Make your own free website on Tripod.com

World Hero Federation:
Attack of the Orange Goblin
American Ninja & The Orange Goblin

His name was Rob Van Dam, and while on most normal days he was the most dangerous assassin in world, today he was merely the most upside-down.

Literally.

His normal, routine training exercise was becoming quite the test for his patience, as Bret (aka Hitman), his aging but still tough mentor, currently had him hanging upside-down from his ankles. While doing the splits. Blindfolded. With a 20-pound medicine ball balanced precariously on his groin.

Really, it was that last one that was turning into the problem for Rob. He decided to take the direct route and find out what the deal was.

“Um, Bret, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for your training methods, but I have a question about what the meaning is.”

“In enlightenment there is wisdom. Ask away.” Bret was always talking like that. Rob suspected he had been hit in the head one time too many.

“Okay, well first why am I hanging upside-down?”

“A worthy question. The world is an evil place, full of deception and wickedness – by turning you upside-down, I am forcing you to shift your perspective, making you think about the world on a deeper level while you meditate and exercise your muscles.”

“I understand. But why must I do the splits?”

“Another worthy question. Life tears us in two directions – the good, and the evil. It is the never-ending battle between those choices which is symbolized by this exercise as one leg goes in one direction while the other goes in another.”

“I understand. But why am I blindfolded?”

“Because justice is blind, and you must use your skills to strike out at the enemies of justice regardless of race, income or religion. You are a super-assassin, the finest of your kind, and you must never let your personal feelings or politics cloud that.”

“But why the medicine ball?”

“Because you taped over The View and a medicine ball to the groin hurts like hell.”

And with that, Rob’s mentor and surrogate parent stormed out to make dinner. He returned another 30 minutes later to cut his pupil down.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this for the man most recently voted “Top-Secret Assassin of the Year” by Crocheting For Foot Fetishists Weekly Magazine (what, you think they’d give their top award in a magazine someone READS?). Whereas these days he was more concerned with doing hits on heads of state for foreign countries and training his own covert action team, Extreme Justice, as little as 10 years ago he had been a fresh-faced and bright-eyed young superhero, part of a legendary team known only as the Justice Legion. Well, he wasn’t part of the team officially at first, but rather he was the president of the Junior Justice Legion fanclub, a club that he formed himself when he was 10 years old. He also began taking martial-arts courses in order to train himself to be a superhero, just like them. Wearing a gi and calling himself American Ninja, when he was 13 years old he struck out on his own one night, searching for crime to fight.

He found it.

Being the son of a policeman had certain advantages, not the least of which was access to a police scanner. He heard the dispatcher talking about a robbery going on about three blocks from his house, so he changed into what he considered his superhero uniform, slipped quietly out the window (as if his foster parents would care if he was sneaking out or being kidnapped by terrorists either way, Rob thought bitterly at the time) and ran down the street towards the source of the excitement…The Orange Goblin.

An aging villain who had escaped from the insane asylum again a few weeks ago, the Goblin had been assumed retired by most people, but like all “retired” villains, it was too much in his blood and he just had to come back for one last run at it, to hear the reaction of the public to his deeds one last time.

Except this time, Rob thought, he’d have to deal with American Ninja. Poor old guy would never know what hit him. He was passed by three or four police cars headed for the scene, and he could see the Ego Bombs being lobbed by the Goblin at them. One blew up not 10 feet away from Rob, and he dived behind a mailbox to shield himself. The shrapnel lodged into the side of the building behind him, right where he had been standing half a second ago. The situation was definitely scarier than he had been prepared for.

Rob kept low, using the cars parked along the street for cover, and moved closer to the source of the excitement. The Ego Bombs were coming more frequently, doing damage to everything in sight in an attempt to misdirect the authorities. He had to move quickly to avoid another car that came flying near him. Finally, he saw ground zero, the local bank, which looked to be a warzone. He saw the Goblin’s henchman, Zodiac, blasting indiscriminately at everything in sight. He just hoped he wasn’t in sight. A street sign flew by his head, as if to remind him not to be.

Rob went for the indirect route, climbing up a nearby tree so as to get a higher view of the action. The Orange Goblin, surrounded by police and armed forces, was ranting again while Zodiac used his Libra Lasers and Pisces Power-Blasts to keep them at bay. It didn’t seem to be working that well, as Goblin and Zodiac were gradually retreating. Rob saw another tree, close enough to reach, so he jumped over to that one while Goblin kept up his tirade.

“Well you know something, dudes, I’ve been to the mountain and hoisted the clouds aloft with the largest arms in the world, brother…”

A well-timed sniper came within an inch of his head and cut him off. Rob jumped to another tree, getting closer to the thick of the action. He was already plotting out his strategy. Jump to the tree closest to them, wait for them back near it, and then jump out and take down the Goblin with a chokehold. No problem. Rob heard his father, his real father, on a bullhorn.

“Give it up, Goblin. You’re surrounded on all sides and you’ve got nowhere to retreat to. We’re just gonna take you back to the asylum and everyone’s gonna go home quietly and have dinner.”

“I’m not going back there!” Goblin yelled, lobbing an Ego Bomb at the cops to make his point. It barely missed Rob’s father. Given the nightly beatings he used to inflict on Rob and his mother before the courts intervened, he couldn’t help but feel a little glad that it came so close. But still, it was his father. Rob’s faith in the system was more than a little shaken by the police department’s reaction to the court proceedings, however…not much. They decided that it was a family matter and wasn’t affecting his performance as a cop, so he remained on the force after a small suspension and slap on the wrist. Rob jumped to the last tree, crouching on the branch to await The Goblin. This seemed like a great idea…until it broke, and Rob found himself face-to-back with the insane Orange Goblin. Summoning his courage, he swept at his legs with a perfect low kick, hoping to knock him down.

