Warning: This story has "adult" language and themes. Reader discretion is advised.

What has gone before... Tommy Champion, Nebraska farmboy, and all-round hellraiser turned superhero, arrived in Los Angeles to become the official superhero of Nike. His cocky attitude and foul temper did not win him any friends, except for Michael, a Nike image consultant who gave him the superhero nom de guerre "Omega", and Leona Blade, Michael's friend and confidante. Tommy is operating under a directive -- make favorable headlines in three weeks, or lose Nike sponsorship. Furthermore, Tommy's enemies at Nike have arranged for a competitor -- the young Canadian Permafrost -- to attempt to perform greater heroic deeps than Omega and win his spot at Nike. But there are other forces, represented perhaps by the enigmatic Lieutenant Hawkins, who see Tommy as more than just another superhero, but as one of the Seven Chosen who will fight an important battle against the forces of evil.

Tommy's first two major attempts to be a superhero have been less than successful -- the teenaged superheroine Blur beat Tommy to the scene of the Dictator's HQ, and Tommy's victory over a gang of thugs who was raiding a diamond exchange was claimed by the has-been superhero Halcyon. Enraged by his rival's deception, Tommy tracked down Halcyon and beat him so badly that he had to be sent to the hospital.

Naked in the City
by Scott Bennie with Paul Cocker



About 2 am, the first pangs of guilt begin to hit me over what I had done to Halcyon. It wasn't the first time I've done shit to people, and I've done shit to people who were a fucking lot better than Halcyon, but I don't think I ever did anything this bad to anyone who was this pathetic.
I place a drug in my system, and revert to human form so the drug can put me to sleep. I dream a very intense dream. I'm not sure what I dreamed, except for  vague recollection of being back in the Milford Senior auditorium, having a wrestling match against Michael in front of the whole school, and getting the shit beat out of me.

I wake up stunned and groggy, and I crawl over to the phone and dial Michael's number. The answering machine starts to play, and then I hear the phone carriage rattle on the other end.
"Hul-lo" an unrecognizably groggy voice moans.

"Hey, Michael," I begin.

"What do you goddamn want? It's four o'clock in the fucking morning!" Man,  is Michael ever pissed.

"I'm in trouble. I had this dream"

Michael hangs up on me. I don't even bother to redial. Fuck, what the fuck was I thinking? But I've never had a fucking dream about losing before.

I crawl over to the nice laptop computer that the fine folks of Hyatt have provided (the obsequious little dorks haven't bugged me in the last day or so) and try to find archival footage of Halcyon in action. If I'm going to beat the fucker to a bloody pulp, I really should fucking get to know who he is. I find AVI recordings of three of his old fights, and decide to view them in chronological order. The first is a fight against Dr. Arachno's five story tall genetically engineered tarantula (the 'Tarantulaterror', and no, I don't make this shit up; you have to remember this was during the same decade as Crowded House and poodle hair cuts), which attacked downtown L.A. in 1985. Halcyon actually looks pretty awesome. He's circling above this goddamn giant spider, and I watch him bust a gut laughing as he dodges streams of venom in flight. At one point in the fight, he's hit by a gob of venomous webbing, and it's obviously burning the shit out of him, but he ignores it and just wails on the spider with blasts of burning light. Eventually it goes down. He looks pretty fucking happy and confident. There's a close-up of his face; it's covered by a half-mask and there are no lines visible around the eyes or the mouth. He doesn't look anything like the man I beat up last night. How did this guy become such a pathetic, beaten cur?

Flash-forward: four years later. It's 1989, somewhere in downtown San Diego, I think they're fighting in a parking lot of an industrial park. Three villains, Core, Hellblade, and Omni-Man (this was years before Omni-Man reformed) are attacking Halcyon. Omni-Man is taking ordinary seawater and doing his usual shit, transforming it into aqua-steel bands which constrict around Halcyon tighter than Shane Barlow's bearhug. Core and Hellblade step up to poor old helpless Halcyon, who's clearly as scared as shit, and they just beat the fuck out of him. Hellblade draws this huge mother fucker, an evil black-glass serrated blade, and he stabs him four times in the chest. Sparks fly as the weapon penetrates Halcyon's protective field. Halcyon screams like a woman. Something off-camera is forcing the villains to retreat, but they're laughing as they're running away, I guess they're assuming that Halcyon is finished. The last thing I hear is someone screaming: "Get a goddamn ambulance!" in a thick tremolo as Halcyon is pretty much bleeding to death in front of half the population of San Diego.

The final piece of footage dates to 1993. I really don't have much fucking interest in watching it, but I force myself. He's in the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art, fighting the Porter. The Porter just plays a game of cat and mouse with him, summoning doors and teleporting through them before Halcyon can counter his movements. Each one of Halcyon's blasts misses wildly, unless he was intentionally trying to miss the Porter and destroy some expensive piece of artwork. The Porter is making really stupid jokes about Halcyon being an art critic and an uncultured buffoon, and Halcyon's obviously getting really, really pissed at him. There's only about thirteen seconds of watchable footage of him from that fight, and I have no idea how it turned out. I can imagine that the incidental damage he caused there was pretty fucking bad.
And then there's yesterday, which I really don't want think about right now. I tell myself that Halcyon stayed at the game too fucking long. This is the new millenium, where everything has a half-life of 'yesterday', and anyone who doesn't realize that becomes a relic really fucking fast.
I look through other Halcyon records. There are a couple of fan pages on the Web, but the links to them was busted years ago. There are some headlines about a 1994 sexual harassment suit that was, like so many cases involving metahumans, dropped before it reached court. And there are records of Halcyon's early career, that period between 1985 and 1987 where he actually did kick some ass, and kicked it pretty good.

So what the hell happened to him?

I'm in superhero form, and I don't really feel like going normal right now -- it's always a bit of a downer to come down from the superheroic to the mortal, like listening to too many early '90s Seattle bands at a single sitting. So I don't go to sleep, I find a level of comfortable numbness and just lie on the bed and just let everything in my head just lie fallow for awhile.

At six-thirty in the morning, I'm disturbed from my calm by an uneasy feeling, which is confirmed several seconds later when I catch the sound of a police siren in the distance. Opening my eyes, the city looks very bright, like a movie projector that's stuck on a single frame and is just about to start burning. It's the early morning after dark in Los Angeles, when the masses start their migration through the choked streets, and curse the commute. For now, though, the streets are only lightly congested.

I take a second to don my costume, and take flight. A minute or so at a good clip is all that it takes to catch up with the vehicles. It's pretty easy to figure out what's happening: I've got a great seat to watch California's favorite motor sport, police chases (fuck that Deep South redneck NASCAR bullshit). They're going after a humvee with an open top. It looks like a military vehicle, but there are no markings. It's probably just a recreation, but as soon as I see it, I want one. There's only a single occupant. Five police cars are in direct pursuit, and more are converging on the scene. The sky's swarming with helicopters, their rotor sound that almost makes me start humming the theme from M*A*S*H* (and I can't even stand that politically correct piece of '70s bullshit).

A humvee? What the fuck are they doing chasing a humvee?

I really don't have time to worry about shit like that. I look down on the police convoy, look for the lead officer's car, and try to establish a thought link with the driver. I project my voice into the car -- I suppose I could communicate via thought, but that might be too distracting.

"This is Omega. What's the situation?"

There's a long pause. "Who?" Patrolman No-Clue starts to stammer.

"I'm a superhero. I'm flying about five hundred feet above your car. Do you need me to help nail this scumbag?"

"Uh"  Shit, are we supposed to work with this costumed dick? "Let me contact my superior officer."

"Gotcha."

I wait for about ten seconds, and quietly maintain my telepathic link. He's not talking with anyone, or even thinking about much of anything, except to track the felon as he's moving. I figure fifteen seconds is enough time. "You hear anything back?" I ask.

"He told me to tell you that you need to hold back."

You're a fucking liar. I tell him mentally. There's a sudden gasp of mental shock. Now tell me if this bozo's armed?

"Uh, we're not sure," No-Clue says.

Fine. Tell the boys I'm moving in. I'm ending this, now!

I begin to descend, slowing to try to keep my velocity down to about twenty or thirty miles an hour faster than the Humvee. This is a finesse job. I practiced the aerial pickup on tractors and cars and trucks (and even a motorcycle) back home, but this is different, especially since I'm going to be using other powers at the same time. I manage to hook onto the car from the top, where I spread a small telekinetic field around the section I'm gripping to keep the vehicle stable, and then I start to get some altitude.

Hummer Dickhead doesn't see me coming. If any human being was living prison issue, this guy would be it.  He's a greasy-haired, skinny pony-tailed dork who figures he can get away with wearing tattoos instead of a shirt. When we're ten feet off the ground, he clues in to what's happening, takes one look at me and completely freaks out. He fumbles for a shotgun. I concentrate, and it vanishes from his hand and reappears in mine. I have to drop the telekinetic brace to do that trick, and the craft buckles, but it's worth it just to see the look on the guy's face.

"Holy shit!" Hummer Dickhead shouts.

I shake my head. "Where the fuck did a loser like you get a Hummer?" I ask him.

He's not answering my question. I concentrate again, and the gun disintegrates in my grasp. Then I shut down the engine, encase him in an energy field, and slowly circle around the area looking for a parking lot. It's early morning, and most of the malls are still deserted.

