Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas and Capes

Since I haven't posted much in several months I have decided to give my followers a little Christmas present.  I present, for your reading pleasure, a sort of prelude to Task Force Valkyrie, newly updated and refurbished.  This story is the very first time the characters of Task Force Valkyrie ever appeared in print, from a collection of stories I wrote called "Hero's Club".  I hope you enjoy it.


Hero's Club
Christmas and Capes

The tree was not officially a Christmas Tree, but rather a bit of Holiday Flora thanks to a few dissenting views with some of the club's senior membership. It did not detract from its beauty however, and despite the seven foot menorah glowing proudly in one corner of the massive hall, it was the massive pine that filled the gathered men and women with awe. Its needles were shining titanium, glistening with silver tinsel. Globes of every size and color hung from its branches, some simple plastic while others housed entire universes within their spheres. Each hero in the club had the right to add their own decoration to the tree, and every one of them had, despite religious barriers. The Valiant Hammer had placed a large anvil near the bottom of the tree, sprinkled with the flaking snow caused by the gentle storm that The Magician had summoned high in the dome. The Manhattan Project had an old paper gingerbread man that her daughter had made years ago sitting amongst a circle of multicolored dancing electrons that Snazzy Girl had used to light the tree this season. At the highest peak, above the snowstorm, was the pinnacle of the tree. A majestic bright star had been placed there by 1, the world's greatest hero, and was visible even through the snowing clouds. It shone its light down upon the gathered crowd of costumed people at its base, and enveloped all gathered in its brilliance.

Canopener was one of those staring up at the star as the Christmas party waited for its most important guest. She was short, with blonde hair down to her shoulders, and was dressed quite conservatively compared to her compatriots. Over two hundred heroes were gathered in the great hall of Hero's Club in the heart of downtown New Charles, the largest city on the eastern seaboard. There were flowing capes, expensive suits, ceremonial robes, powered armor and lavish dresses; but Canopener was the only one wearing jeans. Her shoes were Chuck Taylor, and her hair was done in a matter of minutes by herself. She heard a familiar voice, and turning, imagined she could hear the hissing of hydraulics when she waved her hand at the woman approaching.

"Cindy! I thought you said you weren't coming." The woman who spoke was taller thanks to the addition of steep stiletto heels, She wore a white dress that hung off of one shoulder and was slit high up her right leg. She was blonde, her hair pulled up in an elegant style that left rivulets of curls to trail down her neck. Her eyes were blue behind wire rimmed glasses, and her smile was warm and genuine. Ultimate Girl embraced the younger hero tightly, and Canopener felt the air being slowly crushed from her lungs before she was dropped back on her feet.

"Hey UG, I just thought I'd stop by for a little while. I didn't have anything else to do tonight."

Ultimate Girl shook her head, "Dressed like that?"

"Well, you know..." Canopener trailed off and raised her arms. She'd lost her real ones in a train accident, and her replacements were less than aesthetic, a skeletal set of upper arms that revealed her hydraulic muscles pushing and pulling with every movement she made expanding into a pair of solid forearms that were larger around than her waist. Her hands were small, with thick, rectangular fingers, and all of it a hue of deep crimson red. "I didn't really see the point."

"Those are what got you in here, remember? With those suckers you could blow a hole through that wall over there! You aught to flaunt them."

Canopener sighed, "Yeah? You could punch a hole in that wall over there and still model swimsuits that'd make a whore blush."

"It's not all positives, here comes a drawback now."

Approaching from the crowd of people was a tall, powerfully built man in perfectly tailored Army dress blues, grinning widely beneath a blue and white cowl that covered his entire head from the nose up. He carried a glass of scotch in one hand, and all of his medals were shined to gleaming perfection. "Well if it isn't my favorite generic looking absolutely ravishing in or out of costume. Are you wearing anything under that?"

Ultimate Girl sighed, "How much have you had to drink CJ? The party's barely even gotten started yet."

Captain Justice laughed and raised his drink, "These Christmas parties are the only time of year that a man can have two before 1 ever even shows up."

"Didn't I see you come in with a date?" Canopener asked.

"Huh? Yeah, that little furball. She just got in town from Spain, fiesty."

