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Window into the Universe #4

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  • Flint
    Greg, Jules, and Shauna stood patiently, awaiting the arrival of Professor Gardner. They d all studied the man s work carefully over recent months, looking at
    Message 1 of 8 , Mar 3, 2006
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      Greg, Jules, and Shauna stood patiently, awaiting the arrival of
      Professor Gardner. They'd all studied the man's work carefully over
      recent months, looking at it even more closely since being informed
      that they'd be assisting his latest experiments when he arrived at
      the university. To them, he was an almost mythical character, taking
      a look into the workings of the human mind in ways that no one else
      had thought of, and coming to unusual, sometimes bizarre,
      conclusions that his research meticulously backed up. To say the
      three students were in awe of what he'd already done in his short,
      seven year career was an understatement. They practically worshipped
      the man.

      The experiment they'd be assisting Professor Gardner on was one that
      dealt with how people reacted to internet chat rooms. Unlike his
      previous experiments on the subject, this time Gardner would select
      a specific chat, and study the regular attendees to that individual
      room. How they reacted to one another, how they connected or
      distanced themselves when new people entered the setting. He'd study
      and note, in his own methodical way, what they talked about when
      there was a large group of people, and how they reacted when the
      numbers slowly dwindled. From that information, he hoped to glean
      some insight as to how exposure, particularly long-term exposure, to
      a chat room environment paralleled and differentiated from a normal,
      physically social gathering.

      They'd already set the equipment up, from several small observation
      monitors and notepads about the lab, to the cots and refreshments
      for the four of them, who would remain isolated while performing the
      experiments. In the center of the lab was a large plasma monitor,
      big enough to fill an entire wall in a residential home and be seen
      throughout the lab. It would be at that screen that the experiment
      would be watched.

      Greg was the most tentative of the lot, and seemed to be the only
      one of the three that understood that they were as much a part of
      the experiment as they were assisting it. Their very isolation would
      place them within the parameters of the experiment, as they'd be
      forced into long-term exposure to the project, whether they intended
      it or not. He knew that temptation to involve themselves in the
      conversations on the large display would eventually be too much to
      bear, but didn't imagine it to be a problem. In the past, Professor
      Gardner had conducted other chat room experiments with and without
      interaction with the subjects, and his test results had always come
      out the same way. Greg didn't anticipate this one to be any

      Shauna, he knew, had completely different things in mind. The short,
      dark-skinned beauty was -- for lack of more appropriate term -- a
      kiss-ass. Greg often joked with his room mate that she took brown-
      nosing and made an Olympic sport out of it, one in which she'd
      easily take the gold. She was positively giddy with anticipation as
      they'd walked to the lab, her ample chest -- something Greg took
      notice of on more than one occasion -- jiggling as she had half-
      walked, half-jogged ahead of them on their trek there that morning.

      Jules, as well, had different things in mind. She was tall, blonde,
      and leggy with a smoky voice that grabbed the attention of any man
      within a block. Worse yet, she knew it, and used it. The old
      saying "If you've got it, flaunt it" took on new meaning when Jules
      took it to heart, and Greg knew that given the opportunity, she'd do
      her best to wrap the Professor
      around her finger. In fact, having known her as long as he had, Greg
      knew she was looking forward to it. If there was one thing Jules
      liked more than screwing with a guy's head -- no pun intended -- it
      was a challenge. And there wasn't much doubt that Professor Gardner,
      a world-class psyche professor, would prove to be just that. Even
      for Jules' rather....extraordinary talent for getting her way.

      When the Professor arrived, though, everything went off without a
      hitch. Hasty, and in Greg's opinion, jittery introductions were
      made, and they didn't waste any time heading into the lab and
      getting the experiment underway. Granted, Greg had an uneasy feeling
      about the man, but he didn't focus on it. He had that feeling about
      everyone at first. Sooner or later, it would pass and he and the
      Professor would get along just fine. For the time being, though, he
      was more comfortable just sitting back and watching as his
      compatriots took turns drooling over their advisor -- one over his
      body, the other over his brain.

      Which was drooling for which part, to Greg's surprise, switched back
      and forth quite frequently. So frequently, in fact, that he had
      trouble focusing on the experiment itself because he found watching
      the two ladies he was working with fawn over their leader was far
      more amusing.

      He'd never gotten the impression, in the short time he'd worked with
      Shauna, that she'd ever realized her own beauty, but now he could
      see how wrong he was. Granted, she didn't flash it around like Jules
      was often wont to do, but on those occasions she was feeling bold,
      she didn't hesitate to try and get the Professor's attention with a
      hint of cleavage here, or a clever bat of the eyelashes there. Even
      more surprising to him was that the Professor responded so quickly
      to her affections. He'd expected a man who'd built his career on
      studying such subtle -- and to be honest, it wasn't all that subtle -
      - body language to put up more resistance. Not that any of their
      mutual flirting was overt, really, but in their isolation, it wasn't
      difficult to notice either.

      In the meantime, Greg was also surprised by Jules, who'd spent more
      time picking the man's brain than she had trying to flirt with him.
      She hadn't stopped asking him about the intricacies of the
      experiment, and what they'd hoped to find, amongst a cornucopia of
      other questions Greg himself hadn't even thought of.

      Needless to say, the whole situation had the Professor quite
      flustered, let alone Greg himself. While Greg was entertaining
      fantasies that the two women had somehow undergone a quick
      personality transplant when they closed the lab's doors, the
      Professor often found himself at a complete loss. Unable to answer
      Shauna's affections in the manner Greg could easily see he wanted
      to, and unable to find the words to answer Jules' never-ending
      questions in a way that satisfied her curiosity.

      That was what struck Greg as uniquely strange. Not Shauna's
      flirting, or Jules' questioning, but the Professor's inability to
      respond to those questions. It was his impression that Gardner had
      prepared and researched every facet of this experiment for several
      months before settling on their university as the place to conduct
      it. Why couldn't he explain it clearly? Was he hiding something from
      them because, as Greg had already figured out, they were a part of
      it in some way? Maybe he just didn't want to let the cat out of the
      proverbial bag. Or maybe, Greg surmised his mental fantasies
      continuing, this wasn't the Professor. Maybe he'd killed the
      Professor and took his place, in order to begin a homicidal killing
      spree on campus. Maybe he'd kidnapped the Professor, picked his
      brain enough to grasp the gist of the experiment, and came here to
      have his way with the two lovely young women that would be assisting
      him, and kill off the man that would witness it. Maybe.....maybe
      Greg just hadn't had enough sleep.

      That first night, though, Greg found it impossible to sleep. In part
      because of Shauna's overactive fantasy life keeping him awake
      despite her best efforts to keep quiet, and in part because his own
      overactive imagination was getting the better of him. He still
      couldn't grasp why the Professor had had so much trouble answering
      Jules questions. Something about it just wasn't clicking in his
      mind, and he knew he wouldn't be able to rest comfortably until he
      figured it out.

      Slipping off his cot quietly, mostly so Shauna wouldn't realize he'd
      heard her and get embarrassed, he stepped into the lab and smiled at
      Jules as he took a chair next to her at the small line of spare
      monitors and notepads. It was her shift to watch the chat and record
      the discussions and data, and she did so quietly, alternating
      between typing away at the keys and taking sips of coffee during the
      conversational lulls.

      Despite the years they'd known each other, seven total, Greg and
      Jules didn't speak much. Everything they had to say to one another
      these days was conveyed in simple glances and body language. It just
      wasn't necessary for them to bother with small talk anymore, so they
      didn't. Thankfully, that didn't change on that night, and Jules
      continued with her work after their polite smile, understanding that
      her friend had just had some trouble sleeping and needed to take his
      mind off it.

      Greg continued about his business, not even bothering to glance at
      the giant monitor in the center of the lab. He was distracted enough
      with his own thoughts, Jules' flowery perfume or shampoo -- he could
      never tell which -- and the longing for his girlfriend Shauna's late
      night activities had reminded him of. The last thing he needed was
      to have a bunch of random comments from the chat room they were
      watching floating around in his head. Instead, he clicked the
      smaller one before him on, and began searching the internet for
      whatever information he could find on Professor Benjamin Gardner.
      The Professor was asleep in the small office on the other side of
      the main screen, so Greg didn't worry about being caught checking up
      on things. He didn't worry about what Jules would think either,
      positive she'd wondered about the Professor's inability to answer
      her questions as well.

      He searched for hours that seemed like days, trying to find whatever
      he could. He and Jules shared a chuckle when they finally heard
      Shauna quiet down and settle in to sleep, and another when they'd
      noticed a particularly funny comment in the chat room, but beyond
      that there wasn't much to break the monotony of the quiet lab and
      his search.

