Gloom and Silver Linings in Bridgeton

So far no new abductions have taken place and mostly the community has started breathing a sigh of relief. Six were taken, that’s all Candy Man ever taken at one go. That should be the end of it for now. And that should be that, right? The monster has been fed and while it’s a tragedy, and one that so far could not be prevented, we just remain thankful that it wasn’t someone we knew and continue with our lives. What else is there to be done, right?

It feels so weird to write people off like this. I mean I had no connection to these girls other than the town that we happen to live in, but the media, the local authorities, and anyone, beyond the families involved and the local hero community, have all but given up on them. Six girls between 13 and 15 and we end up treating the loss like a dragon’s sacrifice, praying that this will appease the beast for a while. Not for too long, as he never keeps them past their 17th birthday. In theory, some are glad. He has taken as young as 9 years old once. Delores Valdez was never heard from again. Some, I hate to say it, aren’t even that lucky. Susan Cadbury was found ten years later a drug addicted prostitute working in Cleveland. I’m told that she became a test volunteer for any corporate or government sponsored experiment to give people superpowers. Last I heard, she joined GTI. That was three years ago.

Several heroes have publicly announced they are continuing the search for Candy Man and any of the survivors, even Paramericans. Local authorities have even enlisted GTI and Enrique the Sheep in the efforts. It seems several of the prominent members have a personal grudge against the monster. Then again, I heard that Red Dragon and half of Menagerie have taken upon themselves to root him out. Several bloggers I know actually report seeing Snowflake of all people, asking questions about him in a local Irish tavern over on Waterford. You know this seriously bad when notorious villains are joining the hunt. Both Avalon and Terraq have announced that he would get no safe harbor there and would actually turn over “what was left” to the American government to do with what they pleased. When they find him (and if they manage to capture him or whatever) I don’t envy him but he gets what he deserves. There are certain people in the world who need dealing with. If he is ever caught, it’s not going to be good for him. This is assuming any court can convict him or anyone can pull the lever on him. He has managed to escape every attempt for the last ten years. At this point whomever brings him down deserves a medal and a Nobel prize.

OK enough. I rant about the darkness and I really shouldn’t. I know it’s important to talk about the evil in the world, the notorious costumed criminals and the super powered gangsters, but like all mythologies, you can’t spend all your time in Hell. The Darkness has to give way to the light even if just pinholes in the curtain of night that we call our greater galaxy.

It it helps to find the silver lining, then the knowledge that his little city is now crawling with heroes and villains, so full you can see them streaking across the sky as common as bird or wafts of pot smoke. I have seen half of the Quantum family in one form or another, seen class field trips from the Academy and Triscalers all combing the streets, trying to find the monster, and save the girls all the while earning valuable real life experience as professional metahumans. I try not to gawk at the other fanboys like myself who are transfixed on the news and keep our eyes pressed to the Metro windows in hopes of glimpsing a passing silver streak or minor comet in the sky, a costumed hero in the streets, or a great Atlantian deep one in the river searching for the unspeakable. Is this really something to take stock in, that something like this kind of tragedy, all too common in this world, would bring archrivals together in hopes of finding something resembling innocents. We have seen evidence time and time again throughout history, and yet, to feel the moment where these event tick through can leave a person wondering why it takes such a darkness to bring out the light. But we all know, the second the light is redeemed or extinguished and the great monster returned to jail or the morgue or both, what then? Will we remember that we could come together for such a cause, like Doctor Quantum asks of people, to put aside our egos for a few minutes to help another person not of our tribes? Or will the accusations start flying? Who knew what and when? Why didn’t so and so or what’s-his-face show up? Were they harboring this demon? Do people only care to retweet support for those involve as a display rather than a caring heart and an inability to act? How could this person survive this long? How? Why? And the fingers would get thrust in the confusion daring others to deflect the blame pointed at them, the pointers finding solace in assuredness but begging for any sort of clarity.

I guess, in the end, we can always hope. I have no idea how to help. I really don’t. I’m not that much of a detective and I’m not certified as any form of grief counselor (always let the professionals do their job.) But I can pray. I can watch. And If I need to, I make voices heard. At least I hope so.

It feels forced but I want to talk about something positive. I have one to post later with the Costumer of the Gods, the so called “Grandmother of the Garment.” I can tell you she is a real sweet woman and deserves her whole post. Actually she agreed to a Guest post. I am eagerly awaiting to read it.

