Paragon the Ultimate Man pondered his fate as his dynamite-lined cement coffin sank to the bottom of the ocean. Through his earphones he could still hear PPP, the Ultimate Salesman, rambling on. When he thought he could take it no more, they finally switched to the show’s sponsors.
“New, from Nike! You’ve got The Pump? Sorry, folks. That’s yesterday’s fashion. Don’t be caught dead in school without the new Nike Pump Action! Supreme Court approved. Offer void where prohibited by state law.”
Paragon flipped the lock on the cement barrel, opened it, and swam back to the surface. The Ultimate Salesman was gone (fortunately, his was a bit part), and Dr. Malevo was drinking a cup of coffee and arguing about his motivation in the next scene. Paragon dripped murky Los Angeles water onto some scripts that the writer was tossing about.
“Thank God,” he said to the director, “I thought you were never going to end that. So how the hell are the writers going to get me out of that one?”
“They’re not. You’re fired. Don’t let the door hit you in the… well, you know how it goes.”
“You can’t fire me! How can you fire me? Why? There’s been no indication that you were going to fire me. Who the hell’s writing this story?”
“Not me, that’s for sure,” said Poet, selecting the text of the last chapter and trashing it—for the fifth time in the last hour.
“Are you sure you want to delete the selected text?” the computer asked.
Poet slapped the computer up the side of the monitor and yelled obscenities.
“Delete this you sorry excuse for a PET!”
“Poet, dear?” mumbled Rosie, from their bedroom, “We haven’t got a pet. When are you coming to bed?”
Poet let his head fall onto the keyboard in frustration.
“Jesus, Mercedes,” he mumbled, “what is your mind on now?”
Obviously not the story, thought Dr. Mercedes Silver, as she looked over at Tito, the Ultimate Kid, lying asleep in her hotel bed, his mouth half open, and the cutest drool hanging out. Last night that had been the inspiration for Tito’s brain damage. This night Tito’s strong young body was a more than literary inspiration.
Keep your mind on your work, girl, she thought. Gotta have this done tomorrow or “the villain Franke” will have my ass.
She tore the current page out of her rented electric typewriter, and tossed it page onto the hotel room floor, where it blended in quite well with the mess, starting a conversation with the leftover pizza beneath Tito’s socks. Bottles were strewn across the room, and there were bullet holes in the door. She’d had an argument with a wild turkey the night before, and the turkey had won.
The radio announcer was stammering about a tank in downtown San Diego. She put a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and started over.
“What a curious feeling!” thought Matt, “I must be shutting up like a telescope.” And so it was indeed: he was now only ten inches long, and his face brightened up at the thought that he was now the right size for going through the little… he stopped thinking about that and looked up at the waitress. It must have been like this for Paragon when he hid from the falling building, he thought.
“You don’t have to pay,” the waitress said.
Matt was gratified, and began to tell her of his plans for the Ultimate Storyline, but as he was (as it so happened) a ten inch long newt, all he did was hiss.
With one eye (because that’s how newts see), he saw Poet disappear.
“I love this,” said Poet before he disappeared. Poet disappeared all at once.
The orange cat that rubbed against the waitress’s legs did not disappear all at once.
First, its right foreleg disappeared. A three-legged cat would have looked odd, but not nearly as odd as a cat with no legs at all. Its legs disappeared one by one, and then its tail, its body, and its head. Except for the smile. Matt was mesmerized by the grinning teeth left in the air, like something Giffen would have drawn five years ago.
Finally, the grin disappeared as well. Matt decided it was high time he made use of his position to look up the waitress’s skirt.
The cat returned with a wooden box labeled “tomatoes”, tossed Matt into it, and announced, “I’m marrying the lizard to London.”
He once more disappeared—except for the smile, which leered at the waitress, and one of the ears, which twitched in the air.
“Don’t you mean you’re carrying it to London?” the waitress asked.
“I mean what I say.”
“You can’t marry a lizard to a city.”
“You can’t, perhaps. But. Who are you?”
And the smile and ear disappeared as well.