The Goblin spun around and caught his leg before he even made contact.

“Ever been a hostage?” He asked casually, and that was all Rob heard before the fist to the head knocked him out.

He woke up not long after that, feeling more constrained than he was used to. In fact, he appeared to be tied quite securely to something that was beeping. Zodiac stood menacingly over him.

“Little boys in pajamas shouldn’t be out doing the work of real men.” He commented. “Of course, in a little under a minute you and the rest of this bank will be rubble anyway, so you won’t have long to consider the mistake you made and change your life accordingly. Oh well.” The battle became increasingly desperate for the Goblin, as he advanced further backwards towards the bank, with the police following him all the way. Rob tried to scream that it was a trap, but found his mouth was occupied by a gag. His left eye was swollen shut, and he found himself blacking out again as the police burst into the remains of the bank and the Goblin strapped on his jetpack, ready to make a dramatic exit.

Just then, Rob saw salvation coming blasting through the roof.

“Give it up, Goblin!”

The Justice Legion was there. As usual, the Rock was the first one there, doing the talking for the group and absorbing the blasts from Zodiac as if he was made of stone. Which he may have been. Angleman flew in next, knocking Zodiac out with one mighty punch. The Orange Goblin took off into the air, but where the hole in the roof should have been, there was only the fist of the huge Big Show, who stood 3 stories tall at the moment. Big Show tossed the Goblin back to the ground and squashed him into the floor with his giant palm. As Goblin staggered to his feet and tried the pack one more time, Snowman launched a freezing blast at him, and the Orange Goblin was frozen where he stood. Angleman was seemingly giving tutorial instructions to his young partner, Lightning Kid, while the action was going on.

And there was 30 seconds left on the timer behind Rob. He made as much noise as he could, but none of the Legion could seem to hear him.

20 seconds. He felt himself blacking out again while they captured the Goblin, but suddenly he felt something…lurking…over him. He raised his now-shadowed head, and saw Undertaker staring down at him dramatically. The beeping had stopped, as had all motion and movement in the world.

“We all get second chances, Rob.” He intoned in his usual deep and bleak voice, “And I’m about to give you one. Luckily for you I can control the very flow of time when I need to, and this case I felt that stopping things for a few minutes might be wise. You’re currently tied to a thermonuclear bomb, one which will do a great deal of damage to the city if left armed. I see a gift in you, a great one, and those I represent do not wish to see it wasted by such an occurance as you dying.”

Rob desperately gave me a “Help me” look with his one good eye. Undertaker seemed to understand.

“Unfortunately, the forces I represent do not allow me to choose sides in situations such as this one. I work for a greater purpose, and as fate would have it, you are integral to that purpose. So here is your choice: I can release you now and allow you to warn the Justice Legion of the bomb so they can dispose of it. I should warn that if you choose this option, it will trigger a chain reaction of events that will affect the lives of you and everyone else around you in later years. Or you can remain tied to the bomb, causing you and everyone else here to be vaporized when it explodes. Should you choose the second option, I will keep you with me so that you survive, and again this will set off a chain reaction of events which will affect the lives of you and everyone else around you in later years.. I am not told by the forces I represent which choice is the best one, nor what those reprecussions would be. So choose – nod your head for alerting the Justice Legion, shake your head for letting the bomb explode.”

Rob indicated his choice as asked.

“Very well.” Undertaker replied. Time started again.

* * * * * * * *

Two weeks later, Rob was standing at the foot of the grave of Big Show, after he bravely used his own body to absorb the impact of the bomb, giving his own life in the process. It was the first time that the Justice Legion had lost a member in the line of duty, but it was not to be the last. The worst part of the funeral was that the members couldn’t even mourn openly – President vince’s anti-hero legislation was now in effect, and technically appearing in public as superheroes would have broken the law and turned the once-proud defenders of justice into fugitives. Because although Big Show had absorbed most of the impact, his body had flown into the heart of the city from the shockwave, taking out 4 square blocks and killing hundreds in the process. In death, he had shrunk down back into the regular-sized form of accountant Paul Wight, and it was this diminutive form that was being buried and mourned today, not the giant-sized superhero. The public was so enraged by the actions of the Justice Legion, thinking them to the cause AND effect of super-villains running rampant, that legislation banning them from operating openly was put through in record time.

Of course, Angleman was exempt, because everyone knew that he bled red white and blue and worked for the White House directly.

Senior member of the group, Snowman (looking simply like the more inconspicuous Al Sarven) approached Rob once the funeral proceedings were complete. The deal was simple – with Rock going into seclusion again rather than break the law and Big Show dead, the Legion needed a new member, and Snowman made it known that Undertaker had heartily endorsed Van Dam as new blood for the team. With some additional training, of course. Rob thought it was a little weird that they’d recruit a 14-year old boy to help out as a team member, but his dream was coming true. Besides, his foster home was destroyed by Big Show’s flying body, so it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go now.

* * * * * * * *

One year later, The Orange Goblin escaped from the asylum, and this time with no Justice Legion to stop him he robbed several banks, and in the process of escaping blew up a small school in the former hometown of Rob Van Dam – the one where Rob would have been had he not embarked on his new life of crime-fighting.

Rob glanced at the story in the paper, barely letting it register, and decided to feel guilty about it later. Much later. For now, he had training to finish.

* * * * * * * *

Three years after that, when Rob was 18 and nearing the title of Senior Member himself, the public had finally decided that they needed help setting the world straight again. Villainy was running wild, giant Nazi Robots were everywhere, and the Justice Legion was a very different group of people than they were when Rob joined.