Anyway. Keep praying and keep Dre…

Sorry all. There is one aspect that I have been ignoring for a while, probably close to a month. The top I received in the mail, the same time I got the invite for GTI, has been sitting here on my desk. It’s joined by its siblings, each one hand delivered or stashed in my home. I found several in a box of Gluten free Pumpkin O’s once. I must have a couple dozen of them, each sitting there, the notched and grooved sides looking up at me like disobedient dice. For some reason, I can’t seem to get rid of them either. There are a couple of times when I’m standing over the trash can, handful of the little things in my palm, hovering over the precipice when fear shoots through me, a desperate and laden fear originating from a simple and paranoid question: What if they found out I did this?

I started collection in a bowl. Keeping them safe and hopefully out of view. I’ve not been able to remove them from my desk. So as I was about to close my entry for the evening, I heard a voice, just a hint of something, like a distant radio or TV that happened to say my name. I get these from time to time (it’s not exactly an uncommon name) and I thought nothing of it. Then I heard it again, and again. From the bowl of tops, a multicolored collection of metallics.

“Daniel.” I heard. “You have forgotten something.”

I twisted around to ask if Kay had said something. My clumsy and outstretched hand, knocking the bowl over. Most of them landed on the plush apartment carpet and remained silent. Five on the other hand, did not. One hit a book I left on the floor, two on a box of books I was planning to sell, one on a CD case tucked away in a cubicle that made up the shelving unit my desk was attached to, and the last flew all the way to the spare bathroom and landing on the linoleum. They spun. No action on my part set them on their axis as they spun and spun. They sang their sweet song, each muttering an unutterable word that resonated in my head. The frequency bored into me, shouting and chiming. Words, pictures and scent flickered over me like a poorly installed film reel, a vision to shock any editor before the flickering coalesced.

I was in a chair again, this time at my job, well past dark. I had a swing shift anyway to maximize my time with my wife (who had a similar schedule for extra money), so the deserted office was familiar at least. However, I wasn’t at my desk. Just outside on several park benches setup for workers to enjoy the weather when the gloom let up. Today was not that day, as huge and bulbous clouds hovered overhead. I suddenly felt the chill of a rain speckled shirt and cool winds. How long had I been sitting there?

Before me, on a plastic table and bench set, s top spun while on the other side five people awaited me. I knew Mr. Hartnell, and Mr. Tennant. They were joined by a tall man with a nearly shaved head who kept spinning a string in his hands back and forth, not unlike a watch fob in zoot suit adds. The other woman, an grey haired woman in her late fifties, stood, enshrouded in shawl after shawl. Her velvet gloved hand held onto a circular black mirror not much larger than a cup saucer, which she looked into. The last of course, was Mrs. Plummer. She stood wrapped in a huge wool coat, her head covered by a small hat secured to her head. It almost looked like a bonnet, save for the brim. She stared at me coolly past her small spectacles.

“This is what you get when you don’t answer your summons, Mr. E.” She said simply. “As much as I enjoy the Bridgeton weather, I would rather we could have these conversations in more secure locations. Perhaps we should just try this sometime, say in your living room. We will make it a tea, shall we?”

“Vanilla Roibos in mine please, no sugar.” The new woman spoke, her eyes not leaving her gazing mirror.

“Ms. Pertwee.” She said, an order as much as an introduction.

Ms. Pertwee held her mirror with both hands and straightened up. “Yes, Ma’am. Sorry Ma’am.”

She returned her attention to me. “First off, thank you for following orders and relaying that message for us. You do decent work when Mr. Collins here assures that you act accordingly. I’m hoping Mr. Eccelston can keep you otherwise as pliant.”

The tall man nodded his head and smiled. So much teeth on that man. I waved my hand, thankfully. At least they didn’t tie me down or do whatever they did last time.

“What is this about, Mrs. Plummer?” I asked. I was mostly annoyed at Watchface at this point.

“This is about information, Mr. E.” she said. “Have you looked into the Xenex issue?”

“No.” I felt like I was answering a test, as if grades were at stake here. “I don’t know what that is.”