      In truth, Greg wasn't searching for information. He already had the
      information. He'd studied the man they were supposed to be working
      for for months, after all. But in all that time, he, nor Jules or
      Shauna, had ever seen a picture of Professor Gardner. Now, as he
      continued his search for just such an item, that struck Greg as odd.
      This man, who was supposedly a world-renowned expert of some degree,
      didn't seem to have a photograph on public record anywhere. They'd
      even looked in a few of his high school yearbooks to see his
      accomplishments then, but found only a name associated with some
      science clubs, never a photo to match.

      As much as Greg wanted to continue his searching, his sleep depraved
      mind told him he had to slow down and sleep. His eyelids began
      drooping, little by little, and he found himself nodding off as he
      tried to type in the next search command. He came to quickly, as
      Jules passed a cup of fresh coffee his way, but he shook his head
      politely and said good night, heading back to his cot and hoping
      this time, he'd find his way to sleep.

      The next morning, feeling exceptionally refreshed, Greg awoke to the
      sound of keystrokes echoing through the lab. His eyes immediately
      locked on Jules' relaxed, dozing form and he smiled, proclaiming her
      lucky that she'd found rest easier than he had.

      Stepping back into the lab to take up his shift, he found that
      Shauna was back to her normal self, this time asking all the
      questions Jules had left out the day before, rather than batting her
      eyes and showing off her pearly whites in an effort to get the
      Professor's attention. Gardner seemed just as flustered by this as
      her flirting, though, and a twinge of question again came to Greg's
      mind. He quickly pushed it aside, though, and glanced towards the
      plasma monitor just so he'd have something different to focus on.

      Finding that something proved far easier than he'd expected.

      There, on the monitor's screen, was his very own screen-name. The
      one he'd chosen specifically for this project, in case he was
      tempted to become involved in the discussion himself. The one known
      to only himself, his girlfriend, and the Professor. The one that
      only he had the password for.

      "Who...are either of you in the chat right now?" he asked without
      looking at the Professor or Shauna. He didn't hear their answer as
      another name popped up on the screen and caught his eye. That of his
      girlfriend, Andrea.

      Looking over with a bit of panic in his eyes, he saw that the
      Professor was just as surprised as he was. Shauna recognized
      Andrea's name, and that gave her pause, but she didn't say anything
      about it. Both quickly shook their heads, reaffirming their unheard
      responses to his question as they stared at the screen.

      The tone of the conversation was flirtatious, and reminded Greg of
      conversations he and Andrea had had themselves. He couldn't believe
      it. Someone was impersonating him on the internet. Not only that,
      but they were doing a fine job of it. Greg was impressed, and
      frightened all at once. His brain began to draw out every bad
      thought to come to mind. That this impostor would find Andrea, hurt
      her....rape her....kill her. He imagined some pervert stripping away
      her clothes, and her dignity, having his way with her and leaving
      her to rot in an alleyway. Some murderous psychopath arriving on her
      doorstep and butchering her while she called for him to help, all
      the while he'd be stuck in the lab helplessly watching it all play

      That just wouldn't do.

      Without another word, Greg charged through the lab's doors, bringing
      an instant end to their isolation, and rushed to his girlfriend's

      Thankfully, he found Andrea safe and sound, not a single crimson-red
      hair on her head out of place, nor a single scratch on her smooth,
      pale skin. Explaining the situation, he returned to the lab to find
      it empty. The Professor, Shauna, and Jules were all missing, the
      monitors switched off. He was about to page Jules and find out where
      they'd gone when she popped up behind him, entering the lab
      casually, as though nothing had ever been wrong.

      He questioned her, probably a little more intensely than he should
      have, about the Professor and Shauna's whereabouts, something still
      not settling into place about Gardner's hesitant responses about the
      experiment the day before. She said she didn't know where they were,
      and the pair quickly agreed to go out and search for them.

      It didn't take them long to find the Professor's car, still parked
      in the lot. Opening the back doors to the car, they both nearly
      faint with the shock of seeing the crumpled, burned corpse inside.
      Instinctively, Greg knew what he saw: the remains of the late
      Professor Ben Gardner. Not the man they'd been working with, living
      with, for the past twenty-four hours, but the real Ben Gardner. The
      man that knew everything about what they were doing here without a
      single doubt. Jules came upon the same conclusion as Greg helped her
      to her feet and they slowly backed away from the car. Turning, Jules
      ran off, in search of their missing lab partner, while Greg charged
      in the opposite direction in search of the impostor Doctor Gardner.

      Jules was the first to find her target, nearly forty minutes later,
      back in the parking lot, near the Professor's car. She'd collapsed,
      and was crying, holding her eyes. Prying her tight, dampened fists
      from her face, Jules saw something that took her breath away: Shauna
      had gone blind.


      "Uh-huh. Then what happened?"

      "Then I'm at my uncle's house. Well, I thought it was my uncle's
      house...but it was out in the country, and he lives in one of those
      pre-made allotment community deals. And we're hunting these little
      eagle-slash-dragon looking things that are apparently made out of
      tree bark. And my aunt, who's not really the most nimble person in
      the world, is running around trying to catch the chipmunk sized
      ones, because they can't fly yet."

      "So you never found the Professor?"


      "And never figured out why this Shauna person went blind?"

      "Nope. Well...it wasn't spelled out or anything, but I know it was a
      shock-related thing. You know, kind of like how your memory blocks
      things out. She saw the burnt-up guy, and went blind. Is that even

      "And in the next dream, you were hunting living tree-bark?"

      "Yeah. So what's it mean?"

      "It could be a number of things, Gregory. Maybe something you ate,
      or saw on television. Maybe you really are paranoid, or there's an
      authority figure in your life that you think -- or actually is -- a
      danger to you or someone you love. Or perhaps you have an urge to
      take someone's life, and rather than being yourself in this dream,
      you're actually the Professor, while your guilty conscious is
      playing the part of Greg. Perhaps you have issues confronting
      someone about something, or trust and commitment issues in your
      relationship. Or, maybe you just have a very active imagination.
      Considering some of the talks we've had recently, I'm inclined to
      think that's all it is: an overactive imagination."

      "'Cause even in my dreams, I'm daydreaming."


      "Okay....I suppose that makes sense. But I've gotta go."

      "Our time's not up..."

      "Yeah, and I'm sorry Doc, but it's the anniversary, I can't be late
      for my lunch date."

      "I understand. Give Andrea my best."

      "Will do."



      As they walked out of the movie theater, chuckling about the comedy
      they just saw, Greg and Andrea glanced at each other and smiled,
      sharing the briefest of kisses as they turned towards their car. The
      small, tan hatch-back sparked the memory of his unusual dream, and
      the badly burned body that had been in the back-seat. The shrink
      blamed the dream on his over-active imagination, but as he watched
      Andrea climb into the car, the shake of the automobile causing the
      half-full gas can in the back to slosh about, Greg could only grin.

      [The End.]


      Window Into the Universe #4

      Writer: Josh Greer
      Editor: JM
      Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs

      Visit us at: http://www.altmarvel.net
    • Flint
      Window Into the Universe #5 Creation Writer: Josh Greer Editors: JM, Hoang Thai EIC & Webmaster: Liam Gibbs Dull plumes of blue-gray smoke slipped upward
      Message 2 of 8 , May 10, 2006
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        Window Into the Universe #5

        Writer: Josh Greer
        Editors: JM, Hoang Thai
        EIC & Webmaster: Liam Gibbs

        Dull plumes of blue-gray smoke slipped upward into the air as he sat
        before the blank screen, waiting for a response. Any response would
        do. Good or bad didn't matter at this point, all he wanted was a
        response. Anything, regardless of its quality would work just fine,
        as long as there was something. The silence alone was killing him.

        Of course, a response usually only comes when there has been a
        question, and this was not the case presently. He hadn't asked a
        question. He hadn't been able to think of the right question to ask,
        which made the blank screen's silence even more insufferable. It
        mocked and smothered him all at once, pushing him forward only to
        knock him back again, and he had no idea how to deal with it.

        He hated writer's block. Partially because he wasn't blocked,
        really, but suffered from an overflow of ideas and was completely
        unable to pick which one to work with. Everything that came to mind
        seemed further away from what he wanted to do. This idea was too
        formulaic, another too simple, another too complex. There seemed to
        be no clear medium. He only had to fill a few pages in order to get
        his "fix", but nothing that came to him was long enough, or was too
        long to begin with for such a simple mood.

        Another part of the problem was that he simply didn't believe
        writer's block actually existed, a theory he'd proven to himself on
        more than on occasion, by sitting down and clicking away at the keys
        until something took form. There wasn't a writer -- not a true
        writer -- in the world that ever ran out of ideas. Sure,
        occasionally one could find themselves without good ideas, but there
        were ideas nonetheless. He'd run into occasions himself where there
        was a rock-solid concept just waiting to be plucked and pruned and
        fine-tuned into a tale that would grip any reader under the sun, he
        just couldn't find the right words to make it work. But that wasn't
        writer's block. That was a temporary short-circuit in whatever part
        of the brain was responsible for vocabulary.

