When the world needs saving, it's time to bring people together,

but when unity and super-science aren't enough,

it's time for superheroes...

unlike anything their world has ever seen before.

The Neverending Battle
He awoke from another calm sleep. It always seemed to be the same. He reached for his log book, a small leather-bound notebook, as he looked across the dark room for the digital clock’s glow.

“Huh…2:28 AM,” he mumbled before beginning to glow himself. Using his bioluminescence to light the page, he took to scribbling his log update and chuckled, “I nearly got three hours that time. I don’t think Scott‘s experiment is going anywhere. I’m not tired when I…go inside. I’m not tired when I come back, and in-between there’s just…me, still not remembering anything new. Maybe next week.”

Fully awake and alert, he sprung to his feet with fluid ease, a barely contained bundle of vitality. The light sheet that half-covered his dusky flesh began to fall in accord with gravity’s unrelenting tug, only to be stopped by its owner’s force of will. At first, seeming to dance to life, the flowing flannel began to drape around him like a toga only to change as a spark of energy burst from him. Instantly, the softly glowing man was wearing silk pajamas the color of dark chocolate.

“Meditation’s OK, I guess,” he said, tossing the book to the floor. “Every once in a while, I actually get a dream or something. I suppose, that’s worth a few hours every few nights.”

Refreshed and ready to face the challenges of another day, the muscular man rolled his futon into its usual corner as he did twice each week. A song that popped into his head set him to dancing on the balls of his nimble feet, gliding and bouncing him across his apartment’s hardwood living room floor, finally cartwheeling to the kitchen. The hunt for breakfast was officially on.

A quart of water brought a smile to his lips as he anticipated the omelette he was cobbling together. Then he looked to the kitchen table, his gaze focused on the little plastic box sitting where he had left it.

“Time,” he said with a sigh.

Pushing himself forward, he took the tiny plasticene cone in his fingers as he’d done time after time and raised it to his left ear. As quickly as he inserted it, he felt it expand to fit snugly in his ear canal.

“Did I miss anything?” he asked, the sound of the device activating and the words CHAT ONLINE whispering into his mind with an accompanying visual.

There was little chatter on the communication channels he usually monitored, which was as he expected for that time of night. It was his email that brought a surprise, a rarity in his normal experience. He felt something strange in his chest when he saw the tag on the message.

“Byelovolk,” he said quietly, recalling her scent and powerful beauty as he transformed his silk pajamas into a snug purple and silver costume.

Descended from Russo-Mongolian immigrants, Kelly Katerina Volk had come from strong warrior stock. It was a point of family pride, in fact, that their lineage could be traced back to the heroic king Beowulf. To the public, she became known as Byelovolk, the White Wolf, an impassioned heroine. Meeting shortly after she had taken to costumed adventuring, during his first trip around the world, the two found their vibrant natures meshed well together and she was eager to join when he extended the offer to become a part of Dr. Acme’s Common Ground initiative. Standing against myriad threats, the two kindred spirits fought hard for the safety of the world’s citizens. Whether alone, together or with their teammates, the dedicated heroes became beloved champions of truth, justice and freedom.

Nearly two years had passed since Byelovolk suddenly vanished from active duty. She had sent him one last message, explaining that she had complicated personal issues to work out for herself and she would be back in action as soon as she was able. This sudden contact from her was enough to set his energies surging. As brave and strong as he knew her to be, she was calling to him for help. Her situation must have been dire.

He gulped his breakfast down and leapt for an open window. His cape, purple on the outside and silver-lined within, stretched out behind him as his mighty frame erupted into the night sky. Wildfire had taken flight above Imperial City once more.

I LOVE TO FLY! he caught himself thinking as he rocketed into the still darkness. Wipe that silly smile off your face, hero. Kelly’s in trouble. Focus. Gimme a map.

Responding to his thought, CHAT showed him a map of Founders’ Heights. That was just another of the little device’s many useful functions. The CHAT (Communications, Health and Tactical) units worked through neural induction. A user only had to clear a little space in his mind, just relax and let a blank spot form, to see the words and other graphics like a holographic HUD playing in his head. It was easy enough to ignore if necessary or even forget about in busier moments. The cyberpathic communication was…both a marvel and a pain…well, somewhat south of the head.