Ultimate Girl laughed, "You brought a furball? I didn't know you were into that kind of thing."

"Short fur," he replied. "More like fuzz really. Kinda sexy in an exotic way."

Canopener shook her head, "Next I'm gonna hear you're dating an alien."

"I'd stick a poke in that Malibu Maneater any day of the week." He said.

"Oh my God," Canopener said, "She's like, fifteen!"

"Yeah, in Malibu years. What's that in Earth years, like thirty?"

"No, it's like fifteen!"

"You're just jealous Can. I may do alien jailbait, but roboteens just aren't my style."

She glared at him, but Ultimate Girl stepped in, putting her hand on Captain Justice's shoulder. "Listen CJ, I know you're doing your best to be sweet and all, but I'm gonna ram my fist down your throat if you don't get the hell out of here."

Before the situation could escalate any further, a green woman in a strapless purple dress approached them. Her hair was a darker green than the rest of her, done in wild spikes atop her head. A pair of feline ears protruded from this mess on either side of her head. Dark makeup accentuated the predatory look of her dark eyes, and she immediately turned to Captain Justice. "Who are zese girlz CJ?"

Ultimate Girl removed her hand from his shoulder, and Captain Justice wrapped an arm around the green girl's waist. "Honey, these are some friends of mine. This is Ultimate Girl and this is The Canopener."

The woman's frown immediately turned into a beaming smile that showed sharp canines, and she hugged both women tightly. "Bonjour! My name iz Cactus Cat, I am new to ze city, but I have heard many things about both of you. It iz truly ze pleazure to meet you."

"Honey," Captain Justice said. "Could you go get some wine for the girls? 1's about to give a speech and they don't have anything to toast with."

"Oh! Of course, I will be right back." She walked away and Captain Justice gave her a slap on the ass, causing her to giggle and wink at him over her shoulder.

"That was fur?" Ultimate Girl asked.

"I told you, exotic."

"She was French you dumbass." Canopener glared and crossed her arms across her chest.

"Whatever, some pussy country."

A barrage of flashbulbs blinded Canopener, and she covered her eyes with one arm. Beyond the blue and purple spots in her eyes, voices goaded the heroes. "Ultimate Girl! Adrien Horn, Capes magazine. Who are you wearing tonight?" A crowd of paparazzi had made their way in, escorted by a guide who attempted to keep them from harassing the heroes too much.

"Oh this? I just pulled it out of the closet." Ultimate Girl had her public voice on, with a laugh in her speech and a smile she never showed anyone but the cameras. It was all teeth.

"Is this a preview of what we can expect on the red carpet?"

"Now why would I be on the red carpet?"

"Are you denying the rumors that you're romantically linked with movie star Richard Halbrock?" The reporter questioned.

Ultimate Girl just winked at the cameras, "I have no comment on that boys."

"Hey Canopener!" A man with a half day's beard and a large camera called out to her. "You ever gonna get those arms toned down? The Popeye look went out last season!"

Canopener tensed, "How about I shove that camera up your ass?"

Nobody heard her though, as at that moment Captain Justice stepped forward and bellowed a loud guffaw before picking up the newly returned Cactus Cat and sitting her up on his shoulder. "Guys, have I introduced you to my new girlfriend? She's just arrived in America to fight justice alongside all the great heroes of the red, white and blue!" The French girl covered her face with the wineglasses she'd brought back.

"Oh no CJ! Do not put me in front of zem! I look terrible!"

"Nonsense babe," he teased. "You're good enough to eat!" Then swung her swung her from his shoulders to cradle her and buried his face in her cleavage playfully. She shrieked and laughed while he made animal noises, and the cameras had a field day with it. Then he waved them to follow him, and led his date towards a group of heroes who had yet to be harassed by the press.

Canopener sighed and looked up at Ultimate Girl, "You see what I mean? You never get dickheads like that guy."

Ultimate Girl shrugged, "You're one of the dark brooding type of heroes. People love it when you threaten the press, it's part of your image."

"I don't have an image!" Canopener said, "I'm just some girl with metal arms."