        This....this was something different. He was sure that somewhere in
        the world there was a word or name or title for his present
        affliction, but he hadn't heard it yet. He felt the desire to write,
        the innate need he'd felt every day for so many years. He had the
        tools: his computer, ten functioning fingers, and an imagination
        that seemed to never slow down for a break. He simply couldn't put
        his finger on a subject.

        Leaning back in his chair and wincing at the gear-grinding noise the
        action produced, he pondered some of his past subjects. Heroism.
        Sports. The military. The old west. History. Women. Lust. Racism.
        Nothing reached out to him that seemed fitting or appropriate for
        the day, and when something did it fell under the "too long for this
        project" list, like so many other ideas had already that afternoon.

        Television shows, movies, magazines, books...even video games he'd
        not played in ages swept through his mind, pushing the big, shiny,
        red "Inspiration" button in his brain, but apparently it hadn't been
        pushed hard enough yet, as the ideas continued to skip by, giving
        the next character in line an opportunity to speak up.

        "The stories we could tell, you and I..." one rather medieval
        looking gentlemen whispered in his mind.

        "The adventures we could have," another more dingy man said, his
        brown coat tarnished with age. "The whole 'verse is at our

        "I'm sure he'd rather share my 'adventures'," a striking young
        brunette winked, the sunlight in his imagination hitting her
        striking features perfectly.

        "Or perhaps mischief is more to his mood," a small, wild-eyed goblin
        said in a gravely, yet squeaky tone.

        Their voices seemed endless to him, a virtual symphony of pleas. He
        made no mistake about that. They pleaded with him. To them, his mind
        was very much like an island-prison. One from which they could see
        their freedom so clearly, but would never be able to reach forward
        and touch it. It was a fate, he knew, they'd resigned themselves to,
        but they ached to be freed all the same. To live and feast and feel
        like so many others had in his tales. They waited for their chance,
        but in instances such as this, they all screamed to be released as

        Frankly, as much as he loved them, it gave him quite the headache.

        Just as those still within the prison of his mind screamed for
        release, others also screamed for new life. A grizzled Englishman
        with almost glowing, green eyes shouted to be reborn. A woodcutter
        from one of his earliest tales hoped to share a new life with his
        bride and their child. An immortal called to him for more opponents
        to face, and more power to collect. Even when freed, they never
        tired of calling him back, of urging him to share their lives with
        the world.

        Now, though, was the time to focus on those still imprisoned. He'd
        already told the tales of those banging their fists on the walls of
        the prison, trying desperately to get back in. It was time to set
        another of his creations free, so that the world might see them as
        he did, in all their form and splendor and -- in some cases more
        than others -- sin. He knew it was time to share their passions and
        plights, if for nothing else, so he would have some semblance of
        peace for another day.

        But who could he choose? The sea of faces in the prison were
        endless, and seemed to grow each time he looked through the bars. He
        thought back to a calmer time, when the prison was no larger than a
        shed, filled with only a few small creatures. A wizard here, a troll
        or two there, and an angel floating above them like a guard. Now,
        though, there were millions of faces, all upturned and praying to
        him for the opportunity to serve at his whim.

        When he thought of it like that he chuckled a bit. It was true, in a
        way, that he had been given the opportunity to play God to these
        beings. After all, wasn't it he who created them? Not only them, but
        the worlds in which they lived, and the lives they lead within them?
        Wasn't it he that created their greatest joys and worst defeats?
        Wasn't it he who gave them life? He supposed it was, and didn't hear
        much disagreement on the matter from any of his subjects.
        Nevertheless, to look inside the landscape of his mind's eye and see
        his creations worshipping him as though he were Zeus or Odin or Ra
        or whatever name they wished to refer to as God was more than a
        little humorous to him. Ah, if only those who had doubted him
        throughout the years could see things from their perspective.

        "Then the world might be a better place," one of his creations, a
        sarcastic German near the back of the prison yard shouted, getting
        quite the rise out of the others awaiting his choice.

        "If I may," another chimed in, this one a rather bookish sort,
        pushing his glasses up on his nose and shuffling his feet. "Why not
        take all of us? Think of the stories that could be told with all of
        us in the same place...the same time."

        It certainly was a thought, but not one he took too seriously, much
        to the displeasure of the small character he'd opted to name
        Poindexter for the moment. There were too many of them, for
        starters. The time it would take to introduce them all would see him
        old and gray and on his way to the grave before he'd even finished
        the tale.

        "Maybe just one cell block, then?" the young, dark-haired woman
        suggested as the landscape truly did begin shifting into the prison
        metaphor he'd come up with. It was a novel idea -- no pun intended --
        but again, he opted to pass. There were simply too many of them
        yet. He had to find a way to narrow the search. He needed one of
        them to step forward and grab his attention. He needed just one of
        them to stand out.

        He thought long and hard before reopening the doors to the prison
        and allowing one of the men outside its walls to slip back through.
        The man in question, an old cowboy that didn't have much of a
        fondness for crowds, knew the task appointed to him though. He
        wouldn't be picked today, but he was fine with that. He could wait.
        Bo was just happy to get the opportunity to be back in the mix of
        things. Happy that he hadn't been abandoned once his story had been

        "All right," he shouted, firing his pistol high overhead to get
        everyone's attention. "Everyone back the f*** up!"

        He laughed at this as he watched Bo's smile grow wide. He'd always
        felt a connection with that character...something personal that he
        couldn't quite explain. That's why he'd picked Bo for the task, he
        knew the old cowboy would understand what he needed to happen even
        more than the others. They always had a vague idea of what he
        thought were good and bad ideas...but Bo knew clearly what he was
        looking for, and would do his best to help his creator find it.

        "Ladies, I'm sorry," Bo said with a bit of a frown. "But y'all are
        gonna have ta go back to yer cells. We won't be needin' ya today."

        Eyes closed, he watched his mental-prison, as the women he'd created
        let out a collective sigh and turned, marching back to their
        appointed place, while the men crowded closer to the cowboy that had
        taken charge of the situation.

        "Okay, next cut...anyone older than I am," Bo said with a
        sneer. "And you know what I mean," he added, raising an eyebrow at a
        young squire that looked hopeful for a moment. Knights, savages,
        angels and gods turned on their heels, dejected while other cowboys
        and more modern characters strolled into view, their faces growing a
        little more clear now that the crowd had thinned and the voices

        Here, though, he had to think. What group could he send away next?
        He did admire the gunslingers -- which made Bo a bit hopeful in his
        own right. He also had a fondness for the more modern day creatures,
        getting a cackle of delight from a few vampires near the back of the
        still-quite-full courtyard. Athletes cheered as he considered them
        for a moment, but ultimately, he decided against it. Bo didn't waste
        any time informing them of the decision.

        "So long, sports fans," the cowboy said with a chuckle, pulling back
        the hammer on his pistol when a rather large man in football pads
        glared at him for a moment.

        Before he could go on giving Bo his instructions, another character
        raised his hand cautiously. Robert. As soon as he saw who it was, he
        knew what the man's question would be. Robert was a man invented for
        a story that put he and his family in a land of mythical concepts.
        The very concepts that had been sent away moments before. Now Robert
        wanted to know if he and his remaining family should leave, or stay

        "Soon," Bo said to the man, resting a hand on his shoulder. "But not
        today." Robert nodded his reply, leading his son-in-law away.

        It was as they walked that he noticed something in the mental-prison
        he'd created. A man he hadn't known was there. The man sat, hunkered
        down before a computer much like his own, and was clicking away at
        the keys desperately, tapping his shoe on the dirt of the yard
        without so much a glance in Bo's direction. As soon as he saw the
        young man, he smiled, and Bo shook his head.

        "You," Bo said, walking over and tapping the man on the shoulder.

        "'Scuze me?"

        "You're the guy."


        "Yup." Bo replied, helping the young man up and leading him to the
        gate. "Good luck, kid." he said smiling, genuinely hoping the
        younger man's story would be a good one.

        Opening his eyes, so did his creator as he leaned forward and
        quickly began typing.

        "Dull plumes of blue-gray smoke slipped upward into the air...."

        [The End]
      • Flint
        Window Into The Universe #6 Outlaw s Legacy Writer: Josh Greer Editors: JM & Hoang Thai Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland
        Message 3 of 8 , Jun 29, 2006
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          Window Into The Universe #6
          "Outlaw's Legacy"

          Writer: Josh Greer
          Editors: JM & Hoang Thai
          Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs

          Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland California

          "Here we go," Trace Hunter said as he jogged onto the field, his
          jersey number, twenty-seven, proudly displayed in white on his back.
          For him, this truly was it. The last game. The final shoot-out for
          the free safety the Raider-Nation had dubbed "Oakland's Outlaw".