“Probably for the best.” She nodded. “I still doubt you will find much. Though, GTI might have more to say on that subject. Have you thought about…”

“Please, no.” I interrupted with a quick word. “I’m not a fan of them even if they are offering an amazing package deal. It’s kind of like working for the devil and I worked at a company that tried to convince new mothers that their new chip was a serving of vegetables.”

“Yes we know.” She nodded patiently. Wait, how many times had I told her that story? “And we are not in the habit of putting agents in harm’s way like that unless it was vitally important.”

“Wait…” I held up my hand. “Are you saying I’m…”

She let the moment hang there, letting me finish. When the word failed to emerge she shook her head. “No, of course not. You are just an asset. We have no need of you as an agent and our psychological profile suggests that while you have some skills we might be able to utilize and hone, I doubt you would be a good match for our organization.”

“Oh.” I felt like I failed a job interview all of sudden rather than dodging a draft. “Ok.”

“But back to the matter at hand.” She straightened herself. “The research is anything you might be able to find. Just add it to the blog and we will read it, as will others, but people will know soon enough. You still have contact with several individuals that we might find advantageous and of great worth to the cause.”

“Which cause is that?” I asked, slowly remembering the Paragon Council.

“To protect the world, of course.” She answered like I was stupid and she would have to put the dunce cap on me and sit me in the corner for an hour or so until I grew up. “That has been the primary goal of the Institute and we aim to continue that mission.”

I nodded, like I knew what she was talking about.

“Now there is an anomalous figure who might make our plans more difficult. Several actually, and we believe you have made contact with at least two. Is this correct?”

“That would kind of depend on who you are referring to.” I said. “I don’t know.”

“Do you think he will require some persuasion, ma’am?” Mr. Hartnell asked, sliding his hand to his belt.

“Not at all, Mr. Hartnell.” She nodded back to her compatriot. “I believe we had made our point and at the moment further exercise would be pointless. Clarity, it would seem, is what is required.”

I looked down at the top for a moment, though it more resembled a gyroscope than a kids toy or a dreidel. It was still spinning, quite solidly too. Barely more than a drift in the trajectory and not a single wobble.

“So, Mr. E.” I brought my attention back up. “When I refer to the two we believe you have had contact, that again let me specify, could be assets or obstacles in world protection, we are referring to your off again on again online compatriot. The other you call the devil.”

I figured they wanted to know about Watchface. It seemed like everyone did these days. Who was this guy? Why the hell was he talking to me and no one else? Where the hell did he get those strange comics and movies anyway? But the Devil…?

“Xander Scope?” I asked, my eyebrows merging. “Head of GTI?”

“Formerly also known as ‘Xenos,’ yes.” She confirmed.

“He should be easy to find.” I said. “It’s not like he isn’t running a multi-national corporation.”

“But who sits outside almost all known law.” She added. “Are you aware that he is a metahuman as well?”

“I heard rumors.” I said. It was almost like a regular human conversation. “Some say he has persuasion powers or is superhumanly intelligent.”

“He is intelligent, though superhumanly might be exaggerating a bit.” She smiled. “However, he is also matter creator.”

“Like he can pull stuff out of a hat?” I had seen several matter creators who worked as stage magicians, finding it easier to create a glass rose or whatever unliving prop from nothing rather than hiding it and prestidigitating it.

Mr. Tennant snorted. “Sure. As long as his hat is about four kilometers wide.”

“What?” I couldn’t believe it. The most powerful creator on record managed to manifest a stack of pizzas the size of one story house. (He then threw one of the world’s greatest pizza parties for a local kids shelter, two minutes after manifesting his treat for the kids, he dropped dead.) Now they were talking something the size of a small mountain.

“Thank you, Mr. Tennant.” Ms. Plummer sighed. “That will be all for now, if you please.”

“Sorry, Ma’am.” The lanky man hung his head like a embarrassed puppy.

“As Mr. Tennant was so kind enough to point out, yes, Mr. Scope is a massive matter creator, therein lies the rub. No report we have been able to intercept suggests he can create anything short of a mountain. It’s massive or not at all. Perhaps you are acquainted with Lord Quantum’s satellite sanctuary called Avalon?”

I nodded.

“That didn’t exist before Xander Scope willed it unto being. That story of it being a hollowed out asteroid that was harvested from the Belt is simply isn’t true. It was the bargain between Lord Quantum and Mr. Scope. A devil’s bargain, I’m most assured. But can you imagine what might happen if he used his powers to create a better world? If he did it close enough to reach, he would throw this world out of gravitation alignment at best if not destroy it with the ramifications of another equally large and massive planet in the near vicinity. It would simply mean the deaths of us all.”