Tell the bubbas I'm coming down, I inform the police officer. I'll plant him in the middle of the Target parking lot. You boys can take him from there.

I know there's media on the scene, so I take my sweet time, give them a chance to get more aerial shots and converge near the landing zone. Hummer Dickhead is screaming incoherently, like a guy with Down's Syndrome having an asthma attack, but right now, he's my bitch -- the force field is wrapped so tightly around the little cocksucker that he can barely breathe.

The descent takes about three minutes. I've never been on this many cameras at one time in my
life. My heart is really pounding hard. I put down the Hummer, and throw Dickhead out onto the
pavement. Several police officers jump on him immediately. The scene gets really crazy, but
eventually they get the cuffs on the little shit and drag him away. I don't hear a fucking Miranda
being given to the guy, but if they take me to court, I'm sure I can do the Bill Clinton as good as
the next guy.

"What'd this loser do?" I ask the lead officer on the scene as the situation begins to calm down.

"He held up a convenience store, and he shot a clerk and an off-duty police officer who tried to
intervene."

"Shit!" I exclaim. "I hope they're okay."

"We hope so too. We should know in about an hour."

"Hey, Omega!" someone with a television camera shouts at me from a distance of about twenty
yards, on the other side of a police cordon. "How does your first police chase feel?"

"Another day, another piece of dog-shit gets put down!" I shout back, wondering if they'll have
the balls to air the comment in its entirety. I turn to the officer, point my finger at him, and smile
slyly. "If you need any more ass kicked, gimme a call. This town gets boring."

One of the officers coughs and a few roll their eyes, but they don't say much of anything to me, not openly. I do see a lot of heads shake as I lift off the ground. They may not be impressed today, but I'm gonna fucking show them.

I head back to the beach -- I had decided against long talks with the media, figuring I'd get more attention if I give them small glimpses of myself. Heighten the mystery - never show your cock to a woman on the first date.

I head back to the hotel, and check out the early morning news. I'm all over the fucking tube. Finally! And here I thought I'd have to beat the living shit out of a fucking supervillain to get press around here. Who'd have thought it?

"And this is the spectacular picture of Omega picking up the humvee," the KTLA anchor is saying, as I get to see myself clamp down on the hummer, arc my back, and pretty much effortlessly take the thing up into the air. It's the first time I've ever seen footage of myself performing that trick, and I look fucking awesome! I look even better than that cocksucking dick Avatar.

"That maneuver takes both a lot of precision and power," some superhero expert mentions. "If Omega is the same kid that we saw in last month's Omaha incident, I think we can say that Los Angeles has finally gotten a strongman superhero that we haven't seen since The Bronzeman was forced to retire in 1990."

I'm definitely in the mood to eat some shit with the grin I'm wearing. What a fucking difference a few hours makes. I go downstairs for some breakfast, and the waiters and the waitresses are all over me. No one's making noise about some of the shit I've pulled in my room. Instead, they're treating me like I'm the man of the fucking hour. And I am. And I didn't even have to put myself even remotely at risk to do it.

Actually, that last part kind of sucks.

I have some free time scheduled in the morning, so after breakfast I decide to hit the beach. It's a nice warm sunny day. I fly low over the beach, which isn't nearly as packed in the morning as it had been the previous afternoon with Michael. Some cute girls in bikinis wave at me. They're all at least nines on the Tommy Champion index. I land next to them and play "hero of the beach."

It's one of the most vacuous conversations I've ever had, but as long as their laughter causes them to keep jiggling their breasts slightly, I'll keep telling stupid jokes. They wonder they met me last year at Daytona Beach, and whether my real name wasn't Rick Castle. I assure them I am a "Tommy," as in the gun, or just plain "Tom," as in the cat. These girls will fucking laugh at anything. They should rent themselves out to UPN sitcoms to use as their laugh track.

I'm getting bored, but the crowd is getting bigger, and larger numbers of people are starting to pay attention to me, so I stick around. The sun's getting hot, and even in superhero form, it's a little tough to handle for hours on end. I unzip my top, and let myself work on a good tan.
About noon, there's a commotion on the beach, and I have the oddest premonition. I'm not in danger, but something important is about to happen. My feet don't want to move, and when I try to fly, I feel like I'm being fucking held down to the ground by the hand of God. The beach crowd is parting like it's the goddamn Red Sea, and Charlton Heston is coming through, guns blazing. But the guy who's approaching isn't Chuck, it's someone who's even brawnier. He stands about 6'6", and he's wider than Michael or Shane Barlow, or even my cousin Buck. He's dressed like a Mexican wrestler, wearing trunks, leggings and pro wrestling boots, and he isn't just barrel-chested -- his pectorals look like a fucking pair of beer kegs. He has short, dark hair, a thin moustache, and a plain Latino face; there's not a trace of handsome in it, but it's hard and determined. It's a face that screams "macho," and belongs to a man that even an insolent little shit like me has to treat with a certain amount of respect.

His name is El Brazos de Fuerza. I know him on sight.

Or should I say his reputation on sight. Nobody knows who El Brazos de Fuerza (aka Enterprise, aka the Arm of Strength) really is. He first appeared in the early 1970s and has a reputation as a crimefighter in Mexico, but he only appears there sporadically, in times of extreme need. He never takes the role of hero in the United States, but he does show up in Los Angeles frequently, whenever a new or visiting superhero has made an appearance in town, to challenge him (or her) to a contest of strength. He's only been beaten twice, once by Avatar (to whom he surrendered his wrestler's mask), and once by the Forgotten, that long-missing superhero whom everyone remembers but whom no one can clearly recall.

"You know why I'm here," he tells me.

The crowd is getting closer, including people with camcorders. I pause for a few seconds, letting them get in position to take a good shot. It'd be nice to get more footage for the news. The tension on the beach is palpable. "Yeah." I finally say. "You like getting your ass kicked by a Nebraska boy."

"I would not know," he smiles. "That has never happened to me before."

I smile and give a long (hopefully dramatic) pause. "How do you intend to do this, big man?"
He walks over to a large flat block of stone, falls to his knees, and puts his massive right arm into an arm wrestling stance.

I'm a little disappointed -- I was hoping for a real fight, freestyle, brawn versus brawn. I circle around for a minute, making him wait. The crowd's getting a little impatient, although El Brazos de Fuerza is kneeling there patiently, one fucking huge choirboy, the saint of superheroes. I finally kneel on the other side of the rock, and prepare to lock up with him. There's a huge crowd gathering around us, but no one's pressing in too hard. Even the waves seem to fall still. My opponent abruptly pulls back.

"Give me all of your strength, boy," he tells me. "Hold nothing back."

"Sure thing, El Yoda." I nod. But despite my attitude, I take his advice seriously. I concentrate, and I focus on my muscles, and quadruple their density, reinforcing the ligaments so that extra strength will actually be usable. I'm literally as hard as a rock, and weigh about 900 pounds now. I'm incredibly strong when I try this trick, but it also makes me feel incredibly sluggish, and I'm usually strong enough in my normal form that I don't feel the need for extra strength. But I really, really want to see the look on Frigia's face after I lay this guy's arm flat.

And then we lock up.

It's a real war. Whenever I'm in a situation where I have to exert myself to the point where I'm fucking going all out, and I'm sweating like a AIDS patient, and I'm suffering in the land of a thousand fucking sports clichés, I achieve an odd sense of peace and euphoria. My zen (if you don't mind the use of mystic Eastern bullshit) is not found just in ass-kicking, but in pumping sweat and blood, from being pushed to my core, when all the bullshit is stripped from my soul, and I become a raw animal, pure and fierce. I know it sounds fascist, but it's fucking true. But now, I'm pushing myself harder than I've ever done before, and I think I've found something new, a state that transcends even my normal state of release. I've never been happier in my entire fucking life. There is no fucking way he's going to win. There's no fucking way that anyone is going to fucking beat me today.

Which is good, because this guy is by far the toughest motherfucker that I've ever competed against. Even Shane Barlow, with whom I had eight fucking wars on the wrestling mat over the years (which ended when he beat me for the State gold in my junior year) never gave me this epic a fight.

Our eyes are locked like fucking pit bulls whose teeth are ripping out each others' throats. We must look like a pair of fucking madmen. I've said before that I'm more powerful than fucking God, but before this moment, that was just my dick talking. Now, in the agony and the struggle, I finally understand what that means. I am a fucking god, and so is he; we're both fucking gods locked in the perfect war, sharing raw tenacity, consumed in pain and effort, knowing that chance has no place here, only merit and determination. The consequences of victory or defeat are completely unclear to me. When I lost the gold to Barlow, I was as pissed off as I've ever been, but I knew there was no disgrace in being beaten by such a goddamn good opponent who was fighting at the top of his game. In this fight, I know that even defeat will bring me more honor than I've achieved in my entire fucking lifetime, and I'm not afraid of losing. But I also know that I'm not going to lose.

We say nothing. The contest is pure and focused, unpolluted by banter or glib bullshit. I don't know how long it's taking, and it doesn't fucking matter. Finally, his arm goes down. We immediately unhook and collapse onto our backs. Oh shit, does it ever hurt. And man, is the crowd is ever fucking stunned.

After about thirty sharp breaths, a lifeguard pours some cold water onto me. I stagger to my feet. Everyone's still quiet. They're as numb as my right arm.