Rapid, clear contact with fellow heroes was a helpful techno-miracle, but the potential accessibility the system provided for contact at a caller’s whim could too often show its ugly side at the wrong times. Too many people seemed to have some problem they thought needed the specialized attention of a superhero. To assess things honestly, though, everybody had some kind of problem on some level, but relatively few of them required a super-powered solution, let alone even qualified as an emergency. Odds alone would dictate that.

Looking to the skies at any given moment, would the average person see any lightning? Probably not, yet lightning was known to strike the Earth’s surface an average of 100 times every second-- 6,000 times a minute for a total of 360,000 times each and every hour of each and every day. It sounded overwhelming, yet how often did the average individual actually see any lightning, let alone even hear any thunder? Assuming that the number of true emergencies and world threats was some significantly lower number, how many average individuals could there truly be in dire jeopardy at any given moment? It was only the secured access channels of the CHAT system that prevented a hero from getting as many calls as a lottery winner on the speed dialer of every telemarketer on the continent. From all he had been taught and believed, that was not the purpose of a hero.

*sigh* I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.
As eager as he was to proceed, he hated forcing open the window to Kelly’s apartment. The security breach would probably be a minor issue on the twenty-seventh floor. It was the breaking and entering that bothered him. It felt unheroic, but he rationalized that he was basically an invited guest so he pressed onward. Confronted with the controlled application of his power to manipulate energy and matter through force of will, the window yielded and opened with ease.

The stacked boxes and partial disarray made it clear she had not been moved into this apartment for very long. Forwarding address labels on even the most recent mail indicated that she had been on the move, through several cities, probably for most of the time she had been gone. Had she been chasing something…or running from something? What could have--?

“Hello,” he said, finding a holographic imager on a table beside her unopened mail. “Pictures. Everywhere she went, always pictures.”

He recalled how she had been almost obsessive about collecting 3D images in different cities. Wildfire used his powers to study the stored energy patterns within the sophisticated bit of technology. He duplicated several of them in the air before him, crowding the room with images of organized light. A lot of the photos were of corporate buildings, but he knew at least some of them to be fronts: formerly for Kemetech, more recently for Network One.

“It looks like…she was following a trail. What’s this one…?” he mumbled to himself. “Zoellerbach,” he said, reading the prominent corporate logo on the building in one of the last images. “I know that name. Why...? Of course! Anton Zoellerbach!”

The hero felt a surge of adrenalin as he recalled the cutting edge geneticist whose work had made headlines for years, culminating with rumors of his ties to fascist conspiracies and hidden crimes against humanity. Privately, he had also made claims that he and his work were descended from long-lost Atlantis. Whatever the case, the genius researcher had turned out to be the sort of person who gave mad science a bad name and brought nightmares to life. Men like Zoellerbach inspired fear in the masses rather than hope for the future.

He noticed captions beneath a few of the pictures, digital annotations Kelly had added. He read the words “Network One” and “Thera” above “Project: Paragon?” Something about those words in concert disturbed him. He knew they didn’t bode well. The last image was of a nondescript brownstone, with a Newark address beneath it in red.

This is really turning into something. I’d better contact the arcology, he decided. A moment’s concentration allowed him to switch to Team Acme’s primary communication channel and he called out, Marco!

Dakota: Polo, Wildfire. Hi.

You the sleepless soul on monitor duty tonight?
Dakota: Yup.

Ultra Woman: And me. Hi, Wildfire. You alright?

I’m…working a mission.
Dakota: The Purple Avenger stalks the night. You need some help stomping evil? I can suit up and meet you in minutes!

It was clear that Dakota, the eager research associate, was ready to jump at a chance to get away from the Acme arcology’s monitor screens. He knew his friends, like himself, preferred action to sitting on the sidelines.

Ultra Woman: Sadly, for her, poor Dakota is stuck on monitor duty.

Dakota: Poop. Blondes are supposed to have more fun than this.

Ultra Woman: I believe the cybernetic bits of your armor are in a calibration maintenance cycle. That’s why it’s connected to the arcology computers in the first place. I, on the other hand, am just here keeping her company. So I’m officially free for whatever fun you have in store, hot stuff.

Dakota: Leaving me to waste away.

Ultra Woman: Maintenance would be the exact opposite of that, pouty. Plus, you’re not a real blonde and you have actual research work to do.

Dakota: That’s just mean. And to think I used to like you.