“That’s amazing!” I nearly shouted the words. She glared at me until I regained my composure, all of two seconds.

She returned to her purpose here. “The other I speak of, of course is your associate who calls himself Watchface. Did you know that his IP addresses don’t exist. When he makes a post, it’s as if they have been there the whole time in the code and just waited for that time to appear. Nothing we have been able to do has worked in discovering where it comes from. However, we believe that he is working, as the comics might say it, for the greater good. Like everyone who has addressed you in the last few weeks with bribes and threats, we would like a chance to talk to him if possible. If not, there is another who can help. He seems adamant against talking to us.”

“Ma’am?” Mr. Tennant spoke up again.

“Yes, Mr. Tennant?” I actually thought for a moment that she might pull out her cold cannon again and shoot him with it.

Mr. Tennant held up his wand. “I believe I’m picking up some energy signature approaching.”

She turned her attention to the lady of the group who still studied her mirror. “Ms. Pertwee?”

“We will have incoming.” Ms. Pertwee said, gazing deep into her mirror, her eyes wide and bloodshot. “Two lost thieves, two borne on the air, and a killer in the wind.”

“ETA?” She asked.

“Five maybe ten minutes max.” Ms. Pertwee’s eyes gazed over, either by malleable cataract, a surge of power, or reflection off the mirror, I couldn’t tell.

“Mr. Hartnell, would you so good to provide a perimeter sweep, please? Mr. E and myself have much to discuss.”

“At once, Mrs. Plummer.” The one so named pulled his massive pistol from his holster, already heating coils glowing faintly, and made his way towards the factory.

“Shall I go with him, Ma’am?” Ms. Pertwee asked.

“Do you believe you will be needed?” Mrs. Plummer turned towards her.

“Yes, I believe so.” Already a flash of red blossomed over her face, but not in blushing.

“Go then.” Mrs. Plummer barked.

Without a word, the mirror gazer ran off to catch up with Mr. Hartnell. Behind Mrs. Plummer, I saw Mr. Eccleston winding a string around another top. The top this time, was the size of a lunch box and looked both Victorian and clumsy, massive gears lining the inside at strange and impossible angles.

Mrs. Plummer turned her attention to me again. “This is why you must answer your summons when they are delivered, Mr. E. These distractions are no way to have a conversation.”

“Am I in danger?” I finally asked.

“All the time.” She said off hand. “Perhaps you should think about changing your diet and getting some exercise, perhaps? And as always, look both ways before crossing the street.”

“I meant right now.” I snipped back.

“That remains to be seen. Though I believe my associates have things in hand. This should give us a chance to finally talk. Now please, no more interruptions. They do make this sort of thing so much more tedious and time is limited. So to summarize so far, please continue research, any and all will help. Notify us any time you hear about anything pertaining to Xenex. You also might want to ask your other internet friend about it.”

“Semper?”

“Indeed. He knows much.” She smiled at her own private joke. It creeped me out fast. “If you are further contacted by GTI or any of the other groups, please mention it in your blog. I will enjoy reading about it, as will others. There are those like Ultimatum who have tried to access your blog for similar reasons and to similar ends. I’m glad to see that he was dealt with for the moment. That impetuous brain and his gorilla manservant just made our job both easier and more difficult with that stunt of his. However, you, I believe, are more trustworthy and in a word, friendly. People talk to you, else you never would have accumulated that little following of fans at that pub you enjoy so much. And yes, they whether they understand it or not, have a small inkling of the larger picture even if they only hold one of the puzzle pieces on a subconscious level. Gather these pieces, enjoy your time talking to people, and put it all down for all to see. We will see more than you know.”

I raised my hand. She rolled her eyes at me. “Yes…” She hissed the word.

“If you are telling me to write this in my blog including what we are discussing right now, won’t that discourage people from talking to me knowing that, in effect this is a report to your organization?”

