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It's been one of those days, mi amigos. There's this chica called Sugarplum, see? She's an insanely powerful faerie, obsessed with imposing her idea of fun and games on cities around the world. Luckily, she doesn't go in for stuff like mass murder -- just stuff she thinks is harmless fun. She once turned Philadelphia into a musical, she changed everyone in Berlin into free-willed robots, and she transformed Hong Kong into a John Woo action thriller. The last time she was in Metro City, she turned everyone into cartoon characters. Everything always gets put back the right way, but it's always chaotic, it's always a disaster, and it's always way too much trouble and strife.

This time, she's taken the League of Real-Life Metro City Superheroes, a bunch of resentful superhero wannabes, and given them real superpowers, with the expectation that we'd all fight each other.

Now listen, everyone always says superheroes who meet for the first time always fight before they realize they're actually on the same side. But it's clearly not true. I mean, sure, it happens sometimes. But it's pretty damn rare, just 'cause everyone knows it's a stereotype, and it's embarrassing when you fall for a stereotype. So you try to be careful -- you meet someone new, you do what you can to determine what side they're on before anyone throws the first punch.

And so we decide very quickly that we need to meet with the newly superpowered wannabes and make sure that, even with Sugarplum providing their powers, they were on the right path to being real superheroes. I mean, we all started out as beginners once, right?

So we all meet up at McKean Gardens. It's a nice park, lots of open space, beautiful grounds -- and most importantly, it's isolated and usually deserted. I don't agree with everything the Chrome Cobra says -- she tends to think she's the only person allowed to have opinions on stuff -- but she's right on the nose when she calls us all up and says, "I don't trust these guys. They hate nearly all of us, and now they have powers, and Sugarplum is probably messing with their heads, too. I'll start fighting crime in high heels if these idiots don't try to start a fight."

All of us end up showing up for the meeting, partly out of curiosity, partly out of solidarity. There's over 20 of us in Metro City nowadays, and in a way, that feels like overkill. On the other hand, though, I'd kinda like these guys to feel a little intimidated by us.

And of course, there are the six of them.

There's Super-American, Peter Kellerman, who normally runs around in a red, white, and blue costume with an American flag tied around his neck. He's big on patriotism and saluting soldiers and participating in Toys for Tots drives. It's pretty clear he's got superspeed now, what with the weird blurry/vibrating thing he's doing.

There's Demonica, Veronica Valdez, who used to wear a slinky red she-devil costume. Honestly, I think she does this "real-life superhero" stuff for giggles. She doesn't really have any causes she favors, other than drinking and shocking people. Right now, she looks like a taller, bustier version of Beelzebambi, but with extra eyes, an extra pair of arms, cloven hooves, claws, and two sets of ram's horns.

There's Princess KittyKat, Catherine Porter, who's really the only one of these guys I can stand. She's just so big into pet rescue. Her preferred costume looks like a combination of a pink princess dress and a cat costume. Now the costume is in tatters, she's grown about a foot taller, is a hell of a lot more muscular, and looks more like a panther than a human. I got no idea if her normal bubbly personality is there anymore, 'cause from the looks of it, there's nothing but rage in her eyes now.

There's Fedora Man, Rodney Wurtz, who runs around in a suit, trenchcoat, domino mask, and fedora. He likes to encourage kids to stay in school -- I think he just likes lecturing teenagers. For a guy in his 20s, he sure does come across as an old fart. Anyway, I don't know what powers he has now, but all of him but his coat and hat are completely hidden by spooky shadows.

There's the Woman of the Future, Blair Somersby, who probably has the best costume out of all of them -- crazy detailed silver uniform, electric blue hair, fancy circuit-board face paint. Her causes are science education advocacy, female empowerment, and food banks. Right now, she's wearing a suit of futuristic silver armor decorated with what I think might be actual ray guns.

And finally, there's Captain Metro, Victor Etchison. He wears a really fancy red and gold costume. Fringe, epaulets, filigree, a cape, you name it. He makes all the right noises about helping others and promoting charity and fighting crime -- but he's mostly in it for the sake of resentment and frustration and trying to get credit for stuff. He doesn't like the Cobra, he doesn't like me, he doesn't like any of the other superheroes. And to be honest, I get the impression he doesn't like much of anyone. He's the ringleader who keeps pushing the wannabes into doing stupid stunts. And judging from his new more-musclebound-than-Atlas physique, the guy's got superstrength now.

And of course Sugarplum is hovering just behind them, wearing her Glinda the Bad Bitch party dress and grinning like a shark.