Rob, as American Ninja, had been studying the black arts with Undertaker to the point where he could kill a man with a single blow, assuming he found the right pressure point. Most of the time he just left his victim unconscious and with a few broken bones to remember him by. He didn’t like guns, though – to him, that was cheating. This was the sort of extreme measure that Angleman might have objected to, had he not quit the group years earlier to avoid being seen with them and thus prevent his public image from suffering. Rob Van Dam didn’t care – this was a Justice Legion built for desperate times.

It turned out that Lightning Kid’s powers – given to him by a freak accident with an experimental weather-control machine – were wearing off as his body grew older. From what medical science could tell, it appeared that he was about a week away from becoming a normal human being again. He didn’t seem to be dealing with that too well. Snowman was still there as an advisor by that point, but it was obvious that Van Dam was the guy in charge now, with the vision for the future. The others felt he was merely Undertaker’s pawn, but who really wanted to risk pissing him off by saying so? Rob even managed to recruit two new members out from under the Canadian government. There was Bret Hart, the most lethal sharpshooter in the world, who simply went by the codename “Hitman” because of his ability to pick off anyone from nearly any distance with his bionic eye and wrist-mounted guns. And there was his brother Owen, who was turned into the fastest man alive by a bizarre accident with a particle accelerator, and who went by the codename of “Rocket”. Both brothers had been working for Canada, where super-heroics were still legal, but both wanted a chance to help out the legendary Justice Legion as they prepared to go public again.

“Screw this!” Lightning Kid yelled. His attitude change was becoming more pronounced, as his well-trimmed hair as a youngster had turned into an oily, scraggly mess as he approached his 20s. He rarely even bothered to wear the costume now, generally just dressing in jeans and a ragged leather jacket. The change seemed to come almost from the moment, one year before that point, when Angleman had announced that he was training a new partner, to be called Edge.

“No need to yell, Kid.” Rob absently noted from his position at the head of the table. The Justice Legion’s formerly spacious mansion (as donated by millionaire playboy Kurt Angle) had been long declared off-limits by the government, forcing them literally underground into an abandoned military base. Rob noticed that the usually high-strung Lightning Kid was becoming downright stir crazy in recent weeks, and it worried him. As much as it can worry a man without a conscience.

“We’re getting dicked over by the government and you know it, Rob! I know you don’t care because your whole life revolves around running errands for Undertaker, but some of us don’t appreciate trusting our lives to that cold-hearted pyscho! There’s heroes popping up all over the place recently, and the government hasn’t had the balls to stop any of them from operating, so why should we play nice now? Let’s go kick some ass!”

Hitman casually aimed his gunsite at the Kid’s head. The Kid responded by shooting a very weak burst of static electricity, which was all he could muster at that point, at Bret’s gun barrel. This was apparently a stalemate of sorts. Rob wasn’t in the mood.

“Look, guys, chill out. We’re getting ready to strike as we speak. We’ve gotten reports of weird stuff going on at the HHH Corporation, and apparently the Orange Goblin is involved somehow. Snowman is there working undercover, and he’ll signal when it’s time for us to head over and clean house.”

“What’s going on there?” Owen asked.

“Apparently one of the scientists there is into playing god, doing weird experiments on animals. Nothing threatening to the safety of the world at large, but just something that I think we need to deal with before it gets out of hand, and especially before the Goblin gets his hooks into anything again.”

A beeping sound came from Rob’s belt.

“It’s time to go. Undertaker, you coming or you gonna mope in the corner all night?”

“I have things I must attend to before I join you.”

“Suit yourself. Hitman, Rocket, Lightning Kid – let’s go.”

And they did. They never returned to the base again.

* * * * * * * *

When the Justice Legion arrived, dressing down to avoid questions from any passing police, they found the lack of a receptionist at the front counter rather strange. In fact, there only seemed to be a TV monitor where normally a person would be sitting.

Rob’s sixth sense for danger was telling him that something wasn’t right, but before he could act on it, steel walls dropped down from the ceiling faster than even his eyes could follow, boxing the four Legioners into the waiting area. The face of famous young genius Paul Levesque appeared on the screen, a smug look on his face.

“Greetings, uh, Justice Legion. If you can call yourselves that without laughing. I have someone with me that you might be interested in seeing.” He stepped away from the camera, revealing Snowman chained to the wall, beaten to a pulp, with tubes coming out of both arms. “Nice undercover work there, guys. Had me fooled for almost five minutes before we managed to get the truth out of him. And isn’t DNA research amazing? For instance, we managed to find the gene that controls his cold-generating powers, isolate it, and then strip him of it.” He shook a small test-tube playfully. “Guess what’s in here? That’s right – superhero DNA, ready to serve! Come and get it!”

A trapdoor in the floor opened, revealing a previously-hidden stairway to what was presumably the secret lab of Dr. Levesque. Rob decided quick action was needed.

“Kid, Rocket – stay here and keep an eye on things. If we don’t make it back within an hour, do whatever you need to do to find a way out of here and get back to the base. Hitman and I will head down and deal with this madman.”

Rob and Hitman headed downwards, watching as the door closed above their heads after they were halfway down the stairs.

When they made it to the bottom, Rob was greeted by a rather large gun pointed right at his head. He hated guns. This was exactly the sort of reason why.

“Just want to make sure there’s no funny business from you. Hope you understand, American Ninja.”

“Call me Rob. Everyone else does.”

“Fine, Rob. Here’s the deal – you’re in way, way over your head this time, and you’re going to pay. Because for one thing, the Orange Goblin is having his way with your two little friends upstairs as we speak. And for another, since you and your well-armed friend here appear to have no naturally-occuring superpowers, you’re quite useless to my experiments and will be disposed of as battle fodder for my little zoo, which can you see under the glass down there.”

