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I'm not sure exactly what woke me up. Maybe it was dreams. Maybe I sensed something was wrong. But really, I guess it was her. I woke up because she wanted to wake me up.
I did feel weird. Unusually tired, and heavy, like it'd take effort to even move. It was pitch dark in the bedroom, but I heard someone moving around.
"Audra?" Even my voice felt heavy and tired. "Is that you, baby? You home early from the hospital?"
There was a pause for just a moment. "No, Mr. Gomez. I'm not Audra."
Intruder! Intruder in the house! Good god, I was wide awake now, wide awake and mad. I was gonna beat the hell out of this shithead. Just as soon as I could manage to move my arms or legs...
"Motherfucker, soon as I can get over there, I'm gonna pound you into a motherfucking stain! A fucking STAIN!"
"Please, Mr. Gomez, remain calm." It's a woman's voice, clear and calm, with a hint of a rasp in it. "I don't mean you or your children any harm, but it's best for both of us if you stay calm and don't move for a bit."
"What are you talking about? Where are my kids? What did you do to me?" Okay, I've stopped getting angry -- now I'm starting to get scared. What's she doing talking about my kids? Why can't I move?
"You're all okay, Mr. Gomez," she says. "Listen, I'm going to turn on the light now, okay?"
There's a snap as the lamp on Audra's side of the bed comes on, and I can finally see the woman standing there. She's wearing green, yellow, and chrome armor, a full-face mask with goggles, and a hood like a cobra's head.
"The -- The Chrome Cobra? What the hell?"
"Yes, Mr. Gomez, you know I don't mean you any harm, right? You're very well aware that I'm one of the good guys, right?"
"Well, yeah, I've, uh, I've seen you on TV. You're pretty famous, right?"
"Not quite as famous as Atlas, I suppose." She's pacing back and forth between the lamp table and the dresser on the other side of the bedroom.
"Um, yeah, I've heard of him, too."
"Cards on the table, Mr. Gomez. I know you're Atlas. Don't think I can be fooled so easily."
Actually, I gotta admit, I'm entirely cool with this. The Chrome Cobra is, as I've said before, the kind of superhero who other superheroes hero-worship about. She's a battlesuit, but it's one of the least bulky battlesuits I've ever seen. A little superstrength, flight, great acrobatics and fighting abilities, hard-light weapons projected out of the gloves. She scares the shit outta supervillains, and when I was in the Assembly of Order, we'd watch security-camera footage of her in action and just geek out about how awesome she was. The Chrome Fucking Cobra is in my house, knows my real name, and knows how to make it impossible for me to move. I'm on top of the world right now, but I gotta maintain some degree of my dignity.
"Okay, fine, cards on the table. What the hell's going on here? Where are my kids? I've been making enough noise they should all be up. And what did you do to me?"
"You have a lot of questions. Excellent questions, really," she said. "First, you can't move because there's a neural paralyzer on the bedside table next to you that's tuned to your specific neural frequency. It doesn't matter how much you try, you couldn't move no matter what. Your children are fine -- they've been dosed with a weak tranquilizing gas to keep them asleep. We don't need any superstrong pre-teens running around right now, do we?"
"This is a lot of trouble to go through just to stop in and say hi, isn't it?"
"This isn't a social call, Mr. Gomez. I need you calm and under control. Your wife is being held hostage at Metro City General."
It takes about five seconds for this to sink in.
"Let me up. Please let me up, Cobra, I've got to go out there. For god's sake, let me the hell up! Please!"
"I can't do that, Mr. Gomez. Please try to understand..."
"I swear, let me up, or I'm going to fucking kill you!"
"Listen closely, please," she said, still as calm as ever. "I'll give you the full story as quickly as I can. Your wife was on duty at the hospital tonight when the police brought in Warzone, from the Architects of Ruin. He'd just been subdued by a local hero named Defender while he was escorting an illegal arms shipment into the city. Defender's weaponry is all non-lethal, but he faked an injury after she left him in police custody, and they brought him to the hospital with the usual lax MCPD security. He got loose, of course, and took four people hostage, including your wife. I caught the report on the scanner, recognized your wife's name, and arranged for myself and some of our other local heroes to notify the families of the hostages, supposedly so we could leave the police free to concentrate on a peaceful resolution to the situation. Everything clear so far?"
"Crystal fucking clear. Now let me up! Warzone's a punk -- I can take him out blindfolded! Let me up!"