At the bottom of the ocean, Dirk Darringer was a man without options for the future. Trapped inside a cement barrel at the bottom of the ocean. And nothing to keep him company except a load of high powered explosives and a madman with an interdimensional television show. When did my life get so strange? he thought. What happened to beating the shit out of guys dressed in tights with names like The Ultimate Menace or Master Webster, the Dictionary Fiend? Actually, that last one was one of Dr. Silver’s old enemies. Strange he should think about her now.
And I never did learn to teleport, he thought. Ah, well. I wonder what Mary Lu is up to right now?”
“Ok, kiddies,” he heard through the speakers embedded in the barrel. “The pushing of the missiles is dedicated to someone named Newt.”
Next time I’m voting Libertarian, he thought.
The barrel shook. Did one of the explosives go off early?
He felt the cement loosening. With a mighty burst of effort, he flexed his muscles, but since he didn’t have any, any more, it had no effect.
The barrel and the cement burst apart, letting the water rush in and choke him. A little girl’s hand pushed an oxygen mask onto his face, as two men dragged him from the wrecked barrel.
“Who… who are you?” he asked, as he spit salt water into the ocean.
“I’m Alice,” said the little girl. She wasn’t wearing an oxygen mask herself.
“Algernon Moncrieff,” said the snappily dressed young man who was also not wearing an oxygen mask. “And not particularly pleased to meet you, I’m afraid. Come. I’ve got an appointment with D’Artagnan at nine, and I simply will not miss it.”
“Not to mention that this barrel has an appointment with two missiles in approximately five seconds.” The remaining man, who, while not wearing an oxygen mask, was sucking on a large pipe, turned to Dirk. “Come.” He picked up an axe from the ocean floor and, holding his service revolver in front of him, walked away from the barrel.
“Alice? Algernon? Dr. John Watson?” said Dirk as he followed them away from the doomed barrel. “This can only mean one thing. I’ve been rescued by—”
“That’s right,” interrupted a woman’s voice from the woman floating above him. She was wearing an oxygen mask, as well as a diving suit. “You’ve been rescued by:”
“Dr. Mercedes Silver-ilver-ver-rr…”
She waited for the echo to die down.
“… and Her All-Ghost-ost-ost-st-t Literary-ary-ry-y-y Revue-ue-ue-ue.”
Behind them, two missiles slammed into the barrel and exploded. A dead fish slapped Dirk on the back of the head. Dr. Silver motioned to the pipe-smoking Watson.
“Dr. Watson, remove those microphones if you please. This radio jammer won’t last forever.”
Alice yanked the heart monitor from his chest as Dr. Watson crushed the microphones attached to Dirk’s neck.
“Do we get to go beat the shit out of Dr. Malevo now?”
“No time, Paragon. Malevo’s evil plan is already in play in San Diego, California. Dr. Malevo has teamed up with Baron von Frankelin—”
“Ace of Clones? The villain Franke?”
“My arch-enemy. While you’ve been—”
“So, our arch-enemies have teamed together. And now we must team up to defeat them. Just like old times.” Dirk punched at the water. “Wham! Bam! Socko!”
“Where did you find this loser?” Algernon whispered in Mercedes’ ear.
“He used to be Paragon, the Ultimate Man, the most powerful superhero in the world,” she whispered back. “He was also the most daft. All the rest of us heroes had to take turns teaming up with him, just to keep an eye on him.”
Algernon glanced surreptitiously down at Dirk, who was still fighting imaginary fish.
“Okay, here’s my plan,” Dirk said. “We’ll need to find a six-pack of beer first—”
Algernon whispered again to Mercedes, “You have my profound sympathies.”
“At least I got to keep my name once we graduated. Tito and Tina, they ended up having to call themselves The Ultimate Twins forever. That’s the part that drove Malevo insane.”
“I didn’t particularly think Malevo was insane, he was criminally boring.”
“—Then, we disguise ourselves as fish and sneak into—”
“Back when he graduated from med school, he was Paragon’s sidekick, The Ultimate Intern.”
“So, dear reckless Dr., what was your name in those halcyon days of ivy?”
“That was before you were public domain. I don’t think we have the time to—”
“Hey,” Dirk said, as he finished his remarkable plan, “remember when everyone called you The Ultimate Co-Ed? Those were the days.”
Algernon doubled over laughing.
“Mary Lu said you were happy to lose your powers.”