She nodded appreciatively at me. “Fair question. Think of us as a very vocal Deep Throat as you will. We are pointing you in the right direction and others will follow along because it is of their interest as well. We would do the same to any other type of journalist. This war has nothing to do with you personally, Mr. E. It instead has decided that you are an agent of many. We know exactly where your allegiance lies were the proverbial push evolved into the proverbial shove. Your entries have said as much. As much as the good doctor and I have had our disagreements in the past, we both understand where the other is coming from and both have taken pains to realize that each does what they can for the greater good how we see it. Our visions of the greater good are closer than you might imagine especially compared to other like the Gravity filled windbag that proclaimed himself Grand Master and Deacon. You will understand that in time.”

I honestly thought she was going to pat me on the head, like a school marm pacifying a jaded if diligent student.

“However, let us just say, even in this time of crisis and strange apocalypses that happen on a day to day basis, there are things that move around us, much larger than we as people are prepared to admit let alone comprehend. If you do your work right, then it will serve the greater community of humanity should those motions move to obliterate us. And rest assured, they can.”

A flash of light zotted into the sky from the other side of the assembly building. I would have missed it, my back was to the buildings, if it hadn’t lit up the sky for a moment, a delicate blossoming of fire in an overcast sky. The heat ray… Mrs. Plummer looked unphased.

“That is why we are here.”

“My apologies, Ma’am.” Mr. Eccleston leaned down, addressing her.

“I believe we are no longer alone.”

“Mrs. Pertwee is off in her estimations again, I see.”

“Actually, Ma’am, if I might be so bold, the two streaks heading for us will be here in at least another 60 seconds. The girl scouts on the other hand might not bother us at all, but I believe we have their attention.”

Mrs. Plummer’s brows gathered as she blinked rapidly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Eccelston.” She said turning to him. “But did you say ‘girl scouts?’”

“Indeed, Ma’am.” He wound furiously, his eyes pointing towards the back entrance of the assembly plant. I turned to look.

Nope. If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have believed it either. Two girl scouts, in the lime green dresses, sashes, and berets, complete with black Mary Jane shoes and knee socks, worked diligently to roll a 55 gallon drum out of the storehouse. The drum was bright yellow and loaded with symbols that I couldn’t translate other than to stay the hell away from. Our plant worked with some incredibly toxic chemicals, elements, and materials, (Our safety meetings are both scary and hilarious) and apparently two girls were about to steal a drum of whatever.

They never even noticed us, their mind on the job and the occasional lashes of lightning that sparked from the other side of the plant. The lightning might be from a dozen electrical devices that they used, but I figured that the Amazing Inventions found activity again. If I wasn’t scared to death, might have fanboyed out.

“Mr. E.” Mrs. Plummer said as she unholstered her cold cannon from her hip. With her other hand, she grabbed the top in front of me and passed it to Mr. Eccelston. “Perhaps you should find cover. This might get exciting.”

She didn’t need to tell me twice. I want to say I ran for cover, but honestly it was more of a jog as my heart threatened to explode out of my chest. Exciting, indeed! I really needed to work out more. I actually made it to my car, hiding behind the trunk just in case, as I looked over at the girl scouts. I don’t remember any gang or super team that used that as a theme and no team in their right minds would send what were obviously young teen girls to…

Oh, no. Holy Hot Pangolin….

Mr. Eccleston waited for his permission, which Mrs. Plummer gave with a quick nod. His arm snaked out like the world’s greatest side pitcher, launching a top at them, his hand pulling back at the last minute, pulling the ripcord. The top buzzed like a angry hornets’ nest as it zoomed towards its target. The noise probably got their attention as the two girls both turned around quickly. Their faces were painted porcelain white, save for red cupid bow lips and giant red circles about the cheeks. The top caught the one on the right, hair in pigtails, in the shoulder. Pigtails’ shoulder stretched like puddy, absorbing the tops impact. She was on the Gummy Worms. I thought she would bounce the top back and stretch her body to evade any other attack. She smiled and ran towards the two Institute agents. Then like a dog on a leash, she snapped back, her shoulder not moving from where the top caught it, stapled to the air. A tendril of flesh connected her to her shoulder but it had found its stretch limit as the elastic tissue pulled her back, scraping on the gravel laden ground.

The other one, red hair tied back in a pony tail, held aloft a small, red orb high enough to be seen but close to her mouth.

“Do you know what this is, [pigs]?” I edited a little of what she screamed. Still not sure how R I want this blog to go.

“She has an atomic fire ball, Ma’am.” Mr. Eccelston said, pulling another top from his long coat and winding it.

