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Doug walked through the sprawling tent city. He hadn’t really thought about what to expect, but this wasn’t it.
When he first decided to become a Hero, he knew he would be able to take a beating. He just wasn’t sure how well he could give it back. That was when he thought back to that first day he saw The Other Guy. Doug had been surrounded by a gang of boys from the orphanage. They told him he could either join them or they would beat him up as often as they could. Doug’s next memory was peeking around the corner of the house and seeing The Other Guy taking a beating, then grabbing a small boy and using him as a weapon. No one messed with him after that. That was what he needed. Something to swing for a weapon. Since he felt like a minotaur when he tapped in to The Other Guy’s powers, a big sword made sense. Better still, an axe. A giant two headed axe with a short handle. Something that looked massive enough that people would see it and back down. The problem is, it would be heavy.
That was when he remembered Heather. She was about Davy’s age, and amazingly smart. She was always drawing and designing things. She even used to make a maze out of ropes and bed sheets for Halloween. If he could find her, she might be able to design an axe for him. He knew she had been adopted and with a little luck, and a bit of charm, he might be able to find out how to get in touch with her.
The home of Dr. Europa was magnificent. Heather’s new parents were loaded. He was received by the butler and asked to wait in foyer while Heather was informed of his arrival.
Moments later, the door burst open. “Oh my god! Doug! I can’t believe you’re here. I’ve missed you and Dave so much.” She was a vibrant girl of about 17. Not tall, and not pretty in the lip gloss and glitter makeup sort of way, but she did have an attractiveness about her. Her expression turned almost at once to one of shock as she realized that this is the first time since Dave had been killed that she had spoken to Doug. She offered her condolences and apologies for the outburst, and then offered a tour of the house in a thinly masked attempt to change the subject. Doug accepted all without a second thought.
Once they got to the sitting room, she asked Doug why he had come. He seemed to have something on his mind.
“Well, I was sort of hoping to tap into that genius of yours. I need a design for the biggest axe you can do. It needs to be strong and very light for its size. Assume there is no limit on cost, but it has to be a practical design.”
She blinked once then stared at him. Nothing on his face seemed to say this was a joke. After a moment she closed her eyes. Behind her eyelids, he could see her eyes darting about as she worked on the design. A few minutes later she opened them and asked him to grab a pencil and paper off the desk. She explained that she had 6 designs, all of which fit the requirements, though 2 would require advanced machining that made them extremely impractical. She traced out the remaining four and sketched out the finished product.
“So of these four, how many could be made by a guy with a forge in his basement?”
“None. Anyone with a forge in their basement shouldn’t be trusted. No ventilation. The fumes would make them loopy, if they lived. Any of them could be done by a bladesmith at a Renaissance Fair though.”
“Yup. The first one wouldn’t really be much different than making a suit of chain mail. The others will be a little harder. Those last two, well, I sort of stretched the limits of ‘practical’ a bit. One uses a laser to precision cut a block of titanium, the other requires an alloy that has only been made in space so far. The important thing is that of those main four, they will all be light and very strong. What are you up to, anyway?”
Doug filled her in on the details of Davy’s death, the trial,
the sessions with his shrink, Dr. Jensen, and the offer to go to
* * *
It just so happened that one of the largest events of the year was held the following week. It was a huge event, with crafters and artisans of all types. Asking about, he was able to find the best bladesmith by everyone’s count, was Don. Finally, in the maze of tents, he found it.
“Hello,” she said as she looked up from putting the finishing touches on a spear. She was beautiful, and Doug suddenly found himself at a loss for words. “Is there something I can do for you?”
The question played itself over and over in his head. Somehow, he knew what all the words meant, and even the general meaning of the sentence, but no reply seemed to come.
“Look, I’m going to be setting some stuff up in here for a while. When you know why you came in, you just shout. But you get any more creepy, I’ll ask you to leave then I’ll summon some help. Big, burly help that smells like men. It’s not really a smell I want in here, so I’d rather not let it come to that. Okay?”
Doug nodded absently, then somewhere from deep inside, he found his voice. “I’m sorry. I was looking for Don. The Bladesmith. I was directed here.”
“I’m Dawn, the Bladesmith.”
“You don’t look like I expected.”
“I seldom do. That’s D-A-W-N, like the sunrise, not D-O-N like the crime-boss or what we do now with our gay apparel.”
“Don we now our gay apparel, fa-la-la la la, la-la-la-la? Christmas song. Try to keep up, k?”
“Look, I’m really sorry. I’m looking for someone to make an axe to some very unique specifications. I have the design here, and I have a good deal of money. When I came in I was expecting someone that was… well, in nearly every way imaginable, almost, but not quite, exactly unlike you.”
“Ohh, nice save. Hitchhiker’s Guide reference? Okay, you pass. Let me see your plans.”
She looked them over as Doug examined the items in her tent. She had quite a few knives and swords, many of which were amazingly beautiful. He had gotten about three fourths of the way around when she set the sketch down on the counter and looked up, eyes wide.