“She tried to kill me, you know. I had to hide between her legs when the roof caved in. Then the Ultimate Marble got broken…”
“Broke,” said Alice. It was very impolite of her to do so, especially since she was wrong.
“Whatever. When are we getting out of this water?”
“I believe,” said Watson, “we’re just about there. Who is this Mary Lu person? Is she part of the criminal plot as well?”
“No, she’s my ex-wife.”
“And she tried to kill you?”
“That’s the purpose of ex-wives, John,” said Algernon. “Ex-marriage is a very special state. If any of my ex-wives were to stop trying to kill me, I dare say I’d assume they wanted to re-marry.”
“This way,” said Dr. Silver, and she swam to the surface. Alice, Algernon, and Watson followed her, walking up the water. Dirk blinked.
“I never did get used to that. So I’ve been saved by the Ultimate Co-Ed. Heh.”
He swam up after her.
It was a flying saucer.
It was the flying saucer. The one he’d seen in his dream—it must have been a dream, that’s the only place he’d ever turned into a beaver before. Actually, that wasn’t quite true. He’d “turned into” quite a… but that was irrelevant to the matter at hand, he realized, and Dr. Mercedes Silver was yelling at him. She was now out of the diving suit and wearing her traditional brown suit and tie.
“We haven’t got all day. Do you want to come or not?”
She turned back to the inside of the saucer.
“Holmes,” she said to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “have you figured out who this Ernie guy gave the Ultimate power to this time?”
“The Ultimate Twins. Just before they were carried off by the Pen-Ultimate Man. Ernie, it seems, was the last of the Ultimate Collective.”
“Thank God. Their success rate at choosing Ultimate Heroes has left a tad bit to be desired.”
“How do you know he was the last?” asked Watson.
“I’ve told you not to get him off on that,” hissed Mercedes.
“Elementary, really. The computer has a number of recordings of him giving orders to himself.”
“Okay, okay. Mary Lu said she’d dealt with them. I think she might’ve gone overboard a bit. And there isn’t any reason she should’ve tried to kill the kids. But all in all, I can understand why she did it.”
Dirk clambered into the spaceship.
“I’m here! Don’t these things have teleporters? Why’d you make me use the stairs?”
“Close the hatch,” said Mercedes. “Alice, bring us to San Diego.”
Then she whispered to Watson, “Why don’t you keep Dirk occupied? Set him in front of the television in the other room and turn it to professional wrestling. See if there are any beers on board.”
“Dirk, my boy,” cried Watson, “why don’t you tell me about your old adventures with the Ultimate Co-Ed? And you know, I think there’s a beer around here somewhere.”
Watson slapped Dirk on the back and led him into another room.
“Okay, he’s gone. Holmes, did the computer say anything about where the Pen-Ultimate Man brought the kids?”
“No, it’s simply a video feed.”
“What kind of fuel does this thing run on?”
“Broken dreams,” Algernon said. “And it’s running on full.”
“We must be in San Diego.”
“The police scanner says they just stopped the tank,” said Alice. “They shot him! They shot the driver.”
“Damn! Now we can’t interrogate him.”
“You take far too much pleasure in your interrogations,” said Algernon.
“You take far too much pleasure being interrogated, Algernon,” she replied.
“That is hardly the same thing.”
“Nail ‘im! Crush ‘im!” Dirk screamed from the next room. “I can’t believe he fell for the old build up speed by bouncing off the ropes trick.”
“I can’t believe you take this at all seriously,” Watson replied. “I think I need another beer!”
“I’m setting down above the tank,” said Holmes.
The hatchway slid open. The sky above San Diego was grey and lifeless. So was the guy in the tank.
The flying saucer was hovering fifteen feet above ground. Dr. Silver pressed a button and the stairs extended to the sidewalk.
“They hardly seem surprised at a flying saucer,” said Dr. Silver. “Then again, they did just stop a tank.”
“Jesus, Silver, I hope you didn’t have anything to do with this!”
It was one of the police officers down below.
“Are you coming down here, or do I have to come up and drag you down?”
“I’d appreciate it, but I don’t have the time right now. Saving the world, and all that.”
“I need to examine the tank!”
Officer Salomé looked around.
“Yeah, go ahead. What the hell is this about?”
