Alex St. John-Smythe was looking forward to spending the last couple of days in the states relaxing a bit. He had spent the last month touring the country and checking out several universities. He could always attend Oxford or Cambridge, but he had wanted to explore other options outside of England. He had started with Duke University and went on to Georgia Tech, MIT, and had finally ended in New York with Juilliard. The last stop was out of respect for his mother. His desire was to work toward a degree in physics, not so much because of a love for the subject, but because it offered more of a challenge than musical studies. For Alex, music had never been difficult, even when learning the more difficult pieces.
As it was, he was no nearer to making a choice than he was at the beginning of the trip.
Alex had spotted a poster a few blocks from his hotel advertising a club named "the Boom Room." Having finished up the tour of Juilliard, he decided to spend the evening out on the town and the Boom Room seemed to be a good place to start.
After dinner, Alex decided to walk the short distance to the club. About five minutes out, he could hear the music and he smiled. "Certainly a bit different from, Bach..."
Five minutes after his arrival, he felt recharged, as if the weeks of constant travel were washed away. Alex danced a while with a few of the "unattached" ladies and found himself having a very enjoyable time. Then all hell broke loose.
There was a flash of light accompanied by a foul
odor, and suddenly, at the entrance, was a trio of women who might well
have been an incarnation of the Fates out of Greek mythology. One was an
ancient woman with features that would fit any child's description of a
wicked witch. The second was a well muscled black woman of indeterminate
age sporting what seemed to be an extremely large gun. The last was a beautiful
woman wearing an outfit that, while eloquent in a way, left little to the
imagination. Despite himself, Alex checked his appearance in the mirror
behind the bar. Alex remembered a snippet of a news report that identified
these women as
members of the Matrons of Mayhem. The evening had taken a decided turn for the worse.
As if on cue, the old woman spoke. "Virago, guard the door. I believe that Vox and I will be sufficient to handle the male vermin," she said in a voice reminiscent of dry parchment. With the music blaring, Alex was likely the only one outside of the trio who heard the other woman reply.
"Yes, Harridan," said Virago, clearly not happy about being assigned guard duty.
The crone then turned to the rest of the club's patrons and shouted, "Daughters, you may gather near the wall and you will not be harmed. Know that you have been saved this day from the predations of these -- animals!" With an apparently great deal of distaste, she then addressed the male patrons. "You men, gathered here to prey on the unwary -- your lives are forfeit!"
In the ensuing chaos, Harridan withdrew what seemed to be of all things a toad. She uttered a phrase in a language that Alex had never heard before and the toad was suddenly a very large and very black mastiff which began attacking the nearest men. Some of the braver -- or at least more inebriated -- men tried to attack the two Matrons, but Vox spoke to them in a soothing, almost seductive voice and they started fighting amongst themselves.
Alex quickly tried to herd some of the men toward the rear exit. He noticed that one of the initial victims, a man wearing the remains of an Armani suit, had managed to get away from the hound. The mastiff was pursuing and gathering speed for a leap. With strength and speed he wasn't aware he'd possessed, Alex dashed toward the animal and managed to grab it by the collar in mid-pounce. He rolled with the animal and, regaining his feet, hurled the animal back at Harridan. Before it had covered half the distance, the creature had returned to the form of a toad.
"I think that you ladies may have made a dreadful mistake", said Alex trying to sound unruffled. "The only predatory behavior I've seen this evening has occurred in the last few minutes. Now if you would care to depart, I'm sure the good people here would be inclined to forgive and forget..."
"Ooooh. This one's funny Harridan. And with such a cute British accent as well. Can I keep him?" purred Vox.
"Yes, you can keep him out of my way! I don't care how you do it!" replied Harridan.
Turning back to Alex, she spoke in the same voice she had used earlier. "Why don't you stop interfering and sit down for a while. It wouldn't do for you to get hurt too soon..."
Suddenly there was nothing that Alex wanted to do more than sit down as the beautiful woman wished. Now if only he could find a chair quickly enough to suit her...
Once she'd gotten her bearings (and directions
from a leering corner-store proprietor) it hadn't taken Knock-out long
to find her destination. Sprinting down the dark city streets, the brightly
-- if scantily -- clad woman garnered a number of astonished looks from
the few pedestrians she passed, as well as the scores of drivers. At full
sprint, the powerful girl was able to outpace the traffic beside her, even
though it moving along at good speed. Knock-out was winded when she entered
the back alley she'd been told led to the bar, but being in the phenomenal
shape that she was, a few deeps breaths and a few seconds pause allowed
her complete recovery from the
Moving from shadow to shadow as best she knew how, the first-time heroine approached the nightclub warily. Down the alley a little further, one of the Matrons of Mayhem stood watch over the entrance to the Boom Room. The throbbing bass of the club echoed through the night air, punctuated now and then by muffled screams and howls of terror. Creeping closer, Knock-out groaned softly when she recognized who it was that was standing guard.