Possibly worse than all that -- the press is here. News trucks, print reporters and photogs, probably a couple bloggers -- and all the lights have attracted way too many bystanders. And I'd bet my bullwhip that Captain Metro called 'em up and invited 'em all here.

"Alright, ladies and gentlemen," says the Cobra once everyone has gotten settled in. "There's one little piece of business that needs to be taken care of first." She points right at Sugarplum. "Little Tinkerbell there has to take a hike. We're not going to discuss superhero stuff in front of a supervillain."

"I'm no villain!" Sugarplum cries. "My heart and soul are filled with songs and joy and so very many games! I exist solely to entertain humanity with wonder and miracles beyond compare!"

"You can't throw our patron out of here," says Captain Metro angrily. "She gave us our powers -- she obviously has our best interests in mind."

"She doesn't have anyone's best interests in mind," says Atlas. "Only her own sense of amusement."

"No one who teleports Rio de Janeiro to the moon has anything good to offer the world," says Iota. "No one who reverses every scientific law in Prague is looking out for the Earth's well-being."

"She gets to stay if we say she gets to stay," says Fedora Man. Damn, his voice even sounds like smoke. "None of you can make her leave, and none of you can tell us what to do anymore."

"Darlings, I believe you're getting upset for no good reason," says Defender. "You should consider that your patron has always been a force for chaos -- never a true law-and-order stalwart. One should avoid taking her as a role model, yes?"

"Stop condescending to us, you bitch!" yells the Woman of the Future, all the weaponry built into her armor bristling. "We'll take any role models we want! And if you get in our way, we are going to stomp you into the dust!"

Okay, things are going to hell way faster than I was expecting. I'll bet you good money that Sugarplum is messing with their heads -- Woman of the Future ain't the kind of person to fly into a rage like that. I hope Defender has her pacification burstcasts running.

"Just like I always say," mutters Daphne Diller. "Superheroes are all goddamn crazy."

"Not exactly helping, Daphne," says Gamma Girl.

"Okay, everyone simmer down," says the Cobra. "You guys wanna be superheroes? Fine -- you can probably do it. But the first thing you're gonna have to do is take a breath, get your emotions under control, and remember that we're all on the same side here."

"Like hell we are!" screams Captain Metro, rushing toward her, fist upraised. He slams his arm at her -- and completely misses. Credit to the Express for the superspeed rescue.

Express vanishes almost immediately, and at the same time as Super-American, which has got to mean they're running around at impossible speeds fighting each other.

Captain Metro makes another charge at the Cobra. But this time, he gets intercepted by Miss Mega, who grabs him by his arm and spins him around to face her. She doesn't look at all happy -- she's still two feet taller than he is, even powered up, and having that woman glaring down at you has got to be intimidating as hell.

"You are in way over your head, Victor," she says sternly. "You can calm down, or you can get put in time-out. You understand me?"

"I'm not in over my head!" Captain Metro shouts. "She made me the strongest man in the world!"

And he hits her. And she goes flying to the other side of the park.

There's like a beat of stunned silence. I'm not sure even Captain Metro can really believe he just did that.

And then we hear Mega yell, "It's too bad she didn't make you the strongest woman!"

She jumps back to our side of the park, faster than I've ever seen her move. She hits Captain Metro, and he goes flying, too.

After that, everything gets completely chaotic.

It's a four-pronged attack, of course -- almost perfectly timed, so it's an absolute cinch they planned this from the beginning. Princess KittyKat leaps at us and tackles Hybrid just before Fedora Man throws an inky cloud of darkness over us. Then Demonica hurls a few blasts of hellfire at us as Woman of the Future opens up with her weaponry.

It's all a complete mess -- we're in total disarray. I can't tell where anything's coming from, and I'm damn lucky some of those shots don't hit me. I mean, there's fire and lasers all over the place, and I can still just barely see 'em for all the smoke.

Finally, there's some sort of explosion, and I get blown completely out of the smoke. Did they hit me with a grenade? No, couldn't be -- hell, I'd be dead for sure. Whatever it was just blew a lot of energy around -- must've been one of Woman of the Future's hypertech weapons. But it knocks the wind out of me for a second, and by the time my vision quits twinkling around the edges, I realize there are a bunch of cameras pointing at my face.

Goddamn press hounds. The whole world's blowing up around us, and they still got time to take pictures of me. Bunch of goddamn jackals.