Ultra Woman: You know you love me.

Dakota: Maybe. Work or not, I’m still hungry for action.

Ultra Woman: Well, that’s going unfulfilled tonight. Feed your brain with research. Anyway, it’s more likely, Dakota, that he just wants to set a good example by having us log the mission for him. Sleepless nights and solo adventures for the big, bad, fiery man, right?

Solo, yeah, but this…may also involve Byelovolk.
Dakota: Byelovolk? What do you mean, Wildfire? She hasn’t been active--

--with us for awhile, I know. I got a message from her. It looks like she was investigating Network One and a connection to Anton Zoellerbach.
Dakota: Zoellerbach? Isn’t he that mad scientist wack-job?

Yeah, that guy. I just wanted you to know. I’ll be out of touch for…a little while, but I’ll let you know if it turns into anything more.
Dakota: Well, if you’re sure…

Ultra Woman: Be careful, Wildfire.

Dakota: You’ll call if you really need help, right?

Of course, Dakota.
Dakota: Promise.

He forced a smile. She knew him well enough to know he was planning to charge into something dangerous and didn’t want to drag anyone else into it. His smile faded as he defied gravity, launching himself into the night once more on energy and will.

I’ll call you later, he responded.

Dakota: Good. Meanwhile, I’ll check with Pandora and Chess over in Europe to see if they have any other info on our girl. Good hunting, big guy.

He flew through the night sky with a speed that carried him to his target quickly, paying barely any notice to any extraneous activity below. Slowing over the industrial sector he sought, it’s lack of activity stood out, though it certainly didn’t seem odd for the hour. Even in these darkest hours of the morning, Wildfire realized that with concentration he could feel an unusual electromagnetic disturbance that helped him to find his destination even more easily. Hovering silently, he refocused his perceptions to different frequencies of the E-M spectrum to see--

Ultra Woman: You sure you don’t want some back-up?

I should’ve known you wouldn’t let this one go easily.
Ultra Woman: We started this together. We’ve fought Dr. Cyber, the Hand of Death and shut down citywide gang wars together. I don’t have to let you get away with much of anything. I was around when we started this little club, remember?

Fine. I need to do this alone. Better?
Ultra Woman: No, because you don’t and you know it. That’s part of the point of us being together, isn’t it?

Which us? The team you had to sneak away from for this private chat or the us that has secret meetings off the battlefield?
Ultra Woman: The…I...I...really walked into that one. Wow.

Psychic attacks penetrate physical defenses. Don’t hurt yourself. It’s not that important.
Ultra Woman: Don’t say that. It is. Some’re the best reason I have to keep doing this crazy job.

The neverending battle is its own reward.
Ultra Woman: Don’t do that. I hate when you do that, armoring up behind all that noble hero stuff. You are important.

To you?
Ultra Woman: To everyone, but you’re more than just a role model.

To you?
Ultra Woman: Not going to let me off easy either, eh? Fine, There!

And you lived. Astonishing.
Ultra Woman: I want you back in the same condition.

I’m already astonishing.
Ultra Woman: Be serious. I meant, alive. There’s a lot of new tech upgrades out there that groups like Network One love to play with. You know they’re making our work lots harder. We have to be more careful because they’re trying hard to tip the balance away from supers. Some of these bastards would like nothing more than to make trophies of us all.

Won’t they feel stupid when there’s no one left to stop the next incoming asteroid or space invader.
Ultra Woman: Yeah, that’ll show them.

So I’ll do this alone and no one else gets hurt.
Ultra Woman: Even on my worst day, you know I’m not easy to hurt. Let me help and--

I’m not dense, Eve. Neither are you. You know me and you know what I am…or at least you know nearly as much as I do. Anyway, from what we know so far, I’m very likely to outlive everyone I know by a long time.
Ultra Woman: Well…yes, I suppose.

And it doesn’t have to be today. Let me have that.
Ultra Woman: I’m still going to worry…at least for a few minutes.

If it helps…I’m not sure that this is even going to be particularly dangerous. It’s mostly recon of an uncertain situation. If it turns into even half of what it could be, though, I don’t want to drag anyone else into it…especially not you.
Ultra Woman: Stop. You’re going to make me feel all warm and squishy.

