Mary Lu finished saying, “Dirk, Mary Lu, Tito, and Tina,” as Paragon winked at her. She vanished in a puff of sulfurous smoke.
“Dad?” said Tina.
“Dad!” said Tito.
“Dad?” whispered Paragon.
His mind reeled to that time long ago, just before he had joined the Ultimate Collective. Actually, he hadn’t joined, they had found him. It was a complete coincidence. Nobody would pick Dirk Darringer to become their superhero. Nobody in their right mind, at least. But someone in the Collective Bureaucracy had fouled up and transposed the numbers in the coordinates of the subject, and Dirk became Paragon instead of the intended one. Who “the intended one” was has always been a closely guarded secret of the Collective.
But Dirk at that time was still a cub reporter following around minor league teams. Small fry stuff.
He was covering the 10th Annual Sausalito Supremes Invitational Tournament when it happened. He was sitting in the press box when he felt dizzy and excused himself to go to the bathroom. He forgot one of the most important laws of the universe, though: Be careful of the door you walk through, it could be a dimensional portal. Sure enough, it was.
(The other law he forgot was to always bring a towel. But that was a lesson he’d learn another day.)
When he came to, he found himself in a darkened room. In front of him, in shadowy silhouette, sat three hooded figures. He squinted hard and asked what was going on.
“I don’t know. Who the hell are you?” one of them shouted. He rechecked the coordinates on the monitor in front of him. Sure enough, they had gotten the right location. (The clerical error was only discovered later, and is immaterial to the story. Call it a plot hole. Call it a loose thread. Who cares?) Dirk Darringer was the man. The Collective simmered down, only slightly disappointed.
“Well, Dirk, we’re glad you came. How do you feel?”
The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once. “I feel fine. Almost. I feel like I lost my spleen in Sausalito, though.”
“Very well. We have a mission for you. One of the gravest importance. We need you to become Paragon, The Ultimate Man.”
What the Collective seated in front of him failed to tell Dirk was how they were afraid of losing their funding after that whole Pen-Ultimate Man fiasco. They were ready to put the cape and cowl on just about anyone. After all, who could do worse than the Pen-Ultimate Man?
With that, a small red ball appeared just in front of him. It hung suspended in mid-air for several seconds before the Collective spoke again.
“Do you recognize it, Dirk?”
“Yes. Yes I do. It’s a super-ball. Why, I used to have one when I was a kid.”
“No, you fool!” The Collective’s collective voice boomed throughout the room. “That is the Ultimate Marble.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool, but I wouldn’t call it the Ultimate—”
“Enough! It will give you the powers you need to save Dixon City from the Ultimate Menace.”
“Ultimate Menace?” Dirk was starting to get a headache.
“Yes, but you needn’t know about that yet. It is for another time. Suffice it to say you will need years of practice first. Which is why we chose you now, instead of later. You are now Paragon.”
Dirk felt odd, all of a sudden, and then realized his clothes were morphing into a spandex-type uniform.
“That is the Paragon’s costume. Wear it well. It will morph into whatever you like, so you needn’t ever changed clothes again.”
“Thanks, my laundry bill is murder,” said Dirk gratefully.
“Sigh, very well, then. Back to your game, then. Tell no one of this. We will be back.”
Dirk was given the Ultimate Marble and told of his new role in the universe. “You now have the power. We think you know what you should do with it.”
Dirk—Paragon, The Ultimate Man—smiled and shook his head. In a flash of light, he found himself back in the press box in Sausalito. The blonde sitting next to him caught his eye again. And, with the power of the Ultimate Marble, he knew he was the Ultimate Lover, as well.
That night, Tina and Tito were conceived.
“Wow… Our mom is a blonde…” Tito gaped openly.
Tina smacked him one. “Boys. Go fig.”
Paragon realized then that he hadn’t been thinking, but actually talking aloud. He hated it when he did that.
Paragon thought he’d never tell that story again. He never thought anyone would bring it up. He thought he’d forgotten it, as a matter of fact. But now the emotions got the better of him and he gave his kids—the Ultimate Twins—the Ultimate Hug, tears streaming down his face.
“Dad,” Tina asked hesitantly, “That’s a beautiful story. But… But where’s Mom today?”
“And who was truly intended to be The Ultimate Man, if not you?” Tito asked.
“Yeah, and what is this Ultimate Menace?” They chimed in together.
“Oh, man, so many questions.” The Ultimate Man’s Ultimate Eyes rolled back into his Ultimate Head. “OK, I know which one to answer first—”
Next issue: Chapter 8: If This is Tuesday, It Must be Belgium by Kirk Ambrose
Author’s Notes: You’ll notice I’m skipping the preview paragraph (“Trailer”). I know we’re supposed to do it, but I don’t want to dictate to the next author what he has to do any more than I have to. I’m leaving it a little more open for a little more fun.
I had intended to do a strictly serious story for the past month since this project first came about, but on reading the previous 6 chapters I realized this was impossible. So forget that. I did tone down my humor from this story’s original version. (For example, I threw out the idea that the Collective had name plates saying, “Bob”, “Frank”, and “Ernie”. Besides, that might contradict something.)
I also hoped there wouldn’t be as much stuff to deal with, but it seems like people have been going crazy introducing characters and oddball situations. So I used that to introduce some future possible plot-lines, and focused on fleshing out our hero and his cast. Consider this a break in the action.
And I did it all without a fight scene! Hah! That part I enjoyed.
Finally, sorry for the delay. This was fun. I can’t wait for the next go-around!