“So she does.” Mrs. Plummer sounded more annoyed, like a scandalous remark in the middle of her afternoon tea.

“Do you know what I can do with just a [f-word] lick of this beauty?!” Red Ponytail shouted, stretching her tongue out lewdly to the candy. “I can turn this whole parking lot into a rad zone! Kaboom! You want that? Huh?! I got a whole bag of treats with your [f-word]ing name on it, BIT*#ES!” She took a lick and her body glowed with an ominous red aura.

Mrs. Plummer sighed before shouting in a corrective tone: “Manners.”

As far as I am concerned, and I know I will have to take this up with the Gunslinger, Enrique the Sheep, and the Paramerican Revere, but if there was ever a fastest gun this side of the Pecos, that honor went to the head of the Institute. I barely saw her raise her arm and blast Red Ponytail, freezing her dead in place cooling her drug fueled meta-reaction to a standstill.

She holstered her weapon easily and muttering to herself; “Foolish girl.”

Pigtails looked absolutely horrified, but with her puddy body trying desperately to pull away from the top, there was little she could do about it.

Mrs. Plummer straightened her suit, brushed some non-existent fluff off the front, and corrected her posture. She pulled a small phone from her pocket and put it her head. “Mr. Hartnell, status.”

“All is well, Ma’am.” The three agents walked out from behind the building, Mr. Tennant was carrying a cheerleader of his left shoulder while Mr. Hartnell carried the slump form of a girl in a pink doll dress.

You heard me.

“I see you had issues of your own.” Mr. Tennant smiled so broadly, I thought his face would unzip.

“Just the two.” Mrs. Plummer said. “Though if you could gentlemen, there is one on the worms who can’t move but is far from incapacitated.”

“Of course, Mrs. Plummer.” Mr. Tennant said as he raised his wand. The tesla coils for a moment as aimed at the stretchy girl, her feet spilling out from under her in wet splotchy patches. She wriggled like frightened pancake batter, trying to pull away from the top. A flash of lightning sparked from Mr. Tennant wand, tazering the girl. She screamed a muddy, gurgling thing and fell silent.

“Careful, Mr. Tennant.” Mr. Eccleston called as he jogged of the to the puddle of flesh held aloft in a single tendril. “Those tops are hard to come by.”

“Sorry. Good sir.” Mr. Tennant said, bowing slightly. “Though it was just a little tap. It should be fine.”

Mr. Eccleston pulled it from the air with his bare hand. The top stopping with a sharp inverse vroom noise. “I should say so, Mr. Tennant. I would hate to lose these amazing things.”

“And the girl?” Mrs. Plummer asked cutting in.

“There should be some detox formula left somewhere.” Mr. Hartnell advised. “If not Professor McGann should be able to whip some up.”

“Have it left where the authorities can find it. Use that officer we used last time.” Mrs. Plummer ordered as those carrying bodies placed them on the ground near to their girl scout compatriot, a huddle of little girls. “He has proved reliable. Once the girls are announced cured, then add to his usual account. Standard contribution.

“Is that them?” I called from behind the car.

“Ah, Mr. E.” She couldn’t see her but I knew she was smiling. “I see you aren’t as good at following orders as I thought. I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s safe to come out.”

“For the next 30 seconds.” Mrs. Pertwee advised.

Mrs. Plummer nodded. “Lady and Gentlemen. I believe it’s time to depart.” They all agreed made their way down the driveway, as if leaving a gala ball and not a crime scene. Mrs. Plummer bowed slightly, towards me. “Mr. E. Pleasant as always. You should return to your desk. We will call you when we need you. Until then, good night.” She then returned to her compatriots.

“Is that them?” I asked again, pointing at the girls. “Are those the girls that Candy Man abducted? Is it over?”

Mrs. Plummer stopped, sighed, then turned to me. “That is Allison Brewster from Capital, Margaret Cannon from Sunset Beach, Genna Dorman from San Niebla, and the last name escapes me for the moment. The authorities should have the necessary records to deal with it. But to answer your question: no, these are not the recent abductees. I know the legends all say that he only has six at a time, but he is interested in a family and power. There are hundreds of unreported abductions, runaways, and homeless children each year. These are four.”

She looked me in the eye. Just to make the point. “He has dozens. You just only hear of the special ones. Believe me, Mr. E. The war goes on. This is why we are here.”