          He hadn't announced it publicly yet, but the speculation had been
          building for months, and he knew in his heart that win or lose, the
          Outlaw wouldn't be playing another season. Not that anyone would
          ever blame him for retiring. He was thirty-five, after all, which
          was practically old age for an NFL player these days. He'd entered
          the game with two bad knees and a high school hip injury six years
          ago as a free agent, and tackling sprees over the years hadn't
          helped. To top it off -- not that he'd say it himself -- he was one
          of the best in the League's history.

          In his six year career with the Oakland Raiders, Trace had been
          credited, along with Coach Hall, as being the driving force behind
          the dynasty. He'd shattered the single-season interception record
          his rookie year. He'd held the League Most Valuable Player award
          three times. They'd been Division Champions all six years, and
          Conference champs four of those years. He had three rings, and two
          Super Bowl MVP's to go with it. Now, for the first time at home, he
          desperately wanted a fourth. He wanted to win one in front of the
          famed Black Hole.

          Unfortunately, fate had decided it wouldn't be that easy. Setting
          records and making history never was, but today fate's decree hit
          Trace like a left hook that he couldn't shake off. They were only
          down by three points, but the game was coming to a close, and
          quickly at that. There was only a minute and a half left, and the
          Raider defense had taken the field. Trace knew, like everyone else,
          that the game wasn't nearly over. There would be no kneel down
          ending. Oakland's kicker had more range than anyone in the league,
          and the Packer coaches wouldn't put the ball into his hands, no
          matter how much time was on the clock. They were going to try and
          score one more time, and finish it off right now.

          "Twin blitz 3Z," the team captain, Joey Kaufman -- middle
          linebacker -- barked as they entered the huddle quickly. "Make sure
          you keep J.J. covered," he added, glancing Trace's way.

          Trace stepped up to the line cautiously, knowing that Joey didn't
          really believe he'd let his assignment slip through. Not now, when
          the game was at stake.

          Looking across the line of scrimmage at J.J. Cousins, the leading
          receiver in the Green Bay Packers' offense, Trace couldn't help but
          wonder if this was the play in which his knees would finally give up
          on him, though. He'd felt the cartilage grinding viciously
          throughout the fourth quarter, and managed to fight through it all.
          He'd battled J.J. the whole game, never letting the man he
          considered a good friend off the field get within arm's length of
          the ball. Now, though, he could see the strong determination in the
          man's eyes. Even worse, he understood all too well what that look

          He and J.J. had known one another their entire lives. They'd played
          in pee-wee league together. They'd played in High School together.
          They'd both gone on to Ohio State to play with the Buckeyes. J.J.
          had the experience from there on in, though. He'd been drafted right
          out of college, while knee surgeries had knocked Trace out of his
          chance at achieving the dream for almost nine long years. He wasn't
          eligible for the draft. He was barely eligible for free agency. Even
          when he was finally picked up by Oakland, nobody -- including
          himself -- ever expected him to play.

          Then the previous free safety, Cager Mahan, went down. His knee was
          snapped mid-tackle in a way that made everyone think of the
          traditional snapping of the wishbone at Thanksgiving. Coach Hall
          called him from the bench, and that's when his legacy was forged.
          Before all that, though...before the "Oakland's Outlaw" nickname,
          before the MVP's and Super Bowl's, there had been J.J.

          J.J. continued to glare across the line, waiting for the snap and
          shivering with anticipation like a bottle-rocket waiting to go off.
          Trace knew, almost instinctively, his old friend was going to be
          given a chance. He knew that he had to make this play. He knew the
          game was on his shoulders right then, or worse yet, his knees.

          "Please, God...don't let it happen now..." he whispered to himself
          as the ball was snapped.

          J.J. whipped across the line as though he'd been fired by a
          slingshot. He flew past Trace, glancing back every few steps to see
          if Cannon, the Packers' quarterback, and fired the ball yet. Trace,
          for his part, did his best to keep up. He stayed within arm's
          length. He stayed close enough that J.J. could feel him
          coming...close enough to take a swipe at the ball if it came their

          Then it finally did. Cannon hurled the ball like his namesake,
          sending it spiraling into the air in an arch that directed it
          towards J.J.'s fully capable hands. Both J.J. and Trace saw the ball
          coming, and both knew it was now or never, diving into the air
          almost simultaneously to grab it. Trace, the smaller of the two, was
          just a split-second ahead of his old college pal, though, swiping at
          the ball and batting it down just in the nick of time.
          Unfortunately, tragedy struck all the same.

          J.J. landed on top of him in a heap, the bulk of his weight crashing
          down on Trace's left knee, forcing a loud pop from the joint. The
          sound wasn't lost on anyone nearby, as J.J. immediately leapt off
          his friend, and the sideline official didn't hesitate to call for
          the trainers from the Oakland sidelines.

          Trace grunted in pain through gritted teeth as the trainers turned
          him over to examine the injury, the noise from Oakland fans that
          filled the stadium fading to a low hum as they watched one of their
          favorites lay helpless. The jumbo-tron screen on the scoreboard
          quickly flipped to a commercial as they worked on Trace's knee, but
          the attitude within the stadium didn't change.

          "Can you walk?" one of the medics asked, pulling Trace's helmet off
          him slowly, while his associates checked on the Pro-Bowler's knee.

          "I unnnngh --" he managed as one of the trainers put pressure on the
          injured leg. J.J. stepped in close, kneeling and removing his helmet
          as he watched them work.

          "He's gonna try...it don't matter if he can," the man said shaking
          his head. Trace couldn't help but grin a bit through his pain at his
          friend's remark. They knew one another far too well. Taking the hand
          J.J. offered after his comment, Trace managed to pull himself up
          with one good leg, and leaned heavily on the receiver that helped
          him to the sideline. As he plopped down on the bench with a groan,
          Trace held his friend's arm and focused.

          "I ain't done yet," he winked, wincing as another medic checked on
          his leg. J.J. just shook his head, and jogged back onto the field.

          While he sat on the bench, the medical team attending to his knee,
          Trace tried to keep his focus on the field. He tried, but his brain
          just wouldn't allow it. Every time one of the trainer's touched his
          leg, the pain zipped directly into his skull, and forced his eyelids
          closed. Just before the last jolt, though, he saw the Coach moving
          towards the bench.

          "How is he?" Coach Hall asked, his gruff, but quiet, voice asked
          over the noise from the crowd.

          "I'm fine," Trace answered, gritting his teeth.

          "His cartilage is shredded...he's--" the trainer started, but Trace
          cut him off, shoving him aside.

          "I'm fine," he reiterated, standing up slowly, and getting a blast
          of adrenaline when he noticed the Packers' position on the field.
          They'd managed to move the ball twenty yards. How long had he been
          on the bench?

          "Trace, if you can't--" Coach Hall started, but again Trace cut him
          off. Forty-three seconds. That was all the time that was left.

          "We got a game to finish," he said confidently, shifting his weight
          to the injured knee to prove -- to himself as much as anyone -- he
          could go back in. "I'm fine for one more down."

          "Then get me the ball," Hall said, his steely blue eyes locked on
          Trace's. Grabbing his helmet from the bench, Trace limped his way
          back to the field, much to the screaming delight of the Raider-

          "You good to go?" Joey asked him as he took his place in the huddle,
          relieving his back-up.

          "Coach wants the ball," Trace managed, pain shooting through his leg
          despite the adrenaline boost his body was giving him to compensate.

          "That's as classy and inspirational as anything I've got," Chord
          Philizin, the defensive tackle and most veteran player the team had,
          chuckled in response.

          "All out on this one, then. Z-4 Bear Hammer. We got one shot, let's
          make it count."

          As the huddle broke, and Trace half-jogged, half-hobbled to the
          forty-eight yard line, the crowd was on its collective feet.
          Everyone knew the chances were slim, even if their team got the ball
          back, that Krewzanski could make the kick. Sixty yard field goals
          weren't unheard of, but there hadn't been many. In the Super Bowl,
          there hadn't been any.

          Trace wasn't focused on any of that, though. All he was focused on
          was his old friend. His eyes were locked on J.J., while his mind
          wondered if he could do it. He'd made spectacular plays in the
          past...but this was a new level. This one he questioned, just for a

          He didn't have any more time to question it, as the ball was
          snapped. He twisted around on his good leg, thanking the dear Lord
          that it didn't go out too, and quickly gave chase. J.J. hadn't
          brushed by him so quickly this time around, and he managed to get
          closer than before, but that all changed in an instant.