“Did you design this”, she asked with awe in her voice.
“No a friend of mine did. It’s one of four designs for an axe. I like that one best, but if you can’t do it, I can show you the others.”
“Oh, no. I can make it. I’m just amazed at the design. This thing will be about like swinging a softball bat. I’ve been forging blades for a long time, and I’ve studied with some of the best people around, and I’ve never seen anything like this. And it’s such a simple idea when you see it.”
“Sweet. So… umm… How long will it take, and what do you want to make it?”
“Time will be about 3 weeks. Cost depends on why you want it. The opening banquet is starting soon. Join me, and we can talk about it then?”
Doug followed her out of the tent and into the Great Tent at the edge of the field. He felt out of place, being the only one there not in some sort of medieval costume, and he drew a few scowls. Dawn explained that the event didn’t open to the public for another two days and it might have looked like he was a gate crasher. She solved this by slipping her arm through his to show that he was undoubtedly her guest.
After the opening speech everyone was free to grab their food and the tent was abuzz with murmured conversations.
“So, tell me why you need this axe.”
“Are you familiar with
“Vaguely. Isn’t it filled with superheroes?”
“It used to be. Most of them were killed when the Ritki attacked. The war is over, but the ranks of Heroes are all but gone. Criminals have taken over the streets and there is a call for anyone that can help to go there and pitch in.”
“And you plan to be one of them?”
“Yeah. I know it sounds silly, but it’s something I feel I was meant to do.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what ability do you have that you think would be useful there?”
Doug looked away, then let his eyes linger on the table as he spoke. “I can take a beating.”
“Excuse me? You mean to say that your special ability is that you can get beat up? How is that a power?”
“It’s not that I can get beat up, it’s that I can take a beating. There is a difference.”
“What difference is there?”
“You make shields, don’t you?” She nodded, and he continued, “Well, imagine two shields, one made of ¼ inch cardboard, and one made of three layers of 1/8 inch hardened steel and riveted together. I’m the steel one, most people are the cardboard. It just doesn’t hurt that much when I get hit. A beating that would kill most people, I can shrug off without so much as a bruise. I need the axe to hit back, and to make them think twice about hitting the first time.”
“Seems like a rough way to make a living.”
“Maybe so, but I’ve had a lot of practice at it.” As he said this, his demeanor changed. His voice was softer and more distant, and it was said in a way that hinted at embarrassment.
She noticed he hadn’t looked at her since the whole topic came up. It was time to change it. “So how did you come up with this design?”
“A girl at the orphanage where I grew up has a talent for designing things like this. All sorts of things really. Mazes, buildings, computer parts, you name it. She can’t actually make most of it, but all of her designs are practical and complete enough that someone with the actual skill can do it without much trouble. Now, about the cost?”
“What do plan to wear?”
“What sort of costume will you be wearing? Superheroes have to have to have an outfit.”
“I hadn’t really thought about it. A pair of old sweats I guess. I don’t really think I’ll need all that much.”
“Oh, no. No no. That’s not a good idea. Tell you what… I think I can work out a deal where you can get an axe, and a costume, for barter.”
“What sort of costume? And what could I possibly have to barter?”
Any sort of costume you want, if I can find
Doug sat at the table, feeling overwhelmed. Here was this beautiful woman, willing to help him out in trade for something. He remembered the way she locked into his arm as they entered the tent and flushed at the thought that crossed his mind. He regained his composure just as she returned.
“Okay I found her, but she’s tied up at the moment. She’s willing though. All we need to do is talk you into it.”
“Into what, exactly?” He flushed again.
“How would you feel about filling in for Larry, our monster?”
“Larry usually plays the monster at these events. You know, running around, threatening to eat the children, carrying off the women, battling the men. It’s all in fun. The problem is he’s not here this time. He was thrown from his horse practicing for the jousting tourney. Once a day, at the close, you would battle a throng of knights, who would beat you down and leave you for dead. Normally this battle is all rehearsed, but you should be able to fill in. They are really good at pulling their blows, but if something does get through, it wouldn’t really be a big deal, would it?”
“Well…” He paused while he decided whether to just walk away, or open up completely to her. “See, here’s the thing. My father used to beat the hell out of me. He beat Mom too. Somehow I ended up with a second personality that lives deep inside of me. When something bad happens, I can tap into it, but it’s like I’m not really there anymore. I can see what’s happening, but it’s like I’m watching from somewhere nearby. I don’t know what will happen if The Other Guy shows up while I’m getting attacked for a show. He, I mean I, might really hurt someone. Maybe I should just pay you.”
She was silent for a moment, but her eyes never left his face. “I’m sorry. I had no idea. Tell you what. Come back tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do. Okay?”
Doug nodded, and they eventually stood, shook hands and parted ways. That night was a long one for him. Sleep took forever to arrive, and morning came far too soon.
Back in Dawn’s tent, he met Bethany and Trent.
“Doug”, said Dawn.
“Hi there, Doug.