Tall and muscular, Virago wore combat boots, fatigue pants and a black tank-top. Not only was the African-American villainess reported to be super-strong, super-tough and a skilled hand-to-hand combatant, she was also heavily armed. Hand grenades hung from her belt, she carried a sidearm in a holster under one arm, and had large knife strapped to one of her calves. It looked like Knock-out's first fight with another metahuman wasn't going to be an easy one.
Taking a few seconds to screw up her courage, Knock-out was surprised when Virago spotted her and called out a warning. "Club's closed, girl. I'd move along if I were you."
Girl? Knock-out's dramatic curves apparently had announced her gender even at this distance and in these poor lighting conditions. Swallowing hard, she stepped into the light.
"I'm Knock-out, Virago, and I'm here to stop you and the other Matrons."
Virago raised an eyebrow upon seeing the woman more clearly. Flexing her powerful biceps, she folded her arms in front of her chest. "Now why would you wanna do that? We're all on the same side, sister."
Knock-out continued her slow approach, her long legs covering the distance deliberately. Her heart pounding in her ears, she returned, "No, we're not. It sounds like your friends are hurting people in there. I can't let them do that."
Dropping her hands to her sides, Virago shook her limbs and limbered up. "Then you're gonna have to get past me. You got what it takes?"
Coming to within ten feet of the veteran villainess, Knock-out raised her titanium-knuckled fists and nodded her head. "Yeah, I do. Let's get it on."
Virago smiled slightly, watching her opponent carefully as they circled, each looking for an opening. The girl looked pretty buff -- she had nice definition in her arms, legs and shoulders, but she was no fighter. She was stiff, awkward; her stance was all wrong. This will be a short fight, the Matron thought.
Drawing back her right hand, Knock-out prepared to throw a punch she hoped would end the fight immediately if it connected. She swung wild, however, and was knocked onto her behind by a solid kick to the stomach from one of Virago's steel-toed boots.
Virago slowly brought her leg back down from where she'd held it in a side-kick position. "Don't fuck with Virago, girl. You know what's good for you, you get the hell out of here."
Knock-out slowly got back to her feet, the wind slightly knocked out of her. A normal woman would have been broken in half by the blow; apparently Virago wasn't someone who pulled punches. As her confident foe continued to circle around, she saw her chance. If Knock-out were to charge the woman directly, she could drive her straight into the brick wall behind her. Exploding from her stationary position, Knock-out came at Virago with a full head of steam. "Yaaaa!" she yelled.
Unfortunately, Virago was a savvy opponent. Side-stepping and spinning, she hit the blonde woman with a powerful forearm strike as she passed by, close-lining and completely up-ending her attacker. Flipping through the air, Knock-out hit the wall inverted, then slid down and landed directly on her head.
"You're strong," Virago commented, working a cramp out of her paining arm, "but you fight like a man. Slow and dumb."
Getting back up, Knock-out was starting to feel her adrenaline taking over. Despite the pounding she'd taken, she wasn't badly hurt. Still, Virago was kicking her ass, and Knock-out hadn't managed to so much as lay a finger on her. Inside the club, the music pounded, and the shrieks were intensifying. Time was running out.
Rushing her foe again, this time Knock-out managed to grapple with the woman before she could slip out of her grasp. The mighty pair stood locked together, straining for a few seconds before Knock-out's bunching muscles started to win the war.
"Nice... outfit..." Virago managed through gritted teeth. "You... expecting to find the... swimsuit... competition down here... tonight?"
Knock-out, her face red from exertion, forced one of Virago's arms behind the woman's back in answer. She almost had the other there as well when the Matron commando delivered a brutal head-butt straight into the other woman's face. Reeling from the painful blow, Knock-out released her enemy's arms and staggered back a few steps. "How'd that feel? You want plastic surgery bills, I'll give you so -- Uhnf!"
The dark-skinned metahuman's taunting was cut short when Knock-out, obviously not as injured as Virago thought, darted in and delivered a short, powerful right cross straight into the woman's ribs. The inexperienced heroine followed up with another shot, this one a left, and much, much harder. The Matron flew through the air, bounced hard off a brick wall, then dropped heavily to the ground.