She climbed down the stairs and hopped into the tank.
“Baron Frankelin. He’s out to conquer the world again.”
She stepped out of the tank and went back up the stairs to the saucer.
“I’ll give you the details later. I’ll be staying at the Pan Pacific. Come on up and see me some time.”
“So what’d you find out?”
“It’s a tank.”
The hatchway slid shut, and the saucer lifted off at speeds far in excess of normal comfortable ranges.
“So it was a tank? I wouldn’t have guessed.”
“Take this, Holmes. Find out what’s on it.”
She took a floppy disk out of her pocket and handed it to Sherlock Holmes.
“MEMOREX Trackball Program Disk?”
“Careful with it. Use it incorrectly, you’ll conquer the world. Or die trying.”
The orange cat arrived in London the same way it had left Providence: one body part at a time, and right in front of Buckingham Palace.
“Oh, drat. I never did get the hang of this teleporting. Come on, Newt, let’s take the tube to Westminster.”
The cat opened the box to let Matt the Newt get some air.
“I don’t want to go to Westminster,” said Matt, though it just came out as hissing.
“Of course you do. We’re going to Westminster Cat-hederal.”
“Don’t you mean Westminster Cathedral?”
“No, I mean the Coronation Chair.”
The cat slapped the lid of the box closed and headed for the tube.
“Not only Spurgo,” said Holmes. “He has a nuclear bomb in his basement, an army of clones, and the ultimate diversion set to hit San Diego.”
“Malevo,” she said. “Malevo and an army of crazed Flemish bent on regaining their superpowers.”
She smiled, and had Dr. Malevo seen that smile he would have recognized a kindred spirit.
“We have our own ultimate diversion. Let’s divert the Flemish with Paragon, the Ultimate Diversion! One look at Paragon and they’ll forget all about Dr. Malevo.”
“They’ll kill him when they realize he has no more powers.”
“Hey, it’s the world or him.”
She walked into the next room. They were now watching some Goldie Hawn thriller.
“Paragon!” she cried. “Get that costume on.”
“But I’m watching the movie! Goldie is one hot babe.”
“San Diego needs you, Paragon. Your country needs you.”
“But I have no powers.”
“Neither do the Flemish. They’re about to invade San Diego.”
“Let me take a shower.”
Dr. Silver took a battered, moldy, soggy piece of sandwich out of another of her pockets.
“Eeeuw. Mercedes, that’s disgusting.”
“It’s the last of the Ultimate Sandwich. Mary Lu—the Ultimate Woman—gave it to me. I’m giving it to you. We have no time for personal hygiene, Dirk. The fate of the world is at stake. Eat this sandwich.”
He took the sandwich and popped it down his throat.
He motioned frantically at Dr. Watson.
“Hmm? Oh. Here.”
Dr. Watson handed him a beer. He washed the sandwich down with one Ultimate gulp of the Ultimate horse-piss.
“Love this American beer. All the other superheroes drink that icky foreign stuff. Ah! I can feel the power coursing through my veins already.”
“It might be the penicillin.”
“No, it’s definitely power. Look at the bulge in my pants.”
“Sir!” said Watson, “Is that any way to speak to a lady?”
“That’s no lady, that’s Dr. Mercedes Silver, the Ultimate Co-Ed.”
And he leaped into the air and flew straight through the roof of the flying saucer.
“Look out, Dr. Horst Bock-Pilsner Malevo! It’s you or me this time, and I don’t think it’s going to be me! Honest, officer, I’ve only had four beers. I can fly! No, of course, I don’t have a license. I’m a superhero.”
The flying saucer tilted towards the ground.
“Oh, god, this is my punishment for giving him superpowers, even if they will only last an hour. We’re going to crash, we’re going to die, and the world will be conquered by an army of clones.”
“Buck up, Mercedes. I’m sure Alice can pilot us through this. She’s a resourceful kid.”
“Waaaaaaah!” came the cry from the bridge.
“Yes, she’s probably already filling the saucer with tears to feed to her pet cat, Dinah.”
The saucer stopped falling, and although it maintained a steady wobble, it moved forward. Mercedes and Watson went back through the door to the bridge. Algernon was piloting the saucer, while Alice pouted in the corner. (There was no corner on the circular bridge, but Alice was pretending there was, so it was all the same.)