Oh, no, we’ll ruin your rep. I think I’ve gotten to the spot. I’m sensing enough power generation here to run all of Imperial City. Look, I’ll call you after.
Ultra Woman: You’d better.

Penetration of the initial security system required, as usual, only a minor effort. Likewise, once the hero floated beyond the deserted lobby, it became obvious that the building’s exterior masked a far more sinister interior. His cape fluttered lazily behind him as he flew up a flight of stairs and past a cluster of telemarketing cubicles possessed of a decidedly evil aura.

Rounding the corner to a long hallway, Wildfire saw a squad of Network One foot soldiers sleepily standing guard near an elevator shaft. They appeared to be well-armed, but otherwise an ordinary bunch. Ready for action, the hero breathed deeply and let himself feel the potent energies that coursed through him. His flesh grew warmer and began to tingle. He almost smiled as he launched himself silently through the still air. Still unnoticed, he drew up his right hand as he built an energy charge in it. Then, focusing on the centermost soldier, the fearless adventurer waved his hand forward and unleashed a torrent of concussive force. Wildfire alit as the cadre of fascists flew off their feet, thrown by his power like bits of trash in a strong wind. The few soldiers who were still conscious after bouncing off the walls tried to grab their weapons and scramble back to their feet, but to no avail as the dynamic powerhouse let loose another burst of energy that exploded the very air around him. The guards were struck by the expanding hot air like a fist as it consumed the oxygen around them.

“Punks,” the hero said as he took a card key from a soldier’s belt pouch.

Wildfire boarded an elevator that carried him downward deep below the surface. As he descended, he made mental note of the look of terror he had seen in the eyes of the guards. It was a reminder to him of the effect that his choices could have on others.

No one liked being tossed like a rag doll by someone who could charge through a hail of bullets or to futilely pound on a hero encased in ice or rock, but facing an onslaught of pure energy was a whole different experience. Ice and rock and muscles and weapons could all be fought physically and were easily comprehensible to the human mind even as one physical form overwhelmed the other. A dancing arc of electricity or an eruption of blazing fire, on the other hand, was a primal thing that triggered primal reactions that were virtually identical in every living thing with a bit of sense. Confronted with a man who could attack while sheathed in flame, protected by it and manipulating it as a hungry and consuming weapon made strong men weep and tremble in helplessness. Wildfire saw people fear him in a way that he would normally avoid inspiring. His bright and happy spirit usually buffered him and others from anything close to true fear, but on this particular mission, against this foe, his raging passion was producing a different result in himself as much as in those he faced.

In extensively modified caverns, several hundred feet below the city, a Network One soldier wept openly, his pants soaked in urine. One of his arms was broken and dislocated at the shoulder. Eyes ablaze with rage fixed his gaze as a strong hand held him by his jacket’s collar. Bleeding and on his knees, surrounded by dozens of his burned and beaten fellows sprawled about the smoky room, this last conscious man tried to find the words to beg for mercy. His lips could only quiver.

“Where is she?” the hero asked again.

“wher--who?” the frightened man babbled.

“Byelovolk!” Wildfire roared, growing angrier as he raised his free hand and made the flame around it grow brighter and hotter.


“Six foot, three! White hair! Ice blue eyes! Sun yellow skin! Big muscles!” he shouted. “Byelovolk! Solar-powered, super-jumping, ass-whipping engine of mayhem!”

“I…I don’t know her!” the man cried. “I swear! Please…don’t…!”

Wildfire growled then asked, “Who’s in charge here?”

“I don’t want to die!”

“Then tell me what I want to know,” the hero’s rage far from subsiding, “before you find out how much more I can do to you.”

Evilciser! It’s Evilciser! Laurent Evilciser,” the panicking soldier told him.

“Fine,” Wildfire said, punching the man and letting him fall to the floor unconscious, “I’ll take this up with him then.”

Wildfire kicked the dismembered head of a battle-bot as he walked through the carnage he had wrought in search of his friend, moving on in search of his next fight. At times like these, he could only wonder as to how much bearing his unremembered past had on his delight and skill at brawling. He had to wonder whether or not he would ever remember anything prior to the night Scott Acme had found him at the bottom of a flaming crater in the desert. He knew he felt attuned to the primal forces of the living universe and could obviously manipulate them at an intricate level. For all the power that afforded him, though, he still had much to learn. His own selective amnesia was a persistent reminder of that and a glaring indication of his own limitations.

