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.
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
Rob indicated his choice as asked.
“Very well.” Undertaker replied. Time started
* * * * * * * *
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
Of course, Angleman was exempt, because everyone
knew that he bled red white and blue and worked for the White
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“Suit yourself. Hitman, Rocket, Lightning Kid –
And they did. They never returned to the base
* * * * * * * *
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
"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.
"I said this is just a piece of paper with a 50
written on it in crayon, asshole! Come back here before I call
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.
He didn't know. The cab driver was talking to
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
"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
"Thank you and good night!" Terry said, grabbing
the mike back to finish with a flourish. "See you in the
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
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
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