“I wasn’t quite ready to die now.”
“Well, thanks. Neither was I.”
“I was,” said Holmes. “I’d like to write a monograph on the experience.”
“Will this thing still be able to make it to Baron Frankelin’s castle in Georgia?”
A red light came on on the control panel. Algernon sat on it. A siren blared throughout the saucer.
“Nice choice of words, Algernon.”
The saucer rocked with the force of an explosion. The monitor showed two fighter jets firing missiles at the saucer. Dr. Silver reached into her pocket and drew out a Glock .40 caliber handgun. She slammed her fist against the hatchway access button and it slid open.
“Dr. Silver, you aren’t going to take on an F-14 with a handgun?”
She fired six shots out the hatch.
The F-14s veered away.
The last missile hit the saucer and shook it nearly upside down. They all tumbled, except Algernon, who maintained a death grip on the saucer controls. Mercedes was tossed into Algernon.
“Please Mercedes, not now. I’m attempting to bring us in safely.”
“I’ve got a gun in your crotch. Don’t make bad jokes to me.”
“Get it out. We’re in for an exciting landing.”
“Brace yourselves, everyone!” Mercedes cried.
Unfortunately there is no place to brace in a circular bridge. The saucer slammed into the west wing of Baron Frankelin’s Georgia Castle.
It had been a long battle, but the Flemish horde was now trapped in the San Diego Convention Center. Paragon and Dr. Malevo faced each other, alone, except for a few hundred innocent bystanders.
“This is it, Malevo. You’re going to jail.”
“You’re such a complete idiot, Paragon.”, hissed Dr. Malevo. “How do you manage to keep coming out on top?”
“I’m just an American guy with American ingenuity, Malevo. That’s something you never understood, even when you first came to this country as an intern fifteen years ago.”
“American ingenuity my ass.”
“Well, the Ultimate Sandwich helped.”
“The Sandwich! Then… when did you eat it?”
“Eh? I don’t know. Half an hour ago? An hour ago?”
“Hah! Then all I have to do is hold you off until it wears off.”
Dirk was shaken. “Wears off? Oh, it doesn’t matter. How are you going to hold me off?”
Malevo grabbed the nearest bystander, an old man, who flipped him to the ground.
“If at first you don’t succeed…”
He grabbed a young woman and wrapped his arm around her neck.
“One move, Paragon, and I crush her throat!”
“Oh my god,” she cried. “Don’t hurt me!”
“Quiet, woman. This is between me and the Ultimate Gonad over there.”
What’s she doing, Paragon thought. She’s fishing for something in her purse!
“I’ve got money,” she cried. “Please, let me go!”
“I don’t want money, I want power. And you haven’t got it. Now shut up and let me negotiate the Ultimate Imbecile’s surrender.”
She stomped on his foot. He cried out in pain and involuntarily let go.
She pulled a small pistol out of her purse and pointed it, shaking, at Dr. Malevo.
“You just stay away from me!”
Dr. Malevo laughed.
“I’ve faced horrors that you’ve never seen! I’ve gone toe to toe with Mr. Perfect over there! Who the hell do you think you are?”
He stepped forward and reached for the gun.
“Give it to me.”
She gripped the gun so hard her knuckles turned white, and she pulled the trigger. Blood trickled from Dr. Malevo’s shirt. He started. He looked down, and then looked back at the scared woman. He shook his head, almost absent-mindedly, as if he didn’t believe what was going on and whipped out one of his many weapons, as he’d done dozens of times fighting Paragon.
This one looked like a huge neon dildo with space-age accouterments extending out from all sides. It had “kill” written in large letters all over it, and “cheese” at least twice.
The woman fired again.
Malevo crumpled to his knees and fell, face first, onto the sidewalk.
She continued firing, pulling the trigger well after the gun was empty.
Paragon put his hand on her shoulder, and she stopped, sobbing.
“It’s all right,” he said. “It’s over.”
I’ve got to get me one of those, he thought. Why didn’t I ever think of it before? That’s almost as cool as teleporting.
When the police came to arrest the woman for carrying a firearm without a license, he left the situation in their capable hands. He took to the skies and flew straight for Georgia.