Meanwhile, expressing his channeled energies as fire was convenient enough and something always felt correct about it. Maybe it had something to do with his being ablaze in that desert. Whatever it meant, he knew he could draw the attention of villains because he was an overt threat, which made him a tactical diversion who could take a pounding if he chose. Because of that and the fighting skills his reflexes carried, he had learned he loved to brawl with the bad guys.

“Minions! Destroy that meddling fool!” the command rang out as Wildfire blew up yet another Blitzen missile platform and stormed into the control center of the base.

“I never have figured out why you put so much money into these robots,” the hero taunted as he shattered two more of the automatons. “The ceramics disperse energy, but the metals conduct it. The metals are tough but conduct energy to the electronics and mechanics that are vulnerable to electricity, heat, and cold. Ah, well, the Riddle of Steel wins out again. Didn’t your bosses care enough about this place to give you cyborgs or super-soldiers?”

Flames roared higher around him, the air temperature rising rapidly throughout the room. Morale deteriorating, a few soldiers abandoned their machine guns to flee for the surface. The smell of burning hair and flesh distracted from the millions of dollars of computer and genetic modification equipment that was also ablaze. Still, the mechanical defenses were defeated and the troops were either fallen or in rout. That left only--

“Evilciser!” Wildfire bellowed at the base commander as he flew at him like a great blazing fireball. “Time to do the man dance, punk!”

“You’re insane!” Evilciser accused, recoiling from the heat.

“Me? No, I’m just pissed,” Wildfire said. “It’s you people who never make any sense.”

“We are superior to such as you,” Evilciser said. “You abominations can never hope to understand us or stop us!”

“Nice rhetoric,” the hero mocked. “It’s always the same with you guys. Look at this place. You could be customizing caves like this for rich nuts around the world. No, instead, you have to be a bunch of jerks trying to run everybody else’s lives. World conquest! Mad science! Monsters! Supercyborgclone armies! Give it up already! Nobody’s buying the sales pitch! Now tell me what you’ve done with Byelovolk or I’ll turn your blood to poison and watch you die!"

“We do not have to be as convincing as you would think,” Evilciser grinned. “We have far more certain methods of winning our war.”

Without warning, the flaming hero took a staggering blow to the back of the head, followed by another and another. His own flames cooled as he reeled, trying hard to keep his feet under him. He knew he needed distance, certain that he must have missed neutralizing one of the big robots in all the confusion. A kick to the back sent him flying through a flaming stack of crates.

Gathering his wits he was aware of the hulking figure running at him just in time to be caught in a powerful bear hug. Then he realized he was fighting a form of both metal and flesh. He saw a face devoid of emotion and a scalp shorn of its flowing snow white hair, compromised by surgeries to accommodate who knew how many neural implants. He could only see a little of the extensive modifications that had been performed on his friend, but what he saw was enough.

“Byelo--” he began to speak, but stopped as he felt her trying to crush his ribs and spine. “Kelly! Kelly, it’s me!”

“Yes!” Evilciser gloated. “Now you have your answer! And when you have been made more docile, you can serve us with her and the others like her. As we learn to modify and duplicate your kind, our legions will secure our rule over this world!”

“Oh, that’s so not an option,” Wildfire retorted, focusing his resolve into increasing his own density. He looked into the remaining human eye of his violated friend, seeking some glimmer of the woman he once knew even as he said, “Sorry, Kelly,” and head-butted her.

The button nose erupted blood as it shattered. She showed no sign of pain, but her grip did loosen a bit if only from reflex. Simultaneous strikes to two nerve clusters on her arms finished the job, the determined Wildfire dropping to the floor.

Get it together, hero! he berated himself. Focusfocusfocus…BURN!

Reaching for him, Byelovolk’s body began to blister as Wildfire superheated the air around them, nearly changing it to low-density plasma. Still, she showed no sign of pain, though she could not help but stagger back and finally fall to her knees. As he reached out to her, electricity began to arc between his hands. She was tough, especially with the physical enhancements her powers had given her, but electronics and mechanics were vulnerable to excess energy and easily overwhelmed, just as the woman herself could not function without oxygen. Once-strong Byelovolk fell to her back, her limbs limp and the light gone from her cyber eye. Her once-bright flesh was blistered and darkened from the color of sunlight to burnished bronze. Wildfire dropped to his knees beside her, his gloved hand reaching out to her face. He remembered the angelic beauty that once radiated from there and watched her remaining eye even as it watched him. It could no longer cry, just as her cracked lips could no longer speak. He cried for her and sat with her as her life’s energies faded.