"Damn," the villainess wheezed, her ribs aching, "you pack a pretty serious punch, don't you. No time for playing around, then." As she regained her feet, a massive pistol appeared in Virago's hand. Pointing it directly at Knock-out as the young woman approached, she pulled the hammer back and smiled.
"Don't!" Knock-out warned, ceasing her advance.
Though she was more-or-less bullet-
proof, Knock-out knew the sound of gunfire might be heard over the club's music, and
that would bring more Matrons before she was ready to face them. Not good.
"What's your name, girl?" Virago asked, holding her ribs with one hand and the gun in the other.
"Goodnight, Knock-out." The gun thundered once, sending a .44 caliber bullet streaking towards the beautiful young heroine.
"Uh!" Knock-out grunted, the bullet striking her high on the chest as she sprung forward, her metal-bound fists at the ready. Less mobile because of her injured ribs, Virago's head snapped back viciously as Knock-out crossed the distance and landed a brutal uppercut. The woman was unconscious before her body hit the ground.
Breathing hard from exertion and the excitement of the fight, Knock-out plucked the flattened rubber bullet from her skin and dropped it to the cracked asphalt under her feet. The hairs on the back of her neck bristled when she realized that the music from inside the club had stopped. Had the other Matrons heard the shot?
She had her answer when the door to the club opened and two women stepped out into the alley, accompanied by a blast of hardcore techno as the music started again. Stepping back slightly from the door, Knock-out stumbled over Virago's prone form and almost went down. The teenager recognized these two Matrons, and from what little she knew about their powers, she was outmatched. Vox, dressed in a daring, tight-fitting but somehow distinguished costume, had the power to control other people's minds. Harridan, the old hag, looked every bit the archetypal evil witch -- she had a stooped posture, a number of disgusting warts, and crooked, gnarled hands.
Appraising the buxom heroine, Vox raised one of her groomed eyebrows. "My, but you're a healthy girl. You're in luck, dear -- you're just in time for the fun."
Knock-out straightened her back, a cold sweat
breaking out on her forehead. "I-I'm...
Knock-out. And I'm here to stop you!"
Vox clicked her tongue in disappointment. "You
oppose the Matrons of Mayhem? Does
that mean you endorse this cesspool of an establishment, where fiendish men get their rocks off by taking advantage of young women with drugs?"
Harridan, her voice raspy, answered, "Of course! Just look at what she's done to Virago!"
Knock-out narrowed her eyes. "I don't endorse anything. I'm just here to prevent you from hurting people -- men or women."
"That's unfortunate," Vox said, her face falling. When she spoke again, there was a lilt to her voice, a certain golden tone. "Why don't you come inside, and we'll talk about it."
A shiver ran down Knock-out's spine. "Why don't I come inside, and we'll talk about it," she heard herself saying. Before she knew it, she'd stepped into the nightclub. Music thumped and strobe lights flashed; in virtually every direction she looked Knock-out could see terrified faces illuminated with each pulse of grey-white light.
"Seize her," Vox commanded as she stepped back into the club, her voice again carrying a strange weight. When two large bouncers moved in and grabbed Knock-out, one on each of her arms, she was shaken from her stupor. Behind her, Harridan dragged in Virago, then closed the door and began tracing a mystical rune in the air. As the rune impossibly took physical form, it began to glow a fiery red.
When Harridan croaked out a few words in some long-dead language, the rune flared and disappeared. Wiping her hands on her robes, the old witch offered a toothless smile. "Right then. Let's get back to punishing these little bastards, shall we?"
Vox offered a wicked grin of her own. "Indeed."
As the two Matrons looked about for fresh victims, the music changed. The new song was hard and bass driven, almost harsh. Still in his seat, Alex St. John-Smythe, in the back of his mind, recognized it as "Du Hast" by Rammstein. After a few moments, he began to think more clearly. He had the same feeling of being supercharged that he'd experienced before. This time was a bit different, though -- there was an edge to it, the same kind of edge as from an adrenaline rush brought on by -- anger. And then he no longer felt the need to sit as Vox had commanded...
Alex stood up, seeming a bit larger. Taller. More impressive. Harridan noticed the movement and seemed slightly taken aback. Vox also turned toward him and started to speak, "I thought I tol-- "
"You had your chance 'lady'. You should have left...", he interrupted. His voice, though quiet, sounded harsh and carried the impact of a scream. Alex reached back and quickly let fly with his right hand. A dark mass flew from his hand toward Vox and impacted across her face. She spun around and doubled over -- but not from pain. When she stood upright once more, a band of dark, thorny material had wrapped itself across the lower portion of her face. Eyes wild, she tried desperately to pry it off.