"Get out of here!" I yell as I jump to my feet. They all flinch -- probably thought I was dead already -- and back away. "Get out of here, you idiotas! This is a damn superhero battle! Did you see all the fire? All the automatic laser blasts? Get out of here or those maniacs'll kill all of you!"

They scatter, and thank god, they actually scatter away from all the super-people instead of running toward them.  They're still going to take photos -- fine, I don't care. Let 'em take their pictures across the street or from a few blocks away -- too many innocent bystanders around here for my comfort.

By the time I can turn my attention back to where it needs to be, things are still too chaotic. But they've at least broken up into individual fights instead of one giant clusterfuck brawl. I don't see anyone dead, and I don't see anyone with major injuries, even with all the firepower Demonica and the Woman of the Future were flinging around before, but I'm really concerned that the wannabes may be more powerful than we are. Most of them are taking on at least three of the rest of us, and they aren't even breathing hard.

If I want to have any chance of keeping track of everything going on here, I can't just charge in blind. There's too much chaos otherwise. I thumb on my communicator and leave it on. I'll get everyone's signals, but I'll have at least some idea of what's going on before I go charging in to help.

The first person I focus on is Princess KittyKat, mostly because she has her jaws locked around Hybrid's throat. Hybrid is completely monstered out, of course, tearing at KittyKat as hard as she can, but this may be the first time I've seen her look more frightened than infuriated. There's blood all over both of them, and I have no idea who's bleeding the most.

The Chrome Cobra and Piledriver are both there trying to help out. Piledriver has her arms around KittyKat's throat trying to choke her out, while the Cobra is trying to get her jaws open. Both of them have been getting clawed a lot, too -- Cobra's armor looks like it's holding up for now, but half of Piledriver's skin is hanging in ribbons off her.

"Cobra, I can't believe I'm saying this, but she's stronger than I am," says Piledriver. "And I'm not sure I'll be able to taser her without both of you getting zapped, too. You gotta use those hard-light weapons on her, preferably something monomolecular so you can get through her hide."

"I'm not doing it, Laura," says the Cobra. "Catherine's a good kid -- I'm not going to kill her just because she's been turned into a monster."

"You gotta do something or she's gonna take Hybrid's goddamn head off!" Piledriver yells. "Which one of them do you want dead the least?!"

That isn't the only crisis going on, though. The Star, Phantasmo, Squid Kid, and Calypso are having way too much trouble with Fedora Man and his spooky magic shadow powers. He's actually holding all four of them captive within shadowy coils. This is the type of thing all of them should be able to get out of easily, but they're all struggling.

The Star should be able to go "full cosmic" and burn through any sort of magic power, but as far as I can tell, Fedora Man's shadows are actually absorbing the Star's cosmic energy. Calypso isn't the strongest of us, but she should be able to muscle her way out of a bunch of shadows -- and she's clearly very frustrated that she can't do it. Phantasmo and his ghosts are tied up -- and I didn't even know you could tie up a ghost. And Squiddie is normally our reigning expert at tying people up with gooey shadow tentacles -- don't know if she's ever been stuck on the other side of that equation.

"Let us go, Fedora Man, you complete loser douche!" Calypso yells. "I swear to god, I am going to pound you straight through your goddamn face!"

"Then I should definitely not let you go," says Fedora Man with eerie calmness. "Why would I want to be pounded straight through my goddamn face?"

"H-Hey, if any of you guys can get me out of this," gasps Star. "I think he's draining my powers away. D-Don't know what happens if he drains all my energy..."

"I'd help if I could," says Phantasmo. "He's got me and the ghosts shut down."

"Yes, I do," says Fedora Man. "And I'm draining the energy away from all of you. I should have you all down to mere husks in a few minutes."

"Like hell," growls Squiddie. "I refuse to get killed by a douchemook in a fedora."

Demonica, meanwhile, appears to have acquired the ability of demonic possession. She has Defender, Kumiko, Gamma Girl, and Polyphemus completely stymied by repeatedly jumping from one body to another -- she's picking them apart with their own powers, but they can't attack her without harming an innocent victim.

"Radioactive hellfire!" Gamma Girl cries gleefully. Her usual blue-skinned appearance has been temporarily replaced with red skin, horns, and extra eyes. "It's the only thing better than regular hellfire!"

She shoots a blast of reddish blue flames at the other three -- they all flinch back, though Polyphemus should be tough enough to withstand the heat.

"You can resist her, Renee," says Defender. "Just fight through her -- I know you can do it!"

"She can't fight through me, idiot," she says. "But I can let her go anytime I like. How 'bout now?''