El Brazos de Fuerza also stands. Then he bends over, unties his boots, removes them, and hands them to me. "They're yours now."

"Uh" Fuck, I don't have a clue what to say to this guy! "Uh, good match." I stammer. "Really good match."

He nods. "A very good match indeed."

"Any chance for a rematch?" I finally ask, regaining my bearings. "I'd love to go freestyle against you. That'd be awesome."

He shakes his head. "This was my final defeat. My time is over. The day now belongs to you. Make the most of it."

I frown, trying to comprehend the meaning of his words. "Wait a minute. This isn't some sort of new millennium bullshit, is it?" I ask.

My opponent's face is lined by a smile for the first time. "You'll understand. That's a promise."
I'm pretty much overwhelmed by emotion, by respect for an opponent that I didn't know and will never see again. I want to put my arms around him, thank him for what we shared. But I suddenly find myself frozen on the spot again, a kid caught in a cosmic game of freeze-tag. No one is able to move right now, except for a few people who part so El Brazos de Fuerza can make his way, barefoot and unhindered, into the surf. The world catches its breath while he strides like a suicidal goth's wet dream into the sea, vanishing in foam and a churning of dark green water. Then the world breathes again, and I can move again, and everyone is giving me the weirdest fucking look, like I shouldn't have beaten this guy. I'd probably give myself the exact same look if I had any sense.

I'm alive, I'm sore, I'm exhausted, and most of all, I'm awestruck. I've finally made the big time. But I'm not in a fucking comic book, where I thought I'd be when I first got my powers. I'm in a mythology. And, goddammit, there's no scarier place to be than that.

******

I fly back to my hotel room and just soak my arm. About an hour later it's mid-afternoon, and it's just at the moment that I figure that I'm not going to get any calls today that the phone rings. The police are salvaging the remains of the Dictator's giant robot. The salvage company is nervous about handling the remains of Imperius Maximus Mk IV, aka Max the Giant Fucking Robot, so the police has asked me to volunteer my services. My arm is feeling marginally functional now, so I'm not really given much of a choice whether to accept or reject. I fly out to Ontario, managing to retrace the flight path to the blast site without too many difficulties. The cordon is a lot thinner than it was yesterday, and I get the feeling the police are being a little too complacent.

When I land, however, I'm faced with a pissant problem that the cops just can't wait to chew me out over. I had flown over quite a few major traffic arteries on my way to Ontario, and apparently, a lot of cars had slowed down to look at me, and traffic slowed to a crawl on several of the major freeways. They have a point, given the tendency of Southern Californanites to gawk at fucking anything, but I after I promise to fly at a higher altitude from now on, I don't need to listen to the same fucking lecture twice because Officer Asshole-on-the-scene has such a goddamn control problem that he can't stand not talking for fear that all his fucking wind will come shooting out of the other end of his body, and we'll know just how full of shit he is.
To make matters worse, I suggest A Good Idea That Makes Things More Fucking Complicated. I suggest that just gathering robot bits at random is fucking stupid, and we really should have a trained engineer, hopefully a roboticist, in charge of the salvage operation. This will take way too much goddamn time, I'm told, at least until they actually bother to check and discover that the salvage company has already sent an expert to the scene, and it will take no time at all to coordinate with him. In fact, the salvage company is fucking grateful that someone's actually bothering to work with them. I set up a mind link so the roboticist can look through my eyes during the operation, and a telepathic link so I can receive instructions. The only thing I ask is, if there's a good opportunity to bring up one of the larger pieces of superstructure, to make sure there are some cameras rolling when I'm doing it.

"I want the enemies of Los Angeles to know they aren't dealing with a rookie," I say. "Enemies of Los Angeles" -- this bullshit is just too fucking priceless.

"Sure, Omega. In fact, it'd probably be a good thing if you brought up the torso at the start of the operation," Engineer Doctor Bill tells me.

I'm not sure how much the torso weighs -- fuck, it's pretty close to my upper limits of my normal strength, maybe around twelve hundred tons or so: I find it hard to discern different levels of 'fucking heavy' after I pass the five hundred Ton mark. But the camera gets a really good shot of the torso and the main superstructure of the robot rising into the sky, propelled by moi power. There are a few 'ahs'  and 'shits' and amazed gasps, even from some of the veteran cops who have seen quite a few superheroes in their day.

I continue salvaging Max's major pieces, lifting them off the building and moving them to a predetermined place in a nearby parking lot, and twenty minutes later, the bulk of the job is done. The salvage team can handle the smaller components. I march over to confer with the police, but the officer on the scene is too busy discussing sports scores with his partner to fucking deal with me. Fuck the little donut wanker.

"Hey, Omega!" A reporter has managed to make his way through the slipshod cordon that the police have set around the site. "Is there any truth to the report that you and Permafrost are competing for Nike's superhero slot?"

"Yeah, it's true!" I shout.

"Do you have any messages for your opponent?"

I smile, extend my middle finger, and rise into the air. Sorry Michael, but I'm not going to bullshit on camera about Frigia's little Canuck boytoy. Fuck his cold North of the Border Canadian ass.
I get back to the hotel, and have six calls waiting from my agent, and a call from Leona Blade. She and her fiancé are inviting me to dinner. I phone back and accept the invite. I don't return my agent's calls; instead, I put on the news.

I'm expecting favorable press and a good lead on the fight against Permafrost, instead we're sharing the lead story. "Nike's superhero competition is almost as hot as summer in the Southland," the anchor says. "In one corner, the Canadian import who's using his powers to save thousands of hectares of burning forest in this summer's heatwave." I get to see footage of Permafrost, flying directly over the mother of all motherfucking forest fires, creating the biggest goddamn snowstorm since Frosty the fucking snowman was born. Even I have to be impressed. Remind me to invite that guy on my next ski trip.

"I've heard some really good things about Omega." Permafrost is a slim kid, even younger than me, with long frost-blond hair and almost albino skin. He's wearing a white and blue costume that looks like it was designed by the same guy who did mine. "I hear he's got a bit of an attitude, but that's cool. I'll take attitude over a complete phony any day."

"Eh," I add.

"Meanwhile, Omega was busy demonstrating remarkable physical strength and toughness." They show a lot of my previous day's stunts, "and an unofficial bout with El Brazos de Fuerza, where he became only the third person to best the Mexican powerhouse in a test of strength. We asked Omega what he thought of Permafrost and the competition."

Good God, the middle finger looks really embarrassing. What the fuck was I thinking?
"This is really an interesting contest," some self-appointed USC metahuman expert tells the camera. "We have good reason to believe that not only is Omega one of the most powerful of the new wave of metahumans, he's also one of the most versatile. It's obvious that he's also one of the most egotistical."

I can't argue with the assessment. I try -- but I can't. The expert continues. "Meanwhile, Permafrost is also powerful, but he's not very versatile, and his powers aren't a great fit for Southern California. However, the only person who hasn't acknowledged that Permafrost isn't a nice guy is Omega."

Fucking bury me now, somebody!

"So you think we're seeing a superhero race as hot as the one for the White House?" the anchor asks.

"Well, there are quite a few possibilities," Expert Guy continues. "One of them could win the contest, and the value of endorsements for a starting superhero for a major corporation ranges from five to ten million a year. There's a good chance that Nike will milk the publicity from the competition for all its worth, sign both heroes, and position their personalities to match the right product. But in the meanwhile, we've got Survivor in tights. I think it's going to be riveting."
 I turn off the television and decide that I need a distraction. A dinner date with Leona and someone I probably won't like? I guess it beats spending the evening listening to my agent talk about his fucking endorsement deals.

At seven, I head down to the lobby and find Leona and a big guy waiting for me. It figures that Leona would attract an alpha. Leona comes over to me and kisses me on the cheek.

"Ooooo, you did great today!" she squeals enthusiastically.

"Actually, the word I'd use is 'fucking awesome.'" I smirk.

"Tommy, this is Frank Rogers." Leona introduces his date, and I shake his hand. He's another prime cut piece of jock-meat who hovers around the six-two mark. I'm in my full 'oh, my god, he's a superhero' mode, where my powers augment my looks to the point where it takes a strong effort not to notice me. He looks a little uncomfortable.

"Is he also at Nike?"

"I'm a psych major at USC," Frank explains.

"Is there actually a practical use for all that psychology bullshit?" I ask.

"You'd be surprised." Frank maintains a polite façade.

"And he qualified for the U.S. Olympic water polo team!" Leona squeals.

"So, you swim around clutching balls with a bunch of half naked guys?" I smile.

"Yep. And you dress up in a skintight suit and fly around West Hollywood," Frank snaps back.
I laugh, and then he does. Having done the testosterone handshake, the comfort level immediately goes back to normal, although I have to admit that I'm a little fucking jealous of him -- I had my eye on Leona from the first moment we met. We find ourselves a little Mexican bar and grill a few blocks from the hotel, and we settle in for a long meal and a lot of conversation. It's loud, dark, and a bit of a dive, which makes the place a lot more palatable than I expected. It's also obvious that Frank and Leona are a rock-solid couple, in spite that Leona always acts like she's on speed and flirts with any attractive male at the drop of a hat, the body language alone tells me that she's absolutely crazy about her water polo pony boy. So much for that romantic possibility.