          J.J. turned quickly, almost at a full right angle, shooting towards
          mid-field. Trace almost turned in on his bad leg out of instinct,
          but then stutter-stepped and renewed his chase, the receiver a full
          three yards ahead of him. Glancing back towards the line, he saw
          Cannon fire the ball, and his eyes went wide.

          His heart thudded in his ears like a war drum as he struggled to
          catch up. Pain shot through his thigh, the muscles in his leg
          feeling as though they were ablaze. Grass ripped from the field,
          flying from his cleats as he got closer. He was almost there, time
          seeming to slow to a near-halt as he ran. Just a little bit

          J.J.'s hand touched the ball as Trace came within arm's length, only
          a single, subtle shift away from catching it and essentially ending
          the game. As it did, Trace managed to get one last good shove-off
          from his good leg and slammed into the man like an anvil, knocking
          the ball almost straight up into the air. J.J.'s body collided with
          the grass with a thud, and Trace's eyes and hands immediately went
          up, searching for the still-live ball. They needed the ball. The
          Coach wanted the ball. More than anything in the world, right now,
          most importantly, Trace Hunter wanted the ball.

          It fell into his hands effortlessly, gravity -- as it had so many
          times in the last six years -- working in his favor, and lining up
          perfectly with his hands. He had the ball. Moving with it, though,
          was another story.

          Tucking it beneath one arm, Trace looked forward at the sea of
          jerseys, instinctively picking out which ones to avoid. Charging
          forward with his now slightly limping gait, he shoved out an arm,
          knocking away the running back that had moved to make the tackle. He
          saw his teammates suddenly crowd ahead of him, knocking away the
          white and green jerseys that moved to take him down. He side-stepped
          J.J., who recovered his footing and gave chase, but missed in his
          attempt at a tackle.

          Fans leapt to their feet as he moved down field, their roar echoing
          like thunder from the heavens as Trace moved down the sideline,
          finally outrunning Joey and leaving the Packer offense in his wake.
          As the last few seconds ticked off the clock, the only thought in
          his head was on the time, or reaching the end zone emblazoned with
          the Raider logo. It was that this was it, this was his final game.


          He never remembered the touchdown. Nor did he recall the fans
          screaming in celebration, the pats on the back and slaps to the
          helmet from his teammates. He never recalled his collapse in the
          endzone once the points were signaled, or giving his third MVP
          acceptance speech on a crutch because his leg was too damaged to
          hold his weight. He'd have to watch the tapes to remember the tears
          that came from his wife and sons as they hugged him and kissed him,
          celebrating the victory, and the owner handing him the Lombardi
          Trophy in thanks for his years with the team.

          The only thing Trace would remember from that game was that last
          play. That last interception. The eternal wait for the ball to land
          in his hands. He'd remember the cold, blue eyes of the coach telling
          him to get the ball, and leaning on J.J.'s shoulder as he hobbled to
          the sidelines.

          When people would ask him, later in life as his name began
          circulating as a Hall of Fame candidate, what he thought about the
          way that last Super Bowl ended, his response was always the same:

          "It was my last game," he'd say with a grin. "I just wanted the

          [The End]

          Author's Note: This tale's dedicated to a favorite player of mine,
          who only a few hours ago announced his own retirement: Jerome
          Bettis. While I've never been a big Steeler fan (I'm more of an
          Oakland guy, in case ya hadn't noticed), the Bus' attitude towards
          the sport, his love of the game itself, and his superior play have
          always held my respect and my cheers. Good luck to ya, Bus, the game
          won't be the same without you.

          [The editor apologizes for the extreme lateness in the publication
          of this story!]
        • Flint
          Windows Into the Universe #7 The Sim-ple Life Writer: Josh Greer Inspiration: Captain N (if you remember that cartoon, you have my sympathy) Webmaster & EIC:
          Message 4 of 8 , Aug 27, 2006
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            Windows Into the Universe #7
            "The Sim-ple Life"

            Writer: Josh Greer
            Inspiration: Captain N (if you remember that cartoon, you have my
            Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs

            John Q. Sim was a documentary film-maker. Or, at the very least, he
            was trying to be a documentary film-maker. In this town, sometimes
            it took some effort to be whatever it was you were intended to be.
            Most people in this town had struggled and fought -- quite
            literally -- to become the men and women they were, and John was
            just the latest in a long list of would-be heroes that would have to
            fight his way through to the top. He tried to be optimistic, though.
            Some of his friends had been thrown before real troubles. Disgusting
            mobsters or monsters from other worlds and realms had punished them
            and held them back. All he had to do was raise the money to get his
            film circulating.

            Where to start, though? John knew that news of his dreams, and the
            financial troubles that went with it, had reached far and wide, but
            who had heard the story and wanted to help? He certainly hadn't
            heard of anyone, but he was certain there had to be someone. So,
            video camera in hand, John Q. Sim set out to find those people, and
            ask them for their money. Granted, it wasn't the most dignified way
            to raise money, but he didn't have time for dignity. He knew people
            would want to see his movie, and he wanted to show it to them. In
            John's mind, that's all that mattered.

            "John! How-a youse-a been-a?" bellowed Luigi as John entered the
            man's place of business. Luigi was a good guy, even with his
            stereotypical Italian accent and the thick handlebar mustache that
            made him look like a bad Star Trek villain. His lime-green shirt and
            typical cover-alls were a trademark of his, and everyone knew he and
            his red-shirted brother on sight. The Mario Brothers, after all,
            were the best plumbers in town. They'd dealt with everything from
            walking toadstools to talking turtles, and they could unclog the
            most clogged of drains in no time. On top of it, Mario and Luigi
            Mario were two of John's oldest friends.

            "Who's-a here, eh? John! Hows-a the movie?"

            "Hey guys," John said timidly, mildly ashamed of what he was about
            to ask. He knew the brothers, and Princess, would chastise him for
            even worrying about such a thing, but he couldn't help it. He was a
            proud young man. "The movie's good...I finally finished it. It's

            "What? Nobody wants-a to show it?" Luigi asked, tapping a wrench
            against his palm as though he'd fix someone but good if they decided
            not to show John's film.

            "No, no, I'm going to release it straight to DVD," John said,
            calming Luigi's temper. "I just...I don't think I can afford the

            "Money? You-a need-a money?" Mario asked, appalled. "Why didn't ya
            say so? PRINCESS!!" Hearing his call all too clearly, Princess came
            from the back of the little shop, her pink gown and sparkling tiara
            spotless, despite the grease and grim that seemed to line everything
            in the shop. She smiled at John, her blue eyes lighting, and gave
            him a friendly hug.

            "It's good to see you again," she said happily.

            "John needs to borrow some-a coins," Mario said, giving his wife a
            peck on the cheek. "For his-a movie."

            "I'll have Toad bring some to your loft tomorrow morning," the
            Princess said. "But only if you promise to come to dinner again this
            weekend!" John blushed. He used to have dinner with the Marios every
            other weekend, but ever since he'd gotten his movie project going,
            he hadn't had time. He told Princess he was going to try and make in
            months ago, but he never had, and now she was calling him on his

            "I promise," he agreed

            After talking with the three of them for a while, and learning about
            how many businesses were looking forward to his movie, John felt
            better about his quest. He still didn't like the idea of begging for
            money, but at least now he knew where he needed to go, and that some
            people wouldn't expect an arm and a leg in return for their
            donation. Some of the people Mario and Luigi had mentioned wouldn't
            even ask for their name in the credits. Of course, there were a few
            that wouldn't look so favorably on the release.

            John's documentary was about the town itself, both the good, honest
            heroes like the Mario Bros, and the less than respectable elements
            of the neighborhood. In the process of filming the movie, John had
            accompanied many people on their personal missions and adventures,
            like the fall he spent following the Samoa Chromides football team
            to the SuperBowl, or the spring in which he'd ridden along with the
            Max and Wild Ride in the Jet Moto Championship series. He'd followed
            a few of the city's more famous faces as well, like Harry Potter and
            his search for thief that had stolen the Sorcerer's Stone.

            It wasn't the Chromides or the Moto-riders or even Harry that John
            was worried about, though. It was those other, darker elements. He
            knew that there were people like Bison and the Shredder that would
            frown on the idea that he'd revealed their plots to the world by
            accident. They would chase after him, he knew, and some might even
            threaten to kill him, but he wouldn't shrink away from them. He had
            had a vision, and made it a reality, and he wouldn't let any of them
            stop him. Besides, it wasn't as though he didn't have friends
            capable of dealing with them. Friends like the man he was about to
            see, as he walked along the gravelly path of the White Lotus Temple.
            Friends like Kung Lao.