Doug’s hands were beginning to twitch as he shot a glance at
Dawn that expressed his feeling that she had betrayed a trust.
Dawn jumped in. “If you do that, we’ll make the
costume, and the axe, for no charge. You’ll just need to keep
“Fine. I’d like to run through some of what I need to do before tomorrow though.” He said it with a sigh.
* * * *
The first public day of the fair was a great success.
There was a huge crowd and the mood overall was a very light one.
Doug had slipped firmly into character and was lurking about for children
to devour and maidens to abduct. When the time came for the attack
by the guards, he ran around, chasing and being chased. A few
times he got close enough to
As the final day wound to an end, there was a commotion on the far end of the field. At first it was thought to be a fight and the guard was dispatched. Doug followed out of curiosity and a willingness to help of he could. Making his way to the edge of the tent city was difficult due to the number of people heading away, but at least that gave him an idea where to go. On arrival, he saw the guard surrounding what appeared to be a giant insect. It was dark, either purple or green, depending on how it turned, and over 7 feet tall. Something about it looked scared. The guards that were there had their weapons drawn but they were still a fair distance away. It was standoff right out of a bad movie of the week. Doug removed the head of his costume and stepped forward. Taking a halberd from one of the guards, he approached what he assumed to be a Rikti straggler. He shouted things at it that it obviously did not understand. It made clicking noises at him that he thought might be how it talked. The two stood shouting and clicking for some time, then a sound came from the creature. It was an electronic sound, but it was one Doug knew.
“Not fight,” said Doug, and he lowered the weapon.
“I hope that was a request, and not a title you’ve given me. Someone grab some punch, some fruit, and maybe some meat. Let’s see what it eats.”
“Crash. Colony gone. Lost.”
“Your ship crashed? You are the only one left?”
“Not combat I.”
Turning to the crowd, Doug called out, “Everyone relax. I think it’s okay. We just need some space and a little time.”
“Need. Need food. I need food. I need colony.”
“No colony here. None like you.” Doug moved a little closer to it. Gesturing to himself he said, “I not combat you. I friend.”
From somewhere on his right, Doug heard
Doug stepped even closer, hand raised. “No! Stop! Everyone just stop! This is not a Rikti. It’s just lost and alone, and probably scared to death. Someone get Trent to a medic, but no one comes near this thing until we get someone to help it learn how to talk to us.”
Doug dropped the pole arm and took another step toward the creature. “You safe here. Safe?”
“No. Safe in colony. Safe with others. Not safe here.”
“Safe with me.” Another step closer.
“Doug!” Dawn’s voice startled him. “Are you nuts?”
“Dawn, this is what I was telling you about.
Everything is okay here, as long as we don’t startle it. If
it meant us harm, it would have ripped through most of these people like tissue
paper. It needs help. See to
“Doug. You Doug. Safe with Doug.”
“Yes. You are safe with me. Come with me to a more safe place.” The mist around the hands faded, and the creature followed Doug into a tent where there was food and water waiting.
Over the next 30 minutes, its translator unit managed to pick
up a great deal of English. Doug learned what the bug could
remember about the crash and that it was alone and scared. When
the men from the government arrived, they were met with some resistance.
Doug explained the situation to the leader and arranged for that man to
contact a name on a card Doug had carried with him since his father’s
trial. He arranged to be taken back to
* * * * *
A few weeks later, Doug traveled to
“How is he doing?” She asked once the rest of the formalities were out of the way.
“Good. And it’s she actually.
“Broken jaw. How did you know what was going on so fast?”
“I’m not sure. Like I said, I think that being a hero is something I was meant to do. It’s like I have a knack for it or something.”
“I always thought I’d make a great mage. Flying, hurling spells at stuff. Gods that would be fun. Turns out I’m just a smith, but a girl can dream.”
“But a damn fine one.”
“Ha ha. Thanks. Here is your axe,
and outfit. The care instructions are in the box along with
“Absolutely. And thanks. Not just for this. But for everything.”
“One other thing. You don’t get to leave unless I get a big hug.”
“Like there’s any other size I can do.”
* * * * * *
The office was done is dark hues of gray and brown. The curtains were drawn tightly together, blocking the view of whatever might lay beyond. The desk was made of hand carved mahogany, and the chair of black leather. To the right of the desk sat a bank of video monitors, twelve in all. On each was one of the signs of the Zodiac. One by one the symbols vanished from the screens until only Sagittarius and Virgo remained.
The light came on under the monitor belonging to Sagittarius. “Sir, there is one other thing. We may have a leak in to communications net. Someone has been asking questions.”
The voice concealed within the chair said, rather calmly, “What kind of questions?”
“Basic. He doesn’t seem to know what he’s found, but he’s not letting go of it either.”
“You know who he is?”
“Yes,” replied Virgo. We know, and there is a plan in place. It will take a few weeks to implement in such a way as to remain beneath notice. I’ve spoken to Scorpio and they are ready on your order.”
“Make all the preparations, but wait for my command.”