field of flowers.

One of the Phantom Cats with tawny fur stepped forward. The rest of them 
deferred to him, instincts to their pride�s order automatically kicking 
in. He approached the human woman, claws flexing, as though he were 
preparing to use them.

If the woman was afraid, she showed no sign. �Greetings, Cougar, and 
welcome back to the land of reality rather than virtual hell you were 
consigned to.�

Cougar walked up to her until she was within reach of his claws. �Who 
are you?�

The woman was nonchalant at Cougar�s close proximity. She shifted forms 
as black hair sprouted from her face and body. Her hands became 
fur-covered paws, and her features took on a feline cast. �My name is 
Raven. I used my status as a SHIELD agent to discover your location and 
free you. Luckily, Hound never expected infiltration from an outside 
source from an agency like SHIELD. With the disarray my organization has 
been thrown into since the UN takeover, it was easy for me to make it 
seem as though the higher ups wanted an inspection of the Hound 
containment facility to make certain the Geneva accords were not being 
violated.�

�We�re covered under the Geneva convention?� Cougar asked.

�Of course not, which was Hound�s point of contention. In order to 
smooth the waters, they allowed me to inspect the facility. I inspected 
it very thoroughly.� She waved a hand about the room.

Cougar admired her handiwork. �Well, since I know damn well Black Cat 
didn�t order you to free us, I have to wonder exactly why it is you 
decided to place yourself at risk and forego your infiltrator status?�

Raven�s eyes narrowed slightly. �Events have transpired since your 
confinement. Although I am not privy to it, I know that Black Cat has 
put a plan into motion which he believes will bring the humans to their 
knees. But that has become secondary to something else that has 
occurred. After centuries of waiting, the Tigra has returned.�

Every Phantom Cat in the room gasped. Even Cougar was dumbfounded by the 
information.

�You are certain?� he asked, trembling.

�Yes. She proclaimed her return on nationwide television under the guise 
of a superhero, a member of the Avengers.�

Cougar�s eyes took in a calculating gleam. �With the return of the 
Tigra, the position of Balkatar is more important than ever. The right 
cat is needed for the job, lest we lose this once in a millennium 
opportunity.� He turned to his fellow Phantom Cats. �The prophecies are 
specific. This is our time, brothers and sisters, friends and even 
rivals. Our glorious future, one that past generations have only dreamed 
of, has fallen into our hands. The legend can at long last become a 
reality, and with the return of the Tigra, we can finally reunite with 
our pride, trapped for centuries from their rightful home. And if our 
current Balkatar is found wanting in any way, I promise you I will 
personally take the title and usher in a new era of prosperity the likes 
of which our race has never seen.�

The Phantom Cats cheered at the top of their lungs in almost religious 
fervor, then ran out of the room, destiny on their minds.

Xxxxxxxxxxxx

Hundreds of televisions and computer screens lined the walls of the 
colossal chamber. Two beings waited in the massive room. One sat in a 
chair that was more akin to a throne, dead center in the web of 
technology surrounding her. She dominated the very air in a way only the 
greatest could: an empress in an electronic kingdom.

And next to her, a man that was servitude personified, almost painfully 
handsome, with curly blond locks that fell to his shoulders. His 
features were European, and he waited with stoic calm next to the seated 
woman.

At the moment, all of the television screens showed the Avengers engaged 
in various acts. Some depicted four of them taking on a saucer-shaped 
vehicle, destroying it. Others held images of the Serpent Squad falling 
like wheat before the scythe. Yet others portrayed the defeat of the 
variety of figures that Brand Corporation had tried to infiltrate into 
the country.

�I grow tired of these meddlesome interlopers, Ozymandias,� the woman 
said, the image of Poison One being torn to pieces reflected in her eyes.

�And what would you like done with them, Mistress?� the man asked.

�I would have them know pain that would make even the gods tremble. 
Suffering that a million people combined could not match. An agony so 
severe that they would go insane, then, in seeking to flee from it, be 
driven back to sanity.

�But I�ll settle for them dying.�

�Shall I take care of it personally?� Ozymandias offered. �With my 
abilities, I should be able to kill them. I can handle eight templates 
and still have room to spare.�

The woman shook her head. �No, you are unique and irreplaceable. While I 
am confident you could slay them, it would be foolish to risk a bishop 
when a pawn can be used. Or two, in this case.�

�You have someone in mind?� Ozymandias asked.

The woman punched a button in the control unit built into the arm of her 
throne. The screens in the room changed, flashing the images of two 
women. The older of the two, who might be just out of her teens, was 
dressed in a good bit of leather. She used a different weapon in each 
screen, all of them to deadly effect. From the looks of things she had 
killed dozens of men on a variety of occasions. The other was a child, 
barely out of her teens. She was cute, in a childlike manner. A number 
of fires wracked most of the scenes she was shown in, as though 
explosions had recently occurred.

The woman spoke. �They come highly recommended. A business associate of 
mine, Wilson Fisk, mentioned them when I related my woes to him. They 
are the best hit team in Chicago, and possibly the whole United States. 
Originally, they were a pair of bounty hunters that fell into the 
clutches of a bitch, lesbian, Mafia princess by the name of Goldie. She 
used the hypnotic narcotic, Kerosene, to enslave them to her. She used 
one as her personal hit-woman and sex toy, while the other, deemed 
useless, was used in some sort of experiment altering DNA. It turned her 
into an SPB. Unfortunately for Goldie, the pair eventually received a 
bad batch of Kerosene that turned them psychotic and uncontrollable, 
even with further exposure to normal Kerosene. They killed Goldie and 
everyone in her organization. Fisk managed to avert an outright war 
between them and the other families, convincing the pair to let bygones 
be bygones and advised them to become independent pros. They�ve racked 
up a high number of kills over time, including a handful of SPBs.

�The tall, darker-skinned one is Rally �Bullseye� Vincent, who�s reputed 
to never miss, no matter what weapons she uses. Her partner, the small 
blonde that looks like a child, is Minnie-May Hopkins, aka Nitro, the 
Exploding Girl.

�Collectively they�re known as the Gunsmith Cats, and they are going to 
assassinate the Avengers.�

Xxxxxxxxxxxx

[End chapter]

Mad Dog was indeed used by Hojo from Inu Yasha in Avenging�s sister 
title: Defending. Buzz �Mad Dog� Baxter�s wife is indeed Patsy Walker.

DB Sommer: Member of the Fanfiction Mailing List since �97. Come on and 
join the fun for some good C+C and stories. Just send an email to
ffml-request@anifics.com
with �subscribe ffml� in subject line and you�re in.



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