"No. Atlas has been completely absent from the hero scene for almost eight months. You make your reappearance now, to rescue your wife, and the wrong people are going to make the connection between Audra Gomez, her freakishly-huge husband Lamont, and the freakishly-huge hero Atlas. I am not about to let you endanger your secret identity or your family's lives and well-being to satisfy your sense of machismo or chivalry. You're staying put 'til this is all over."
"You're insane! How is this supposed to keep Audra safe? The cops can't handle someone like Warzone, and you know it!"
"You don't have anything to worry about," she says. "I've got Hybrid on the case."
This is too goddamn much. "Hybrid? Hybrid?! Hybrid's a fucking monster! She's probably a bigger menace than Warzone!"
I swear, I can see her smirk through the mask. All the body language, like she's doing the big reveal in a detective novel. Dammit, she would've fit in perfectly with the big dogs in the Assembly of Order.
"Okay, first, Hybrid's reputation is vastly overstated, mostly by Hybrid herself. I wouldn't have asked her to handle this if I thought she was likely to completely lose it. And second, Hybrid is just the distraction."
"What the hell are you talking about?" I'm getting angry again all over -- Hybrid is not the type of person I'd want prowling around at a hostage situation, much less one where my wife was one of the hostages.
There's an electronic chirp, and she lifts one hand to her ear. "Just a moment. Cobra here. What's the news?" She listens for a moment, head cocked into the radio hidden in her mask. "Thanks, good work. I'll check with you for a full debriefing soon."
She comes over to my side of the bed and picks up what looks like a silver Walkman. She thumbs a switch off, and I immediately feel a tingling sensation in my fingers and toes.
"Okay, Mr. Gomez, the hostage situation has been resolved. Your wife and the other hostages are safe and unharmed, and Warzone is back in police custody. The neural paralyzer is off -- you should be able to stand up in about ten minutes, but avoid any strenuous activity until morning, to give yourself time to completely recover from any aftereffects."
"This ain't over, Cobra. You got no right to treat me and my family this way."
She heads for the bedroom door, stops, and turns back toward me. "I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, Mr. Gomez, but I hope you'll understand that I had the best interests of you and your family at heart. I'm looking forward to you re-joining the hero community -- I'm a big fan, really."
And just like that, she's gone.
Audra gets home about two hours later, and by then, I'm in the kitchen on my third cup of coffee. She gives me the rest of the story -- Hybrid was snarling outside the emergency room, scratching at the door, and generally scaring the piss out of Audra, the other hostages, and Warzone. And while everyone was focused on the monster at the door, no one noticed when Iota sneaked into the room through the air conditioning vents and zapped Warzone a few times with his stunner gauntlets.
After that, the cops toted Warzone back to jail, and Hybrid and Iota took pictures with the hostages. Audra said Iota was quiet and friendly and, at full-size, still a couple inches shorter than she was. Hybrid was extremely polite, despite having difficulty speaking clearly around her fangs. And Warzone was a complete moron. No big surprise there, but one of the other nurses there almost convinced him to let her inject him with tranquilizers because she told him it was a superpowers drug. Good lord, what an idiot.
I told Audra about spending part of the night paralyzed by the Chrome Cobra, and she actually agrees with her. "She was right. You'da charged out there like a big macho chump. You woulda blown your secret I.D. apart -- I bet you don't even remember where we're storing your costume, do you?"
"I would've found it. It's in the closet somewhere."
"It's in the garage, baby. We had to put that big-ass silver 'A' chestplate in its own crate, remember? Besides, just imagine what things would've been like if you'd showed up. You would've freaked out the cops and you would've freaked out Warzone, and he would've maybe started shooting. Count your blessings for the Chrome Cobra."
"To hell with her. She was grandstanding. Showing off."
"Ohhh good god, Lamont, listen to you. Think about it -- she heard that I was being held hostage, so she kicks in a goddamn superhero phone tree, mobilizes at least five other superheroes -- three just to visit the other hostages' families, two to rescue us, maybe one or two more for backup. She does all that to keep me safe and to keep your secret I.D. safe. And you ain't even active as a hero right now. If that's showing off, I hope she shows off a hell of a lot more. Next time you see her, you tell her to come over, and I'll make her a cake."
"Next time I see her? You think she's gonna be coming over here a lot?"
She rolls her eyes at me and gets up from the kitchen table. "I'll have your costume out of the garage by this evening. It's about time you got a social life again."
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