            "Hello, friend John," Kung Lao said, bowing deeply with his sharp-
            edged hat in hand. The serenity of the temple's courtyard counter-
            acted Kung's warrior's presence so perfectly that John found himself
            on edge and at peace at the same time. It was a sensation that he
            couldn't properly explain, and he hoped he had captured it well,
            when he sat in on one of Kung Lao's sessions with the temple's

            The warrior-monks of the White Lotus Order were some of the greatest
            warriors in the world, and everyone knew it. Along with the Lin
            Kuei, the White Lotus was the only order to have had a
            representative in nearly every Mortal Kombat tournament ever held,
            and they were quite proud of that distinction. Particularly Kung
            Lao, Liu Kang, and Kai, who had all represented the order in the
            past. John had befriended Kai at a young age, and had later met and
            befriended Liu and Kung as a result.

            "Master Kung," John said, returning his friend's bow and embracing
            him as a brother. He looked around, but didn't see Liu and Kai,
            guessing that they had returned to their native land to train other
            recruits, while Kung Lao remained behind.

            "Mario called and informed us that you would be coming," Kung said,
            smiling as they walked a bit and sat by a bubbling stream. "The
            order, of course, will be more than pleased to aid you if it can.
            The Lin Quei, as well, if Sub-Zero holds true to his word."

            "You've spoken with Saifu?" John said, surprised by the news. After
            the war with the Dragon King, Sub-Zero and Kung Lao had parted ways,
            and hadn't spoken in quite some time.

            "Yes. He sends his regards, and wishes you success," Kung Lao
            replied. John could sense that something was bothering his friend,
            though. Even for Kung Lao, his words were clipped and edged
            with....something. John couldn't put his finger on exactly what,
            though. Kung must have sensed his friend's unease, and
            nodded. "Fujin spoke with me this morning." Again, John was
            surprised. Fujin, the Wind God, had been silent since Raiden
            returned from his time as an Elder God. If he had anything to say
            that involved John or his project, it couldn't be good.


            "He suggests caution. He believes there is danger in the air, and
            would see it avoid you." John leaned back to let Fujin's words sink
            in, but apparently, Kung Lao had different plans. His message had
            been passed, and with it he rose, handed John an envelope, and
            turned back towards the temple with a bow. John nodded and called
            his thanks, but if the monk heard it, he ignored his friend's words.
            Inside the envelope was a check for several thousand dollars. John
            was thankful for the money, of course, but Fujin's warning haunted
            him. What could be coming that would worry a god?


            In the two days that followed, John traveled up and down the area of
            the city dubbed "Celebrity Road". It was an area that very few
            people discussed, unless they were forced to, but a popular area of
            town all the same. Men like Triple H, Spawn, Tony Hawk, and Harry
            Potter lived in the mansions, castles, and compounds that lined
            Celebrity Road, and some of them happened to be John's good friends.
            Jared Carthalion, the Shadow Mage of Dominaria, was a name atop his
            list, and he was glad that the man had been pleased to donate a few
            silver coins called taels to the film.

            "The least I could to for a man that helped defeat Leshracc!" Jared
            had pronounced with the same vigor he'd shown on the battlefield.
            John just laughed. Sometimes talking to Jared was like meeting He-
            Man. Of course, he hadn't made it far enough down Celebrity Road to
            have actually met He-Man yet...but perhaps one day he would, just so
            he could see how correct the comparison was. He laughed even harder
            at the enraged look on Jared's face when the Kool-Aid Man -- or just
            K to those in town -- burst through the side of Jared's house in
            search of two ugly, little, yellow things called Thirsties. They
            were like cockroaches to K, so he'd taken to a more proactive stance
            and was hunting them down all over the city. That wasn't a good
            enough excuse to Jared though, and when the Tick and Arthur showed
            up to help K out, John took it as his cue to leave.

            "But justice calls we dogged heroes to lift our collective leg on
            the fire-hydrant of evil, chum!" shouted the Tick as Jared
            fumed. "Join us against the itch of the criminal flea, Shadow-Mage!
            Come on, buddy...scratch!"

            With the hustle-bustle of Celebrity Road behind him, John returned
            to downtown, where businesses lined the streets like -- as the Tick
            was so fond of saying -- "The red brick teeth of life's mouth,
            opening up and devouring us for sustenance!" He thought for a moment
            about starting outside of town, on the fringe where a few choice
            businesses and people resided, but the highway out of town had
            flooded again and was lined with frogs struggling to get by. He'd
            tried to navigate the mess once but wound up squashing more than his
            share of frogs. It wasn't something he wanted to repeat, more for
            the sake of the poor saps that had to wash his car than anything
            else. Last time, half of them wound up vomiting.

            John's next stop was at the town museum, where a number of relics
            discovered by another of his friends were being displayed. Lara
            Croft was a good friend, and John had spent a number of good, solid
            hours trying to convince her to become more, but she just wasn't
            having it. They still enjoyed their time together all the same, and
            he could as soon as he walked up to the latest exhibit of artifacts
            rescued by the so-called Tomb Raider that he wouldn't be changing
            her mind this time, either.

            "Hey," he said, hugging her tightly and smiling through the briefest
            of kisses. "How was the trip this time?"

            "Do you even know where I went this time?" she asked, a sly grin
            slinking across her lips as she brushed a lock of straight brown
            hair out of her eyes.

            "Amazon river delta," John answered, raising an eyebrow as she took
            on the rare expression of someone who was impressed. John learned
            long ago that Lara wasn't the easiest woman to impress, in any form
            or fashion, so when it happened he accepted it humbly. "Indy was
            here a week ago securing a spot for the Arc and mentioned seeing you
            at the airport," he admitted, and she laughed.

            "I should've guessed," she said. "Jones can't even keep his own
            secrets, I can't expect him to keep mine too." An awkward silence
            passed between them then, as they turned away from the exhibit. It
            was a brilliant crystal mask that resembled a the death masks the
            old Greeks used. Large and round with the distinct impression of a
            face. John couldn't fathom how someone would go about molding
            crystal to fit a face, the way they had with gold and metal, but
            apparently someone had. Lara didn't say anything about it, though.
            She walked over to a viewing bench, sat down, and motioned for him
            to join her. He did, but not until he'd taken a moment to admire her
            long, tan legs in the short green shorts she liked to wear.

            "So, how was the trip?" he asked again, wanting to get the
            conversation going. When they were alone, they had developed the
            habit of filling such silences with kisses and caresses
            and....whatever may follow, but that wouldn't do in the middle of
            the museum, no matter how tempting it was to try.

            "Fine," she said with a heavy sigh that told him she'd been thinking
            the same thing. "And the movie?"

            "I'm still trying to raise DVD funds," he said without a shred of
            regret. That was why he liked her so much, after all. He never felt
            uncomfortable around her, and she never gave him reason to. "Mario
            and Luigi helped, and the White Lotus too. So did some of the folks
            on your street, of course," teased John. She blushed and looked away
            in a very girlie moment, which was nearly as rare as the impressed
            glance she'd given him earlier.

            If there was something capable of turning Lara Croft into a blushing
            mess of a girlie girl, though, it was mentioning the fact that she
            now resided on Celebrity Road. In fact, her mansion sat right
            between houses owned by Spider-Man and Ron Weasley on a block John
            had always called Adventurers Alley. She hadn't wanted to move
            there, but when the relics and equipment in her home had gotten to
            be too much for her modest two story, she had been forced to look
            for a bigger place. That bigger place, as it turned out, was the
            sprawling mansion she now called home. After a few moments of
            blushing about it, though, Lara looked back at him, and smiled her
            coy smile again.

            "So you came to ask me for money?"

            "Partially," he replied in matching fashion. They both grinned a
            little brighter.


            Another day passed, and John sat in his little house, flipping
            through checks and counting coins, trying to figure out how much
            money had been donated to the cause thus far. He'd had donations
            from Double Dragon Dojo, the White Lotus Society, Mario Bros.
            Plumbing, the Lin Quei compound, WayneTech, Jared's personal
            account, Jet Moto Industries, the NFL, Tony Hawk, and dozens of
            others in smaller amounts. If he had figured the conversion rate of
            Galleons, Taels, and the coins Toad dropped off properly he had
            almost a half-million dollars, and that was without the quarter-
            million Lara had offered him.

            He smiled as he heard her stir overhead, listening to the sound of
            her bare feet padding across the hardwood floor and the turning of
            the shower's chrome knobs. He was surprised when she'd agreed to
            come to house, rather than asking him to hers, but he wasn't about
            to complain. The day they had spent together was a wonderful one,
            and he was glad that they'd had it. If that alone wasn't reason
            enough to celebrate, he now had enough money to fully fund his

            John should have known that was a bad sign.