It's a pleasant evening with unremarkable conversation. Leona says that Frigia's been on the phone a lot, but she's not sure who she's talking with. Leona has no hesitation about bringing up shoptalk, something that clearly irritates her boyfriend (and which will probably annoy the fucking hell out of him once they're married). Frank is very quiet and studies everything that's being said, and every motion. Leona just talks and talks, a geyser of enthusiasm. It's hard for me to get a word in edgewise. Frank doesn't even try to interrupt.

"She should get her own talk show," he says on one of the few opportunities to initiate a conversation. Leona slugs him, and keeps talking.

The minutes pass, and I find myself getting hornier. I've got a pretty healthy libido, but I usually keep it under wraps pretty good. Even Rachel told me that I was a gentleman, once. But now, what I'm feeling isn't gentle at all. I want you, Leona. I want to climb on your Amazonian form and give you the fuck of a lifetime. Of course, I don't say it out loud. I'm pretty sure Frank picks up on it, but he keeps his cool. Leona keeps talking, and the words may as well be a French love poem, spoken over a dessert of strawberries, melted chocolate and whipped cream. After awhile, even her squeals begin to sound erotic. The food's late, so she doesn't have an excuse not to stop talking. And she doesn't stop talking after the food's served. Finally I have to excuse myself, and walk a little to the side to hide the bulge in my crotch. I go to the bathroom and relieve myself. It takes awhile. I try not to be noisy about it.

When I exit the stall, I find Frank waiting to talk with me.

"So you're a superhero, huh?" he says.

"That's what it says on the business card."

"That's good. That must be a real hard life." Frank observes.

"I just started. But I've seen a few things already," I answer.

"I can see that."

"And I guess you've read more Freud than any human being ought to."

"It's actually Skinner that I hope I never have to read again," Frank tells me. "But I've never had much use for Freud either. I do have to wonder what Freud would have to say about superheroes."

"I'm sure he'd find something phallic," I say.

"You're not badly read for a high school graduate." Frank compliments me. "I'm sure he'd find the eroticism in the superhero world fascinating. But even more than that, I think he'd find your social roles interesting. To use a Freudian metaphor, superheroes are the superego of the world. The force of restraint and self-discipline."

The room is silent for about ten seconds. I put my hands under a sensor, and a stream of warm water washes them. "Fascinating. I'm all ego, I think," I tell him.

"Maybe. But there's an id in there somewhere," he says.

"Plenty of id to go around." I smile. "Why are we wasting our time talking in here when we could discus this with Leona? This sounds like a great dinner conversation topic. Shouldn't we get back to our table?"

He nods, washes his hands, and we return. I'm feeling less horny now, but the attraction or the desire hasn't completely subsided, and I get a sudden jolt when I see her again. I sit down, and Leona starts talking again.

This is a thoroughly miserable fucking dinner, though I smile and try to hide it. Worst of all, I'm not sure whether Leona was aware of my feelings, or completely oblivious. Was I the game, or was the game being played on me? Frank just sits there and looks relaxed. He doesn't attempt to redirect the conversation to Freud.

During dessert, I get another premonition, and I leave Nike's corporate card and head out. Leona gives me a kiss on the cheek. Frank just sits there and offers me a rather cool "good luck" and no handshake. He's not being rude or jealous, he's simply a guy with quiet emotions. I respect that. I guess I'll be pulling for him at the Olympics after all.

I fly toward the downtown core, and find myself outside an art gallery. It's silent, both inside and outside. I keep having the feeling that something's wrong, but don't have any idea what's wrong or where, so I fly to the roof. I don't even have time to get my bearings, I'm immediately jumped by a fucking robotic horse that comes out of nowhere and tries to rip my head off. Two punches is all that it takes to turn the electronic nag into a Mr. Ed nightmare of broken horse bits. I inspect the roof and find the access has been forced on a door to a small maintenance closet. A trail. I start following it.

I'm dealing now with finesse, not superhuman strength. There's a small air conditioning shaft that the felon went through. I follow, though I can barely squeeze through. I pop out in the center of the gallery, where they've got some sort of Old West exhibit set up -- saddles, art, Louis L'amour manuscripts, and a life-sized Annie Oakley wax figure. "Well boys and girls," I say out loud. "It's time to glorify America's shitty and violent past."

That's when Annie Oakley comes to life, guns drawn, and gives me both barrels dead center in the chest.

Shit, I was really off on that 'three supervillains in twenty days' estimate I gave Frigia. It's fucking pouring supervillains!

The bullets bounce off my chest and sting. I've been shot by various ammo types when I had the tests done in Colorado, and these rounds felt like hollowpoints, nasty little fuckers. I adjust to the low light and recognize the woman as Bandita, a minor league supervillain who likes to play a western riff. She's a third generation villain, the 22 year old daughter of Bandito Jr., a recently deceased minor league villain, who was himself the son of Bandito Sr., another minor league villain who was executed in Texas about twenty years ago (they do that to supervillains there).
"Oh shit," she says. She throws her guns at me. They also bounce off my chest. "I guess this is the last round-up," she says. She has a slight Texas drawl.

I start laughing again. She turns to run away, so I jump on top of her and tackle her.

"Let go of me!" she screams.

"What is it with you bad guys? Fuck! You and your goddamn motifs. This is just sick. You're all sick!"

"What's your motif, boy?"

"I don't have a motif. I just want to get rich, have some fucking fun, and get plenty of ass." I'm holding her close, and then the possibilities dawn on me. She's actually very pretty. Her leather-clad breasts look really hot. She has a great, natural smell. I had just spent two hours with a woman I wanted, and all she did was play a coy little cat and mouse game with me and her boyfriend. I really could use a few games of my own.

"Oh no," she says, realizing what I'm thinking. But that's not what her eyes are telling me.

"I'll give you a choice." I smile broadly. "Sex or prison."

"Fuck you!"

"Is that an invitation, or are you trying to piss me off?" I ask, letting her go. But I don't let her get too far. When we get to our feet, I back her into a corner, slowly moving my lips to hers, and then pulling back at the last second, when I can sense her weakness. "You know, in the Old West, guys were pretty rough. Is that how you want it?" I ask.

Bandita gasps, and pulls toward me. Good, she's not saying no. And then we kiss. I grab her, and I rock her, and I lay down with her on the gallery floor. Old wooden Indian chiefs and paintings of big beefy cowboys watch as we disrobe.

She's a very tentative and nervous lover. She has marginal superhuman strength and toughness, but not much in the way of self-confidence or a libido. We have about six minutes of really awkward sex -- I don't push her too hard, but I'm persistent - before the police arrive. As soon as she hears the sirens, she freaks. "We have to get out of here!" she shouts.

"Why?" I ask. "The place is closed. It's not like we're doing it out in public or being indiscreet."
"Shit! You son of a bitch!" She realizes that I was just delaying her until the cops showed. I crack a smile. "You promised me that I wouldn't go to prison! You promised!"

"Never believe a guy who wants to have a fuck." I grin.

"I can't go to prison. I can't!"

"Look on the bright side, Bandita. The leather look's sure to be popular there." Her jaw drops. "You fucking shot me." I snap. "You took your goddamn guns and hit me twice in the chest. And those weren't ordinary rounds. If I were a normal, I'd be dead, and you'd be a murderer. So don't you dare go fucking moral on me!"

"You bastard!" She's nearly crying.

"At least the cops aren't going to try you for murder. They're just going to get you for breaking and entering and theft, and you had a chance to get a good fuck out of the experience, so consider yourself lucky. And with a good lawyer, you might be able to grease the gears on the California prison system's revolving door. You might not even have to do time."

At that moment, the police kick through the front door, and about six cops do their typical stormtrooper routine. Man, the last thing they expected to see was a superhero and a supervillainess in the buff, making out on the museum floor. "This isn't happening," Bandita says.

"God, this isn't happening!"

The cops look at me. I point out where Bandita was stashing her stolen stuff and throw my costume back on. When I get that 'you're really fucked in the head' look from the cops, I just smile. "I had to do something to keep her here until you could make the scene," I tell the arresting officer.

"I want to press charges!" Bandita cries. "He raped me!"

"Nice try." I smirk. "It's too bad the cameras saw everything." I point up to the security footage. They saw everything -- and heard nothing, and even if they had a voice recording, it's not like lying to a homicidal bitch is illegal. "There is no way you'll be able to make a rape charge stick based on what's on that tape. And by the way, not only do you suck in bed, I broke your little horsie. It's up on the roof in a thousand fucking pieces!"

She screams and breaks down hysterically. I haven't a clue why. Maybe it was a gift from daddy or something. I ask the police if there are any questions, but the security footage should take care of most of them.

"Shit, that bitch needs counseling." I mutter. The cops look at me like I'm the fucking bad guy here. Fine. Let them watch the tape, imagine themselves getting shot, and then decide who's the real villain.

It's late at night, and I'm not in the mood for clubbing, so. I head back to the hotel. I'm not in the mood to egoscan the news, so I put myself to sleep.

I don't dream tonight. When you're a superhero, and you can alter reality to make it whatever the fuck you want, life takes on a dream-like tone. The superhero life, where every day you're bouncing from one high point to another high point and there's a fucking fight around every corner, is surrealistic enough even without the fucking powers.

And then I'm woken up by a choking sensation, by cold hard metal digging into my throat. It's dark, and I can't fucking breathe, I can't even cough. Somebody's trying to kill me in my fucking sleep. Yeah, I know I have to become superhuman, but it's fucking hard to concentrate on the transformation when some dickhead's trying to choke the life out of you.