Suddenly, faster than the human eye could follow, Rob’s hand lashed out and chopped Levesque’s gun into a million pieces.

“Not smart, Rob. Now because of your poor attitude, someone gets to die.” Levesque made a quick signal to the camera, which was still transmitting upstairs, and Rob heard a thumping noise behind him. He turned around to see the mangled body of Rocket tumbling down the stairs, landing at his feet with a dull thud.

“The other kid is next unless you play nice.” Levesque calmly stated. To back this up, The Orange Goblin came down the stairs, with the unconscious form of the Lightning Kid tossed over his shoulder. Bret, in a sudden fury, began firing at the Goblin, but a burst of gas from one of Goblin’s guns put him out quickly enough. Rob was just afraid that the Goblin would start giving another speech.

“What do you want, Levesque?”

“Simple. To finish wiping out the Justice Legion once and for all. I have sources who tell me that in future, the Justice Legion is all that will stand in the way of my plans coming to their full fruition, and I figured that I might as well get rid of you pests while the iron was hot. So to speak.”

However, on the other side of the room, Snowman made an unexpected recovery, pulling his head up long enough to make a signal to Rob, which in turn prompted him to use every bit of his unnatural speed to spin behind Levesque and knock him down with a soft blow to the back of the neck. The Orange Goblin, seeing this, put the unconscious Kid down and lobbed an Ego Bomb right at Rob, but with his years of training he now knew how to catch it with just the right amount of force to counteract the explosion and neutralize the blast. He lobbed it back at the Goblin, who was promptly blown back into the stairwell and knocked unconscious.

With things under control for the moment, the leader of the Justice Legion went over to free Snowman. He unhooked both his arms and took him off the torture device, but it appeared to be too late. Snowman was dying in his arms and only a miracle could save him now.

He was about to call out for the Undertaker, hoping that he had another second chance to give, when he suddenly dropped to the floor and started convulsing, the result of what felt like thousands of volts of pure electricity striking him from behind.

“Well, what do you know? Guess I had one more good shot left in me.” The Lightning Kid quipped. He was apparently recovered from his ordeal with the Goblin. And he was carrying the DNA tube that Levesque was showing off a little bit earlier. “You know, maybe if Angleman hadn’t dumped me for that idiot Edge and you guys had treated my power-loss problem with a little more respect, things wouldn’t have come to this. I wouldn’t have had to arrange to have Snowman killed in order to get some damn powers again!”

Rob could only twitch in response.

“I’ll be seeing you around, Rob, but not as Lightning Kid.” He gulped down the blue-color DNA extract, and shuddered. Suddenly, his own skin turned blue, and his hair seemed to freeze in place before turning clear, like icicles. “Yeah – I think from now on you can just call me Ice-Pac. I’ve even got friends in the government who can convadamtron Angleman that I was ‘killed’ by a rampaging robot gone berserk. They’ve been wanting to pull the plug on that Guthrie lunatic for years now, anyway. Ta-ta!”

Rob passed out, and woke up in a hospital bed, with Bret Hart, the ex-Hitman, beside him in a chair. Rob later learned that Undertaker rescued the two surviving Justice Legioners from that massacre before Levesque could wake up again. Why he waited until Snowman and Rocket were already dead was not revealed to anyone. Nor could it be, as he disappeared after despositing Hart & Van Dam at a hospital, and was not seen again for another 10 years.

And that is how Rob Van Dam made the decision to leave the superhero business and work for the CIA as an assassin instead. 10 years passed, and he ended up hanging upside-down with a medicine ball on his groin.

When Bret came back into the training room to release his student, and in many ways his equal, from the predicament he was in, he also brought a piece of paper with him that Rob recognized all too well from previous assignments.

“They’ve got a new job for us.” Bret said without preamble. “Apparently Dr. Levesque has been spending millions to build something resembling a war fortress in the Himalayas, and it’s making people in the government nervous. So we’re supposed to whack him and ask questions later. I figure this is a good test for your Extreme Justice team.”

Rob only nodded in response. He had a very bad feeling about this one.

He was right.

* * * * * * * * *

It was 3:05 PM, on a Wednesday. He knew that because a digital clock was left hanging on the door so he wouldn't go completely insane. Not that it wasn't a close thing to begin with.

His name was Terry Bollea, but he had long forgotten that name and now simply answered to "The Orange Goblin" after close to 20 years of being that person. Once he was a common bodybuilder on Venice Beach, moonlighting as the assistant to a nuclear physicist (thanks to connections from his father). Whereas the physicist was more concerned with petty things like particle acceleration than having fun in life, Terry knew that the secret of happiness lie elsewhere. And he was no slouch in the brains department, if he said so himself. He even had a theory that he felt would make him millions: If a standard tanning bed took three or four hours to give a satisfactory tan, then he could speed up the process a bit and become a millionaire. So, blindly ignorant to the facts of science and rational thought, he managed to jury-rig a tanning bed to a nuclear fisson reactor. It shouldn't have worked, but five minutes later he had the bossest tan in all of Calfornia. And he was also immensely radioactive and had suddenly gained the ability to cause solid objects to blow up on contact with his hands. But that TAN he would be the envy of everyone on the beach, assuming he didn't kill them. Which, in fact, he did, along with several bystanders and half a city block. Apparently his appearance had been altered somewhat by the experiment the next day in the paper (which he quickly scanned before it, too, blew up) he was dubbed "The Orange Goblin". In fact, he heard that name being called right then.

"Hey, Goblin, you got a visitor."

The padded door opened and hit the padded wall, sending a blast of fluorescent light into his cell and making him fall to the ground in pain from months of not seeing it.

He yelled obscenities at the orderly, but apparently six months in a solitary confinement cell in a mental hospital had rendered his speaking skills less than they used to be. Much like his powers, which quickly faded mere weeks after his run as the supervillain Flavor of the Month. He had been forced to adapt his act to a series of gimmick-powers and lowly bank robberies. Throughout it all, his half-brother Ed Leslie, constantly in search of the perfect villain name for the papers (which, to the Goblin, seemed to actually overshadow in Ed's mind the whole reason for being a supervillain sometimes), was the only one to stick by him even after his star had faded and he was just another has been defeated by the Justice Legion one time too many.

"Goblin?" the voice said, although he couldn't tell who it was thanks to his near-blindness from the light. "It's me, brother. Ed."

"Zodiac?" He answered carefully, trying desperately if he knew any other Eds, and specifically any of them who might want to kill him. Which was only 15% or so of the population. He would take those odds.

"No, I gave up that name a while ago. Too new-age. I tried Brutus for a while, doing a Roman centurion thing, but everyone thought I was gay. It got really annoying after a while because the first thing all the male bank tellers would ask was 'Are you gonna rape me, too?' and by the time I went through the whole spiel about judging by appearances, the cops were there."

"Huh?" The Goblin was in no condition to conduct any meaningful arguments right now.

"Sorry, I'm rambling again. No, I'm trying out a new thing now I found religion. My name is Disciple now." And indeed the former Zodiac was sporting a very neo-hippie beard and white robe. Goblin was pleased that he could make out those details. "I worry for your soul, brother. Together we can see the light."

"I've seen the light, dude, and it hurts like hell right now. Are you gonna get me out of here, or just save my soul?"

"Both."

And that's just what he did.

* * * * * * * *

If Steve Austin were the paranoid type, he might wonder why mysterious packages of money were arriving in his mailbox every other day, even after he had been fired from his janitorial job at HHH Networks weeks earlier. In fact, his life recently had been making even less sense than usual the money arrived with a simple, hand-written note in it, telling him to go to some specific place at some specific time, and that was it. For the life of him, he couldn't understand why he needed to do this sort of bizarre task, but for the money he was being sent (and because of a strange compulsion to obey that he had) he wasn't going to complain about it.

Today's note was simple, as usual: Go to the BCN offices located downtown, which were the central offices for the #3 network in the country, and make sure to arrive at 3:00 PM.

The other thing that might make him question his sanity (if he were the paranoid type, which he of course constantly reminded himself that he wasn't, also due to that compulsion mentioned earlier) was his seeming inability to recall what exactly he DID after arriving at the strange locations requested by the notes. In fact, it seemed like any given time he only had four thoughts running through his head.

1. Always obey the notes.

2. I'm not paranoid, everything is perfectly normal.

3. I love to watch all HHH-affiliated networks whenever the TV is on.

4. I AM NOT PARANOID.

That the second and fourth ones were almost the same thing would have seemed REALLY bizarre to him if he was the paranoid type, which of course he wasn't because two of the things constantly running through his head said he wasn't. And if he allowed himself to think those sorts of thoughts the headaches would come back again.

The cab driver was saying something to him.

"What?"

"I said we're here. That'll be $12.50."

Austin handed him a $50 and left the cab. The cab driver was saying something to him again.

"What?"

"I said this is just a piece of paper with a 50 written on it in crayon, asshole! Come back here before I call the cops!"

If Steve Austin was the paranoid type (which he absolutely made sure to remind himself on a minute-by-minute basis that he wasn't) he'd be worried about why he was carrying about money that was obviously fake and ripping off perfectly innocent cab drivers. It was 2:55 according to the big clock in the middle of the city park. Plenty of time.

For what?

He didn't know. The cab driver was talking to him again.

"What?"

The noise stopped. Good. 2:58. Time to go.

He woke up 15 minutes later, back in his apartment, covered in blood. If he was the paranoid type, he'd wonder how it got there. But he wasn't.

The TV was tuned into HNN the HHH News Network. They seemed pretty upset about something.

".and casualities totalling more than 350 at the BCN building, as an unidentified thing only described as a 'huge, snake-like monster' ripped through the facilities, killing everything in its path in a deadly rampage." Austin tuned out again. He hated TV, which is why he found it so strange that he loved watching HHH-affiliated networks so much. If he were the paranoid type (which he wasn't, if he knew one thing it's that he WAS NOT) he'd think more about that. He also stopped to think for a second about how strange it was that he was standing right there, and yet he didn't remember any snake creature around him. He was sure he'd remember something like that. At least he thought he was sure. Or maybe he wasn't. Yeah, he wasn't so sure, that made the pain go away a little more. He liked that. Maybe, he thought to himself, he just missed the giant snake, like when he was going in it was going out or something. That made sense. The pain stopped. Just like when he watched the great programming of the HHH Networks.

Austin went to the fridge to get a beer. The cab driver's head was in the freezer. That seemed to be happening a lot lately. If he was the paranoid type, he'd think something was seriously wrong. But he wasn't. It was just easier that way.

The mailman dropped off another package of money for him. It was going to be a long week.

* * * * * * * *

"Have you SEEN this?" General McMahon bellowed at Angleman.

The "this" in question was a copy of Tiger Beat magazine, with the newest teen-scream sensation superheroes Edge & Christian on the cover. The caption, in pink neon letters, read "Super HUNKS".

"Well, certainly the caption is a little cliché, sir, but it's a perfectly good picture." Angleman flashed that winning smile, just for the heck of it.

"That's not what I meant and you know it. When we agreed to officially sanction your activities as a superhero 10 years ago during the anti-hero legislation, it was with the explicit instructions that you and those you trained NOT go public during or after that time. And yet here's your former partner, on the cover of a major teen magazine."