He emerged from the burning Zoellerbach building with his friend’s body wrapped in his cape and cradled in his arms.

“I got your signal,” the voice called out to him from above.

“What signal?” he asked, never looking up.

“The only building on fire in the vicinity of your last transmission.”

“Oh, that. They had a fusion reactor they weren’t using anymore,” he said. “That was a message for them, not you, though.”

“You alright?” Ultra Woman asked him, her fiery hair flowing behind her as she descended slowly from the pre-dawn sky.

“I’m not sure,” he told her.

“Who’s that? We collecting trophies now?”

“It’s Kelly.”

“Byelovolk? Oh, God,” Eve said, suddenly feeling foolish. “Wildfire, I’m so sorry,” she said, drawing close enough to touch his arm. “You--You’ve been…crying.”

“Network One…Evilciser…they changed her,” he explained. “They took her mind and did things to her body. I couldn’t let her be a slave. I had to…kill her.”

“And you loved her.”

“Of course,” he said, looking into her shining green eyes. “She was my friend.”

“I meant…Alright,” Ultra Woman said, “letting it go. What next?”

“Laurent Evilciser escaped,” Wildfire answered. “He said they’ve done this to others. We need to analyze what they’ve done to learn the best way to stop them. He’s working for Zoellerbach and Network One to build a military power of super-soldiers.”

“Makes sense,” Ultra Woman said, reaching out her mighty arms. “Give her to me. We’ll take her to Acme back at the arcology. Scott and the other tech-heads should be able to work it out. Follow me.”

Ultra Woman flew away from the heat to the roof of the building across the street where she gently set Byelovolk’s body down as Wildfire alit behind her.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“We need to make sure the fire doesn’t spread. My powers can protect me from that heat, but it’s cooler over here,” she said as she turned to him. “I know it doesn’t bother you, but this is a lot more comfortable for me.”

“Sorry,” he said. “My mind was--”

“Forget it,” she said as she took him in a strong yet tender embrace, laying her head against his broad chest.

“Hey, we’re out in public,” he reminded her.

“Hush, you need this. I’m sorry about wanting to take…things so slowly, but--”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Some things deserve careful planning.”

“You may have a clean slate, but I come from alcoholic, self-centered, short-sighted people who plan as far as the next trip to the can,” Ultra Woman said with a forced laughed. “In fact, I think a few of my relatives may be active criminals.”

“So we’ve got some things to work on,” he told her. “It’ll take time. It’s cool.”

“OK, then,” Ultra Woman said, taking his hand and leading him to the edge of the roof. “Come on. Sit and watch the fire with me.”

“Sounds great,” he said wearily, sitting beside her on the ledge.

“I ever tell you I have more fun with you than anybody else?” Ultra Woman asked.

“It’s all these nice places we go,” Wildfire said, gesturing toward the burning Zoellerbach building. “Toasty as Tahiti with more action.”

“Well, that must be it then,” she conceded. “Not much of a vacation, but the company’s good.”

“The company’s definitely good,” he said. “We do have to go soon, though.”

“Neverending battle?” she asked.

“Neverending battle,” he nodded. “And, hey, thanks for coming.”

“No problem,” she smiled. “Thanks for not dying.”

“My pleasure,” he said. “I’ve still got memories to recover.”

“I definitely want to be around for that,” she said. “I’m counting on you having a Hell of a story to you, mister.”



All out of Lollipops

As the sun rose over the metropolitan skyline, Wildfire and Ultra Woman emerged from the elevators admitting them to the Acme Arcology’s underground. Cradled in her arms, Ultra Woman carried the body of a fallen comrade. The recently deceased powerhouse was broken and burned and wrapped in Wildfire’s bloody cape. The two heroes would have turned the body over to the deceased’s family for funeral arrangements, but it was implanted with modified Atlantean neurotechnology and the heroes needed to know more about it to combat it efficiently.

