| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Villains & Vigilantes | The Revolution | Story So Far | Aside |





The event had been scheduled for early in the day (the better to make the evening news) and was just getting underway, but the room was crowded with veterans and press people. Thunderbolt was enjoying himself, shaking hands and accepting slaps on the back and various pieces of well-meant advice from his elders. He spotted Stephanie at the back of the crowd, making her way toward him.

    "Hi!" she greeted him a bit shyly. "I read in the paper that you were going to be here."
    "Hello, Stephanie. How are you?"
    "I'm good. I thought I'd come and see what all the hoopla was about. We've been getting calls at the K. Robeson office for Scott, about the one that he's supposed be working with. Apparently Agglomerated MegaCorp has gotten the idea that Scott set up the company as kind of like a halfway house, showing how he's giving back to the community by employing...."
    "Ex-villains?" He couldn't help but chuckle at the notion of a half-way house.
    "I thought that was humorous myself," she admitted. "So they're wondering whether or not Mr. Oliver and Mr. Cat would be interested in taking part."
    "Has anyone told them? Maybe we should rethink that 'ex' part."
    "Oh, I'm certain that they're not planning on doing anything. Although between you and me, Felix has been acting a little weird lately," she confided.
    "Weird how?"
    She groped for a way to explain. "You know when.... My mom gave up smoking. Y'know, there's that time when they get real fidgety every time it comes to the point where they would have had another cigarette?"
    "You can tell that they're jittery, 'cause there's something they really want to do, but they're not letting themselves? So the last week or so, he's just been jittery. I don't know, probably nothing."
    "All the time?"
    "No, no. Basically, whenever he got back from the island. You know he's going out to help catalog everything for the exhibit?"
    "Right." He nodded, uneasy about this development.
    "Maybe there are a lot of smokers out there."
    "Yes. I'm sure that must be it." He made a mental note to talk to Scott about this.
    Stephanie glanced away for a second. "So, I was just... wondering, um, I got tickets to a, uh, baseball game. I was, uh—"
    A swarm of AMC personnel materialized around them, including Peter and Wendell.
    "Thunderbolt! Good, you're here already," a man said. "I trust you've been—excuse me miss—I trust you've been bonding with the veterans here? You remember Tao, don't you?"
    "Hi," the actress breathed.
    "Of course, how are you," he said politely.
    "Here, Tao, let me take your coat," the man insisted. She was in costume, although true to the comic book there wasn't much to be inside of. "Let's get a photo opp. Excuse me miss, could you...?"
    "I'll see you later," Stephanie called as she was ushered away—giving Tao a killing look that Thunderbolt didn't see.
    "Just try to strike a heroic pose for a minute," a photographer suggested, which Paul did his best to assume. Tao followed suit by plastering herself to his side as the bulbs began flashing. The veterans displayed considerable interest in the new arrival as everyone moved toward the stage for more photographs and reporters asked questions about his military background and his work with the team. He'd had time to prepare responses beforehand; the entire event was well-scripted and smoothly run, as far as he could tell.
    Except for the presence of the man in the back of the crowd, who had not been there a moment before. He looked oddly familiar—tall, broad-shouldered, with close-cut brown hair. The man stood up suddenly and pointed at Thunderbolt; his lips moved, but the sound was clearly coming through the room's speaker system.
    "You call yourself a real American hero, you fraud? I'm a real American hero!" He made a sudden powerful leap, grabbed hold of a lighting cable overhead, and slid down it to the stage. Thunderbolt realized that this was a G. I. Joe creation of the Toy Man such as Phoenix Talon had faced, and activated his defensive shields. The doors to the room slammed open, and a small horde of Red Army soldiers poured in with Kalashnikovs ready as the Joe continued ranting, "And if you were a real American hero, you'd be able to save these people! Ha! You and your teammate!"
    Tao, naturally enough, looked confused.
    "I have to deal with the more dangerous one first!" the toy announced, drawing his gun and aiming at her.
    Thunderbolt extended his senses, looking for energy sources. There was a strange signature around the Joe, but whatever force the Toy Man used to animate his creations was not something he could draw upon. He drew in some of the electricity from the room's wiring and sent the life-sized doll flying back with a good part of its chest melted but the gun still in its hand.
    Cameras flashed madly.
    "You—" The Joe fired. The bullet hit Thunderbolt's energy field and disintegrated into its component atoms. A second bolt of electricity removed the toy's head; simultaneously, the Red Army collapsed back into their normal forms.
    The crowd cheered wildly. Tao arranged herself in a near-faint as someone hastily brought a chair for her to drape herself over.
    Peter was slapping Thunderbolt on the back as he tried to get a look at the dead Joe. "That was great! You guys are real heroes! Aren't they?" he insisted to Wendell.
    "Some madman with a gun was just here, Peter," Wendell pointed out with the unnatural calm that masks hysteria.
    "I had total faith in him!"
    "Ah, Peter, good to see you. Would you like to help me examine the body?" He recalled that file folder, about which he had neglected to tell the rest of the team in the midst of everything else that was going on. Another note to self for the next meeting.
    An eleven-inch tall doll with no head lay on the stage. He put it in his pocket. Tao, having regained her aplomb, ran over to thank him for saving her with a very friendly embrace and a kiss. Her breasts really were remarkable. He gave the standard "just doing my job, these men are the real heroes and have done far more for the country" speech. It was even true.

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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson