by Doc Quantum
Penny and Jason Grey, now in costume as Spidergirl and the Raven, had finally made their way toward the mall entrance, which wasn’t easy with all the people trying to escape. Even worse, the security at the doors weren’t letting anyone else in until police reinforcements were called in. But although they could hear sirens in the distance, the police backup were still several blocks away, and the two young heroes were already there.
“We’ve got to find a way in, Jase!” whispered Penny.
“Call me Raven when in costume, Spidergirl,” Jason shot back.
She rolled her eyes. “Whatever! Just help me find a way in, OK, Raven?” she snapped, emphasizing her older brother’s super-hero name, and she raced off toward a secluded corner of the mall next to a loading dock. There were only a few sparse trees to give them cover, but they would only need a few moments at most.
“How about the roof?” she suggested, but shot off a web-line from a wrist-mounted launcher before her brother had time to respond. “Well?” she said as she let the launcher’s mechanism pull her up. “Are you just gonna stand there and watch me, or are you gonna fly?”
The new Raven attempted a shrug, then set his antigravity belt in motion as his artificial wings began beating the air to control his flight. Although he’d used the suit a few times already, he was still a bit shaky when moving at a slower speed. He’d have to work on that if he was going to keep up with his determined little sister, who was already on the roof and running at breakneck speed toward the hole that was still smoking after being blasted in. “Just — just hold up, Spidergirl!”
“You hurry up!” she countered, turning her head back slightly to glare at her big brother. But when she turned back, someone was standing in front of her, and she came to a quick stop just before she bowled into him. “What the–?!” she cried. “Who the heck are you?”
Offspring, in his white and black costume (now slightly streaked with dust and dirt), made a heroic pose and inflated his usually stringy muscles into that of a typical musclebound hero of the beach. “You may call me… Offspring!”
“Oh, it’s you,” said Spidergirl. “Ernie, we don’t have time for any of your hijinks right now. We’re on a case.”
Offspring frowned as he stared at the slender, short teenager standing before him. Finally, he said, “Penelope? Penelope Grey? Is that you under that costume?”
“Yeah, it’s me, but don’t let my brother hear you use my name like that,” she said under her breath. “We’re in costume, after all.”
The Raven arrived at that spot a moment later. “Ernie O’Brian! Am I glad to see you! Is your dad around? We could sure use Plastic Man’s help right now!”
“Glad to see you, too,” said Offspring sarcastically, narrowing his eyes. “My dad’s not around, so I guess I’ll have to do. You guys after those Bundist terrorists inside, too?”
“Bundist terrorists?” said Spidergirl. “At the Crestwood Mall?”
“Uh-huh,” said Offspring. “Why do you think that big hole is there? That’s how they got in.”
“Now this I’ve got to see!” said Spidergirl eagerly, racing for the hole, until Offspring threw one rubbery arm around her waist and pulled her back.
“Not so fast, little missy,” he said in a faux John Wayne accent. “I’m aimin’ ta have a little palaver with you an’ yer brother first. There’re some mighty dangerous cowpokes in them thar hills.”
Raven chuckled at Offspring’s antics for a moment, while Spidergirl merely folded her arms impatiently. Becoming serious once more, Raven said, “What’s going on, Ernie? Who are these Nazi terrorists, and why are they here?”
“Call me Offspring when I’m in this costume, unless you want me to call you Jason, Jason,” warned the son of Plastic Man. “Seriously, though, these guys are dangerous. The real deal. They may be dressed up like a bunch of golden age characters from the comic-books, but they pack a mean punch, literally. I was knocked out of that very hole by the big blue guy and sent flying until I crash-landed into a T.G.I. Friday’s several blocks away. I had just bounced my way back when I spotted you two. At first I thought you might be with them. But I’m glad you’re here. I won’t be able to take all of them on my own, and there’s a poor girl in there called Flare who was left to fight them all by herself. She could be dead by now, for all I know.”
“Then why are we still standing here?” said Spidergirl. “Let’s go get those Nazi bastards!”
“Geez, Offspring, you’d better watch it, or you’re going to start sounding as morbid as your old man,” said the Raven, soaring into the air to follow his sister toward the hole in the roof.
“Me sound like my old man?” said Offspring. “Ha! Not in a million years, wise-guy.”
Inside the mall, Fate had just casually turned around to join his fellow Amerika’s Crusaders on their attack on the last remaining super-hero in the room, when another voice called out.
“Stop right there, Jared.”
Jared Stevens stopped in his tracks and smiled slightly. “Karen, Karen, Karen…” he began in a soothing voice as he slowly began to turn to face her. “As good as it is to see you, I have nothing more to say to you than what I already told Ryan. “Goodb–”
Jared was knocked off his feet by a blast of compressed air. Since he had been completely unprepared for the brazen attack, he was shocked to find himself lying on the ground, completely winded. As he struggled to catch his breath, he watched as Karen Beecher flew toward him in her red body-suit, but was unable to prepare a defense before she fired another blast at him. But this time it wasn’t compressed air; it was a taser that sent more than 50,000 volts of electricity into him, knocking him unconscious.
“I did warn you to stop,” muttered Karen as she walked up to her former ally, using a flight belt to hover in midair.
But her defeat of the man called Fate had also caught the attention of the Crusaders, and Speed Demon immediately raced toward her, knocking her down before Karen even had a chance to fire her special gun at her.
Speed Demon crouched down, about to spit on the African-American woman’s face and then strike her with a thousand killing blows in a second. But the Nazi speedster didn’t have a chance to do any of that, because she was first struck down by something heavy from behind.