Mrs. Plummer, head of the Paragon council now called the Institute, pushed up her spectacles and turned back to her agents. “Give my regards to the Questers when you see them.”

Then they walked away.

I remember seeing Penelope in her Ramona Rocket persona flying in. Behind her stood Lady Quantum. I guessed she and the Quantum Knights are in town for obvious reasons. Candy Man sightings tend to bring out the big guns. Though, I wondered why Role Player (Penelope, for those not keeping track.. see wiki soon..) was shadowing Lady Quantum. Maybe there was a good hope for Penelope yet. I wish her luck.

“Are you ok?” Lady Quantum asked. I nodded and she followed up. “Is there anything dangerous here we need to know about?”

I might have laughed. I probably should have, but it was a hell of a day and I was still fanboying like crazy on the inside, not to mention terrified, excited, elated, and oddly nauseous. Instead, I pointed at the stack of cartoonish little girls. “There’s that.”

“Is that?” Ramona Rocket asked. Her voice has a weird vibratory quality, like someone slapped an industrial massager to her back and cranked it to eleven. “Is that who I think it is.”

“It’s survivors.” Lady Quantum said. “That’s what’s important.” She looked around at the industrial setting.

“Any others here?” She asked.

“Not that I know of.” I said then quietly. “Um… Mrs. Plummer says ‘hi’.”

Ramona Rocket’s eyes shot wide behind her massive visor, her elbow rockets lighting up just enough. “The Paragon Council is here?!”

Lady Quantum patted her companion on the shoulder. “It’s ok, Rocket.” She said. “We have an….” She growled out the word in the friendliest way I have ever heard in my life, like someone explaining to a child who much they should love broccoli. “Understanding. Besides, they left us hurt civilians. Can you handle it for a moment? I want to secure the perimeter. No sense letting the cops stumble into something.”

Ramona nodded. “Got it.” Lady Quantum took to the air for a quick sweep of the facility, splitting into two quantum duplicates for good measure.

“Are you OK, Daniel?” Ramona asked.

“I’m fine. Just a little winded.” I said, trying to smile. “I hope they are going to be ok.”

“We all do.” She said.

My memory ended there, just the flipping noise of left over film on a reel as I found myself back in my office again, surrounded by tumbling tops and packing boxes. The film reel noise mostly came from the top that landed on tile as it slowed and finally toppled.

“Everything Ok, love?” Kay shouted from the next room.

“Yeah,” I said. I couldn’t tell if I was lying but honestly I don’t think I was. “Just lost in my own head.”

“Still having the memory troubles?” She asked, her head appearing from the doorway. She hand on a old hoodie of mine.

“I guess you could say that.” I smiled to myself then let my hand sweep across the room. She saw the tops around.

“Are you ok.” She said it directedly, an actual inquiry.

“I think so.” I said finally.

“The institute people again?”

I nodded. “I think it went ok. When did they find those girls of Candy Man’s?”

“Yesterday.” She said. “I don’t like her messing with your head like that.”

“Me neither.” I joked. “It really sets my therapy back. I should charge her for all the work getting undone. Therapy isn’t cheap.”

(If you are reading this Mrs. Plummer, at least have me on the pay roll or something, would you? Or if you happen to know of a job in certain creative fields…. Just asking! Not your avenue, I get it.)

Kay came over and hugged me. “It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.” She said to me.

Interestingly enough, it was.

After we cuddled for a while, making ourselves feel safe with the other, I went back to my computer. I switched on my phone (it’s an old Smartphone not connected to any service so, it’s kind of more of a great iPod.) and thumbed through the pictures from the recent con I went to. In the back, there were three pictures, each in quick succession. I stood between Lady Quantum and Ramona Rocket each of us smiling for the picture. I was also holding something up in front of me. An open book about the size of my….

My autograph book! I rushed to my backpack and found the sketchpad I used to store information about heroes and villains before I entered it into the computer, kind of a combination note pad, scrapbook, and autograph book. I flipped through finding my notes, printouts, clippings and doodles staring back at me. Then blank pages. Nothing. I almost thought it was an illusion or another false memory of film when the last page turned over. Something was written upside down on the last page.

“Thanks for all your help, stay healthy, Lady Quantum.”

How’s that for you?

As always, Keep Dreaming

Daniel

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