“There was an army surrounding this castle!” said Alice. “Why don’t they just come in?”
“I don’t know,” said Mercedes.
She ducked another hail of bullets and then popped out and fired her own handgun past the broken wall. The flying saucer tilted out of the earth where it had crashed through the ceiling. Dr. Watson jumped up and fired a round from his revolver.
A brilliant white beam flashed through the wall and grazed Sherlock Holmes. He screamed momentarily.
“Holmes,” cried Mercedes. “It actually hurt you?”
The wall shook with another barrage of bullets.
“If felt like… like a hundred years worth of elite literary critics.”
“My god,” she said. “A direct hit could kill any of you.”
Algernon looked uneasily towards the shaking wall, and tossed his head as if to say something particularly witty, but Watson was faster.
“My revolver remains at your service, Silver.”
“Thank you, Watson. But I cannot ask you to do this. Indeed,” she said, as the wall buckled inward, “I require that you do not. Leave.” She waved her hand at them and all four of the All-Ghost Literary Revue disappeared into nothing.
The wall exploded inward. One fragment rebounded from the wall behind the makeshift barrier and grazed Dr. Silver on the temple, tearing a bloody gash. She tasted the blood and smiled. This, then, was the Ultimate Adventure. She dropped the half-empty magazine from her Glock, pulled it and replaced it with a full magazine in a fluid motion.
She blinked the blood from her left eye and crawled to the wall. When the tank came in she jumped quickly to the top and crawled onto the next floor and further into the castle.
He flew straight for Georgia: or as straight as a man who’s had four beers in the last half an hour can fly. So it took him a few minutes to actually reach Baron Frankelin’s castle. When he arrived, he saw that the army already had the castle surrounded. There was a barrage of weapons fire going on at the west wing.
“Paragon!” cried the troops.
“Yes, I’m here,” said the Ultimate Man. “But it looks as though you’ve got things under control,” he continued, towards the commander.
“We ain’t doing a damned thing but sit on our asses.”
“But you’ve just penetrated the castle!” he said, as the west wing collapsed under the tank’s attack.
“That isn’t us. They’re doing that themselves. A flying saucer just crashed into the west wing and they’re taking it out. I have no idea what’s going on. In the old days, you knew what the hell was going on, you know?”
“A flying saucer? That’s Dr. Mercedes Silver and her All-Ghost Literary Revue! We have to save them!”
“Not we, Paragon. Baron von Frankelin has threatened to explode a five hundred megaton nuclear bomb beneath this castle if we attack. I don’t think I can run that fast.”
“I can,” said Paragon. “Besides, I have to rescue the Ultimate Co-Ed. What’s five hundred megatons between friends?”
“How are you going to go in?”
“Like I always do. Through the front door.”
He put his hands into the air and jumped.
And nothing happened.
“Drat. No more powers. I’ll have to sneak in. Where’s my fish disguise?”
The commander looked away.
“I know nothing. Nothing!”
Dr. Silver came up behind the guards silently. She reached out with her hand, made a quick motion, and the first guard choked on his own broken voicebox.
The second grabbed for his commbox and she kicked it out of his hand as he lifted it towards his mouth. Surprised, he managed to grab her foot and twist it, and she fell to her ass. As she fell, she twisted her other leg around and knocked his legs out from underneath him. He fell next to her. They swung at each other as they tried to get up. He connected first, and punched her straight in the jaw. She fell back, and lunged forward, slamming his head against the wall.
He was unconscious. She slammed his head against the ground for good measure. No, she slammed his head on the ground because she felt like it. There was something about this guard that made her want to beat the shit out of him even when he was dead.
But she hadn’t the time for that. She climbed up into the ventilation shaft above them.
“All these old castles have great caverns,” said Paragon to himself, and it echoed about. “I just hope I can find my way up to the castle before Mercedes gets into too much trouble.”
The cavern broke off into four directions.
“Eeny, meenie, miny, moe…”
Dr. Silver dropped from the ventilation shaft into the Victorian bath. She moved to the door, stopped, and looked at the mirror. Her hair on her left side was caked in blood. One of her teeth was hanging—she hadn’t noticed any pain. A steady rush of adrenaline continued to keep any pain away.
She spit the tooth into the toilet, then turned back to the mirror. Carefully and silently she cleaned the blood from her hair, then hid the wound beneath her clean locks. She turned around and walked into Baron Frankelin’s suite.
“Hello, Jerry. Nice weather we’re having.”
The Baron was waiting, but his eyes were on the front door to the room. He spun around, opened his mouth to call the guards, saw the barrel of her handgun, the finger on her mouth signaling silence, and thought better of it.
“There’s a nuclear bomb set to go off as soon as I command it, or as soon as I die. You’ll take yourself and the entire building with if you kill me.”
She pulled a small, beeping electronic device out of her pocket as she spoke:
“One of the guards told me. Nice trick, Jerry. Did you expect it to make a difference?”
“Not to you, Mercedes. It was meant for the weekend warriors outside. The power of the locus below the castle is important to their masters. So it ends here, does it?”
“It, you, and I.”
Thank goodness, she thought, looking at the meter reading on the device she held in her free hand. This is no clone. Of course, he’s never cloned himself anyway.
“You didn’t bring your friends, I see. Algernon would have had something plus charmant to say, don’t you think?”
“You never could speak French, Jerry. But of course Algernon would have been more witty than I. Would you like a drink before we go? If you are true to form you have some wine in that closet that shouldn’t be wasted.”
“Of course. An aprés-vie.”
He straightened his suit and turned his back on her to open the closet. She looked around the room. It was, as would be expected, well furnished, and in a royal thirties style. There was a grand piano beyond the Baron.
He turned around carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“An Eighteen Sixty-Four Mourvèdre, perhaps? Would you do the honors?”
“No, you are the host, after all.”
“Of course,” he nodded approvingly. “Then perhaps a simple ‘59 Grenache would be more appropriate.”
He placed the Mourvèdre back into the closet and retrieved another bottle. He turned around, decorked it, and poured. He took one glass and walked to a high-backed chair and sat, leaving the other glass for her.
She took the glass and walked over to the piano, and sat at the bench.
He took a drink from his glass.
“I didn’t know you played,” he said.
She set her fingers to the keys and began a swinging rendition of Bloomdido, all the while keeping one eye on the Baron.
“Very impressive. I can’t quite say I approve of your choice of music, however.”
“I’ve never approved of your choice of partners, either. Why Malevo?”
She took a sip from her glass.
“Because he’s a smart idiot. An idiot-savant. A sophomore, perhaps. He was also supposed to keep that twit Paragon occupied, although I’ve since heard that Paragon hasn’t got any powers anyway.”
“No,” she said, looking at her watch, “definitely not anymore.”
“Besides, Malevo is the perfect sidekick. You know he actually enjoys being junior partner? And do you know how hard it is to find someone like that who doesn’t run around saying yeth, mathter with their brains running out their ears?”
“You mean, like Paragon?”
“Ha! Of course. Anyway, that’s why I used him as the master clone this time around.”
“My army. My guards. They’re all clones of Dr. Malevo.”
“Oh, good grief. It’s a good thing Paragon’s retired, he’d have a fit.”
“I would’ve liked to see him come flying to attack the army, to be honest.”
“Why didn’t you ever clone yourself?”
“Are you crazy? I’d have to fight for control every step of the way. I’d never be able to turn my back. Would you trust me?”
“Of course not.”
“I’m not that stupid either. So no chances. I figure, all the clones of Malevo in the world still aren’t worth a hell of a lot. Besides, he enjoys it. I think some of them have started having sex with each other.”
“Yeah. I set the next batch to female. In thirty minutes, in fact, four hundred female Malevo’s will step out of a cavern in Norway and meet up with four hundred and one male Malevo’s. Of course, without me to guide them, they’ll have no initiative. I don’t suppose you’d change your mind? I could offer you your own personal Malevo slave.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Four hundred and one, hm? You haven’t lost your mean streak.”
“Ever since I was a child, Mercedes, I knew I was going to be a great villain. My father was a great villain. My mother was a great villain. We traveled a lot. I went to villain kindergarten. I majored in villainous things in college—psychology, archaeology. And I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory like all great villains.”
“I think I can arrange that, Jerry.”
“No more talk, then.”
She took the Glock from the piano and pointed it at Baron Frankelin. He stood and looked straight at her.