            He had just risen from his chair, intending to go and join Lara in
            the shower, when his front door exploded. Now, living in the town he
            lived in, with K only a few blocks away and the God-knows how many
            other things in town, (including the blasted paperboy), that could
            be responsible for shattering a wooden door, John had taken the
            proper precautions. His door wasn't just wooden, but was lined with
            a thin layer of titanium steel, and protected by Jared's magic as
            well. It took some effort to break that particular door down, so
            when it happened, John knew it to be big trouble. When the
            individual responsible for the door stepped through the gaping hole
            left behind it, John groaned and slumped back into his chair.

            "John," the man growled, dragging his enormous sword behind him, his
            armor clunking and creaking as he entered the room.

            "Segfried," John answered. Apparently, he didn't care for John's
            response, and shot an enraged glare towards him. "Oh,
            yeah...Nightmare," he said, mockingly, waving off the armored man's
            wrath. His confidence was a front, of course. He knew exactly the
            weapon in Nightmare's hand was capable of. The broadsword called the
            Souledge was one of the most destructive forces ever created, and in
            this town, that was really saying something.

            "I cannot allow you to release your...movie," Nightmare said, his
            guttural voice spitting the word "movie" out like it was rancid
            meat. "I will not permit you to show the world where I am...my

            "You do not have a choice," said Jared Carthalion, stepping through
            the door-shaped hole and standing between Nightmare and John. John
            looked out the window next to him to see that his lawn was littered
            with heroes. The Marios, the Tick and Arthur, Sgt. Guile, even the
            legendary Van Helsing stood ready to defend John. Surprisingly
            enough, none of them had to. It was Lara that did the deed. She'd
            slinked down the stairs, dripping and soapy, with her pistols in
            hand, walked up next to the armored behemoth called Nightmare, and
            shot him in the back of the head.

            The former knight dropped in a heap, but the Souledge did its duty
            and healed its master, allowing him to rise again, but by that time,
            even more heroes had arrived. Kung Lao and his students, the
            brothers that operated the Double Dragon Dojo, Mega Man, and others
            whose names John couldn't remember had arrived. So did the paperboy,
            who hurled a copy of that day's edition with his usual gusto,
            peddling around K's round body as he did. The paper hit Nightmare
            like a cannonball and threw him across the room. Lara and Jared
            Carthalion moved to Nightmare's prone form quickly. She trained her
            guns on the parts of his body not shielded by armor or the mutations
            of the Souledge, and Jared knelt beside him.

            "We may not have the power to kill you outright, creature," Jared
            hissed. "But we have more than enough power to separate you from
            your blade."

            "And that would be enough to kill him," John added from his chair.

            Nightmare rose to his feet slowly, and grunted something in Latin,
            which none of them quite understood. He glared at John for a moment
            before he spoke. "If I am attacked by those who see your....movie,"
            he said, spitting out the word again with a sour look on his
            face, "I will return to destroy you."

            "You and half a dozen others," John muttered to himself as Nightmare
            left his home.


            "...and that's what it's like to live in Pixelton, the most active
            little city in the world!" proclaimed the little version of John Q.

            All around the full-sized John, people applauded. After a minute or
            two of that, they stood and whistled. Lara gave him a soft kiss on
            the cheek, and the Mario Bros. slapped him on the back proudly. John
            couldn't have been happier. His movie was finished, released, and
            everyone he knew had enjoyed it. Even Mr. Wayne, who had enjoyed his
            early DVD so much that he'd invited the whole town to his private
            theater on Celebrity Road for a screening. While they continued to
            shout their appreciation, John walked towards the exit and began
            shaking hands with the noisy crowd, ignoring arguments between the
            Max and the Technician on whose Jet-Moto team had gotten the best
            footage in the film. Above it all, he heard the Tick somewhere in
            the back of the theater with Arthur and the Sewer Urchin.

            "Arthur, moments like these remind us just what it means to be
            heroes. Like the action-packed movie-trailer of life, we...."

            "It's over," said Sewer Urchin, walking towards the exit with Arthur
            while the Tick continued to babble behind him. "Yeah, definitely the

            Note: The characters mentioned in this story were plucked from the
            following video games.

            The Sims, Super Mario Brothers, NFL Fever, Mortal Kombat 2, 3, & 4,
            Jet-Moto, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone, Street-Fighter,
            Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, WWE Games, Spawn, SoulCalibur 2, Tony
            Hawk Games, Magic The Gathering: Battlemage, Masters of the
            Universe, the Tick, Kool-Aid Man, Frogger, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,
            Raiders of the Lost Ark, Double Dragon, Batman: Mask of the
            Phantasm, Bram Stoker's Dracula &/or Van Helsing, MegaMan, and, of
            course Paperboy.
          • Flint
            Pixelton PD Writer: Josh Greer Button Masher: Bob Lot Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs My name s Kurtis Stryker, and I work SWAT for Pixelton PD. Limiting myself
            Message 5 of 8 , Nov 19 2:55 PM
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              "Pixelton PD"

              Writer: Josh Greer
              Button Masher: Bob Lot
              Webmaster & EIC: Liam Gibbs

              My name's Kurtis Stryker, and I work SWAT for Pixelton PD. Limiting
              myself to SWAT is probably a bad idea, though. Really, I handle
              anything the chief throws my way. The guy in the body armor's my
              partner, Joseph Dredd. We all call him the Judge. He's one of the
              few cops that lives up on Celebrity Road, but he's good at his job
              so we don't hold it against him. Even helped out my pals Sonya and
              Jax, from the OPA -- Outerworld Protection Agency -- a while back. I
              guess some folks tried to bust in from a foreign dimension or
              something. I dunno, really. It's like Roswell around here sometimes.

              Today's got an interesting start to it. Dredd and I head out to the
              residential area. The Civilian Pavilion, as the Paperboy calls it.
              Everyone in this part of town has the annoying habit of getting
              themselves hurt. Half of 'em are sent to the emergency room at least
              once a year with gunshot wounds, the others suffer from everything
              from stab wounds and bruises to incurable illness. The docs tell me
              that there's two deaths via incurable disease in Pixelton alone
              every day of the year, but somehow we never have a population
              problem. Still trying to wrap my head around that math, but like I
              said, it's like Roswell around here sometimes.

              So where was I? Oh yeah, the Pavilion. We're getting reports that
              there's a street full of senior citizens face down in their
              driveways, so the chief calls me and Dredd to go check it out. We're
              busy scolding that big blue idiot, the Tick, for ruining rooftops
              again, but we cut it short and head out anyhow. Spider-Man'll keep
              an eye on him, I'm sure. So we get out to the area and, sure 'nuff,
              there's a street full of old folks keeled over in their driveways.
              The ambulances have already arrived, and I see that punk Johnny
              Nitro weaving around them with a skater skitching off his bumper.
              Normally, Dredd and I would have gone after them, but we've got more
              important things to deal with right now. I spot my a couple
              journalist pals, Clark Kent and Peter Parker, near by. They write
              for two of those nationally syndicated papers...the Daily Planet and
              the Daily Bugle. While Dredd tries to back everyone up -- he's
              authoritative that way -- I head over to see what Pete and Clark
              have managed to dig out of the EMS crew.

              "Not much, really," Pete admits right away. Clark nods his head in

              "There's not even enough here to piece together a story yet."

              I get on the horn and call in an old medicine man buddy of mine from
              back in the tournament. Maybe Nightwolf can sort it out...that's one
              of his things. In the meantime, Dredd and I call in a forensic team
              and head off to deal with a domestic complaint up on the Road.

              Celebrity Road is Dredd's turf, so I let him handle things when
              we're sent here. Already, I can tell there's too many people around,
              though. Half of this part of the road is out to see whatever's going
              on, and the humming noise I hear as we get closer clues me in. Dredd
              starts jogging too, apparently noticing the noise a second later. I
              keep telling him that helmet's killing his hearing, but he never
              listens. After nearly spilling K (1), Dredd and I get through, only
              to find that Mitsurugi and Anikin have started again.

              Anikin Skywalker and Heishiro Mitsurugi have a surprisingly large
              amount of things in common. Both are excellent swordsman. Both have
              beautiful, shrine-like homes right next to one another. Both have
              unbelievably short tempers, and both are a tremendous pain in my
              ass. Dredd and I get called in on this same call at least once a
              month. One or the other does something that pisses off the neighbor,
              and the neighbor comes out swinging. Usually it's Anikin's wife,
              Padme, that calls us in. This time, I find out that it wasn't Padme,
              it was Mitsurugi's new girl, my former partner, Cammy.

              Cammy's this little blonde number that's built like she jumped right
              out of a japanmation still. Big blue eyes, an unbelievable body, and
              a really strange -- but damn hot -- thing for schoolgirl-ish
              outfits. She was transferred over from the Brits a few years back,
              and liked it so much she hung around. She and I got along great, but
              she left the Pixelton PD a while back and opted to do some work in
              the private sector. We haven't kept in touch.