"Just some girl with metal arms," Ultimate Girl replied, "Who participates in the most destructive kind of vigilante justice, beats up annoying reporters every once in a while and causes more collateral damage than any two of the rest of us heroes combined."

"No way, Mr. Explosions blows up way more crap than I do."

"Mr. Explosions never rammed an oil tanker into a skyscraper. Face it, you're a bad girl."

Canopener crossed her arms and looked away, "That doesn't count, there were extenuating circumstances."
"How did you do that anyway?"

"So," Canopener said, ignoring the question, "You're dating Richard Halbrock?"

"Ick," Ultimate Girl said. "God no. That guy gives me the creeps, did you see him in that movie about the serial killer?"

Canopener shuddered, "That rape scene, yeesh. Gave me nightmares for a week. So why'd didn't you tell them that?"

"Because," Ultimate Girl said, "A girl like me is expected to date movie stars and musicians. If I don't appease the tabloid gods then I'll have to deal with questions about whether or not my boobs are real." Canopener eyed her for a moment, then lowered her gaze to the other woman's chest. Ultimate Girl frowned, "You ask and I'm not your friend anymore."

Their chat was interrupted by the sudden silence that overtook the room. Both women turned to see 1's dramatic entrance into the party. There was a blue blur around the top of the tree, half hidden by the snowstorm, then the hero burst through the clouds. His costume was skin tight, showing off a strongly muscled body and wide shoulders, a huge yellow 1 emblazoned across his chest. His cape floated behind him, dark red like the domino mask around his face. His chin was cleft, his features perfect, his hair a deep, russet brown.  He was the hero among heroes, the one everyone either hated or despised completely. There was only one name spoken of more highly than his, The Slacker Saint, the mysterious man who just appears during the most major of crises and somehow defuses the situation by doing nothing at all.

1 landed behind a prepared podium and adjusted the microphone in front of him, "I apologize for running late, I had a nuclear holocaust to avert." There were a few laughs, and he stood up straight to address the crowd. "My fellow heroes! We have had a trying year. Giant dirt worms tried to consume an area of downtown, but were averted by the brave actions of myself and others. When the terrors of the Sea Men rose up on our shores, I led the charge that beat them back into the waves. I have diverted meteors and destroyed doomsday devices. I have saved millions in China from flooding and earthquakes, and stopped an evil plan to melt the polar icecaps. All of us have had adventures, though probably not as large as mine."

A loud voice rose up from the crowd, and Canopener turned to see a teenage girl with dark green hair standing on top of the bar with a half empty champagne bottle in one hand. "Not that large, he pads his tights!"
This got much more laughs than 1's opening line.

1 swallowed and smiled at her, "Well, ignoring The Malibu Maneater's outburst-"

"So's your face!"

"I would like to say that of every glorious sight I have seen this year, nothing amounts to the pride and honor I feel at being here with all of you, in front of this beautiful Holiday Flora."

"It's a Christmas tree you fucking bastard!"

The cheers from the heroes quieted as the raucous, drunken cry overcame the din of the crowd. Every head turned to see Captain Justice standing in an ever widening circle of nervous onlookers, his brandy glass empty and his tie hanging loose around his neck. He took a step forward, obviously much drunker than when he had left Ultimate Girl and Canopener, and he pointed at 1 with a gloved finger. "It's fucking scum like you that are destroying our nation. Sure, you maybe stopped that nazi invasion a few years back, but you're taking the Christ outta Christmas! You got that fuckin' Jew-lamp over in the corner.  You don't call that a December Lantern!"

As Cactus Cat started trying to apologize for him, The Flaming Liberal stepped out of the crowd. Tall and thin, he had the look of a coffee house scholar down to the peace sign necklace and the thin pseudo-intellectual glasses. He was flanked by a large Hispanic woman in blue and black leather, Blue State, his bodyguard. "You have to respect other cultures you totalitarian government prole! You want to talk about nazis, you and everyone like you are the reason the holocaust happened! You have got to grow up and learn to accept other cultures! DOWN WITH RACISTS! DOWN WITH RACISTS!"