"Well, sir, to be perfectly honest I didn't even realize Edge had gone solo I've been busy meeting with a former compatriot in the Justice Legion and I've been out of the loop for a few weeks. In fact, it's what, 3:00? See, I just got back two hours ago."

The general shot him a suspicious glance.

"You didn't discuss anything of importance to the national security, did you?"

"Oh, no sir. Strictly superhero shop talk. Boring stuff. Latest cape designs and things like that."

"Ah. Good. Can't be too careful, you know. Well, notwithstanding, this sudden outburst of publicity for a former government operative can't be good. So we want you to take out the both of them."

"Take out, sir?"

The general shot him a withering glance.

"Ah. 'Take out'. Well, as much as I love my country.which is a lot, sir, don't kid yourself, I was a former Olympic gold medalist before the freak accident that turned me into the crusader for justice and the American Way that I am today.as I was saying, as much as I love my country, ARE YOU FREAKIN' INSANE?"

"I think the details of your contract with the Pentagon are pretty clear about the chain of command, and I'm COMMANDING you to make Edge and Christian disappear. Now, either you handle that small task yourself, or we put Operation Destrucity into effect."

Angleman seemed a little uncomfortable with the prospects of that one.

"I thought that experiment was terminated because the guy you picked was a little nuts?"

General McMahon got right in Angleman's face and the vein in his forehead seemed ready to burst right then and there.

"Oh, no, Kurt, YOU'RE a little nuts. This guy is a certifiable lunatic. We can't lose with him in the game."

"But, but, sir.I was a one-in-a-billion fluke! When the lightning bolt hit that batch of chemicals and spilled on me while I was saying the Pledge of Allegiance, the original formula was lost! You'd never be able to duplicate the effects in the lab again."

As if on cue, a formerly-secret panel went flying through the room and smashed into the opposite wall. A long-haired, wild-eyed feral demon stepped into the room, seemingly snorting instead of breathing. He wore only a loincloth and facepaint. And he didn't seem to care.

"Never say never, Kurt. 10 years is a long time to work on an experiment, and I think we've got it with this batch. So here's the deal: Either you do the job as directed, or we turn things over to our secret weapon here. America's ultimate warrior and super-solider. And HIS first directive will be to make YOU into the one who disappears for good. Understand?"

"And if I resign my post, sir?"

"Then 'millionaire playboy' Kurt Angle loses his entire 'fortune' and gets exposed as fathering a child with an underaged girl 5 years ago. We created your public persona, and we can destroy it just as easily. We own you, Kurt. Don't ever forget that."

America's secret weapon snorted at him. And spoke.

"God bless America."

Angleman flew out of the skylight, not even bothering to say goodbye.

* * * * * * * *

In the offices of Hardy / Helms / Hardy, the figurehead leaders of the biggest multinational media conglomerate on the planet, a party was in progress. A staggeringly wild one for them, too. There were party hats and everything while they sat behind their identical desks.

"I believe everything is proceeding according to Mr. Levesque's original plan." Jeffrey said in his corporate-mandated monotone.

"Yes." Matthew continued for him in equally bland tones, "it is estimated that within 48.23 hours, give or take 0.05 hours, HHH Networks will have seized total control of the world's television and internet technology."

Shane Helms blew a noisemaker for effect. "You don't seem as overjoyed as Matthew and myself," Jeffrey commented, "are you having trouble getting an acceptable percentage of funkiness going? Would another glass of distilled alcholic spirits perhaps lighten your mood another 5-7%, using a margin of error of 0.5% of course."

"Nothing of the sort," Helms answered, "I believe that there is a 65% or greater chance that I will be bringing da noise, bringing da funk within 12.4 minutes or less. I am merely distracted at the moment by the excitement that performing evil deeds brings with it."

The Hardy brothers nodded in agreement with that thought.

"In fact," Shane continued, "the 0.5% alcohol in this so-called 'brewsky' appears to having an intoxicating effect on me right now, and I believe I will adjourn to one of the other meeting rooms and fill out the proper forms for getting down with my bad self."

"Truly an acceptable plan of action." Matthew agreed. "Perhaps Jeffrey and myself will join you within the next 30 to 35 minutes, give or take 2 minutes."

"I look forward to the further social interaction." Shane answered, and then slipped into the next room. Strangely enough, when Jeffrey and Matthew joined him there 30 to 35 minutes later at 3:00 (give or take 2 minutes), Shane's clothes were on the floor and the window was open.

"Mr. Helms appears to have disappeared." Jeffrey commented, oblivious to the obvious nature of his comment. "What is up with that?"

His only answer came as a green streak passed by the window, blowing the Hardy's perfectly-arranged ponytails a little to the left.

High above the city, the Hurricane flew.

The wind whipped through his hair, his cape flapped majestically, and the city was open below, waiting for him to deal with the criminal element as only he could.

Oh, and Gregory Shane Helms, 1/3 of the puppet ownership of HHH Networks, was dragged along by a beam from the Power Belt, shrieking like a 12-year old girl the whole way.

"LET ME DOWN!" He yelled again, as if Hurricane really WANTED to be carrying along a whiny executive instead of a hot super-heroine like Mighty Molly.

"Hey, jackass, you weren't exactly my first choice either." Hurricane called down to the simpering exec. "But in case you didn't notice, we're currently flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet, and all you're protected by is the force-beam coming out of the Power Belt, and your boxer shorts."

The Power Belt in question was strapped around the Hurricane's waist, looking like some sort of championship belt from boxing, and a green beam of light emanated from the center and held Helms in place behind him. The boxer shorts in question had pictures of Underdog on them.