Harridan, meanwhile, was casting another spell. This time when she finished, the toad was once again transformed. No mastiff this time. Instead, a very hungry, very, very large crocodile -- easily seven meters in length -- moved towards Alex with deadly intent.
Knock-out had watched in shock as the tiny creature had grown into the monstrosity that now ran across the dance floor. The thing was huge, and it was obvious that it had its sights set directly on the young man who had stood up to the Matrons.
Shrugging off the two men holding her as though they were no more than children, Knock-out sprinted straight at the giant crocodile, hoping she could reach the creature before it bit the man in half. "Look out!" she cried, diving the last ten feet.
The animal's jaws were no more than two feet away
from its prey when Knock-out slammed straight into it, spoiling its attack.
Unfortunately, her tackle brought her into close quarters with the beast,
and onlookers screamed as the unlikely pair rolled over and over across
the floor, each trying to get the upper hand. Teeth flashing, the crocodile
scored several times before Knock-out finally seized it by the tail. Standing,
she spun the huge thing around in mid-air a full three hundred and sixty
degrees before flinging it straight at a mirrored wall. The impact was
tremendous, and shattered glass showered down over a number of the club's
terrified, scrambling occupants. The crocodile itself turned back into
a toad before it hit the floor, and as it hopped into the darkness Knock-out
turned her attention back on the villainous women
responsible for the carnage.
Falling into place beside the man who'd silenced Vox, Knock-out wiped a bit of blood from a deep gash on her shoulder. "I'm Knock-out. Nice to meet you..."
Alex gave a quick grin and replied, "Gefallen, um Sie--" Alex colored a bit when he realized he had started speaking in German. He quickly continued in English. "Er, that is, I'm pleased to meet you. This is a bit more excitement than I was looking for tonight."
Smiling, the girl replied, "Hey, cute accent. I guess you're not from around here."
Harridan, scowling at their exchange, suddenly smiled when a good number of the men Vox had mind-controlled earlier surrounded the young heroes. "These useless male apes will keep you busy while I free Vox," she cackled.
Sizing up her foes, Knock-out spoke quietly to her ally as the men closed in. "Gotta be careful not to hurt these guys -- they don't really know what they're doing. I'll take them out if you go after Harridan." Saying that, the attractive young woman sprang into action, first knocking down three or four men by barreling straight into them, then flooring two more with reasonably gentle straight-arms to the chest. A hole quickly opened in the circle, and Knock-out, hefting the largest of the bouncers by his shirt collar so that his feet left the floor, shouted, "Go! Now's your chance!"
Alex wasn't certain what he'd be able to do against Harridan and was even more leery about leaving Knock-out to deal with the rest of the men, but when the hole opened, he leapt through it. As he passed some of the downed men, he noticed one of the larger patrons moving in behind Knock-out, preparing to swing a metal chair directly at her head.
Without thinking, the young Brit threw another dark mass at the would-be attacker. This time, his target was knocked back a few feet and his upper torso was enveloped. The thorns that grew out of the dark band bit into the hard wood floor of the club and effectively held the man in place.
Meanwhile, Harridan had managed to free Vox from her barbed gag. Vox's first words were directed toward one of the bouncers that had been holding Knock-out earlier, "Eliminate that one! He has proven himself too dangerous to keep!" The bouncer nodded quickly and reached for the large pistol that Virago had sported earlier. The gun was clearly heavier than the man had expected, and he was slow to bring it to bear on his victim -- which likely saved Alex's life.
Instinctively throwing up a dark, thorny wall in front of the bouncer, Alex leapt to one side. The weapon went off with a loud bang and the dark wall exploded, sending chunks of the strange material scattering in several directions, including where Vox and Harridan were standing. While the rain of shrapnel was enough to send Vox scrambling for cover and keep her too distracted to issue more commands, Harridan continued to concentrate on the spell she'd begun.
Alex quickly jumped at his attacker and decked him, knocking the man cold. He then turned towards Harridan, but before he could close the distance, the witch let fly a mystic bolt, a crackling thing that seemed almost alive. The bolt striking him squarely in the chest, Alex flew back, landing hard on the floor. The pain was more than anything he'd experienced in any of his sparring matches with Lt. Johnson. But almost as quickly as it had come, the pain left him and he stood up. He noted the charred remains of his shirt and grimaced. Damn. Ruined...