Gamma Girl suddenly returns to her normal blue-skinned look. "Did something weird just happen?" she asks. "Why is everyone looking at me?"

"Because you're a weird radioactive bitch," yells Polyphemus, now with red skin and two extra arms. "Anyone wanna get punched in the face?"

He slams both fists into the turf at their feet, and everyone goes flying. Almost immediately, he changes back into this normal form and starts apologizing. He gets interrupted because Kumiko has gone all demon-faced now.

"Demonic magic powers plus magic girl magic powers?" she laughs. "You guys are so -- Guuh, what the hell is --"

At once, Kumiko shifts back to her normal appearance, while Demonica rematerializes and drops to one knee.

"Ow, you bitch, how'd you do that?" she snarls at Kumiko.

"Ejecting demonic entities is the first thing you learn in magic girl classes," Kumiko says. "Now hold still -- I have a fast exorcism spell..."

"Like hell!" Demonica shouts as she disappears again.

Polyphemus turns red and multi-armed again. "I don't need a double-dose of magic as long as I've still got my hellfire and a really big dose of superstrength," he cackles. "I can pound on you dipshits all goddamn night!"

Things are, amazingly, even worse for Atlas, Iota, Gearbox, and Jonni Rotten. The Woman of the Future (the girl's name is too damn long -- I'm just gonna call her WotF, even if it's a stupid acronym) has been shooting the hell out of them with the full suite of hypertech weaponry in her armor. Jonni and Gearbox have already been sliced into pieces -- very angry, very sweary pieces -- by her lasers.

Iota is at least intact, thank goodness, but WotF's targeting systems seem to be advanced enough to track even someone as small as he is, so he's trying to stay behind the far-more-bulletproof Atlas.

Unfortunately, Atlas isn't faring that well, either. WotF keeps hitting him with volleys of proton cannons, particle beams, and plasma warheads. The man can withstand a lot of punishment, but that much damage output is wearing him down fast.

"Atlas, I hate to say it, but can't you do anything to her?" asks Iota. "All those impacts on your invulnerable skin are heating your hide up like an oven -- won't be long before your skin temperature is just as dangerous to me as her lasers."

"S-Sorry, Doc," Atlas says. "The barrage is too strong -- can't move too close before she knocks me back. Any way you could make a strategic retreat and flank her?"

"Not a chance," says Iota. "She almost took my head off last time I tried. I hope like hell I get a chance to examine her tech when this is all over -- it's way beyond anything I've seen. I'd love to see what I can do with it."

"Man, I just hope we live past the next five minutes," Atlas groans as he gets pushed back by another plasma blast.

(I'd tell you what Jonni, Gearbox, and WotF are saying during all this, but again, they're all very, very angry. And I try to be a good Catholic boy, and I don't want to repeat all those swear words.)

It's not necessarily all a disaster. From what I can tell, Super-American is just as fast as the Express, which means Derek can counter him pretty easily. They're still racing at superspeed all over the city, but if Super-American had been faster, we'd probably all be dead by now. You do not fuck around with supervillain speedsters.

Express even has some backup -- Hypothermia and Wheelman are both working on strategies to help out. And since speedster-speak can be a chore to translate on the fly, especially when you're eavesdropping on all the other superheroes in town at the same time, I'm glad those two are around to offer their own translations and commentary.

"Greg, you can't possibly believe you can keep up with speedsters!" Hypothermia yells. "There's no car on the planet that can keep up with Express, and you know it!"

"Shut it, Kelvin!" Wheelman yells back. "I don't have to keep up with either of them -- I just need to get to where they're going!"

"No, we need to get them to come to where I am," Hypo says. "I've got this all figured out."

"We don't need to figure anything out," says Wheelman. "You're listening to what Express is saying, right?"

"As much as I can, yes," Hypo replies. "They're equally fast, but Super-American doesn't have a clue about what superspeed is like, so we can use that against him."

"Exactly," says Wheelman. "And that's why I need to get to where they're going."

"And that's where I am, right?"

"Yeah, that's exactly what I said. Just give Express the address -- I'll make sure I'm there."

"I should be home somewhere with my family, I swear," Hypo says. "Okay, Express, if you can hear me, get to the 1400-1600 blocks of Tomine Street. I've got it coated in black ice for you."