One again, the Hurricane questioned the sanity of his superiors, but then that was nothing new.

Years ago, during a qualifying race for a Nascar event in Alabama, driver Bob Holly had been visited by a mysterious alien calling himself Meat. He pulled Holly from his car just before it was about to crash into a retaining wall and explode, thus saving him from certain death. Holly never got a chance to explain that it was Meat’s landing in the middle of the damn track that caused him to swerve in the first place, because they had been off and flying to the very spot Holly was now dragging Helms to before he got a chance. They made some small talk along the way, as Meat explained that he came from a far off planet called Stasiak, and that he had been chosen by a strange group of omnipotent beings who watched over everything in the universe and shaped it to their will. Apparently they called themselves The Bookers. No one knew what that name meant or why they chose it, but they had ruled the universe for millions of years and were all powerful. Powerful enough, in fact, to take a small portion of that awesome power and fashion it into a belt that would bestow fantastic powers on the wearer unlimited strength, the ability to fly, beams of light that could be fashioned to do anything the user wanted the possibilities were only limited by the imagination of the man wearing it.

However, the belt had one weakness: Self-control. Requiring a degree of concentration to operate that few people had, any sort of laughter would generally disrupt the flow of power and expose the person wearing it to immediate danger, especially if they happened to be flying at the time. So, by decree of The Bookers, it was vitally important for whoever wore it to have absolutely no sense of humor.

Naturally, Bob Holly was a perfect choice to wear the belt given this qualification.

Meat, from Planet Stasiak, who had been the one wearing the belt until he found Bob Holly in 1985, explained that in order to keep the power flowing from The Bookers into the belt, it had to be charged every 48 hours with a special machine that was kept buried deep in a cave in Colorado. In fact, The Bookers chose Earth to house their charging machine precisely because up until the sudden emergence of the Justice Legion in the 70s, Earth had generally been described by snottier members of high society in the region as "a boring, jerkwater planet with no hope of evolving to the next level any time soon and lousy food". Given the two decades or so of heroes which had emerged from the small blue planet since that time and advances in cuisine, the rest of the universe was starting to come around, noting that perhaps the food wasn't as bad as originally thought. In fact, the general concensus was that if they could do something about France, the planet might have a chance.

At any rate, alien tourism wasn't exactly a big industry for most of the time, so The Bookers put their most precious creation in a cave in what would come to be Colorado back before man even started walking upright, counting on no one bothering to visit a drab dump such as Earth. Some galactic talk show programs have since suggested that if the powers that be had just taken care to send a glacier crashing through what would come to France right then and there, perhaps things wouldn't have gotten to where they did, which was generally Earth coming in last in the Good Galactic Housekeeping's "Best Inhabited Planet of the Year" voting for 400 millenia straight.

So indeed, just as Meat led Holly to that cave years before, Bob Holly (who had been dubbed The Hurricane by television media due to his fondness for creating windstorms to deal with his enemies) dropped off Shane Helms and prepared to pass the torch.

"Okay, we're here."

Shane seemed a bit confused what "here" was.

"The cave?"

"Yeah, the cave. In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a bit beat up."

That was actually sort of an understatement, as Holly's left arm was literally being held in place only by the power of the belt, and half of his face seemed to be missing, hidden under various bandages. Holly had encountered a giant alien robot created by his arch-nemesis, Crash, and got into a heated battle with it that had gone very badly once the robot starting cracking jokes stolen from Pauly Shore. Unfortunately, that proved to be the Hurricane's undoing, as he proved to be the only one in the known galaxy who thought that Pauly Shore was funny. He burst into laughter once Crash's robot started calling him "buddy", and from there the rout was on. Hurricane Holly managed to regain his self-control long enough to save his own life and destroy the monstrous creation, but his career as a super-hero was over, for good. And so the Power Belt, driven by instructions from The Bookers, had sought out the closest person who had absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever. In this case, Shane Helms. In fact, it pulled him out of his office so fast that his clothes were left behind like a cartoon character.

Bob didn't like giving up the Belt. But then Bob didn't like much, it seemed. Especially dying, which didn't seem to be far off. Some people get introspective and calm as death approaches. Bob Holly got pissed off and decided to take out his frustrations on the nearest available target.

"Look," Helms said in an increasingly desperate tone of voice, "I'm late for a very important meeting back at the offices, and I'm afraid I don't deal well with being kidnapped and taken to a weird-looking cave by a guy who looks like he was just put through a food processor."

"You think I like this any more than you do? Here I was, having a perfectly good career as a superhero, righting wrongs and stuff like that, and I get my ass kicked by a giant robot from space? A GIANT ROBOT FROM SPACE. No one gets beat by those things anymore. Hell, giant robots from space were supposed to have gone out in the 50s. What kind of super-villain builds that sort of thing?"

"How did it beat you, then?"

"It, uh, attacked me when I was carrying a busload of orphans and I was distracted. That's not the point. This is the Power Belt. You have to charge it using the machine in that cave every 48 hours or you won't have any power." Bob undid the belt. "But there's just one thing I have to tell you, which will save your life."

He handed the belt over to Helms, and dropped dead right there before he could tell him.

In the interest of promoting a positive attitude, it should be noted that Bob had a particularly hilarious scene from "Bio-Dome" running through his head when he died, and thus he was at least happy when the end came.

For his part, a confused Hurricane Helms strapped on the belt, didn't feel any different, and started the long walk back to HHH Networks in his underwear, while he waited for the belt to kick in, unaware that Bob "Hurricane" Holly, body already fading away due to the power of the belt, had last charged it 40 hours previous.