His chant was silenced before he got to repeat it a third time as Captain Justice's fist came smashing into his gaunt face. Blue State was suddenly encased in ice as she activated her powers and hit Captain Justice in the midsection with a shoulder tackle. They both went down as The Flaming Liberal screeched in rage and tried to stop the blood flow from his nose. Most people backed off, but Ultimate Girl took a step towards the fray, popping her knuckles. Canopener grabbed her by the arm, "I thought you didn't like CJ."

"He's not too bad," She said. "Besides, that ice bitch called me a slut on live TV, so she's got it coming." With that she took off into mid air, then came down into the fray with a right hook that shattered the icy protection around Blue State's head.

The entire party descended into chaos as old grudges were suddenly given the opportunity to be settled with the help of alcohol and a topical moral conundrum. Canopener watched as 1 flew around the room, flailing wildly at The Malibu Maneater, who was apparently wrapped around his back with all her limbs and trying to beat him senseless with her champagne bottle. Canopener made for the exit, and slammed the door behind her, shaking her head.

"Tough night."

Canopener's head jerked up and she saw a man standing in front of her that she could have sworn wasn't there a few moments before. He was rather tall, with unkempt brown hair and a shaggy, unshaven face. He was wearing a fuzzy green bathrobe, light blue pajama pants, a grey tee shirt and fuzzy white slippers. He wasn't a remarkable looking man, and had he been anywhere but standing outside the emergency exit of Hero's Club she wouldn't have noticed him anywhere. "Yeah?" She said, "And how would you know?"

He smiled, and it was a friendly smile, like her father's. It set her at ease. "A lot of fighting going on in there, hope they don't break anything valuable."

Canopener smirked, "Yeah, right. With the power they're throwing around in there this whole place is gonna come down."

"That," he said, "Isn't really in the Christmas spirit is it?"

"You mean the holiday spirit right?" She said, sarcastically.

"Sure, whatever you wanna call it. Just doesn't seem right, ya know? Bunch of guys like that, upholders of truth and justice and everything, bickering around like spoiled kids."

She nodded, "Yeah, they're not acting much like heroes are they?"

He looked at her, and his eyes were the deepest green she had ever seen. "Neither are you." Then he was gone. Canopener blinked her eyes repeatedly. He hadn't disappeared; it was like he hadn't ever been there in the first place. Shaking her head, she tried to grasp onto the memory of the brief encounter, but it was like trying to hold onto mist.

She turned around and went back through the door into the violent chaos that was the main hall. Then she raised her arms and placed her wrists together in front of her, palms out. A familiar smell of ozone mixed with a humming sound from inside her massive forearms.  The bright blue energy blast that slammed into the crowd sent dozens of heroes tumbling across the ground and through the air, and for a moment the fighting stopped. Canopener took this brief pause to speak.

"You stupid shitheads!" She screamed. "What the fuck do you think you're doing? This isn't how heroes act, and you're gonna stop it before I have to drag another oil tanker three miles inland to drop on your God damn heads! This season isn't about fighting with each other. It's about giving presents to people you don't really like that well and getting blasted on egg nog. Fuck this stupid shit, I'm Snazzy Girl's secret santa and she's gonna get her ten dollar CD case, and she's gonna pretend she loves it because that's what we came here for."

People stared at her from all around the great hall. Ultimate Girl's heels were broken and her dress was torn across the stomach. Captain Justice had one of his medals pinned sideways onto his cowl. Blue State and The Flaming Liberal both had black eyes and were leaning against each other, somehow both charred and covered in frost at the same time. Cactus Cat had sprouted thorns and was caught up in The Valiant Hammer's cape. The only one still moving was The Malibu Maneater, who, oblivious to the whole room, had broken her bottle and was now chewing on 1's ear as he floated above the crowd.

Ultimate Girl was the first to move, straightening out her torn dress with her hands and saying, "Well then."
Captain Justice got to his feet, "Right."

The fighters slowly separated themselves and began going about pretending that none of that had ever happened, and Canopener finally let herself breathe again. She headed for the bar and sat down, looking up at the bartender, who had taken cover when the brawling had started. "Egg nog," she said. "Very very strong." The bartender nodded and served her, and in a room full of righteous protectors of the law, nobody dared to mention that she was underage.

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