              "What happened?" I grunt, trying to play off the fact that I missed

              "Anikin spit while he was picking up the paper," she reported as
              though she were reading it right out of her notes. The tone of her
              voice brought back a lot of memories. "I guess Mitsurugi thought he
              spit in our yard."

              "Our?" I ask. It was more of a reflex than anything. At least,
              that's what I'll spend the rest of the week telling myself.

              "Yes, our." Cammy smiles. She apparently thinks I'm being funny.

              "Why didn't you stop them?"

              "They have swords," she answers, as if I should have known. I
              probably should have. I nod and turn to Dredd.

              "Who d'you want?"

              "Skywalker," he answers. "I still owe him for that choking thing
              from last time."


              I hear dread mumble something to his gun -- this high-tech deal
              called Lawgiver -- and he fires to fireballs on either side of
              Anikin, holding him in place, then tackles him. Anikin tries to
              throw him off, but Dredd holds Lawgiver up to his head, and the Jedi
              stops cold. For some reason, it's always pleasing to me to see a
              monk understand that he's not immortal. It just makes my insides all
              warm and fuzzy. That, or the muffin I had for breakfast was bad and
              those weren't actually poppy seeds.

              I took a more direct route with Mr. Mitsurugi. Mitsurugi's an old
              world samurai type, so I trust him to be surprised by a sneak
              attack. I'm right, as usual. You'd really think that he would pick
              up on this sort of thing after all the months we've been going
              around this particular circle, but he hasn't. I slide in, in that
              neat, Matrix-ish way I have, and hook him with my nightstick. I stop
              and flip him overhead, and his own weight knocks the wind out of
              him. It's a thing of beauty. We're practically done with this call,
              and nobody's started bleeding yet. Maybe we'll get lucky and it'll
              be like this all day.

              After scolding the pair and warning them -- again -- about the
              fighting, Dredd and I head back down to the Pavilion, where we've
              got reports of another batch of downed civilians. This time, it's
              not even old folks. I've had run-ins with a couple of these guys
              over on Rage Street, dodging trash cans and whatnot amidst the never-
              ending gang war. I recognize one of the guys as I reach the corner.
              Billy, one of the guys that owns the Double Dragon Dojo. He's not
              dead, but he's out like a light. Nightwolf's crouched next to him.

              "Something has stricken these people," he says in that spooky,
              choppy Indian voice he uses.

              "I already know that," I tell him. "I need to know what it was."

              "A club, perhaps. Something fairly large, and round."

              "You mean metaphorically, right?"

              "No. Look." He pulled aside Billy's hair and right there it was. A
              mark about the size of my fist, right behind Billy's ear. He wasn't
              stricken, he'd been struck.

              "Keep an eye out, 'Wolf. You're running the EMS crews, right?"

              "Your chief as asked me to take on those duties, yes."

              "Good. Now--"

              "Now we've got problems out on the fringes," interrupted Dredd.

              "Not the frogs again," I hoped. Another regular occurrence was the
              fact that our main highway in and out of town had this habit of
              being overrun by frogs trying to get across. There wasn't a swamp or
              river on either side for miles, though. Nobody could figure it out.

              "Nope. Pit fighting."


              It took us about an hour to get out on the fringes of Pixelton. That
              area that most people didn't even realize was still a part of town
              because so few people lived and worked out here. There was Lara, of
              course, and some of her pals, but that was really it. And, of
              course, there was the magical folk...Gandalf and the like, but most
              folks in town ignored them completely. Especially if they were
              famous. All over the place out here were hidden shrines and temples,
              underground mazes and treetop cities. Cammy and I once spotted an
              Ewok hunting in the woods just behind Celebrity Road, and chased it
              back to its village, but nobody would else believe it. I always
              found that kind of odd, considering nobody ever had trouble
              believing that Mario Mario met his wife in a sewer pipe.

              Once we got out there, we found Cammy and a guy by the name of Rock
              waiting on us. Rock, it turned out, lived out on the town's Indian
              reservation and was a buddy of Nightwolf's that I hadn't met. He was
              a massive guy, that was for sure. Carried around an ax that looked
              like it could cut through the patrol car Dredd and I rolled out in.
              I was more concerned with Cammy's presence, though.

              See, that's why she was shipped out here from England to begin with:
              street fighting. Seemed that there was a ton of it going on here in
              Pixelton and there was concerns that it would get mixed up in the
              Mortal Kombat tourney that was coming to town, so Cammy was sent to
              help shut it down. Turns out she had a pretty good working knowledge
              of old Bison's tourney, so it was pretty easy to do. Of course,
              having Guile and the whole damned US Army on our side didn't hurt
              things. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that here.

              "Don't get your hopes up," Cammy said, reading my face just as
              easily as she used to. "Guile's already trying to convince Sonya to
              get her people and move on this place."

              "Chief said dispersal only, right?"

              "That's what I suggested."

              "So whose running the show?"

              "Cervantes," she said and I shook my head. That's all I needed: a
              fight with a half-dead pirate. Great.


              "He thinks it'll help him when he challenges Nightmare for the

              "Great. So how are we doing this?"

              "There's seven inside," she said, handing me the scorecard. Eddy,
              Vega, Slash, Raphael, my old pals Kabal and Mileena, and of course,
              Cervantes. I'm surprised his daughter, Ivy, hadn't come calling. "I
              can get Eddy and Slash to back off. After that, our objective is
              Cervantes. Take everyone out if you have to, but we're supposed to
              bring him in." I nod, and Dread speaks for both of us.

              "Lets go."

              It turns out, it really wasn't all that difficult. There wasn't even
              a fight. Cammy went in and did like she said, and Eddy and Slash
              left. Then the rest of 'em got a look at Rock and Dredd. Vega and
              Raphael bailed, and Mileena vanished through the floor like she
              does. Dredd shot the hookswords out of Kabal's hands with a double-
              whammy from his Lawgiver, and Cervantes was bright enough to
              surrender. All in all, I think it took us longer to get to the part
              of the old mine shaft they were fighting in than it did to end the

              "I'm sorry about this morning, Kurt," she says, coming up to the car
              as Dredd and I are getting ready to head back to town. Those people
              down in the Pavilion were getting picked off light flies, and I
              wanted to know why. Then again, if you were staring into those big
              blue eyes, you wouldn't be able to ignore her either. "I planned to
              tell you, but then...well...I just moved in yesterday."

              "It's cool." It wasn't. "None of my business." That didn't mean I
              wouldn't jump at the opportunity to shoot the bastard just to watch
              him bleed, if I thought I could get away with it.

              "Still," she said, apparently thinking that I'd pick up on the rest
              of whatever it was she was trying to say. I hate it when people do

              "Really, Cam, it's none of my business. We don't even work together
              anymore. It's cool." It most definitely wasn't.

              "Oh...okay." I wasn't going to fool myself into believe she was hurt
              by what I said, was I? Nah. Okay, maybe a little, but we'd deal with
              that another time. I had old folks to check on first.

              Once we got back to the city, I glimpsed one of the damnedest things
              I ever did see. The Paperboy -- whose name I'm not sure anyone
              actually knew -- was rolling around town on his bike, hurling copies
              of the Pixelton Press Late Edition as he always did. Apparently,
              though, after all those years of slingin' newspapers the kid had
              lost track of his own strength. The paper beaned John Sim, the
              town's newest celebrity, right between the eyes as he opened his
              front door and dropped him like a rock.

              "You've got to be kidding me," I grumbled, pulling over and giving
              the siren a good solid blare to get the kid's attention. He rolled
              over to the car and Dredd kept him talking for a moment while I went
              and checked on John. He was all right, but a little dizzy. When he
              stood up, though, I could see the red, disk-shaped mark on his
              forehead as plain as the nose on his face. It took everything I had
              left in me not to laugh right in the man's face.

              "Hey kid, careful with those things," I said, climbing back into the


              "Those papers. Watch how hard you're chuckin' em."

              "I haven't knocked out a window in years, officer."

              "Yeah, I know," I said. "But you've been knockin' out people all

              [The End]

              1. The Pixelton nickname for the Kool-Aid Man.

              Special Acknowledgements -
              The characters that appeared in this story were plucked from the
              following video games:
              Kurtis Stryker - Mortal Kombat series
              Joseph "Judge" Dredd - Judge Dredd
              Cammy - Streetfighter 2
              Anikin Skywalker - Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith
              Heisheiro Mitsurugi - Soulcalibur series
              Rock - Soulcalibur series
              Nightwolf - Mortal Kombat series
              The Paperboy - Paperboy

              With other appearances & Mentions from:
              Kool Aid Man, Spider Man, Superman, The Tick, Double Dragon, Super
              Mario Bros., Tomb Raider, Lord of the Rings, Frogger, Tekken, &
              Eternal Champions
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