Moving from the transit alcove and into the sprawling corridors, the pair passed many others moving to and fro. Personnel in the sprawling Acme facility were understandably curious, but readily warned off by the somber expressions worn by the newly arrived adventurers. With unpleasant work ahead of them, the graceful figures stalked silently forward, undisturbed until they passed the door of the monitor roo--

Damn! You big dogs can still mix it up, yo?” a young man called out. “Cuz I know I know the smell of something burning. You must’ve been tearin’ it up an--”

“You need to stop your mouth,” Ultra Woman warned the muscled youth as she saw Wildfire stop abruptly ahead of her, “and very quickly get back to whatever you’re supposed to be doing…Vanguard, isn’t it?”

“Rico to you, mamacita. Hey, it’s all good, boss,” the junior hero continued, smiling broadly as his eyes scanned up and down Ultra Woman’s form. “I was just sayin’, y’know, how y’gotta be more delicate with your dance partners.”

What?” Wildfire’s rising anger making his voice into a half-growl and shooting the air temperature up more than forty degrees as he turned, floating above the floor and ready to attack.

Her arms still full, Ultra Woman whirled about, throwing her caped back against Wildfire’s broad chest to try to stop him from charging the cocky teen who was apparently oblivious to his increasingly perilous situation. The powerful young woman could feel her skin tingling as she focused on holding her floating friend where he was.

“At least you got some use out of that tired cape, yo,” the brash Vanguard continued.

“Dakota!” Ultra Woman called out. “A little help!”

“You totally look better without it, big dog,” Vanguard babbled on, “showin’ off the physique to the honies an--”

Wildfire’s eyes glowed fiercely, scintillating energies dancing to life around his hands.

“Why are you stupid, kid?” Ultra Woman asked him. “Dakota! Now, please!”

Wildfire barely moved, but movement was hardly necessary for a man of his talents. His rage was sufficient to unleash a bludgeoning torrent of force past Ultra Woman. While it left her unmolested, she was able to watch as the wave of energy threw its young mutant target off his feet and down the hallway. It was only instinct that prompted the stunned youth to erect a protective psychokinetic bubble around his body in time to save himself from serious harm.

“Hey, I felt that!” Vanguard complained, trying not to show how shaken he truly was. “That hurt!

“Then, shut up, Rico,” Dakota said, running into the hallway. “Get over here!”

“Kid,” Ultra Woman said, “my friend has been packing nothing but Nazi ass-kickings all night long. He’s all out of lollipops, junior, so you need to run along.”

“Snap, I was jus--”

“You’re away from your post is what you are,” Dakota, barked, grabbing him by his ponytail and steering him back into the monitor room. “Get back to it before something else bad happens and we have to mop you off the walls.”

“Alright, alright,” the teen moaned, shuffling away crestfallen. “Man’s too tense…needs to get him some tail and loosen the Hell up.”

“What? What was that?” Dakota snapped.

“Yes, ma’am,” Vanguard said.

“Better,” Dakota said smugly. “Wildfire OK?” she asked, her tone shifting to one of tender concern.

Ultra Woman turned so she could look at the seething man along with Dakota.

“He will be,” Ultra Woman said confidently, feeling the air cool as Wildfire let his boots come back to rest on the polished floor. “We need a BOLO.”

“You got it,” Dakota assured her.

“What’s a BOLO?” Vanguard called out from the monitor room.

“Be On the Look Out,” Dakota replied. “Pay attention in class.”

“It’s a Network One officer,” Ultra Woman told her. “What was his name?”

“Evilciser,” Wildfire said grimly. “Also, we need to consider Anton Zoellerbach a person of serious interest.”

“What’s going on?” Dakota asked.

“Missing heroes,” Ultra Woman told her. “Super-human trafficking.”

“Always a bridesmaid,” Dakota sighed.

“Yeah, doing your work from inside powered armor should at least keep you off their target list,” Ultra Woman said.

“Wow, finally an advantage to not having powers,” Dakota said.

“Number of missing unknown,” Wildfire added. “We need to get a handle on the extent of their slaver operations.”

“I’ll get junior on it,” Dakota said. “The more I keep him busy, the less of a chance he’ll get himself in trouble again.”

“We’re heading for medical,” Ultra Woman said. “Can you have Scott meet us?”

“Will do,” Dakota said. “Page Dr. Acme to medical, kid! Wildfire…be OK, OK?”

“Thanks, Dakota,” he said. “I’ll work on it.”