Great. I'm just about to hit the fucking big time, and now I'm going to die. How fucking wonderful.

It's the anger that saves me, gives me reason to fight. That and the fact that even my normal form ain't exactly a wuss. Whoever is attacking me has a big fucking chain wrapped around my throat. I dig my fingers under it, arc my back, and relieve the pressure just enough so I can become superhuman again, and it's payback time.

I throw off the assailant and get to my feet. My attacker looks like a fucking big biker, about my height but a little broader and fatter. He's either a refuge from an S&M bar, or he's The Chain, a supervillain mercenary who's considered one of the toughest hit men out there. I start to insult him, but no no fucking banter. Not this time. This guy isn't just another loser from the supervillain assembly line -- this dickhead just tried to kill me. If I hadn't managed to transform, I'd be dead, and Michael would be tripping over yet another dead superhero in the morning. This isn't a fucking game anymore.

I connect with a punch. I'm off-balance, and it's not really a good blow. The Chain smiles, takes a chain, wraps it around his fist, and generates a force field around it. It feels like I'm getting hit by a truck. Fortunately, I'm tough enough that getting hit by a truck is no big deal. I grab his wrists and squeeze them. I hear a pair of cracks, and I get to watch his eyes bulge. He begins to scream. He drops his chains. I rise up into the air, spreading my arms, holding him like he's in a crucifix, and slowly pull his arms out of his sockets. Understandably, he's screaming in complete agony.

"Who sent you?" I finally snarl. I let the pressure loose for a second so we can talk.

"You sent Walt to the hospital," he manages to moan. "He was only trying to go straight and do his fucking job, and you screwed him over real bad."

No fucking way! That cunt! Dangerous, you fucking bastard! Walt Thomlinson is Dangerous's nom verite, and Dangerous and the Chain worked together at least twice as members of the short-lived Badass Five (a really tough supervillain team, despite having the most fucking laughable name in the history of capes and tights). I could almost laugh. But for some reason, I ain't in a laughing move.

"So Dangerous sent you?"

"He suggested I pay you a visit. He didn't exactly order me to kill you. That was my idea. Heh."

I throw the Chain down on the ground, animate his chains, and begin lashing him with them telekinetically. I don't have 'omph' with my telekinesis to really do damage with this, but I don't want to end this clean or quick. On the other hand, if he dies, I'll probably go to prison, and this asshole isn't worth the shit I'd go through even if I didn't end up with a prison term.

The Chain puts his right arm back in its socket, grabs a chain, wraps it around his fist, charges it up, and then takes another run at me. He's a murderous son of a bitch, but he's also one tough fucking murderous son of a bitch. Although he's also a fucking dumb one. If I were him, I'd realize I was outmatched and run. But I'm actually fucking happy that he doesn't.

I dodge the blow, catch him in the gut with a punch, and when he doubles over, I grab him by his bald head and knee him in the face three times. I can add his face to my list of favors I've done for the local plastic surgery community; it's a bloody, shattered mess. His blood is streaming all over my body. I gotta admit it's a major rush.

The Chain screams and tackles me -- I can't believe this motherfucker's still fighting, and he nails me between the legs with a fucking hard fist. Shit, that hurts. And I pride myself on never fighting dirty, so this really pisses me off.

His fingers reach for my throat, but I grab a wrist, get behind him, lock on a hammerlock, and put pressure on the hold, forcing him to his knees and breaking his arm. I follow it up with a head butt to the back of his head. He performs an astonishingly good sit-out, escapes from my hold, and we get back to our feet. I backhand him, tackle him, and we wrestle. It's obvious that he's got some sort of incredible recuperative powers, because even as tough as he is, there's no fucking way this guy should still be up and thrashing. I overpower him, but he responds by grabbing my crotch, squeezing my nuts, and making a comment about showing me what prison life is like. That's the last fucking straw. I don't give a shit if this is just fight talk; I go fucking nuts. I wrench his hand off, turn him onto his back, and nail him. Seven punches to the face later, and he's lying still. I don't know if he's alive or dead, and I really don't fucking care.
The hotel manager comes up a few minutes later and he's screaming at me to get the fuck out of his hotel. I yell at him to get fucking lost, and sit back and breathe. This was way too close. I almost fucking died tonight, in my fucking sleep.

Minutes pass. I make sure the door's completely shut to the outside. I'm sorry guys, I know it's your fucking hotel, I know that you're doing your job, and I know that you can't have fucking metahumans trashing your hotel rooms at three o'clock in the fucking morning. But right fucking now, I don't give a shit.

More minutes pass. I finally crawl over to the Chain and check on him. He's breathing, but it's shallow.

"Omega?" a deep voice calls out. "Tommy, this is Hawkins. Are you alright?"

I put on some pants -- this was only about the third time I've had a fight in the buff, and I didn't even notice until now -- and open the door.

"Lieutenant, I've got some charges" A whole squad of cops comes barreling into the hotel room. "to press. This asshole just tried to kill me in my sleep."

Hawkins nods, and the police wisely decide not to pulls their guns on me. Even the cops are grossed out by what I did to the Chain. "First Halcyon, now this," Hawkins says.

"What about Halcyon?" I ask. Hawkins just shakes his head.

"Kid, even if I wasn't who I was, you have to do a lot better job of covering your tracks than that."

Wasn't who I was? I get the feeling that's the clue du jour, and the only one I'm going to get. I sigh. "Is he okay?" I ask.

"You beat him pretty bad. It'll take a few weeks for him to fully recover," Hawkins replies. "If I were you, and I were to get that cushy Nike job, I'd talk to his lawyer, and quietly pay his medical bills and add a couple hundred grand in compensation."

"That might be a plan," I reply. "What about this guy? Can I at least get some photos taken of the welts around my throat before they heal completely?"

"You won't have to worry about them," Hawkins promises.

"If the Chain dies"

"You won't have to worry, Tommy. We know what happened. No charges will be pressed."

I give Hawkins the weirdest look. What the fuck was he?  "No one's ever tried to kill me before. I freaked," I say.

"Tommy." Hawkins grabs my shoulders and looks me directly in the eyes. "Read my lips. No one will press charges against you for what you did, even if he does die. The Chain is guilty of multiple counts of murder. Omega is guilty of bad manners. This was self-defense, pure and simple."

"That won't exactly help me sleep better if he dies, Lieutenant."

"It's nice to know you still have a conscience, boy," Hawkins says. "That may help us all sleep better at night."

I roll my eyes.  "My conscience is smaller than his fucking dick." I tell Hawkins, motioning toward S&M Boy. "I'm more worried about where I'll stay now that the Hyatt has made me persona non-grata. Maybe Michael might take me in"

"I wouldn't go there if I were you," Hawkins interrupts me very quickly.

"You got a reason, or am I going to get yet another vague warning?" I snap back and begin to mock him. "Oooga fucka booga! Bad things are about to happen! Ancient evils will fucking awaken and eat your souls, boys and girls! Barn cats and sheepdogs will lie down together! Disco will fucking rise from the dead! Evil! Evil!!!" I shake my head.

"Yeah, you pretty much understand what's happening." Hawkins says, not missing a beat. "As for Mike Carleton, I'm not about to level unsubstantiated charges against a tax-paying citizen. But be careful. Be very careful."

I don't bother to make repairs. Leaving the police to handle Chain Boy, I gather up my luggage and leave without checking out. It's about 1400 miles by air between Los Angeles and Milford. Maybe I should experiment with my flight and see if a commute is possible. But there were a lot of reasons why I wanted to get the hell out of fucking Nebraska.

And that's when I'm reminded why I don't like Los Angeles much either. I guess word leaked out to the press, because KCAL intercepts me as I'm out the door. "Omega, what happened in your hotel room?"

"The Chain tried to kill me. He's now regretting it." I decide to sit up straight, answer a few questions, and hope that the graveyard shift goes away. "I hope the rest of this town's supervillains aren't such cowards that they're going to try to kill me in my sleep. I get cranky when I'm woken up."

"What can you tell us about Bandita?"

"I don't know why all these supervillains decided to hit town as soon as I arrived, but that's cool with me. I can use the exercise."

"Is it true that you had a relationship with Bandita?"

"I've gotta admit that I have a certain thing for bad girls." I smile. "But there's bad, and then there's stupid. Bandita is just plain dumb. No, there's no relationship, and there won't be a relationship, at least until after she's had a lot of really intense psychotherapy."

"What did you think of the Dictator's giant robot?"

"It's big, it's heavy, and it's dead, thanks to Blur," I swagger. "Yay, Blur!" I circle my finger around in a mock party motion.

"Do you have any words for Permafrost?"

"Sure. Hey, Frosty, winner buys the beer. Eh." I smile. "Keep playing Smokey the Bear up in the forest, and I'll deal with the fires you can't handle down here."

"Some people have said that you're arrogant, a loose cannon. Do you have any response?"
"Sure. I dress up in tights and I risk my life fighting people who try to strangle me in my sleep and make a mess out of my hotel room. And the thing you're most concerned about is my arrogance? I don't know who's more nuts: me for taking this gig, or you because your priorities are completely fucked up?"