Vox had taken the opportunity to gather together
a few more of the Boom Room's male patrons. "Boys, I would consider
it a great personal favor if you would finish off that
"Hey!" Knock-out interrupted, shrugging off a trio of attackers as gently as she could. "We've heard enough out of you!" Quickly covering the distance, the beautiful powerhouse, meaning to grab the surprised Matron, stumbled over a piece of the young Englishman's shattered wall and instead plowed straight into her foe at high speed. Carrying Vox with her, Knock-out smashed hard into the bar, splintering wood and bending brass. When the young heroine clumsily disentangled herself from the sexy villainess, the unconscious woman slid down to the floor. "Whoops," Knock-out offered simply, a look of embarrassment crossing her face. "Uh, this one's down!"
Harridan, now faced with two surprisingly capable opponents, knew it wouldn't be long before others showed up. It was time to exercise the better part of valor. "You have survived this day only through the whims of Fortune, whelps. You'll not be so lucky next time!" she shouted. The crone then gestured and spoke once more in that unknown, alien language. Both she and the other Matrons vanished in a swirl of smoke and strangely colored lights.
Sarah wasn't surprised to see her mother and agent in the precinct's waiting area when the authorities finally released her. "Hi," she offered brightly, knowing full well she was about to undergo a second interrogation, this one far worse than the first. Before they could start in on her, however, she saw the young man who'd helped her at the club enter the room. "Uh, hang on and I'll explain everything. I just have to go talk to this guy first."
"Well, make it fast," Mrs. Steiner snapped. "We've got an editor and two reporters who have been waiting for an interview for over two hours."
"Okay," Sarah answered. Catching the man in question's eye, she smiled brightly as she approached him. "Hey! Just wanted to say thanks for the help back there. Those are pretty cool powers you've got... we made a pretty decent team."
First appearing a little startled, Alex returned the smile. "Oh, you're quite welcome! I don't know about the powers though. They can't seem to settle on one thing or another. A few months ago, I flattened my combat instructor with a lightning bolt, of all things. Now it seems to be 'spiky bindings'. It makes me wonder what's next..."
Sarah made a face. "Whoa -- sounds kind of freaky."
"I actually wanted to thank you myself. I shudder to think what might have happened if you hadn't been there. Oh, where are my manners? My name is Alexander St. John-Smythe. My friends call me Alex..."
Shaking the young man's hand, Sarah returned the greeting. "I'm Sarah. Sarah Steiner -- though, as I told you at the club, I go by 'Knock-out' when I'm in costume." Hesitating for a moment, Sarah realized just how ridiculous -- and revealing -- her costume was under the bright lights of the police station. Blushing slightly, she shrugged and stammered, "Uh, anyway..."
Alex paused briefly. "Well, I suppose I should be getting back to my hotel. I'm certain I'll have at least one message from my mother requiring me to call and explain the whole thing. Then there'll be one from the Ministry, another from Gerry and another from Jessica -- perhaps there'll be some kind of communications problem that will allow it to wait until morning," he said hopefully.
"Mmm," Sarah responded. Looking over her shoulder at her frowning mother, she added, "Well, it was nice meeting and working with you. I guess I have to go, too."
Saying their goodbyes, the pair exited the building, going their separate ways. James Raddison -- Mrs. Steiner's hand-picked agent for her daughter -- had parked his car at the curb in front of the station, and as Sarah opened the passenger-side door for her mother to climb in, her eyes were on Alex as he walked down the street. Closing the door, she held up her index finger and said, "One minute!" through the glass.
Running to catch up to the young Brit, Sarah called out "Alex!" and pulled up just shy of the man as she turned around. "Look," she began, "this may be a bit forward of me, but I don't really know anyone else with meta-human abilities -- let alone anyone young, like you. I think we may have some things in common, like all kinds of pressure to, like, do the right thing and make the right decisions and... whatever. It sounds like you're only passing through, but if you're back through town again, give me a call. We can... talk about stuff."
"I think I'd like that, Sarah. I suspect that I'll be returning here to attend Juilliard. Perhaps we can get together when I come back and compare notes or something..." Alex blushed slightly and tried hard not to notice how well her costume fit her.
"Sarah!" Mrs. Steiner called harshly from the now-open car window.
Wide-eyed, Sarah grimaced. "Gotta go," she quipped, darting back towards the car. "Bye-bye!"
"Until we meet again," Alex said quietly as he watched the car pull away. He then turned back and, getting his bearings, began the trek to his hotel. He considered hailing a cab but decided he'd rather walk and clear his mind. And, with some effort, he tried to recall Jessica's face...
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