It takes about 20 seconds before Express acknowledges Hypothermia's request -- once speedsters get going at full-speed, it takes some serious effort for them to make any sense of what anyone says in "slow-speak." What we hear over the communicators is just "GotchaOnMyWay," then there's a roar as Express rockets across the ice -- he's been a speedster long enough to know how to travel at superspeed across a frictionless surface. Super-American, on the other hand, clearly didn't know what to do -- there's an almost cartoonish shriek as he flies off his feet, and then, out of nowhere, I hear a skid of tires and a loud, metallic CLANG!

I can't resist at this point, and I break in on the communicator. "Guys, what was that? Please tell me you managed to put at least one of these cabrons down for the count."

"Hey, Penitente!" says Wheelman. "Damn straight we put him down! Dude goes skidding on two blocks worth of ice, then I time my entrance on the scene perfectly so I can hit him with the bumper on this big ol' pickup! He went completely sailing!"

"Greg, for god's sake," Hypothermia says. "I thought you were blocks away! How the hell did you get all the way out here?!"

"How many times do I have to tell you all I'm the greatest driver in the world?" says Wheelman.

"ForgetIt," Express says in a superspeed staccato. "He'sBackUp. GottaFewPunchesIn ButHe'sRunningAgain."

"You're kidding me!" shouts Wheelman. "I hit him with a goddamn Silverado! At 50 miles per hour!"

But Express doesn't answer, and Wheelman and Hypothermia jump back into the chase.

Meanwhile, if you wanna talk serious chaos -- Miss Mega vs. Captain Metro. Every punch sends them flying all over the city. They're not knocking buildings down, thank god, but they're still doing tons of collateral damage. And Mega is usually very careful about the property damage, so Metro must be way stronger than I was expecting.

And Daphne Diller is the only one of us who's even trying to help her out -- anyone else would end up in the hospital or the morgue if they caught one of those punches.

"Come on, Mega, talk to me," Daphne says. "Tell me you're just playing rope-a-dope with this guy."

"Oh, damn it, don't I wish!" says Mega, sounding tired and nervous. There's a tremendous noise, and Mega yells, "Oww, goddammit, goddammit, goddammit!"

"Girl, what are you complaining about?" asks Daphne. "You said you're stronger than he is, right?"

"Daphne, that might've been a little smack talk," she replies. "Gimme a minute -- got another 300 yards before I hit the street."

"That's a bad use of smack talk," says Daphne as Mega crashes down. "Better to do that when you can walk the talk, know what I'm saying? So how much stronger is he?"

"Hang on, gonna dodge for a bit," Mega says. "Can't take many more hits like that. Anyway, he's not twice as strong as I am. But I think he's pretty close."

I lose my ability to think for a few seconds. I was pretty sure Miss Mega was near the top of the strength charts. I never thought she was the strongest person on the planet, but I figured she was so close to the title that it didn't make a lot of difference either way. Twice as strong as she is? It breaks my brain just to think about it.

"Okay, Megs baby, that sounds really, really bad," Daphne says. "Not that I don't have full confidence in your ability to kick a lot of ass -- but how are you not dead already?"

"Luck?" says Mega. "And the fact that he has no idea how to throw a good punch. And the fact that he isn't that good at taking punches either, even as weak as my punches must feel. And the fact that he doesn't even know how to brace himself when I hit him. He's easy to dodge, he's easy to judo-throw. But still, at some point, he's gonna get some really good punches in and start breaking bones."

"Goddammit, you jump the hell out of town right now," says Daphne, sounding a lot more concerned than usually gets past her cool-as-a-cucumber exterior. "You stay the hell away from him, okay?"

"I don't dare," Mega says. "What if he decides not to chase me and heads for the Cobra or someone else instead? It's better to keep him distracted this way. Oh, crap, wait, can't dodge this."

There's another thunderous impact, and I actually see her soaring overhead.

"Oh god, that was my favorite tooth," she groans over the communicator.

This is a disaster. A complete unbelievable disaster. These damn wannabe nobodies are getting set to kill the hell out of us. I don't know whether to be terrified or furious. I sure as hell don't know how I can help anyone out. I couldn't even dent any of these assholes.

I've got to help out somehow. Even if it's just throwing myself into a hopeless battle where I'm going to get killed. It's just a matter of deciding which hopeless battle I'll get killed in.

But then, if it's going to be a hopeless battle, why not go for the most hopeless one, just to go out with some style?

So I grab the nearest weapon I can lay my hands on -- a nice, big, fist-sized rock -- and I throw it as hard as I can at Sugarplum.


She spins around, furious. "Who dares?"

"I dare!" I shout at her, hurling another rock, which thuds off her shoulder. "Come on, you gonna throw down, you omnipotent dimwit?"

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