I'm really tired, and I'm saying things I shouldn't. I shrug. The way the reporter's looking at me is bothering the shit out of me. How dare I criticize St. Permafrost and Sister Blur? "Look, seriously, Blur and Permafrost are great human beings, and I can't wait to meet them in person. I'm sure they're everything a superhero should be. Me, I've got a few edges, like taking people who attempt to murder me when I'm helpless, defending myself, and beating them into a coma when they don't surrender. I'll work on those edges, I promise."

Fuck, can I put my step in shit and stick my foot in my mouth, or what?

I fly away and search the waterfront for a place to crash. I find myself a really run-down hotel on sunset strip. A little cash, a driver's license and a credit card later, and I am thoroughly entrenched in room 302 of the Sunset Strip Hacienda Deluxe, not to be confused with any real hotel that uses the word "Hacienda" in its name. The only "deluxe" part that I can see around here is that their roaches have attitude. And I have a harder time making an outside call from this hotel room than I would from South Yemen.

I sleep until morning. The neighbors aren't noisy. I don't trip over any supervillains for the rest of the evening. Life is good.

Morning comes, and the "feud" between me and Permafrost is all over the news, both local and national. KCLA flew up to Northern California and got a cheery shot of Permafrost getting up in the morning and being confronted by the press with the footage of me giving him the bird. "Wow, he's a real jerk." Permafrost laughs. "But we Canucks are used to having Yanks insult our national honor." The annoying part is that I can tell he's joking, and I can tell he knows I'm not being serious, but the fucking media are such stone-faced tight-asses that they're treating it like I'm actually an ugly American who's disgracing our national honor by insulting a foreign guest.

Whatever. Fuck them. Maybe I should give Permafrost a phone call tonight and see if we can choreograph this "feud" and play it up for all it's worth. It might be good for shits and grins.
I know I'm in for major shit when I go in to Nike, but I'm getting fucking bored with Nike and their little political games. I'm also bothered a little bit by the Stormtroopers and their sophisticated armor, and I request some time to go to the LAPD and work with some investigators on tracking it down -- good "investigation training". By now, the police know me. In fact, I'm getting the impression that anonymity is never going to be a fucking problem for me again.

I also hear that the Chain is still in a coma, and they don't know if he'll ever awaken. I'm not sure how I feel about that. A large part of me is saying "Good" and hoping he never gets up again. But there's another part of me who doesn't really want to be responsible for killing someone; Grampa Champion may have fought on Omaha Beach and got the medal of honor by mowing down some Nazis and taking a machine gun nest single-handed (what the fuck does one expect from the "Greatest Generation"), but me I just don't fucking know. I'm not one of those "Heroes Must Never Kill" bullshit types, but anyone who's fucking cavalier about killing someone needs to get kicked in the head a few hundred times.

I'm not as fucking insensitive as I thought I was. I guess dad needed to send me to military school after all.

That's when I get to Nike, and my jaw fucking drops when I walk in the door. I figured people would be turning their heads at the sight of me, but everyone at Nike is "hi, Omega". A few people ask to shake my hand and sign autographs. Fuck! I could enjoy this, but somebody's secretary intercepts me, and I'm immediately called into a meeting. This time, a lot of the Nike brass and higher-ups are present, as are Michael, Frigia, and the pet Middle Management Stress Monkey -- Leona told me his name earlier, but I don't fucking remember it. I'm the last person in the room. As soon as I sit down, Corporate America goes into action.

"We're very pleased to welcome Nike's newest employee, Tom Champion -- or should I say Omega," the Chief Operations Officer says. There's a little bit of laughter. "As you said in this morning's interview, you're a little rough, but Nike has never shied away from people with rough edges. We think you're going to be the biggest thing for us since 'The Bittersweet Symphony of Life.'"

"What?" I gasp.

"You're hired, farmboy." Michael says, smiling. The room breaks out into applause.

"But, what about the competition?" Frigia is caught in a mix of bewilderment and being really pissed off. "I set that up for a reason. And Permafrost is an ideal candidate..."

"The competition is working better than we expected." The COO smiles. "And we're going to bring Permafrost onboard as well. But it's in our best interest for the general public to believe that the competition is continuing for a few more weeks, so we won't make the announcement yet. But we're preparing some spots featuring the two of you; we're going to have to grab you boys next week to shoot them."

"'You boys'. You mean me and Permafrost together?" I ask.

"Exactly. Hopefully we can cultivate another Dan/Dave dynamic. We're going to play off your rivalry, and if a few sparks can fly between you two, so much the better."

"Fine with me," I say.

"No!" Frigia suddenly exclaims. It's part exclamation, part shock. "No! This so-called 'hero' is a psychotic. Last night he put a man in a coma and we still don't know whether he'll live or die! And worse, he was accused of rape"

"That was a lie and the tapes prove it!" I insist.

"With your powers, you probably altered the contents of those tapes," Frigia snaps. "Last night, we had rape and attempted murder. What's next?" Michelle Law is beginning to break down. "How can we as moral human beings possibly condone this man?"

"Because if he were guilty of any crime, the police would have arrested him by now?" Michael counters. "Because the word of a supervillainess isn't exactly trustworthy? And maybe because people are innocent until proven guilty, Michelle?"

"Innocent? This son of a bitch hasn't been innocent one single day in his life!"

Her voice fills the room with a shrill unpleasant sound like an angry cat. Everyone in the room recoils from her as if she suddenly started growing snakeheads from her arms. Frigia is really losing it. And I'm enjoying every fucking second of it.

 "Michelle, calm down" Middle Management finally attempts an intervention. As is typical with him, it's a feeble attempt, as impotent as his dick. All it does is rile Frigia even further.
"Doesn't anyone here have any morals left?" she snaps, and she circles round the table to confront the COO directly. "How long ago did you sell your soul? Why can't you see that behind this man's curly blond hair and cute smile is a monster? He's a rapist and a murderer and and"

"Someone who pisses off bitches?" I say. "You know, the guy who attacked me, this Chain guy, did you know that he's a friend of your friend Dangerous? I wonder who hates me so much that they gave this asshole the idea of murdering me in my sleep? Was it a psycho, or a bitch?"
The room gasps. I went too far, again. However, my words have a slight calming effect on her, at least for a few seconds. "I'm a bitch because I recognize when a two-bit psychotic gets superhuman abilities and hides behind the façade of my company so he can hurt people with impunity. This man has too much power, too little control, and he's going to end up hurting or killing a large number of people. I know it!"

"You're a prophet?" I ask, mocking her.

 "Shut up!" she screams. "I've been here for ten years, and I've seen good people screwed, and I've seen little dictators and megalomaniacs come and go, and I've seen petty politics, and a thousand other things that just suck, but this sucks more than anything I've ever seen. This man is going to do serious damage to the company's reputation, and that's the best case scenario. I don't even want to think about a worst case scenario!"

 "You lost, Michelle." Michael says. "Accept it, deal with it, swallow your pride, and move on."

 "You pack of fools!" Michelle shouts. "And you!" she points at Michael. "I'm surprised you don't gag on all of the superhero cocks you've sucked since you joined this company!"
Michael's eyes bulge in surprise. There's something in the way she's standing, the way she's looking at him my god, she really, really hates him. I knew they didn't like each other, but it's not until see the unbridled hate in her eyes that I realize that her animosity toward him is a lot greater than her hatred of me. What did he do to her? "We can only hope that the Michael Carleton superhero curse continues"

 "That's enough, Michelle. In fact, that's more than enough," the COO proclaims. "This argument is over!"

 "It's not over! He's been here less than a week and he's already shown himself to be nothing but a disgrace. What happens when the press"

 "Meeting adjourned." The COO abruptly declares. Man, he's pissed. Everyone is pissed. The room falls silent, except for Frigia's heavy breathing. The COO rises to his feet and leaves the office, without saying a word to anyone. The others follow. Michael waits for me to get to my feet. "Congratulations, farmboy," he tells me. "Your agent's in the other room, and we've got a lot of paperwork for you to sign."

 "Again? Fuck!" I sigh, resigned to an hour of mindless scribbling on contracts.

 "Michael?" Frigia's voice is faint.

 "Yeah?"

 "By the end of the day, I'm going the one who's laughing. Call it a prophecy, or my own psychic hot line, or just common sense. But I will be laughing. At you."

 "Sure Michelle." Michael says. "By the way, did I ever thank you for fucking up my deal with Molsons?"

 Michelle just looks at him, steams for a few seconds, and leaves.

 "Well, she's one of a kind," I say. "Thank fucking God."

 "I heard they kicked you out of the hotel," Michael says. "Need a place to crash?"

 "You offering?"

 "My place isn't really set up for company, but I'll do my best," Michael says.

 "I've slept in barns, Michael. Your apartment shouldn't be too much worse," I say. "I did have a question for you, though it's kind of personal."

 Michael shrugs and smiles. "The worst I can do is tell you to fuck off. Go ahead."

 I pause, swallow, and work up some courage. I look up the ceiling, see some ridiculously bad modern sculpture, and notice the guy in the picture behind Michael is naked except for a pair of Nikes. Fucking corporate art. It does provide a certain context for the question. "Michael, are you gay?" I ask him.

 "I sure am." Michael answers with a big fucking smile, and he leans toward me, licking his lips. "So when do you want to do it? Are you a top guy or a bottom guy?"

 I'm pretty much stunned by his frankness. There's no way he'd answer me so direct, with no hesitation. "You're bullshitting. Fuck, you are such a bullshit artist. I can't fucking believe you!"