* * * * * * * *

"Wow, you weren't kidding about your followers." An awed Terry Bollea said to his ex-henchmen and best friend Ed Leslie, who was going by The Disciple these days. They were standing backstage at a raucous gathering of members of the newest religious sensation sweeping the yuppie nation: The Human Union of Life and Karma. Leslie's pitch was simple but effective: the supervillain known as the Orange Goblin was actually a fallen angel from Heaven, and for a small fee you could join a group of followers who could benefit from his divine light.

Unfortunately, Satan's minions in the mental health field had declared him insane and locked him away in an asylum, but then God had spoken to Ed in the form of a tabloid photographer, and given him divine inspiration in the form of a picture of Eric vince (at that point merely a Governor, but running for President), engaged in immoral activities with a stripper. And a goat. Ed Leslie suddenly became a very good friend of Eric's, and found himself with funding for his new non-profit organization, which was simply known as HULK by most people in the media. With the backing of the incumbent President, the Orange Goblin had been declared wrongfully locked up and was released with apologies of the state as soon as possible.

Some in the media, their minds obviously (to Leslie) warped by the word of Satan, had declared him a huckster who bilked little old ladies out of their life savings and blackmailed his way to political and religious power. Some of his own followers even had such questions when they saw those sorts of reports on the news. For them, Ed had a moral riddle that he often asked: If a child, not knowing any better, accidentally drives a semi-trailer into a crowded street and kills dozens of people, is it not better to stop the child by eliminating him for the greater good before such carnage can occur? And thus, is it not better to deal with members of the media, not knowing any better, by hiring a mafia hitman to have them and their family gunned down in their home before they spread lies about the glorious organization of HULK? Ed usually got as far as asking the questioning member if they were a part of any media outlet before they ran from the room declaring their undying devotion to HULK.

In fact, this strategy worked so well that many prominent members of the media themselves became bonafide HULKamaniacs, and from there the movement spread throughout the country, until HULK was a household name, although not always in a good sense. In fact, much of the supporting money for the organization came from HHH Networks, who used Leslie's HULK group as a tax writeoff and were more than happy to pimp the organization on their multiple cable and network stations in exchange for 15% of the profit.

Some might have said that this was grossly illegal and begging for federation intervention at the earliest possible opportunity. You sure wouldn't hear silly talk like that from anyone on HHH-funded TV shows, though. You might on rival networks, but then a weird bald guy would usually show up at the station headquarters and suddenly turn into a giant snake, and that would usually put an end to those sorts of rumors.

And this day, with a crowd at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan announced at nearly 100,000 people (although the actual number was closer to 80,000, no one in the media was going to go on the record as disputing it, no sir), Disciple stepped onto the small, unadorned stage to soak up the love of the crowd.

"Greetings, Hulkamaniacs!" He called out in the traditional, centuries-old greeting call for HULK. Of course, it had only been around for a few years, but since angels are immortal, Leslie figured he could fudge the history a little bit and get away with it. He was right. "The day that you have waited 5 long years for and paid $250 plus service charges for has finally arrived!"

He waited for the uproarious and spontaneous applause at the mention of the very-reasonable ticket prices to die down.

"For years now we at the Human Union of Life and Karma have promised you that your very generous and frequest contributions to our cause would lead to you to a better place in the afterlife and happiness on earth, and now the time has come to see the fruits of your labors! So now, please welcome, Terry Bollea, who some might have known as the Orange Goblin due to biased media coverage."

He waited for the uproarious and spontaneous boos at the mention of the devil-worshipping media to die down.

"Yes, yes, I know, but when we had Larry King shot last month I think it took care of the bulk of the problem in that area. And now, without further ado, the man whose very excrement you all wish you could be worthy of shovelling, the reincarnation of the fallen angel from Heaven himself, Terry Bollea!"

A suddenly humbled and overwhelmed (now former) Orange Goblin, tears in his eyes, walked onto the stage to the roar to the crowd, who were presently declaring their unconditonal love for him and roaring their approval of every step he took.

Terry was almost at a loss for words.

"This is fabulous!" He began. The crowd roared. "I always knew deep down that I was destined for great things, but to have it confirmed like this, well, it's just super! Thanks, everyone!" It was a lousy speech, but people cheered anyway, because that was just the kind of rally it was. "And I'm really glad you all parted with your hard-earned money to come here tonight and pay tribute to me tonight, but I'm afraid that deep down, I'm still insane and I'm going to have to kill each and every one of you now!"

You'd think that would dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd somewhat, but they all cheered that one, too. Hesitantly. Ed Leslie took the microphone again.

"Well, we want to thank everyone for coming out tonight to meet your savior, and as you can see we were the only ones with the forethought to bring gas masks, so try not to get crushed by your neighbor when the deadly nerve-toxin gas starts flooding the stadium in about 15 seconds and you all drop dead. We wouldn't want any lawsuits on our hands."

The joke didn't go over quite as well as Ed would have liked. Didn't matter the entire stadium was going to be dead in about 2 minutes anyway. He considered that to be good enough compensation for bombing in front of 80,000 people.

"Thank you and good night!" Terry said, grabbing the mike back to finish with a flourish. "See you in the afterlife."

Disciple and his fallen angel, Terry Bollea, left to catch a limo back to HULK HQ in Washington, leaving the now sealed-off Silverdome to act as a giant coffin for the people inside.

In the limo, drinking champagne, Terry commented that Ed probably should have mentioned that the fallen angel he was currently channelling was Azrael, the avenging angel, but Ed retorted that a mass-suicide probably wouldn't have sold as many tickets.

All in all, though, he thought it had been a pretty good show, all things considered.

Read World Hero Federation 2: A New Beginning click here to return to the World Hero Federation Center.