She took her second sidearm out from beneath her suit. She checked the magazine, and then the safety.
She tossed it to the Baron.
“A blaze of bullets goes two ways.”
He caught it and spun the firearm around. They fired their first shots simultaneously. Dr. Silver’s bullet caught him in the chest; his went past her shoulder into the portrait of the Queen. Her second shot tore at his left shoulder. They emptied their magazines at each other. Baron Frankelin missed every time, but the blood covered his face, and he could not see. Dr. Silver moved towards him as he gasped his last breaths.
“Are you injured?” he whispered hoarsely.
She pulled back her hair and showed him the bloody gash. He cackled blood and went silent.
“I hope you go to hell, Jerry. I think I’d miss you otherwise.”
The nuclear warhead exploded beneath the ancient house, and Dr. Mercedes Silver went with Baron Jerold von Frankelin to their next great adventure.
Paragon turned around the bend and found himself looking at a great silver penis symbol.
The penis symbol began to hum. There was a sign above it. It read
If used incorrectly, Then the world will be conquered.
—Baron Jerold von Frankelin
The penis symbol began to glow. He looked up at the sign and read it again. He looked down at the penis symbol. He scratched his head.
One of these days, I’ve got to finish that mail-order teleportation course, he thought, as the penis symbol exploded in a blaze of white glory.
London was dressed all in white, and Matt in the finest silk tuxedo. When the wedding ceremony completed, the crowd applauded, and the newlyweds left for their honeymoon in Spain.
But the orange cat sat still just as they had left it, leaning its head on its paws, watching the sun set over the Bridge, and thinking of Matt and Poet and all their wonderful adventures, till it too began writing after a fashion, and this was its story:
First, it wrote of Matt and of Poet, and once again they were writing stories of Omega, their brilliant storylines converging and widening, and falling apart; and that queer style they had of including themselves and their Omega stories in other stories that they wrote for the same audience. And as it wrote, or seemed to write, the whole place became alive with the strange peoples of Matt and Poet and rec.arts.comics.creative’s story.
The superpowers flowed from its pen as Paragon the Ultimate Man hurried by—the frightened Pen-Ultimate Man splashed his way across the Atlantic running from the Ultimate Twins; it could hear the rattle of the engines of the crashing Ultimate Mobile, and the shrill sound of the Ultimate Marble dying to oblivion. Once more the god-baby was ignoring double-entendres and Dirk was hiding behind Mary Lu’s knee. So it wrote on with closed eyes, and half believed itself in the Ultimate Land, though it knew it had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality—the Ultimate Marble would change to the cracked glass at his feet, the double-entendres to newsmen hawking the daily papers, the shrill sound of the Ultimate Marble lorries ignoring pedestrians except to run them over. And the ducks in the distance would take the place of the Pen-Ultimate Man’s frantic splashing.
Lastly, it pictured to itself how these same writers would, in the after-time, be themselves orange cats; and how they would keep, through all their furrier years, the simple and loving hearts of their writing apprenticeship; and how they would gather about them other young writers and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of the Internet of long ago: and how the old cats would feel all the young writers’ simple sorrows, and find pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering their own writing-life, and the happy Internet days.
“That… that’s beautiful. Who’d you steal that from?” Tito asked, as he and Dr. Silver watched Saturday Night World Wrestling from bed.
“Some jackass pedophile from the nineteenth century. Think anyone’ll notice?”
“If they didn’t, you just told ‘em.
She slapped him across the head, and he drooled on her. Later, she dreamed about an endless winter. In her dream she met the next author, and they talked for long hours about pre-holocaust comic shops. “If only I hadn’t forgotten about that nuclear explosion,” she said, in her dream. “Ah, well. That just leaves something for you to write about, in:”
Next Issue: Ghost, Ghost, Gander
Look, I didn’t write the above, and anyone who says otherwise will hear from my lawyer. Slander is not something we take lightly here in San Diego. Also, I will not be at the San Diego Comic Convention, I’m not the author of FlameWar, and my name certainly isn’t Jerry Stratton, nor am I the publisher of FireBlade Coffeehouse and Cerebus the Gopher.
Mittens, the Ultimate Kitten, coughed up a hairball and typed “The End”.