 "And for somebody who's more fucking powerful than God, you really are an immature little shit." Michael says. "I'm sorry you're having issues, farmboy. But if you keep losing that goddamn temper of yours, everything the bitch says about you is going to come true -- and worse, and you fucking know it."

 "Fuck off." I spit, pouting.

 "Fuck off yourself," Michael says, annoyed.

 We just look at each other for a second. Fuck, does this guy ever bug the living shit out of me! It's like me and Buck, except I'm not the one sitting in the big brother seat. But it's nice that we've reached the point in our friendship where we can get away with telling each other to fuck off.

 "Is everyone supposed to be queer in this town?" I ask. Michael shakes his head.

  "Farmboy, this is the one issue that you can't let allow to get under your skin." I give him a puzzled look. "Okay, bad choice of words. But you can't do anything about it. Just go and take a look at alt.gay.super-heroes or alt.queers-in-tights. I'll bet you a thousand bucks they've already started some really long threads about you. If you're an attractive male celebrity in Hollywood, you're gay. It doesn't matter who you're dating, or what comments you make to the media, or even if you're screwing more women than Wilt Chamberlain. You're still gay."

 "I thought the truth was fucking negotiable in Hollywood." I spit.

 "This is one issue where the truth gets buried in an avalanche. Just tell the truth and if people don't believe you, fuck them. Go with the flow." I shake my head. "Besides, you're doing some really good people a fucking disservice."

 "Sounds like fucking politically correct bullshit to me," I snap.

"Sometimes fucking politically correct bullshit is correct, farmboy," Michael counters. "Most queers are real goddamn nice when you get to know them as actual human beings. Drop the Eminem 'I'm a little goddamn shithead' bullshit act. Don't fucking screw your friends. The gay community loves superheroes. They have a thing for you guys. They'll die for Judy Garland, Madonna, and Avatar. You treat them right, and they'll be goddamn loyal, even when everyone else turns on you. I don't know why, they just are."

 "Something about spandex and a good looking ass," I mutter. "I suppose I should get going and do this fucking paperwork," I mutter. "And listen to my agent. And go talk to the police about patrol routes."

 "And change the subject." Michael adds. I swallow a reply. "Do you know where my place is?"

 "Sure."

 "Try to be home by seven. Give me an hour or so to clean the place up."

 I nod and head out and meet with my agent. I have to listen to Chester lecture me, but it's half-hearted -- he's getting 18% of the Nike contract right off the top, so he's got no reason to bitch. The day's pretty uneventful, thank god. I have to listen to some cops, and discuss my patrols. Officer Shithead wants me to use elementary schools as my landmarks, because the little boys and girls like seeing superheroes fly around the fucking sky (even when they're indoors and can't see me, I imagine). Officer Surly doesn't give a shit what I do, he just wants the day to be over.

 I patrol around Hollywood a bit, cloaking myself invisibly so traffic won't spot me. I spot a motorist whose car has broken down on the Interstate, and fly him and his Mazda to a service station. A traffic copter gets close to me as I'm taking off from the station, I wave at the pilot, give her a thumbs up, and fly away.

 At 7, I head for Michael's place. I don't know what the fuck he's talking about when he's worried about the place being small or a mess -- it's a huge loft apartment, and it's gorgeous. The architecture and construction is remarkable in its simplicity; high ceilings, beams, and a lot of wooden construction. It's a man's place, devoid of the metal, glass, and effeminate tastes of Los Angeles's most expensive interior decorators. There's not much furniture, and a lot of open space. Big green houseplants in the corners. A lot of African art on the walls, masks and tribal impressionistic shit. There's a skylight where long shafts of light are bleeding down into the room. I mentally make a note that I can use it as an easy exit.

 "Hey." Michael says, greeting me at the door.

 "Hi honey, I'm home." I smirk. He just shakes his head, and promptly gives me the nickel tour. Bathroom. Kitchen. Living Room. Couch. Michael's bedroom (which is off-limits).

 "Jesus, Michael, this is Hollywood," I say. "I thought this included the tour of the stars' homes. Aren't you going to show me where you fucked and tell me with whom?"

 "Shit, this is going to be fun," Michael says. "But I mean it, farmboy. Respect my privacy. The bedroom's off limits, unless it's life or death. I'm way serious about that."

 Whatever. I turn on the television, a big 38" Sony with a home theatre set-up. You gotta love creature comforts.

 I turn to MNN, where they're doing a series on "New Blood," profiles on the latest batch of superheroes. I wonder if they'll get to me. They talk a lot about Knock-out (who's a little too Brittany Spears for my taste, except for those times I like Brittany Spears), and Old Fossil, er, Glory (sorry guys, but new powers don't make a patriotic dork cool). And then they start talking about me.

 "Dennis Rodman. Mike Tyson. In the last few days, one more name has been added to this list of bad boys -- Omega, Los Angeles's newest and most controversial superhero."

 "What the fuck?" I shout. I'm obviously pretty upset, because Michael, who was taking a shower, is alerted enough to the panic in my voice that he comes rushing out, hiding his crotch with a towel. "They're comparing me to a goddamn rapist!"

 "This unlikely hero was born Thomas Champion, in the small town of Milford Nebraska. Milford is the quintessential American small town, two thousand people who know each other on a first name basis, and attend one of the community's nine churches."

 "Community." I sneer. "Just another name for backwater."

"So how did this son of a white farmer and a church secretary turn into the terror of the Los Angeles night scene?"

"Tommy always had a big mouth and a foul mouth." Fuck, it's Steve Doerksen. They went and goddamn interviewed my fucking friends! "Tommy's a very difficult guy to really get to know, because most people can't stand his mouth, or his temper, or his ego."

"Tommy Champion is a real jerk." They've switched to another interview. It's Kathleen Friesen. Great, they went and dug up Madame Clique herself. How long before they want to fucking string me up? "He treated everyone like dirt. He treated his girlfriend worse than dirt." Yeah, you spent years trying to get Rachel to dump me, so what the fuck should I expect you to say? "There aren't many people here who like him."

"No, I can't say that I don't like Tommy." They've switched back to Steve. "You have to go through a lot of crap if you're Tommy's friend"

"I wouldn't have guessed," Michael tosses out an aside.

"he loves raising hell, he doesn't have much use for authority, but just when you get to the point where don't want to have anything more to do with the guy, he does something that's incredibly noble." Steve seems embarrassed to say the word. "I went through a phase in my life where everything fell to pieces, and I expected Tommy to be the first person to kick me when I was down, but instead, he was the only person who defended me, and gave me encouragement. I owe him a lot. And there's a lot of people around here who should say the same, even if they don't."

The narrator starts up again. Yearbook images flash on screen. Fuck, do I look like a dork in most of those photos. "Despite a long history of causing trouble, Tommy had a 4.0 average in high school, and was a star on the Milford high school football and track team, and captain of the wrestling team. Until one fateful day two years ago"

There's the sound of thunder. They just had to show a goddamn lightning bolt. Fuck them, that's sure not predictable!

"I'm not sure why lightning bolts are such a common motif in the acquisition of superhero abilities." This guy is middle aged, balding, with two shafts of white hair on either side of his face, and big round glasses that would put John Lennon to shame.

"Who the fuck is Dr. Anson Bellamy?" I ask.

"Metahuman powers researcher at Stanford," Michael explains. "He's one of the best-known metahuman powers consultants for the FBI."

"There's almost something mythical about it -- just as Prometheus stole Zeus's thunderbolts and gave mankind the gift of fire, some other force is giving mankind a new gift. Though I'm not sure what Mr. Champion did to earn this gift. According to all of the data that we have, Omega is one of the strongest, toughest, and most versatile new metahumans we've seen in years."

"It was actually a difficult time for Tommy, after the lightning bolt," Steve says. "He was in the hospital for nearly a month. After he came out, and he had the powers, Tommy wasn't allowed to compete in sports, and that really hurt. Shane Barlow had beaten him by one point at the Nebraska freestyle championships in his junior year, and all Tommy could talk about that summer was beating Barlow, 'getting his revenge', he called it. You wouldn't believe how hard he trained, and suddenly he wasn't allowed to compete anymore. Tommy went a little crazy. When he got his powers and realized he couldn't have a normal life anymore, he just started doing the most outrageous stuff. All of the teachers figured he was using his powers to cheat on his tests, and this really pissed him off, so one day, he took all the teacher's cars and flew them to the other side of town and left them upside down. And then he made some really disgusting holograms of people he didn't like humiliating themselves. His girlfriend just couldn't take it anymore"

 "And you say I have a big mouth?" I snap. "Fuck you, Steve, you goddamn idiot! You're letting these assholes walk all over you!"

"This a friend?" Michael asks.

"I'll have to fucking think about that," I say.

"And finally most of his friends decided they weren't going to have anything to do with him anymore." Steve pauses. "It got lonely for him for awhile. I know he'd never admit it, but he was pretty miserable for most of his senior year." Steve adds. "I really felt sorry for him."

"He thought he was going to be prom king and class valedictorian, but no one voted for him," Kathleen Friesen snips, using the same snippy voice she uses when she conducts all of the affairs for her little clique. "He was really, really pissed, and he took it out on us. He started making all these illusions to make it look I was saying things about people that I didn't. I really think we should have sued him for some of the things he pulled on us."