“Miss me, toots?” said Offspring as he turned into a gelatinous blob, engulfing the stunned speedster’s body with his own, which now had the consistency of dough.
Speed Demon cursed and attempted to spin in place, but she found it impossible to gain any traction once Offspring raised her off the ground in the gooey mass of his body. Frustrated, she let loose a tirade of curses and swear-words.
“Wow! You kiss your mama with that mouth?” said Offspring, who then put an end to this fight by head-butting Speed Demon. The Bundist super-speedster fell unconscious, and Offspring laid her down next to the unconscious Fate. “Two down, five to go.”
Turning to the woman in red whose life he’d saved, Offspring helped her sit up and said, “You OK, miss?”
“I’ll… I’ll be fine in a moment,” said Karen. “Don’t worry about me. Just… just stop the others, and help that girl, Flare.”
“Right-o!” said Offspring, and he bounced off toward the stage.
Karen shook her head and sat still for a moment to make sure she didn’t pass out before finally rising to her feet and heading off to grab something to tie up her prisoners with. If they came to at the wrong moment, all their efforts would be for naught.
Spidergirl and the Raven were already in the thick of battle, trying their best to fight off Barracuda, the Americommando, and Rusty but finding themselves outmatched by the time Offspring jumped back into the fight and immediately took on the strongest one, Barracuda.
Flare had managed to hold her own during Offspring’s absence until Spidergirl and the Raven arrived, but that was mostly because the Crusaders had been toying with her like a cat with a mouse. Now that the odds were a little closer to even, she knew they wouldn’t hold back any longer. But it was still two against one in her fight with Fireball and Sparky, and she was getting tired.
“Oh, this is silly,” said Offspring between dodging the powerful blows of the Barracuda. “In this day and age, do we really need to perpetuate the stereotype of the kid sidekick?” And he shot out a fist behind him that knocked Rusty from the stage down to the floor, nearly breaking his neck in the process. The kid sidekick of the Americommando slumped his shoulders as he fell into unconsciousness. “Oops! Did I do that?” said Offspring, effecting an exaggerated look of embarrassment.
The Americommando was raging at the affront to his young protege, and he turned his attention to the son of Plastic Man. “You son of a bitch!”
“Back for more, eh?” said Offspring. “Sure, pick on the class clown, why don’tcha? And you keep getting my name wrong — it’s Offspring, not ‘Son of a Bleep’!”
“Offspring, do you always have to be the center of attention wherever you go?” shouted Spidergirl, momentarily without a sparring partner.
“Jealous?” said Offspring as he did his best to take on both Barracuda and the Americommando at the same time, spontaneously growing a few new arms to fight them.
“Whatever!” said Spidergirl, who decided to drop the argument in order to go help Flare.
The Raven watched for a moment to make sure his kid sister was going to be all right before turning to help Offspring against the two big bruisers.
“Hi, there,” said Flare, countering a ball of flame shot by Fireball with a heat-blast of her own. “The name’s Flare. You?”
“Call me Spidergirl. Pleased to meet you.”
“You wanna take on the little guy?” said Flare.
“Sure thing,” said Spidergirl, striking a solid blow against Sparky’s head, stunning him momentarily. “Any idea what these bozos want?”
“Not sure,” said Flare, still firing blast after blast at Fireball. “But whatever it was, I don’t think they’re gonna get it. In fact, I think their plan has just backfired. If anything, I’d say we might have the makings of a new hero team on our hands.”
Spidergirl laughed as Sparky shot a wide blast of flame at her, which she dodged before striking the teenager hard in the stomach with a roundhouse kick. “You think so?”
“Well, probably,” said Flare. “I know I wouldn’t want to join a team called ‘Offspring and the Off-siders,’ or anything like that.”
“You’re right,” said Spidergirl. “Could be hard to keep that guy’s ego in check long enough to give ourselves a name.”
A few miles away, Ryan Choi was trying to find a way out of the muck at the bottom of the Mississippi River, where Jared had sent him. As long as the power in his force-field belt held out, he could stay safe there indefinitely, but the field took too much power to remain there for long periods of time. Unfortunately, he couldn’t simply fly out of the river, because Karen had the flight belt.
Think, Ryan, think! he told himself. There’s got to be some logical way to get yourself out of this jam. What to do, what to do?
After several moments of deep thought, in which he considered the various possibilities and discarded them, he finally came up with a solution.
“Can’t believe I didn’t think of this before,” he muttered. “So obvious in hindsight.”
Ryan began adjusting the controls on his belt to extend the force-field wider, until it extended for several feet in front of him. He walked forward slowly through the muck and adjusted the force-field’s precision until he was able to stand on the force-field itself. He then kept moving the force-field before him as he walked. Before too long, he would simply walk out of the river. Luckily, he had been transported there while his force-field had trapped a large bubble of air around him. If he had kept the force-field too close to his body, he wouldn’t have been able to extend it very far without depressurizing the field too much for him to handle.
He did wonder why the trapped bubble of air within the force-field hadn’t simply caused him to float back up to the surface like any other bubble, but he’d have time to wonder more about that later.
Reaching the St. Louis side of the Mississippi River several minutes later, Ryan Choi breathed a sigh of relief when he was finally able to turn his force-field off. He looked at the user-interface display and saw that its power was critically low; had he remained much longer underwater, he may have drowned before he could reach the surface. “Thank Kal-El,” he muttered. And he immediately began sprinting off into the distance. Karen needed him.