"Tommy Champion first came to public prominence last June, when the supervillain Soulkiller attacked city hall in Omaha and took the mayor and city council hostage."

"Tommy had played with his powers for about six months, and he had a battery of tests done at the University of Colorado, and the researchers pretty much crapped themselves when they saw everything that Tommy could do," Steve says. "And when the whole mayor crisis thing occurred, we joked around that Tommy should fly in and save the day." Steve is pretty much accurate on that one, although it was Buck's idea. "And Tommy said, why not? So he went in, and he did beat the crap out of Soulkiller and his Sun Devils, and he saved everyone's lives. This was the first time that he really realized that he could do more with his powers than just annoy people."

"No it wasn't!" I shout. "Steve, I talked about becoming a superhero the week after I got out of the fucking hospital! Use your fucking brain cells, goddammit!"

"And then Nike came in, and really pumped up his ego, and offered him an embarrassing amount of money, and I guess they're calling him Omega now. But I'll always call him Tommy. That is if he's still talking to me after this interview."

"Fat fucking chance of that," I snap. Michael's grinning. The asshole.

"Tommy Champion has only been in Los Angeles a few days, but he's already attracted a fair share of controversy. Nike announced that Omega would be competing against young Canadian metahuman Permafrost to see who'd win the contract to be Nike's next spokeshero; whoever does the most to help the Los Angeles region in a three week period would win substantially more than one million dollars. But to what lengths would Omega go to win?
They show a shot of Halcyon in the hospital, his face protected by a Cops style computer blur effect, although with the bandages and the swelling, it's probably not necessary. Halcyon's trying to talk, but his jaw's broken.

"Well, there were some people in armor attacking a jewelry store," a police officer is saying. "We arrived on the scene late, but the video footage is pretty clear that Omega came in and stopped them, and then Halcyon arrived on the scene after the job and took credit for it while Omega was debriefing the cops. I know if I'd put my life on the line, made my first collar and then someone else took credit for it, I'd be real pissed too."

"Halcyon's done this sort of thing before," Bellamy says. "But he had never done this to someone who had so much to lose. Omega is in the middle of a critically important competition with millions of dollars at stake. Los Angeles has been pretty clean of supervillains for the last six months, and then Blur beat him to the Dictator. I can't say for sure what happened, but I can certainly see Omega snapping and deciding to go teach Halcyon a lesson."

"Nike has no comment on this matter." God, it's Frigia. Michelle is clearly loving the opportunity to feed the press some innuendo. "Except that we're sure Omega wishes Halcyon a swift and speedy recovery."

"What's that bitch doing?" Michael mutters under his breath and leans toward the television.

"We knew Omega was high-spirited when we approached him. And if Omega makes Dennis
Rodman look like Ned Flanders, well, Nike is prepared to accept that. Blandness does not fit
the Nike corporate persona. Of course, we're also responsible citizens, which is why we
initiated the competition between Omega and Permafrost to determine who would best serve the
needs of the community."

Michael and I nearly perform the world's first synchronized puke.

The narrator resumes. "In his first few days in Los Angeles, Omega has defeated high-tech thugs and a woman with six-guns, salvaged giant robots, and perhaps most impressively, won a contest of strength against Mexican metahuman legend El Brazos de Fuerza. His notoriety attracted immediate attention, which came when he was attacked in his hotel room by The Chain later that evening. Omega beat The Chain so badly that he's still in a coma. But it isn't just his power that bothers people: as with Rodman and Tyson, attitude is the most disturbing trait of this new bad boy of the metahuman set."

"Me, I've got a few edges," They've got footage of me from this morning. Fuck! "Like taking people who attempt to murder me when I'm helpless, defending myself, and beating them into a coma when they don't surrender. I'll work on those edges, I promise."

Shit, did I say that? Goddamn, these fuckers work fast.

"Naturally, this attitude is a concern for other metahumans who may have to work with -- or even fight against -- Omega one day."

They're now in front of a mini-mall, and an attractive teenage girl runs in front of the camera. God, she really is photogenic.

"She's fucking cute," I smile and tell Michael.

"I never really associated the word 'fucking' with the word 'cute,'" Michael retorts dryly. But he's still stewing over Frigia.

"What are your opinions of the phenom known as Omega?" a reporter asks her.

Blur mocks a smile. "Omega. Isn't that like the last character in the Greek alphabet?"

"We're referring to Los Angeles' new hero and Nike's new poster boy."

Blur mocks a giggle. "Oops, that Omega.  Hmm, well, I'd have to say he's a character too."

"More professionalism from my colleagues" I roll my eyes. Michael just laughs.

"Omega's fame has even reached beyond the American border. Canadian heroes are looking at this man and his competition with Permafrost with particular interest."

They switch to a shot of the Canadian Shield, who have finished some battle up in Vancouver. The press is ganging up around their leader, a nonchalant guy with a big runic sword. Cavalier's expression is momentarily apathetic, but he recovers with a smile. "What do I think of Omega? He's young, perhaps a tad brash, but superheroes are a precious commodity. Los Angeles is lucky to have him."

Trickster adds, "And he's gorgeous!"

The interviewer turns to Blockade, and the camera has to zoom out to get the behemoth centered in the picture. The hero is beyond powerful as his muscles seem to defy the laws of human anatomy -- and he's tall, standing a head-and-shoulder taller than his teammates.

Blockade says, "I hear he's a tough cookie." He then grins, and flexes his cabled arms. "But all cookies crumble."

"Pay per view!" I shout at the television. "Now! Let's do it!"

Michael practically laughs his ass off.

"Fucking ex-pro 'rassler.' He can't take a real athlete." I smirk. "This is one cookie where he'd bite off more than he can fucking chew! Bring it on, Blockhead!"

"You are such a loser, farmboy," Michael says with a poke on the shoulder. He still hasn't changed into some clothes, so I threaten to remove the towel and show the world just how small his dick really is. However, the television distracts us.

"A brash young hero? A kid in a new town who's sowing his oats? A bad boy who's really more talk than action? Or is he just plain bad? Before we can make a judgment, we need to explore one of Omega's darker secrets. This is the Jaguar Grill in West Hollywood, a small, seedy, trendy night club on the Sunset Strip. What happened to Omega here may shock you."

"Holy fuck!" Michael exclaims.

"Well, we didn't know he was Omega at the time." I don't recognize this guy, he's probably one of the patrons. "He came in acting like he owned the place, began trying to pick up anyone on two legs. He made a pass at one of the regulars, they went into the back and had some sex and did some drugs together, and then she OD'd. Omega just abandoned her. It was fortunate that there was a paramedic around here to save her, otherwise that so-called superhero left her to die."

"That's a fucking lie!" I scream.

 "Yeah, I saw Omega," another patron says. "He was pretty freaked out when his girl started going into convulsions and came running onto the floor screaming for a medic. I think he used his powers to revive her, made sure a medic was on the scene to treat her, and then he took off."

 "I think it's cool that we have a superhero who likes to party," a female patron says. "None of this tightass--" Bleep.  "It's about time that L.A. superheroes stopped trying to be--" Bleep.  "--boy scouts and started being real. And he's so--" Bleep.  "--cute, I hope he kicks that Canadian's ass."

 "The pressures of being a young man with metapowers can be overwhelming." The camera shifts to Michelle again. "Perhaps Omega has the right idea in trying not being a saint. Of course, if there are more incidents like the one that took place at the Jaguar Grill, we'll have to rethink our sponsorship. Even Corporate America has its limits."

 "So is Omega a precursor to a new breed of superhero? We've seen controversial metahumans before, and their careers usually end as tumultuously as they begin. Will Omega be just another one of them? Or will this young superman mature into a hero worthy of the great powers he's received? Only time will tell. But if one thing connects these young bloods, it's that they're in for an interesting ride. Alan Dyment, MNN News."

 The program ends with a shot of me shooting into the sky with my middle finger extended. We're silent for about ten seconds, ten long, numb seconds, a silence that's finally broken when the phone rings. Michael doesn't even wait for the answering machine to click on.

 "Carleton"

 I can hear who's on the other end of the line. "Hey, Michael, I don't hear you laughing," Frigia says, obviously pleased with herself.

 "Dyment's a friend of yours, isn't he?" Michael snaps. "Sabotaging your own company is pretty low Michelle, even for you."

 "Someone has to do something about the latest addition to your collection of super-psychos," Frigia says. "You'd better start consoling each other. You're going to need all the consolation you can get tomorrow."

 Michael just hangs up on her and falls onto the sofa."

 "I thought you said no one would care about the Jaguar Grill," I say.

 "Shut up," Michael snaps. "Don't you even fucking start with me! I've got one goddamn bitch on my ass, I don't need another."

There's something different in the voice, not a trace of friendship. "I don't really give a shit about this or anyone of you right now." I tell him. "Right now the only thing I give a fuck about is how dad's handling this. I'm going to Nebraska. I'll be back in the morning."

"Don't you fucking go anywhere, farmboy!" Michael screams. "We're going to need you if we're going to find a way out of this mess!" I just shake my head and fly through the skylight. The glass becomes a rain of shards. Good. I find what I think is due east, and head about twenty degrees north of the mark, concentrating hard to see if I can hit supersonic. Suddenly, I'm flying faster than I've ever flown before. The street beneath me shudders, the people shake and stare and I don't fucking care.

I'm going home.
 

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